The Irish Otherworld Archives - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
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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

At Caiseal Manannán

Aerial photograph of Cashelmanannan from the west (After Waddell et al. 2009, fig 6.7). Note the two 'annexes' attached to the main enclosure.

A clash of metal rang out over the training grounds, followed by a muffled grunt of exertion, and the wooden thud of shield engaging shield.

“Put yer backs into it little wormies! Domhnall, keep that shield up, yer shoulder is wide open. Aoife, thrust and slice, stop that bloody hacking!”

Her attention caught by the familiar morning sights and sounds of Corbhall putting the young warriors through their paces, she couldn’t help but smile as he met her eye with a wolfish grin. The benevolent smile faded somewhat as she observed him raise his leg and let rip a loud fart in her general direction. She sighed a little, observing him grab up a large wooden waster and stride off towards the hapless Domhnall, who was about to get a very practical lesson in what happens when a person leaves their shoulder exposed in a battle situation. Well, at least he was using a wooden training sword this time, and not his own fierce blade. Phuic’s latest ‘little chat’ with him must have done some good.

As she turned to go inside, movement through the hawthorn boundary stirred her curiosity, and she stepped towards it for a clearer view. As her home was situated with the School to the east and the Procession Ways to the west, she gained a clear view of the latter direction by moving through a small gap in the boundary with her back to the morning sun.

A tall, graceful figure was moving softly over the grass, and Leila recognised her immediately. Alone, as usual, the girl Saille made her careful way to a point exactly between the two raised banks, placing herself at the start of the ritual procession route. Pale arms seemed to glow in the bright morning light as she raised them in salute, the loose sleeves of her robe falling back lightly, and fluttering as she turned to face the newly risen sun. Eyes closed, she did not notice that she had an audience. Opening her mouth, her voice poured forth – the strong beginning note sounding pure in the morning air. Respectfully, Leila turned back, not wanting to disturb the solitary girl’s rituals, or embarrass her with observation. Besides, it was time to make her way to the School, classes would begin shortly.

Gathering her things from inside, she shut the door on her way out and walked a brisk pace around the training grounds, out to the horse fields. If she didn’t collect little Anande every day that child would never set foot in the classroom. Leila doubted she would ever do anything that didn’t involve those horses, unless someone cajoled, begged or forced her to do it. It had been the very same since she had arrived for fostering at the age of 2 – she was already grooming and working with horses by then. 8 years on, the obsession had only grown deeper. Her own breeding pair were her pride and joy, a fine white stallion she had called Tír na nÓg, and a proud dark mare who went by the (somewhat risky, Leila had often felt) name of Mórrioghan.

Indeed, her hard work and dedication had already paid off, with their offspring highly sought after – holding top position in many races each year, all over the land. Anande’s talents had come to the notice of the Queen herself, and it was known that she would have the option of a place in the royal household when she came of age. Although knowing that girl, she would probably never venture much beyond the stables and the horse fields, once she didn’t have to.

With the Óenach just around the corner, Leila braced herself for the frustrated tirade she knew was imminent. Sure enough, as soon as she came into view, Anande was upon her, demanding to know the news – would she be allowed to compete her own horses this year? Every other year she had been judged too young, even though her skill was equal to any grown man or woman. Privately, Leila supposed that the judges were listening too much to the whispers of their friends – friends whose whispers were fuelled mainly by fear of being beaten by a 10 year old girl. At these large community fairs, pride was everything; Anande represented too much of a threat to the long established egos.

“I am sorry mo leanbh, I have not heard a decision yet. But it would not do to get your hopes too high. You are young yet, and there is plenty of time to compete. This year again, the children of your horses will run, and be shown, and all will see and know your gifts with these creatures. Your time will come.”

Leila waited patiently while the girl cleared up and said goodbye to her friends, preparing herself for another day away from them. Hearing a grumpy ‘harrumph’ from the mare, she turned to find a large hairy hound loping across the open ground towards them, tongue lolling with exertion from the run. Greeting him with a smile, she spent the remaining wait for the child stroking Phuic’s sleek black head, and scratching his soft furry back. When Anande was ready to leave, they set out together, Phuic still in his hound form leading the way to the School.

When Leila had first arrived at Caiseal Manannan, it had taken her a while to get used to the Shifters.

Nervous at first, she had avoided their company, keeping largely to herself, as much as possible. But she had soon realised it was impossible not to like Phuic, with his easy going nature and boundless energy. The rest had taken her longer to get to know, with Corbhall being the last and latest. That one still made her slightly uneasy at times – the singular nature of the warrior wolf a contrast to Phuic’s flexible changing. The man did a great job training the young warriors though, she had to give him that. It made up for some of the noisy body functions and harshly practical and abrupt personality, at least.

Approaching the School, the trio made their way up by the stone wall of the first enclosure, over the ditch and in through the largest, central enclosure. Beyond the next ditch was the third enclosure, where her classroom was situated. Opening the door wide to catch the early breeze, she decided that today was a day for outdoor learning; perhaps a walk to identify some new plant species, and a lesson in the afternoon regarding the medicinal and magical properties of their new found flora. Phuic was already settling into his shift mode – which she still, despite her best efforts, found difficult to watch – for he would need human hands again to complete his daily tasks. It was not easy to maintain the armoury or practise sword forms with the hooves of a goat or the talons of a raven. Anande picked the broom from the yard, making her way to the classroom door to begin the morning sweep. Leila was close on her heels, and they both stopped short when they encountered the man seated inside. Uncurling from the chair, he rose and followed them as they backed out into the open. Phuic looked up in surprise at the unexpected visitor, but when he identified who had joined them, he quickly took his leave. Anande too, found somewhere else she urgently needed to be. Left with a polite smile glued to her face, Leila barely suppressed the flutter of panic in her breast. The man watched Phuic enter the main enclosure and disappear into the armoury, waiting for the last longing look that inevitably reached Leila as he left, and nodding with seeming satisfaction as it arrived right on cue. Leila failed to notice either man’s actions, her eyes on the ground.

“Sit with me.”

The command was not harsh, but it brooked no argument, so Leila sat at his feet. As she looked up into eyes that gave their colour to the seas, she felt nervous tension drain from her shoulders, and took a deep breath. This refreshed her. However apprehensive his unexpected presence had made her, they shared a trust carefully built with years of respectful interaction. She closed her eyes, and allowed his voice to transport her…

“You are floating. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in a currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and look outward as you journey.

An island. People, music, fire. A confusing jumble of strange activity, odd clothing, incomprehensible speech. You move on, away, seeking forward on your journey.

Another island. Large structures, fast moving objects. You move on. Another, a large procession, giant green hats and banners, standards and crests unrecognisable. You move on. Faster and faster you move by the islands, none are right for you to see. Metal monsters that roar and speed faster than you can follow. Houses and keeps taller than any tree, taller even than the mountains. Music and sounds so loud they hurt the ear. Plants and animals so alien to your eyes. Colours and lights brighter than the stars, than flames, brighter than the summer sun. People of so many tribes, in garments and materials the like of which you have never dreamed. Doing things you can make no sense of. Your boat skims onwards, forwards on your journey.

And stops. This island seems empty, the shoreline clean and unbroken by habitat. Your currach washes up, bow softly kissing the sand. You disembark, sandy shingle quickly giving way to smoothened rocks as you make your way up the beach, then to wiry scrub, and finally to grassy land. There are trees you know, some small plants that are recognisable. Familiar forest noises, soothing after the strangeness. Then human sounds, voices in the distance. No discernible language, but shouts and laughter that seem to indicate contented playfulness. Continuing in that direction, you keep to the cover of the trees as you come to an open space, a clearing, in which a family are at rest. Not wanting to disturb them, you simply see.

A young boy, about 6 or 7 years old – shouting and whooping as he runs through the long grass. He is broad shouldered for one so young, sturdy and healthy looking. His sisters chase him, laughing carefree girls of early puberty, maybe 11 or 12; there’s not much between them in age. The younger girl is fit and strong, whooping with sheer pleasure, filled with energy and raw power. The older is graceful and willowy, more reserved than her siblings, joining in as she wants to but deliberately curbing her enthusiasm, and often distracted by some small detail, mesmerised in her own world until a shout or a poke brings her back into the game.

The grownups sit and watch, at ease with each other and comfortably familiar. He is a young old man, whose countenance seems to shed a light all his own; a bright, happy soul who cannot help but show his adoration for the family, and a deep self-satisfaction with the situation in which he finds himself. Fit, with a warrior’s movements and the innocence of youth. And she, she is dark of hair and light of skin, taller than a woman should be, but striking. There is a… presence about her, something that is hard to describe, a power that lies smooth under the surface. As you observe her, puzzling, she turns and looks directly at you. With no surprise, she smiles, and nods hello, and you return the courtesy. With that recognition, you know it is time to leave this happy family, to return through the trees, to the beach, and climb in to seat yourself in the currach.

The sea swells gently to carry you back, away from the island and back out across the waves. As you return, you think of this family, the knowing smile of that mother, safe in her home surrounded by her loved ones, and you can’t help but smile again.

You are floating again. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in the currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and hear my voice. You remember those people. Their spirits are familiar, you have met and known them already, and will remember and love them again. Keep that calm centre within you as you travel your outward journey, and when you are ready, just open your eyes…”

And she did.

***

This piece grew from a character banter/brainstorm with the kids in the car on the way to school one morning. I write the following when I returned home, and the rest came later.

Saille: Priestess in training. Mystery figure who refuses to engage with anyone. Age undetermined.
Anande: 10 year old horse breeder/trainer. Not allowed to compete her horses in the óenach, too young! But there’s men of 50 who aren’t ¼ as good as she is. She keeps a mare and a stallion who’s offspring regularly win the races, breeds horses for the king and the queen themselves.
Corbhall: 19 year old warrior who farts a lot! Trains all the child warriors at the school, and can shape shift into a wolf.
Leila: Teacher in Caiseal Manannan.
Phuic: Shape shifts – black dog, black stallion, black bird. Young warrior knight.

All that aside, Manannan is a fascinating figure in Irish Gaelic tales. In his essay, Dr. Charles McQuarrie describes:

“Manannan mac Lir, the sometime god of the Irish Sea and lord of the Otherworld, who appears most often as a beneficent Otherworld-god-in-disguise. In some tales, especially the earlier ones, Manannan appears disguised as a noble mortal king, but in later tales, as in a number of 15th century sources, he appears in bizarre, horrible, and even comical disguise.”

The late, great, Prof. Dáithí O hÓgáin described him as “Otherworld lord and mythical mariner”, who rode over the waves on a horse named Enbharr (‘water-foam’), and the professor tells of the waves being called ‘the locks of Manannan’s wife’.

This son of the sea is associated with stone remains lying South West of Rathcroghan mound. Caiseal Manannan was a multivallate stone fort, made up of three concentric stone walls, with ditches between each – a site which may originally have incorporated a roofed structure. The inner enclosure is 40 metres in diameter, and the walls are approx. 1.5 metres thick. There is reference to a ‘Druidic school’ in the area, and Caiseal Manannan (the stone fort of Manannan) is a likely site for that.

Learning journeys to the Otherworld, teaching the secrets of safe travel, the mysteries of warrior training and initiation, and the priestly arts… it all had to happen somewhere, right?

[Excerpt from ‘Rathcroghan: A Journey’, eBook by Lora O’Brien. For more in the story series, see Tales of Old Ireland – Retold]

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.

The Síd at Kesh Corann

Fionn MacCumhaill, leader of the noblest band of Irish warriors, the Fianna, sat on the hunting mound at the Sidhe of Kesh Corran, taking in the sights and sounds that made his heart most happy.

His men were spread below him on this fine sunny day, ranging the fields and forests, their great hounds barking and baying around them as they brought down kill after kill. The Fianna would feast well that day.

Conaran however, who was the Sidhe (Otherworld, Fairy) King in those parts, was less than happy to see his old enemy in such a fine, untroubled mood. And with the rest of the Fianna busy hunting, he decided the time had come to do something about Fionn for once and for all.

Three of Conaran’s four daughters were nearby, although neither the men of the Fianna nor their chief could see a bit of them, because you never can see the Sidhe unless you are in their world, or they want you to see them in ours. The King called his brood – who were as ugly a bunch as you ever saw, and worse again – and told them what he wanted. Then, by his magical arts, he opened a door to their world in the side of the Sidhe mound on which Fionn was taking his ease.

After a while, the warrior chief climbed down to join the hunting party below, and was astounded to see the three sisters sitting spinning in a cave that he was sure hadn’t been there before he’d climbed up.

Now you couldn’t call any of these Ban Sidhe beautiful. Well, you could I suppose, but you’d be telling a lie if you did. Fionn though, was a curious sort, and wanted to see more – it might have been the whiskers he thought he could see on their faces? Whatever was driving him to it, he stepped inside the mound.

As soon as he passed the holly on the threshold, a weakness came over him, and he could no more lift his own arm than he could have lifted a whole mountain at the best of times. He tried to give the whistle that would warn the rest of the Fianna to danger, but he was so weak that all the sound he could make was a chuff like a baby falling asleep, and sure that’d warn nobody.

He was bound by the sisters with every knot and tie they could think of, and as each warrior came looking for their leader and stepped inside the mound, the same fate befell them. The Sidhe mound was filled only with the sounds of gently chuffing babies, until every single man of them was captured and bound the same way.

But their dogs were not. As each man entered the mound, ignoring the warning signs in the search for his leader, his hound refused, and soon there was a great pack of barking, baying dogs gathered outside.

Finally one of the warriors, the last of them left outside, had the sense to be cautious enough not to follow blind into danger. The hideous sisters watched Goll Mac Morna stand his ground outside, and decided that three against one was a fair enough fight for them to take him on. They were wrong, of course.

Though it was hard fought, Goll managed to chop two of the three into halves and bits; so there were warts and twisted fingers on one side of him, gnarled toes and crooked noses on the other. Panting with the effort of it all, he extracted (in exchange for her life) the firm promise of freedom from enchantment for the Fianna from the last sister, who was so terrified by then that her whiskers were all atremble, on both the outside and inside of those livery lips.

She kept her honour, and released each of the warriors to sit out in the sunshine and shiver until their strength returned. The doings of that day did nothing to ease the enmity between Fionn and the Sidhe King Conaran, nor his remaining Ban Sidhe daughters – nor even the animosity between Fionn and Goll MacMorna.

But sure, they are all stories for another day.

 


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Part 9 – Dearg Corra – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 9 – Dearg Corra

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

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

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

 

[Check Part 8 Here…]

 

Dearg Corra

Placement ~ Fenian Cycle

Pronunciation:  Jee-arr-g Korr-ah.  Also called Derg Corra.

Dearg Corra will usually only be referred to as a servant of Fionn Mac Cumhaill.  This is due to the somewhat strange story about him from an 8th Century text, which seems to be a survival of (or a way of collecting) older stories/references concerning the character.

The story goes that he was Fionn’s servant, and was propositioned by a lover of Fionn’s who had taken a liking to him.  When Dearg Corra rejected the woman, she went to the Fenian leader with a story of being raped, and the servant was banished.  While hunting in a forest, Fionn later came across “a man on the top of a tree with a blackbird on his right shoulder, and a bright bronze vessel in his left hand, in which was a leaping trout; and a stag was at the foot of the tree.”  Fionn didn’t recognise the man as he had hidden himself in a Féth Fiadha (pron. Fay Fee-ah), which is a magical ‘cloak of concealment’, but he could see that the stag was sharing apples with him, the blackbird was sharing nuts with him, and the trout was sharing water from the bronze vessel with him.  Fionn then placed his thumb in his mouth to access his own magical seeing ability, and proclaimed the following: “It is Dearg Corra, son of Daighre’s descendant, who is in the tree!”  These quotes were given by Kuno Meyer in the Revue Celtique 25.

Alwyn and Brinley Rees “merely mention” the character of Dearg in the context of an enemy of Fionn, who is perhaps a supernatural malevolent burner.  They use the fact that he is said to have jumped “to and fro across the cooking hearth” to support this.  Dáithí Ó hÓgáin goes into the whole thing in far more detail.  His take on the story is that the only way to explain the supernatural elements contained within it, is to view it as a survival of a “cult of some divinity”.  He links Dearg Corra to a fire God, giving the word Dearg (which means ‘Red’) as a common enough name for a God in Early Ireland, along with the connection to his ancestor Daighre (pron. Dar-ah, meaning ‘flame’) and attributes his aforementioned fire leaping as symbolic of the flames cooking food.  He links the deity to a possible Irish representation of the horned animal God whom the Continental Celts referred to as Cernunnos; a name which will be at least familiar to most modern Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans.  The evidence for this is, admittedly, circumstantial.  Dearg Corra symbolising the provision of sustenance (his role as a servant, his connection to the cooking of food), his role as protector and sustainer of wild animals as the hunters quarry, his skill at concealing himself from your average prying eye (even Fionn with his Seer’s abilities had a bit of a job in identifying him), and the best surviving example of the Cernunnos figure in all his glory (seen on the inner plates of the Gundestrup Cauldron, now housed in the National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark) shows him surrounded by animals such as the stag and the fish, among others  – all of this does seem to point to the true role of Dearg Corra being more than it initially may appear.  Ó hÓgáin also further connects the character (or at least the name) of Dearg with aspects of the God of death, Donn, and with the Dagda; seemingly in the context of more violent deaths and slaughter.

Though there is little concrete evidence for the death connection, it makes sense to me that a God of life would also have a flip side concerned with death, and that a protector of animals who also works for or with a hunter figure such as Fionn, would preside too over the violence and death of the kill.  If nothing else, he could make sure it was done right.  And as the prevalent horned animal God figure, referred to as Cernunnos by archaeologists, appears to have been quite widespread among the Continental Celts – and indeed, Proinsias MacCana even makes connections with an Indian God form appearing on a seal found at Mohenjodaro; who may be a prototype of Shiva in his aspect as Pashupati, ‘Lord of the Beasts’ – I am not sure it is too far fetched to conclude that there quite possibly was an Irish God who represented the same values and concerns, at some stage in our history.  There is certainly, in my experience, a native Irish Being who responds quite happily to the evocation and invocation of Cernunnos or the ‘Horned God’, which I  have experienced while working in the Irish landscape.

From a modern magical perspective, Dearg Corra can be seen to be  primarily concerned with, or representative of, the following:

  • Fire; for cooking, and sustenance.
  • Forestry, and forest dwelling wildlife.
  • Protection of, and continual provision for, the hunted.
  • Concealment, especially from those who have no business with seeing.
  • Right conduct of the hunter, honour and respect in the kill.

If you choose to work with Dearg Corra, or indeed, he chooses to work with you, a forest setting would be particularly appropriate.  Look for him in the trees, and by the camp fire or cooking pit.  The wildlife he sustains could be your guide: especially look to the stag, the blackbird, or the trout to direct you to him.  Whether you visit his dwelling places in this world or through connection to the Otherworld, be watchful.  Trust in your own ability to see and your power to connect, as Fionn did.

 

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

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 4 – Between the Worlds

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

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

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

 

[Check Part 3 Here…]

 

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

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

Creation of Sacred Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Differing Traditions Do It (Generally Speaking…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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The Ninth Wave

The Celtic Sea

I sat on the shore, watching the dance and sparkle of sun on water, and seeing nothing. Nothing dances inside a heavy heart, nothing sparkles through a weary, worn spirit. I was nothing, then.

The great sea heaved its rhythm through my head regardless. The pattern of waves inserted into my mind, inciting me to notice, to follow, to count the waves. Each one lapped in, and out, with steady ebb and flow. I followed. In the cycle, one to eight were even, and then the ninth came. The ninth wave came each time; larger and longer, bolder and bigger, fine and free the ninth wave fell.

I watched each time. I felt it coming now, a familiar build through the order, and then the crash and boom, the expression of power and promise. The sun danced and sparkled on the water, a broad golden glitter, a pathway pulsing with each wave, and never clearer than on the ninth. Promise. The Land of Promise lay across the broad ocean, Tír Tairngire. It called to me, to come away, to follow the path across the sea and find my peace in promise.

And the ninth wave brought a distant shadow on the horizon, but when it fell to shore, the shadow passed. Each cycle brought the shadow closer – a smudge with the coming of the next ninth wave, and a shape with the show of the next. A silhouette, a figure, a woman. She stepped then across the golden glitter with the lightest of feet, calm and balanced as she rose and fell, moving to shore and nearer with each ninth.

Her face and form awoke me, my heart and spirit responding to the perfection of sheer Sídhe beauty. My eyes had never rested on such wonder before the vision of her approach.  She strode the sea as a creature born to it, finding with each footstep a perfect wavelet crest on which to float. When she reached the sand, she stopped, the water bearing her weight without a touch of land beneath her. She beckoned me from my daze. When I stood in front of her, her radiance near blinded my eyes and I wanted more, I wanted the sight of her to be the last thing I ever did see.

Her name was Cliona, she said, as I stayed dumbstruck in her presence. Descendant of Lir, and daughter of Manannan, Keeper of Oceans. Her voice soothed my soul as the sound of gently lapping water, as the sound of a breeze sighing through seagrass. She came with the waves to answer my call, she said; to offer succour, to bring me to promise. I wanted that. I wanted to sit with her, to see her face, to hear her voice, to feel all that I felt in that moment for ever more. I wanted that with my heart, with my spirit, with all that danced and sparkled in her presence.

She lifted her hand and pointed along the shore. A currach lay there, up the way a bit and broken a bit, as it hadn’t been treated yet for the season. I went and she watched as I pulled it over, and satisfied myself that it would float at least, across the golden pathway to get me to Tír Tairngire. I lifted and dragged the little boat  down to the water’s edge, to where she stood with waves licking her toes and heels, and I pushed it out into the sea, wading til it was born afloat, then climbing inside.

I watched her face as she kept pace with the craft, as the waves brought us away from land. I focused on her form as each ninth wave lifted us higher, pushed us farther along the path that disappeared rapidly as the clouds came down. I listened to her laughter as each ninth wave crashed each time onto the bow of the boat. My heart danced and my spirit sparkled as Cliona’s ninth wave crushed my craft, bringing me to the promise and into her world…

 

That’s not the last time one of us was brought to their world in such a way… but sure, they are all stories for another day.

 

 


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