It’s not that hard, really.
Us Irish actually have the toughest time of it, with our outdated dinosaur curriculum forced-by-nuns-and-christian-brothers system of learning the Irish or Gaeilge, from the age of 4 or 5 until we leave school at 17 or 18. There’s many an Irish person who’s done over 13 years of schooling here, with Irish lessons most days, only to firmly believe that they can’t speak a damn word of it past ‘how are ya’, and the ubiquitous ‘póg mo thóin’.
But see if we could spend that much time learning it like any other language is taught? We’d be a nation of Gaeilgeoirí once more.
Learning to speak Irish is no more difficult than learning any other language, with the right tools and tricks up your sleeve. That’s where this blog post comes in!
When a friend (check her out, she’s awesome) asked me for some tips and tricks recently, this is what shot off the top of my head…
Then Kass returned the favour by showing me this: List of Resources for Learning Irish.
To move forward, we need to understand what is behind us, what has developed us, how to use the fertility of prepared and nourished ground and seed to grow and thrive into the future.
This is our Ancestry.
Blood lines are important, and an understanding of family ties, bonds, history, and each root and branch of our physical family tree will provide a firm foundation from which to build. But what of spiritual ancestry? What of the deep seated desire that burns in so many of us for a land, a tribe, a culture from which we have no discernible descent?
I am Irish. It’s a simple statement, an understanding that one originates from a small green island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Irish people have always been explorers, travellers, hard workers and adventurers who sailed and settled throughout the globe. Ireland’s blood reaches far and wide, but Irish culture, Irish heritage weaves an even wider net over the world. And Irish spirituality sings a pure siren song, even for those whose physical ancestry does not seem to tie in with this land.
What harm? Irish mythology is rich with ‘invasions’ of other cultures, blended into a fine tapestry through time. We are a multicultural stirring pot; so whether your grandmother was from Connemara, or Colorado – if the spirit of Irish ancestry stirs your soul, you can explore it. Here’s how.
Your Ancestor Altar
First, you create a special place in your home or garden, welcoming to ancestral spirits. A quiet corner is good, with a table or shelf, and an area in front where you can sit facing it. The space should be as tech free as possible, and if it’s unavoidable, think about placing plants or salt rock warmers to support clearing ‘negative’ ions.
In this clear space, think about what your ancestry means to you. Go there, with a notebook and pen, sit with eyes closed, and observe what initial thoughts surface when you turn your mind to your Ancestors. What names surface? Associated places? Physical characteristics? Moods or personalities? Family events? Memories, stories, or anecdotes?
Then open your eyes, and take written note of what you thought or felt. Let this be the basis of your ancestral actions.
For many of us, not all things associated with family and ancestry are positive, or even easy to remember and think on. Take note of this too, let it flow through you as much as you can, observe it, record it. Sometimes, it can be just as important to understand the parts of our past that we do not want to incorporate into ourselves, as this leads a clearer path to determination for who we do want to be.
Some of your memories and thoughts on ancestry will be related to death, and so, dark or shadowed. But remember that it is within the darkness that seeds first grow, it takes the absence of light to bring forth hope, and new life nourished by the old.
Looking at your notes, begin to gather items and physical triggers or representations related to your ancestry. This could be photographs, family crests, memorabilia or souvenirs… anything that relates in your mind, or resonates in your spirit, with your ancestral memories. Take your time, gather or remove things as seems right to you. Aim for deep quality resonance over sheer quantity of items.
Finally, place a trio of small items at the front of your ancestral altar to represent the 3 worlds of Earth, Sea and Sky – clustered in a triple spiral formation around a central point of fire, even a simple tea-light candle for safety.
Spend some time at your ancestral altar weekly at least, but preferably every day. Sit quietly and absorb, meditate on the items and their resonance, move and change things around as you will over time. This is your space, for inspiration, and balance – life and death, co-habiting and calm.
“Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin”
(Old Irish Saying) – There’s no hearth like your own hearth.
Phonetic Pronunciation: Neel ane tin-tawn mar thu hin-tawn fayn.
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Being Pagan in Ireland is a little different, I think, than being Pagan anywhere else.
We’re an odd lot, and we value individual strength, as long as it doesn’t upset the apple cart of family/community tradition, or give the neighbours anything bad to talk about.
I’m a… well, I don’t actually have a label that fits what I am or what I do, and that’s fairly reflective of Irish Paganism generally.
I’m an Irish heritage professional, a journalist, copywriter, a guide, an author – all things I’ve done or still do for my ‘day job’.
Personally, the term Draoi is the closest accurate description I’ve got, a ‘user of magic’.
Traditionally I might have been called a Bean Feasa (wise woman), but it seems a little arrogant to take that on for oneself. Before that, perhaps a Druid, though modern Druidry is very different to what that word means to me.
I am spiritual, but not religious, and I have a solid working relationship with the Gods, Guides and Guardians of old Ireland, and our sacred places.
How does all that translate into today’s Irish Christmas?
Most folk here go to mass on the eve or day, even if it’s only their token attendance of the year.
Besides the fact of the Catholic Church in Ireland essentially stopping anybody from leaving their organisation (is it just me, or is that a little cult-like? Illegal, even?) – Irish people are still stuck in ‘the done thing’, so babies are baptised, kids make communion and confirmation, and most people still get married in the church.
Many of us know that Winter Solstice is a much older tradition than our modern Christmas.
There’s the world famous Newgrange alignment, and the new but old City of Dublin Winter Solstice Celebration, with much more going on around the country, publicly and formalised just in the last few years.
Before that, you’d have to know someone who knows someone to get a personal invite to a genuine celebration rooted in Irish Spirituality.
So, raising kids in Ireland, interacting with non-Pagan friends and family, working, and all that jazz, you kinda have to do the Christmas thing, to some extent at least. But Winter Solstice is still a big deal, and getting more so.
How do we Irish Pagans handle that?
We have a party.
Every year, on the Saturday before Christmas. We invite everybody we know. We start late afternoon, and carries on til the wee small hours.
This is the time of year we acknowledge the deepest and longest darkness, and make a point of balancing it with the lights of food and fire and feasting, family and friends.
And every year, I take a personal vigil through the longest night, to greet the sun the following morning. It’s a mark of respect, a point of sacrifice, and a time for quiet reflection on the balance of dark and light in my life, in my spirit. Time to adjust as necessary.
Do I think the sun won’t rise unless I am there to greet it? No, not as such… but I guess it doesn’t hurt to be sure, right?
You’re welcome ;o)
Have a Cool Yule folks, a Peaceful and Blessed Winter Solstice, and a Happy Christmas – wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and whatever you believe in.
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I hope you’re keeping well.
My name is Lisa [xxxxx] and I’m a freelance journalist for the Irish [xxxxx]. I am currently working on a Halloween special for the newspaper and I would like to include a feature on modern Irish women who practice witchcraft.
I was wondering if you might be interested in speaking to me about this? The questions will just be about how you got interested in witchcraft, explaining what it’s about, how you became interested in it, what role it plays in your everyday life, its benefits for you, etc. and hopefully debunking any old-fashioned ideas readers might have about it!
If you’re interested let me know, I would love to speak with you.
Lisa – 13th October 2016
Sure I’m interested but as a fellow freelancer I should inform you I may not be what you’re looking for.
I go by the native term Draoí rather than witch, and my magic/spiritual practice are as close to indigenous pre Christian ways as I can figure. I’m about the archaeology of ancient sites and authentic translations of old Irish manuscripts rather than black cats and broomsticks. The reality of native Irish “witchcraft” doesn’t lend itself well to photo ops 😉
Of course being unaware of the query you’ve had accepted, this might still be aligned. In which case, I’d be happy to chat to you. I’m presenting at Octocon in Dublin on saturday, or can do a phone call at a mutually convenient time. Mornings are best for me.
The modern definition of the term is a little muddied, but technically the word Draoí means: druid, wizard, magician, augur, diviner. In practice, for me, it means that I follow the native spirituality and magic of Ireland as closely as I can in my everyday. This means that my worldview and actions are informed and shaped by the indigenous wisdom of our ancestral heritage, as far as that is possible.
Yes, those practices come from the same roots as my own work, and there are similarities.
For divination or information seeking purposes I don’t use Tarot cards (though I did learn to read them, and even did so professionally a long time ago!), but rather a personal method of Journeying to the Otherworld (similar to the shamanic techniques in other native and tribal cultures) for guidance and clarification, combined on occasion with tools from our culture such as Ogham staves, or a simple 3 Stone method as described in our historical manuscripts.
Irish Magic is a very broad topic (and one which I’m currently writing a book on for a US publisher), but yes. The practice of magic and specific spells are described from our most ancient historical texts right through to Irish Christian folklore. While it is distinct from my spiritual beliefs, it does run hand in hand.
I’ve always been fascinated by the myth and magic of our stories, from childhood on, as well as having an affinity and reverence for the natural world. These things form the foundation of my path as a Draoí. Consciously though, I began to identify as ‘Pagan’ from the age of 16 when I read a book and realised there was a name for what I believed and felt, and other people who felt the same! I studied all I could about modern Paganism by myself, until I could contact others at the age of 18 (nobody reputable will seriously teach or even talk to a child or teenager), and found a group I could work with to learn more. Though there wasn’t anybody publicly teaching or sharing authentic spiritual connection to specifically Irish practice back then – and wasn’t didn’t really change until I published my first book in 2004! – I studied everything I could about earth based spirituality and magic world-wide, and built my own system and techniques that fit with what I was feeling and experiencing on the ground here.
I really got involved with our sacred sites and places of power in my twenties, and went on to guide at and manage one of our most important archaeological complexes, Rathcroghan in County Roscommon, for 8 years. Following this path has – literally – changed my life. I went from a very disturbed, anxious and troubled teenager who felt increasingly isolated and desperate, to a useful dedicated person who writes, teaches, guides, counsels, supports, speaks publicly all over the world, and has a genuine purpose in bringing those who wish to connect to Ireland the opportunities to do so in an authentic way. Plus we have a bit of craic while we’re at it. The benefits, to me and to those I help every day, are immeasurable.
When I had children, then moved to Roscommon, a lot of my community interaction moved online out of necessity. Now that I work a lot with people who aren’t physically in Ireland, or who can’t travel regularly to me or to the sites that I visit, that online contact remains a huge factor for me. Personally, I work alone rather than as part of a group – but I can’t stress enough how vital the role of community is in the practice of native Irish spirituality. Ireland is a small island, and I’ve been active in the Pagan community here now for over 20 years, so I know a lot of folk who form the basis of that community, and we talk, meet and share on a regular basis. And with the huge growth in interest in the last 10 years particularly, there are teaching and social events all over the country.
I live in Waterford now, and I’ve just started a social monthly meet-up locally, the Waterford Pub Moot, but there are events like that every month in counties all across Ireland. There are annual events and gatherings such as Féile Draíochta in Dublin (which myself and Barbara Lee organised and ran for 13 years), and Eigse Spiriod Ceilteach in Wicklow. And for those who can’t make it to events or sites in Ireland in person, I run a monthly community ‘club’ on Patreon which facilitates authentic sharing and connection to Ireland.
I’ve been public about my practice for a very long time now, and as a writer I’ve been on the internet since way back in the day, so yeah, I’ve received some really oddball requests. People who are hurting, or even just selfish, think that magic can solve all their problems, land them their dreams with no effort, or take their pain away. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. Like every other area of this existence, you have to do the work yourself to get the result.
I’ve been ‘out’ about who I am and what I do since I became consciously aware of it – back when I was 16. It gave me so much hope, support, and joy every day that I wouldn’t have been able to hide it even if I’d wanted to, and I never did want to anyway. I’ve never felt the need to introduce myself on first meeting as a Pagan or a Draoí, no more than regularly minded folk do that about their Christianity, but it’s not hard for people to discern for themselves before long. Or they just Google me and it all pops up.
The reaction has been mixed through the years, but for the most part it’s positive. People are curious and interested, even if they don’t understand it, and the most common response is to share their own (or their family’s) experience and stories of the ‘supernatural’ – the fairy fort or the banshee or the odd little folk habits and observations that Granny had. That’s the foundation for what I am doing, and it’s very relatable to the vast majority of Irish people, our spiritual and even magical heritage is only just under the surface.
The catholic church has had a stranglehold on Irish spirituality for a very long time, and though our ancestors found many ways to weave and blend their native faith into the new one, the church has always been jealous of our attention. As that hold releases, slowly but surely, I do believe that our people will begin to feel the call of the land more strongly, and build healthier communities where spiritual expression and practice is an open, fluid thing that serves the very real needs of the people, not the desires of any one organisation.
Samhain is the original Irish festival which has become our modern Halloween, a time of huge importance to our ancestors which remains probably the biggest time of change and growth and celebration to modern practitioners.
Personally, I observe and celebrate Samhain from the dark moon to the dark moon, and not just on the calendar date we have now. So I will begin in the Cave at Rathcroghan (traditionally given as the entrance to the Irish Otherworld, and home of the Goddess Morrigan) on the dark moon before the 31st, and continue with personal ritual and celebration on a regular basis until the dark moon in November.