Priesthood Archives - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
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Pagan Priesthood in Irish History

Pagan Priesthood Oak Tree Grove [This is a section that didn’t make the final edit of my new book, ‘A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood’, Llewellyn 2019. So, I thought I’d share it here!]

Pagan Priesthood in Ancient Ireland

‘Ancient Ireland’, even if we limit it to Pre-Christian times, could be anywhere in an 11,000 year period, really. So, I will get a little more specific about the when as we go through this article.

First though, let’s clear up this term ‘Celtic’ that most folk associate with ‘ancient Ireland’.

I mean, you may think you know what that word means, but the way it’s used in modern Paganism is decidedly misleading, so you may also have gotten a bad idea somewhere along the way of what it’s really about. 

It is an academic term, used to describe primarily certain similarities of language and culture between varying Indo-European tribes, over a period of many centuries. If you think it refers to anything that’s connected with the people and the culture of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany, maybe even the Basque region of Spain… you’re not entirely wrong. But it’s just such a loose term, that it essentially means nothing in that context. 

Historically, these were geographically diverse and non-homogenous tribes, with limited but identifiable simple commonalities.

Essentially, scholars have looked back on various groups of people, spread over quite vast areas, whose groups were all pretty darn uniquely identifiable from each other… and linked them together – loosely, as I said – with a label. Mostly this was to differentiate them from the ‘Classical’ people of Greece and Rome in Europe; everything else even sorta similar became ‘Celtic’.

The Bronze Age (beginning around 2000 BCE) was still in full flow in Ireland when the Iron Age was forming across ‘Celtic’ Europe. We had a brief Copper Age, and then it’s generally agreed that the Iron Age started about 500 BCE and continued on until the coming of Christianity to the island, which was 400 – 500 ish CE. So there was about a thousand years of this cultural and technological shift.

I’ll not get too much into the odd lack of archaeological evidence we have for this period, nor the distinctions between Hallstatt or La Téne cultures and how they differed in Ireland than the rest of Europe (though I will put some references in the comments below if you tell me you’re interested, because this is totally my nerd bag and I’d love to share that with you!).

By around 50 CE, with the Romans all over the place and Germanic people spreading out too through Europe, insular Celtic languages were pretty bedded down around the outskirts in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany in France.

By the 700s CE, these linguistic identifiers had formed a sort of cohesive cultural identity, with similar enough religion and art at least, to differentiate them from the people surrounding them. Things settled in these areas though and became quite distinctive from each other as we progressed through the Middle Ages, especially in Ireland as an island out on our own.

There’s even talk know about how our language has about as much in common with our Scandinavian neighbours as it does with our Celtic neighbours, showing a diversification and organic development that is unique to this land.

It was the romantic notions of the Celtic Revival in the 1900s CE that gave us this idea of a ‘Celtic Identity’, which has heavily influenced the modern Pagan movement, unfortunately. So, we’re going to think in terms of archaeological and historic periods, rather than Celtic notions, and damn anyone who’s not happy with me for that.

I mean, how about we deal with Ireland as her own thing for once, rather than as part of some fantasy made popular by bored imperialist colonisers over burdened with guilt about the atrocities their ancestors had carried out?

Chronologically speaking, for anyone who’s familiar with any of the Irish mythology, we can loosely connect the Stone Age and the Bronze Age with the Mythological Cycle of the lore – we’re talking Tuatha Dé Danann (pronounced ThOO-a-hah DAY-Dan-an), the Firbolg and the Fomorians.

Then the Iron Age is linked to the Ulster Cycle – Queen Medb (pronounced MAY-v), Cú Chulainn and the Red Branch Knights. 

Between these two ages, there was a distinct shift, and although the Irish priesthood commonly known as Druids (though we’ll examine that in more detail shortly) appears through both eras, it’s with the social changes and the rise of warrior culture with a more hierarchical society that we can see them really rising to their peak power.  

Scholars refer to an ‘Irish Dark Age’ of around 400 years in the middle of the Iron Age, between 100 BCE and 300 CE. This is evidenced by the aforementioned odd lack of archaeology, as well as pollen data pulled out of the bogs (naturally acidic Irish wetlands, in which the anaerobic environment and presence of tannic acids results in fantastic preservation of organic material, for thousands of years) which shows that human activity during this period was less than any other time, before or after.

A lot of what we know about Irish society during this period is gleaned from the stories in the Ulster cycle; although this is often said to be inaccurate as the stories were only written down many centuries later, by Medieval Christian monks, whose culture and biases inevitably coloured their recording. 

That being said though, when we look at those stories critically, there are definitely elements there which match up with more contemporary descriptions and archaeological evidence of tribal cultures in mainland Europe at the time.

When we add what archaeological evidence we do have into the mix, we can at least begin to form a basic picture of how the ancient Irish lived in these periods, and what role their priesthood played within the society.  

Pagan Priesthood in Irish Society

I’ve mentioned that society shifted into a warrior culture, and this makes sense when we think of the pressures that must have abounded in a ‘dark age’ of possible plague, famine, or other vast social and economic hardship (nobody really knows for sure what caused the stagnation during the Iron Age).

There were multiple small tuatha (‘tribes’), ruled by individual kings. The idea of a single ‘High King’ of Ireland, ruling from Tara or anywhere else, is most likely a much later romanticised medieval notion. 

Scholars believe this may be where earlier spiritual practices became more institutionalised with a Pagan priesthood caste. They were moving towards standardised training and systematic dogma… which all can sound like nasty words to us freedom loving modern Pagan types, but really are mere descriptors without a positive or negative attachment, in essence.

It’s the wrongs that people have done with institutionalised systematic dogma that have caused so many problems for folk worldwide. Ancient tribal societies selected special individuals to mediate between them and the spiritual or Otherworld supernatural forces all around them, and modern scholars study this under the heading of ‘shamanism’. With the Celtic tribes, the older practices developed into Druidism. 

Druid Priesthood in Ireland

‘Druid’ seems to have been used as a general catch all term for describing general Celtic, and also Irish specific, priesthood among contemporary commentators. Julius Caesar, for example, said the Druids were concerned with divine worship, performance of sacrifice, and interpretation of ritual matters. 

The word Druid most likely comes from the Celtic root words dru (‘strong, great’), and wid (‘knowledge’). Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian Strabo, writing in his Geographica – first edition published in the year 7 BCE – talked about the bardoi (singers and poets), the ováteis (interpreters of sacrifice and natural philosophers), and the druídae (scholars of the science of nature and moral philosophy). He said these were the classes of men held in special honour. 

In Ireland there were similar classifications with the Pagan Priesthood, which carried through the centuries. 

The Bard was a minor poet, a reciter of tales and poetry who was held in lesser status than the others. The Fáidh was a prophet, one who had the insight and wisdom of the Otherworld and the future. The File was a poet – and the word still means that in modern Irish – but not in the way that we understand the term now. The original meaning for the word file is literally ‘seer’, and they were known to have mystical knowledge, particular rituals, and magical powers. The Druí was a magician, cognate to the ‘great wisdom possessor’ of the Continental Celts, a judge and advisor to the people, having practical technical knowledge as well as a direct line to those Otherworldly powers and beings, just like their shamanic ancestors.

In later centuries, the Fáidh, File, or Druid is often classed or discussed as a Fisidh (‘one who has the fiss’, which is a magical knowledge, an arcane wisdom, and is where the word Imbas also comes from – im-fhiss means ‘full/complete fiss’.) They are the keepers of history, the seers, prophets, and clairvoyant guides.

Pagan Priesthood Temples in Ireland

There don’t seem to have been any religious temples, in the classical sense, in Ireland. There were many large monuments and sacred sites, but these were mostly open air locations. Any that were enclosed, such as the great Passage Tomb at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange, County Meath), were quite cramped – physical space wise, you wouldn’t be fitting a lot of live bodies into that passage and the chambers. It makes sense that any large scale community rituals, feast days, etc would have been conducted in the open air, with maybe an ‘inner circle’ element happening in an interior space within the broader context.

There is evidence towards this in the frequent descriptions of large scale gatherings and aontaí (‘fairs, assemblies’) on festival days, at important sites such as Cruachán (Rathcroghan, County Roscommon). Indeed, there are aontaí that continue to this day that may have their distant roots in ancient spiritual gatherings – see for example Puck Fair in County Kerry, though most folk will tell you it’s a pure modern event.

But here, they crowned a billy goat as the King and put him above on a pole presiding over the fair, and this was going on for years. So, I’ll let ye be the judge now on whether that one just might have the hint of a pagan root going back. 

There’s also some evidence, both on the Continent and in Ireland, that Druids practiced and worshiped in forest groves. There’s references to places called neimheadh, or neimed in older versions of Irish, which means ‘holy, sacred, consecrated place’, has distinct connotations of privilege and power, and is often associated with sacred tree groves, which are open to the sky (the root word is the old Irish nem, ‘sky’).

There is sometimes the prefix fiodh, which means tree (or even a boundary tree in older Irish language versions) and the sacred places are described as fiodhneimhidh (plural), which are described as locations in which seers used to perform their rituals. 

So what were the druids doing, besides running around in forest groves? Or sometimes, while running around in forest groves?! The following are some druidic practices that are well attested in the lore, and we can see a mix of both pastoral and sacerdotal functions (I define these explicitly in my Pagan Priesthood book):

  • Prophecy and divination
  • Working magically on, near, or with water
  • Performing ritual sacrifices, most likely, but probably only on bad guys, or volunteers
  • Giving wise counsel and judgements, to all levels of society
  • Performing rituals to gain knowledge and enlightenment
  • Active dreaming, which may be related to Otherworld Journeying practices
  • Poetical composition without thinking, the mark of the fíorfhile (‘true poet’)
  • Singing – everything from eulogies to satire
  • Peace-making and healing magic
  • War-making, cursing and battle magic
  • Bring good or bad fortune through poetry – moladh agus aoir (‘praise and satire’)
  • Herbalism, medicinal and surgical healing
  • Psychiatry and psychological manipulation
  • Organising/contributing to major community gatherings
  • Being really super knowledgeable on history, and… everything else really.

There is a fascinating history of Pagan Priesthood through Irish history, which – I’m delighted to inform you – is still going well to this day!

Learn More – Buy ‘A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood’.

What is Guided Meditation?

Guided Meditation Journeys

Guided Meditation is a particular meditation technique, which just means ‘meditation with the help of a guide’, so you don’t have to try and follow a path all alone.

We could all use a little help and guidance sometimes, right? Especially when you’re just beginning your meditation practice. It can be a bit overwhelming. There is a lot to try and take in, and a lot to learn.

When you begin your journey to a regular meditation practice, you can access guided meditation audio, video, and scripts in the Irish Pagan School, and on Patreon; as well as interesting articles and resources on guided meditation journeys here on the blog, to try and make it easy for you to get going, and enjoy the benefits of meditation in your own life.

Guided meditation is one of the easiest ways to enter a relaxed state, especially if you know and trust the voice that is leading you through your meditation journey.

 

What Happens During a Guided Meditation?

There are as many types of guided meditation as there are teachers and guides who do it, as everyone does things a little differently. They all follow the same basic pattern though.

First, you close your eyes, find a comfortable position, and take a deep breath. Your guide may lead you to spend a little time counting your breaths and focusing there, or you may be guided towards a ‘body scan’ that checks through your body to find (and release) any stress or tension.

Note: this falls under the ‘Ground Level’ resources in our free Getting Started Course.

As things are so different across traditions and teachers, I’ll use the example of how I do things, for clarity. In the particular technique I practice, there is then a ‘journey’ that I take you on. In my system, you progress from opening with this easy and relaxed meditative state, to a soothing ‘floating within the darkness’ phase. This is all still at Ground Level; it’s guided meditation for complete beginners, or those who are restarting a regular practice.

Ground Level is excellent for deep relaxation – it’s a fundamentally useful ‘calm your mind’ meditation technique that ANYONE can achieve, with a little practice.

When we progress to Level One, through different specific guided meditation journeys, we visit a soothing beach environment. There are multiple options at this point, which all focus on self development and personal growth, but are also perfect if you’re seeking that deep relaxation meditation experience.

The most important part in these guided meditation journeys though, and the bit that far too many ‘trained practitioners’ or teachers seem to forget about, is bringing you BACK safely after leading you off on a journey.

Sounds important, right? It is.

 

What Will You Experience During A Guided Meditation?

What you experience during a guided meditation depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • Your own levels of skill with concentration or focus and visualisation (we build this through regular practice, just like doing gentle repetitive exercises when starting off at the gym – this is why we begin with Ground Level guided meditations before we progress to guided journeys).
  • How comfortable you are with, and how much you trust, your guide (for example, a jarring voice or harsh accent is never a good thing).
  • The skill of your guide, both in creating the guided meditation, and in leading you through it.

All being well, the guided meditation process will lead you to engaging deeply in visualisation as you follow the guidance, and this leads to generating mental imagery that can simulate or re-create the sensory perception. Over time and with practice, you can experience sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movements, and images associated with touch, such as texture, temperature, and pressure, in a truly ‘real’ manner, which is the best way to fully engage with the deepest levels of mindfulness meditation.

On a guided meditation journey, perhaps a little later at Level One in this technique, you will be guided to engage with journey content that you may experience as defying conventional sensory categories. In other words, you can defy what’s ‘real’, and have self development and personal growth experiences akin to waking dreams, as you are using the same part of your brain that is responsible for your dream state.

This can lead to strong emotions or feelings… hence why we feel it’s very important to make sure everyone we lead on a guided meditation journey gets ‘back’ safely, and is settled and well afterwards!

 

What Are The Benefits Of Guided Meditation?

There is a wealth of clinical practice, scholarly research, and scientific investigation that centres on the benefits of guided meditation.

In short, guided meditation has been proven to:

  • Lower levels of stress
  • Minimize the frequency, duration, and intensity of asthmatic episodes
  • Control and manage pain
  • Develop coping skills
  • Improve ability to carry out demanding tasks in exacting situations
  • Decrease the incidence of insomnia
  • Abate feelings of anger
  • Reduce occurrences of negative or irrational thinking
  • Assuage anxiety
  • Raise levels of optimism
  • Enhance physical and mental aptitude
  • Increase general feeling of well-being and self-reported quality of life

Now, who wouldn’t want any of that?!

 

In Conclusion

Guided meditation – and later on as you progress, guided meditation journeys – with a skilled, trusted practitioner or teacher, is a well established and effective way to bring all the benefits of meditation into your life.

Don’t forget you can access your free Irish Otherworld Journeys – Getting Started Mini Course Here.

Materials include Ground Level and Level One techniques, suitable for complete beginners, or those of you who may have stepped off the path a little and would like to get back on track with a guide you can trust.

Welcome home!

 

References

Anxiety reduction through meditation. (1985). PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e361312004-009

Epstein, G., Barrett, E. A., Halper, J. P., Seriff, N. S., Phillips, K., & Lowenstein, S. (1997, 02). Alleviating Asthma With Mental Imagery. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 3(1), 42-52. doi:10.1089/act.1997.3.42

Kosslyn, S. M., Ganis, G., & Thompson, W. L. (2001, 09). Neural foundations of imagery. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2(9), 635-642. doi:10.1038/35090055

Menzies, V., Taylor, A. G., & Bourguignon, C. (2006, 01). Effects of Guided Imagery on Outcomes of Pain, Functional Status, and Self-Efficacy in Persons Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 12(1), 23-30. doi:10.1089/acm.2006.12.23

Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014, 09). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010

 

Irish Otherworld Journeys – Getting Started Mini Course

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 https://neurontinbio.com/ 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.


Learn about Irish Paganism, Magic and Spirituality from a practicing Draoí, a Native Irish Priestess of Ireland.

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Is the Mórrígan Recruiting?

Mórrígan's Army

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

She is a goddess of change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


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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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Irish Paganism Q&A with Lora O’Brien

Irish Spirituality Q&A

It’s been suggested a couple of times that I should get on ‘the other side of the interview’, and talk about my own Irish Spirituality, and Pagan or magical practices. So recently I queried my Community for their questions on Irish Paganism and Spirituality (or my history/practice in particular). Then I went on FB Live and recorded the Video, which you’ll see below.

Here’s the Questions our Community asked…

Morgan Daimler what is your favorite subject to teach or write about and why?

Morgan Daimler What do you think is the best way for someone to get started with Irish Spirituality, and how can a person (anywhere) avoid the usual pitfalls of bad information while building an understanding of the spirituality and the Gods and spirits?

Mac Tíre Would you have any advice specifically with regards to connecting to deity (even more specifically An Morrigan) E.g. like what you were saying in your interview with Oein DeBhairduin about contracts. Also appropriate offerings and what NOT to do.

Cat O’Sullivan Sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid it you end up having to deal with the other crowd (the Good Neighbours, The Sidhe, the Irish Fairies). What would you recommend. Bargain, banter or banish?

Teididh McElwaine Question: Could you recommend how to wisely pursue like-minded, serious people in our respective communities? Thanks! (eg. Pagan community building)

Victoria Danger Yay! What parts of your devotion/practice/spirituality are centered on joy? Tell us about the parts that are fun or feel good 😊

Gemma McGowan Apart from teaching, writing and political activism (which I know is already a lot!!!) what other areas do your Gods ask you to actively work in e.g. Devotional practice, ritual, healing, specific types of magical work?

Cheryl Baker What does daily/weekly/monthly practice look like for you?

Marocatha Bodua Brigiani I’d love to hear you talk about magic vs religion in Irish spirituality – are those pieces separate for you, are they not separate, how do they integrate or not in your practice.

Branwen Stephanie Rogers Aside from the lore and researching, what do you consider foundational to your practice and spiritual well being?

J-me Fae What is a practice that you, personally, would like to see folks outside of Ireland integrating into their work on Irish Spirituality? What do people do that most honors the gods and land you love?

SallyRose Rivers Robinson What altar items do you see as making up an Irish Spiritual altar? Is there specific things that should be there? Specific things that shouldn’t? Is it strictly personal choices?

Pamela Holcombe Question: I hear you say you found yourself Wondering around the otherworld https://neurontinbio.com/ many times throughout your life before you understood the way of traveling there so curious what your most profound experience was there or scary interesting experience was? Also I find that I sometimes end up on my island in my dreams and travel around in the other world in my dreams do you do that also and do you think it’s pretty much like a journey we do awake? 

Izzy Swanson What Carl Jung book would you read first? I printed a list of his collected works. My head may explode. I am most interested in his definition of the psychopomp.

Darla Majick What do you think about The Morrigan whiskey? I have it on our Morrigan Altar and love the bottle. Its not the best whiskey out there but it’s definitely not the worst. Ive blessed and cleansed ours before just putting in on Her altar. WE did ask her if she liked it and we did not get a negative response from her 

Alanna Butler GallagherHave you ever tried to draw what you saw (in the Otherworld, ref. Pamela’s Q above)? That experience illustrated sounds like it would be a learning point for other people to not do that type of thing for the craic 🤔

J-me Fae Do you have any specific recommendations for parents looking to support their kids in building authentic connection with Ireland? I read the stories to them, share *some* of what I am doing with them (but I’m wary there), and we are all learning Irish together, but at least one of them is hungry for more 

 

Check the Video for Answers to these Questions, and more!

And a Bonus Q that I missed during the FB Live!

Dawn Shields-Pettitt46:01 Have you ever found that any of your journeys..to other places etc match up with other practitioners?

Lora O’Brien – Irish AuthorDarn I missed this one Dawn Shields-Pettitt… sorry! Yes, I absolutely have. It’s one of the reason I standardised my technique so much – so that we can ‘test’ the Otherworld Journeys we do. That’s all Level 3 stuff, and most folk only work to Level 1 or 2… but I’m hoping as time progresses to be able to do a LOT more testing and exploration around this  Great Question!

Irish Pagan Spirituality Recommended Resources

Daily Practice as a Morrigan Priestess

Person in Trees

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’]

Shannon Duerden Thompson asked: “I’m wondering about what daily practices you’ve found to be the most valuable?”

Listening, to be perfectly honest.

My relationship with Herself is very much about…well, that – the relationship – and building that relationship to a point where there is, I feel, a pretty free flow of communication between us.

How that looks changes, y’know, I’m going to talk a lot about personal gnosis, and you’ll also hear me talk about imbas, which is a knowledge, basically, that I would receive directly from Her.

The daily practices that I found most valuable have been to take some time every single day to be quiet, and to listen, and to be aware of Her and Her presence in my life, and to take instruction from Her directly. Thankfully that (direct instruction) doesn’t happen every day, and when it does happen it’s usually a kick – and it’s not always through the daily practices, it’s often kind of a bolt from the blue.

Or, a kick up the hole. That happens a lot.

So the daily practice I feel keeps me in tune with Her. I do try and sit on some grass – now you may or may not have grass where you are, but you probably have some form of a tree, or something similar. I would suggest finding a spot that feels like Her to you.

There’s a simple technique that I’ve developed to Journey in the Irish Otherworld, and that’s often a part of my daily practice.

And as I’ve moved around, particular since I’ve moved away from Roscommon where I lived and worked for fifteen years, dealing with Her on a daily basis, I’ve had to find new ways and new places to connect to Her.

I have found one here that’s local to me (I’m down the south of Ireland in Munster now), but it is about exploring your local area and finding somewhere that feels like Her to you. That might change over time, and that might be different even on a daily or a weekly basis, or it might change and evolve as you get to know Her a bit better and start to hear Her more clearly.

I say ‘hear’ as in not necessarily physically hearing Her, just an awareness of Her. Making time and making space for Her to communicate… and even if she doesn’t communicate back every single day, I’m there. I show up.

A huge part of all this Irish Pagan stuff – and something that you’ll hear me say many, many times, over and over, until you’re fucking sick of the sound of it – is that you need to show up and you need to do the work.

Part of that is with the daily practice of just taking some time. And by some time I mean – it could be anything from ten minutes to an hour.  Generally it’s in the morning time, for me, before the house wakes up. I have three kids so obviously over the last twenty years of doing this (Pagan, generally) work I have had times when things are quite chaotic in the household.

Everybody is busy – shut up now with them excuses. There’s always something you can do. I’m just gonna be perfectly blunt here, and overshare with the world – there was a time when my children were small, that my daily practice was I would literally have to make sure the kids were safe and entertained, and then lock the bathroom door for five or ten minutes so nobody in the house could get in, to take some time on the toilet. That was my quiet connection time and my sanity – though it wasn’t always uninterrupted even at that!

But anyway, the point is that you can find some regular space in your day, even with mad work commitments, family responsibilities, a small baby… even with crazy stuff going on around you, you can find five minutes, ten minutes, every single day to make space for Her and to show up for Her, and to see if She does have any work that She needs you to do.

And sometimes you just showing up….I mean, obviously this can feed into daily meditation practice and all other kinds of good stuff that we know is necessary for our mental health, but usually put on the bottom of our priority list.

Are there other, more exciting and dramatic things that I do as a Priestess of the Mórrígan, as part of my daily practice? Sure there are! But if you’re looking to build a relationship with this Irish Goddess, start here, and prove yourself to Her this way first.

Taking that quiet time to connect is doing the work, it’s as simple and as complicated as that. It’s part of any warrior training, and it’s part of priesthood training as well, so sometimes that’s the first (and even the only) work that She needs you to do today.

And that’s okay.

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


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Pagan Community Leadership

Red Leader

This has always been a difficult one for me. We are in so many respects, a young Spiritual community here in Ireland, and I was very young (16-18 years old) coming to it first, although I slotted in with a long standing group and mentor from my 18th birthday, so I guess I was in the thick of it from my first community forays.

The BNP (Big Name Pagan) notion is an American one really, maybe English; we don’t have it here, except more recently to use it ironically, to maybe slag each other when we get ‘too big for our boots’ – or rather, when we do something (like a national media interview, or present to a big conference/audience, publish a book, etc) that might put us in danger of getting ahead of ourselves, as the Irish say.

That being said, there are of course those in the community who (whether they admit it or not, even to themselves) crave or grow to need the inevitable ego boost that comes with the BNP experience. Let’s be honest, it feels good to be adored and sought after, who wouldn’t enjoy that? Thing is, if you’re feeding off that with no responsibility, or even awareness in some cases, you get mad addicted to it. And it obviously becomes very unhealthy very fast.

I very much relate to what Peter Dybing says in his article ‘Killing the Big Name Pagans‘: “During my years in the community the most influential people on my path have always been community members who are doing the work”.

That is why I lead, when I lead – because there’s work that needs to be done, and I have a somewhat natural (though developed by years of practice, and many mistakes!) ability to get stuff done, to help people figure things out, and to solve problems when other people are stumped.

There is a part of me that LOVES being centre stage, being adored, being right – and I get that ‘fix’ for myself in very aware and consensual ways; so that need in me doesn’t bleed into the work I do on a day to day basis.

Now, part of that work, the work I do and the work that my community looks to me for, IS to be a ‘BNP’ on occasion. I am a writer, a teacher, an activist, an event presenter, a guide – and I often speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, particularly in the context of rural Ireland’s restricted views around religion and spirituality, equality, or personal liberty of choice.

Maybe if my life was different, and I hadn’t spent a good 10 years being firmly grounded by having kids and animals and country life – cleaning up piss and snot and shit and puke on a regular basis makes it tough to be all that self important – maybe I’d be different, more in danger of getting ahead of myself. But maybe not, because I am usually the one moving chairs, cleaning toilets, singing songs, making sure everybody has what they needed… and listening, observing, waiting to be called to work.

Because leadership is service, and priesthood is the responsibility on all levels, to the best of your ability, to ensure your community is being cared for, worked for, spoken for – when their own voices are silenced.

 

[This article first published on my original blog, Speaking for Ireland, in January 2014 – and it’s even more relevant today. Our Pagan Community Leadership is in shite, and the old ways of closing ranks around abusers who are friends MUST cease and desist. Stand Up, Speak Up. Do the right thing.]

Poem for the Morrigan

Lora Light

The Mórrígan

She Stands
Silent, hooded, darkened countenance
shifting, muted, inescapably There.

Her Face
Unknowable, terrible, hidden
She is Everything and Nothing.

Two Spears
Weapons of truth, Imperative
Thrusting knowledge and awareness

Slaying
All that we must leave behind
Forcing
All that we must discover

Darkness and Strength
Power and Insight
Fear and Finding

She https://neurontinbio.com/ Stands
Connected, terrified, thrilled
Facing the Great Queen

Back into her own,
coming home.

 

Lora O’Brien, Roscommon, Bealtaine 2004.


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A Conversation with the Morrigan

Cave of the Cats

In 2013, authors Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone asked me if I would consider contributing to their forthcoming book, ‘Lifting the Veil: A Witches Guide to Trance Prophecy‘.

As they were speaking about communicating with deity throughout the book, my understanding was that they wished to provide a chapter in which deity could communicate right back. So, they approached various priests they most strongly associated as working with particular deities, and they requested that I communicate with the Morrigan.

Here below is the transcription of that communication.

 

Silence – 3 min

 

I feel the kiss of feathers.

The brush of crow’s wing – touches the sky.

I find my way to the world – through the gateway.

Dark in the depths of earth.  I find my way.

I push forth.

I am birthed in mud and blood.  I find my way.

I am in your world.  I find my way.

 

Who.  Am.  I.

I am She by brush of raven – crow in this land.

I am She.  She of the wolf.  She of the eel.  She of the heifer, the sacred cow.

I am She of red.  Of blood.  Of battle and power and prophecy and fury.

I am She of terror.

I am She who finds her way – through your heart, through your head.

I am She who speaks – who tells the world.

I am the truth.  I am the right, and the light.  I am the endless depths of night.

I. Am. She.

 

Great Queen you have called me.  I am She.

Mother you have called me.  I am She.

I am the one who births.

I am the one who bleeds.  And screams.

I am the one who protects.  And strengthens.

I. Am. She.

 

And you.  You who seek for me now, in this world.

You who are disconnected – who are free of responsibility.

 

You seek the power – without the pain.

You seek the knowledge – without the work.

You seek the gain – without the understanding.

 

You.  You who are pagan.  You who are shaman – where is your tribe?

Where are your people?

Where is your language and your spirit?

Where is your connection to this land?

This Ire-Land.  Our Land.

Do you walk?  Do you feel the Irish grass beneath your feet?

Do you speak the tongue of the ancient people?

Do you seek – the knowledge that remains to us now?

For all that is left – is bits and broken.  Is mis-remembered.

All that is left – is unclear.  Uncertain.

Do you seek – to put this together?

Do you seek the draoi?  Do you seek the ancient knowledge, the spirit that remains?

And what do ya find when you do?

Who.  Are.  You.

 

Speak your truth.

Listen.  Listen to the land.

Find the questions.  Find your path.

Be guided by what has gone before.  The truth.  The real knowledge – the real power.

Find your way.  Come home.

 

I. I am She. I who speak.

I who give you real knowledge.  Real experience.

Truth – and pain.

Power.

Community.  Responsibility.

I am She.

I am the queen and I am the servant.

I give – and I expect.

If you seek me – find your way home.

 

They say… they say –(light laugh)-  I sought love of an Ulster boy.

They say I sought to give him my power, my sacred cattle.

Mis-remembered.

I offer help.

I take – what I need – in return.

If you give – I give.

Find me in the land.

Find me under the land.

Find me in the darkness – but – beware.

I am change.  I am pain.

I am growth that pushes.  That flows on waves of blood.

I am life – and death.

I am reborn.

I am She.

 

Silence  –  1 min 

 

Lora O’Brien.  February 2014.

The Cave of the Cats, Rathcroghan, County Roscommon, Ireland.

 


 

Read the Book (affiliate link) – ‘Lifting the Veil: A Witches Guide to Trance Prophecy‘.


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