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Part 5 – The Irish Language – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 5 – As Gaeilge, In Irish…

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

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

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

 

[Check Part 4 Here…]

 

Use of the Irish Language

I will also mention the use of the Irish language in ritual, and generally when working with the Powers of Ireland or at the ancient sites.

Yes, they do understand you if you speak English.  They would understand you if you spoke to them in Tahitian, Mongolian, or the sign language you and your sister made up when you were kids.

Intent matters – they can hear and feel what is truly in your heart.

Of course, how the Powers choose to interpret and use that intent and anything you hand over to them, depends very much on who you are dealing with; not all are good and pure and looking out for your best interests, by any means.

Be clear, focused and a little cautious.  Otherworldly entities don’t think or feel the same way we do, nor do they have the same sense of right and wrong as most mortals.

They understand intent, and whatever language you speak natively… but, Irish is their language.

It is the language of the ancestors, the continuity of the people, our connection to the past and an expression of our souls that makes them sing.

Modern Irish is quite different to the Irish our ancestors spoke, but it is a development of it, and a lot closer than English.

So many Irish people don’t seem to care about their own native tongue, and it is a huge personal worry of mine that Irish is being lost or disregarded.  Even as I type there is a fight in Europe to get our national language recognised as an official EU language.  (Note: it has been recognised since writing this.)

Although the issue was ignored for quite a long time, our government now seems to recognise, for once, a matter of national importance.

The use of Irish language terminology through my writing has been praised by some and highly criticised by others.

I have even seen it suggested that I skip the actual Irish words altogether and just give the phonetic sounds, as the pronunciation guides seem to annoy, or the Irish terms overwhelm some people.

Well, they are staying.  The language is real, it is still vibrant and developing in many areas of our society. Although it may seem difficult to learn, in reality it is no more challenging than French or German.

Irish Gaeilge (pron. Gayl-gah) is an important part of Irish magic and spirituality. I know quite a few people who would have originally considered the use of Gaeilge in magic to be at best unnecessary, and at worst pretentious – but on having actually experienced for themselves the response it evokes from the Powers and the extra dimension it can add to a ritual, they now see the value.

As I said, it is not that the Powers don’t understand other languages, but they certainly do understand the respect (and often the effort or hard work) it shows to speak to them in their own tongue, or as close to it as we have.

So I do encourage you to at least try using Irish in your rituals or magical/spiritual practices.

I will continue to provide the terminology and pronunciation guides for those who wish to incorporate it, and I will be providing it in actual Irish format, not just some dumbed down phonetic version for those who are too lazy or too stubborn to at least look at the language of a culture they profess to have an inclination towards.

 

Check my YouTube Playlist for Pronunciation Guide Videos… Subscribe for More!

 


For Authentic Irish Resources, and first notice of the rest of this series…

Join our Community Mailing List below, and Lora’s Facebook Page.

 

Part 4 – Sacred Space – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 4 – Between the Worlds

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

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

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

 

[Check Part 3 Here…]

 

As modern magical practitioners or workers with Irish native traditions, by whatever name we choose to call ourselves, it is useful and even essential to us to be able to recognise, create, and control these intersections or connections between the worlds at will, as well as being able to recognise and utilise the more naturally occurring ones.

This is called, among other terms, creating sacred space.

Creation of Sacred Space

When the magical group in which I work began to move away from the whole Wicca thing, the first and possibly most difficult hurdle for us was regularly and ritually creating a space that was suitable to our membership and our surroundings, in which we could honour our ancestors and the Powers of this land.

With Wicca, it’s easy.  You join a coven, are taught the importance of protection and containment of energy, learn how to cast your circle with the whole “I conjure thee O thou Circle of power, that thou be-est a meeting place of love and joy and truth…” bit, and you quickly get to a point where you always work magic within a magical circle.

Of course, you don’t always go through the entire salt, water, cast, strengthen, watchtowers rigmarole – sometimes it’s as simple as an impromptu mental “Shields Up” blast and, as we see so faithfully represented in Star Trek, your ship and all within it are encased in an impenetrable force-field.  Possibly a rather fetching blue flamey or golden edged force-field.

Ok, it’s not easy exactly; there’s a lot of hard work and regular repeated ritual involved before you get to the Star Trek special effects stage.

But I’ll tell you what, it’s a lot easier than trying to figure out a set and standard procedure for the creation of sacred space, from scratch, that’s faithful to Irish source material and natural Powers, and encompasses the often widely differing views and practices of a group of very headstrong and opinionated Witches.  I should know.

We did eventually come up with an ‘opening ritual’ or standard format for the creation of sacred space that works really well for us as a group.

A part of me would love to just write it all down and trust that those who chose to work with it after reading this book would adapt and develop it, as our group will continue to do.

But, apart from the fact that it’s relevant to our particular time, place and people – the rest of the group would break my arms and legs for publishing something that is still very much a work in progress.  Which is fair enough really.

What I am free to do is elaborate on what the ‘creation of sacred space’ actually means and what function it performs, for this Irish Witch at least.

Yet, there is also another factor to be taken into consideration.

When I started to write my first book, “Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch”, I was determined to avoid the usual hand holding we see in so many New Age books.

I credited you, Dear Reader, from the outset, with integrity.  And with the willingness to work as hard as it takes for your knowledge.  I credited you with not needing me to hold your hand every step of the way.  I placed the responsibility for your own development squarely on your shoulders.  And still do.

It has however, been pointed out to me on many occasions since, that not everybody knows how to create a sacred space to work within, and those who do, don’t necessarily feel their usual methods are appropriate to an Irish based way of working.

I was aware of this at the time, and tried to address it in my resources list.  A few have reported that this leaves them hopping between one book and another with no real insight or guidance as to what is ‘right’ in the context of ‘Irish Witchcraft’.

My position has always been that through all that hopping and fumbling, you will find what is right, for you.  But, as I’m here and putting up some sort of signposts anyway, I guess I can get off my high horse and make them a little clearer this time round.  In doing so, I am breaking with my native tradition and culture – Irish signposts are notorious for pointing you in the wrong direction, or just hiding from the unwary traveller altogether.  But all in all, this is an important part of the book.  So let’s have a look at the form and function of different ways to do this.

How Differing Traditions Do It (Generally Speaking…)

Traditional Wiccans, such as Gardnerian or Alexandrians, usually refer to the sacred space simply as the Circle.  When creating or ‘casting’ it, the Circle becomes a “meeting place of love and joy and truth”, a “shield against all wickedness and evil”, a “boundary between the world of men and the realms of the Mighty ones”, a “rampart and a protection”, which will “conserve and contain the power” that is raised within it.

These are all individual functions, describing what one would achieve when using a Traditional Wiccan circle casting.  What these quotes mean in essence is that the circle or sacred space serves as: a neutral territory in which personal arguments or clashes are unnecessary, protection for the group/individual practitioner from unwanted outside influences, an intersection between the mundane and the ‘supernatural’ realms, and as a sort of bubble battery pack in which to hold the energy which is raised during ritual or spell working, until the High Priestess or individual practitioner deconstructs the circle and the releases the stored energy to go and fulfil it’s appointed purpose.

The Elemental Lords are evoked to their appropriate quarters of East, South, West, and North, and a God and Goddess energy -either generic or specifically named – are usually called from the North (seen as the most appropriate place of power or magic), to further protect and guard the circle.  That’s Wicca, and a lot of ‘eclectic witchcraft’ is based around those principles.  It’s all useful stuff.

Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans don’t tend to set aside specific sacred space, as they feel that the entire world is sacred.  They may work around altars, hearths, or shrines, which can be dedicated to individual deities, to spirits or ancestors, or specifically set up for particular magical purposes.

Some acknowledge the four or twelve winds, and mark the division of the world into quarters or provinces which equate to the Irish model of Four Provincial divisions with a sacred centre.  CR’s generally seem to work also with a three worlds model: the realms of Earth, Sea and Sky being appropriate to a Celtic mindset.

This makes sense to me, as we can see that these realms or worlds of Nem, Talam, and Muir (sky, earth, and sea respectively in Old Irish) are at least referred to, evoked, or attached a very certain potency through examination of ancient texts such as The Book of Leinster, the Táin Bó Cuailgne (though this is based on parts of the former), and Togail Bruidne Da Derga.  All in all, an interesting approach, and relevant to Irish native heritage.

Ceremonial Magicians might ensure their personal space or aura is strong, healthy and razor sharp by the daily practice of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and other personal cleansing, banishing and strengthening rituals.  Working with the evocation of universal forces, sometimes referred to as Angels or Demons, seems to ensure a healthy respect for the concept of “this is my space, and that is your space”; so a protective circle would be used in such workings, along with a triangle outside this space to contain/control the evoked being.  Very practical and safe.

Early Celtic Christians utilised the Turas Deiseal, often named the ‘Sunwise’ journey/walk (pron. Toor-ass Jesh-al).  In Irish, ar dheis (pron. Air Yesh) still means ‘to the right’, so technically it is following the direction the sun appears to travel in the sky, in our country.

The Turas Deiseal is a circular walk to the right, sometimes specified as seven times round, with the rounds being counted on hand held pebbles.  It was most appropriately done around a holy well, church, or other sacred site, and was viewed as a pilgrimage or journey.  Dara Molloy, in his essay for the book “Celtic Threads”, maintains that the Turas Deiseal is a ritual which facilitates a tuning in “with the rhythms of the earth, the cycle of the days, the seasons and the passing years”.

Personally, I believe this practice to be based on older knowledge or techniques.  One similar instance of this practice which I have come across is in a fore-tale to the Cattle raid of Cooley, about the curse put on the Ulster men by the Goddess Macha.  The story is entitled Ces Ulad, or ‘the pangs of Ulster’.  It tells how the Goddess came to live with a mortal man, just turned up one day and attended to the household as if she had been there forever.   But before she would sleep with him, she does an interesting thing.  Proinsias MacCana describes her action as “the ritual right hand turn to ensure good fortune”.  Daragh Smyth says that it was only “after circling three times on the flagstone on the front of his house” that she went in and entered his bed.  Although this is hardly concrete evidence to support my theory, the Turas Deiseal could quite possibly have a more ancient heritage than the Celtic Christian usage.

…..

That’s how some folks go about things, and there are many more examples available for you to study. Do go and look up different traditions to see what is important, relevant or useful from them.

In our search to blend sensible modern magic with native Irish practices, there are a few notable elements which the creation of sacred space could take into account.

I am quite firm in my belief that any actual words you use, whether spontaneous or pre-written, regularly and routinely used or changed each time, should and indeed must be your words and not mine – but to help with the whole signposts thing, my personal practice includes the following:

  • An initial tuning in, relaxation and opening up exercise, or connection of some sort to the actual physical space in which I work, particularly when outdoors.  This can be as simple as a few minutes of silent contemplation, physical relaxation, deep breathing and observation, or can involve the like of a more detailed ‘Chakra opening’ exercise for those who are comfortable with, or interested in, such things.  The intent is to relax, tune out of the mundane and into more ‘supernatural’ aspects, prepare myself, and observe what is already going on around me.
  • I then use the Turas Deiseal, as outlined above, to demarcate the area in which I wish to work.  A simple walk, sunwise (that is, following whichever way the sun appears to travel through the sky in your part of the world), which I usually take seven times round, while chanting or singing, speaking particular words or absorbing the silent creation – depending on where I am and who I am working with at the time.  I find this to be useful on many levels.  It is reminiscent of the spiral symbol which is an important part of Irish heritage.  This symbol was used by our ancestors from as early as 3100 BCE, the most famous examples being found carved into the stones surrounding the pre-historic passage-tomb of Newgrange, in County Meath.  What these images represented, or why they were important, nobody can say for sure.  But if the spiral or triple spiral symbol is something you feet an affinity with or wish to explore for yourself, then the Turas Deiseal can be adapted to facilitate this.  Walking the spiral path is an effective connection to Otherworld energies.  Walking the ritual right-hand path also clearly marks the space in which I wish to work.  It creates boundaries and protection if that is so desired – this aspect can be clarified and strengthened by your words and your visualisation, if you feel the need yourself.  And it focuses and strengthens your central point – whether that is a fire, a seat, a cooking pot, a candle, a hearth, an altar, a shrine, a standing stone – making the centre of your sacred space a useful focal point for whatever work you intend to carry out.
  • I then bring in other elements of Irish tradition as appropriate, again to time, place, and the company I am keeping when I work.  These elements could include: Provincial evocations (Ulster, Connaught, Leinster and Munster, with either Midhe or Uisneach as the central point), acknowledgement of the four directions/winds/cities or treasures of the Tuatha De Danaan, evocation (calling to my presence) or invocation (more complex, calling to within myself) of particular deities, movement/dance to incorporate the triple spiral symbol into the space, or connection to the three worlds of land, sea and sky.

When the sacred space has been created to my satisfaction, I then proceed with the work of the time.

For the purposes of this book, the work might be:

  • simply sitting in contemplation of the Power to whom you wish to introduce yourself and seeing what way your mind takes you (this is often how the feedback happens),  the oral telling of a story connected to the Power or illustrating their attributes (this serves to remind them of who they are, as well as educating yourself and others present regarding them, and tapping into Bardic skills of story-telling and continuance/development of knowledge),
  • a more formal introductory proclamation of who you are, and what you want from them (be warned: this may open up a whole can of worms if they decide to throw what work they want from you into your life),
  • a magical evocation of the Power to come and meet you within the space you have created (requires a level of visualisation/concentration practice and ability, and prior experience with meditations and spiritual journeying is an advantage),
  • or a full blown invocation of the power to come and inhabit your body for a time, to speak or act through you, to prophesise through you, to merge with you for a time (this requires the highest level of previous skill and magical training to be able to handle and control successfully and at Will –  though it can happen spontaneously, such an occurrence should be viewed as honestly and critically  as possible to avoid the whole experience or series of experiences degrading into nothing more than fanciful ego stroking and self aggrandisement).

Any of these methods of working can happen simultaneously, e.g. an evocation or invocation may begin with the silent contemplation or be followed by the telling of a story. It is always a good idea to plan what you wish to do before hand; get it clear in your own head what the intent of your work is, and what from the above outlined (or from your own intuition/experience/research) you feel is relevant to your time or place.

You can write and learn off specific words to say, chants to use, learn songs or drum on a bodhrán, or just have the basic outline of what you want to do ready in your head and fill in the gaps as you go, as the spirit moves you.

Please, please, for your own sake, keep a full and honest record of all you do and all you experience.  Even things that seem irrelevant, failed, or stupid to you now can hold immense value as you continue your own development and training through the years.

It is truly amazing what clicks into place when I look back over records I have kept for years without realising the significance or relevance of incidents such as dreams, intuitive feelings, life events and recurring challenges, when viewed only in isolation.

And of course, tracking your personal development is always good for a laugh, and occasionally to highlight just how far you have actually come – it can often seem like we are banging our heads on the proverbial brick wall, when in fact we are coming further and faster and steadier than we think.

 


For Authentic Irish Resources, and first notice of the rest of this series…

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Part 3 – The Otherworld – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 3 – Their World

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

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

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

 

[Check Part 2 Here…]

 

The Irish Otherworld

It is agreed far and wide by those who know of such things, that we mortals inhabit one world or plane of existence, and the Powers inhabit another.

An saol sin agus an saol eile (pron. On Sail shin O-guss on Sail ella). This world, and the Irish Otherworld.

There are many references to the Otherworld to be found peppered throughout Irish culture – in our literature, works of art, our history, the old stories, sayings, songs, traditional fairy tales and fables.

Yet none of the scholarly works in whose indexes the reference appears can completely characterise a singular definition for what this ‘Otherworld’ actually is.

There’s no simple answer, no uniform dictionary definition, and an awful lot of conflicting and contradictory information.

An Saol Eile (pron. On Sail Ella) or the Irish Otherworld, is the realm that lies adjacent to our more mundane world of here and now.

An Saol Eile is the realm that belongs to the Gods and to the spirits or Powers of the land. An Saol Eile is the realm of the Sidhe (pron. Shee), the Good People, the Fairies, to which comely maidens and sporting young men are enticed with dance and feast, where time runs differently – if they ever do return they may find that their 2 hours of fun has left them 20 years out of their own world.

An Saol Eile is where the soul may go when we finally shuffle off this mortal coil, the equivalent of the Underworld through the House of Donn, Lord of Death.

An Saol Eile is the Land of Promise, the Land of Youth, the Land of the Living, the Land of beauteous Women, the Land of Milk and Honey.

It is any of a series of mysterious islands which can be visited and explored through the Adventurous Eachtraí, or the Immrama, soul voyages. It could be heaven, or it could be hell. In my opinion, it is something in between.

The Otherworld is where those Powers with whom we wish to work reside.

Far from being distinctly divided however, the worlds often meet. There is crossover and intersection, although the modern mess of hustle and bustle, constant noise and distraction, and lack of observation in which we now dwell ensures that many of us remain closed to the possibilities.

In quieter times, people’s experiences of these natural points of intersection have lead to the many mentions of the Otherworld in the Irish tales.

There are particular times and places in which travel between the worlds was (and still is) not only possible but often seems to have been difficult to avoid. Oíche Shamhna (pron. Ee-ha How-na, meaning ‘Samhain night’), Bealtaine Eve, daily times of transition such as dawn or dusk, walking home after a Céilí dance, fairy raths or ring forts, deep pools, wells, certain caves, particular trees and forests, high and lonely hills, standing stone circles, passage tombs or cairns, and of course any old mist or fog that descends suddenly while you and your men are out hunting…

As we can see, there are many occasions throughout the land, and throughout the year, when the worlds meet.

Times and places at which they can come here, and we can go there.

 


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Part 2 – About Them – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 2 – About Them

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

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

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

 

[Check Part 1 Here…]

 

The Powers

This is essentially a book about the characters of Irish myth and legend.

I have looked for relationships with these beings; the characters, the entities, the Gods and Goddesses, the heroes, the warriors, the maidens, the kings, the queens and all the rest.

Throughout, I will refer to these beings generally and collectively as ‘the Powers’, for simplicity’s sake. Continually talking about ‘the Beings, the characters, the entities, the Gods and Goddesses, the heroes, the warriors, the maidens, the kings, and the queens’ would get pretty tedious for you, and give me writer’s cramp in no time.

I don’t want to go down on my knees and worship these Powers; I want to stand and face them, utilising and revelling in all of my natural strengths and in theirs. I don’t want to simply categorise the Powers into neat little boxes, mark down what they are said to be useful for and leave it at that, ‘correctly’ correspond them to other pantheons, other deities, other cultures. I recognise and respect them for the unique beings that they are, and the unique skills that they wield, each unto themselves.

The book I needed wasn’t to be found – one which could give me real information and facilitate me in my search for connection. So I’m writing it. Because I am very certain I am not the only one who wants this connection.

I am not the only one who wants to form relationships with these very real Powers. And I am not the only one who wants to see real information which will redress the balance, and, I hope, help to wake up the Ireland which has been sleeping.

There is debate as to whether the myths and legends were originally based on historically real people and events, or on archetypal symbols which were given form to represent the needs, desires, fears, strength and weakness of a people.

It has been my experience that however you choose to perceive them or believe in them, they are entities which are undoubtedly satisfied to be worked with and related to from our modern magical perspective.

Whether you regard them from the perspective of religious devotion, or as practical/symbolic tools that can be utilised to achieve a particular end, their power is potent. Whether you are Irish, American, or Tanzanian, their strengths and energies are available to you.

In the modern New Age spiritual movement, the Irish Powers are often vastly misrepresented and misunderstood. From what I have seen and felt, they don’t seem to be too pleased about that.

In talks and workshops on working with Irish Deity or magical Powers, I usually advise that the first thing to do is familiarise yourself with them. Read their stories, visit their sacred sites, learn the mythology, examine the original source material that is still available, and research what scholars have extrapolated from these sources.

These are all essential steps when forming relationships with them. Although the Powers have evolved and grown through the ages, knowing where they have come from gives us a good grounding in their fundamental characteristics, interests and natures. Starting at the beginning in any endeavour is always a good plan.

Oh and, speaking of “forming relationships”, that’s another thing I’d like to be clear on from the start.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of the practice so often seen today; where a person decides that a particular God or Goddess is suitable for a one off ritual or occasion, calls them up, expects them to grant boons and favours and help out in whatever situation is being worked for, and then is never heard from again.

If a complete stranger walked into your house and asked for a favour, however politely – would you be inclined to help? Possibly you would, and sometimes the Powers do too, if there is sufficient offering or perhaps bribery involved. They are not above being bought off.

However, most people would be far more inclined to help out when a friend asks a favour, and this follows through with the Powers, in my experience. A give and take relationship is the most effective and respectful way I have found of working with them.

But I digress.

Those first steps in researching and getting to know the Powers are essential. Once you’ve done your homework though, where do you go with that?

 


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Part 1 – My Background – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

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

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

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

 

Part 1 – About Me

 

Through my life, for as long as I can remember, I have been seeking.

For what, I did not know, for the longest time. As I looked around me, growing up, I knew I was different somehow, and thought myself a ‘freak’ because of it.

I could feel things that other people didn’t seem to feel. I knew instinctively that there was more to the world than most of us could physically see.

Some of my earliest magical and spiritual experiences were instinctive, natural, totally unexpected and unlooked for. They rocked my world and set me on my path. They came in the form of contact, and help (when it was most needed), from the natural and ancient Powers of Ireland, though I barely understood this at the time.

From that point, I tried to follow many of the traditions and paths to happiness and spiritual fulfilment which were available to me at the time. I read books on solitary witchcraft and hedge witchcraft, I tried crystal healing, study of the tarot, some shamanic teachings, and Wicca (I worked for many years with a Traditional Alexandrian coven).

Nothing was quite right. Nothing ever really fit.

I know now that this was mainly because I was following other people’s experiences, their perceptions of the paths, instead of following my own intuition. Although I learned a lot, and quite a bit of it was learning what NOT to do, it was only when I looked within that I started to achieve any sort of true fulfilment.

I realised that I had to go back to my beginnings. Back to my own experiences, my own culture, my heritage, the ways of my ancestors. I needed to reconnect to the more natural powers of my native land, from which I had received my first insights and aid.

I read everything I could find on Celtic or Irish magic. There wasn’t a lot around at that time.

Through my initial book research and study, I was looking for something that feels real, connected to the Ireland that I know, and to the Ireland that I can still feel by walking the land and the ancient sites.

A lot of the books I studied are about Celtic myths and legends, which is a far broader topic to cover than the Irish on it’s own. A lot of those books just relate the stories, and leave it at that. A lot of the books that do try to address how a modern user of magic might relate to these beings fall far short on actual academic research of source material, and often on true experience of what is available to us.

That has been my experience, at least, when seeking guides while on my own journey of mixing modern magic with traditional tales.

I have read many fascinating books. Many wonderful, moving, inspiring and intellectually stimulating books. But none of them have addressed what I needed – me, Lora Uí Bhriain, Bean Draoí (pron. Ban Dree, meaning ‘female user of magic’), Irish Priestess and Witch.

 


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Winter Solstice Greetings from Ireland

Winter Solstice in Ireland - Bonfire Sparks

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?

Winter Solstice in Ireland

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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Samhain with the Morrigan

Honeysuckle and Blackthorn Twist

I observe Samhain from dark moon to dark moon.

When I first went ‘public’ with this over 3 years ago, it seemed a novel idea to many folks, and maybe a little bit… extreme or some shit?

But it’s always made sense to me, for a few reasons:

  • 31st October as modern Samhain/Halloween doesn’t correlate with the original calendar date for the festival, because of calendars being moved about by a number of days.
  • ‘The original calendar date for the festival’ doesn’t even really make sense either… did our ancestors use calendars and view time the way we do?
  • References to ‘celebrating’ Samhain in Irish lore are most often along the lines of a 3 day festival or event, not one single night.
  • The lunar cycle has always felt energetically important at this time of year for me, where it doesn’t play a HUGE role ordinarily – that’s pure personal gnosis though.

 

So, this is how it works.

I check for the astronomical data on new moons on Irish time in October and November.

The night before a listed new moon is the dark moon – there’s usually a 3 day period of ‘New Moon’ that’s actually the very last sliver of the old moon, then the dark moon, then the very first sliver of the new moon.

The dates are simple and clear this year (2017), the New Moon is Thursday 19th October at 8.36pm Irish Time, so tomorrow is the Dark Moon – Wednesday 18th. In November, the New Moon is on Saturday 18th at 7.51am, so the Dark Moon on Friday 17th, and that clearly encompasses the calendar date of 31st October in the middle.

Sometimes the dates are a little less clear, so I always just pick the dark moon to dark moon that has the 31st October somewhere in there between them.

 

What To Do?

Mostly, my practice involves showing up consistently. It’s one of my ‘3 Cs’ of spiritual work:

  • Connection – authentic, energetic, emotional, intellectual, culturally respectful, contextualised in the established lore, communicative, conscious connection.
  • Contract – practice built on relationships and agreed terms, give and take, and the basic boundaries of regular rightful relationship, just as we would have in this world… but carefully laid out in contract, and regularly reviewed too!
  • Consistency – just showing up every day, every week, and doing the work; it sounds simple, but we humans are the ones who are very prone to be distracted by shiny things, funnily enough, and often give a strong start that peters out in very little time. Don’t do that.

 

Exactly what work I’ll be doing when I show up every day through my Samhain cycle varies from year to year.

Currently, I know it definitely involves morning tending and prayer at the Mórrígan altar (click for more info that) before my household wakes, continuing with my ‘Get in the Sea once in each 7 day period’ for at least the full run of this (I’m hoping for the sake of my poor, frostbitten fingers that I will be able to shelve that one at east ‘til the warmer weather once Samhain is done), and I’ll need to get out with bare feet on the earth under the sky and see the moon, every single night.

I’ve a few other ideas as to what I might have to do… but I’m hoping they’re not necessary. Still holding out hope for an easy life over here someday, as I’m pretty sure this shouldn’t be approached like the Ordeal Olympics with folk vying for who has the most hard-core contractual load being placed on them.

Essentially, I’m lazy as fuck, and if I wasn’t being God-bothered to do this stuff, I’d be tucked up in my Batman jammies and cozy toes slippers, HAPPY OUT.

Anyway, I’ll keep ye posted how the Samhain cycle progresses, but be prepared for me being even more than usually grumpy with the Mórrígan, and now Manannán Mac Lir (click for more info on him) for good measure, as I get even more God-bothered into doing shit I don’t want to be doing, and don’t even really understand why I have to do be doing it.

How’s your Halloween season shaping up?!


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An Interview with Lora O’Brien

Lora Black Bob

Samhain Interview with Lora O’Brien

First Contact

Hi Lora,

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

 

Hi Lisa,

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.

Beannachtai

Lora

 

The Interview

 

  1. What does a Draoí mean and what does it entail in your everyday life?

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.

  1. I know you’re not a witch but do any of the associated practices like casting spells, reading tarot cards and magic play a role in being a Draoí? If yes, how so or what are your own practices?

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.

  1. How did you first realise you were a Draoí or how did you get interested in this spiritual practice? What benefits do you feel from it?

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.

  1. Witches sometimes are part of a coven. Is there a social aspect to being a Draoí or how often do you get to meet other people with shared beliefs?

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.

  1. Do you ever get approached for any unusual requests like ‘can you use magic to get my ex-boyfriend back’, etc?

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.

  1. Irish people seem to be more interested in spirituality and wellbeing in recent years so I was wondering how people react when you describe your beliefs? Do you think as Irish people move away from the traditional Church they’re more open to other forms of spirituality?

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.

  1. Finally, does Halloween have a particular significance for you? If yes, do you have any plans to mark it?

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.

 

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Irish Bealtaine Traditions

Irish Bealtaine Broom Bush

May Bush, May Flowers, May Pole and May Bough are all traditions still to be found scattered through the Irish countryside come Bealtaine, 30th April (May Eve) and 1st May (May Day).

You might call it Beltine, Beltane, Beltaine, or any other variation of the word, but in Ireland it’s Bealtaine, as that is still the Irish language word for the month of May. So that’s good enough for me.

The turning of the year from Winter Darkness to Summer’s Light was and still is marked with flowers, fire, and fucking. (Maybe I should have said fertility? It’s also an ‘f’ word, so the alliteration would stand, but fucking just felt more honest.)

Luck and protection, health and happiness are the themes, and everything done as an individual or as a community focused on these important drives.

Originally we had two seasons, Summer and Winter, Sam and Gam in sean ghaeilge (old Irish). These were the times when everything changed – people, herds and flocks moved from winter to summer dwellings and pastures. Work focus changed. Women got pregnant at this time to ensure that come the third trimester they could be safely tucked up with indoor jobs beside the fire, preparing for a Spring birth with fresh foods available for essential sustenance. So, fucking in the fields was not just for fertility fun folks, this is a serious scheduling issue right here.

This year, I will not go out and get pregnant. In previous years, it seemed like an extreme adherance and a step too far – but this year, it’s moved to being physically impossible for me.

I will wash my face in the morning’s dew. Hey, I am turning 39 next Tuesday – I’ll take what I can get with regards to ancient traditions to impart a fresh faced glow. The sun’s rays piercing water, shimmering on a liquid surface this morning gives the blessing of beauty to those in the know. Or so they say.

There will be flowers strewn on my doorsteps, front and back, and on May Day a small group of us from the Waterford Pub Moot will meet and visit an ancient site for a picnic. I will probably do my usual clean up of said site, if there’s anything round it that shouldn’t be round it.

My Nana told me a story years ago about a cousin of hers in County Clare, who would go out on May morning with rotten eggs, and mix them into the soil of her neighbours’ fields. Bealtaine is a time for magic and mischief, and if you don’t look out you’ll be on the receiving end of all that.

So my protective fires will be lit, my boundaries and thresholds re-walked and reinforced, and I’ll do a general magical tidy up round the house and neighbourhood. Checking the fences, as it were. I pity the May Fool who tries to cross here uninvited *summer smiles*.

All will be well for the turning of the year, and as it should be. I wish you that and more, mo chairde.

Bealtaine shona dhaiobh, chun solas is beatha a fháil.

Beir Bua!

 

If you’d like to know more about the Seasons and Sacred Cycles of Ireland, you can Click to Learn More.

Samhain in Ireland

Darkness

No, it’s not ok to pronounce it Sam-Hane…

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole” ? C.G. Jung

In Irish (Gaeilge), it’s pronounced Sow-wen, with sow as in female pig. It’s a word that has a huge cultural and historical foundation as well as a place in modern spoken Irish language as the calendar word for the month of November.

You don’t get to just take someone else’s heritage and language and change the pronunciation because it’s ‘how you’ve always said it’. Don’t do that.

Out of all the Pagan festivals, this one is most specificially rooted in Irish traditions, and is perhaps the most bastardised by modern culture around ‘Halloween’… so forgive my grumpiness? As Pagans, we can do better. So let’s start by saying it right.

(Unless you’re Scottish; they got their own pronunciation stuff going on.)

Samhain time, for me, runs Dark Moon to Dark Moon. As most of you will know by now, the Goddess I work for is kinda dark. Known for it like. We see lots of quotes and comments around at this time of year about facing the darkness, and coming through it to the light, and I get that. I do. Some of that is due to the turning of summer to winter of course, but there’s also a whole pile of crap about living in the light only, and that’s not right.

Why is darkness a bad thing?

I live in the darkness. This is where the real magic happens, the formative creation.

Can the light catch that first push from inside the seed? The first unseen growth always happens in the darkness – the plan is formed, the form is set, the energy is gathered.

Samhain, in Irish lore, is the shifting time from summer into winter, from light to dark. Historically, it’s the time of year that outside active summer work and chores change to inside passive winter work, planning and preparing.

Sam and Gam are the 2 words in old Irish which denote summer and winter – the original seasonal shift going back to days when the hunter gatherer people of Ireland changed from summer to winter camps as part of their annual tribal cycles. Before industry, before agriculture, before settlement… our ancestors were between their seasonal worlds at this time of the year.

That time of change can be dangerous. While we move, before things settle into their new patterns, we can lose our way. Change is especially difficult for the vulnerable in a tribe – old comforts and security lost, new spaces bring new dangers, seen and unseen. The old, the young, the sick and the weak, all at risk as we shift and move towards settling down again.

And when we are moving from light towards darkness? Respect is due and care should be taken, for human form is somewhat fragile in body and mind. Between times, between places, is the boundary. The liminal space that holds stronger magic.

Magic is change, and change is inherent in between.

So Samhain, from the oldest times in Ireland, is a dangerous, magical time. When we moved to agriculture, tough decisions had to be made with supplies set to dwindle during the winter, on what animals would live and what would die. Perhaps even for the people, in lean years the best rations had to be set aside for the strongest to survive, so facing the dark year could mean facing your death.

Thoughts still turn to death in earnest at this festival, with our subconscious and even ancestral memories influencing our conscious minds. This naturally brings about memories of those who have ready passed through to the Otherworld from this one.

Many homes in Ireland still lay the ‘dumb supper’ – the placement of one full meal on Samhain night (that is, the 31st), at the family’s table. This usually consisted of a dinner in the evening, with an empty chair available, for any passing spirits who might drop in. The windows and doors are left unlocked all night (by those who deem it safe to do so, now).

These customs are given as a sign of welcome for the ancestors that are about at this time of year. The extra meal is left outside when the family has finished their meal. None of the living may consume the food meant for the dead; it was said that they would be barred from partaking of it after their own death if they were greedy enough to touch it while living.

The theme of honouring the dead, and aiding them in any way possible, is very prominent  – maybe because of the significant reminder that as we are coming into the time of death, it may be us who pass on before too long. There may have been an element of hedging our bets, so to speak, by being polite and utterly respectful to the dead spirits, and the spirits of death, at this time.

For your own practice this year, why not take the time between the dark moon just before Samhain, to the dark moon after (you can find your local phases of the moon here) and set up an altar to your ancestors – either physical bloodlines or spiritual/community? Those elders and ancients who have made an impact on your life, who you would like to honour at this time when they are close enough to more easily commune with.

Will your ancestor altar be indoors or outdoors? What will you put on your altar – pictures, memorabilia, items that remind your senses of that person? How will you observe a practice at the altar each day – what will you say or do before it?

If you are making offerings, think about things that involve a little work or sacrifice on your part, not just cheap wine from the shops that has no relevance to them or meaning for you.

An offering can be a physical item that you place by the altar in observance and respect, or it can be an act you perform – volunteering at a charity relevant to them for example – or work you do that they would appreciate, that honours their spirit.

Why not post about your altar or offering ideas and descriptions in the comments, and share your seasonal observances with the community for Samhain time? We’d love to hear from you!

Read about my Samhain with the Mórrígan


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