Blog - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide

Brehon Law Resources

The Brehon Law system, shining a light on Early Irish law

Learn about Ancient Ireland’s Laws and Customs through study of the Brehon Law system.

A student in our Mórrígan Intensive Programme asked me for resources on the Brehon Law system the other day, and I had to be honest – I didn’t have them to hand.

It’s not an area I’ve really dug into yet, though I know there’s a lot to study.

But look, as a teacher, one of the most ethical things that I hold sacred is that if someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to… I tell them that honestly, and then I go and do my best to find quality resources where they (and me, usually) can go learn about the thing.

I found a few of my own, but the internet is full of mischief, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for – or looking at – it’s hard to tell what’s reliable.

Or not.

Luckily, I run a couple of Facebook Groups that are full of the smartest people I know, so I always know where to go for the best recommendations. And with this question, they did not let me down!

[Huge thanks to: Erynn Rowan Laurie, C. Lee Vermeers, Geraldine Byrne, Shane Broderick, Robert L. Barton, Pamela Holcombe… and to Elisabeth Marx for the original question.]

So, here’s our Brehon Law Resources list!

The Wiki Page is actually not bad, for starters, as Shane pointed out in the group post. I have mentioned elsewhere many times before; we don’t take Wikipedia info as definitive source material, but we can use the reference section as a good starting point for any research.

[Shane also has a blog post on this topic here.]

Fergus Kelly featured, as anyone who is even passing familiar with Early Irish Law will be entirely un-shocked by. Erynn kicked us off by recommending ‘A Guide to Early Irish Law’ (book, 2005) as the classic – excellent for reference but it can be a little dense for a read through. This was backed up by Geraldine and others.

‘Whodunnit? Indirect evidence in early Irish Law’ (article, 2015) by Fergus Kelly also got an honourable mention from Pamela, and I’d like to add this link to his article about the legal status of trees: ‘Brehon Laws’ on Forestry Focus.

There’s a book online, written by Laurence Ginnell in 1894, which may be of interest. It’s on my list to work through… if you’ve read it, let me know what you think in the comments? It’s called ‘The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook’.

The Irish History Podcast is excellent (I’ve recommended it elsewhere too), and they did an episode called ‘Brehon Law: From Divorce to Irish Sex Magic’, which interviews Dr. Gillian Kenny – who also helped me out with an article on Gaelic Marriage Customs. The podcast description reads:

“Divorce and sex magic are not things we associate with medieval Ireland. However for over one thousand years Irish society was governed by a unique and radically different legal system called Brehon Law. In this podcast I interview Dr Gillian Kenny who explains what Brehon Law was and how it worked. She challenges widely held misconceptions and explains how divorce existed in medieval Ireland given it was banned in modern Ireland until 1995!. And then of course there is the sex magic.”

Listen to the Irish History Podcast on Spotify

I must say though, I actually do associate Medieval Ireland with divorce and sex magic. Quite regularly.

‘Cattle Lords and Clansmen’ by Nerys Patterson is a great book, which I’ve also recommended elsewhere, but Robert reminded me that it has a chapter on the Brehon Law system that… “takes a long view of the development and cultural context that can help to understand the specific laws as they exist within a system.”

For the more established scholar, we can move to Daniel Binchy’s edits of the ‘Corpus iuris Hibernici’, in seven volumes. You can see the CODECS listing for Volume 1 here. Liam Breatnach’s book – ‘A Companion to the Corpus Iuris Hibernici (Early Irish Law)’ – will help get you through.

Neil McLeod wrote a number of articles on the topic, which you can find indexed on CODECS here. C. Lee has found the 2 part “Interpreting Early Irish Law: Status and Currency” particularly useful.

And finally, Robin Chapman Stacey has two books that are a somewhat easier read, and very useful. They are:

What’s your favourite (or most useful) Brehon Law Resource?

If you have any other recommendations, or would like to add your opinion on the ones above, please feel free to leave a comment below!

Lughnasadh in Ireland

Lughnasadh in Ireland

The 1st of August (sometimes the 2nd) is Lúnasa (Lughnasadh, Lughnasa, Brón Trogain) – the harvest festival in Ireland.

In her excellent book, ‘The Festival of Lughnasa’, Máire MacNeill wrote:

“Garland Sunday and Domhnach Chrom Dubh are two of the many names of a festival celebrated by Irish country people at the end of July or the beginning of August. It marked the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season, and on that day the first meal of the year’s new food crop was eaten. The chief custom was the resorting of the rural communities to certain heights or water-sides to spend the day in festivity, sports and bilberry-picking.​”

Publisher: Folklore of Ireland Council; Reprint edition (January 1, 2008)

Buy the Book on Amazon.com Here.

Buy the Book from the Irish Publisher Here.

Lughnasadh in Irish Mythology

Lughnasadh is mentioned in the old text, Tochmarc Emire, ‘The Wooing of Emer’ – which Kuno Meyer has dated to the 900s CE – along with a small piece on all the Fire Festivals: 

“Bend Suain, son of Rose Melc, which she said, this is the same thing, viz., that I shall fight without harm to myself from Samuin. i.e., the end of summer. For two divisions were formerly on the year, viz., summer from Beltaine (the first of May), and winter from Samuin to Beltaine. Or samfuin, viz., suain (sounds), for it is then that gentle voices sound, viz., sám-son ‘ gentle sound.’ To Oimolc. i.e., the beginning of spring, viz., different (ime) is its wet (folc), viz., the wet of spring, and the wet of winter. Or, oi-melc, viz., oi, in the language of poetry, is a name for sheep, whence oibá (sheep’s death) is named, ut dicitur coinbá (dog’s death), echbá (horse’s death), duineba (men’s death), as bath is a name for ‘death.’ Oi-melc, then, is the time in which the sheep come out and are milked, whence oisc (a ewe), i.e., oi-sesc, viz., a barren sheep. To Beldine, i.e. Beltine, viz., a favouring fire. For the druids used to make two fires with great incantations, and to drive the cattle between them against the plagues, every year. Or to Beldin, viz., Bel the name of an idol. At that time the young of every neat were placed in the possession of Bel. Beldine, then Beltine. To Brón Trogain, i.e. Lammas-day, viz., the beginning of autumn ; for it is then the earth is afflicted, viz., the earth under fruit. Trogan is a name for ‘ earth.'”​

Kuno Meyer, Archaeological Review Vol. I, 1888

The festival of Lughnasadh began as a commemoration feast and games, started by the Tuatha Dé Danann God Lugh in honour of his foster mother Tailtiu, a Firbolg Queen.

Yes, they were warring tribes. Yes, Tailtiu took in the child of an enemy, and raised him as her own. There’s a lesson there, people, for modern Ireland.

Lughnasadh in Irish Folklore

In a fascinating entry recorded in The Schools Collection, from County Clare, we hear the following:

“Domnach Lunasa, or Lammas Sunday, the first Sunday of the Month of August, was the first – fruits day, and a great day on Buaile na Greine. On Laammas Sunday, called Domnach Crom Dubh, and anglicised Garland Sunday every household was supposed to feast his family and household on the first fruits, and the farmer who failed to provide his people with new potatoes, new bacon, and white cabbage on that day, was called a Felemair Gaoithe, or wind farmer, and if a man dug new potatoes before Crom Dubh’s Day he was considered a needy man, and hence this Sunday was called first – fruits Sunday.

On this day all went to Buaile na Greine with their contribution and their lons (or food supplies) to hold the fair.

The ceremonies consisted of strewing summer flowers on the altar and festive mound, of which we have been speaking up to this, under the name of Altóir na Greine, or Altar of the Sun, but which is on this day used as the altar of Crom Dubh.

The assemblage of this day is called Comthineol Chruim Duibh, or the congregation or gathering of Crom Dubh. And the day is called from him Domnach Chrom Dubh, or Crom Dubh’s Sunday, now called Garland Sunday by the English speaking portion of the people of the surrounding districts.

The name is supposed to have been derived from the practice of strewing garlands of flowers on the festive mound on this day as homage to Crom Dubh: hence the name Garland Sunday.

Assuredly I saw blossoms and flowers deposited upon it on the first Sunday of August 1844, and put some upon it myself as I saw done by those who were with me. I was then a mere lad, but very inquisitive. The assembly was at this time a mere gathering of boys.”

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0612, Page 323

According to MacNeill, the main theme that emerges from the folklore and rituals of Lughnasadh is a struggle for the harvest between two gods. One god – usually called Crom Dubh – guards the grain as his treasure. The other god – Lugh – must seize it for mankind. (Tailtiu may have been an earth goddess who represented the dying vegetation that fed mankind.)

The Tailteann Games, Tailtin Fair, Áenach Tailteann, Aonach Tailteann, Assembly of Talti, Fair of Taltiu or Festival of Taltii were the funeral games which Lugh started in her honour.

There is still a complex of ancient earthworks dating to the Iron Age in the area of Teltown where the festival was historically known to be celebrated off and on from medieval times into the modern era.

My Experience

On a personal note, I’ve always connected very strongly with the Goddess Tailtiu. Indeed, I chose her as my avatar and screen name when I moderated a popular English Witchcraft forum, many years ago. The pronunciation was always fun (Tall-CHEW), and earned me the nickname of Chewy. So, nothing to do with Star Wars, if you remember me from those dim and misty times.

My first introduction to the Irish Pagan Community, back in… 1996, I think, was to represent the Goddess Tailtiu in a ritual re-enactment of a sacred procession, organised by Chris Thompson (of Story Archaeology fame).

This was in protest at the landowner attempting to dig up one/some of the mounds, and was filmed by the Nationwide programme, for our national broadcaster RTE.

So, no pressure then.

If anyone can source a copy of that segment, I’d be most grateful 😉

If you’d like to learn more about the history and practice of Pagan Holidays, or Pagan Festivals in Ireland, you can check out my blog post here.

Learn about the beliefs, Irish mythology, folklore and magic of the turning of the year in Ireland at the Irish Pagan School – Seasons and Sacred Cycles.

The Badb in Bruiden Da Choca

Badb in Da Coca’s Hostel

Bruiden Da Choca, ‘Da Coca’s Hostel’, is known also as Togail Bruidne Da Choca(e) (‘The destruction of Da Coca’s Hostel’), and is one of the many Badb or Mórrígna stories often quoted or referred to, but rarely read or studied.

Let’s change that?

It is available online, though only in a translation by Whitley Stokes, unfortunately, who is not my favourite scholar by any means.

The Summary on CODECS reads:

After the death of Conchobar, the Ulaid debate who to give the kingship to, and decide on Conchobar’s son, Cormac Cond Longas, who is in exile in Connacht. They send envoys, and Ailill and Medb agree to allow Cormac to take up the kingship. He sets out with a retinue, but Craiphtine the harper, whose wife has slept with Cormac, causes Cormac to break his gessa on the journey. Cormac encounters the Badb in the form of an old woman washing a bloody chariot at the ford. A party of Connachta encounter Cormac’s party. They fight several battles, and heroes on both sides are killed. Cormac’s party spend the night at Da Coca’s hostel, which comes under siege by the Connachta, and Cormac is killed, along with nearly everybody on both sides.

https://www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Bruiden_Da_Choca

The bit with the Badb is what we’ll be looking at here today, though the rest is also quite fascinating with regard to the Ulster Cycle as a whole, and Queen Medb of Connacht in particular.

Badb as the Washer at the Ford

This is the excerpt that is pictured above, and appears on Page 157 of the Revue Celtique text that can be found here:

“Thence they went to Druim Airthir, which is now called The Garman, on the brink of Athlone. Then they unyoke their chariots. As they were there they saw a red woman on the edge of the ford, washing her chariot and its cushions and its harness. When she lowered her hand, the bed of the river became red with gore and with blood. But when she raised her hand over the river’s edge, not a drop therein but was lifted on high; so that they went dryfoot over the bed of the river.”

I was curious as to where this place might be located, as I’m a bit of a freak for finding and visiting (and tour guiding at!) locations associated with the Mórrígan in Ireland… so I did a bit of digging. And found this:

Druim Airthir, where coursed the steeds, was its name, before it was called Druim Criaich.

The Metrical Dindshenchas – poem/story 13

This fits with Drumcree (Droim Cria), Gormanstown, Co. Westmeath. There are a number of lakes nearby, but as the text specifically mentions the Ford, I’m going to opt for somewhere along what is now called the River Deel as the likeliest location, with around the place that the road crosses over it as a likely fording point.

View it on a Map here

Anyway, on with the text, which all too commonly and very frustratingly, leaves out the verse and prophecy parts:

“Most horrible is what the woman does! says Cormac. Let one of you go and ask her what she is doing. Then someone goes and asked her what she did. And then, standing on one foot, and with one eye closed, she chanted to them, saying: « I wash the harness of a king who will perish » etc.

The messenger came to Cormac and told him the evil prophecy which the Badb had made for him. Apparently thy coming is a cause of great evil, says Cormac. Then Cormac goes to the edge of the ford to have speech with her, and asked her whose was the harness that she was a-washing. And then he uttered the lay: « O woman, what harness washest thou? » etc.

The Badb. « This is thine own harness, O Cormac, And the harness of thy men of trust, » etc. Evil are the omens that thou hast for us, says Cormac. Grimly thou chattest to us.”


Badb at Da Coca’s Hostel

The Badb at Da Coca’s Hostel

The Badb appears again further on, once they get to the Hostel.

“Dâ Choca entered the house, together with fifty apprentices, and his wife, even Luath, daughter of Lumm Lond. They make Cormac and his army welcome. Then they (all) take their seats in the house.

Now when they were there, they saw coming to them towards the Hostel a bigmouthed, swarthy, swift, sooty woman, and she lame and squinting with her left eye. She wore a mantle threadbare (?) and very dusky. Dark as the back of a stag-beetle was every joint of her from crown to ground. Her filleted grey hair fell back over her shoulder. She leant her shoulder against the doorpost, and began prophesying evil to the host, and uttering ill words, so that she said this:

« Sad will they be in the Hostel: bodies will be severed in bloods,
Trunks will be headless, above the clay of Dâ Choca’s Hostel. »

Then the Badb went from them, and…

This is reminiscent of her appearance in Togail Bruidne Da Derga, ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, an earlier tale which has many similar elements. Be careful not to mix them up, though a lot more scholarly work has been done on Da Derga than Da Choca.

In his footnotes, Stokes says:

“Chanting spells, standing on one foot and with one eye shut, is a common incident in Irish magic. So Lugh sings round the Irish army to ensure their success, Rev. Celt., XII, 98. So in the Bruden Dà Derga, LU. 86″32, Cailb chants her baleful prophecy… ‘(standing) on one foot and (using only) one hand and (breathing only) one breath’. Compare also the Dinnsenchas of Loch da Caech, Rev. Celt., XV, 432, where Cicul’s three hundred men come, each using only one foot, one hand and one eye.”

Revue Celtique (1870)

Hopefully now, this has given you a clearer picture around the appearances of the Badb in the tale of Da Coca’s Hostel, and an exciting new physical location associated with the Mórrígan for us to visit.

Watch for that in the Patreon, where we do monthly Site Visits to sacred places in Ireland, and you get to come along!

Join Lora’s Patreon Here.

Enroll in our Intro to the Mórrígan Course Here.


Aislinge Óenguso

Aislinge Óenguso Gantz Early Irish Myths and Sagas Aisling

The Dream of Oengus

Irish Source Lore Manuscripts:

The following is an excerpt from an excellent book, detailed below, which you should absolutely have a copy of in your library!

Jeffrey Gantz. Early Irish Sagas.

Oengus was asleep one night when he saw something like a young girl coming towards the head of his bed, and she was the most beautiful woman in Eriu. He made to take her hand and draw her to his bed, but, as he welcomed her, she vanished suddenly, and he did not know who had taken her from him. He remained in bed until the morning , but he was troubled in his mind: the form he had seen but not spoken to was making him ill. No food entered his mouth that day. He waited until evening, and then he saw a timpán in her hand, the sweetest ever, and she played for him until he fell asleep. Thus he was all night, and the next morning he ate nothing.

A full year passed, and the girl continued to visit Oengus, so that he fell in love with her, but he told no one. Then he fell sick, but no one knew what ailed him. The physicians of Eriu gathered but could not discover what was wrong. So they sent for Fergne, Cond’s physician, and Fergne came. He could tell from a man’s face what the illness was, just as he could tell from the smoke that came from a house how many were sick inside. Fergne took Oengus aside and said to him ‘No meeting this, but love in absence’. ‘You have divined my illness,’ said Oengus. ‘You have grown sick at heart,’ said Fergne.; and you have not dared to tell anyone.’ ‘It is true,’ said Oengus. ‘A young girl came to me; her form was the most beautiful I have ever seen, and her appearance was excellent. A timpán was in her hand, and she played for me each night.’ ‘No matter,’ said Fergne, ‘love for her has seized you. We will send you to Bóand, your mother, that she may come and speak with you.’ 

They sent to Bóand, then, and she came. ‘I was called to see to this man, for a mysterious illnes had overcome him,’ said Fergne, and he told Bóand what had happened. ‘Let his mother tend to him,’ said Fergne, ‘and let her search throughout Eriu until she finds the form that her son saw.’ The search was carried on for a year, but the like of the girl was not found. So Fergne was summoned again. ‘No help has been found for him,’ said Bóand. ‘Then send for the Dagdae, and let him come and speak with his son,’ said Fergne. The Dagdae was sent for and came, asking ‘Why have I been summoned?’ ‘To advise your son,’ said Bóand. ‘It is right that you help him, for his death would be a pity. Love in absence has overcome him, and no help for it has been found.’ ‘Why tell me?’ asked the Dagdae. ‘My knowledge is no greater than yours.’ ‘Indeed it is,’ said Fergne, ‘for you are king of the Síde of Eriu. Send messengers to Bodb, for he is king of the Síde of Mumu, and his knowledge spreads throughout Eriu.’ 

Messengers were sent to Bodb, then, and they were welcomed: Bodb said ‘Welcome, people of the Dagdae.’ ‘It is that we have come for,’ they replied. ‘Have you news?’ Bodb asked. ‘We have: Oengus son of the Dagdae has been in love for two years,’ they replied. ‘How is that?’ Bodb asked. ‘He saw a young girl in his sleep,’ they said, ‘but we do not know where in Eriu she is to be found. The Dagdae asks that you search all Eriu for a girl of her form and appearance.’ ‘That search will be made,’ said Bodb, ‘and it will be carried on for a year, so that I may be sure of finding her.’ At the end of the year, Bodb’s peple went to him at his house in Síd ar Femuin and said ‘We made a circuit of Eriu, and we found the girl at Loch Bél Dracon in Cruitt Cliach.’ Messengers were sent to the Dagdae, then; he welcomed them and said ‘Have you news?’ ‘Good news: the girl of the form you described has been found,’ they said. ‘Bodb has asked that oengus return with us to see if he recognises her as the girl he saw.’ 

Oengus was taken in a chariot to Síd ar Femuin, then, and he was welcomed there: a great feast was prepared for him, and ti lasted three days and three nights. After that, Bodb said to Onegus ‘Let us go, now, to see if you recognise the girl. You may see her, but it is not in my power to give her to you.’ They went on until they reached a lake; there, they saw three fifties of young girls, and Oengus’s girl was among them. The other girls were no taller than her shoulder; each pair of them was linked by a silver chain, but Oengus’s girl wore a silver necklace, and her chain was of burnished gold. ‘Do you recognise that girl?’ asked Bodb. ‘Indeed, I do,’ Oengus replied. ‘I can do no more for you, then’ said Bodb. ‘No matter, for she is the girl I saw. I cannot take her now. Who is she?’ Oengus said. ‘I know her, of course: Cáer Ibormeith daughter of Ethal Anbúail from Síd Uamuin in the province of Connachta.’ 

After that, Oengus and his people returned to their own lan, and Bodb went with them to visit the Dagdae and Bóand at Bruig ind Maicc Oic. They told their news: how the girl’s form and appearance were just as Oengus had seen: and they told her name and those of her father and grandfather. ‘A pity that we cannot get her,’ said the Dagdae. ‘What you should do is go to Ailill and Medb, for the girl is in their territory,’ said Bodb. 

The Dagdae went to Connachta, then, and three score charios with him; they were welcomed by the king and queen there and spent a week feasting and drinking. ‘Why your journey?’ asked the king. ‘There is a girl in your territory,’ said the Dagdae, ‘with whom my son has fallen in love, and he has now fallen ill. I have come to see if you will give her to him.’ ‘Who is she ?’ Ailill asked. ‘The daughter of Ethal Anbúail,’ the Dagdae replied. ‘We do not have the power to give her to you,’ said Ailill and Medb. ‘Then the best thing would be to have the king of the síd called here,’ said the Dagdae. Ailill’s steward went to Ethal Anbúail and said ‘Ailill and Medb require that you come and speak with them.’ ‘I will not come,’ Ethal said, ‘and I will not give my daughter to the son of the Dagdae.’ The steward repeated this to Ailill, saying ‘He knows why he has bee summoned, and he will not come.’ ‘No matter,’ said Ailill, ‘for he will come, and the heads of his warriors with him.’ 

After that, Ailill’s household and the Dagdae’s people rose up against the sid and destroyed it; they brought out three score heads and confined the king to Crúachu. Ailill said to Ethal Anbúail ‘Give your daughter to the son of the Dagdae.’ ‘I cannot,’ he said, ‘for her power is greater than mine.’ ‘What great power does she have?’ Ailill asked. ‘Being in the form of a bird each day of one year and in human form each day of the following year,’ Ethal said. ‘Which year will she be in the shape of a bird?’ Ailill asked. ‘It is not for me to reveal that,’ Ethal replied. ‘Your head is off,’ said Ailill, ‘unless you tell us.’ ‘I will conceal it no longer, then, but will tell you, since you are so obstinate,’ said Ethal. ‘Next Samuin she will be in the form of a bird; she will be at Loch Bél Dracon, and beautiful birds will be seen with her, three fifties of swans about her, and I will make ready for them.’ ‘No matter that,’ said the Dagdae, ‘since I know the nature you have brought upon her.’ 

Peace and friendship were made among Ailill and Ethal and the Dagdae, then, and the Dagdae bade them farewell and went to his house and told the news to his son. ‘Go next Samuin to Loch Bél Dracon,’ he said, ‘and call her to you there.’ The Macc Oc went to Loch Bél Dracon, and there he saw the three fifties of white birds, with silver chains, and golden hair about their heads. Oengus was in human form at the edge of the lake, and he called to the girl, saying ‘Come and speak with me, Cáer!’ ‘Who is calling to me?’ sked Cáer. ‘Oengus is calling,’ he replied. ‘I will come,’ she said, ‘if you promise me that I may return to the water.’ ‘I promise that,’ he said. She went to him, then: he put his arms round her, and they slept in the form of swans until they had circles the lake three times. Thus, he kept his promise. They left in the form of two white birds and flew to Bruig ind Maicc Oic, and there they sang until the people inside fell asleep for three days and three nights. The girl remained with Oengus after that. This is how the friendship between Ailill and Medb and the Macc Oc arose, and this is why Oengus took three hundred to the cattle raid of Cúailnge. 

[tr.] Gantz, Jeffrey, Early Irish myths and sagas, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981. Buy It Here (Amazon US)Buy It Here (Amazon UK)

Irish Pagan Podcasts

Listening to Irish Pagan Podcasts

These are not all Irish Pagan Podcasts specifically, but they will be of interest to those who want to authentically connect to Irish Paganism, and they do raise Irish voices offering quality historical and cultural information.

Story Archaeology Podcast

Uncovering the layers of Irish Mythology.  On this site, you will find a regular podcast and articles about Irish Pagan Mythology by the Story Archaeologists, Chris Thompson and Isolde Carmody.  This is the essential primer with regard to Irish pagan Podcasts. To find out what Story Archaeology is, and how we apply this method to the exploration of Irish stories, listen to this introductory mini-episode.

Bluiríní Béaloidis Podcast

This is the podcast from The National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin, and is a platform to explore Irish and wider European folk tradition across an array of subject areas and topics. Hosts Jonny Dillon and Claire Doohan hope this informal and friendly tour through the folklore furrow will appeal to those who wish to learn about the richness and depth of our traditional cultural heritage; that a knowledge and understanding of our past might inform our present and guide our future. Check it on Sound Cloud here.

Amplify Archaeology Podcast

A series of interviews with Neil Jackman and a number of Ireland’s archaeologists and specialists, to discuss the key periods in Ireland’s past, the different types of sites and artefacts and how people lived in the past. An insight into the profession and practice of archaeology, and the various techniques and scientific methods that help to build the picture of Ireland’s history. View the website here.

Your Irish Connection Podcast

With Irish Pagan Author and Guide Lora O’Brien. Authentic connection to Ireland with a native voice on mythology, indigenous spirituality, archaeology, history, culture, society, storytelling, and travel round the island. This one ticks the box for Irish Pagan Podcasts specifically – the first series is a reading of a dissertation on the Mórrígan – Listen Here.

Motherfoclóir Podcast

Behind the wall of grammar homework lies the amazing world of the Irish language, and Darach (that @theirishfor guy) wants to take you there. With a crack team of the internet’s soundest Irish speakers, Darach will explore topics like differences between the Irish and English versions of the Constitution, silent letters, Gaeilge and technology, how new words get added to the dictionary and which old words have fallen out. It’s an all slammer, no grammar half hour. Get it in your ears here.

The Irish Passport Podcast

It’s about the culture, history and politics of Ireland, with journalist Naomi O’Leary and lecturer Tim Mc Inerney. They tie current events to the history and culture that explain them. Get your passport to Ireland here.

Irish History Podcasts

Fin Dwyer is a historian, author and podcaster. There are hundreds of free podcasts on Irish History, including things like the story of the Norman Invasion to the Great Famine. Irish Pagans will be particularly interested in the Witches and Witchcraft series here.

Not exactly Irish Pagan Podcasts but…

If you like listening to Irish folk talk about topics relevant to Irish Paganism, or Paganism in general, you’ll enjoy my YouTube Channel here.

And if you want to know about Irish Paganism – Start Here!

What Are Pagan Beliefs?

What Are Pagan Beliefs?

Normally, questions come in from my Mailing List or YouTube comments, and I’ll answer them in blogs or videos, but I was a little unprepared to be asked the question: “What are Pagan beliefs?” while attending a recent Irish activism event.

Caught on the hop, I guess, would be a better description, as it was out of the usual context in which I answer questions on Paganism. Really, I have been preparing for questions like this since I picked up my first book on Paganism in 1994, at the age of 16.

That was a wonderful start actually: Vivianne Crowley’s excellent title “Phoenix From the Flame: Living as a Pagan in the 21st Century”.

[Get your Copy Here – https://amzn.to/2WsxzAg]

This book was lauded as ‘a fresh look at the most ancient religion – Paganism – the vital, widely practiced alternative to mainstream religion that heralds a return to ritual and reverence for the earth’.

It certainly opened my eyes to a whole new world, as I now had a name for the unusual beliefs and inclinations I’d had all my life, even while mired in the very mainstream religious practices and beliefs of (then) Catholic Ireland.

I’d been carrying Pagan beliefs in my heart and in my soul, without even knowing what they were.

What Are Pagan Beliefs in General?

The top 3 basics, the things most Pagan Beliefs will align on, are Polytheism, Pantheism, and Reverence for Nature or Nature Worshipping. We’ll get into what these mean specifically, in just a minute.

Because first, it’s important to say that not all Pagan Beliefs do align, or even look remotely similar, in some cases. There are many traditions, and many different ways to be Pagan, and some Pagans don’t follow any tradition or any set way at all.

I shouldn’t have to say it, but sadly – it needs saying again – I do not here, nor do I ever attempt or presume to, speak for ALL Pagans, Irish or otherwise. This blog, as with all my writing and educational materials, are an expression of my own understanding and experience on a given topic.

Historically speaking, all of our ancestors were Pagan, as we understand it. It’s an umbrella term that we now use for basically anything non-monotheistic – ie, belief in more than one, or multiple Gods.

When the big ‘belief in one God’ religions started coming in, humanity moved away from pretty much everyone being Pagan. Before the Abrahamic religions came along, our Gods were many.

Which gives us the definition for the first term we used up there, Polytheism.

Polytheism is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals.

The definition of our second basic Pagan Belief – Pantheism – is a little trickier. This one is not specific to Paganism per se, so while many/most Pagans are Pantheists, not all Pantheists are Pagan.

Stick with me here.

Pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent deity or Universal consciousness. All forms of reality and things within reality are then seen either modes of that Being, or identical with it.

What this means, practically, is that Pantheists see ‘God’ in everything – every rock, every river, every cloud, every insect, every elephant, every human.

The essence of all things IS divinity.

Pagans are pretty much down with this view in a majority, and it ties very well with the third of our basic Pagan Beliefs – reverence for Nature.

There are also some of those who follow the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) who may hold Pantheistic views… it all depends how you define God, right?!

What Are Pagan Beliefs About Nature?

Again, this varies, but there are a couple of mainstays.

Pagans will follow and attune to the natural year through both lunar and solar cycles. That is, the moon cycles – New, Waxing, Full, Waning, and Dark. And the sun cycles – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.

Depending on tradition and personal practice, there may be specific festivals, rituals, and observances that happen through these cycles.

[You can learn about our Irish Pagan Holidays Here]

Sometimes these cycles correspond with Deity, and a God or Goddess will be venerated or acknowledged as part of the celebration or observance.

[For example, many people work with the Mórrígan at Samhain (Hallowe’en). You can learn more about the Mórrígan at Samhain Here]

Another commonly held Pagan Belief is that the earth herself is sentient, and sacred, as well as all that lives upon her. The spirit of place is highly regarded to, with a particular reverence for certain ancient sites being widespread.

What Are Pagan Beliefs About Gods and Goddesses?

Perhaps the first thing that those only familiar with modern mainstream religions will find odd, or even unsettling, is the Pagan Belief in both Gods and Goddesses. There is a diversity and openness to deity in any form, or none, that is just not what many folk are used to any more.

Pagans can be members of traditions that venerate within certain cultural parameters. We see followers of Irish (most often spoken of as ‘Celtic’, even though this term is a little more complicated than they may understand), Norse, Egyptian, Greek/Hellenistic historic spiritual cultures or pantheons of Gods. As well as many others.

The questions of authentic connection to these cultures, and cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation, I have addressed elsewhere – please do go and find an awareness/understanding around these issues for yourself.

[Cultural Appreciation vs Cultural Appropriation on YouTube – https://youtu.be/8oC3dUqEXaY]

Some Pagans prefer to keep things much more open and unspecified, with beliefs in non personified or unnamed God and/or Goddess energies. We may see veneration of a ‘Great Goddess of All’, or a ‘Great Mother’, perhaps with a partner/consort ‘Great God’.

What are Pagan Beliefs About the ‘UnGods’?

Many Pagans work with both Gods, and UnGods (though they may not call them exactly this name!).

These beings and entities that don’t quite fall into the Deity categories may include our own particular ancestor spirits, the dead in general, fairies or ‘Otherworld’ folk of many cultures, and the personification or anthropomorphisation of natural features.

That’s a long word.

It means attributing human characteristics, behaviour or personalities to natural elements; such as geographical locations (a river, a mountain, an ocean even a city), or broad spirit types (fire spirit, wolf spirit, death spirit).

Those are the most basic Pagan Beliefs, in my experience, which may or may not apply to ALL Pagans, but will be held sacred by most of us, most of the time, in some form or another.

If you’d like to learn more about Irish Paganism in particular, here’s a good Introduction to Irish Paganism Class at the Irish Pagan School – https://irishpaganschool.com/p/pagan-intro.

And if you have any questions, I’ll be prepared for them in the comments below 😉

Beltane – Bealtaine Traditions in Irish Folklore

Beltane - Bealtaine Traditions in Irish Folklore

Beltane is the anglicised version of our Irish word Bealtaine – still in use and meaning ‘the month of May’ in our own language. Bealtaine is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature, and it is associated with important events in Irish mythology.

Irish folklore still holds the legacy of the traditions and customs associated with this ancient festival. Bealtaine and Samhain are the original two turning points for the ‘wheel of the year’ in Ireland. That’s May Eve and Hallowe’en, in case you’re not familiar.

These major Irish Pagan Festivals were pivotal – literally – times of upheaval of change for our ancestors over 8,000 years ago when the Hunter Gatherer societies moved from their Summer to Winter camping grounds at these seasonal turning points, and they still resonate through the landscape and the Irish communities to this day.

Bealtaine – May Eve is a sidheógai [of the fairies] evening in the country. Green branches are placed over the doors of homes and stables, supposed to keep out the fairies from doing harm to the stock. The cabins and dairies are all locked this night to prevent fairies from taking away the milk and butter. (County Clare)

The Schools Collection –
https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4922383/4876307

There are many strange customs connected with Beltane – May Eve. The ancient May Eve customs are now dying away. Long ago the young children especially girls used to go around from house to house dressed in beautiful flowers. These youngsters used to sing a song at each house and get a few pence in exchange. In former times May Eve was regarded as a great festival. The following were the principal customs connected with May Eve in ancient times. First sweep the threshold clean, sprinkle ashes over it and watch for the first footprints. If it is turned inwards it means a marriage and if it is turned outwards it means a death. Secondly May Eve pick it up and put it on a plate, sprinkle with flour and at sunset you would see the initials of your true love’s name. Thirdly light a bush before the house on May Eve and it is considered to keep away thunder and lightning. Another old custom was to go out May Eve and gather armful of yellow flowers known as May Flowers. These are strewn at the gate of every field, outside the doors of homes and out-houses and even on the housetops. It is considered that these would keep away ill-luck, evil spirits and disease. (County Limerick)

The Schools Collection – https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4922074/4850082

Many old beliefs and customs were attached to May Eve and the month of May itself. For instance may-flowers were scattered around the house to keep away the fairies. Another old belief was that if a person washed his face in the May Eve dew he would not get sunburned during the Summer or he would not get wrinkles. Persons leaving presents of fresh milk and honey for the fairies would have a plentiful supply of butter and milk through-out the whole year. If a person was hit on the head with a bow-tree stick on May Eve he would not grow any more. Long ago the cow’s udder was washed with May-flower (?) on May Eve so that she would give plenty milk during the year. A person going through briars three times on May-Eve and saying “all the butter come to me” would have the power to steal butter. If a person went out on May morning and skimmed the water off the well he would be boss of the village for that year. Another old custom was to tie cowslips to the cow’s udder in order that the butter would not be stolen.
There is a rhyme about the month of May as follows:-
“A wet and windy May
Chills the haggard with corn and hay”

On May Eve people gathered different varieties of flowers and herbs which they mashed up. This mashed substance was called “Bealtanach”. It was rubbed on the cow’s udder and tits on May day. It was then believed that the cow would give a much better supply of milk and butter. (County Mayo)

The Schools Collection – https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427930/4358799

More on Beltane – Bealtaine in Ireland Here.

Beltane, or Bealtaine as we prefer it, is a truly remarkable time of year in the Irish calandar, whatever religion you’re following.

It’s a powerful time when ‘the veil is thin’, as they say, and if you double down on this by being at locations which are traditionally ‘thin places’ in Ireland, and by tuning in to the customs and magic that have been carried through for countless generations… well. You’re tapping into pure Irish Draoícht right there.

If you’d like to know more about the Seasons and Sacred Cycles of Ireland, you can Click to Learn More.

Irish Gods – Pagan Celtic Mythology

Irish Gods and Goddesses - Áine - Pagan Celtic Mythology

The Gods and Goddesses of the Irish were/are a little different from others in Celtic Mythology from Britain and Europe, and it is important to differentiate and understand what we mean by Irish Gods, specifically.

The term ‘Celtic’ is just a scholarly descriptor, when used correctly, to talk about Indo-European tribes in Europe who were grouped together (by outside observers) based on ethnolinguistic similarities – so, mainly their language, art, and other cultural indicators.

Basically what that means is that ‘the Celts’ doesn’t describe a single cohesive group of people, and it’s certainly not interchangeable with ‘the Irish’. Or even, ‘people who lived on the island we now call Ireland’!

Irish Gods, therefore, are their own unique thing. And that’s what we’ll be talking about here. This is just an intro article, so I’ll have to be brief, but you can also find a Pronunciation Guide for the Irish Gods on my YouTube Channel >>> Click Here.

An Mórrígan – The Morrígan or Mórrígan, also known as Morrígu, or Mór-Ríoghain in Modern Irish. Her name can be translated as ‘Great Queen’, or ‘Phantom Queen’. This Irish Goddess is mainly associated with prophecy, battle and sovereignty. She can appear as a crow, who we call the Badbh (who is another of the Irish Gods, at the same time as being a form of the Great Queen). In Neo Pagan terms she is often reduced to a ‘war goddess’, and misunderstood as a ‘Goddess of Sex and Battle’. Her primary function though, in my experience, is as a bringer of change, and a Guardian of Ireland – both in this world and the Irish Otherworld.

Áine – An Irish Goddess of the seasons, wealth/prosperity, and sovereignty, Aíne’s name could mean any of the following – ‘brightness, glow, joy, radiance; splendour, glory, fame’. She has a strong association with Samhraidh (Grianstad an tSamhraidh – Midsummer) and the sun in general, and can be represented by a red mare (McKillop, 1998). Some folk talk of her in terms of love and fertility, and she is definitely in the running as one of Ireland’s primary ‘Fairy Queens’. The hill of Knockainey (Cnoc Áine in Irish) is named for her, and up to as recently as 1879, it was recorded that local people were conducting rites involving fire, the blessing of land, animals and crops, in her honour.

Brighid – As Brigit, Brigid, Brighid, or Bríg, this Irish Goddess has been with the Irish Gods from pre-historic Ireland as one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, right through to modern Christian tradition in the form of our primary Catholic Saint. Her name is generally translated as ‘exalted one’, and she is a daughter of the Dagda. As one of the Irish Gods, she is associated with the Earraigh, the Spring (and particularly the Pagan Festival of Imbolg or Imbolc), and with fertility, and through her fire she brings healing, poetry and smithcraft. As Saint Brigid she shares many of the goddess’s associations, with a specific continuity of her sacred flame.

An Dagda – One of the Tuatha Dé Danann, whose name means ‘the Good God’, the Dagda is the ‘Great Father’ (Ollathair), chieftain, and druid of the tribe (Koch, 2006). He controls life and death through his magical club/staff (an Lorg Mór), and can manage the weather, crops, the seasons, and time itself. In general, his associations are the earthly ones of fertility, agriculture, strength, as well as the Otherworldly ones of magic, druidry and wisdom. He is the husband of the Mórrígan, and the Dagda’s Tools his other tools include the cauldron which never runs empty, and a magic harp which can control human emotions and change the seasons.

Manannán Mac Lír – This deity now, is not specifically Irish, I’ll admit, and definitely crosses the boundaries with the Celtic Gods of other nations. He does however, appear often in Irish mythology, and so has definitely earned his place amongst the Irish Gods. Manannán or Manann, also known as Manannán Mac Lir (‘son of the sea’) is, as you may have guessed, a God associated with the sea… but he also has very strong connections to the Otherworld as a guardian and guide, and so with Adventures or Journeys (Eachtraí nó Immrama) there. He owns a boat named Scuabtuinne (‘wave sweeper’), a chariot that is drawn across the top of the waves as if on land by the horse Aonbharr (‘one mane’, or possibly, ‘water foam’). He also carries – and sometimes loans out – a sword named Fragarach (‘the answerer’), and a cloak of invisibility (an féth fíada).

This is only a brief introduction to a very few of the Irish Gods, but you can get a better idea of who they are (and how to work with them) individually by clicking their names above, OR… through our class – Meeting Irish Gods – at the Irish Pagan School.

In Memoriam – Jon Hanna

Jon Hanna with our Féile Draiochta Family in 2012

Today, I’m grieving.

Yesterday morning, I learned of the loss of a very good friend. I was in a café having breakfast while I waited on our car to be fixed… the most ordinary of situations, right?

My friend Cat texted me, to check had anyone been in touch, and then asked for a phone call. She told me of the loss of Jon Hanna.

A man I have known since we were both only young and coming into the Irish Pagan community, a comrade I have fought beside for the freedom and equality and understanding of all, a fellow Irish Pagan author, a Craft brother I have stood in circle with many times, a dear friend whose life rites and passages I have shared at every step.

The first time I met Jon, I was 18 years old. At some Pagan event in a pub, maybe a moot? Or an organisation gathering for something in the wider community? Anyway, he was in a group with a person I had no time for, who had quite vocally offended the majority of the Irish Pagan Community and continued to do so. This tall, skinny, ginger man with the Northern accent shouldn’t have been in any way interesting to me, given all that.

But he was.

Even back then I could see his wicked sharp intellect and dry sense of humour. I could feel a kinship, a kindred spirit. I wanted to be friends with him, regardless of anything else.

Luckily for me, my wish came true in good enough time. Jon was a member of pretty much every community I’ve ever considered myself a part of, and we became excellent friends through the long years between then and now.

My brother’s journey echoed my own, and mine his, in a great many ways.

We often spoke of past trauma and shared experiences, our personal mental health struggles as survivors, and the toxic culture that created the situations we both found ourselves in.

I don’t know why I still survive today, and he doesn’t, and that terrifies me.

But I will go on without him, as we all have to try to do, and hope that he has now found the peace he so needed. And deserved.

On Friday night we will Wake him at his house, and on Saturday his Wiccan Brothers and Sisters will give him his full due and send off, in a ceremony that will be incredibly difficult for us all.

Though Traditional Wicca is not a path I follow in my personal practice any more, those rites of initiation are ties that bind through lifetimes, and it is still my right and my duty to stand within that circle in times like this. For him.

Please, if you can, light a candle for our fallen brother, and for strength (and what peace may be had) to surround his family and his children, that they may draw on it if they choose or need to.

“Until we meet, know, remember and love again.”

https://rip.ie/death-notice/jonathan-jon-hanna-rathgar-dublin/382377h

If you’re struggling with PTSD, C-PTSD, or any other mental health issues – I’m not going to tell you to just “please talk to someone”, because I know exactly how difficult that can be. If you can – please do – but if you feel you can’t right now… Know at least that I’ve been there. I might be there again some day. But we can survive this, and keep surviving it. I believe in us.

https://www.mentalhealthireland.ie/need-help-now/

Classical & Irish Writers Discussing Druids…

Druids in classical writing with mistletoe berries

This collection of quotes about druids and druidic practices is from an old Angelfire website that I unfortunately can’t find a credit for. Although the material itself is all public domain, I’d like to credit whoever first compiled it, so comment below if you know!

Sopater [late fourth-century BC] (via Athenaeus 4.160):
Among them is the custom, whenever they are victorious in battle, to sacrifice their prisoners to the gods. So I, like the Celts, have vowed to the divine powers to burn those three false dialecticians as an offering.

Timaeus [early third century BC] (via Diodorus Siculus 4.56):
Historians point out that the Celts who live on the shore of the Ocean honor the Dioscori above other gods. For there is an ancient tradition among them that these gods came to them from the Ocean.

Eudoxus of Rhodes [late third-century BC] (via Aelian On Animals 17.19):
Eudoxus says that the Celts do the following (and if anyone thinks his account credible, let him believe it; if not, let him ignore it). When clouds of locusts invade their country and damage the crops, the Celts evoke certain prayers and offer sacrifices which charm birds—and the birds hear these prayers, come in flocks, and destroy the locusts. If however one of them should capture one of these birds, his punishment according to the laws of the country is death. If he is pardoned and released, this throws the birds into a rage, and to revenge the captured bird they do not respond if they are called on again.

Artemidorus of Ephesus [late second-century BC] (via Strabo 4.4.6):
The following story which Artemidorus has told about the crows is unbelievable. There is a certain harbor on the coast which, according to him, is named “Two Crows”. In this harbor are seen two crows, with their right wings somewhat white. Men who are in dispute about certain matters come here, put a plank on an elevated place, and then each man separately throws up cakes of barley. The birds fly up and eat some of the cakes, but scatter others. The man whose cakes are scattered wins the dispute. Although this story is implausible, his report about the goddesses Demeter and Core is more credible. He says that there is an island near Britain on which sacrifices are performed like those in Samothrace for Demeter and Core.

Livy [first century AD] (23.24):
(216 BC) Postumius died there fighting with all his might not to be captured alive. The Gauls stripped him of all his spoils and the Boii took his severed head in a procession to the holiest of their temples.There it was cleaned and the bare skull was adorned with gold, as is their custom. It was used thereafter as a sacred vessel on special occasions and as a ritual drinking-cup by their priests and temple officials.

Nicander of Colophon [second century BC] (via Tertullian De anima 57.10):
It is often said because of visions in dreams that the dead truly live. The Nasamones receive special oracles by staying at the tombs of their parents, as Heraclides—or Nymphodorus or Herodotus—writes. The Celts also for the same reason spend the night near the tombs of their famous men, as Nicander affirms.

Posidonius [first century BC] (via Diodorus Siculus 5.28):
The teaching of Pythagoras prevails among the Gauls, that the souls of humans are immortal and that after a certain number of years they will live again, with the soul passing into another body. Because of this belief, some people at funerals will throw letters into the funeral pyre, so that those having passed on might read them.

(via Diodorus 5.31):
The Gauls have certain wise men and experts on the gods called Druids, as well as a highly respected class of seers. Through auguries and animal sacrifice these seers predict the future and no one dares to scoff at them. They have an especially odd and unbelievable method of divination for the most important matters. Having anointed a human victim, they stab him with a small knife in the area above the diaphragm. When the man has collapsed from the wound, they interpret the future by observing the nature of his fall, the convulsion of his limbs, and especially from the pattern of his spurting blood. In this type of divination, the seers place great trust in an ancient tradition of observation.

It is a custom among the Gauls to never perform a sacrifice without someone skilled in divine ways present. They say that those who know about the nature of the gods should offer thanks to them and make requests of them, as though these people spoke the same language as the gods. The Gauls, friends and foes alike, obey the rule of the priests and bards not only in time of peace but also during wars. It has often happened that just as two armies approached each other with swords drawn and spears ready, the Druids will step between the two sides and stop the fighting, as if they had cast a spell on wild beasts. Thus even among the wildest barbarians, anger yields to wisdom and the god of war respects the Muses.

(via Diodorus 5.32):
It is in keeping with their wildness and savage nature that they carry out particularly offensive religious practices. They will keep some criminal under guard for five years, then impale him on a pole in honor of their gods—followed by burning him on an enormous pyre along with many other first-fruits. They also use prisoners of war as sacrifices to the gods. Some of the Gauls will even sacrifice animals captured in war, either by slaying them, burning them, or by killing them with some other type of torture.

(via Strabo 4.4.4-5):
Generally speaking, there are three uniquely honored groups among the Gauls: Bards, Votes, and Druids. The Bards are singers and poets, while the Votes oversee sacred rites and examine natural phenomena. The Druids also study the ways of nature, but apply themselves to laws of morality as well. The Gauls consider the Druids the most just of people and so are entrusted with judging both public and private disputes. In the past, they even stopped battles which were about to begin and brought an end to wars. Murder cases especially are handed over to the Druids for judgment. They believe that when there are many condemned criminals available for sacrifice, then the land will prosper. Both the Druids and others say that the human soul and the universe as well are indestructible, but that at some time both fire and water will prevail.

(via Strabo 4.4.6):
Posidonius also says there is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Loire River inhabited by women of the Samnitae tribe. They are possessed by Dionysus and appease this god by mysterious ceremonies and other types of sacred rituals. No man ever comes to this island, but the women sail to the mainland to have sex with men, then return. Each year the women take down the roof of a temple and build it again before dark, with each woman carrying a load to add to the roof. Whoever drops her load is torn to pieces by the others. They then carry the pieces of her around the temple shouting with a Bacchanalian cry until their mad frenzy passes away. And it always happens that the one who is going to suffer this fate is bumped by someone.

Julius Caesar [first century BC] (Gallic War 6.13-14,16-19):
Throughout all of Gaul there are two classes of people who are treated with dignity and honor. This does not include the common people, who are little better than slaves and never have a voice in councils. Many of these align themselves with a patron voluntarily, whether because of debt or heavy tribute or out of fear of retribution by some other powerful person. Once they do this, they have given up all rights and are scarcely better than servants. The two powerful classes mentioned above are the Druids and the warriors. Druids are concerned with religious matters, public and private sacrifices, and divination.

A great many young men come to the Druids for instruction, holding them in great respect. Indeed, the Druids are the judges on all controversies public and private. If any crime has been committed, if any murder done, if there are any questions concerning inheritance, or any controversy concerning boundaries, the Druids decide the case and determine punishments. If anyone ignores their decision, that person is banned from all sacrifices—an extremely harsh punishment among the Gauls. Those who are so condemned are considered detestable criminals. Everyone shuns them and will not speak with them, fearing some harm from contact with them, and they receive no justice nor honor for any worthy deed.

Among all the Druids there is one who is the supreme leader, holding highest authority over the rest. When the chief Druid dies, whoever is the most worthy succeeds him. If there are several of equal standing, a vote of all the Druids follows, though the leadership is sometimes contested even by armed force. At a certain time of the year, all the Druids gather together at a consecrated spot in the territory of the Carnutes, whose land is held to be the center of all Gaul. Everyone gathers therefrom the whole land to present disputes and they obey the judgments and decrees of the Druids. It is said that the druidic movement began in Britain and was then carried across to Gaul. Even today, those who wish to study their teachings most diligently usually travel to Britain.

The Druids are exempt from serving in combat and from paying war taxes, unlike all other Gauls. Tempted by such advantages, many young people willingly commit themselves to druidic studies while others are sent by their parents. It is said that in the schools of the Druids they learn a great number of verses, so many in fact that some students spend twenty years in training. It is not permitted to write down any of these sacred teachings, though other public and private transactions are often recorded in Greek letters. I believe they practice this oral tradition for two reasons: first, so that the common crowd does not gain access to their secrets and second, to improve the faculty of memory. Truly, writing does often weaken one’s diligence in learning and reduces the ability to memorize. The cardinal teaching of the Druids is that the soul does not perish, but after death passes from one body to another. Because of this teaching that death is only a transition, they are able to encourage fearlessness in battle. They have a great many other teachings as well which they hand down to the young concerning such things as the motion of the stars, the size of the cosmos and the earth, the order of the natural world, and the power of the immortal gods.

All of the Gauls are greatly devoted to religion, and because of this those who are afflicted with terrible illnesses or face dangers in battle will conduct human sacrifices, or at least vow to do so. The Druids are the ministers at such occasions. They believe that unless the life of a person is offered for the life of another, the dignity of the immortal gods will be insulted. This is true both in private and public sacrifices. Some build enormous figures which they fill with living persons and then set on fire, everyone perishing inflames. They believe that the execution of thieves and other criminals is the most pleasing to the gods, but, when the supply of guilty persons runs short, they will kill the innocent as well.

The chief god of the Gauls is Mercury and there are images of him everywhere. He is said to be the inventor of all the arts, the guide for every road and journey, and the most influential god in trade and moneymaking. After him, they worship Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. These gods have the same areas of influence as among most other peoples. Apollo drives away diseases, Minerva is most influential in crafts, Jupiter rules the sky, and Mars is the god of war. Before a great battle, they will often dedicate the spoils to Mars. If they are successful, they will sacrifice all the living things they have captured and other spoils they gather together in one place. Among many tribes, you can see these spoils placed together in a sacred spot. And it is a very rare occasion that anyone would dare to disturb these valuable goods and conceal them in his home. If it does happen, the perpetrator is tortured and punished in the worst ways imaginable.

The Gauls all say that they are descended from the god of the dark underworld, Dis, and confirm that this is the teaching of the Druids. Because of this they measure time by the passing of nights, not days. Birthdays and the beginnings of months and years all start at night.

The funerals of the Gauls are magnificent and extravagant. Everything which was dear to the departed is thrown into the fire, including animals. In the recent past, they would also burn faithful slaves and beloved subordinates at the climax of the funeral.

Cicero [first century BC] (On Divination 1.90): The practice of divination is not even neglected by barbarians. I know there are Druids in Gaul because I met one myself—Divitiacus of the Aedui tribe, who was your guest and praised you highly. He claimed a knowledge of nature derived from what the Greeks call “physiologia”—the inquiry into natural causes and phenomena. He would predict the future using augury and other forms of interpretation.

The practice of divination is not even neglected by barbarians. I know there are Druids in Gaul because I met one myself—Divitiacus of the Aedui tribe, who was your guest and praised you highly. He claimed a knowledge of nature derived from what the Greeks call “physiologia”—the inquiry into natural causes and phenomena. He would predict the future using augury and other forms of interpretation.

Pliny [first century AD] (Natural History 16.249,24.103-4,29.52,30.13): I can’t forget to mention the admiration the Gauls have for mistletoe. The Druids (which is the name of their holy men) hold nothing more sacred than this plant and the tree on which it grows—as if it grew only on oaks. They worship only in oak groves and will perform no sacred rites unless a branch of that tree is present. It seems the Druids even get their name from drus (the Greek word for oak). And indeed they think that anything which grows on an oak tree is sent from above and is a sign that the tree was selected by the god himself. The problem is that in fact mistletoe rarely grows on oak trees. Still they search it out with great diligence and then will cut it only on the sixth day of the moon’s cycle, because the moon is then growing in power but is not yet halfway through its course (they use the moon to measure not only months but years and their grand cycle of thirty years). In their language they call mistletoe a name meaning “all-healing”. They hold sacrifices and sacred meals under oak trees, first leading forward two white bulls with horns bound for the first time. A priest dressed in white then climbs the tree and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, with the plant dropping onto a white cloak. They then sacrifice the bulls while praying that the god will favorably grant his own gift to those to whom he has given it. They believe a drink made with mistletoe will restore fertility to barren livestock and act as a remedy to all poisons. Such is the devotion to frivolous affairs shown by many peoples.
Similar to the Sabine herb savin is a plant called selago. It must be picked without an iron instrument by passing the right hand through the opening of the left sleeve, as if you were stealing it. The harvester, having first offered bread and wine, must wear white and have clean, bare feet. It is carried in a new piece of cloth. The Druids of Gaul say that it is should be used to ward off every danger and that the smoke of burning selago is good for eye diseases. The Druids also gather a plant from marshes called samolus, which must be picked with the left hand during a time of fasting. It is good for the diseases of cows, but the one who gathers it must not look back nor place it anywhere except in the watering trough of the animals.
There is a kind of egg which is very famous in Gaul but ignored by Greek writers. In the summer months, a vast number of snakes will gather themselves together in a ball which is held together by their saliva and a secretion from their bodies. The Druids say they produce this egg-like object called an anguinum which the hissing snakes throw up into the air. It must be caught, so they say, in a cloak before it hits the ground. But you’d better have a horse handy, because the snakes will chase you until they are cut off by some stream. A genuine anguinum will float upstream, even if covered in gold. But as is common with the world’s holy men, the Druids say it can only be gathered during a particular phase of the moon, as if people could make the moon and serpents work together. I saw one of these eggs myself—it was a small round thing like an apple with a hard surface full of indentations as on the arms of an octopus. The Druids value them highly. They say it is a great help in lawsuits and will help you gain the good will of a ruler. That this is plainly false is shown by a man of the Gaulish Vocontii tribe, a Roman knight, who kept one hidden in his cloak during a trial before the emperor Claudius and was executed, as far as I can tell, for this reason alone.
Barbarous rites were found in Gaul even within my own memory. For it was then that the emperor Tiberius passed a decree through the senate outlawing their Druids and these types of diviners and physicians. But why do I mention this about a practice which has crossed the sea and reached the ends of the earth? For even today Britain performs rites with such ceremony that you would think they were the source for the extravagant Persians. It is amazing how distant people are so similar in such practices. But at least we can be glad that the Romans have wiped out the murderous cult of the Druids, who thought human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism were the greatest kind of piety.

Suetonius (Claudius 25):
(AD 41-54) Claudius destroyed the horrible and inhuman religion of the Gaulish Druids, which had merely been forbidden to Roman citizens under Augustus.

Lucan [first century AD] (Civil War 1.444-46,450-58):
Cruel Teutates pleased by dreadful blood,
Horrid Esus with his barbaric altars,
and Taranis, more cruel than Scythian Diana.
Oh Druids, now that the war is over
you return to your barbaric rites and sinister ways.
You alone know the ways of the gods and powers of heaven,
or perhaps you don’t know at all.
You who dwell in dark and remote forest groves,
you say that the dead do not seek the silent ream of Erebus
or the pale kingdom of Pluto,
but that the same spirit lives again in another world
and death, if your songs are true, is but the middle of a long life.

Silius Italicus [first century AD] (Punica 3.340-43):
The Celts known as Hlberi came also. To them it is glorious to fall in combat, but they consider it wrong to cremate a warrior who dies in this way. They believe he will be carried up to the gods if his body, lying on the field of battle, is devoured by a hungry vulture.

Historia Augusta [fourth century AD] (Alexander Severus 59.5):
(AD 235) The Druidess exclaimed to him as he went, “Go ahead, but don’t hope for victory or put any trust in your soldiers.”

(Numerianus 14):
While Diocletian was still a young soldier he was staying at a tavern in the land of the Tongri in Gaul. Every day he had to settle his account with the landlady, a Druidess. One day she said,” Diocletian, you are greedy and cheap!” Jokingly he responded to her, “Then I’ll be more generous when I’m emperor.” “Don’t laugh,” she said, “for you’ll be emperor after you’ve killed the boar.”

(Aurelianus 43.4):
(AD 270) On certain occasions Aurelian would consult Gaulish Druidesses to discover whether or not his descendants would continue to rule. They told him that no name would be more famous than those of the line of Claudius. And indeed, the current emperor Constantius is a descendant of his.

Ausonius [late fourth century AD] (4.7-10,10.22-30):
You are descended from the Druids ofBayeux, if the stories about you are true, and you trace your sacred ancestry and renown from the temple ofBelenus. Nor will I forget the old man by the name of Phoebicius. Though he was priest of the god Belenus, he received no profit from the position. But nonetheless this one, who descended, it is said, from the Druids of Brittany, did receive a professorship at Bordeaux with the help of his son.

Botorrita Inscription (late second/early first century BC):
To Eniorosis and Tiato ofTiginos we dedicate trecaias and to Lugus we dedicate arainom. To Eniorosis and to Equaesos, ogris erects coverings of olga and to Lugus he erects coverings of the tiasos.

Tablet of Chamalieres (c. AD 50):
I invoke the god Maponos arueriitis. Through the magic of the underworld gods. C. Lucios Floras, Nigrinos the speaker, Aemilios Paterinos, Claudios Legitumos, Caelios Pelignos, Claudios Pelignos, Marcios Victorinos, and Asiaticos son of Adsedillos… The oath they will swear—the small shall become great, the crooked become straight, and, though blind, I will see. With this tablet of incantation this will be… luge dessummiiis luge dessumiis luge dessumiiis luxe.

Tablet of Larzac (c. AD 90):
Behold:
—a magical incantation of women
—their ritual underworld names
—the prophesy of the seer ess who weaves this spell
The goddess Adsagsona renders Severa and Tertionicna enchanted and bound.

St. Patrick [fourth century AD] Confession:
It is remarkable that the Irish have indeed become a people of the Lord and are children of God. These people who up until now had no knowledge of God, but worshipped idols and followed disgusting religious practices.

Old Irish Law:
Sixth century—Oaths may be sworn in presence of Druids (Old Irish drui)
Seventh Century—Druid only has same rights as a boaire
Eighth Century—Protect me from the spells of women, blacksmiths, and Druids…

If you’d like to learn more about Modern Druidry, you should really start here – a class on Decolonising Your Druidry.

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