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

What Is Meditation and How Do You Do It?

I am Peace Meditation

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.

Legitimised!

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!

But yeah, what is Meditation, exactly?

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.)

What are some Common Meditation Techniques?

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…

Enroll in our Simple, Free Mini Course to Get You Started with Guided Meditation Journeys Here.

 

 

References

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

 

Irish Pagan Holidays

Irish Pagan Holidays and Pagan Festivals

Pagan Holidays (Holy Days) worldwide are coming back to a more general use and understanding, with folk often asking questions about whether Christmas is a Pagan Holiday (it is, sort of), and observing the 8-fold Wheel of the Year.

The current Neo Pagan calendar (and its primarily Wiccan holidays) is ostensibly based off the ‘Celtic Wheel of the Year’, as the early creators and authors of our modern traditions were very fond of their romantic notions of Celtic culture, and very sure that it was ok to just… take what they wanted, and change or use it however they wanted.

*cough* Coilíní *cough*

The problem with this (one of the problems) is that we now have a sort of tangled, much mangled, view of the original pre-christian Irish Pagan festivals, that even many Irish Pagans adhere to.

In this post, I’d like to break this down a bit, and clarify some of the basics, so that we can (hopefully), start fresh. With a somewhat cleaner slate for Irish Pagan practice. Le do thoil.

 

The Wheel of the Year

To begin with, the ‘traditional’ eight Pagan Holidays, are actually 2 sets of four. So the wheel of the year is maybe 2 wheels, rotating side by side.

This can be a little confusing if you’re not used to considering things this way, but I do remember being quite frustrated back in my baby Pagan days by how the festivals seemed to just be copies of each other. Like, within the Wiccan traditions, there’s not a huge difference between how you’re celebrating the Summer Solstice (Litha) and Beltane, for example.

In my native practice, I break the focus, themes or concerns out as follows:

  • The Fire Festivals – with Community elements, but a focus on Hearth & Home, and the Otherworld.
  • The Cross Quarters – with Community elements, but a focus on the Land & Sovereignty, and this World.

The Pagan Calendar names I use are in modern Irish, and the associated Gaeilge video is also my schoolgirl modern Irish pronunciation, to be clear.

Irish is a living language, and while I’m the first one to honour the Primitive Irish and Old Irish source material, they are different languages. We have modern Irish terminology for every single Pagan Holiday name, and a wealth of associated folklore and traditions within our living memory in Irish communities. So let’s use that.

Admittedly now, some of the folklore has gotten crossed over and shifted around with the Christian influences, eg. Summer Solstice bonfires now happen on St. John’s Eve, on the 23rd June, and the animal sacrifice tradition has moved from Samhain to St. Martin’s Day, on the 11th November. But that’s ok too.

At least the traditions still exist, and have grown and moved with the communities as we did.

 

Irish Pagan Holidays – the Fire Festivals

Focus on Community, Hearth & Home, the Otherworld (an Saol Eile).

When people first walked this land, there were 2 seasons: summer and winter. They signified the change and move between camping grounds, as theirs was a Hunter/Gatherer lifestyle.

These times of moving and changing were dangerous and uncertain, and this still holds true in the primary Irish Pagan holidays of Bealtaine, and Samhain, which remain times of great change and uncertainty.

When the people settled, and began to farm the land, the seasons of Growth and Harvest were marked, with Imbolg and Lúnasa, and so began the 4 Fire Festivals.

Lora O'Brien - Irish Pagan Holidays - Fire Festivals

[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]

IMBOLG

Personally, I use the name Imbolg for this festival. That’s from the Irish i mBolg, meaning ‘in the belly’, for the pregnancy aspects (animals as well as humans, because if we get pregnant at Bealtaine we give birth around now). Imbolc is commonly used too though, and may have associations with washing or a ‘spring clean’ after winter, from Folc, meaning ‘bathe or wash’. I’m honestly not sure which language the term Oimelc comes from, though it’s been given to mean ‘ewe’s milk’. That would be Bainne na Caoirigh in modern Irish though, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Bolg or https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Folc

BEALTAINE

We have this clearly in old Irish as Belltaine (with various other spellings, the manuscripts weren’t always precise or standardised), meaning the month of May, or even ‘the month of the beacon-fire) according to the eDIL. It may have associations with an Old Celtic God Boleros, ‘the flashing one’ (Ó hÓgáin) or Balar/Balor in Ireland, he of the single, blazing destructive eye (often thought to be symbolic of the sun), and form the word Bealtaine from Balor’s Fire (tine).

There are multiple spellings out there, and I know some of them are based on the Gaelic language of Scotland, which I don’t speak. But as we still use the word Bealtaine in modern Irish for the month of May, and again – this is a living language, and it’d be great not to have to deal with bastardised or anglicised versions of it anymore please and thank you – let’s go with that eh?!

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Bealtaine

LÚNASA

You’ll often see this written as Lughnasadh, and indeed, I’ve done so myself. As above though, I prefer the modern Irish spelling, and in Gaeilge, Lúnasa is the word for the month of August. I mean, I wasn’t joking about these Pagan holidays still being a part of our culture.

It’s most likely connected to the Old God Lugh, (lug in old Irish can be ‘magnificent, heroic, warlike’: eDIL), and Lugnasad is ‘the festival of Lugh, the first of August’: eDil.

You’ll see references too, to Lammas, which we don’t have in modern Irish. My basic exploration of Old Irish suggests it MIGHT be a version of a ‘fine, handsome or excellent hand’ (from n. Lám and adj. Mass?)… but be warned, that is a very rudimentary look at a compound word! I definitely don’t use it as a Pagan Holiday name anyway.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Lúnasa

SAMHAIN

It’s not pronounced Sam-Hane. Never. I don’t care what your esteemed Elders passed down to you not-so-very-long-ago (in the grand scheme of things).

This is a LIVING LANGUAGE. Respect it, and the people who still speak it every day. Stop that Sam-Hane shit immediately.

It probably comes from the Old Irish samfuin, meaning ‘death of Summer’: eDIL. Samhain in modern Irish is the word for the month of November.

So yes, we know how to pronounce it properly. (Are you getting a sense for how many times I’ve had U.S. Pagans correct my pronunciation? Like, I’m not sure how to even communicate how infuriating that is, especially when it happens consistently!)

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Samhain

 

Irish Pagan Holidays – the Cross Quarters

Focus on Community, Land & Sovereignty, this World (an Saol Sin – or Seo).

We know these times were important to our ancestors due, at least, to the sacred sites they constructed and used to observe and celebrate them. Massive monuments all over the island still attest to the power and value that was placed upon aligning ourselves, our communities, and our leadership, with these turning times of the Pagan year.

Please note: the common names Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule, are at best culturally appropriated and co-opted into Neo Paganism, and at worst, carry entirely fabricated pseudo histories. I’m looking at you, Mabon.

They have NO place in native Irish paganism.

The Irish names below are simply the names of our seasons, as Gaeilge, and have always suited my personal practice around the Irish Pagan Holidays best.

Lora O'Brien - Irish Pagan Holidays - Cross Quarters

[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]

EARRACH – THE SPRING EQUINOX

The balance of day and night.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Earrach

SAMHRADH – THE SUMMER SOLSTICE

Mid Summer, the longest day.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Samhradh

FÓMHAR – THE AUTUMN EQUINOX

The balance of night and day.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Fómhar

GEIMHREADH – THE WINTER SOLSTICE

Mid Winter, the longest night.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Geimhreadh

 


[Click to Download FREE Gift – both Diagram Charts as a PDF – No Email Required!]

If you’d like more detail on any of the Irish Pagan Holidays, comment below and let me know. There’s already extensive sections in my books (see Publications – coming soon), but I can try and get some more blog posts and YouTube videos together for them if there’s an interest, and maybe even a wee course through our Irish Pagan School.

Let me know which of the Pagan holidays you want to see more on?!

 

An Irish Pagan Altar

Some of the most common questions on Irish Pagan Beliefs I see, revolve around the Pagan Altar. What is it? How do you make one? What direction should a Pagan Altar face?!

I figure it might be useful to show you what I do, as a starting point. (Spoiler alert, there’s no pentagrams! The post image was a RUSE!) So, here’s mine, currently, and my answers to a few of those questions besides.

What’s on my Pagan Altar?

My Irish Pagan Altar - Lora O'Brien

Back, left to right:

  • Mini bottle of Mead, a sacred drink to the Irish. This one is for the symbolism, rather than the offering, and it has sentimental value too as it was a gift from my partner.
  • Dropper bottle of Men’s Sacred Water, a gift from Justin Moffat (who is an excellent Guide at Uisneach, an important Irish Sacred Site).
  • 2 red pillar candles; the colour is symbolic of both my Goddess, the Mórrígan, and the Irish Otherworld in which we walk and work.
  • Crow painting, painted and gifted to me by my first ‘Witch Daughter’ initiate, Caroline 💞
  • Square candle holder, usually containing a daily devotional white candle flame; Red and White are the 2 colours of the Irish Otherworld, so they fit here. The holder was a gift from my Mammy, and reads “Take a deep breath, relax, you’re home now”. She gave it to me when I moved down to join my family in County Waterford, after many years in County Roscommon.
  • A travel compass, so I can always find my way back to Ireland. This was a gift from the Cauldron of the Celts and Vyviane of Land Sea Sky Travel, after I guided a tour for them here in Ireland.
  • Crow skull, a treasured gift from my friend Brianna 💜
  • 2 glass vials with cork stoppers, containing clay mud from the Síd ar Cruachán (the Cave of the Cats), and water from the Ogulla Well, both sites of the Rathcroghan Complex, in County Roscommon – home of the Mórrígan and Queen Maedbh.

Front, left to right:

  • Adge’s Wand – a long ago gift of a bog oak and quartz snake carved wand, the personal tool of our own Fluid Druid, Adge, before he left us.
  • Beater for the Bodhrán (native Irish drum) you can just see in the bottom left corner. I often use these as part of my daily devotions.
  • Offering dishes (pictured with sage, which was a gift though I don’t personally use it, and there are sustainability and appropriation issues to consider if you do!)
  • Scented candle with bright copper lid, because I really, really like nice smells and shiny things!
  • Carved wooden bowl and spoon, with blended herbal incense packages – all gifts from the Caludron of the Celts, and Land Sea Sky travel.

Not pictured, see the video for… Offerings glass, painted and gifted by my Witch Sister, Rhiannon, who died a long time ago and is still missed every day, and remembered every time I see it. 💔 Also, Blackthorn branches and Crow feathers collected during my Monthly Site Visits, which are in containers up above, on either side of my Pagan Altar.

How to make your Pagan Altar

As you can see, this isn’t too difficult.

I found the chest in a second hand shop for about 20 quid, and the drawers make handy storage for candles, lighters, and other assorted shite.

Fire is vital when practicising Irish Pagansim, in my opinion, as the hearth and home fires are SO much a part of our culture (and for many other reasons which are beyond the scope of this post… ask me in the comments if you’ve any questions!). So, be sure to have some sort of live flame on there whenever possible.

Connection to place is very important too, so have something that represents the place/s that are important in your practice.

Representation of deity is good – seriously though, don’t get caught up on finding the ‘perfect’ statue or painting. It probably doesn’t exist, to be honest. The gods are essentially formless, and anything after that is us trying to visualise them so that we can build relationship. Stick to the basics as you begin, and see what develops over time.

Ritual tools are optional, depending on your tradition and practice. I have 2 really large carved walking staffs, one bog oak and one yew, that obviously don’t fit on my Pagan altar. I have an athame with a carved Blackthorn handle, that was very special to me when I was an 18 year old in a Traditional Wiccan Coven, but doesn’t have a place in my current native Irish practice.

The most important thing for any Pagan altar is to find and use items that are special to you, that make sense to you.

 

What direction should a Pagan Altar face?

I don’t even know what direction my altar is facing.

That compass is purely symbolic… I’m probably dyspraxic, and spend a lot of my magical life (and far too much of my mundane life) wandering in and out of the Otherworld. I very rarely know what direction I’m facing in this world!

Unless it’s a specific part of your tradition (in Alexandrian Trad Wicca as I was initially trained, for example, it goes in the North), it doesn’t matter what direction your Pagan Altar is facing.

Just put it wherever works for you, in your home, so you can see and connect with it every single day. I promise, that’s more important than getting it ‘right’ by anyone else’s standards or rules.

 

How to use a Pagan Altar

As I said, connect with it every day, in some way.

Some days, that will be giving it a bit of a dust or a tidy, and maybe lighting a tealight/votive candle.

Other days, you might be sitting in front of it for an hour or more, using divination or Journeying, perhaps for communicating with a God or Goddess.

And sometimes you may do rituals – like celebrating the seasonal cycles, rites of passage, or devotion to Deity – and decorate it with extra special or symbolic items for the duration.

These are all good uses of a Pagan Altar, and if you’re working alone, or just starting to figure out your Irish Pagan practice, experiement with what seems right for you.

Take notes, keep a record; watch for patterns over time and improve as you go.

Seriously though. Do something every day.

Irish Pagan Practice (or any Pagan practice, to be honest, but especially the Irish stuff) is about building relationship. To do this, you need to show up consistently, and do the Work.

It doesn’t always have to be big work, or important work, or hard work. But it’s all part of the Work.


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Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch – Sneak Peak!

Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch - Original Cover

I’m writing the preface to the second edition of my 2004 book, ‘Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch’ right now, and it has me a little emotional folks.

I’m going to share it here, because I sort of need any encouragment you might be willing to share?

Hit me up in the comments below with your thoughts… and I’d really appreciate some kindness.

PREFACE TO IRISH WITCHCRAFT FROM AN IRISH WITCH (2ND EDITION, 2018)

Oh this book.

It’s the end of 2018 as I write this preface, and I’ve had the publishing rights back from the original publisher for quite a while. To be honest, I’ve been dragging my heels on getting it in print again, despite it being one of the most frequent requests I get.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it or anything. It’s just, I was so VERY young when I wrote it. 26 years old when it was first published, and in such a different place in my life. Of course I’ve grown and changed since then. Of course my personal practice has changed significantly… it would be really weird and kinda sad if it hadn’t, right?

Going deeper into the original lore of Ireland gave me a connection I didn’t have then, even after growing up here and wading through the magic of Ireland my whole life. Digging through digital manuscripts and academic papers and books that weighed more than my kids did, all gave me an insight that shifted my personal practice into a thing that is almost a part of the land itself. And then I spent a good number of years working professionally as a Guardian (manager, they called it, but whatever dudes) at Rathcroghan, and that changed me even more.

So yeah. I’m in a different place right now.

For a long time it made me ashamed of this work. Like I’d done something wrong, or at least – not good enough – in writing it. I mean, that probably says as much about my mental state as anything else, but there you go.

I began to travel to teach, and people would rave at me about how this book changed their perspective, their practice, their life. And I’d be mortified, because I knew I could have written it so much better, helped them so much more.

Until one of those conversations that stops you in your tracks, or maybe derails you a little. But in a good way, coz the tracks were laid all wrong. I met a woman called Victoria at PantheaCon in California, my first year out there, and after a long day of feeling that embarrassment as folks talked about this book, I confessed to her that I didn’t like it. That I should have done better. That I’d like to take it back and re-write it completely.

An’ you know what she said to me?

“You were where you were, back then. And there’s plenty of people who need that book as it is, because they are still there right now.”

Now, I’m paraprasing there. But that was the gist of it. And it floored me.

Because that’s exactly why I wrote this book in the first place. I didn’t want to be an author. I didn’t want to be well known, or in any way… responsible for people. *shudders*

But I wrote the book I had needed, ten years before; when I was 15, and seeking, and desperate for something that felt native and REAL to me, and all I could find were foreign voices, foreign spiritual systems, foreign magic, to try to express or explain the things I had felt and experienced and known – deep down – all of my life.

So I’m putting this book back together, with an updated resource section, a few corrections to the text, some small additions or notes for clarification, but essentially – it’s the same book. I’ll get a fresh round of folk complaining in the reviews that I’m too grumpy or snarky, that I’m expecting too much by saying they should *GASP* make a godsdamn effort to learn the language of the culture they are gaining from, and that the book doesn’t suit them for various reasons of their own devising. Fuck it, and fuck them.

This one is for you folks who are still coming ashore from almost drowning in a sea of ‘celtic’ shite. There’s a lot more work you can do, if this suits you, and you develop a grá for Ireland.

Check those resources (there’s so much more available now, it’s a pleasure to recommend them!), visit my own website LoraOBrien.ie for the blog, the other books, and the classes I teach in my Irish Pagan School there. There’s more developed Guided Journeys on there too, with audio versions, or you can check out the rewards on Patreon.com/LoraOBrien for a monthly download of stories and journeying goodness.

You have options now that we didn’t have when this book first came out, and certainly not back in the 90s in Ireland when I was starting out. Make good use of them! Enjoy them!

I’m not embarrassed anymore, to include this book among them. It’s good enough.


 

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Irish Pagan Beliefs

Irish Pagan Beliefs - Goddess with a Dandelion

The Catholic Church are full of the drama lately that the Irish have reverted to Pagan beliefs, with the drive towards recognition of equality, basic human medical rights, and other such truly shocking things… but the reality is, we never REALLY gave up on our Pagan beliefs.

To get a good look at Irish Pagan Beliefs, there are three things we’ll need to take into account:

  • historic pagan beliefs, ie, pre christian native spirituality
  • the blend of christian and pagan beliefs through folklore and culture
  • modern pagan beliefs, ie, neo pagan spirituality and organisation.

Briefly though, coz any of those things are an essay in their own right. We’ll keep it simple enough here.

 

Historic Pagan Beliefs in Ireland

One of the sources that is often cited for this topic, are Caesar’s writings on Gallic Druidism to Ireland. Now, that’s not really an accurate take on what would have been happening on the ground, on a daily basis, to be honest.

Celtic religion on the continent is better documented, in many ways, but you’ve got to remember that Ireland is an island. And quite removed from the continental Celtic culture, though it started with the same roots. Taking those roots and planting them here has led to a tree growing in Irish soil that is quite different to the parental rootstock, is all I’m saying.

Irish traditions through the ages took in any invaders and blended them with what was here already, a grafting if you like, to truly flog the tree metaphor. Blending is what we do, and we sort of stick to our own ways in the meantime. A bit stubbornly like.

It’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t really work to map our pantheon onto the structure or functionality of other pantheons either. Even Celtic deities don’t quite match up.

In brief though, we can get an idea, some basic concepts at least of the Irish Pagan beliefs, by tracking what we know about the root Celtic Religious beliefs, and what we have in our own native source material; archaeology, mythology and folklore.

  • Birth, death and rebirth – the continuation of life through cycles.
  • Reality and relevance of the Otherworld – not an ‘underworld’, but a whole other world or life that runs parallel to this one.
  • The Otherworld being populated with an entire eco-system of beings, from gods and goddesses to noble or royal Sidhe (fairies) to elemental beings.
  • Importance of meditation, or Journeying, between the worlds.
  • People who had, or could develop, the skills to personify and share deep Wisdom – sacred or special, ‘occult’ (hidden) knowledge.
  • Knowledge and understanding of magic, prophecy, and divination.

 

The Blend of Christian and Pagan Beliefs

Our written sources don’t really begin until the coming of Christianity, which was anytime between the 300s and the 600s CE [Common Era] in Ireland.

Despite what St. Patrick’s hagiographers would have you believe, it wasn’t all about him. Oh no.

As per the above mentioned tendency to take in any invaders and blend them with what was here already, Irish Pagan beliefs began to meld and blend with the quiet incoming flow of Christianity.

As the society and culture shifted, Druids were replaced in function by priests, and it would seem that many of them may have moved with the times and become priests or monks themselves.

This led to rather a lot of pure Pagan beliefs being subsumed into a Celtic Christian church, that then held a lot of beliefs and practices that the Roman Catholic church regarded as wrong, or even sinful.

Spotting a trend here? The roots from elsewhere were finding a fertile, but very different environment on this island, in which to grow and flourish.

Rome squished down a lot of that golden age growth, and we ended up with something very forced, unnatural, and toxic in its place, that has not been at all good for our people as they’ve held power over us.

But the Irish Pagan beliefs still held true in many of the folk ways and practices.

For example, holy well observances that are so very close to tending and utilising a sacred magical spring in Pagan terms. And our relationships with the Good Neighbours, the Other Crowd, the Sidhe or the Fairies, as ye might call them.

Sure, don’t even get me started on that.

 

Modern Pagan Beliefs

Paganism in Ireland has grown since the popularisation in the 1970s, in much the same way as it has elsewhere.

Well. Not quite the same maybe… there’s still that whole pattern of being given a thing and making it our own.

We’re a tribal lot still, you see, and fiercely independent in many ways. We’re also TINY, population wise, compared to Britain or the U.S. And with quite a rural, spread out population.

All of this makes it more difficult to organise – Pagan events, groups, and organisations. It’s all a bit hit and miss, says the one who co-organised our national Pagan Festival (Féile Draíochta) from 2003 til 2016 or so.

But at this point, we have a healthy enough network across the island.

I personally would love to see less focus on non native practices – seriously Nora, we don’t need another Pow-Wow drum or a Siberian Shaman at one of our most important sacred sites for our festivals – and more work being done by native practitioners to (re)create native systems and celebrations of our indigenous spirituality.

However, the folk in Ireland who are doing the work with regards to creating community around our Pagan beliefs are doing a bang up job, if I may say that as ONE of those folk.

Take Pagan Life Rites (Ireland), for example.

This is a non-profit organisation, operated by a nationwide network of Priests and Priestesses, offering a range of services to the greater Pagan community of Ireland.

One of the founding principles is respect and honour of the land and of nature:

“The island of Ireland is our home and Her sovereignty is treated with respect. It is held within Pagan belief generally, but not exclusively, that Deity resides within Nature and is immanent in all that is around us. Therefore, the land we live in and the Earth that we walk upon should also be revered and treated with respect.”

I’m down with that anyway.

No, like literally. I’m one of the founding members of Pagan Lifes Rites, so it’d be weird if I wasn’t, right?

One of the ways we are of service, is to organise a series of Pagan Moots (monthly social and networking meetings) across the island, to facilitate the meeting and connection of people who are interested in Pagan beliefs, and creating community in their local area.

Want to get in touch? – You can find a list of Pagan Moots in Ireland here.

Also of interest – Irish Celtic Pagan Symbols.


 

If you want to get some focused guidance on where (or how) to start exploring an authentic Irish spiritual practice, there are 2 Beginners’ Classes on the Irish Pagan School…

Hopefully, those options give you something solid to be getting going with. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know?

Irish Celtic Pagan Symbols

Irish Pagan Symbols on Newgrange Passage Tomb, © 2010 Dept. Environment, Heritage & Local Government.

This is a question that comes up a lot – what are some Pagan Symbols used by the (Celtic) Irish?

It’s kind of a tough one to answer, as we don’t have an extant [surviving through the ages] Irish Pagan tradition, per se. We have a whole lot of Irish mythology, of course, and even more Irish folklore… but no complete system for what it all means, or how to use it.

In modern Irish Paganism, we use many of the same Pagan Symbols as do those in other communities, all over the world. Some of the general Pagan symbols you’ll see at any Irish Wiccan coven meeting or Druid convention include:

  • Pentacle – a 5 pointed star, or pentagram, contained within a circle.
  • Triple Moon – the image of a circular full moon, with a crescent on either side.
  • Eye of Horus – an egyptian stylised eye.
  • Ankh – the looped cross of ancient egypt, symbolising life.
  • Spiral Goddess – the image of a female formed silhouette, arms raised, with a spiral over the womb.
  • Labyrinth – pattern of a pathway that can be followed between worlds.
  • Wiccan Symbols for Air, Earth, Fire, Water – these are based off an equilateral triangle.
  • Horned God – a circle with crescent horns on top of the ‘head’.
  • Tree of Life – common to many cultures, this is the image of a world tree connecting worlds.
  • Mandala – can take many forms, but commonly a square with four gates, containing a circle with a center point within.
  • Rod of Asclepius – a staff with a snake coiled around it, representing healing… often confused with the Caduceus
  • Ouroboros – a serpent eating it’s own tail, representing eternal cycles of death and rebirth.
  • Thor’s Hammer (Mjölnir) – representing the hammer of the Norse God of thunder and storms.

Any or all of these symbols can be (and are!) used by modern Irish Pagans.

 

Historical Irish Pagan Symbols

When we look back a little further into our tradition and lore, we have 2 main sources for native Irish Pagan symbols – stone carvings and manuscripts.

Now, either of those may have been influenced by Christianity, and so not count as truly Pagan, perhaps. It depends on the context for them.

That being said though, everything in Ireland is a little bit Pagan, even still… so we can put that one aside, now that we’re aware of it, and look at the sources.

The best example of this, I’d say, is the Ogham alphabet – our Celtic writing system (and I use Celtic here, and through this post, because much of what we have in Ireland on this topic is common across other Celtic cultures).

Ogham appears both carved in stone, and in multiple manuscripts, so it’s ticking both boxes there. With regard to how old this Celtic alphabet might be: we know it existed as a monument script (there’s that early stone carving), in the 400s CE [Common Era].

It was designed for the Irish language, so we can place in at pre Christian times, probably, through that – if it was just made for the monks, they would more like have designed it through Latin.

Irish Pagan Symbols - the Ogham Alphabet

You can find out more about the Ogham Alphabet here.

 

What other Pagan Symbols were used in ancient Ireland?

It’s back to the stone carving folks, and this time, let’s look at our monuments. One of the more famous ones is Brú na Bóinne, with the 3 great passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.

Built by the Dagda, so they say (and you can read some fascinating stories on that guy right here), these monuments have stood in Ireland for over 5,000 years, and when they were being built, symbolic artwork was a big part of their construction.

Some of it is spectacular: wonderful combinations of spirals, lozenges, chevrons, triangles and arrangements of parallel lines and arcs. It occurs particularly on the structural stones of the tombs but also occurs on some artefacts that have been found within and around them.

Knowth alone has about 45% of all the art known from Irish tombs and nearly 30% of all the megalithic art in Europe.

[Images courtesy of World Heritage Ireland, © 2010 Dept. Environment, Heritage & Local Government.]

What do these Irish Pagan Symbols Mean?

In short, we don’t know. Great answer, right?

We do have theories, of course.

  • The spiral and concentric circles may represent the movement of the sun and stars, a fascination with the changing seasons and how the cycles related to the lives of those who carved them.
  • They might be maps: maps of the area, maps of the otherworld, maps of the stars… or ‘maps’ of music, or energy lines.
  • A strong theory is that the art represents images seen by shamans during rituals, as they are common across many different cultures who most likely wouldn’t have had any contact.
  • These Pagan symbols may well have been used as meditation devices, to guide seekers on Journeys.

Whatever their original purpose, we can utilise them now for any of these reasons as fits with our personal practice. The Irish Pagan symbols that remain to us are an incredibly valuable connection to our ancestors, and the wisdom of ancient Ireland.

I’d love to learn what Pagan symbols call to you, or which ones you make use of? Let me know in the comments below!


 

If you want to get some focused guidance on where (or how) to start exploring an authentic Irish spiritual practice, I’ve just released 2 Beginners’ Classes on the Irish Pagan School…

Hopefully, those options give you something solid to be getting going with. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know?

Irish Pagan Magic – The ‘Tarbh Feis’

Beef Stew Cooking

It means ‘bull feast’. FYI. 

“A bull-feast is gathered by the men of Erin, in order to determine their future king; that is, a bull used to be killed by them and thereof one man would eat his fill and drink its broth, and a spell of truth was chanted over him in his bed. Whosoever he would see in his sleep would be king, and the sleeper would perish if he uttered a falsehood.”

{From “The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel”,  translated by Whitely Stokes in 1910.}

A bull was killed.  A seer would eat his fill of the flesh, and drink the broth (the liquid in which the meat had been cooked, probably with some blood added in too), and lie down for a sleep.  

A truth spell was chanted over him as he lay in his bed, and he would dream of the person who would be the true king. In this manner was Conaire Mór chosen as King of Tara.  

Prionsias MacCana writes that there were four druids doing the chanting, and Miranda Green echoes this. I’ve not found the reference for that, but I have no reason to believe they were telling fibs.

These days, there’s probably not going to be much sacrificing of bulls for divination purposes.  For most of us, at least. We can adapt the Tarbh Feis to our own purposes however, and utilise it’s power.  

First, we need the flesh of a bull.  A few packets of frozen beef burgers from the local supermarket aren’t really going to cut it on this one.  

Locally reared, organically kept, freshly (humanely) killed prime bullock would be the best option; happy meat.  

Visit small local butcher shops, ask them where they get their beef, how it has been kept, and how long they hang it for.  If you can find one who does his/her own slaughter, all the better. Buy the best cut you can afford, about one pound in weight.  

The best way to consume it is in stew, unless you want to just boil it up, drink the broth and eat the flesh plain (this can be done over a ritual fire outdoors if you have a pot.  And the facility for an outdoor cooking fire, of course).

If you prefer to actually make a meal of your ritual, then a stew (broth included) is the best way to go. It could be made a part of a solo or group Samhain ritual, particularly relevant as part of the divination and feasting.  

Ingest the stew or meat and broth during the latter part of your ritual or working, when any seasonal work you do has already been accomplished.

Your “spell of truth” should be short and simple, so it can be chanted repetitively.

No, I am not going to write it for you! Use your imagination, and make it relevant to when, where, and who you are, and what you wish to achieve or see the truth of.  

In a group setting, one should be chosen (probably the one among you who is usually most prophetic) and the others chant over him or her.

It is possible to all take part, but those who take the flesh and broth should be sleeping that night at the location where the ritual has been held. On waking, take careful note of any dreams, write them down in great detail before you do anything else. Don’t trust to your memory!

There are lots of methods for making Irish Beef stew available, any Internet search or library cookbook should give you recipe options.  Most will include the addition of Guinness, a black Irish stout drink, which does make it taste lovely, but don’t add too much or it gets quite metallic…  and for a ritual meal, perhaps supporting a familiy of colonisers isn’t the best way to go, energetically speaking.

I usually just make one up with a pound of beef, some barley (pearl barley is freely available in supermarkets), carrots, cubed potatoes, peas, onions, black pepper and butter mixed to a paste with flour to season and thicken.  All in one big pot, easy and delicious.

If anybody out there happens to find out who should be the right and proper royal ruler of Ireland while using this method, please do let us know?!


 

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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 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: “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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What Do I Put on a Mórrígan Altar?

So, as part of our 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’]

Bec Dunn asked: “I want to set up an altar whilst I do this work to connect with Her, are there things to include or definitely not put on?”

Altars are so personal. The short answer is, you can put whatever you want on there.

Me, personally, I always have a real flame on it. That’s not tied to any lore of Hers or anything, it’s just…I don’t know whether that’s a cultural thing for me, or a magical thing, but…I don’t know. It kind of feels like She gets a bit cold sometimes and I like to have a little flame for Her.

It also kind of reminds Her that we’re human and this is what humans do and it’s not necessarily Her nature to want fire or to want a flame, but it is ours. I think that’s always kind of served me well. So, there’s always candles, and when I want to definitely ‘check in with her, the candles are lit and it brings a very clear focus.

And, y’know, obviously, I pick up crow feathers everywhere I go, so there’s lot of different crow feathers from different sites. I’m big on stones and bits of dirt and all the rest of it too, so that’s all good, that’s all on my altar.

I would advise not putting sexualized, male-gaze statues of the Mórrígan on your altar, but again, that’s down to personal taste. Just in case you’re not aware, there has been a lot of backlash (and rightly so) in Facebook Mórrígan groups over deity representation and misogyny,  and particularly representations of the Morrígan for the male gaze, basically where she is holding a sword without the arm strength to do so, and she looks like she’s ready to drop it on her foot. All those kinds of things.

Personally, a lot of the statuary and artwork that’s commercially available at the moment is… well, it really doesn’t do it for me, to be honest.

Image-wise, for the altar then – I’ve always been drawn to images of crows, particularly, and that seems to me to be a good kind of catch-all, particularly if you’re starting out… you can’t really go wrong with those.

There’s some really, really gorgeous ones out there and it’s not going to piss anybody off. I don’t think it’s healthy for us to necessarily put our own interpretations of her, on her. She’s very much a shapeshifter, and her form is formless.

A crow is symbolic of her. A raven, if that’s your thing, but crows specifically are connected to her here in Ireland, rather than ravens. There is one raven reference in the lore, as far as I’m aware, but generally it’s crows. If there’s a choice between a raven and a crow, I would definitely go for the crow.

(thanks to Marjorie for the transcription service from class, much appreciated!)


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