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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Normally, questions come in from my Mailing List or YouTube comments, and I’ll answer them in blogs or videos, but I was a little unprepared to be asked the question: “What are Pagan beliefs?” while attending a recent Irish activism event.
Caught on the hop, I guess, would be a better description, as it was out of the usual context in which I answer questions on Paganism. Really, I have been preparing for questions like this since I picked up my first book on Paganism in 1994, at the age of 16.
That was a wonderful start actually: Vivianne Crowley’s excellent title “Phoenix From the Flame: Living as a Pagan in the 21st Century”.
[Get your Copy Here – https://amzn.to/2WsxzAg]
This book was lauded as ‘a fresh look at the most ancient religion – Paganism – the vital, widely practiced alternative to mainstream religion that heralds a return to ritual and reverence for the earth’.
It certainly opened my eyes to a whole new world, as I now had a name for the unusual beliefs and inclinations I’d had all my life, even while mired in the very mainstream religious practices and beliefs of (then) Catholic Ireland.
I’d been carrying Pagan beliefs in my heart and in my soul, without even knowing what they were.
The top 3 basics, the things most Pagan Beliefs will align on, are Polytheism, Pantheism, and Reverence for Nature or Nature Worshipping. We’ll get into what these mean specifically, in just a minute.
Because first, it’s important to say that not all Pagan Beliefs do align, or even look remotely similar, in some cases. There are many traditions, and many different ways to be Pagan, and some Pagans don’t follow any tradition or any set way at all.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but sadly – it needs saying again – I do not here, nor do I ever attempt or presume to, speak for ALL Pagans, Irish or otherwise. This blog, as with all my writing and educational materials, are an expression of my own understanding and experience on a given topic.
Historically speaking, all of our ancestors were Pagan, as we understand it. It’s an umbrella term that we now use for basically anything non-monotheistic – ie, belief in more than one, or multiple Gods.
When the big ‘belief in one God’ religions started coming in, humanity moved away from pretty much everyone being Pagan. Before the Abrahamic religions came along, our Gods were many.
Which gives us the definition for the first term we used up there, Polytheism.
Polytheism is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals.
The definition of our second basic Pagan Belief – Pantheism – is a little trickier. This one is not specific to Paganism per se, so while many/most Pagans are Pantheists, not all Pantheists are Pagan.
Stick with me here.
Pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent deity or Universal consciousness. All forms of reality and things within reality are then seen either modes of that Being, or identical with it.
What this means, practically, is that Pantheists see ‘God’ in everything – every rock, every river, every cloud, every insect, every elephant, every human.
The essence of all things IS divinity.
Pagans are pretty much down with this view in a majority, and it ties very well with the third of our basic Pagan Beliefs – reverence for Nature.
There are also some of those who follow the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) who may hold Pantheistic views… it all depends how you define God, right?!
Again, this varies, but there are a couple of mainstays.
Pagans will follow and attune to the natural year through both lunar and solar cycles. That is, the moon cycles – New, Waxing, Full, Waning, and Dark. And the sun cycles – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.
Depending on tradition and personal practice, there may be specific festivals, rituals, and observances that happen through these cycles.
Sometimes these cycles correspond with Deity, and a God or Goddess will be venerated or acknowledged as part of the celebration or observance.
[For example, many people work with the Mórrígan at Samhain (Hallowe’en). You can learn more about the Mórrígan at Samhain Here]
Another commonly held Pagan Belief is that the earth herself is sentient, and sacred, as well as all that lives upon her. The spirit of place is highly regarded to, with a particular reverence for certain ancient sites being widespread.
Perhaps the first thing that those only familiar with modern mainstream religions will find odd, or even unsettling, is the Pagan Belief in both Gods and Goddesses. There is a diversity and openness to deity in any form, or none, that is just not what many folk are used to any more.
Pagans can be members of traditions that venerate within certain cultural parameters. We see followers of Irish (most often spoken of as ‘Celtic’, even though this term is a little more complicated than they may understand), Norse, Egyptian, Greek/Hellenistic historic spiritual cultures or pantheons of Gods. As well as many others.
The questions of authentic connection to these cultures, and cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation, I have addressed elsewhere – please do go and find an awareness/understanding around these issues for yourself.
[Cultural Appreciation vs Cultural Appropriation on YouTube – https://youtu.be/8oC3dUqEXaY]
Some Pagans prefer to keep things much more open and unspecified, with beliefs in non personified or unnamed God and/or Goddess energies. We may see veneration of a ‘Great Goddess of All’, or a ‘Great Mother’, perhaps with a partner/consort ‘Great God’.
Many Pagans work with both Gods, and UnGods (though they may not call them exactly this name!).
These beings and entities that don’t quite fall into the Deity categories may include our own particular ancestor spirits, the dead in general, fairies or ‘Otherworld’ folk of many cultures, and the personification or anthropomorphisation of natural features.
That’s a long word.
It means attributing human characteristics, behaviour or personalities to natural elements; such as geographical locations (a river, a mountain, an ocean even a city), or broad spirit types (fire spirit, wolf spirit, death spirit).
Those are the most basic Pagan Beliefs, in my experience, which may or may not apply to ALL Pagans, but will be held sacred by most of us, most of the time, in some form or another.
And if you have any questions, I’ll be prepared for them in the comments below 😉
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 collection of quotes about druids and druidic practices is from an old Angelfire website that I unfortunately can’t find a credit for. Although the material itself is all public domain, I’d like to credit whoever first compiled it, so comment below if you know!
Sopater [late fourth-century BC] (via Athenaeus 4.160):
Among them is the custom, whenever they are victorious in battle, to sacrifice their prisoners to the gods. So I, like the Celts, have vowed to the divine powers to burn those three false dialecticians as an offering.
Timaeus [early third century BC] (via Diodorus Siculus 4.56):
Historians point out that the Celts who live on the shore of the Ocean honor the Dioscori above other gods. For there is an ancient tradition among them that these gods came to them from the Ocean.
Eudoxus of Rhodes [late third-century BC] (via Aelian On Animals 17.19):
Eudoxus says that the Celts do the following (and if anyone thinks his account credible, let him believe it; if not, let him ignore it). When clouds of locusts invade their country and damage the crops, the Celts evoke certain prayers and offer sacrifices which charm birds—and the birds hear these prayers, come in flocks, and destroy the locusts. If however one of them should capture one of these birds, his punishment according to the laws of the country is death. If he is pardoned and released, this throws the birds into a rage, and to revenge the captured bird they do not respond if they are called on again.
Artemidorus of Ephesus [late second-century BC] (via Strabo 4.4.6):
The following story which Artemidorus has told about the crows is unbelievable. There is a certain harbor on the coast which, according to him, is named “Two Crows”. In this harbor are seen two crows, with their right wings somewhat white. Men who are in dispute about certain matters come here, put a plank on an elevated place, and then each man separately throws up cakes of barley. The birds fly up and eat some of the cakes, but scatter others. The man whose cakes are scattered wins the dispute. Although this story is implausible, his report about the goddesses Demeter and Core is more credible. He says that there is an island near Britain on which sacrifices are performed like those in Samothrace for Demeter and Core.
Livy [first century AD] (23.24):
(216 BC) Postumius died there fighting with all his might not to be captured alive. The Gauls stripped him of all his spoils and the Boii took his severed head in a procession to the holiest of their temples.There it was cleaned and the bare skull was adorned with gold, as is their custom. It was used thereafter as a sacred vessel on special occasions and as a ritual drinking-cup by their priests and temple officials.
Nicander of Colophon [second century BC] (via Tertullian De anima 57.10):
It is often said because of visions in dreams that the dead truly live. The Nasamones receive special oracles by staying at the tombs of their parents, as Heraclides—or Nymphodorus or Herodotus—writes. The Celts also for the same reason spend the night near the tombs of their famous men, as Nicander affirms.
Posidonius [first century BC] (via Diodorus Siculus 5.28):
The teaching of Pythagoras prevails among the Gauls, that the souls of humans are immortal and that after a certain number of years they will live again, with the soul passing into another body. Because of this belief, some people at funerals will throw letters into the funeral pyre, so that those having passed on might read them.
(via Diodorus 5.31):
The Gauls have certain wise men and experts on the gods called Druids, as well as a highly respected class of seers. Through auguries and animal sacrifice these seers predict the future and no one dares to scoff at them. They have an especially odd and unbelievable method of divination for the most important matters. Having anointed a human victim, they stab him with a small knife in the area above the diaphragm. When the man has collapsed from the wound, they interpret the future by observing the nature of his fall, the convulsion of his limbs, and especially from the pattern of his spurting blood. In this type of divination, the seers place great trust in an ancient tradition of observation.
It is a custom among the Gauls to never perform a sacrifice without someone skilled in divine ways present. They say that those who know about the nature of the gods should offer thanks to them and make requests of them, as though these people spoke the same language as the gods. The Gauls, friends and foes alike, obey the rule of the priests and bards not only in time of peace but also during wars. It has often happened that just as two armies approached each other with swords drawn and spears ready, the Druids will step between the two sides and stop the fighting, as if they had cast a spell on wild beasts. Thus even among the wildest barbarians, anger yields to wisdom and the god of war respects the Muses.
(via Diodorus 5.32):
It is in keeping with their wildness and savage nature that they carry out particularly offensive religious practices. They will keep some criminal under guard for five years, then impale him on a pole in honor of their gods—followed by burning him on an enormous pyre along with many other first-fruits. They also use prisoners of war as sacrifices to the gods. Some of the Gauls will even sacrifice animals captured in war, either by slaying them, burning them, or by killing them with some other type of torture.
(via Strabo 4.4.4-5):
Generally speaking, there are three uniquely honored groups among the Gauls: Bards, Votes, and Druids. The Bards are singers and poets, while the Votes oversee sacred rites and examine natural phenomena. The Druids also study the ways of nature, but apply themselves to laws of morality as well. The Gauls consider the Druids the most just of people and so are entrusted with judging both public and private disputes. In the past, they even stopped battles which were about to begin and brought an end to wars. Murder cases especially are handed over to the Druids for judgment. They believe that when there are many condemned criminals available for sacrifice, then the land will prosper. Both the Druids and others say that the human soul and the universe as well are indestructible, but that at some time both fire and water will prevail.
(via Strabo 4.4.6):
Posidonius also says there is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Loire River inhabited by women of the Samnitae tribe. They are possessed by Dionysus and appease this god by mysterious ceremonies and other types of sacred rituals. No man ever comes to this island, but the women sail to the mainland to have sex with men, then return. Each year the women take down the roof of a temple and build it again before dark, with each woman carrying a load to add to the roof. Whoever drops her load is torn to pieces by the others. They then carry the pieces of her around the temple shouting with a Bacchanalian cry until their mad frenzy passes away. And it always happens that the one who is going to suffer this fate is bumped by someone.
Julius Caesar [first century BC] (Gallic War 6.13-14,16-19):
Throughout all of Gaul there are two classes of people who are treated with dignity and honor. This does not include the common people, who are little better than slaves and never have a voice in councils. Many of these align themselves with a patron voluntarily, whether because of debt or heavy tribute or out of fear of retribution by some other powerful person. Once they do this, they have given up all rights and are scarcely better than servants. The two powerful classes mentioned above are the Druids and the warriors. Druids are concerned with religious matters, public and private sacrifices, and divination.
A great many young men come to the Druids for instruction, holding them in great respect. Indeed, the Druids are the judges on all controversies public and private. If any crime has been committed, if any murder done, if there are any questions concerning inheritance, or any controversy concerning boundaries, the Druids decide the case and determine punishments. If anyone ignores their decision, that person is banned from all sacrifices—an extremely harsh punishment among the Gauls. Those who are so condemned are considered detestable criminals. Everyone shuns them and will not speak with them, fearing some harm from contact with them, and they receive no justice nor honor for any worthy deed.
Among all the Druids there is one who is the supreme leader, holding highest authority over the rest. When the chief Druid dies, whoever is the most worthy succeeds him. If there are several of equal standing, a vote of all the Druids follows, though the leadership is sometimes contested even by armed force. At a certain time of the year, all the Druids gather together at a consecrated spot in the territory of the Carnutes, whose land is held to be the center of all Gaul. Everyone gathers therefrom the whole land to present disputes and they obey the judgments and decrees of the Druids. It is said that the druidic movement began in Britain and was then carried across to Gaul. Even today, those who wish to study their teachings most diligently usually travel to Britain.
The Druids are exempt from serving in combat and from paying war taxes, unlike all other Gauls. Tempted by such advantages, many young people willingly commit themselves to druidic studies while others are sent by their parents. It is said that in the schools of the Druids they learn a great number of verses, so many in fact that some students spend twenty years in training. It is not permitted to write down any of these sacred teachings, though other public and private transactions are often recorded in Greek letters. I believe they practice this oral tradition for two reasons: first, so that the common crowd does not gain access to their secrets and second, to improve the faculty of memory. Truly, writing does often weaken one’s diligence in learning and reduces the ability to memorize. The cardinal teaching of the Druids is that the soul does not perish, but after death passes from one body to another. Because of this teaching that death is only a transition, they are able to encourage fearlessness in battle. They have a great many other teachings as well which they hand down to the young concerning such things as the motion of the stars, the size of the cosmos and the earth, the order of the natural world, and the power of the immortal gods.
All of the Gauls are greatly devoted to religion, and because of this those who are afflicted with terrible illnesses or face dangers in battle will conduct human sacrifices, or at least vow to do so. The Druids are the ministers at such occasions. They believe that unless the life of a person is offered for the life of another, the dignity of the immortal gods will be insulted. This is true both in private and public sacrifices. Some build enormous figures which they fill with living persons and then set on fire, everyone perishing inflames. They believe that the execution of thieves and other criminals is the most pleasing to the gods, but, when the supply of guilty persons runs short, they will kill the innocent as well.
The chief god of the Gauls is Mercury and there are images of him everywhere. He is said to be the inventor of all the arts, the guide for every road and journey, and the most influential god in trade and moneymaking. After him, they worship Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. These gods have the same areas of influence as among most other peoples. Apollo drives away diseases, Minerva is most influential in crafts, Jupiter rules the sky, and Mars is the god of war. Before a great battle, they will often dedicate the spoils to Mars. If they are successful, they will sacrifice all the living things they have captured and other spoils they gather together in one place. Among many tribes, you can see these spoils placed together in a sacred spot. And it is a very rare occasion that anyone would dare to disturb these valuable goods and conceal them in his home. If it does happen, the perpetrator is tortured and punished in the worst ways imaginable.
The Gauls all say that they are descended from the god of the dark underworld, Dis, and confirm that this is the teaching of the Druids. Because of this they measure time by the passing of nights, not days. Birthdays and the beginnings of months and years all start at night.
The funerals of the Gauls are magnificent and extravagant. Everything which was dear to the departed is thrown into the fire, including animals. In the recent past, they would also burn faithful slaves and beloved subordinates at the climax of the funeral.
Cicero [first century BC] (On Divination 1.90): The practice of divination is not even neglected by barbarians. I know there are Druids in Gaul because I met one myself—Divitiacus of the Aedui tribe, who was your guest and praised you highly. He claimed a knowledge of nature derived from what the Greeks call “physiologia”—the inquiry into natural causes and phenomena. He would predict the future using augury and other forms of interpretation.
The practice of divination is not even neglected by barbarians. I know there are Druids in Gaul because I met one myself—Divitiacus of the Aedui tribe, who was your guest and praised you highly. He claimed a knowledge of nature derived from what the Greeks call “physiologia”—the inquiry into natural causes and phenomena. He would predict the future using augury and other forms of interpretation.
Pliny [first century AD] (Natural History 16.249,24.103-4,29.52,30.13): I can’t forget to mention the admiration the Gauls have for mistletoe. The Druids (which is the name of their holy men) hold nothing more sacred than this plant and the tree on which it grows—as if it grew only on oaks. They worship only in oak groves and will perform no sacred rites unless a branch of that tree is present. It seems the Druids even get their name from drus (the Greek word for oak). And indeed they think that anything which grows on an oak tree is sent from above and is a sign that the tree was selected by the god himself. The problem is that in fact mistletoe rarely grows on oak trees. Still they search it out with great diligence and then will cut it only on the sixth day of the moon’s cycle, because the moon is then growing in power but is not yet halfway through its course (they use the moon to measure not only months but years and their grand cycle of thirty years). In their language they call mistletoe a name meaning “all-healing”. They hold sacrifices and sacred meals under oak trees, first leading forward two white bulls with horns bound for the first time. A priest dressed in white then climbs the tree and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, with the plant dropping onto a white cloak. They then sacrifice the bulls while praying that the god will favorably grant his own gift to those to whom he has given it. They believe a drink made with mistletoe will restore fertility to barren livestock and act as a remedy to all poisons. Such is the devotion to frivolous affairs shown by many peoples.
Similar to the Sabine herb savin is a plant called selago. It must be picked without an iron instrument by passing the right hand through the opening of the left sleeve, as if you were stealing it. The harvester, having first offered bread and wine, must wear white and have clean, bare feet. It is carried in a new piece of cloth. The Druids of Gaul say that it is should be used to ward off every danger and that the smoke of burning selago is good for eye diseases. The Druids also gather a plant from marshes called samolus, which must be picked with the left hand during a time of fasting. It is good for the diseases of cows, but the one who gathers it must not look back nor place it anywhere except in the watering trough of the animals.
There is a kind of egg which is very famous in Gaul but ignored by Greek writers. In the summer months, a vast number of snakes will gather themselves together in a ball which is held together by their saliva and a secretion from their bodies. The Druids say they produce this egg-like object called an anguinum which the hissing snakes throw up into the air. It must be caught, so they say, in a cloak before it hits the ground. But you’d better have a horse handy, because the snakes will chase you until they are cut off by some stream. A genuine anguinum will float upstream, even if covered in gold. But as is common with the world’s holy men, the Druids say it can only be gathered during a particular phase of the moon, as if people could make the moon and serpents work together. I saw one of these eggs myself—it was a small round thing like an apple with a hard surface full of indentations as on the arms of an octopus. The Druids value them highly. They say it is a great help in lawsuits and will help you gain the good will of a ruler. That this is plainly false is shown by a man of the Gaulish Vocontii tribe, a Roman knight, who kept one hidden in his cloak during a trial before the emperor Claudius and was executed, as far as I can tell, for this reason alone.
Barbarous rites were found in Gaul even within my own memory. For it was then that the emperor Tiberius passed a decree through the senate outlawing their Druids and these types of diviners and physicians. But why do I mention this about a practice which has crossed the sea and reached the ends of the earth? For even today Britain performs rites with such ceremony that you would think they were the source for the extravagant Persians. It is amazing how distant people are so similar in such practices. But at least we can be glad that the Romans have wiped out the murderous cult of the Druids, who thought human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism were the greatest kind of piety.
Suetonius (Claudius 25):
(AD 41-54) Claudius destroyed the horrible and inhuman religion of the Gaulish Druids, which had merely been forbidden to Roman citizens under Augustus.
Lucan [first century AD] (Civil War 1.444-46,450-58):
Cruel Teutates pleased by dreadful blood,
Horrid Esus with his barbaric altars,
and Taranis, more cruel than Scythian Diana.
Oh Druids, now that the war is over
you return to your barbaric rites and sinister ways.
You alone know the ways of the gods and powers of heaven,
or perhaps you don’t know at all.
You who dwell in dark and remote forest groves,
you say that the dead do not seek the silent ream of Erebus
or the pale kingdom of Pluto,
but that the same spirit lives again in another world
and death, if your songs are true, is but the middle of a long life.
Silius Italicus [first century AD] (Punica 3.340-43):
The Celts known as Hlberi came also. To them it is glorious to fall in combat, but they consider it wrong to cremate a warrior who dies in this way. They believe he will be carried up to the gods if his body, lying on the field of battle, is devoured by a hungry vulture.
Historia Augusta [fourth century AD] (Alexander Severus 59.5):
(AD 235) The Druidess exclaimed to him as he went, “Go ahead, but don’t hope for victory or put any trust in your soldiers.”
While Diocletian was still a young soldier he was staying at a tavern in the land of the Tongri in Gaul. Every day he had to settle his account with the landlady, a Druidess. One day she said,” Diocletian, you are greedy and cheap!” Jokingly he responded to her, “Then I’ll be more generous when I’m emperor.” “Don’t laugh,” she said, “for you’ll be emperor after you’ve killed the boar.”
(AD 270) On certain occasions Aurelian would consult Gaulish Druidesses to discover whether or not his descendants would continue to rule. They told him that no name would be more famous than those of the line of Claudius. And indeed, the current emperor Constantius is a descendant of his.
Ausonius [late fourth century AD] (4.7-10,10.22-30):
You are descended from the Druids ofBayeux, if the stories about you are true, and you trace your sacred ancestry and renown from the temple ofBelenus. Nor will I forget the old man by the name of Phoebicius. Though he was priest of the god Belenus, he received no profit from the position. But nonetheless this one, who descended, it is said, from the Druids of Brittany, did receive a professorship at Bordeaux with the help of his son.
Botorrita Inscription (late second/early first century BC):
To Eniorosis and Tiato ofTiginos we dedicate trecaias and to Lugus we dedicate arainom. To Eniorosis and to Equaesos, ogris erects coverings of olga and to Lugus he erects coverings of the tiasos.
Tablet of Chamalieres (c. AD 50):
I invoke the god Maponos arueriitis. Through the magic of the underworld gods. C. Lucios Floras, Nigrinos the speaker, Aemilios Paterinos, Claudios Legitumos, Caelios Pelignos, Claudios Pelignos, Marcios Victorinos, and Asiaticos son of Adsedillos… The oath they will swear—the small shall become great, the crooked become straight, and, though blind, I will see. With this tablet of incantation this will be… luge dessummiiis luge dessumiis luge dessumiiis luxe.
Tablet of Larzac (c. AD 90):
—a magical incantation of women
—their ritual underworld names
—the prophesy of the seer ess who weaves this spell
The goddess Adsagsona renders Severa and Tertionicna enchanted and bound.
St. Patrick [fourth century AD] Confession:
It is remarkable that the Irish have indeed become a people of the Lord and are children of God. These people who up until now had no knowledge of God, but worshipped idols and followed disgusting religious practices.
Old Irish Law:
Sixth century—Oaths may be sworn in presence of Druids (Old Irish drui)
Seventh Century—Druid only has same rights as a boaire
Eighth Century—Protect me from the spells of women, blacksmiths, and Druids…
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!
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.
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.
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.
Clann Dord Fiann – “Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”
This is a new group in Ireland, working with authentic Irish source material and genuine relationship to the land, and I’m only delighted to see them starting up. Find them on Facebook.
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).
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!
You’ve heard a lot about the health benefits of meditation by now, right?
Every celebrity seems to be meditating these days. Hugh Jackman, Angelina Jolie, Clint Eastwood, Madonna, Jet li, Eva Mendes… the list goes on and on.
They all meditate daily, and quite a number of them attribute their success, health, energy and even their good looks to a regular practice that gives them all the benefits of meditation.
When you’re just starting out though, there’s a lot of information out there. It can all get a bit overwhelming.
Even later on for those of us who know what we’re looking at, there’s a lot to take in.
So let’s break down the top 3 health benefits of meditation. With sources, so you know we’re telling the absolute truth.
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress.
We all get anxious at times – it’s that feeling of fear and apprehension about what’s to come; the worry, over-thinking things and getting stuck in mental loops.
But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, for example if they last for longer than six months, or if they’re interfering with how you live your life… you may have an anxiety disorder.
A report in 2014 looked at 16 studies among 1,295 participants, examining the effects of the ‘transcendental meditation’ technique on people with anxiety.
First of all, the meditation technique absolutely did no harm. I mean, that’s important when you’re dealing with cases of chronic anxiety, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and prison inmates in extremely stressful conditions.
Did it do any good though?
“Conclusion: Transcendental Meditation practice is more effective than treatment as usual and most alternative treatments, with greatest effects observed in individuals with high anxiety”. (Orme-Johnson & Barnes, 2014)
Depression is a mental health condition which can affect your thinking, energy, feelings and behaviour.
It’s really common (about 1 in 10 people are suffering from it at any one time, though in many it comes and goes seemingly at random through our lives), and can vary from mild to severe.
Depression can have a profound impact, affecting every aspect of our lives, our relationships, our work and of course, will also have a knock-on effect on the rest of our health.
A report in 2015 looked at 18 studies among 1,173 patients having acute major depressive episodes, and those with residual subacute clinical symptoms despite initial treatment. So, those in the midst of full scale depression, and those with on-going regular symptoms.
The studies covered 7 distinct meditation techniques, with mindfulness based meditation making up the largest proportion of studies.
They found that there were “moderate to large reductions in depression symptoms within the group” and they concluded that there is “a substantial body of evidence [which] indicates that meditation therapies may have positive effects on patients with clinical depressive disorders, during the acute and subacute phases of treatment.” (Fain, Walsh, et al, 2015)
Ever suffer from insomnia?
About half of us will, at some point in our lives.
For some people, it’s an ongoing issue through our whole lives. Insomnia is the most common reported sleep disorder, and there are limited treatment options (which mostly involve medication).
Now, don’t think for a second that there’s anything wrong with taking medication. That’s unusual to hear from an ‘alternative therapy’ source right?
The way we see it though, there are a lot of mental health and situational conditions people go through in their lives that require standard medical intervention. We’d never interfere with that, no more than we’d advise anyone to stop taking heart medication if they had a heart condition, or chemotherapy if they needed that for cancer treatment.
Standard medical practice saves (and improves the quality of) lives every day. Where we see a problem is if that’s viewed as the one and ONLY way to treat or support a person, which sadly is often the case.
But it doesn’t have to be.
A 2014 study looked at the treatment of 54 adults with chronic insomnia, to evaluate the efficacy of mindfulness meditation for the treatment of their chronic insomnia.
Some meditated, and some didn’t, to provide a control or comparison group. The participants who meditated used either a mindfulness based stress reduction technique (like our 5 Minute Body Scan, only a bit longer), or a mindfulness based therapy specifically designed for insomnia.
“Conclusion: Mindfulness meditation appears to be a viable treatment option for adults with chronic insomnia, and could provide an alternative to traditional treatments for insomnia.” (Ong, Manber, et al, 2014)
There are many, many more benefits to a regular meditation practice, and many different techniques and systems you can try to access the benefits of meditation for yourself.
Why not give our free Guided Meditation mini course a go, and get some of the health benefits of meditation in your own life?
Jain, F. A., Walsh, R. N., Eisendrath, S. J., Christensen, S., & Cahn, B. R. (2015, 03). Critical Analysis of the Efficacy of Meditation Therapies for Acute and Subacute Phase Treatment of Depressive Disorders: A Systematic Review. Psychosomatics, 56(2), 140-152. doi:10.1016/j.psym.2014.10.007
Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014, 09). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010
Orme-Johnson, D. W., & Barnes, V. A. (2014, 05). Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Technique on Trait Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(5), 330-341. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0204
Guided Meditation is a particular meditation technique, which just means ‘meditation with the help of a guide’, so you don’t have to try and follow a path all alone.
We could all use a little help and guidance sometimes, right? Especially when you’re just beginning your meditation practice. It can be a bit overwhelming. There is a lot to try and take in, and a lot to learn.
When you begin your journey to a regular meditation practice, you can access guided meditation audio, video, and scripts in the Irish Pagan School, and on Patreon; as well as interesting articles and resources on guided meditation journeys here on the blog, to try and make it easy for you to get going, and enjoy the benefits of meditation in your own life.
Guided meditation is one of the easiest ways to enter a relaxed state, especially if you know and trust the voice that is leading you through your meditation journey.
There are as many types of guided meditation as there are teachers and guides who do it, as everyone does things a little differently. They all follow the same basic pattern though.
First, you close your eyes, find a comfortable position, and take a deep breath. Your guide may lead you to spend a little time counting your breaths and focusing there, or you may be guided towards a ‘body scan’ that checks through your body to find (and release) any stress or tension.
Note: this falls under the ‘Ground Level’ resources in our free Getting Started Course.
As things are so different across traditions and teachers, I’ll use the example of how I do things, for clarity. In the particular technique I practice, there is then a ‘journey’ that I take you on. In my system, you progress from opening with this easy and relaxed meditative state, to a soothing ‘floating within the darkness’ phase. This is all still at Ground Level; it’s guided meditation for complete beginners, or those who are restarting a regular practice.
Ground Level is excellent for deep relaxation – it’s a fundamentally useful ‘calm your mind’ meditation technique that ANYONE can achieve, with a little practice.
When we progress to Level One, through different specific guided meditation journeys, we visit a soothing beach environment. There are multiple options at this point, which all focus on self development and personal growth, but are also perfect if you’re seeking that deep relaxation meditation experience.
The most important part in these guided meditation journeys though, and the bit that far too many ‘trained practitioners’ or teachers seem to forget about, is bringing you BACK safely after leading you off on a journey.
Sounds important, right? It is.
What you experience during a guided meditation depends on a number of factors, such as:
All being well, the guided meditation process will lead you to engaging deeply in visualisation as you follow the guidance, and this leads to generating mental imagery that can simulate or re-create the sensory perception. Over time and with practice, you can experience sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movements, and images associated with touch, such as texture, temperature, and pressure, in a truly ‘real’ manner, which is the best way to fully engage with the deepest levels of mindfulness meditation.
On a guided meditation journey, perhaps a little later at Level One in this technique, you will be guided to engage with journey content that you may experience as defying conventional sensory categories. In other words, you can defy what’s ‘real’, and have self development and personal growth experiences akin to waking dreams, as you are using the same part of your brain that is responsible for your dream state.
This can lead to strong emotions or feelings… hence why we feel it’s very important to make sure everyone we lead on a guided meditation journey gets ‘back’ safely, and is settled and well afterwards!
There is a wealth of clinical practice, scholarly research, and scientific investigation that centres on the benefits of guided meditation.
In short, guided meditation has been proven to:
Now, who wouldn’t want any of that?!
Guided meditation – and later on as you progress, guided meditation journeys – with a skilled, trusted practitioner or teacher, is a well established and effective way to bring all the benefits of meditation into your life.
Materials include Ground Level and Level One techniques, suitable for complete beginners, or those of you who may have stepped off the path a little and would like to get back on track with a guide you can trust.
Anxiety reduction through meditation. (1985). PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e361312004-009
Epstein, G., Barrett, E. A., Halper, J. P., Seriff, N. S., Phillips, K., & Lowenstein, S. (1997, 02). Alleviating Asthma With Mental Imagery. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 3(1), 42-52. doi:10.1089/act.1997.3.42
Kosslyn, S. M., Ganis, G., & Thompson, W. L. (2001, 09). Neural foundations of imagery. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2(9), 635-642. doi:10.1038/35090055
Menzies, V., Taylor, A. G., & Bourguignon, C. (2006, 01). Effects of Guided Imagery on Outcomes of Pain, Functional Status, and Self-Efficacy in Persons Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 12(1), 23-30. doi:10.1089/acm.2006.12.23
Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014, 09). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010
When I started studying psychology in 2011, with the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, I was very surprised to see ‘mindfulness’ on our lesson plan for the first term.
You see, I knew mindfulness was a form of meditation, because I’d been practicing it in a spiritual context since 1994, when I’d picked up my first book on Paganism.
I knew that science (yes, naysayers, psychology is a science!) didn’t usually give much credence to Pagan practices… so I was both fascinated and delighted to find it right there in front of me in class.
As my studies continued (and to be honest, they’ve never really stopped, though I’m not in formal education anymore), I became more and more enthralled with the science of meditation, and the benefits of a regular meditation practice. I had a key question that I keep revisiting – what is meditation, and how do you do it?
And that’s never stopped either!
You’ll hear people talk a lot about different techniques of meditation (mindfulness is one of them, for example), and different types of meditation (meditation for sleep, meditation for relaxation, meditation for anxiety or stress relief, and so on)… but at its essence, what you are trying to do when you meditate is to reach a place of deep peace, with your mind being calm and silent, yet completely alert.
Meditation then, is the practice of methods that can be used to reach this place or achieve this state.
To get there, we can use any number of techniques. Honestly, the range of practices available can be entirely overwhelming. Meditation has been practiced for as long as we know, in a number of ancient religions and belief systems. Personally, I believe every ancient culture had its own form of ‘meditation’, though our ancestors wouldn’t have called it that.
The English word meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, which means ‘to think, contemplate, devise, ponder’ (Bailey, 1776).
So, as far as meditation techniques and practices go, the WORD meditation is relatively new.
But the formal definition we have now, runs like this:
“Meditation: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” (Merriam-Webster, 2018)
Since the 1800s, people in industrialised cultures have been picking up the practice with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain… and increasing peace, perception and wellbeing (Shaner, Kelly, et al, 2016).
(You can see where I’m coming from and what’s available in This Article Here.)
Mindfulness, as mentioned, is gaining a fantastic reputation over the last 20 years or more, for being a science-based meditation technique, with a focus on the health and wellness benefits of a regular meditation practice (although the spiritual aspects certainly follow through with this method too).
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme in 1979, has defined mindfulness as ‘moment to moment non-judgmental awareness’ (Kabat-Zinn, 2015).
We can sit or lie down, set some time aside and devote our attention to the mindfulness meditation by using body scan techniques, or observing as our thoughts arise and letting them go.
Or we can practice mindfulness day to day as we go about our lives, for example by focusing our attention on sensations of heat or cold in our bodies as we experience them, or by becoming fully aware of the taste, smell and texture of food as we eat it.
If you’d like to try some free ‘Ground Level’ meditation exercises, you can find them as part of our Getting Started Course – to get the benefits of mindfulness meditation for yourself…
Bailey, N. (1776). The new universal etymological English dictionary … To which is added, a dictionary of cant words. By N. Bailey. Printed for William Cavell.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015, 10). Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6(6), 1481-1483. doi:10.1007/s12671-015-0456-x
Meditate. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meditate
Shaner, L., Kelly, L., Rockwell, D., & Curtis, D. (2016, 07). Calm Abiding. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57(1), 98-121. doi:10.1177/0022167815594556
Meditation and mindfulness are vital parts of any Pagan practice, and often they are either ignored by teachers, or it’s presumed that a student will simply… know how to do it.
Spoiler: most Western people don’t just *know* how to do meditation.
It’s a discipline which takes years to build: starting with simple breathing and visualisation exercises, and moving on to more involved practice such as guided meditation and Journeying in other worlds, for learning and healing purposes (primarily).
I’ve been actively meditating as part of my personal spiritual practice for over 22 years, and have been teaching my own Meditation and Guided Journeying technique – online and in person – to international audiences since 2013.
My basic technique was developed for beginners, over the course of a 20+ year personal journey, and in line with psychological best practice, to make relaxing meditation and Journeying in the Irish otherworld safe and accessible for everyone.
Guided Meditation is probably the most widely relatable and understood term for how I teach you to Journey in the Irish Otherworld, which comes easily and quickly after building a foundational daily meditation habit.
The Guided Meditation system you can learn with me is unique, and strongly rooted in my native Irish culture.
We start at Ground Level, and later levels fulfil a deep spiritual longing for ancestral connection and continuance, while the foundations you can build on will remain useful and suitable for anyone who just wants to learn a practical way to meditate – particularly if you’ve never been able to do that before!
We begin with simple, easy relaxation and mindfulness meditations, to build a habit and develop the necessary skillset to progress. This is ‘Ground Level’, if you like, for the complete beginner – or those who want to take a refresher with a new voice. As a bonus, it’s all done with my soothing Irish accent. 😉
As the Irish Pagan School curriculum progresses, more courses will be offered that will build a solid meditation and mindfulness practice for anyone willing to put in the work. The benefits of meditation are immense, and I will be expanding on them as we go through this series of articles.
Currently, the Ground Level exercises, as well as our Level One Introductory Class and Guided Meditation Journey to the Beach, are available completely free in the Irish Otherworld Journeys – Getting Started Mini Course on the Irish Pagan School.
When you have completed the classes and practiced the meditation techniques at Ground Level and Level One, there are other options for you to learn from, such as the Level Two: Irish Otherworld Journeys – Next Steps.
I am a Priest and a Draoí of the Old Religion of Ireland. As such, I have a duty of service and responsibility to my community, and to any who want to connect to Ireland in an authentic way.
Yes, I could charge for the free courses I offer through the Irish Pagan School. To be honest, I think folk might appreciate them more, and do more work with the materials, if they were paying for it. 🤷♀️ Such is the nature of humanity!
BUT, there’s plenty to pay for if you want to support the work I do. This one is a gift from a Draoí, for free.
Just like the question of how we do our Paganism – the other question of how it all began is a little… contentious. In some camps.
We know of course, that what we’re doing now in our various spiritual traditions is derived from, and continually inspired by (even in some cases closely related to), ancient sources.
There is an unfortunate history of ‘fakelore’ within the early movement however, that has caused considerable damage, and I’d hope we have, as communities, moved on from all that. I’m talking about those made up stories that involve initiation or training by a Grandmother, Grandfather, or other relative who is said to have instructed some of our community elders in the secret, millennia-old traditions of their ancestors.
Maybe there’s the odd one of these that’s true, but even at that, we’ve no way of knowing how far back these ‘secret traditions’ go. I mean, how do you really KNOW that your Granny wasn’t a scammer, if she told you a story like this?
My own Nana has told me stories about older relatives who were doing what I’d class as magic spells and seasonal observances, and my Granny on the other side told me that my tales of the Good Neighbours here in Ireland (the fairies, but we generally don’t like to call them that out loud) were exactly what her granny was doing on the daily, when she’d visit with them on their farm.
None of that means we have a family tradition of ancient witchcraft, or fairy doctoring, through either of my bloodlines.
It’s sad that folk feel so insecure in their own communities or beliefs that they invest so much energy in upholding such stories. Just get on with things as they are, will you?
We have a contemporary religious movement right now that can support or even revive traditional, indigenous, or native religions; if we make sure the work we do to decolonise our NeoPagan spiritual practice is in line with modern standards of it not being cool to just take things that don’t belong to you, and do what you fancy with them.
The early roots of NeoPaganism lie in the romanticist and national liberation movements that developed in Europe from the 1700s CE to the early 1900s.
The work of scholars and scoundrels such as Johann G Herder, George MacGregor-Reid, Douglas Hyde, WB Yeats, Alexander Carmichael, JG Frazer, Jacob Grimm, Aleister Crowley and Charles G Leland (listed here in no particular order of preference or endorsement!) led to an interest in folklore, folk customs, occultism, and mythology, and to a growth in cultural self-consciousness and pride.
How many of those dudes were a part of the native cultures from which they drew so heavily, and ultimately profited off (whether in money or credibility)?
Leland, mentioned above, was perhaps the earliest to write specifically on a modern witchcraft tradition, when in 1899 he published ‘Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches’, which is supposed to contain the traditional beliefs of Italian witchcraft as gifted to him by his ‘witch informant’, a woman named Maddalena. This one has definitely been disputed as ‘fakelore’, but some still believe it to be true… either way, it had a specific and measurable influence on the development of Traditional Wicca in Britain.
Anthropologist Margaret Murray – an early feminist – added fuel to the slow burning fires when in the 1920s when her books theorised that the witch trials of Early Modern Christendom were an attempt to extinguish a surviving pre-Christian, pagan religion devoted to a Horned God. Again, this is still much disputed, but again, we can see that her work had a huge influence over the development of Wicca.
And that is where we can definitively pinpoint the beginning of contemporary NeoPaganism – with a guy called Gerald Brousseau Gardner. He was a retired British civil servant, who lived from 1884 to 1964, and had spent much of his adult life in Malaysia (with a three year stint in Borneo), becoming fascinated with a variety of occult beliefs and magical practices.
He returned to England in 1936, at the age of 52, with his first book, ‘Keris and Other Malay Weapons’, published that year. He wrote his second book, the fiction work ‘A Goddess Arrives’, inspired by the long holidays to Cypress he had to take to endure the English winters, and it was published in 1939.
We really get to the start of all this though with his move to the New Forest region in 1938, and came into contact with the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship, and the Rosicrucian Theatre near Christchurch.
The story goes that he met a coven of ‘the Old Religion’ there, and was initiated into the tradition of “Wica”, which he claimed (in his book ‘The Meaning of Witchcraft’, published 1959) came from the Anglo Saxon words ‘wig’ (an idol), and ‘laer’ (learning); giving us ‘wiglaer’ – which was shortened into ‘Wicca’, or in Saxon ‘Wica’. Doreen Valiente later claimed it came from the Indo-European root ‘Weik’, which relates to things connected with magic and religion.
There’s a couple of theories now as to who might have initiated Gardner into this Old Religion.
Originally, it was told as Old Dorothy Clutturbuck, who Valiente later proved had actually existed at least, whether she was a witch or not remains unclear. Or it might have been a woman known as Dafo, whose real name was Edith Woodford-Grimes. The latest research though, by the excellent scholar Philip Heselton, makes a strong case for a woman called Rosamund Sabine, known as ‘Mother Sabine’.
You can see, perhaps, why there’s some suspicion regarding the veracity of Gardner’s claim? He went on to publish more books:
Other notable names around at the inception of Wicca were Eleanor Bone (1911-2001), and Sybil Leek (1923-1983), who each have their own origin stories and subsequent books published, which are worth a look at.
With a priestess, Doreen Valiente – and heavily influenced by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (started in 1888), and in particular the work of the occultist and magician Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) – Gardner started his specific practice of witchcraft, which became (Gardnerian) traditional Wicca.
Besides Doreen Valiente, those involved in Gardnerian Wicca at the start there were Jack Bracelin, Pat and Arnold Crowther, Lois Bourne (Hemmings), Monique Wilson and Campbell “Scotty” Wilson.
Gardner was followed by Alex Sanders (1926-1988), who founded the Alexandrian tradition of Wicca in the 1960s. Alex claimed to have been initiated by his Grandmother as a child, and indeed he did have a family background in the esoteric, but we do know that he was probably initiated into Gardnerian Wicca in 1963 through the Crowthers’ line, but not by them personally, and he sort of ran with things in his own way from there.
From his line came the author Stewart Farrar (1916-200, initiated in 1970 at the age of 54), and his wife Janet (1950- ), who have perhaps had the most influence through all of this in the development and promotion of the practice of traditional Wicca to the wider world, through their many books as well as a stable media presence.
Indeed Janet and her husband Gavin Bone continue to write and teach on Pagan topics worldwide, at the point of writing, from their base in Kells, County Meath, Ireland.
English occultist Roy Bowers, known most commonly as Robert Cochrane (1931-1966), is another who claimed to have been born to a hereditary family of witches, with practices stretching back to at least the 1600s CE and a grandfather who was the last Grand Master of the Staffordshire witches… all of this has been dismissed by his own family, and his wife Jane.
He started a coven, the Clan of Tubal Cain, in the early 1960s with a newspaper advert. Him and the Gardnerian lads and lasses were not friends, and there was a lot of to and fro between them through the years, but sure we don’t need to go into all that here.
And that’s basically where it all began.
Of course there have been many others involved, for good or ill, and apologies to anyone who I’ve left out in this brief recap.
My own initiation, for what it’s worth, was in 1996 (aged 18) by Barbara Lee and her ex-husband Peter Doyle, both of whom trained and worked with Janet and Stewart Farrar directly, and I went on to gain my Third Degree before leaving that tradition, in my early 20s, and eventually finding my way to formalising my own native Irish NeoPaganism.