Blog - Page 9 of 9 - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide

Lugh Comes to Tara

Hill of Tara Aerial Wide Angle

It was fierce cold for sure out there, away from the light and heat of the feast.  Eoghan hated gatekeeping duty, but it was his turn and that was that, so there he sat.

Young Fionnuala had slipped him a wineskin full of the best from inside in the kitchens, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been at least.  He could hear the occasional strain of the harp though, and the odd waft of roasted meat drifted up to him even there, causing his mouth to water and his belly to rumble, and his mood to darken even further.  He’d told Fionnuala there was no need for guard duty this night – the walls at Tara were the soundest in the land, and sure everyone who would be coming was inside already.  Nobody missed a feast of the Tuatha De Danaan.

Sudden thumping from outside the gates jolted him out of a doze and made a liar of him,  for there was most definitely someone there who wasn’t inside already, and didn’t want to miss the feast at Tara, judging by the clatter they were causing.  Owen made his way down to the small gate and pulled back the hatch so he could see the head of whoever was outside.

The warrior, for he was undoubtedly a warrior, was alone, and he looked pleasant enough.  There was a fierce brightness about him, even in the gloom of the evening, which Eoghan couldn’t account for, so he left that thought alone and reverted to his customary gate query – who was this stranger disturbing the peace at Tara, and what did he want.  He was called Lugh, this bright warrior, and he wanted to join the feast within.  But sure the seats were all full, and everyone who was supposed to be coming was inside already; what did they need another for?

Well, it turns out this young man could lay claim as a master Builder, one of the best in all of Eireann, and surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table?  But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Builders, and sure what would they be needing another for?  Well, it turns out this young man was also a master Brazier, one of the best in all of Eireann, and could keep the fires in all of Tara lit and tended no matter what came.  Surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table?  But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Braziers, and sure what would they be needing another for?  Well, it turns out this young man was also a master Harper, one of the best in all of Eireann, and his music would soothe the very soul of any who heard it.  Surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table?  But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Harpers, and sure what would they be needing another for?  They progressed through a range of skills:  Lugh was a Smith who could craft with any metal, a Champion of all games and arts, a Poet who could charm or curse with equal skill, an Historian who would recite the families and battles of all Eireann through the ages, a Cup-bearer who would never spill a drop, a Magician who could control the very world around them, and even a Physician who could cure all ills, excepting if a head be cut clean off.  But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan had all of these people skilled in such things, and sure what would they be needing another for?

Ah now, says Lugh, and tell me Gatekeeper – but do you have any man or woman within the walls of Tara who can do ALL of these things?  Eoghan was forced to admit that no, they did not, and the stranger was welcomed on the back of that.  Lugh was announced as the Ildánach – the many skilled one – and that was the first they’d heard of him, though not the last.

But sure, they are all stories for another day.

 


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Abortion in Ireland – Did You Know?

Aer Lingus

I went down to this little child, because she was a child… I got down on my knees in the aisle, and I asked her was she ok?  She said, “No”.  She was upset, and she said, she had had an abortion that afternoon in London.  Now if you know anything about flying, you don’t fly after having a tooth out, for fear of haemorrhaging.  Now she’s sitting in her seat… there was nobody with her, she was on her own…  because of the severity of the matter, we had no choice, we couldn’t wait to get back to Dublin.  That plane was diverted into Liverpool.  And my memory… was of that girl – the ambulance men came on, they very discretely looked after everything, and nobody knew anything, they took her off – and she SCREAMED, all the way down on that stretcher, for us not to tell her parents back in Ireland.

That was an experience from the 1980’s, told by Derry-Ann Morgan, a former employee of Ireland’s national airline, to the crowd of activists, protestors and passers-by attending a Pro-Choice Rally on a very cold Saturday in May 2013, in Ireland’s capital city.  That a girl of 15 years old would be subjected to such trauma, on finding herself pregnant in circumstances that simply did not allow for her to birth and raise a child, is unthinkable.  But sure, that was 30 years ago.  So much has changed in Ireland since then!

Highlights from the 80’s here on the island include an amendment to the Irish constitution, just to be sure to be sure than none of our poor wee Irish babbies might get killed unnecessarily.  Driven by fear of abortion in other countries, the 8thAmendment in 1983 made it illegal for a woman to travel for an abortion, and illegal to even provide information, or speak to a pregnant woman in Ireland about how or where she could travel for abortion to another country.  That same year, it was reported that an Irish mother of two named Sheila Hodgers was refused treatment for her progressive cancer, even down to not being allowed proper pain medication, due to the risk it posed to the foetus she was carrying at the time.  Her husband repeatedly requested an abortion, but was refused.  The hospital had to abide by a code of ethics drawn up with the Catholic Church, which would not even allow for a Caesarean section, as there was a chance of damage to the foetus.  Following a premature labour, the baby died a few hours after birth, and Ms. Hodgers lasted only two days longer.

It’s a good thing the Government of Ireland has managed to wriggle out from under the thumb of the Church in 2017, so a travesty like that couldn’t possibly happen again, isn’t it? 

Oh no, wait, they haven’t yet. 

When the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist residing in Ireland, hit the news, the nation, and the world, was shocked.  Ms. Halappanavar died in October 2012, after she had sought help at the University Hospital in Galway as she was suffering a foetal miscarriage at 17 weeks.  On being told the foetus was not viable, Savita requested an abortion, but was then informed the hospital could not perform an abortion under Irish Law as the foetus’s heart was still beating.  A few days after, Ms. Halappanavar was diagnosed with septicaemia, leading to multiple organ failure, and death of both mother and foetus.

This happened despite the 1992 ‘X Case’ in which the Supreme Court decided that a pregnant woman could have an abortion to save her life, including from suicide – which was based on the case of X, a 14 year old girl who had been made pregnant by rape, and wanted the right of an abortion.  This led to the 13th, and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, stating that the prohibition on abortion would not limit the freedom of pregnant women to travel out of the state, and that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries.  Neither of which was of any use to Savita, whose husband reported that a nurse in the hospital told them their repeated requests for abortion had to be denied, because “Ireland is a Catholic country”.

How horrific.  How utterly, incomprehensibly tragic all of that is.  Janet, who has been a pro-choice activist in Ireland for 24 years, recounts what she views as the best experience for a woman in Ireland today:

At 5 to 7 weeks… they illegally obtain the medical abortion pills online… they order them, risking charges for importing a Class A drug without a license, and with their partner or friend take them over the course of a weekend and have an abortion at home with everything they might need, or booked into a hotel room.

And what, in her experience, is the worst experience for an Irish woman who faces the choice today?

It is not to do with if they have travelled, or how far along they were, or what type of abortion they have had.  It is simply the isolation which comes with not having anyone to talk to about the experience…  We know that 150,000 women who gave Irish addresses have travelled to the UK, it may be more…  That is so many women passing each other each day and not knowing they have that shared experience, and being unable to support each other.

The Pro-Choice Rally in May 2013 was timed to coincide with a 3 day Government committee hearings on proposed new legislation, following publication of the ‘Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013’.  Dr. Sinead Kennedy of the ‘Action on X’ group, organisers of the rally, spoke of her feeling with regard to the Bill, and the debate that surrounds it:

We had the spectacle beginning yesterday of politicians debating the merits of allowing women lifesaving abortions.  Debating how many years in prison – 5, 10, 15, 20 – vulnerable women in difficult situations will be subjected to, if they try and access abortions here in this country.  Listening to politicians who seem to think that they’re bishops back in the 1950’s, who think that women are no more than vessels or incubators.

We need to tell this government that we will not accept legislation that excludes suicide.  Women will not be subjected to panels of 3, 4, 7 doctors (to decide if they may have a termination).  This is outrageous, it is barbaric.  And women must not and will not be criminalised in their own country, for accessing abortion.  (This Bill doesn’t provide) access to abortion for women who are victims of rape or incest, it doesn’t provide access for women who have fatal foetal abnormality, it does nothing to address the issue of when a woman’s health is in jeopardy because of her pregnancy – and more than that it doesn’t do ANYTHING to address the 5,000 women who travel abroad every single year to Europe, who are criminalised in their own country, and treated like exiles.  And we will not tolerate this anymore.

It is surreal to think that under the proposed legislation, a 14 year old rape victim such as the girl in the X case, who is proven to have taken abortion pills in Ireland, would be subject to a 14 year prison sentence.  Her attacker, if convicted, would be likely to face a 7 year jail term, the current average.  As reprehensible as the situation is though, Dr. Kennedy is satisfied that things are moving in the right direction.  She said that this legislation is the bare minimum we need, and while it is highly restrictive, and insulting that we have to stand out and demand this, it is nevertheless an important defeat for anti-abortionists.  This, finally, is a step in the right direction.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 now defines the circumstances and processes within which abortion in Ireland can be legally performed. It allows for abortion where pregnancy endangers a woman’s life, including through a risk of suicide. It was signed into law on 30 July by Michael D. Higgins, the President of Ireland, and commenced on 1 January 2014. To determine whether the pregnant person is truly at risk, her case is put before a panel of up to 4 doctors and specialists, who must concur on the ruling.

There are no restrictions or checks in place for the religious beliefs of any of those doctors.

In a conversation with Katherine O’Donnell, director of the Women’s Studies Centre at University College, Dublin, she speculated:

Besides women who are ‘out’ about needing terminations for medical reasons, there is no big visible presence of women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies for other reasons, it is left to a few activists and organisations (such as Choice Ireland and Doctors for Choice)…  so many thousands of Irish women annually terminate pregnancies, but there is no visible mass movement.  We seem to have as many Irish women who are saying they were ‘hurt by abortion’ or that abortion is harmful, as those who are affirming it as a positive choice in their lives.  If even a small fraction of Irish women told their abortion stories, I think it might be the way to unlock the long impasse where the argument about abortion goes into arcane abstractions rather than lived lives.

In 2013, it was estimated that 12 women leave Ireland every day to secure an abortion, while countless others are taking pills purchased online.  Abortion is the most common gynaecological procedure an Irish woman is likely to have.  It is variously estimated that between one in 10 and one in 15 Irish women of reproductive age have had an abortion.  An Irish woman is more likely to have had an abortion than appendectomy or tonsillectomy.

It is time for Ireland to accept that the Abortion War will not be won by anything but safety and support for Ireland’s women, and the right  – regardless of the situation – of an Irish woman to make the best possible choice she can for her own life.

You can provide support and keep up to date at the Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland Website.

 

[A version of this article was first published in Ms. Magazine, in the Summer issue of 2013, researched and written by Lora O’Brien.]

 

My First Year with the Morrigan – Guest Post

Guest Post - Graveyard

It began at a hospital bedside in Western North Carolina.

Holding my grandmother’s hand as she took her final soft, short breaths. She was surrounded by the people closest to her, being loved and supported as she slipped away into the Otherworld.

There was something mesmerizing about that moment. In the days that followed, as the grief settled in, I replayed it over and over in my mind.

Despite the pain, there was something so peaceful and beautiful there. I wished I could go where she’d gone… except for the permanent part. Like a death nap, maybe. Where I could wake up in a couple hours.

I’m not sure if She had noticed me before then, but that’s when The Morrigan really began reaching out to me. As the ache of loss threatened to drown me, She appeared.

She met me in a bookstore one night, with I see Fire by Ed Sheeran playing on the loudspeakers and an article about Herself in a magazine I happened to pick up.

And if we should die tonight

Then we should all die together

Raise a glass of wine for the last time

Calling out father, oh

Prepare as we will

Watch the flames burn o’er and o’er

The mountain side

— “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran

She began to whisper to me there. I felt Her presence in the car on the way home, offering relationship.

I was honest. “I’ve heard you’re not to be trifled with,” I said. “I don’t want to make a commitment until I know what I’m getting into.”

I began to research Her while crows took up residence in my yard. I took Lora’s annual Meeting The Morrigan intensive programme. And finally I stood before an altar that had become Her altar and committed to Her for a year-and-a-day.

And then all Hell broke loose.

Long-forgotten traumas resurfaced, demanding to be dealt with. Relationships that maybe weren’t that good for me anyway strained to the breaking point. It seemed there was chaos all around me. Donald Trump was elected President of the US.

Somewhere in the midst of this chaos, She helped me find my backbone. A backbone I’d never realized I had, much less deployed. I began creating boundaries, and sticking to them. When my parents took their lifelong verbal abuse a step too far, I cut them out of my life. Forever. When one of my closest friends just couldn’t make time for me, I said goodbye. When my job expected me to keep working for free so we could get investment on the grounds that I’d have a tiny ownership stake, I quit.

Not gonna lie, each and every one of those things felt like a dagger in the gut. They hurt. But as I sit here on the other side, 3 months into my second year-and-a-day (which She and I both know at this point is really permanent), I am amazed at my own growth.

She put me through the fire – or perhaps She saw the fire coming and went through it with me. Either way, I am no longer the same person I was sitting at Grandma’s deathbed. I’m stronger than I ever imagined I could be, and I still have a long way to go.

This month I attended a memorial for another family member. I was consumed with anxiety beforehand about seeing my dad there. Would he confront me? Would he whisper something triggering in my ear just to see my reaction?

I discussed my fears with Herself. And when the day came, my dad skipped the memorial service and went straight to the cemetery. The moment I arrived there, he left. The bully was scared of me.

It’s a small, rural cemetery on the side of a mountain in Western North Carolina. It’s not Ireland – although there are people buried here who were born there. Some of my people who are buried here are only a generation or two removed from Eire.

But somehow, I don’t think that’s why The Great Queen showed Herself that day. I think it’s because I’m Hers.

And that is worth every bit of the upheaval of the last year.

 


Check Out this Guest Poster’s Blog Here, for the Journey from Cult to Freedom:  www.PentecostalToPagan.com


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Winter Solstice Greetings from Ireland

Winter Solstice in Ireland - Bonfire Sparks

Being Pagan in Ireland is a little different, I think, than being Pagan anywhere else.

We’re an odd lot, and we value individual strength, as long as it doesn’t upset the apple cart of family/community tradition, or give the neighbours anything bad to talk about.

I’m a… well, I don’t actually have a label that fits what I am or what I do, and that’s fairly reflective of Irish Paganism generally.

I’m an Irish heritage professional, a journalist, copywriter, a guide, an author – all things I’ve done or still do for my ‘day job’.

Personally, the term Draoi is the closest accurate description I’ve got, a ‘user of magic’.

Traditionally I might have been called a Bean Feasa (wise woman), but it seems a little arrogant to take that on for oneself. Before that, perhaps a Druid, though modern Druidry is very different to what that word means to me.

I am spiritual, but not religious, and I have a solid working relationship with the Gods, Guides and Guardians of old Ireland, and our sacred places.

How does all that translate into today’s Irish Christmas?
Most folk here go to mass on the eve or day, even if it’s only their token attendance of the year.

Besides the fact of the Catholic Church in Ireland essentially stopping anybody from leaving their organisation (is it just me, or is that a little cult-like? Illegal, even?) – Irish people are still stuck in ‘the done thing’, so babies are baptised, kids make communion and confirmation, and most people still get married in the church.

Many of us know that Winter Solstice is a much older tradition than our modern Christmas.

There’s the world famous Newgrange alignment, and the new but old City of Dublin Winter Solstice Celebration, with much more going on around the country, publicly and formalised just in the last few years.

Before that, you’d have to know someone who knows someone to get a personal invite to a genuine celebration rooted in Irish Spirituality.

So, raising kids in Ireland, interacting with non-Pagan friends and family, working, and all that jazz, you kinda have to do the Christmas thing, to some extent at least. But Winter Solstice is still a big deal, and getting more so.

How do we Irish Pagans handle that?

Winter Solstice in Ireland

We have a party.

Every year, on the Saturday before Christmas. We invite everybody we know. We start late afternoon, and carries on til the wee small hours.

This is the time of year we acknowledge the deepest and longest darkness, and make a point of balancing it with the lights of food and fire and feasting, family and friends.

And every year, I take a personal vigil through the longest night, to greet the sun the following morning. It’s a mark of respect, a point of sacrifice, and a time for quiet reflection on the balance of dark and light in my life, in my spirit. Time to adjust as necessary.

Do I think the sun won’t rise unless I am there to greet it? No, not as such… but I guess it doesn’t hurt to be sure, right?

You’re welcome ;o)

Have a Cool Yule folks, a Peaceful and Blessed Winter Solstice, and a Happy Christmas – wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and whatever you believe in.

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An Irish Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice Fire

The Longest Night.

A woman sits by her fire, wrapped in a blanket to keep out the chill, watching the flames in the quiet of a room.

Her house is silent around her, family sleeping as she waits. Lights burn through the darkest hours.

When the deep blackness begins to lessen, she makes her way outside, searching the horizon.

A shaft of light appears, a bright lance across the land – winter is broken… Summer will return.

She smiles, then returns inside, sticks on the kettle and hops in the shower, before driving herself to work.

What? Did you think we were looking at a scene from long ago? Perhaps, but come the 21st of December, this ancient ritual will be repeated in houses all over Ireland. Meán Geimhridh, Midwinter, brings a vigil through the darkness, waiting for the new-born sun.

Irish people have been marking the return of the sun for at least 5,000 years. We have built vast and complex monuments around it, and not just Newgrange. You don’t even have to be a politician or lucky in the Winter Solstice lottery to see these wonders of a by-gone age.

Knockroe Passage tomb in Co. Kilkenny, which has been called ‘the Newgrange of the Southeast’, is a fine example, which contains extensive megalithic art, and not one, but two, chambers with astrological alignments; showing light through the chambers at both sunrise and sunset on the Winter Solstice. Or take a look at Drombeg Circle in Co. Cork, a beautiful ring of standing stones which frames a flat topped rock, aligning to the horizon where the sun sets on the Longest Night.

Many traditions, now associated with Christmas and the holiday season, have their origins in the pre-Christian past. We are lucky now to have such a beautiful blend of customs, fitted exactly to the Irish psyche and community spirit.

In bringing the evergreen tree inside, we remind ourselves of life within the seeming death of winter, of sustenance and growth that continues through the darkest times. Plants such as holly and ivy compliment this theme, and not forgetting mistletoe, which was especially sacred to our Druidic ancestors as a fertility symbol. Be careful who you kiss under the mistletoe at this year’s parties!

Decorating the tree with candles, and reflective items such as mirrors and silver coins, in the past stood for an amplification of the natural energies of the living greenery; bringing more light and life to the darkness, throwing it around the room. Today we use dodgy flickering fairy lights, glitter and tinsel, but the principle is the same. And safer, for the inevitable puppy or toddler tree attacks.

Green is the colour of life, and health, but so too is red – the bright blood of life that flows through our veins, keeping our hearts beating and our senses alive. Before a certain drinks company decided it’d look great on the jolly fat guy with the beard, the colour red was valued as a decoration and a reminder of life throughout our homes for the Winter Solstice season.

Wren Day, or Lá an Dreoilín in Irish, was continued until recent times on Stephen’s Day, with troupes of kids (known as wrenboys) going round the village or town with a fake bird on a decorated stick, singing or dancing and asking ‘a penny for the wren’. A little further back, we see a more grizzly form of this, in the hunting and capture of a live bird, which was then used to decorate the pole and held pride of place as a centrepiece for the dance that followed.

In a time of sickness and death for the weak, this may be an echo of an older sacrifice to the Gods of Winter; take one life and spare the others through the darkness until the coming of Spring. Or with the ‘winter-wren’ being a symbol of the old year, maybe the people simply wanted to make sure that it was well and truly done with.

The singing and dancing part of that tradition is pleasant, at least, and brings us to another Winter Solstice favourite, the feasting and the parties. This is one that most of us keep up, to one degree or another, and having a good party to look forward to can get us through the darkest, coldest mornings.

Winter is the time we naturally draw in on ourselves, it can be the loneliest, harshest time of year. It’s not just the cold that brings us down, it’s the lack of light, and company. In days gone by there was a serious food scarcity through the dark winter days too – but a bright feast, filled with family and friends, was the perfect reminder that the time of dark death still held strong seeds of light and life.

So, enjoy your parties!

Samhain with the Morrigan

Honeysuckle and Blackthorn Twist

I observe Samhain from dark moon to dark moon.

When I first went ‘public’ with this over 3 years ago, it seemed a novel idea to many folks, and maybe a little bit… extreme or some shit?

But it’s always made sense to me, for a few reasons:

  • 31st October as modern Samhain/Halloween doesn’t correlate with the original calendar date for the festival, because of calendars being moved about by a number of days.
  • ‘The original calendar date for the festival’ doesn’t even really make sense either… did our ancestors use calendars and view time the way we do?
  • References to ‘celebrating’ Samhain in Irish lore are most often along the lines of a 3 day festival or event, not one single night.
  • The lunar cycle has always felt energetically important at this time of year for me, where it doesn’t play a HUGE role ordinarily – that’s pure personal gnosis though.

 

So, this is how it works.

I check for the astronomical data on new moons on Irish time in October and November.

The night before a listed new moon is the dark moon – there’s usually a 3 day period of ‘New Moon’ that’s actually the very last sliver of the old moon, then the dark moon, then the very first sliver of the new moon.

The dates are simple and clear this year (2017), the New Moon is Thursday 19th October at 8.36pm Irish Time, so tomorrow is the Dark Moon – Wednesday 18th. In November, the New Moon is on Saturday 18th at 7.51am, so the Dark Moon on Friday 17th, and that clearly encompasses the calendar date of 31st October in the middle.

Sometimes the dates are a little less clear, so I always just pick the dark moon to dark moon that has the 31st October somewhere in there between them.

 

What To Do?

Mostly, my practice involves showing up consistently. It’s one of my ‘3 Cs’ of spiritual work:

  • Connection – authentic, energetic, emotional, intellectual, culturally respectful, contextualised in the established lore, communicative, conscious connection.
  • Contract – practice built on relationships and agreed terms, give and take, and the basic boundaries of regular rightful relationship, just as we would have in this world… but carefully laid out in contract, and regularly reviewed too!
  • Consistency – just showing up every day, every week, and doing the work; it sounds simple, but we humans are the ones who are very prone to be distracted by shiny things, funnily enough, and often give a strong start that peters out in very little time. Don’t do that.

 

Exactly what work I’ll be doing when I show up every day through my Samhain cycle varies from year to year.

Currently, I know it definitely involves morning tending and prayer at the Mórrígan altar (click for more info that) before my household wakes, continuing with my ‘Get in the Sea once in each 7 day period’ for at least the full run of this (I’m hoping for the sake of my poor, frostbitten fingers that I will be able to shelve that one at east ‘til the warmer weather once Samhain is done), and I’ll need to get out with bare feet on the earth under the sky and see the moon, every single night.

I’ve a few other ideas as to what I might have to do… but I’m hoping they’re not necessary. Still holding out hope for an easy life over here someday, as I’m pretty sure this shouldn’t be approached like the Ordeal Olympics with folk vying for who has the most hard-core contractual load being placed on them.

Essentially, I’m lazy as fuck, and if I wasn’t being God-bothered to do this stuff, I’d be tucked up in my Batman jammies and cozy toes slippers, HAPPY OUT.

Anyway, I’ll keep ye posted how the Samhain cycle progresses, but be prepared for me being even more than usually grumpy with the Mórrígan, and now Manannán Mac Lir (click for more info on him) for good measure, as I get even more God-bothered into doing shit I don’t want to be doing, and don’t even really understand why I have to do be doing it.

How’s your Halloween season shaping up?!


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An Interview with Lora O’Brien

Lora Black Bob

Samhain Interview with Lora O’Brien

First Contact

Hi Lora,

I hope you’re keeping well.

My name is Lisa [xxxxx] and I’m a freelance journalist for the Irish [xxxxx]. I am currently working on a Halloween special for the newspaper and I would like to include a feature on modern Irish women who practice witchcraft.

I was wondering if you might be interested in speaking to me about this? The questions will just be about how you got interested in witchcraft, explaining what it’s about, how you became interested in it, what role it plays in your everyday life, its benefits for you, etc. and hopefully debunking any old-fashioned ideas readers might have about it!

If you’re interested let me know, I would love to speak with you.

Lisa – 13th October 2016

 

Hi Lisa,

Sure I’m interested but as a fellow freelancer I should inform you I may not be what you’re looking for.

I go by the native term Draoí rather than witch, and my magic/spiritual practice are as close to indigenous pre Christian ways as I can figure. I’m about the archaeology of ancient sites and authentic translations of old Irish manuscripts rather than black cats and broomsticks. The reality of native Irish “witchcraft” doesn’t lend itself well to photo ops 😉

Of course being unaware of the query you’ve had accepted, this might still be aligned. In which case, I’d be happy to chat to you. I’m presenting at Octocon in Dublin on saturday, or can do a phone call at a mutually convenient time. Mornings are best for me.

Beannachtai

Lora

 

The Interview

 

  1. What does a Draoí mean and what does it entail in your everyday life?

The modern definition of the term is a little muddied, but technically the word Draoí means: druid, wizard, magician, augur, diviner. In practice, for me, it means that I follow the native spirituality and magic of Ireland as closely as I can in my everyday. This means that my worldview and actions are informed and shaped by the indigenous wisdom of our ancestral heritage, as far as that is possible.

  1. I know you’re not a witch but do any of the associated practices like casting spells, reading tarot cards and magic play a role in being a Draoí? If yes, how so or what are your own practices?

Yes, those practices come from the same roots as my own work, and there are similarities.

For divination or information seeking purposes I don’t use Tarot cards (though I did learn to read them, and even did so professionally a long time ago!), but rather a personal method of Journeying to the Otherworld (similar to the shamanic techniques in other native and tribal cultures) for guidance and clarification, combined on occasion with tools from our culture such as Ogham staves, or a simple 3 Stone method as described in our historical manuscripts.

Irish Magic is a very broad topic (and one which I’m currently writing a book on for a US publisher), but yes. The practice of magic and specific spells are described from our most ancient historical texts right through to Irish Christian folklore. While it is distinct from my spiritual beliefs, it does run hand in hand.

  1. How did you first realise you were a Draoí or how did you get interested in this spiritual practice? What benefits do you feel from it?

I’ve always been fascinated by the myth and magic of our stories, from childhood on, as well as having an affinity and reverence for the natural world. These things form the foundation of my path as a Draoí. Consciously though, I began to identify as ‘Pagan’ from the age of 16 when I read a book and realised there was a name for what I believed and felt, and other people who felt the same! I studied all I could about modern Paganism by myself, until I could contact others at the age of 18 (nobody reputable will seriously teach or even talk to a child or teenager), and found a group I could work with to learn more. Though there wasn’t anybody publicly teaching or sharing authentic spiritual connection to specifically Irish practice back then – and wasn’t didn’t really change until I published my first book in 2004! – I studied everything I could about earth based spirituality and magic world-wide, and built my own system and techniques that fit with what I was feeling and experiencing on the ground here.

I really got involved with our sacred sites and places of power in my twenties, and went on to guide at and manage one of our most important archaeological complexes, Rathcroghan in County Roscommon, for 8 years. Following this path has – literally – changed my life. I went from a very disturbed, anxious and troubled teenager who felt increasingly isolated and desperate, to a useful dedicated person who writes, teaches, guides, counsels, supports, speaks publicly all over the world, and has a genuine purpose in bringing those who wish to connect to Ireland the opportunities to do so in an authentic way. Plus we have a bit of craic while we’re at it. The benefits, to me and to those I help every day, are immeasurable.

  1. Witches sometimes are part of a coven. Is there a social aspect to being a Draoí or how often do you get to meet other people with shared beliefs?

When I had children, then moved to Roscommon, a lot of my community interaction moved online out of necessity. Now that I work a lot with people who aren’t physically in Ireland, or who can’t travel regularly to me or to the sites that I visit, that online contact remains a huge factor for me. Personally, I work alone rather than as part of a group – but I can’t stress enough how vital the role of community is in the practice of native Irish spirituality. Ireland is a small island, and I’ve been active in the Pagan community here now for over 20 years, so I know a lot of folk who form the basis of that community, and we talk, meet and share on a regular basis. And with the huge growth in interest in the last 10 years particularly, there are teaching and social events all over the country.

I live in Waterford now, and I’ve just started a social monthly meet-up locally, the Waterford Pub Moot, but there are events like that every month in counties all across Ireland. There are annual events and gatherings such as Féile Draíochta in Dublin (which myself and Barbara Lee organised and ran for 13 years), and Eigse Spiriod Ceilteach in Wicklow. And for those who can’t make it to events or sites in Ireland in person, I run a monthly community ‘club’ on Patreon which facilitates authentic sharing and connection to Ireland.

  1. Do you ever get approached for any unusual requests like ‘can you use magic to get my ex-boyfriend back’, etc?

I’ve been public about my practice for a very long time now, and as a writer I’ve been on the internet since way back in the day, so yeah, I’ve received some really oddball requests. People who are hurting, or even just selfish, think that magic can solve all their problems, land them their dreams with no effort, or take their pain away. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. Like every other area of this existence, you have to do the work yourself to get the result.

  1. Irish people seem to be more interested in spirituality and wellbeing in recent years so I was wondering how people react when you describe your beliefs? Do you think as Irish people move away from the traditional Church they’re more open to other forms of spirituality?

I’ve been ‘out’ about who I am and what I do since I became consciously aware of it – back when I was 16. It gave me so much hope, support, and joy every day that I wouldn’t have been able to hide it even if I’d wanted to, and I never did want to anyway. I’ve never felt the need to introduce myself on first meeting as a Pagan or a Draoí, no more than regularly minded folk do that about their Christianity, but it’s not hard for people to discern for themselves before long. Or they just Google me and it all pops up.

The reaction has been mixed through the years, but for the most part it’s positive. People are curious and interested, even if they don’t understand it, and the most common response is to share their own (or their family’s) experience and stories of the ‘supernatural’ – the fairy fort or the banshee or the odd little folk habits and observations that Granny had. That’s the foundation for what I am doing, and it’s very relatable to the vast majority of Irish people, our spiritual and even magical heritage is only just under the surface.

The catholic church has had a stranglehold on Irish spirituality for a very long time, and though our ancestors found many ways to weave and blend their native faith into the new one, the church has always been jealous of our attention. As that hold releases, slowly but surely, I do believe that our people will begin to feel the call of the land more strongly, and build healthier communities where spiritual expression and practice is an open, fluid thing that serves the very real needs of the people, not the desires of any one organisation.

  1. Finally, does Halloween have a particular significance for you? If yes, do you have any plans to mark it?

Samhain is the original Irish festival which has become our modern Halloween, a time of huge importance to our ancestors which remains probably the biggest time of change and growth and celebration to modern practitioners.

Personally, I observe and celebrate Samhain from the dark moon to the dark moon, and not just on the calendar date we have now. So I will begin in the Cave at Rathcroghan (traditionally given as the entrance to the Irish Otherworld, and home of the Goddess Morrigan) on the dark moon before the 31st, and continue with personal ritual and celebration on a regular basis until the dark moon in November.

 

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Irish Bealtaine Traditions

Irish Bealtaine Broom Bush

May Bush, May Flowers, May Pole and May Bough are all traditions still to be found scattered through the Irish countryside come Bealtaine, 30th April (May Eve) and 1st May (May Day).

You might call it Beltine, Beltane, Beltaine, or any other variation of the word, but in Ireland it’s Bealtaine, as that is still the Irish language word for the month of May. So that’s good enough for me.

The turning of the year from Winter Darkness to Summer’s Light was and still is marked with flowers, fire, and fucking. (Maybe I should have said fertility? It’s also an ‘f’ word, so the alliteration would stand, but fucking just felt more honest.)

Luck and protection, health and happiness are the themes, and everything done as an individual or as a community focused on these important drives.

Originally we had two seasons, Summer and Winter, Sam and Gam in sean ghaeilge(old Irish). These were the times when everything changed – people, herds and flocks moved from winter to summer dwellings and pastures. Work focus changed. Women got pregnant at this time to ensure that come the third trimester they could be safely tucked up with indoor jobs beside the fire, preparing for a Spring birth with fresh foods available for essential sustenance. So, fucking in the fields was not just for fertility fun folks, this is a serious scheduling issue right here.

This year, I will not go out and get pregnant. In previous years, it seemed like an extreme adherance and a step too far – but this year, it’s moved to being physically impossible for me.

I will wash my face in the morning’s dew. Hey, I am turning 39 next Tuesday – I’ll take what I can get with regards to ancient traditions to impart a fresh faced glow. The sun’s rays piercing water, shimmering on a liquid surface this morning gives the blessing of beauty to those in the know. Or so they say.

There will be flowers strewn on my doorsteps, front and back, and on May Day a small group of us from the Waterford Pub Moot will meet and visit an ancient site for a picnic. I will probably do my usual clean up of said site, if there’s anything round it that shouldn’t be round it.

My Nana told me a story years ago about a cousin of hers in County Clare, who would go out on May morning with rotten eggs, and mix them into the soil of her neighbours’ fields. Bealtaine is a time for magic and mischief, and if you don’t look out you’ll be on the receiving end of all that.

So my protective fires will be lit, my boundaries and thresholds re-walked and reinforced, and I’ll do a general magical tidy up round the house and neighbourhood. Checking the fences, as it were. I pity the May Fool who tries to cross here uninvited *summer smiles*.

All will be well for the turning of the year, and as it should be. I wish you that and more, mo chairde.

Bealtaine shona dhaiobh, chun solas is beatha a fháil.

Beir Bua!

 

The Ninth Wave

The Celtic Sea

I sat on the shore, watching the dance and sparkle of sun on water, and seeing nothing. Nothing dances inside a heavy heart, nothing sparkles through a weary, worn spirit. I was nothing, then.

The great sea heaved its rhythm through my head regardless. The pattern of waves inserted into my mind, inciting me to notice, to follow, to count the waves. Each one lapped in, and out, with steady ebb and flow. I followed. In the cycle, one to eight were even, and then the ninth came. The ninth wave came each time; larger and longer, bolder and bigger, fine and free the ninth wave fell.

I watched each time. I felt it coming now, a familiar build through the order, and then the crash and boom, the expression of power and promise. The sun danced and sparkled on the water, a broad golden glitter, a pathway pulsing with each wave, and never clearer than on the ninth. Promise. The Land of Promise lay across the broad ocean, Tír Tairngire. It called to me, to come away, to follow the path across the sea and find my peace in promise.

And the ninth wave brought a distant shadow on the horizon, but when it fell to shore, the shadow passed. Each cycle brought the shadow closer – a smudge with the coming of the next ninth wave, and a shape with the show of the next. A silhouette, a figure, a woman. She stepped then across the golden glitter with the lightest of feet, calm and balanced as she rose and fell, moving to shore and nearer with each ninth.

Her face and form awoke me, my heart and spirit responding to the perfection of sheer Sídhe beauty. My eyes had never rested on such wonder before the vision of her approach.  She strode the sea as a creature born to it, finding with each footstep a perfect wavelet crest on which to float. When she reached the sand, she stopped, the water bearing her weight without a touch of land beneath her. She beckoned me from my daze. When I stood in front of her, her radiance near blinded my eyes and I wanted more, I wanted the sight of her to be the last thing I ever did see.

Her name was Cliona, she said, as I stayed dumbstruck in her presence. Descendant of Lir, and daughter of Manannan, Keeper of Oceans. Her voice soothed my soul as the sound of gently lapping water, as the sound of a breeze sighing through seagrass. She came with the waves to answer my call, she said; to offer succour, to bring me to promise. I wanted that. I wanted to sit with her, to see her face, to hear her voice, to feel all that I felt in that moment for ever more. I wanted that with my heart, with my spirit, with all that danced and sparkled in her presence.

She lifted her hand and pointed along the shore. A currach lay there, up the way a bit and broken a bit, as it hadn’t been treated yet for the season. I went and she watched as I pulled it over, and satisfied myself that it would float at least, across the golden pathway to get me to Tír Tairngire. I lifted and dragged the little boat  down to the water’s edge, to where she stood with waves licking her toes and heels, and I pushed it out into the sea, wading til it was born afloat, then climbing inside.

I watched her face as she kept pace with the craft, as the waves brought us away from land. I focused on her form as each ninth wave lifted us higher, pushed us farther along the path that disappeared rapidly as the clouds came down. I listened to her laughter as each ninth wave crashed each time onto the bow of the boat. My heart danced and my spirit sparkled as Cliona’s ninth wave crushed my craft, bringing me to the promise and into her world…

 

That’s not the last time one of us was brought to their world in such a way… but sure, they are all stories for another day.

 

 


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Samhain in Ireland

Darkness

No, it’s not ok to pronounce it Sam-Hane…

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole” ― C.G. Jung

In Irish (Gaeilge), it’s pronounced Sow-wen, with sow as in female pig. It’s a word that has a huge cultural and historical foundation as well as a place in modern spoken Irish language as the calendar word for the month of November.

You don’t get to just take someone else’s heritage and language and change the pronunciation because it’s ‘how you’ve always said it’. Don’t do that.

Out of all the Pagan festivals, this one is most specificially rooted in Irish traditions, and is perhaps the most bastardised by modern culture around ‘Halloween’… so forgive my grumpiness? As Pagans, we can do better. So let’s start by saying it right.

(Unless you’re Scottish; they got their own pronunciation stuff going on.)

Samhain time, for me, runs Dark Moon to Dark Moon. As most of you will know by now, the Goddess I work for is kinda dark. Known for it like. We see lots of quotes and comments around at this time of year about facing the darkness, and coming through it to the light, and I get that. I do. Some of that is due to the turning of summer to winter of course, but there’s also a whole pile of crap about living in the light only, and that’s not right.

Why is darkness a bad thing?

I live in the darkness. This is where the real magic happens, the formative creation.

Can the light catch that first push from inside the seed? The first unseen growth always happens in the darkness – the plan is formed, the form is set, the energy is gathered.

Samhain, in Irish lore, is the shifting time from summer into winter, from light to dark. Historically, it’s the time of year that outside active summer work and chores change to inside passive winter work, planning and preparing.

Sam and Gam are the 2 words in old Irish which denote summer and winter – the original seasonal shift going back to days when the hunter gatherer people of Ireland changed from summer to winter camps as part of their annual tribal cycles. Before industry, before agriculture, before settlement… our ancestors were between their seasonal worlds at this time of the year.

That time of change can be dangerous. While we move, before things settle into their new patterns, we can lose our way. Change is especially difficult for the vulnerable in a tribe – old comforts and security lost, new spaces bring new dangers, seen and unseen. The old, the young, the sick and the weak, all at risk as we shift and move towards settling down again.

And when we are moving from light towards darkness? Respect is due and care should be taken, for human form is somewhat fragile in body and mind. Between times, between places, is the boundary. The liminal space that holds stronger magic.

Magic is change, and change is inherent in between.

So Samhain, from the oldest times in Ireland, is a dangerous, magical time. When we moved to agriculture, tough decisions had to be made with supplies set to dwindle during the winter, on what animals would live and what would die. Perhaps even for the people, in lean years the best rations had to be set aside for the strongest to survive, so facing the dark year could mean facing your death.

Thoughts still turn to death in earnest at this festival, with our subconscious and even ancestral memories influencing our conscious minds. This naturally brings about memories of those who have ready passed through to the Otherworld from this one.

Many homes in Ireland still lay the ‘dumb supper’ – the placement of one full meal on Samhain night (that is, the 31st), at the family’s table. This usually consisted of a dinner in the evening, with an empty chair available, for any passing spirits who might drop in. The windows and doors are left unlocked all night (by those who deem it safe to do so, now).

These customs are given as a sign of welcome for the ancestors that are about at this time of year. The extra meal is left outside when the family has finished their meal. None of the living may consume the food meant for the dead; it was said that they would be barred from partaking of it after their own death if they were greedy enough to touch it while living.

The theme of honouring the dead, and aiding them in any way possible, is very prominent  – maybe because of the significant reminder that as we are coming into the time of death, it may be us who pass on before too long. There may have been an element of hedging our bets, so to speak, by being polite and utterly respectful to the dead spirits, and the spirits of death, at this time.

For your own practice this year, why not take the time between the dark moon just before Samhain, to the dark moon after (you can find your local phases of the moon here) and set up an altar to your ancestors – either physical bloodlines or spiritual/community? Those elders and ancients who have made an impact on your life, who you would like to honour at this time when they are close enough to more easily commune with.

Will your ancestor altar be indoors or outdoors? What will you put on your altar – pictures, memorabilia, items that remind your senses of that person? How will you observe a practice at the altar each day – what will you say or do before it?

If you are making offerings, think about things that involve a little work or sacrifice on your part, not just cheap wine from the shops that has no relevance to them or meaning for you.

An offering can be a physical item that you place by the altar in observance and respect, or it can be an act you perform – volunteering at a charity relevant to them for example – or work you do that they would appreciate, that honours their spirit.

 

Why not post about your altar or offering ideas and descriptions in the comments, and share your seasonal observances with the community for Samhain time? We’d love to hear from you!

Read about my Samhain with the Mórrígan


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