Irish Mythology Archives - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
Category Archives for "Irish Mythology"

Medb’s Heap – Miosgán Medb

Medb's Heap - Miosgan Medb at Rathcroghan

This post is about the monument known as Medb’s Heap, Medb’s Cairn, Medb’s Tomb, Medb’s Nipple or Medb’s Grave (and sometimes the name Medb is anglicized as Maeve).

In Irish it’s called Miosgán Medb, from the old Irish word mescán – mass, lump, heap.

Now, you’ll likely have heard tell of the one in County Sligo, the famous “Maeve’s Grave” that sits on top of the 327 metre (1,073 ft) hill called Knocknarea, just to the West of Sligo town.

That may be what you’re looking for… but did you know there are 4 other sites that bear the name “Medb’s Heap’ too?

Stay with me now here, for a few minutes, and let me show you some of what I’ve found while researching my new book: ‘The Irish Queen Medb: History, Tradition, and Modern Pagan Practice’.

Find Out More in the Queen Medb ‘Cheat Sheet’ Here!

So, I was sorting through the Cruachán (Rathcroghan) sites associated with Medb specifically (because that’s where she lived and ruled from, never mind that oul Sligo connection, for now).

There are two large stones named for her that lie directly between the Rathcroghan Main Mound, and Ráth Beag, a high status burial mound directly across from it. They are called Miosgán Medb (again, Medb’s Heap) and Millín Medb (Medb’s Knoll, related to the modern Irish meall – knoll, mound, or a lump of butter).

As expected, so far.

However, when I looked the name up on Logainm.ie (the Irish placenames database), I got a surprise.

Medb’s Heap in… Donegal?!

The entry for Medb's Heap on Logainm Website
Image shows 3 database entries for Medb’s Heap sites in County Donegal.

These references are for Cairn monuments in the areas of Raymunterdoney, Meentaghconlan, and Clonmany. And if you look these places up on the map, you’ll there’s none of them very far from that upper NorthWest coastline. 

I looked them up on the map already for you. Here…

Medbs-Heap-Sites-in-Donegal-on-Google-Maps

The placement of these sites struck me as VERY interesting because they form a boundary against an area that is traditionally a direction which Otherworldly forces might have come from: The NorthWest Sea, and specifically Tory Island, which has links to the Fomorians.

This ancient enemy is NOT from the same time period as Queen Medb, story wise. They are from the Mythological Cycle, while her stories are set in the Ulster Cycle.

Was there a different Medb, a local ancestor or Goddess whose name survived there?

Was our Queen Medb being evoked against general Otherworld/ocean concerns, by the people of a community who may have carried some ancestral memory of foes from that direction, and a powerful guardian who could protect against them?

Unfortunately, we may never know for sure… but I will be exploring this (and more!) further as I continue to write this book.

If you’d like to follow along, you can sign up for my Author Club Reward on Patreon, and read what’s been written so far, with a new delivery at the end of each month.

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Or you can join our Community Mailing List below for a regular delivery of authentic Irish Resources – as well as all the latest news and updates as this book (and many others) are published!

Lughnasadh in Ireland

Lughnasadh in Ireland

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

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

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

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

Buy the Book on Amazon.com Here.

Buy the Book from the Irish Publisher Here.

Lughnasadh in Irish Mythology

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

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

Kuno Meyer, Archaeological Review Vol. I, 1888

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

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

Lughnasadh in Irish Folklore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0612, Page 323

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

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

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

My Experience

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

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

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

So, no pressure then.

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

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

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

The Badb in Bruiden Da Choca

Badb in Da Coca’s Hostel

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

Let’s change that?

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

The Summary on CODECS reads:

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

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

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

Badb as the Washer at the Ford

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

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

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

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

The Metrical Dindshenchas – poem/story 13

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

View it on a Map here

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

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

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

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


Badb at Da Coca’s Hostel

The Badb at Da Coca’s Hostel

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

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

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

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

Then the Badb went from them, and…

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

In his footnotes, Stokes says:

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

Revue Celtique (1870)

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

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

Join Lora’s Patreon Here.

Enroll in our Intro to the Mórrígan Course Here.


Aislinge Óenguso

Aislinge Óenguso Gantz Early Irish Myths and Sagas Aisling

The Dream of Oengus

Irish Source Lore Manuscripts:

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

Jeffrey Gantz. Early Irish Sagas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[tr.] Gantz, Jeffrey, Early Irish myths and sagas, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.

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Irish Pagan Podcasts

Listening to Irish Pagan Podcasts

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

Story Archaeology Podcast

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

Bluiríní Béaloidis Podcast

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

Amplify Archaeology Podcast

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

Your Irish Connection Podcast

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

Motherfoclóir Podcast

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

The Irish Passport Podcast

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

Irish History Podcasts

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

Not exactly Irish Pagan Podcasts but…

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

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

Irish Gods – Pagan Celtic Mythology

Irish Gods and Goddesses - Áine - Pagan Celtic Mythology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Pagan Resources – February 2019

Irish Pagan Resources with Hedgehog

On this blog, and in the weekly Irish Pagan Resources emails through our community mailing list, we cover a variety of topics, including: Irish Mythology, Irish History, Irish Culture, Irish Spirituality, Irish Storytelling & Irish Travel.

Or, really, whatever catches my interest that week?!

I thought it might be useful to provide a monthly collection of Irish Pagan resources here, under each heading. If you have any further recommendations yourself, comment below!

Irish Mythology

First, a warning… When we’re looking for authentic resources in Irish mythology, we often come across obviously poor materials. If there’s sparkly gifs flashing, that’s your first clue. But some of em are sneaky.
This for example – Fairies of the Irish Mythology – from The Irish Fireside, Volume 1, Number 24, December 10, 1883

It may LOOK like ye olde academic quality source material. But the reality is that it’s a pompous piece of colonial crap, with butchered Irish language references and arrogant assumptions about the uncivilised native savage.

Best stick to Daimler. Or, I did a whole class on the Sidhe.

Irish History

So, Britain’s in a right oul mess too, aren’t they? Seems like a good time to dust off this article – Northern Ireland, a Beginner’s Guide.

Irish Culture

We’re still a bit of a mixed bag here when it comes to equality in our society. While we have the Gender Recognition Act, which is amazing for Trans people in our community, we also have the likes of the Iona Institute and Glinner polluting our air. I’m not going to link to them – look them up, or just trust me they’re vile.

Irish Spirituality

Gotta recommend the Irish Pagan School here, as I am a co-founder!

Many online courses and programmes (free and paid), with new content from excellent native Irish teachers coming each month.

Irish Storytelling

I learned a while back that my good friend Joe Perri of Wolf Mercury Photography had NEVER HEARD OF EDDIE LENIHAN. Honestly, it’s kinda put me in a panic – I mean, who else out there isn’t aware of out storytelling national treasure? In case that’s you… Eddie storytelling live in a Pub. His beard scares me, but you know, each to his own. (Check this one especially for the Biddy Early reference).

Irish Travel

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recommend any other Travel company than Land Sea Sky Travel. Vyviane is just too wonderful. Check out what’s on offer.

When you’re looking for authentic Irish Pagan Resources, it’s best to stick – in general – with native Irish sources. Check out my YouTube Video on Cultural Appropriation for more info!

Is the Mórrígan Recruiting?

Mórrígan's Army

As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Iníon Preacháin asked: “Why do you feel She is showing such an interest in “recruiting” devotees (for lack of better terms) at this time?”

 

Okay, well, the short answer to that is: look around. The world needs Mórrígan devotees, or people who are doing the work for humanity and for communities.

The longer answer is, that it isn’t just at this time. She has been doing this for a long time, and she’s been preparing for a long time, and again, that’s my experience of it, but it also plays out in the lore.

Everybody talks about the Mórrígan as a battle goddess, and she absolutely is involved in battles because battles shape history and battles shape communities and wars are fought, the outcome of which is part of a much bigger picture, and it’s the bigger picture stuff that the Mórrígan is in charge of. In my experience.

And I think, though that is my experience, the lore plays that out, and her role as a prophet or goddess of prophecy is very much an integral part of that, but also her… I was gonna say ‘meddling,’ meddling is the wrong word, but her involvement in seemingly small things and small stories which end up playing a very big role in battles to come or in the outcome of certain battles or wars that are being fought, and changes.

She is a goddess of change.

At this time, we need somebody who knows what’s going on, absolutely, and she needs people on the ground doing the work that – y’know, she can lead the horse to water, but she can’t directly interfere with… I mean, she does directly interfere with people, with individuals, but she can’t shape things on a bigger scale herself. She has to do it through individuals. And I think that’s where the recruitment drive is coming from, but actually the recruitment drive has been going on for a long time. I think that it has become global, now, but this is not new.

This poem, it was one of my first calls from her. (Click to Read Poem)

It was written at Bealtaine of 2004. It’s from the Irish Witchcraft book, which was my first book, but actually she had been calling for a long time before that. I was tattooed with crows, for example, before this poem was written or that book was written. She’s been calling since, I would say, since the turn of the millennium. Since about 2000, there has been a very specific gathering of the forces in Ireland, on the ground in Ireland, around her sites, and the work that she has had me doing here has been to disseminate real information and education because that wasn’t happening back then. At all.

All through the 90s, there was a lot of shite about Irish traditions and Irish culture specifically, and very little that was real. Everybody was shit-scared of her, but really very little about her and certainly nothing of value about her was available to the general public – there wasn’t even the interest and the understanding that the source lore and the literature we have is so important to us now as modern pagans working with her. I mean, that just wasn’t there in the 90s.

Your average pagan now is, believe it or not, much better read and much more versed in the lore than your average pagan was back then. Just from the sheer availability, I think of it, with the coming of the Internet and the raised standards in publishing – and yes, they are raised, believe it or not again, you might not appreciate just how bad things used to be. There was a huge gap between academic research and the access that people could have to academia. Scholarship was very much far removed from the standard pagan community, except in small pockets and some individuals. And that was the teachers, never mind students.

So the work that she’s had me doing since she got her hooks in me is to try and bring some of that to the wider communities, and to teach people the importance of it. Now I’m not academic, I mean, I’ve studied psychology, but that was me going back as a mature student. The only other college learning I have is in art college, so that’s fuck-all useful to anybody, unless you’re artistic, which I am, or was at least, but…yes, so, I’m not an academic, but one of the things that she had me do was get my head around the literature and try and find ways to translate it. I don’t mean translate it from Old Irish – thankfully that work is being done but that is not my work, thank the gods, I’ve never had to learn Old Irish. Morgan Daimler is doing excellent work in that, poor Morgan, we’ll have her worked to death before she has the entire Ulster Cycle translated by the time I’m finished with her. And Isolde Carmody, who is one half of the Story Archaeology team, who you will hear lots and lots and lots about from me, has been doing sterling translation work too.

None of that work was being done at the time though, and the recruitment that we’re seeing now is just a step above that. It’s just where that has reached a kind of a critical mass where it’s spilling over into the wider world and really my feeling is that she was consolidating her base ground for the last decade and in the last five or so years things have kind of stepped up and moved on from that.

As ever, I’m wary of projecting my own stuff because that above has been very much my experience, but then as I started to travel away from my beloved isle and get out and about in the world, rather than everybody coming to me at the Cave and through Rathcroghan Heritage Centre – which is lovely and I much prefer, I have to say, I hate leaving Ireland, moan moan whine whine… Since I’ve started getting out and about in the world, I have noticed there is a mirroring of many people’s experience in that it’s not just my experience, it’s that now is the time.

There’s been a couple of organizations started up in recent years. The Coru Priesthood, for example, and I know some of our course members have started priesthoods in Texas and Connecticut, and eventually I will have to start one here in Ireland. I don’t want to be doing any of this work, to be honest. If I could get away with doing none of this work I would be totally getting away with that and living a much easier life, but my next project is going to be is a priesthood here in Ireland and I’m not sure what that’s going to look like, yet, but before of that I have a serious initiation I have to do, which again, I’ve been putting off because it’s scary.

A lot of that is going on here, and it is very much mirrored out in the world, and I think that the answer to it, to the question ‘why do I feel that there’s such an interest’, is because she’s so concerned with the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is fucked right now. Absolutely fucked.

Anybody in class (or reading this blog) who is not aware of just how fucked the bigger picture is on so many different levels – if you’re going to be on my Facebook, so you’ll find out very quickly if you’re not aware already… and awareness is the first key. It’s through educating ourselves that we understand the work that needs to be done on a big scale, but also on our doorstep and on ourselves.

Part of taking this course, I hope, is doing that work on yourself so that you’re ready then to do whatever work is needed of you out in the world.

 

[Author’s Note: this class was recorded pre Brexit, and pre Trump. And before Ireland had begun to step up and lead the free world with such fantastic examples of social justice and people power as the Marriage Equality Referendum, the Transgender Identity Bill, and our Referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment. FYI.]

 


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The Mórrígan and Her Sisters

Red Haired Woman in a Crowd

As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about our Irish Goddess The Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Iníon Preacháin asked: “Of Badb, Macha, Anu/Anand, Nemain, Fea, and some list Danu as well… do you feel they are all aspects of the Morrigna?”

Okay, so, ‘the Morrigna’ represents the plural, so yes, they are all aspects of Na Morrigna, as in the Great Queens – that’s what Morrigna written like that means.  I always make a distinction between na Morrigna, as in the plural, or the Mórrígan, ‘an Morrighan,’ the Great Queen, so that would be my feeling on it.

Like I said — in a previous blog post, see it here — aspects is not a term that I would use specifically.  I would see them as sisters, and some more closely related than others. In my experience.

Macha is, I feel, is the closest to her, and I have an interest and kind of perspective, I suppose, in Mórrígan and Medb, that’s — Queen Medb of Connacht —, and working with both of those very, very powerful figures at Rathcroghan for so many years. They very much work together in my experience and both of them feed into the sovereignty of Connacht, of the western province, in Ireland.

Macha is the sovereignty of, or represents the sovereignty of, the Ulster province in the north of Ireland, and Connacht and Ulster have a somewhat troubled relationship in the mythology. I mean, anybody who’s read the — Tain Bó Cúailnge —, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley,” will be aware, Ulster and Connacht have been enemies for a very long time.  So there’s kind of a lot going on there, and of all of those sisters Macha, to me, has alwas been the most, kind of fully formed and distinct from the Morrígan.  

Nemain, I think, is an ancestor, and I think that all of those deities that are there… and again, we will look at this in more detail over the course, but all of those deities, in a sense they may be aspects in the literal understanding of that word. BUT, they are all beings and deities in their own right as well.  So them being aspects of the Great Queen, I think that kind of feeds together and weaves together, but I think they’re working on different levels, if that makes sense.

So you’ve got this kind of top tier of being able to interact with all of those beings individually. You go down a little bit deeper into the root system and they start to blend a little bit closer together and you don’t get those kind of distinctive, individual personalities.  You go down deeper and they’re all kind of part of that same root, and then you go deeper again and you’re still in the ‘Irish zone’ at that level… but then the level below that would be the universal archetypal level, the level of the collective unconscious common to all humanity, that kind of ‘dark goddess’ level.

All of the names which we connect to the Mórrígan, under the banner of ‘Great Queen’, are connected at a deep level so, but we can (and do) also interact with them individually in the day to day. I definitely wouldn’t be a fan of – or allowed to, I’d get my arse kicked – lump them all together or just swap out one for another.

Yeah, don’t try that one at home kids.


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Faces of the Mórrígan – a Perception of Deity

Faces of the Mórrígan

As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Marjorie asked: “We all experience our gods differently, to some degree. Some of us experience Her as Many and some of us as One with multiple faces. Do you think one is more accurate than the other or, more importantly, is either perception more respectful than the other? To what extent do you think it matters?”

That’s a really good question, and we will go into some of this in the coursework that’s to follow, but my view is that… I personally deal with the Mórrígan, and the Mórrígan for me is a very distinct entity. I mean distinct as in distinct from Macha or Nemhain or Badbh, and those beings and goddesses seem more like sisters than a part of Her. To me.

Now, I completely agree, we all do experience our gods differently, and I also feel that the gods themselves can do whatever the fuck they like and appear however they like. I think that there is a certain amount of (human relational) shaping that has gone into the Mórrígan. So there is a particular form – or rather formlessness – that she takes with that specific guise that has been interacted with by humans.

My theory on gods is that, well…okay, so to go back a bit: I studied psychology in some depth and particularly Jungian psychology as every feckin’ amateur psychologist pagan has done. The reason for that is because it makes a lot of sense and it makes a lot of sense for our spirituality and Jung had a very kind of tuned-in attitude, certainly for his time, and a lot of the stuff that he was conceptualizing has become common parlance. So we often don’t even recognize how much of a contribution Jung has made to psychology and the study of the human mind and the human spirit as well, I think.

I work a lot with archetypes, and I was called a blasphemer for dealing with archetypal god energies on a panel last year. I was very, very bothered (furious actually) by this at the time, but I really didn’t understand that the American culture that the accusation was coming from had a very different understanding of archetypes than I would’ve had.

To me, an archetype is huge, and it’s complex, and obviously I’m not going to be able to just settle it down in just a few sentences. The crux of it is that there are roots and essential sources that I feel are part of the collective unconscious, as in the unconsciousness that is common to all humanity, and those sources are the archetypes, to a certain extent. Each deity stems in some way from an archetypal form, but it’s like they’re all from the same root, maybe, but when they grow in different cultures with different food sources and different light sources and different energy that’s fed to them and different care and cultivation, they grow into very different deities.

Each of those deities are plants, to use that analogy. Each of those plants or trees or whatever grows from the roots is different from each other, but when you trace them right down to the bottom of those roots, you get to the same source. So that’s a very simplified version of how I have always understood ‘deity.’

I think a good example of this the Mórrígan. Na Mórrigna – that is, all of the Mórrígans – but when you take the Mórrígan Herself and you look at Her as a ‘dark deity’ – again, for want of a better description – and you put that in the context of, say, other ‘dark’ deities like Cerridwen or Kali or Hekate, and, y’know, all of those goddesses I would say stem from the same kind of ‘dark goddess’ root or archetype or source, but they have obviously developed very, very differently in very different cultures, and they’ve all ended up being female. Make of that what you will.

Re gender and form… My experience of the Mórrígan is that she’s kind of nominally female. Her form is formlessness, as I’ve said, and she can take any form and does take any form. I think I coined the phrase ‘gender irrelevant’ in relation to Her – she can and does appear in any of them.

The general physical form that she appears to have in modern culture has become black hair, but actually the only description of her apart from her shapeshifting, the only real description of her – showing her essence, I believe – that we have in the lore is as a warrior woman who is carrying two spears and has red hair and red eyebrows and is wearing a red cloak and has a very strange horse, and kind of a chariot that she’s standing on. (See the Táin Bó Regamna video on YouTube.) That’s her base aspect, as far as I can tell.

But generally she just appears, if she appears to me at all, she appears kind of hooded, and like I said, formless, generally human-shaped unless she’s as a crow. But anyway, sorry, I’m wandering off a little bit. We will examine this in more detail through the course and through the content (and check the — Available Classes — for individual class downloads!).

So, I experience her as one being or entity specifically, with or without a face, and I have always interacted with her as the Great Queen. I don’t feel that that’s specifically more accurate than any other interaction or relationship with her, as long as that’s based on a relationship. I feel that if somebody has put the same amount or similar amount of time and effort into building a relationship with that deity as I have, and their perception is different than my perception, then I’m not going to say that mine is right or more accurate and theirs is wrong. I think, ultimately the gods, and our perception of them is often going to be different because we’re all different, and I don’t think that they have a genuine kind of physical, corporeal form in this world anyway. We are experiencing them through the collective unconscious, through ourselves and our connection to our own subconscious and our own unconscious with the collective unconscious. I know I’m kind of throwing a lot – I’m trying to encapsulate, like, literally years’ worth of theory on my part into a couple of minutes.

“Is either perception more respectful than the other?”

I feel that it’s disrespectful to swap her out, if that makes sense. So if you’re going to be dealing with the Mórrígan, and we will through the course – when we’re talking about the Mórrígan, I’m not talking about Macha, I’m not talking about Badbh, I’m not talking about Nemhain. I’m talking about the Morrígan, the Great Queen – and like I said, YMMV on that, and that’s fine, but when I say ‘the Mórrígan,’ that’s who I mean.

What I don’t think is okay is swapping out the Mórrígan, say in the lore, or in how we’re dealing with her or how we’re working with her, and just slotting in any of them into whatever kind of floats your boat at the time. I think that if she’s dealing with you, you’ll know whether it’s the Great Queen or whether it’s Macha or Badbh or Nemhain or Fea or Anu. Nemhain is a different thing, and Badbh is a different thing again, and Macha is definitely her own thing. But again, that’s my perception.

“To what extent do you think it matters?”

I’ve probably covered that? Build your relationship and you’ll see how much it matters because if you disrespect her… [laughter]

Sorry, that’s probably not very helpful, but that has been my experience.


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