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.
Each month on My Patreon Membership Site I release a series of Rewards through various tiers of membership/support. For example:
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.
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.
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
Now, a couple of things stand out for me here.
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.
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.
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 🌈👍
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…
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.
Known as Young Aengus, he is often spoken of as a God of love and youthful pleasures. Daragh Smyth referred to him as the “greatest and wisest of magicians of the Tuatha De Danaan”.
His name has been translated in many ways. Aengus means ‘true vigour’, this is generally agreed upon. But the ‘Mac ind Óg’ part, though often translated to mean ‘son of the two young ones’, would be grammatically incorrect as such. Dáithí Ó hÓgáin states it is accepted that the original form of this name would actually be ‘maccan óc’ or ‘in mac óc’, which instead puts him as ‘the young boy’. There are many tales that survive that illustrate Aengus as a youthful expression of Irish deity.
His conception and birth story is an obvious example. From a 9th century text we learn that the Dagda is his father, having desired his mother, Bóann, Goddess of the river Boyne in county Meath, and wife of Nuada (later known as Ealcmhar). Brugh na Bóinne (pron. Broo nah Boy-nah, which we know as Newgrange) was their home. The Dagda was king of all Ireland then, and he sent Nuada away on a journey. He then magically stopped time, making the night disappear and Nuada feel no hunger or thirst. The Dagda lay with Bóann, nine months went by, and she bore him a son – after which Nuada returned, not having noticed the passage of time and remaining in the dark (so to speak) about what had happened. His mother named him Mac Óg, as she said “young is the son who was begotten at the beginning of a day and born between that and evening”. Aengus was fostered and reared until he was 9 years old by Midhir at the otherworldly rath of Brí Léith (now known as Slieve Golry and located on Ardagh Hill, in County Longford). He became a champion hurler in that time, but during a quarrel on the field one day, another player told him that Midhir wasn’t his real father; actually he called him a hireling whose parentage was unknown. Aren’t kids lovely?! This set Aengus off on a mission to find and secure his true heritage. He was advised by Midhir (whose name may have originally meant something like ‘judge’) as to who his real parents were and where his inheritance lay, and proceeded to meet with the Dagda at Uisneach, in County Westmeath. In the Book of Leinster the story then runs thus:
Mac Óg asked for his share of land after the Dagda had apportioned all of the Sidhe mounds to the lords of the Tuatha De Danaan. He was told there was none, for the Dagda had completed the division. “Then let me be granted”, said the Mac Óg, “a day and a night in thy own dwelling” (Newgrange). When that time was up and the Dagda asked for his home back, Aengus’ reply was quite cunning. “It is clear,” he said, “that night and day are the whole world, and it is that which has been given to me”. In the story ‘The woo-ing of Étaín’, it is given that the dwelling belongs to Nuada, not the Dagda, and the latter advises his son on how to gain possession, notably on Samhain eve, which he does after the day and night similarly on the grounds that “it is in the days and nights that the world is spent”. Nuada is named as Ealcmhar for this tale, which meant ‘the envious one’. Although he was given another dwelling as compensation for his loss, I suppose Nuada can’t really be blamed for being a wee bit envious after such trickery.
As far as source material on Aengus Óg goes, we also have a rather interesting text which is called Aislinge Oenguso (pron. Ash-ling Eng-guss, meaning ‘the vision of Aengus’). The story was given in Revue Celtique III, by E. Muller, and by Francis Shaw in 1934, and goes like this.
Aengus is asleep one night when he sees a beautiful maiden approach, but as he reaches out to touch her, she disappears. As a year goes by and such visits become a regular occurrence, he pines for the lack of her. He falls in love with her as she comes to him in his sleep, and plays him music, but he can never reach her nor find out who she is. As he continues to sicken with longing, his physician approaches his mother for help. Bóann searches Ireland for a year, but fails to find the maiden, and Aengus continues to waste away. The Dagda is sent for, and with the help of Bodbh(pron. Bove, a king from the Province of Munster whose knowledge was celebrated through all of Ireland), and another year’s searching, the girl is finally named and located. The maiden is Caer Iobharmhéith (pron. Care Eevor-vay-th, meaning ‘Yew Berry’), and they find her at Loch Bél Dragan (now known as Lough Muskry, in the Galtee Mountains of County Tipperary) in the midst of a hundred and fifty maidens, each pair linked by silver chain. They track her back to her father’s home in Connaught, only to discover that he has no power over her, and that she spends alternative years as a maiden and as a swan. They determine she can be found again at Loch Bél Dragan the following Samhain with a hundred and fifty swans about her. Unable to recognise her at first in that form, Aengus calls her to him with the promise that he will return to the lake with her, and when she comes he puts his arms around her, and sleeps with her by taking the form of a swan himself. He then encircles the lake three times in her company, thus fulfilling his promise, and the pair fly off together back to Brugh na Bóinne, where their sweet song puts all who hear it fast asleep for three days. Caer stays with her lover in his dwelling after that.
Aengus Óg is given as being concerned with love, both his own entanglements and those of other couples, in many sources. In a story of unfulfilled love, when his intended went with Midhir instead of him, he cast “the blood red nuts of the wood”, his food, down onto the ground in anger. Clíodhna is said to have loved him, and indeed one tale says she drowns as she goes in search of him. He lends his horse to an eloping couple, who is said to have been so huge that when they stop for a rest and the horse urinates, it forms Lough Neagh, which is the biggest lake in all of Ireland. Aengus also appears as the patron and protector of the later Diarmuid, a Fenian warrior, who elopes with the intended bride of Fionn Mac Cumhaill – Gráinne – helping the pair escape their pursuers at least twice when all seems lost. Eugene O’Curry, writing in 1873, relates how a mediaeval text describes how he forges four of his kisses into four birds “which charmed the young people of Ireland”.
Dáithí Ó hÓgáin attributes his ownership of a “wonderful multi coloured mantle” (which only appears to be a single colour to a man about to die), to the suggestion of the exuberance of youth which lingers about him. Daragh Smyth puts his role in later medieaval romances as a somewhat wily character down to the possibility that Christian scribes may have found it necessary to belittle such an important and powerful figure. He also ascribes the survival of Aengus into Irish folklore as a frightener of cattle – as illustrated by Lady Augusta Gregory, who wrote “…every sort of cattle that is used by men would make way in terror before him” in her ‘Collected Works’ – as perhaps due to the fact that his mother is the cow Goddess, Bóann.
To my mind, Aengus Óg does indeed seem to still be concerned with lovers and with guidance of youthful exploits and experiences. A close friend of mine related to me an experience she had of being spontaneously contacted by him in a time of loneliness and despair. This is not a girl who is given to flights of fancy or wishful thinking, be sure on that. During a personal meditation, which took place in her home, in which she was seeking… something – guidance, answers, help perhaps – she experienced the following:
I got an image of a man standing in front of me (around where my altar is, I was kneeling in front) and he handed me a white flower, and I just (don’t know why) figured it was Aongus. But I’d never worked with him or called him or anything before, or thought about it even. I don’t really know why I thought it was him, I just thought it was, so I figured I should find out some more information. He wore a tunic I think, but my idea of a vision wouldn’t be as clear as yours. I remember the flower and the man and the hand handing it to me. And, I felt comforted.
From a modern magical perspective, Aengus Óg can be seen to be primarily concerned with, or representative of, the following:
If you choose to work with Aengus Óg, or indeed, he chooses to work with you, pay special attention to birds, either physical ones presenting themselves to your notice or those that appear as imagery or visionary visitors. Depending on what aspect of his help you seek, a lakeside setting might be appropriate. For general knowledge, you might try to focus in on the image of his kisses as birds, his multi coloured mantle, his huge horse, his relationship with cattle, the swan imagery, or soothing music. Samhain Eve has figured in relation to him, so this would be an appropriate timing for your work, again depending on what aspects you wish to attune to. Time wise – the turning of night to day or day to night, the magical span of dawn or dusk, will be potent power points to work with this deity. The ancient site of Newgrange itself would also be a good place to figure in, or indeed any of the locations mentioned above in connection with Aengus Óg.
So, as part of my Meeting the Morrigan Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Morrigan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priestess.
8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.
I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog.
[Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]
Shannon Duerden Thompson asked: “What about ways to be of service to Her, and to the community?”
There was a blog post and some social media hoo-hah a while back, originating from a self-styled community ‘elder’ or leader, who was giving out… now, this person is kinda known for giving out, and a whole lot of other problematic shit besides. So, I didn’t read it all.
But the gist was they were giving out about people who tied their activism with their service to Her.
For me, political and social activism is very much a part of my service to Her, and that’s by Her request… so I mean, to each their own. But for me, that’s very much a part of how I serve.
That whole thing about, y’know, showing up and doing the work – part of that for me is standing up and being present, being a voice for people who can’t speak for themselves.
Now that’s not everybody’s path, and I’m very, very aware of that. I would never want or expect anybody who didn’t feel safe doing that, to feel that was part of the work that they had to do, or that they couldn’t work with the Morrigan unless they were socially/politically active.
But my activism; my politics, my fighting for equality and for everybody to have crazy stuff like basic human rights, is very, very important to me – and to Her, as I understand it – as part of my service to Her and my community.
That’s very much a part of my priesthood, but it’s not all about shouting people down or being on the front lines.
If you’re not able to be on the front lines, there are so many ways that activism work can be done. Calls, emails, letters and postcards all need sending to lobby politicians and organisations. Having those difficult conversations with family and friends – Click Here for Resources for White Allies.
Support work is also essential, keeping hearth and home. If somebody is out being a warrior, and that’s not you, that’s fine. Those warriors need somewhere to come home to. Those warriors need feeding, those warriors need hugs and minding and healing.
You don’t need me to tell you how fucked the world is right now, whichever part of it you live in.
As well as me doing my own work, on and offline, I am also a voice that calls people out to do their own work.
It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing. – Rev. Charles F. Aked
If you’re genuinely doing what you can do, quietly, offline or in private, then those call outs – or calls to action as I prefer to think of them, as I don’t generally personalise them – are not for you.
We all need to take care of ourselves through this, and each other. I totally understand folks only have a certain amount of energy and resources (spoons) to spend – perhaps due to their own trauma, physical or mental limitations, or other responsibilities – and have to figure that accordingly.
A problem occurs though, when you start talking online about what for you might be genuine reasons not to be politically or socially active, and essentially lazy folk around you will hop on that, using it as an excuse to blithely sail on by… Because it’s hard, and they’re not being directly affected (yet), and they’re only looking for excuses to stay comfortable and living the easy life.
Of course, that leaves the people who are directly affected right now with even more work to do, on top of that whole trying to survive thing that they’re doing every single day.
So all of this is part of the service to Her and to the community that I see happening right now, and a need for right now. Feel free to follow me on Facebook for daily activism resources and talking points for allies who work this way, whether you are in service to the Morrigan or not.
(thanks to Marjorie for the transcription service from class, much appreciated!)
It was fierce cold for sure out there, away from the light and heat of the feast. Eoghan hated gatekeeping duty, but it was his turn and that was that, so there he sat.
Young Fionnuala had slipped him a wineskin full of the best from inside in the kitchens, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been at least. He could hear the occasional strain of the harp though, and the odd waft of roasted meat drifted up to him even there, causing his mouth to water and his belly to rumble, and his mood to darken even further. He’d told Fionnuala there was no need for guard duty this night – the walls at Tara were the soundest in the land, and sure everyone who would be coming was inside already. Nobody missed a feast of the Tuatha De Danaan.
Sudden thumping from outside the gates jolted him out of a doze and made a liar of him, for there was most definitely someone there who wasn’t inside already, and didn’t want to miss the feast at Tara, judging by the clatter they were causing. Owen made his way down to the small gate and pulled back the hatch so he could see the head of whoever was outside.
The warrior, for he was undoubtedly a warrior, was alone, and he looked pleasant enough. There was a fierce brightness about him, even in the gloom of the evening, which Eoghan couldn’t account for, so he left that thought alone and reverted to his customary gate query – who was this stranger disturbing the peace at Tara, and what did he want. He was called Lugh, this bright warrior, and he wanted to join the feast within. But sure the seats were all full, and everyone who was supposed to be coming was inside already; what did they need another for?
Well, it turns out this young man could lay claim as a master Builder, one of the best in all of Eireann, and surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table? But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Builders, and sure what would they be needing another for? Well, it turns out this young man was also a master Brazier, one of the best in all of Eireann, and could keep the fires in all of Tara lit and tended no matter what came. Surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table? But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Braziers, and sure what would they be needing another for? Well, it turns out this young man was also a master Harper, one of the best in all of Eireann, and his music would soothe the very soul of any who heard it. Surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table? But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Harpers, and sure what would they be needing another for? They progressed through a range of skills: Lugh was a Smith who could craft with any metal, a Champion of all games and arts, a Poet who could charm or curse with equal skill, an Historian who would recite the families and battles of all Eireann through the ages, a Cup-bearer who would never spill a drop, a Magician who could control the very world around them, and even a Physician who could cure all ills, excepting if a head be cut clean off. But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan had all of these people skilled in such things, and sure what would they be needing another for?
Ah now, says Lugh, and tell me Gatekeeper – but do you have any man or woman within the walls of Tara who can do ALL of these things? Eoghan was forced to admit that no, they did not, and the stranger was welcomed on the back of that. Lugh was announced as the Ildánach – the many skilled one – and that was the first they’d heard of him, though not the last.
But sure, they are all stories for another day.
When I first went ‘public’ with this over 3 years ago, it seemed a novel idea to many folks, and maybe a little bit… extreme or some shit?
But it’s always made sense to me, for a few reasons:
So, this is how it works.
I check for the astronomical data on new moons on Irish time in October and November.
The night before a listed new moon is the dark moon – there’s usually a 3 day period of ‘New Moon’ that’s actually the very last sliver of the old moon, then the dark moon, then the very first sliver of the new moon.
The dates are simple and clear this year (2017), the New Moon is Thursday 19th October at 8.36pm Irish Time, so tomorrow is the Dark Moon – Wednesday 18th. In November, the New Moon is on Saturday 18th at 7.51am, so the Dark Moon on Friday 17th, and that clearly encompasses the calendar date of 31st October in the middle.
Sometimes the dates are a little less clear, so I always just pick the dark moon to dark moon that has the 31st October somewhere in there between them.
Mostly, my practice involves showing up consistently. It’s one of my ‘3 Cs’ of spiritual work:
Exactly what work I’ll be doing when I show up every day through my Samhain cycle varies from year to year.
Currently, I know it definitely involves morning tending and prayer at the Mórrígan altar (click for more info that) before my household wakes, continuing with my ‘Get in the Sea once in each 7 day period’ for at least the full run of this (I’m hoping for the sake of my poor, frostbitten fingers that I will be able to shelve that one at east ‘til the warmer weather once Samhain is done), and I’ll need to get out with bare feet on the earth under the sky and see the moon, every single night.
I’ve a few other ideas as to what I might have to do… but I’m hoping they’re not necessary. Still holding out hope for an easy life over here someday, as I’m pretty sure this shouldn’t be approached like the Ordeal Olympics with folk vying for who has the most hard-core contractual load being placed on them.
Essentially, I’m lazy as fuck, and if I wasn’t being God-bothered to do this stuff, I’d be tucked up in my Batman jammies and cozy toes slippers, HAPPY OUT.
Anyway, I’ll keep ye posted how the Samhain cycle progresses, but be prepared for me being even more than usually grumpy with the Mórrígan, and now Manannán Mac Lir (click for more info on him) for good measure, as I get even more God-bothered into doing shit I don’t want to be doing, and don’t even really understand why I have to do be doing it.
How’s your Halloween season shaping up?!
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.