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Unravelling Old Magic in Irish Folklore – a Story about Wolves

Irish Folklore - Wolves in Ireland

Today, I wanted to learn about Wolves in Ireland.

Hold up, actually, let’s back it up a bit, and explain where I’m coming from, for those who aren’t familiar.

My Monthly Work

Each month on My Patreon Membership Site I release a series of Rewards through various tiers of membership/support. For example:

  • Seanchaí Storytellers receive a unique Tale of Ireland, Retold – $3 per month.
  • Journey Seekers receive the story, plus script and MP3 Audio for a new Guided Journey – $5 per month.
  • Patrons receive access to the full set of Photographs, Video, and Site Report from a Sacred Site Visit – $10, $15 or $20 per month.

There are other reward tiers and benefits, but if you want more on that just pop over to My Patreon and take a look. The point I’m making is… each month, I look for inspiration for the Irish Folklore or Irish Mythology story to write, the Guided Journey to create and record, and the Sacred Site to visit.

This month (November 2018), I will be visiting one of the oldest Ogham stones in the country.

Ogham of the Wolves

Now, it’s notoriously difficult to date stone, particularly when a lot of the Ogham Stones in Ireland have been moved out of context from their original positions and functionality.

But we know this one is pretty feckin’ old due to the lack of vowel affection… but I also love the inscription, which has been translated as: “Of Conda son of the descendant of of Nad-Segamon”.

The truly cool part of that though? (I mean besides the fact that we’re reading an inscription in an ancient script and language from 1600 years ago? Coz that bit’s pretty cool too, right?!)

The primitive name Cuna, or more recently Conda, means ‘champion of wolves’.

Champion of Wolves!

And so we get to the part – eventually – where I’m wanting to learn more about wolves in Ireland.

Wolves in Irish Folklore

When I’m researching for my Patreon Stories each month, if I don’t have a particular character or deity from Celtic mythology or Irish legends that I want to have a look at, I’ll often dip into the Schools’ Collection over at Dúchas, the National Folklore Archive. It’s an amazing resource, do go and check it out.

Flipping through the transcribed Irish folklore tales about wolves, a particular one piqued my interest.

Only the second page of it was transcribed, so I quickly typed up the first page and registered it for approval (please do consider some transcription volunteering if you’re up for that!). Here’s the result, it’s not long:

Once upon a time there were two wolves on the Sliabh an Iarann mountains. The wolves used to kill everything they used to catch on the mountain. The people of the district sent for a man named Gildary (Gildea) to shoot the wolves. When the wolves would hear a whistle they would come to the place where the whistle was let. Gildea went up to the mountain and he started to whistle and one of the wolves came. Gildea fired at him. He had to hit him on the head between the two eyes on the star of his forehead. He had to shoot him with crooked sixpences. He fired several times at the wolf. At last he fell dead in the river which bounds Slievenakilla and Carntulla. The water ran red with his blood from the place where he died down to Lake Allen. After that the other disappeared. The wolf that was shot was much longer than a dog. The people were very glad when the wolf was killed because they could graze their cattle and sheep on the mountain then.

[ARCHIVAL REFERENCE] The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0206, Page 214
https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4605946/4604716

Now, a couple of things stand out for me here.

  • Sliabh an Iarann – the Iron Mountain – in County Leitrim is associated with the Tuatha Dé Danann.
  • Wolves coming to a whistle. I mean, that’s not natural wolf behaviour.
  • The star on the forehead of the wolf, which may indicate an Otherworld marking?
  • Shooting with ‘crooked sixpences’… what’s that about eh?

Sitting with it for a while, a story began to formulate, about the Tuatha Dé Danann – what happened to the members of the tribe who weren’t big names in the tales?

All of the elements matched up within the story I was telling, but I was a little stumped still about those crooked sixpences.

The Killing of Wolves with Magic

At first I thought about maybe a werewolf/silver connection, and wondered if my friends who study Irish lore as I do would have any insight.

Morgan Daimler, as usual, was exceptionally helpful (GRMA mo chara). But even they hadn’t come across the sixpence thing specifically.

Going with the possible wolves and silver bullets connection, I began to research what the old Irish sixpence was made of (Nickel, then a Nickel and Copper alloy), but that didn’t shed any light.

It was only when I saw the picture and was reminded of what it looked like that things started to make sense. An Irish Sixpence carried the image of a wolfhound. So, we’re into sympathetic magic territory now.

The Old Irish Sixpence

If I want to charm a weapon to harm a specific being, a great way to do it is to use an image to represent that being, name it for the target, and then bend or break the weapon – symbolically killing the being that it represents.

Now, if you add the physical element of doing that symbolically and energetically, and then using the bent weapon to literally shoot the target… there folks, we have ourselves some powerful magical weaponry. Powerful enough to kill a member of the Aos Sí.

Excited as I was to include this element in my story, I did a quick check in with myself (and my good friend Morgan), to make sure I wasn’t twisting the tradition in any way to suit my own ends.

Cultural Appropriation is difficult when it’s your own culture, granted, but I do still like to stay aware and make sure my work is faithful and respectful at all times.

Satisfied that what I wrote is “fair and true to the spirit of the folklore”, I finished the rest of the story.

Which sort of ended up accidentally also as a gay wolves love story, a little in passing, but there you go. Homosexuality is also fair and true to the spirit of the Irish tradition, as it happens 🌈👍

A Story about Wolves

And that my friends, is an example of how we can unravel Old Magic in Irish Folklore. I teach a LOT more about Irish Magic in my courses on the Irish Pagan School:

The story we’re discussing is for Patrons only currently (but if you sign up for $3 now you’ll get instant access to that story PLUS over a year’s worth of other Tales of Old Ireland, and a new one every single month!) – Sign Up for $3 Here.

Or, if you’re reading this in December 2018 or beyond, you can go read the story right now…

Scéal Na Mac Tíre (A Wolf Story) – Tales of Old Ireland

 

The Stolen Child

The Stolen Child

Clochar na Trócaire, Ceapach Chuinn
Location: Cappoquin, Co. Waterford

In the center of Waterford there lies a place which long ago was the stronghold of the ‘Fir Bolgs’. This place is a large Lios descending into the ground for about two feet, and then in underneath for about four yards. At the end of this a round room is entered.

This room is built around with brick on either side. In the left hand side there is a trap door and a long dismal passage going down for about three feet and then there is heard the soft lapping of the river. About three miles down is the river. The Lios is surrounded by a deep trench going all around it. There is a legend told about the Lios, true or not.

There was a widow who had her house not very far from the Lios. This poor woman had only one child, a little girl. The child, when young used to spend her time picking flowers.

So, one May evening, she was picking a bunch of flowers as usual when she heard strange music in the direction of the Lios. The girl was young and had no sense and went to examine the matter. When she came near the Lios she saw a strange sight, a band of fairy people dancing, singing and playing music.

But, to the girls amazement, they advanced towards her and laid a magic spell over her and changed her into a fairy. Then they went back to the Lios with their comrades and all was over until morning.

In the morning the child thought of home, in spite of the magic spell that had bewitched her. She succeeded in arriving at the Lios when she found herself in the most admirable land of dolls, boys, dresses and everything that could attract one. She began to play with her new toys and forgot all about home. Soon the Queen took her by the hand and brought into a room.

She was made sit on a stool and was handed a bottle of milk and a whitethorne branch. She drank it and she was changed into a Princess.

When the Queen died she became Queen of Fairyland and was over all the fairies.

ARCHIVAL REFERENCE

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0637, Page 129

Image and data © National Folklore Collection, UCD.


 

The Banshee in Italy

The Banshee on a yacht in Italy

Let’s go now to a lake away in Italy, where a group of distinguished visitors – all elegant and intelligent folk, we can be assured – had gathered on the private yacht of a good friend of theirs, an Italian Nobleman by the name of Count Neilsini.

He was a proper gentleman, of refined tastes and company; so one of his guests, a Colonel, was very surprised to notice a crooked, grubby woman with her back to them, right down at the end of the boat.  Due to the seating arrangements, the other guests were not in a position to observe as he was.  Politely, he said nothing, but continued to watch her shuffling and swaying about down there, with no apparent purpose or employment.

Eventually his curiosity got the better of his manners, and he queried the Count as to who the queer looking old thing could possibly be, while keeping her in view out of the corner of his eye.  The Count’s response concerned him, for he was assured that there were only the visiting ladies present, and one young stewardess elsewhere.

The other guests looked on in trepidation as he quickly rose from his seat, turning the corner and disappearing from their view, but not from their hearing, as he continued to protest that he was indeed correct, and he would fetch back the strange woman to prove it.  His assertions turned to a scream of horror though, and when the other guests got to him he’d collapsed in a heap on the deck.  There was nobody else to be seen at all.

By the time they’d brought him round, and the gibbering had stopped, he was the fuller for three large brandies but not exactly calm yet.  The Count of course was demanding to know what had happened, but all the sense they could get from him was that he’d seen the woman’s face as she turned on his approach, and it was like “nothing belonging to this world.

It was a woman of no earthly type, with a queer-shaped, gleaming face, a mass of red hair, and eyes that would have been beautiful but for their expression, which was hellish.  She had on a green hood, after the fashion of an Irish peasant.”

One of the ladies present was American, of Irish descent, and had heard of such a thing before.  When she suggested that the description was like that of an Irish Banshee, the others laughed, but the Count grew pale, and decided to partake of some restorative brandy of his very own.

It turned out he was actually an O’Neill, or at least descended from one.  His family name was Neilsini, but had been O’Neill not more than a century before, when his great-grandfather served in the Irish Brigade.  On the Brigade’s dissolution at the time of the French Revolution, the Count’s grandfather had escaped the massacre of officers, and fled across the frontier to Italy in company with an O’Brien and a Maguire.  When he died, his son (who had been born there, and was far more Italian than Irish) changed his name to Neilsini, and from then on the family was known by that name – but the blood in his veins was still Irish.  None of the others knew what it could mean?

His concerned American guest solemnly explained that the appearance of the Banshee is a harbinger for the death of someone close in the family, though the person who shall die will never see the Fairy Woman for themselves.  The Count quickly sent word to land that his wife and daughter were to be looked after well that night, and he would return first thing in the morning, for he was frightened it’d be them the Banshee claimed.

He needn’t have worried so much about them though, because just as his yacht touched shore – but before he set foot on Italian soil again – wasn’t the Count himself seized with a violent attack of angina pectoris, and died before the morning.

And that’s not the only time I’ve heard such tales of the Banshee, not by a long shot, but sure, they are all stories for another day.


 

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Liosanna – Irish Fairy Forts

Ringfort in Mayo - Lios na Gaoithe near Newport

To follow on from the recent post on Irish Ráths, I wanted to include some extra detail on a type of Ráth – the Lios.

In my experience and understanding, Liosanna (plural) are particularly associated with the Sidhe, the Irish Fairies, so I was very surprised to come across this account today…

Liosanna are plainly seen in many districts near the school. Quite close to the school in the same townsland – Ballycurrane – are three or rather were for one of them Crunnigans is gone. Coughlans is a field or so down from the school. Healys is at the other side of the stream running down from the well. Both are just round mounds with trees growing on them. There is no account of a passage in either of these. A part of Healys has been dug away at one side and the clay etc. coming out of it is a peculiar black colour. Some loads of it were brought here to to the school about nine years ago to make a dry path in from the road. It set like cement and gave it the appearance in patches of a tarred road. Bones were got there at one time but whether they were animal or human nobody knows. Old people used to say they heard music there at night long ago.

Crunnigans ploughed out the lios and as a result there is no one of the name there to day. The house is in ruins and the farm was bought by Merrinans.
Probably the nearest Lios to these is Hallorans in Kilgabriel. This differs from the others in the fact that it has a passage and underground chambers. In the time of the Civil War it was examined by the Free State soldiers who thought it was a dump for arms.

There is another big one in Declan Flahertys land in Ballindrumma. This is connected by an underground passage with the one in McGraths of Knockaneris. People who saw it say it was marvellously done and was paved with stones. Unfortunately hunting for foxes who went to earth in it has caused parts of it to fall in.
There was another passage from Knockaneris to Flemings in Coolbagh and from there to Dromore.
On the other side of the school across the Licky on the Grange side are two more – one in Briens and one called ‘Maire Ni Mearas’. There is an entrance to Briens one and some men went into years ago bringing a ball of hemp with them to guide them. The fox when hard pressed always takes refuge in it.
The following story was told to me by James Scanlan of Cladagh. When Maire Ni Meara lived she sent a man with two horses to plough the lios. He was not long ploughing when the two horses fell prostrate on the ground and despite all his efforts he couldn’t move them. He rushed in for the woman and she seeing how matters stood knelt down and asked God to restore the horses to her and promised faithfully that she would never interfere with it again. Immediately the horses stood up and from that day to this Maire Ni Meara’s Lios has remained undisturbed. The land now belongs to Currans of Ballylangiden.

The general opinion held by all the old people here is that they were built by the Danes. Whenever they were attacked or in any danger they lit a fire on top of the lios and this gave warning to the others. A fire lit on any of the Grallagh Liosanna can be seen from Healy’s Lios in Ballycurrane. This was evidently the important one here. A fire lit in Flaherty’s Lios could be seen from Knockaneris and so on. Mr. Mason of Augh heard the old people say that it was only when Brian Boru found out the secret of the liosanna and how they were able to signal and communicate with each other that he was able for the Danes.

Curiously I have met no one yet who mentioned fairies in connection with them. All seem to hold that they were used by the Danes for defence. They were all practically on a slope to give them a commanding position and all are the same shape round.

ARCHIVAL REFERENCE
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0640, Page 233

 

Now, I’m not sure what they think might have been the cause of them horses falling over and then miraculously reviving with a promise of leaving the site alone… but I’ve never heard tell of a Lios that didn’t mention fairies in connection with them. So I was curious.

There’s no mention of these monuments or the townland names on my go-to for Waterford sites – Prehistoric Waterford. Which suggests that they’d be Medieval monuments, not Iron or Stone Age sites.

Next stop is the SMR Database on www.Archaeology.ie, where we have the Archaeological Survey of Ireland from the National Monuments Service. Here we find a Ringfort of no apparent archaeological value at Ballycurrane…

But a little further North we can see the Ballindrumma site mentioned (on Declan Flaherty’s land) does have mention of a Souterrain attached:

WA035-010002- Class: Souterrain, Townland: BALLINDRUMMA.
Description: Two souterrains are marked on the 1927 ed. of the OS 6-inch map, one of which is also marked on the 1840 ed of the map. It is likely that there is only one souterrain which is indicated by an area of scrub centrally located within rath (WA035-010—-), and also by two lintels on the perimeter at N.

So, I wanted to show ye a little insight of how I get some preliminary research on Irish monuments, and how the different resources can work together. From here, I’d like to get feet on the ground out at Ballindrumma (maybe for a Patreon Site Visit) and see what it looks like from there.

I wonder will I find any sight or sound of the Sidhe myself?

 


If you’d like to follow along with Lora’s Monthly Site Visits to ancient and sacred Irish Monuments… click to Become a Patron.

 

What is a Rath?

Yes, I feckin spelled that right. Thank you.

Rath, not wrath.

Ráth is the Irish term for an archaeological Ringfort, anglicised as Rath – or one of the terms, rather. Others being lios (anglicised lis), caiseal (anglicised cashel), cathair (anglicised caher or cahir) and dún (anglicised dun or doon). [ref Nancy Edwards, ‘The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland’, 2006]

A casual perusal of any Irish map or story will show you a whole rake of placenames with at least the anglicised versions of these words built right into them. Like, you can’t miss them. Rathcroghan would be a very famous example; Ráth Crúachán – the legendary home of Connacht Queen Maedbh (Maeve), and the Irish Goddess of battle and prophecy, the Mórrígan.

Ráth and Lios are what we call those earthen enclosure ringforts (with lios having a particular connotation as a fairy fort in more modern times, out of all of them, for some reason), while Caiseal and Cathair both signify a stone ringfort. The Dún then, can refer to any fort really, and it doesn’t even have to be circular either for that one… it’s basically used to signify an important stronghold.

There’s examples of these types of Ringforts in Ireland dated from the Bronze Age onwards (roughly 2500 or 2000 BCE on), but they’re definitely most common in the early Medieval, and they stopped being built probably around 1000 CE.

They came in all sizes really, with the earthen ringforts marked by a circular rampart (a bank and ditch), and they would have had (generally) at least one building inside, but often multiple dwellings and animal enclosures. The majority of them seem to have been domestic, but there’s a strong theory that the later more domestic working Medieval Ráth was  built over or incorporated earlier Bronze and particularly Iron Age dwellings or even ceremonial enclosures, as there’s a distinct relative lack of vernacular housing remains for that period.

Archaeological excavation within some of the Ringforts revealed a lot about their function – there’s some of them with nothing we can find inside, and these have largely been deemed as livestock enclosures, but I’d suggest that an occasional ’empty’ one might just have been ceremonial in nature. In general though there’ll be a large central building found, usually circular, with smaller out-buildings beside or near it. There might be some other stuff too, like cereal drying kilns, or smithing furnaces. It looks like most of them would have been a homestead for small community or extended family, with the protection built in for any dangers roaming round outside the walls or banks.

In Ireland, there’s over 40,000 sites currently identified as Ringforts, and they reckon there would have been at least 50,000 on the island. [ref Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, ‘A New History of Ireland’ Vol 1, 2005]. They are so common in fact, that within any average area of 2 km2 (0.8 sq mi), you’ve a good chance of finding one.

Nowadays, they’re respected and not touched, for the most part, by landowners and communities, as they’re most often referred to as ‘fairy forts’. And you don’t want to go messing with the Good Neighbours now, do ya?

 

[NOTE – Photo Source]

Kite aerial photograph of the Multivallate Ringfort at Rathrá, Co Roscommon, Ireland. April 2016.
Source: West Lothian Archaeology’s camera flown on a kite at the field outing of the Rathcroghan Conference in April 2016. Credit: West Lothian Archaeological Trust (Jim Knowles, Frank Scott and John Wells).


 

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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 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

Why Were There Only a Few Irish Witch Trials?

Me in 30 years

It starts with the Sidhe, good readers, The Good Neighbours, or the Fairies as you may know them.

The Irish have a very matter of fact view of the Sidhe, whatever we call them by. Today and tomorrow, hawthorn trees and bushes will be left right alone, because the fairies like to rest there. Best not to disturb them, just in case. It is happening somewhere in Ireland every day, by people who would not, not ever in a million years, think of themselves as any sort of Pagan type.

The fairies are still respected, and largely feared. You don’t annoy them, neither through ignorance or thoughtless action. And a lot of us here in Ireland couldn’t even tell you – or wouldn’t at least – why this is so.

At a time when (mostly innocent) people were being burned and hanged all across Europe, in the tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands – figures are unclear, even yet, but 9 million seems a little on the excessive side), Ireland was relatively unscathed.

Were there less odd old women in rural villages here? Anybody walking through a rural village in Ireland today will likely find themselves tripping over odd old women, so that seems unlikely.

They are a staple of Irish village life, in all their muttering moustachioed glorious strangeness, and I seriously doubt the Middle Ages were any different. So why the lack of burning or hanging for the odd old Irish women, compared to contemporary European counterparts?

A theory of mine is the sheer practical integration of the fairy culture over here. Picture the scene in a small German village (Germany displayed perhaps the most voracious of appetites for witch rooting and killing, whole villages were decimated) – odd happenings abound, milk turns sour, butter won’t churn, children and animals sicken, even die… the villagers begin to look around suspiciously for the cause.

Often, suspicion alights on the odd old woman who lives at the edge of the village, smells a bit peculiar, maybe has a bit of extra knowledge about animals, plants, or healing, and before you know it, the poor oul one finds herself tied to a ducking stool and taking a bath she hadn’t planned for. You get the picture – clichéd, certainly, but these things are clichés for a reason.

Same deal, in an Irish village… the villagers instead begin to wonder if someone has been throwing their dirty wash water out in the wrong place, and look to their own homes for the remedy – a little extra butter left out, or whiskey or cream, a few other bits and pieces of fairy friendly house or farm work that might need to be picked up on again, and that’s that. The odd old woman on the edge of the village gets to stay smelly and dry and muttering to herself for a wee while yet.

And it still holds today. The average Irish person now probably won’t be integrating fairy culture into their everyday life, but when they come across it, either from a modern Pagan type or the old boy down the pub who still remembers, it’s given a respectful listen at least, even if it’s then usually passed over with a casual shrug.

But if it comes in the form of a warning, the listening gets a bit more careful, and there might even be actions taken, or not taken as a result. When asked directly, they will say they don’t believe in fairies, for the most part – but maybe that there’s no harm in being careful.

​Better safe than sorry, right?

Excerpt from ‘A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality’, by Lora O’Brien
2012, Wolfpack Publishers, Ireland.


The Fairy Lover

white woman white hair blue eyes
The fire crackled and hissed, as life escaped from sticks and seeped from turf that had lain long idle in watery bogs. Each new noise made him jump a little, each spark that fell seemed fascinating to a mind that hungered to focus on something, attend to anything but the blank white page before him.

There was no sound from outside the cottage though, at this hour even the night creatures usually heard shuffling along on their business were abed. He had sat through the long, empty darkness all alone, again, since he had banished her from the house. He couldn’t have accepted what she had to offer. The price was too high, the cost too great to bear. Many had warned him through long years of training, of the possibility that she might appear. Or one like her, for there were many who sought the likes of him in this land, many who would pull and call and tempt and offer the worlds to a poet’s soul. His Masters had gone through it with each apprentice, and when it came his time to teach he had issued the same dire warnings, extolled the same ghastly consequences.

Out of the mounds they came, the Leanán Sidhe. Fairy Lovers: bright was their light, their gifts, their love. Strong burned the creative fires that they stoked and tended in a poet’s soul; his musical, magical, poetic inspiration, but with the gifts were balanced the ties that bind, for once a Fairy Lover gained entry to a man’s body and soul, she did not ever give them back. Their love was a deadly delight.

She had come to him first on a night just like this. A fire burning in the hearth of his small cottage on the hillside, a long and lonely night awash in the void of mundanity, with not a trickle or a spark of creative inspiration to be found. The gentle tap tap tapping on a window, thought at first to be a branch or twig, but persistent enough to breach the miasma surrounding his heavy head.  When he opened the door, she stood a little out of the light that spilled into the night, back from the threshold, and she spoke to him quickly, offering all the things they had said she would, in a voice as soft as the velvet nub on a new calf’s horns. He listened, and was tempted, and resisted; refusing to invite her inside, refusing to accept the offers… but knowing that his refusal bound her to him as surely as he would be bound to her if he had accepted.

That was three moons ago now, and she had never left.

Constantly calling, she haunted his dreams, and shadowed the windows of his house as she circled each night. Her voice came to him awake or asleep, whispering dreams when he had no defences, tapping at his attention when he would try and concentrate, or create. Useless, pointless exercises that served no purpose other than to frustrate him. She stayed beyond his reach, impossible to banish, although the Rowan and cold iron charm his old Master had recommended for the threshold served the purpose of ensuring that she could not cross, no matter the weakened state she found him in. He was safe inside.

As he stared again at the plain white sheet that signalled his failure, his lack of resource, he realised that he’d had enough. In a dream, he rose from the table in the centre of his room, and walked to pull open the door. Reaching up, he ripped the charm from the lintel, raised his arm, and threw his protection out into the blackness beyond. Then he waited.

When she came, it was with a sigh of silk that instantly calmed his mind and balmed his spirit. His eyes drank her beauty, as she touched his flesh and entered his home. She would drink of his love, and give in return, and his pages would fill with bounty… until she took all that he was.

That wasn’t the first or last of the Sidhe ever to take a man… but sure, they are all stories for another day.

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The Other Crowd – Na Daoine Sidhe

Working with the Irish Sidhe, the Fairies; the tribes and traditions of the Good Neighbours of Ireland. (Two Classes)

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The Three Realms in Irish Tradition

triple spiral in stone square

[from the archives, shared for personal history context…]

Perhaps, since you already work in this realm, you could look at the three realms (land, sea and sky) from the Tain and the three worlds of the shaman? Either from scholarship or practice. Formal is by no means necessary, though some reference to sources is appreciated.  In fact, with so much commentary and research I would be quite open to more subjective work…

Communication from Frater Docet Umbra, 2012


This article first appeared in the Journal of the Irish Order of Thelema, ‘Fortified Island’, Issue #1, in March 2013.

It’s a long time since I thought of my work in a Thelemic context.  Unsurprisingly, to me at least, not a lot changes when that shift does take place.  It didn’t take much to change my perspective to the concepts and practices of Thelema – different words, different names, different rituals, but the essence is the same as I had always believed and experienced.

I started through the Man of Earth initiation cycle as a personal journey, a challenge to myself that is one in a long series of such challenges.  A lifetime’s worth, or more, one might say.  I came from a firm family grounding in Irish heritage and nature exploration, exceedingly boring to the child I was, but ever appreciated since.  From personal Gnosis in my teens, I found training and connection in a Traditional Wiccan coven, working through their triple degree system and learning a whole lot.  Moving from there I found myself in Roscommon.  Not quite knowing how or why that had happened, I set to explore, and found I had landed in Cruachan.  Ancient Royal Capital, perhaps one of the first sites in Ireland of consistent ritual and ceremonial use.

Connection to the land became about more than just local entities and legends, as I had previously experienced.  A small group, just four of us, remained of our previous working group, and we were three intensely dedicated sisters and one male; who was learning a lot, but in some ways along for the ride.  And we began working through the worlds.

Neart mara dhuit,
Neart talamh dhuit,
Neart nèimhe.

Mathas mara dhuit,
Mathas talamh dhuit,
Mathas nèimhe.

Power of sea be with you,
Power of land be with you,
Power of sky.

Goodness of sea be with you,
Goodness of land be with you,
Goodness of sky.

Collected by Alexander Carmichael
I remain wary of Carmichael’s work, I must admit, but no more so than I am wary of many of the other folklorists of his time.  I find it difficult to reconcile how a person from another culture entirely – particularly when the language from which they are hoping to collect has so much in the way of tenuous and liminal associations and inflection (as is the case in Scots Gaelic and Irish) – can accurately capture or convey the ‘true’ meanings of the original.  However, the same can be said for nearly every single piece of literary material we have to work from, starting with the Christian Monks who faithfully transcribed the Irish myths, legends and even historical accounts (albeit changing the timelines on occasion to fit in the Christian worldview), and on up to certain more recent ‘Celtic’ explorers.  We must do what we can with what we have.

There is value to be had, even if at times it might only be useful in an inspirational sense, from the literature that is available.  As modern seekers, we can study the source material available, understand what we can from that, review and share experiences and theories with other seekers, and work consistently on developing our own connection from this point; the only place we have from which to work.

And so, that is what we did.  Looking at the Táin, an integral tale to this complex of sites, as well as it’s broader value in Irish Literature, we developed the idea of the Earth, Sea, and Sky model, the three worlds.  How would we learn this, experience this, with no one to teach it?  How could it be taught?  What would the journey of an initiation cycle look like when based around this core concept?  How could we make that work?

There were many late night conversations, many heated debates, and even a few all round arguments.  A loose plan was formed to work through each world on an annual basis, with a programme of rituals and exercises for each, culminating in an intense practical initiatory experience of the particular elements of that world.  We put ourselves through the wringer – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  We survived Earth, we survived Sea, we survived Sky.

Then everything blew apart, in quite a spectacular fashion.  The small sparks suddenly exploded out of all proportion.  Family relationships, careers, friendships, even a marriage, all burned up in the unplanned extra, the middle of the triple spiral that touches all three worlds, the sacred centre of every circle.  The world of Fire.

We survived Fire, but we did it as individuals.  Our work exploded and imploded, and, speaking for myself at least, evened out (eventually) into a steady, burning core of power and connection that touches all the worlds.  And it is that connection that has been my most important lesson.  Nothing stands alone.  There are stories within stories, sites within sites, people within people.  Inter-linking circles, spirals, which join place to place, people to people, and one time to another.  None of our sacred sites is just one thing, at one time.  None of our deities or archetypal characters stand alone, none are confined to one location, one function, one relationship.  None of the Daoine Eile are restricted to one role, one aspect, one place.  Recognising and studying the layers, the overlap, the bridging points, is essential.  Working between worlds can be a key to understanding Irish traditions.

Book Review – Fairies by Morgan Daimler

Lora with the book Fairies by Morgan Daimler

Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages   
  • Publisher: Moon Books (December 8, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782796509
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782796503
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches

On the Cover:

The subject of fairies in Celtic cultures is a complex one that seems to endlessly intrigue people. What exactly are fairies? What can they do? How can we interact with them? Answering these questions becomes even harder in a world that is disconnected from the traditional folklore and flooded with modern sources that are often vastly at odds with the older beliefs. This book aims to present readers with a straightforward guide to the older fairy beliefs, covering everything from Fairyland itself to details about the beings within it. The Otherworld is full of dangers and blessings, and this guidebook will help you navigate a safe course among the Good People.

 

My Review

Those who know me, know I’m no stranger to Daimler’s work.

Is it too early to start raving about this book? It might be too early to start raving about this book.

Inside you’ll see chapters on…

  • Fairyland
  • Basic Facts about Fairies
  • The Courts and Divisions in Fairy
  • The Kings and Queens
  • Denizens of Fairy
  • Fairies in Tradition
  • Mortal Interactions
  • Fairies in the Modern World
  • Dealing with Fairies

Each chapter is excellent, academic and in-depth but eminently readable; treated with Daimler’s usual deep passion for the topics, and a touch of soft humour here and there.

Ok, now I’m gonna rave about it. I LOVE THIS BOOK!

As a native ‘Celtic’ (Irish) priest of the Old Ways here in Ireland, I view all of Daimler’s work as an invaluable resource, and highly recommend anything that flows from that brain.

The world needs more people teaching everyone how not to get screwed by the Fair Folk 😉

 


 

YOU CAN BUY THIS BOOK HERE ON AMAZON.COM

YOU CAN BUY THIS BOOK HERE ON AMAZON.CO.UK

 

(these are affiliate links, I’ll get a few cents if you shop through them, but it doesn’t cost you anything!)