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Book Review – Fairies by Morgan Daimler

Lora with the book Fairies by Morgan Daimler

Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages   
  • Publisher: Moon Books (December 8, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782796509
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782796503
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches

On the Cover:

The subject of fairies in Celtic cultures is a complex one that seems to endlessly intrigue people. What exactly are fairies? What can they do? How can we interact with them? Answering these questions becomes even harder in a world that is disconnected from the traditional folklore and flooded with modern sources that are often vastly at odds with the older beliefs. This book aims to present readers with a straightforward guide to the older fairy beliefs, covering everything from Fairyland itself to details about the beings within it. The Otherworld is full of dangers and blessings, and this guidebook will help you navigate a safe course among the Good People.

 

My Review

Those who know me, know I’m no stranger to Daimler’s work.

Is it too early to start raving about this book? It might be too early to start raving about this book.

Inside you’ll see chapters on…

  • Fairyland
  • Basic Facts about Fairies
  • The Courts and Divisions in Fairy
  • The Kings and Queens
  • Denizens of Fairy
  • Fairies in Tradition
  • Mortal Interactions
  • Fairies in the Modern World
  • Dealing with Fairies

Each chapter is excellent, academic and in-depth but eminently readable; treated with Daimler’s usual deep passion for the topics, and a touch of soft humour here and there.

Ok, now I’m gonna rave about it. I LOVE THIS BOOK!

As a native ‘Celtic’ (Irish) priest of the Old Ways here in Ireland, I view all of Daimler’s work as an invaluable resource, and highly recommend anything that flows from that brain.

The world needs more people teaching everyone how not to get screwed by the Fair Folk 😉

 


 

YOU CAN BUY THIS BOOK HERE ON AMAZON.COM

YOU CAN BUY THIS BOOK HERE ON AMAZON.CO.UK

 

(these are affiliate links, I’ll get a few cents if you shop through them, but it doesn’t cost you anything!)

Celtic Woad – an Authentic Resource?

Kiera Knightley as a Woad

Ah, the Celtic tribes – they painted themselves blue with woad and ran naked into battle. Right?

Got high as a kite to scare the bejaysus out of their enemy and improve their ferocity because, as we all know, woad is a powerful hallucinogen. Right?

We’ve all seen Braveheart, and that King Arthur film on the telly box – they even called the people ‘Woads’ in that, didn’t they? Sure, then it must be true…

Though seemingly well attested in eye witness accounts, scholars question the veracity of this belief, but that doesn’t seem to filter into the body art or Celtic re-enactment communities with any great speed.

Personally, I believe that ancient tribes of Ireland and the British Isles, such as the Picts and more southern Britons, did utilise methods of tattooing and body decoration as part of their battle, spiritual, and even everyday rituals.

Herodian, in the First Century CE (Common Era), said of the tribes –

“they puncture their bodies with pictured forms of every sort of animals. And this is the reason why they wear no clothes, to avoid covering the drawings on their bodies.”

I am inclined though, to at least challenge the ‘fact’ that they used woad to dye themselves blue.

The most often quoted source for this prevalent belief is the Roman emperor Caesar’s recorded description of the Brittani, a Celtic tribe. It has been commonly translated as:

“All the Britons dye their skin with woad, which produces a blueish colour and makes them appear horrifying in battle”.(1)

The original Latin, however, says: “Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem”. The “vitro inficiunt” could translate classically as ‘stain/dye with glazes’, or ‘infected themselves with glass’.(2)

The blue colour he describes could have been caused by body paint rather than tattoos, or it is possible the tribe used scarification techniques or glass ‘needles’ to tattoo themselves. But probably not with woad. Why not?

Woad (Isatis tinctoria)

Although it makes a wonderful indigo coloured dye for materials, a safe, biodegradable natural ink, and is also showing usefulness as a wood preservative; it’s pretty crap as a body paint, or a tattoo ink.

It’s extremely caustic – when used as tattoo ink it literally burns itself to the surface, and though it heals fast, it leaves an excessive amount of scar tissue. Alas, none of it blue.

A tattooist, Pat Fish, is often quoted as saying she believes that Celts used copper as a blue colour and firewood ash or lampblack for a black.(3)

Traces of copper based pigments were found on an ancient body, excavated from a bog in Cheshire, UK. This would seem to indicate the presence of copper tattoos of some sort, which would have been coloured blue. Of course, we now know that copper is highly toxic, and would not use it on or in our bodies.

From my own experiences with powdered woad, using it as a body paint, I’ve had to mix it with something (I’ve tried hair gel, commercial body glitter gel, and even PVA glue!) to try and get it to stay on at all. Even then it streaks all over the place or just dries up and flakes off. Not entirely reminiscent of a battle hardened warrior.

It also doesn’t seem to particularly stain the skin. Perhaps it would stain in certain areas, such as the finger tips or elbows, through prolonged contact. But so would pretty much anything.

And besides, blue smudged cuticles and tinted elbows aren’t going to particularly impress anybody in battle, even if you take the time to assure them that it’s genuine Celtic woad.

And to the other common belief, that of high Celts running round?

Woad is not a strong hallucinogen. A mild psychotropic, at best. Reports of woad induced ancient battle/modern festival madness must have, to my mind, been greatly exaggerated. Pagan types, collect your people?

All in all, the only practical possibility is that woad was used on the battle field as a possible wound cauterising agent, on account of its astringent properties.

It’s a nice thought for those of us who are proud of our ‘Celtic’ heritage – and I use the term in the academic sense, please understand that – being able to use the same materials or techniques as our ancestors, to look the same or perhaps even produce the same effects.

I can see why it can be difficult to give up on. Even if the actual evidence or effect achieved is disappointing at best, and at worst, somewhat risky in the hands of the inexperienced.

A possible alternative to woad or copper, which would also have been available at the time, is iron.

Julius Caesar, while commenting on early Celtic tribes, said that they had “designs carved into their faces by iron”.(4) Iron could possibly be used to produce a blue coloured ink or dye, if handled by an expert.

Don’t try this at home, girls and boys! However, with the sheer beauty of the Celtic art and wonderful tattoo artists that are available now, I’d be encouraging the use of these to connect with or emulate the warriors of old, rather than the crude inks they employed.

After all, the Celtic people were nothing if not highly adaptable. If they had the kind of high quality ink that we have available to us now, I seriously doubt that copper filings, or woad, would even get a look in.

###

Resources

(1) – Philip Freeman, “War, Women, and Druids”, University of Texas Press, U.S.A. ISBN: 0-292-72545-0
(2) – Encyclopedia, Columbia University press (online): http://www.answers.com/topic/picts
(3) – e.g. In her article for ‘An Scathán’, entitled “Celtic Tattooing: Primitive art form emerges in America”, available online at: http://www.underbridge.com/scathan/archive/1995/11_november/11.11.tattoo.html
(4) – Julius Caesar, “Commentarii de Bello Gallico”, circa 55 BCE (Before Common Era)


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(This Article)

First North American Publication, Tattoo Revue Magazine.
First Canadian Publication, Celtic Heritage Magazine

The Síd at Kesh Corann

Fionn MacCumhaill, leader of the noblest band of Irish warriors, the Fianna, sat on the hunting mound at the Sidhe of Kesh Corran, taking in the sights and sounds that made his heart most happy.

His men were spread below him on this fine sunny day, ranging the fields and forests, their great hounds barking and baying around them as they brought down kill after kill. The Fianna would feast well that day.

Conaran however, who was the Sidhe (Otherworld, Fairy) King in those parts, was less than happy to see his old enemy in such a fine, untroubled mood. And with the rest of the Fianna busy hunting, he decided the time had come to do something about Fionn for once and for all.

Three of Conaran’s four daughters were nearby, although neither the men of the Fianna nor their chief could see a bit of them, because you never can see the Sidhe unless you are in their world, or they want you to see them in ours. The King called his brood – who were as ugly a bunch as you ever saw, and worse again – and told them what he wanted. Then, by his magical arts, he opened a door to their world in the side of the Sidhe mound on which Fionn was taking his ease.

After a while, the warrior chief climbed down to join the hunting party below, and was astounded to see the three sisters sitting spinning in a cave that he was sure hadn’t been there before he’d climbed up.

Now you couldn’t call any of these Ban Sidhe beautiful. Well, you could I suppose, but you’d be telling a lie if you did. Fionn though, was a curious sort, and wanted to see more – it might have been the whiskers he thought he could see on their faces? Whatever was driving him to it, he stepped inside the mound.

As soon as he passed the holly on the threshold, a weakness came over him, and he could no more lift his own arm than he could have lifted a whole mountain at the best of times. He tried to give the whistle that would warn the rest of the Fianna to danger, but he was so weak that all the sound he could make was a chuff like a baby falling asleep, and sure that’d warn nobody.

He was bound by the sisters with every knot and tie they could think of, and as each warrior came looking for their leader and stepped inside the mound, the same fate befell them. The Sidhe mound was filled only with the sounds of gently chuffing babies, until every single man of them was captured and bound the same way.

But their dogs were not. As each man entered the mound, ignoring the warning signs in the search for his leader, his hound refused, and soon there was a great pack of barking, baying dogs gathered outside.

Finally one of the warriors, the last of them left outside, had the sense to be cautious enough not to follow blind into danger. The hideous sisters watched Goll Mac Morna stand his ground outside, and decided that three against one was a fair enough fight for them to take him on. They were wrong, of course.

Though it was hard fought, Goll managed to chop two of the three into halves and bits; so there were warts and twisted fingers on one side of him, gnarled toes and crooked noses on the other. Panting with the effort of it all, he extracted (in exchange for her life) the firm promise of freedom from enchantment for the Fianna from the last sister, who was so terrified by then that her whiskers were all atremble, on both the outside and inside of those livery lips.

She kept her honour, and released each of the warriors to sit out in the sunshine and shiver until their strength returned. The doings of that day did nothing to ease the enmity between Fionn and the Sidhe King Conaran, nor his remaining Ban Sidhe daughters – nor even the animosity between Fionn and Goll MacMorna.

But sure, they are all stories for another day.

 


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Your Irish Ancestry?

Family Tree and Irish Ancestry

To move forward, we need to understand what is behind us, what has developed us, how to use the fertility of prepared and nourished ground and seed to grow and thrive into the future.

This is our Ancestry.

Blood lines are important, and an understanding of family ties, bonds, history, and each root and branch of our physical family tree will provide a firm foundation from which to build. But what of spiritual ancestry? What of the deep seated desire that burns in so many of us for a land, a tribe, a culture from which we have no discernible descent?

I am Irish. It’s a simple statement, an understanding that one originates from a small green island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Irish people have always been explorers, travellers, hard workers and adventurers who sailed and settled throughout the globe. Ireland’s blood reaches far and wide, but Irish culture, Irish heritage weaves an even wider net over the world. And Irish spirituality sings a pure siren song, even for those whose physical ancestry does not seem to tie in with this land.

What harm? Irish mythology is rich with ‘invasions’ of other cultures, blended into a fine tapestry through time. We are a multicultural stirring pot; so whether your grandmother was from Connemara, or Colorado – if the spirit of Irish ancestry stirs your soul, you can explore it. Here’s how.

 

Your Ancestor Altar

First, you create a special place in your home or garden, welcoming to ancestral spirits. A quiet corner is good, with a table or shelf, and an area in front where you can sit facing it. The space should be as tech free as possible, and if it’s unavoidable, think about placing plants or salt rock warmers to support clearing ‘negative’ ions.

In this clear space, think about what your ancestry means to you. Go there, with a notebook and pen, sit with eyes closed, and observe what initial thoughts surface when you turn your mind to your Ancestors. What names surface? Associated places? Physical characteristics? Moods or personalities? Family events? Memories, stories, or anecdotes?

Then open your eyes, and take written note of what you thought or felt. Let this be the basis of your ancestral actions.

For many of us, not all things associated with family and ancestry are positive, or even easy to remember and think on. Take note of this too, let it flow through you as much as you can, observe it, record it. Sometimes, it can be just as important to understand the parts of our past that we do not want to incorporate into ourselves, as this leads a clearer path to determination for who we do want to be.

Some of your memories and thoughts on ancestry will be related to death, and so, dark or shadowed. But remember that it is within the darkness that seeds first grow, it takes the absence of light to bring forth hope, and new life nourished by the old.

Looking at your notes, begin to gather items and physical triggers or representations related to your ancestry. This could be photographs, family crests, memorabilia or souvenirs… anything that relates in your mind, or resonates in your spirit, with your ancestral memories. Take your time, gather or remove things as seems right to you. Aim for deep quality resonance over sheer quantity of items.

Finally, place a trio of small items at the front of your ancestral altar to represent the 3 worlds of Earth, Sea and Sky – clustered in a triple spiral formation around a central point of fire, even a simple tea-light candle for safety.

Spend some time at your ancestral altar weekly at least, but preferably every day. Sit quietly and absorb, meditate on the items and their resonance, move and change things around as you will over time. This is your space, for inspiration, and balance – life and death, co-habiting and calm.

 

Action Items

 

“Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin”

(Old Irish Saying) – There’s no hearth like your own hearth.

Phonetic Pronunciation: Neel ane tin-tawn mar thu hin-tawn fayn.

 

  • Choose 1 of your ancestors – whether blood relative or spiritual predecessor – and begin to form a specific relationship with them.
  • Place a photograph on your altar, along with a sample of handwriting, small personal item, or anything else that may for a direct physical link.
  • Light the flame at the centre of the 3 worlds, and close your eyes. Breathe deeply, imagining yourself at the centre of the worlds, holding the flame in your core.
  • Think of this internal flame as your hearth fire, which you have sat down by. Invite your ancestor to come and sit by your hearth with you. Picture them clearly in your mind, and use your own words, whatever feels most comfortable. You are inviting them for a chat, not formally evoking their presence.
  • If they don’t show up at first, don’t worry. Sometimes it takes a wee while to establish a connection and form a pathway. You keep showing up every day, and extend the invitation regularly. They’ll get there.
  • When they do, you can have a chat. Ask a question, share a story, get their perspective or advice on a matter. Listen, remember, and be respectful.
  • When you’re done, thank them and say goodbye. Stay sitting, and let them leave your space before you do.
  • Then you can take a few minutes by your hearth yourself. Look at the fire, and see it as the candle flame on your altar. Breathe deeply, and feel your body sitting by your altar. Move, and open your eyes.
  • Write your notes!

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The Bull In Irish Mythology

Red and White Bull

There is an altar in Paris, which bears the inscription “Tarvos Trigaranus”, which means ‘Bull with three cranes’ (as in, birds). Carved in relief is a tree with spreading branches, in front of which stands a bull, with two of the birds perched on it’s back, and the third on it’s head.

In the Gundestrup cauldron (found in Denmark, and probably dating from the first century BCE), which is decorated in detail both outside and inside in high relief, we see what appears to be a depiction of the hunting/imminent killing of a huge bull on the interior base plate.

A warrior or a deity is shown seemingly about to spear the neck of a prostrate bull which far out-scales him. There are also dogs present, which may lend weight to the possibility of it being a hunting scene.

Pronsias MacCana (‘Celtic Mythology’: Littlehampton Book Services, 1969) links the Donn Cuailgne, Brown Bull of Cooley, to Tarvos Trigaranus, which he calls the ‘three horned Bull’ – indeed he states the two can “scarcely be dissassociated”. He goes on to speak of “a number of widely attested names which seem to imply familiarity with the notion of a bull-deity”, such as the Gaulish name Donnotaurus, which means ‘Brown, or Kingly, Bull’.

In this case, the Irish epic Táin Bó Cuailgne takes on quite a deeper meaning than the simple theme of overly hormonal bulls having a bit of a territorial spat. The two great beasts were never of this world, having reached those forms by changing originally from swineherds of two lords of the Otherworld, through a series of forms including ravens, stags, warrior champions, water beasts, demons and water worms.

Bull symbolism appears in vast quantities when dealing with the ancient ‘Celtic’ world.

From ritual deposits and sacrifices in the late Bronze Age, to carving and other artistic representation of bull figures, to place-names and tribal names representing the animal, and also taking into account the traditions of cattle raiding and ranching which were/are so prominent in Ireland particularly – we see the bull itself, or possibly deity connected with bulls, as a hugely significant figure. World-wide, bulls represent powers of strength, fierceness, and virility, and we have no reason to doubt that the Irish viewed their bulls any other way.

Bull statuary and iconography survives mainly in Gaulish, and some British finds. Being an unnatural form, the triple horned bull mentioned above seems to have been particularly a sacred image. This carries through when we see it being found in shrines, temples, and even the grave of a child (Colchester, England).

Perhaps the triplication of the horns is a way of increasing the potency of the animal’s fertility and virility power; three horns are better than two! Three is also a power number in itself in Irish and Celtic cultures, showing up many times over in relation to many different things.

Whether the imagery we see, or the larger than life creatures we hear tell of, represented a particular deity or simply the attributes of the animal itself is unclear.

Miranda Green (‘The Gods of the Celts’: The History Press, 2011) gives an example of a “silver washed three horned bull”, which was found at a shrine in Dorset, England, and dates from the middle of the fourth century CE. She gives the figures we can see on it’s back as deities, and makes links with the above mentioned bull carrying three cranes – saying they may be examples of the shape shifting we hear about in the tales. It is possible.

What evidence we have, in Ireland and abroad, certainly shows a respect for the attributes of the tarbh (pron. Tar-ev).

As a Taurean myself, I am totally down with the idea of a kick ass Lord of the Bulls, or one who can shift at will to bull form, with all the wonderful qualities that would bring to a situation. Can you spot the bull bias here?!

However, having yet to be introduced to such an entity, or personally encounter one on my travels, I will content myself with exploring, for now, the idea of working with the bull as a ‘power animal’.

It doesn’t have to be a bull either. I am as sick as the next person of coming across those people who assert in all earnestness that their “power animal” or “spirit animal” (neither of which are terms that are culturally appropriate for me or you to use, btw, unless you have a true heritage with certain native tribes) is something ultra cool, like a super sleek panther, or a super strong stallion, when they remind you more of an ageing shetland pony, a bit knackered and up for nothing more than a quiet corner of paddock and a hay hammock which runneth over.

Hey, who knows, maybe that stallion is in there somewhere, stabled for now but ready to break free at the slightest hint of filly. Stranger things have happened.

Rest assured though, your animal ally, if you have one, doesn’t have to be a soaring eagle or a bristling bear. Or even a bull. Your average mouse has a lot it could teach the modern Pagan.

I have a friend, Ailish, who now embraces the fact that the goat is a factor in her life that will probably never go away, and I realised long ago that the humble donkey exerts a bigger influence over me than my sense of street cred is comfortable with. So, there you go.

There are also associations astrologically between Ireland and the sign of Taurus.

William Lilly’s “Christian Astrology”, which first appeared in 1647 and was reprinted in 1985 (by Regulus Publishing Co., London), places Ireland – along with Switzerland and Cypress, among others – as a Kingdom which is specifically associated with the sun sign of Taurus, the bull.

The Easter Rising, which marked the establishment of the free Irish Republic and the attainment of political independence in Ireland, was an armed uprising of Irish nationalists against British Rule. It happened on Easter Monday, April 24th, 1916, and centred mainly in Dublin, placing it firmly in the realm of the Bull.

Since an tarbh is of such importance in the Irish (and broader ‘Celtic’) legends and history, it’s as good a place to start as any.

Working with this established Irish animal ally can lead you to the experience and insight of finding your own personal animal guide/s. The following can be adapted or utilised to suit your own needs.

It would be good to have a working partner or group facilitator who could lead you in this sort of journey, even better if they can play a drum in time to their own words. I know, I used to read things like that back in my baby Pagan days and get a sinking feeling, as I always worked alone then. And I didn’t have a handy tape recorder either, to record myself leading myself on a journey.

Alone is fine. Working alone is even better in some ways, because you create your own rhythm and set your own pace. If you have a drum, beat it as you go. If you don’t have one, or you feel it would distract you, try and get some music to play: something with a heavy drum beat and no words or wailing women.

Settle yourself comfortably. Somewhere outdoors would be good, an open plain or field of rolling grassland would be excellent. Cattlesheds might be going a touch too far, it takes ages to get the cow poo out from between your toes. If you want to focus on a particular Irish Bull, the Donn Cuailgne was to be found in the North East of Ireland, and the Finnbennach in the North West. If you wish to align yourself in either of these directions, that’d be good.

Having said that though, bits of Finnbennach ended up all over the country, giving places like Athlone their names in Gaeilge (the Irish language, please don’t call it Gaelic!), so I doubt if it matters much which way you point your face. Working without crossed limbs and keeping your spine straight spine is good, but don’t go contorting yourself unnaturally. There’s not too many westerners who can hold the lotus position and still keep their mind on the job in hand. Don’t hurt yourself.

Try a straight backed armchair, leaning against a tree or wall, or just lie flat on the ground.

Breathe deeply for you. Focus on each breath as it comes in, filling you with energy, and as it goes out, flowing away all the stresses and strains of your day/week/year/life. Breathe through your nose exclusively. You don’t need to take massive deep diaphragm ones either, just relax into a steady nasal breathing pattern. I believe this to be healthier and easier to maintain than mouth breathing, as you shift away from conscious thought.

Now, just drift your way to thoughts of Bull. Every time your thoughts drift away, just notice it, let go of the distraction, and guide yourself back to the Bull.

What do you know? What do you see, or smell, or hear, or taste, or feel? What do you call it, how do you experience it? Simply keep your focus on Bull, and see what happens.

When you’ve had enough, re-focus on your breathing, and on your physical self – where your body touches the earth, what it feels like, what you can sense around you here and now. And when you’re ready, open your eyes and move around a bit. Maybe eat something.

Now, write it down. Do it again later, and write that down too! Rinse and repeat, and look for patterns, messages, guidance or clarity in the experiences you are having. Let me know how you get on!


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Táin Bó Cuailnge – The Cattle Raid of Cooley

Leabhair na hUidre, pic from the RIA - Táin

There’s lots of stories with Táin in the title, but this article relates specifically to the best known of them – the Táin Bó Cuailnge, or ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’.

Sources of the Táin

Early Irish manuscripts are the oldest remaining extant literary source material in Europe, opening a fascinating window to the Medieval society in which they were written down, and the older tales and oral traditions which they record for us to enjoy today.

The Táin Bó Cuailnge, the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’, (often just called “the Táin” – pronounced TAWn – though there are actually a number of different Táin stories as we said) lies at the heart of Ireland’s epic storytelling legacy.

This is a great battle saga tale set around the 1st Century CE, in the middle of the Iron Age – told and re-told through the ages. The story survives in a couple of different versions, called ‘recensions’; there are 3 of these remaining to us today.

  • Recension 1 – There is a partial text in Leabhair na hUidre, ‘the Book of the Dun Cow’, which is dated to the late 1000’s CE, and the rest of this version is found in the ‘Yellow Book of Lecan’, dated to the late 1300’s. Together they make a complete Táin story, copied over the centuries from book to book. Some of the prose language is thought to be as old as the 700’s CE, and the poetic verses even older.
  • Recension 2 – The second version is found in the ‘Book of Leinster’, dated to around the 1100’s CE, when a scribe tried to bring together a complete story, and updated the language and style to match his own time.
  • There’s a later third Recension too, scattered in bits and pieces through other manuscripts.

The Book of Leinster scribe may have thought the tale worth re-telling, or perhaps he was reluctant and had been ordered to just get on with it, as there are elements of the Táin that didn’t sit well with him at all. His note in the margins, written in formal Latin script, tells its own tale:

But I who have written this story, or rather this fable, give no credence to the various incidents related in it. For some things in it are the deceptions of demons, other poetic figments; some are probable, others improbable; while still others are intended for the delectation of foolish men.

For those of us who want to have a look through the text today, we don’t have to go digging through the library archives of ancient manuscripts (thankfully, those things are dusty as all hell). There’s many options available to us both (free) online, and in tree book format if you like the paper stuff.

You can find Recension 1 on UCC’s CELT resource here, with Cecile O’Rahilly’s translation of The Book of Leinster version here.

 

Review of Kinsella’s Translation ‘The Táin’

This is the most accurate translation of the epic Irish tale, the Táin Bó Cuailnge, and includes the major remscéla or pre-tales which go a long way towards putting some of the madder stuff into a bit of context.

There’s still a lot of mad stuff in there, but sure it’s all good.

Starting at Rathcroghan, in County Roscommon, the story wends its way across the country to Cooley in County Louth. Featuring CúChulainn, Lugh, the Morrigan, Ferdia, Conor MacNessa, Fergus Mac Roich, and the notorious warrior Queen of Connacht, Medb (Maeve) – you won’t be short of an interesting character to keep track of.

I really like the artwork included in this version, by Louis le Brocquy; it captures well the tenuous nature of the meanings and symbolism that are woven into the fabric of this teaching tale.

 

To Buy the Tain Book Now –

Get Thomas Kinsella’s translation on Amazon UK

Get Thomas Kinsella’s translation on Amazon US


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A Conversation with the Morrigan

Cave of the Cats

In 2013, authors Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone asked me if I would consider contributing to their forthcoming book, ‘Lifting the Veil: A Witches Guide to Trance Prophecy‘.

As they were speaking about communicating with deity throughout the book, my understanding was that they wished to provide a chapter in which deity could communicate right back. So, they approached various priests they most strongly associated as working with particular deities, and they requested that I communicate with the Morrigan.

Here below is the transcription of that communication.

 

Silence – 3 min

 

I feel the kiss of feathers.

The brush of crow’s wing – touches the sky.

I find my way to the world – through the gateway.

Dark in the depths of earth.  I find my way.

I push forth.

I am birthed in mud and blood.  I find my way.

I am in your world.  I find my way.

 

Who.  Am.  I.

I am She by brush of raven – crow in this land.

I am She.  She of the wolf.  She of the eel.  She of the heifer, the sacred cow.

I am She of red.  Of blood.  Of battle and power and prophecy and fury.

I am She of terror.

I am She who finds her way – through your heart, through your head.

I am She who speaks – who tells the world.

I am the truth.  I am the right, and the light.  I am the endless depths of night.

I. Am. She.

 

Great Queen you have called me.  I am She.

Mother you have called me.  I am She.

I am the one who births.

I am the one who bleeds.  And screams.

I am the one who protects.  And strengthens.

I. Am. She.

 

And you.  You who seek for me now, in this world.

You who are disconnected – who are free of responsibility.

 

You seek the power – without the pain.

You seek the knowledge – without the work.

You seek the gain – without the understanding.

 

You.  You who are pagan.  You who are shaman – where is your tribe?

Where are your people?

Where is your language and your spirit?

Where is your connection to this land?

This Ire-Land.  Our Land.

Do you walk?  Do you feel the Irish grass beneath your feet?

Do you speak the tongue of the ancient people?

Do you seek – the knowledge that remains to us now?

For all that is left – is bits and broken.  Is mis-remembered.

All that is left – is unclear.  Uncertain.

Do you seek – to put this together?

Do you seek the draoi?  Do you seek the ancient knowledge, the spirit that remains?

And what do ya find when you do?

Who.  Are.  You.

 

Speak your truth.

Listen.  Listen to the land.

Find the questions.  Find your path.

Be guided by what has gone before.  The truth.  The real knowledge – the real power.

Find your way.  Come home.

 

I. I am She. I who speak.

I who give you real knowledge.  Real experience.

Truth – and pain.

Power.

Community.  Responsibility.

I am She.

I am the queen and I am the servant.

I give – and I expect.

If you seek me – find your way home.

 

They say… they say –(light laugh)-  I sought love of an Ulster boy.

They say I sought to give him my power, my sacred cattle.

Mis-remembered.

I offer help.

I take – what I need – in return.

If you give – I give.

Find me in the land.

Find me under the land.

Find me in the darkness – but – beware.

I am change.  I am pain.

I am growth that pushes.  That flows on waves of blood.

I am life – and death.

I am reborn.

I am She.

 

Silence  –  1 min 

 

Lora O’Brien.  February 2014.

The Cave of the Cats, Rathcroghan, County Roscommon, Ireland.

 


 

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Part 9 – Dearg Corra – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 9 – Dearg Corra

I found a Book Proposal from 13 years ago, that I had agreed to write before life took a different turn for me – a ‘Who’s Who of Irish Mythology & How to Work with Them’.

I may or may not turn it into a book at some stage…?! But for now it may as well be out in world as sitting on my computer.

WARNING: It’s an unedited old photo of my thoughts and practice 13 years ago. So, be aware.

 

[Check Part 8 Here…]

 

Dearg Corra

Placement ~ Fenian Cycle

Pronunciation:  Jee-arr-g Korr-ah.  Also called Derg Corra.

Dearg Corra will usually only be referred to as a servant of Fionn Mac Cumhaill.  This is due to the somewhat strange story about him from an 8th Century text, which seems to be a survival of (or a way of collecting) older stories/references concerning the character.

The story goes that he was Fionn’s servant, and was propositioned by a lover of Fionn’s who had taken a liking to him.  When Dearg Corra rejected the woman, she went to the Fenian leader with a story of being raped, and the servant was banished.  While hunting in a forest, Fionn later came across “a man on the top of a tree with a blackbird on his right shoulder, and a bright bronze vessel in his left hand, in which was a leaping trout; and a stag was at the foot of the tree.”  Fionn didn’t recognise the man as he had hidden himself in a Féth Fiadha (pron. Fay Fee-ah), which is a magical ‘cloak of concealment’, but he could see that the stag was sharing apples with him, the blackbird was sharing nuts with him, and the trout was sharing water from the bronze vessel with him.  Fionn then placed his thumb in his mouth to access his own magical seeing ability, and proclaimed the following: “It is Dearg Corra, son of Daighre’s descendant, who is in the tree!”  These quotes were given by Kuno Meyer in the Revue Celtique 25.

Alwyn and Brinley Rees “merely mention” the character of Dearg in the context of an enemy of Fionn, who is perhaps a supernatural malevolent burner.  They use the fact that he is said to have jumped “to and fro across the cooking hearth” to support this.  Dáithí Ó hÓgáin goes into the whole thing in far more detail.  His take on the story is that the only way to explain the supernatural elements contained within it, is to view it as a survival of a “cult of some divinity”.  He links Dearg Corra to a fire God, giving the word Dearg (which means ‘Red’) as a common enough name for a God in Early Ireland, along with the connection to his ancestor Daighre (pron. Dar-ah, meaning ‘flame’) and attributes his aforementioned fire leaping as symbolic of the flames cooking food.  He links the deity to a possible Irish representation of the horned animal God whom the Continental Celts referred to as Cernunnos; a name which will be at least familiar to most modern Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans.  The evidence for this is, admittedly, circumstantial.  Dearg Corra symbolising the provision of sustenance (his role as a servant, his connection to the cooking of food), his role as protector and sustainer of wild animals as the hunters quarry, his skill at concealing himself from your average prying eye (even Fionn with his Seer’s abilities had a bit of a job in identifying him), and the best surviving example of the Cernunnos figure in all his glory (seen on the inner plates of the Gundestrup Cauldron, now housed in the National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark) shows him surrounded by animals such as the stag and the fish, among others  – all of this does seem to point to the true role of Dearg Corra being more than it initially may appear.  Ó hÓgáin also further connects the character (or at least the name) of Dearg with aspects of the God of death, Donn, and with the Dagda; seemingly in the context of more violent deaths and slaughter.

Though there is little concrete evidence for the death connection, it makes sense to me that a God of life would also have a flip side concerned with death, and that a protector of animals who also works for or with a hunter figure such as Fionn, would preside too over the violence and death of the kill.  If nothing else, he could make sure it was done right.  And as the prevalent horned animal God figure, referred to as Cernunnos by archaeologists, appears to have been quite widespread among the Continental Celts – and indeed, Proinsias MacCana even makes connections with an Indian God form appearing on a seal found at Mohenjodaro; who may be a prototype of Shiva in his aspect as Pashupati, ‘Lord of the Beasts’ – I am not sure it is too far fetched to conclude that there quite possibly was an Irish God who represented the same values and concerns, at some stage in our history.  There is certainly, in my experience, a native Irish Being who responds quite happily to the evocation and invocation of Cernunnos or the ‘Horned God’, which I  have experienced while working in the Irish landscape.

From a modern magical perspective, Dearg Corra can be seen to be  primarily concerned with, or representative of, the following:

  • Fire; for cooking, and sustenance.
  • Forestry, and forest dwelling wildlife.
  • Protection of, and continual provision for, the hunted.
  • Concealment, especially from those who have no business with seeing.
  • Right conduct of the hunter, honour and respect in the kill.

If you choose to work with Dearg Corra, or indeed, he chooses to work with you, a forest setting would be particularly appropriate.  Look for him in the trees, and by the camp fire or cooking pit.  The wildlife he sustains could be your guide: especially look to the stag, the blackbird, or the trout to direct you to him.  Whether you visit his dwelling places in this world or through connection to the Otherworld, be watchful.  Trust in your own ability to see and your power to connect, as Fionn did.

 

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Part 8 – Flidhais – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 8 – Flidhais

I found a Book Proposal from 13 years ago, that I had agreed to write before life took a different turn for me – a ‘Who’s Who of Irish Mythology & How to Work with Them’.

I may or may not turn it into a book at some stage…?! But for now it may as well be out in world as sitting on my computer.

WARNING: It’s an unedited old photo of my thoughts and practice 13 years ago. So, be aware.

 

[Check Part 7 Here…]

 

 

Flidhais

Placement ~ Ulster Cycle

Pronunciation:  Flee-ash.  Also called Fliodhais, Flidais.

 

If she is known at all, it is as a Goddess of cattle or deer.  The main surviving tale we have concerning her from original source material is “Táin Bó Flidais”, which has two versions.  A short version appears first in Lebor na hUidhre, The Book of the Dun Cow, an 11th Century text.  A similar short version can be seen in the Book of Leinster, from the 12th Century, and also in a manuscript from the 15th Century called the Egerton manuscript.  But perhaps a more interesting version, for it’s additional esoteric elements, appears in the 15th Century Glenmason manuscript. “Táin Bó Flidais” is one of the Remscéla or ‘Fore-tales’ which precede, and explain, the happenings of the epic Táin Bó Cuailgne, the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’.

Flidhais is said to be a woman of the Sidhe, who crosses to this world.  She brings with her a herd of wonderful cattle, the most amazing being a cow they call the Maol Flidais, the Bald or ‘Horn-less’ cow of Flidhais.  This creature could feed over three hundred men, and their families, in one night from a single milking.  The Fairy woman marries a man from Connaught, Aillil Fionn, a neighbour of Queen Meadbh and her husband Aillil.  On a visit to Maedbh’s court, Flidhais meets and falls in love with the exiled Ulster warrior Feargus Mac Roich.  A man of powerful sexual appetites, usually it took seven women to satisfy him; but Flidhais was a match for him on her own.  She puts him under a geis (pron. gesh), an ancient obligation or prohibition, to take her away from her husband.  A bloody battle ensues, the upshot of which is that Feargus brings her the severed head of her late husband.  The Maol Flidais, not as enamoured of Feargus as her mistress, mourns the death of her former master – who had fought bravely against odds that were vastly stacked against him, as Feargus had attacked him with the help and support of Queen Maedbh’s forces.  This amazing animal was only convinced to go and join the Connaught herds by the reminder that there she would have the companionship of her beloved Flidhais, and would also become the fitting consort of the fantastic White-Horned Bull.

Some versions of the tale then say that Flidhais remained the wife of Feargus until she died, a long time after, in Ulster.  But the longer version states that she was sorry for the killing of her husband, and that she is “rescued” on the way back to Maedbh’s court.  Flidhais “returns to the west” (i.e. the Otherworld lands from whence she came) along with her fabulous Maol Flidais.

Proinsias MacCana, in his “Celtic Mythology”, only briefly refers to this Lady as the Irish Goddess “who ruled over the beasts of the forests and whose cattle were the wild deer”.  Alwyn and Brinley Rees make no discernible mention of her at all, but the popular fictional writer Caiseal Mór does bring her name into his “Well Spring Trilogy” as a Goddess of the Hunt.  Dáithí Ó hÓgáin makes correlations between the more recent Mayo folk story of Dónall Dualbhuí and Muinchinn to the tale of Flidhais and her maligned husband, Feargus still being cast as the warrior who defeats him by treacherous means.  He says her name was likely to have originally referred to liquid, most particularly to milk, and that her epithet of Foltchaoin (pron. Fult-queen) means ‘soft-haired’.

There are accounts of Flidhais from the earlier Mythological cycle, which place her as the mother of a king, Nia Seaghamain, whose name has been translated to mean ‘warrior of deer-treasure’, as during his reign the “cows and does were milked together every day”.  It was his mother with her herd of both wild and domesticated animals, deer and cattle, who had made this benefit of the king’s reign possible.  Dáithí Ó hÓgáin goes on to deem her to be an original mother-Goddess figure.

From a modern magical perspective, Flidhais can be seen to be  primarily concerned with, or representative of, the following:

  • Provision of sustenance.
  • The flow of milk – breastfeeding, lactation generally.
  • Sexual appetite and satisfaction.
  • Cattle; farming, keeping, tending of herds.
  • Co-operation with wilder animals, especially Deer.

 


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Part 7 – Aengus Óg – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 7 – Aengus Óg

I found a Book Proposal from 13 years ago, that I had agreed to write before life took a different turn for me – a ‘Who’s Who of Irish Mythology & How to Work with Them’.

I may or may not turn it into a book at some stage…?! But for now it may as well be out in world as sitting on my computer.

WARNING: It’s an unedited old photo of my thoughts and practice 13 years ago. So, be aware.

 

[Check Part 6 Here…]

 

 

Aengus Óg

Placement ~ Mythological Cycle

Pronunciation: Eng-guss Owe-g.  Also called Aongus, Aonghus, Aenghus, Oengus, Mac Óg, Mac Óc, Mac Ind Óg, Mac in Dá Óc.

 

Known as Young Aengus, he is often spoken of as a God of love and youthful pleasures.  Daragh Smyth referred to him as the “greatest and wisest of magicians of the Tuatha De Danaan”.

His name has been translated in many ways.  Aengus means ‘true vigour’, this is generally agreed upon.  But the ‘Mac ind Óg’ part, though often translated to mean ‘son of the two young ones’, would be grammatically incorrect as such.  Dáithí Ó hÓgáin states it is accepted that the original form of this name would actually be ‘maccan óc’ or ‘in mac óc’, which instead puts him as ‘the young boy’.  There are many tales that survive that illustrate Aengus as a youthful expression of Irish deity.

His conception and birth story is an obvious example.  From a 9th century text we learn that the Dagda is his father, having desired his mother, Bóann, Goddess of the river Boyne in county Meath, and wife of Nuada (later known as Ealcmhar).  Brugh na Bóinne (pron. Broo nah Boy-nah, which we know as Newgrange) was their home.  The Dagda was king of all Ireland then, and he sent Nuada away on a journey.  He then magically stopped time, making the night disappear and Nuada feel no hunger or thirst.  The Dagda lay with Bóann, nine months went by, and she bore him a son – after which Nuada returned, not having noticed the passage of time and remaining in the dark (so to speak) about what had happened.  His mother named him Mac Óg, as she said “young is the son who was begotten at the beginning of a day and born between that and evening”.  Aengus was fostered and reared until he was 9 years old by Midhir at the otherworldly rath of Brí Léith (now known as Slieve Golry and located on Ardagh Hill, in County Longford).  He became a champion hurler in that time, but during a quarrel on the field one day, another player told him that Midhir wasn’t his real father; actually he called him a hireling whose parentage was unknown.  Aren’t kids lovely?!  This set Aengus off on a mission to find and secure his true heritage.  He was advised by Midhir (whose name may have originally meant something like ‘judge’) as to who his real parents were and where his inheritance lay, and proceeded to meet with the Dagda at Uisneach, in County Westmeath.  In the Book of Leinster the story then runs thus:

Mac Óg asked for his share of land after the Dagda had apportioned all of the Sidhe mounds to the lords of the Tuatha De Danaan.  He was told there was none, for the Dagda had completed the division.  “Then let me be granted”, said the Mac Óg, “a day and a night in thy own dwelling” (Newgrange).  When that time was up and the Dagda asked for his home back, Aengus’ reply was quite cunning.  “It is clear,” he said, “that night and day are the whole world, and it is that which has been given to me”.  In the story ‘The woo-ing of Étaín’, it is given that the dwelling belongs to Nuada, not the Dagda, and the latter advises his son on how to gain possession, notably on Samhain eve, which he does after the day and night similarly on the grounds that “it is in the days and nights that the world is spent”.  Nuada is named as Ealcmhar for this tale, which meant ‘the envious one’.  Although he was given another dwelling as compensation for his loss, I suppose Nuada can’t really be blamed for being a wee bit envious after such trickery.

As far as source material on Aengus Óg goes, we also have a rather interesting text which is called Aislinge Oenguso (pron. Ash-ling Eng-guss, meaning ‘the vision of Aengus’).  The story was given in Revue Celtique III, by E. Muller, and by Francis Shaw in 1934, and goes like this.

Aengus is asleep one night when he sees a beautiful maiden approach, but as he reaches out to touch her, she disappears.  As a year goes by and such visits become a regular occurrence, he pines for the lack of her.  He falls in love with her as she comes to him in his sleep, and plays him music, but he can never reach her nor find out who she is.  As he continues to sicken with longing, his physician approaches his mother for help.  Bóann searches Ireland for a year, but fails to find the maiden, and Aengus continues to waste away.  The Dagda is sent for, and with the help of Bodbh(pron. Bove, a king from the Province of Munster whose knowledge was celebrated through all of Ireland), and another year’s searching, the girl is finally named and located.  The maiden is Caer Iobharmhéith (pron. Care Eevor-vay-th, meaning ‘Yew Berry’), and they find her at Loch Bél Dragan (now known as Lough Muskry, in the Galtee Mountains of County Tipperary) in the midst of a hundred and fifty maidens, each pair linked by silver chain.  They track her back to her father’s home in Connaught, only to discover that he has no power over her, and that she spends alternative years as a maiden and as a swan.  They determine she can be found again at Loch Bél Dragan the following Samhain with a hundred and fifty swans about her.  Unable to recognise her at first in that form, Aengus calls her to him with the promise that he will return to the lake with her, and when she comes he puts his arms around her, and sleeps with her by taking the form of a swan himself.  He then encircles the lake three times in her company, thus fulfilling his promise, and the pair fly off together back to Brugh na Bóinne, where their sweet song puts all who hear it fast asleep for three days.  Caer stays with her lover in his dwelling after that.

Aengus Óg is given as being concerned with love, both his own entanglements and those of other couples, in many sources.  In a story of unfulfilled love, when his intended went with Midhir instead of him, he cast “the blood red nuts of the wood”, his food, down onto the ground in anger.  Clíodhna is said to have loved him, and indeed one tale says she drowns as she goes in search of him.  He lends his horse to an eloping couple, who is said to have been so huge that when they stop for a rest and the horse urinates, it forms Lough Neagh, which is the biggest lake in all of Ireland.  Aengus also appears as the patron and protector of the later Diarmuid, a Fenian warrior, who elopes with the intended bride of Fionn Mac Cumhaill – Gráinne – helping the pair escape their pursuers at least twice when all seems lost.  Eugene O’Curry, writing in 1873, relates how a mediaeval text describes how he forges four of his kisses into four birds “which charmed the young people of Ireland”.

Dáithí Ó hÓgáin attributes his ownership of a “wonderful multi coloured mantle” (which only appears to be a single colour to a man about to die), to the suggestion of the exuberance of youth which lingers about him.  Daragh Smyth puts his role in later medieaval romances as a somewhat wily character down to the possibility that Christian scribes may have found it necessary to belittle such an important and powerful figure.  He also ascribes the survival of Aengus into Irish folklore as a frightener of cattle – as illustrated by Lady Augusta Gregory, who wrote “…every sort of cattle that is used by men would make way in terror before him” in her ‘Collected Works’ – as perhaps due to the fact that his mother is the cow Goddess, Bóann.

To my mind, Aengus Óg does indeed seem to still be concerned with lovers and with guidance of youthful exploits and experiences.  A close friend of mine related to me an experience she had of being spontaneously contacted by him in a time of loneliness and despair.  This is not a girl who is given to flights of fancy or wishful thinking, be sure on that.  During a personal meditation, which took place in her home, in which she was seeking… something – guidance, answers, help perhaps – she experienced the following:

 

I got an image of a man standing in front of me (around where my altar is, I was kneeling in front) and he handed me a white flower, and I just (don’t know why) figured it was Aongus.  But I’d never worked with him or called him or anything before, or thought about it even.  I don’t really know why I thought it was him, I just thought it was, so I figured I should find out some more information.  He wore a tunic I think, but my idea of a vision wouldn’t be as clear as yours.  I remember the flower and the man and the hand handing it to me.  And, I felt comforted.

 

From a modern magical perspective, Aengus Óg can be seen to be  primarily concerned with, or representative of, the following:

  • Search for love, inspiration of love, the comfort of a lovers embrace.
  • Protection and aid for lovers, especially those who find themselves put upon or kept apart by others.
  • Youth, and the rise of the young to replace the old.
  • Perception of time, the importance of a single day.
  • Hope, and comfort, for those who pine or long for companionship.
  • Charm and wit, the intelligence and ‘street smarts’ to make a situation or an opportunity work to your desire or in your favour.

 

If you choose to work with Aengus Óg, or indeed, he chooses to work with you, pay special attention to birds, either physical ones presenting themselves to your notice or those that appear as imagery or visionary visitors.  Depending on what aspect of his help you seek, a lakeside setting might be appropriate.  For general knowledge, you might try to focus in on the image of his kisses as birds, his multi coloured mantle, his huge horse, his relationship with cattle, the swan imagery, or soothing music.  Samhain Eve has figured in relation to him, so this would be an appropriate timing for your work, again depending on what aspects you wish to attune to.  Time wise – the turning of night to day or day to night, the magical span of dawn or dusk, will be potent power points to work with this deity.  The ancient site of Newgrange itself would also be a good place to figure in, or indeed any of the locations mentioned above in connection with Aengus Óg.

 


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