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An Irish Mythic Model for Celtic Virtues, Part 3 of 6

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on April 8, 2014 at 3:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Traveling sunwise around the compass from West, we arrive in the North.  Fintan tells us thus about the mythic attributes of this direction ~


‘Her battles, also,’ said he, ‘and her contentions, her hardihood, her rough places, her strifes, her haughtiness, her unprofitableness, her pride, her captures, her assaults, her hardness, her wars, her conflicts, From the northern part in the north.' 


The social caste/role associated with the North is the Warrior.  The warrior fights for the tribe, and also for personal prestige.  The warrior boasts his skill, his hardiness, and his prowess.  The warrior must practice and maintain certain virtues in his role, to earn the respect of his people.  These are virtues we can all look to and cultivate within ourselves, to both better ourselves and strengthen our people.  These are the three virtues one may associate with Warriors, in the North ~ 


Courage 

The Warrior must face skillful and powerful enemies, and potential wounding, maiming, and death with each war and personal bout.  The Warrior could not serve in his role if he allowed himself to be overcome by his fears.  Instead he learns to recognize them, face them honestly  without flinching, and find the inner fortitude to move forward despite them, and through them.  All of us face fear and conflict at some point in our lives, and internalizing the power of the Warrior of the North can help us move through them with inner strength. 


Perseverance 

In addition to battles, the Warrior must endure lengthy training drills, marches, rough terrain, harsh weather, hunger, exhaustion, and strict discipline.  The Warrior cannot successfully serve in his role if he allows himself to be easily overcome by such obstacles, if he cannot find the inner reserves to help him navigate hardship.  Rough places, strife, and hardness offer us opportunities to challenge our comfort zones and find our inner strength, but we will have lost the chance to learn and grow if we give up right away.  The Warrior shows us how to cultivate Perseverance in the face of the hardness which the North presents. 


Honor 

Both on the battlefield and off, the one way that the Warrior maintains respect among his tribe is by displaying Honor in all that he does.  The mythic warriors of the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha dé Danann both met and settled on terms of war, allowing each party adequate time to prepare.  There are Irish Triads which tell of how a warrior must behave- always speak kindly and courteously to all parties; never mock old men; do not use force when off the battlefield; and be mindful of and maintain the safety and care of the little ones.  When a Warrior breaks these codes, he loses the respect of his tribe, and loses prestige among his fellow Warriors.  The Warrior reminds us to always strive to speak and act with the utmost integrity, for not only do we speak and act for ourselves, but for our people, and so not only will we draw respect for ourselves, but for our people.  The times of strife and hardness can test our Honor most of all- how a person behaves under duress is very telling of their character.  Maintaining our Honor is also more than a personal character exercise, though; when we all strive to maintain our Honor, we maintain what is best about society- we uphold the Cosmic Truth of our ancestors, bringing their blessings upon us here and now, for all our people.     

An Irish Mythic Model for Celtic Virtues, Part 2 of 6

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on April 5, 2014 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

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In the Celtic fashion of beginning days with sunsets, the discussion in The Settling of the Manor of Tara describing the qualities of each direction aptly begins with the west:  'Her learning, her foundation, her teaching, her alliance, her judgment, her chronicles, her counsels, her stories, her histories, her science, her comeliness, her eloquence, her beauty, her modesty [lit. blushing], her bounty, her abundance, her wealth — from the western part in the west.’ 


The direction of the west, and hence the western province of Connacht, is being associated with the druid's many roles within the tribe, as the scientific, legal, historical, and religious councils of the people.  From these presented qualities, and the roles of the druids, what mythically-grounded virtues can we infer, which might be recalled and cultivated within all the people? 

 

Knowledge

Acquiring knowledge of both the seen and the unseen worlds and beings is highly valued, and is readily demonstrated by all castes of peoples in the myths and folklore, so can be considered a 'universal' virtue in this capacity.  Sometimes knowledge is directly sought, and sometimes it is proffered as a gift, whether desired or not, but in all cases it comes as a result of practicing right action, usually following both natural and social protocols.  When one does what is right, cosmic knowledge freely flows to one, which must then be properly used so as to uphold cosmic order for one's people. 


Truth 

"The Truth facing the world" is an ancient Irish motto encapsulating the druidic worldview.  This Truth stems from the Well of Wisdom in the Otherworld, which poets and mystics could access by partaking of the waters of its five rivers, or by eating the salmon of wisdom who swam in the Well, feeding on the nuts of wisdom falling from the hazels ringing it.  The Fire in the Head then spouted forth wisdom, indicating how the people might align their actions with otherworldly and cosmic action, maintaining the sacred balance between the worlds and among all beings.  Thus, when all people align themselves with Truth, they uphold cosmic order for themselves and their people, that it may continue to bring blessings to all. 


Peace

The druids practiced diplomacy between tribes when altercations arose, and only when diplomatic proceedings failed were wars waged.  Druids could even broker for peace on a ready battlefield, and perhaps avert warfare.  Druids also kept peace between the worldly tribe and the otherworldly gods with regular prayers, sacrifices, and offerings.  The folk too kept regular observances with the andé and the sídhe folk, whom they sometimes called the People of Peace.  Cultivating peace among our populations, and within ourselves, brings us into right relationship with all beings, which allows blessings to flow to one's people, and all beings.

An Irish Mythic Model for Celtic Virtues, Part 1 of 6

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on April 5, 2014 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (0)

The mythic foundation is the primordial ground from which a people craft their culture, for it is in mythic time that the first precedents were set by the mythic Ancestors, being both the dé agus andé, the gods and the ungods, for they intermarried and formed alliances with one another.  Through their actions and discourse, the shape of the culture is framed.  The people will take their examples as guides by which they are to be steered into right action, to maintain cosmic order, which will bring continued vitality and blessings for their people. 


Some people today studying and taking personal and spiritual inspiration from the Iron Age Celtic cultures have proposed different lists of Celtic virtues over recent years past, but few have sought to ground their lists mythically rather than socially.  Looking to a model grounded in myth contextualizes both social and spiritual virtues into a visual-spatial format which can be recalled and dynamically engaged, adding more layers through which one can integrate and access such cultural guidance. 


The Irish myth which presents the model is The Settling of the Manor of Tara, which may be read here: https://www.oneeyedman.net/school-archive/classes/fulltext/www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/tara.html ; In it, during the tri-annual Feast of Tara, a seating dispute breaks out, pointing to the fracturing of cosmic, and subsequently social, order which occurs when right action is not followed.  The high king and guests frantically ask after the proper order of things, yet nobody present seems to recall.  Several parties are then sent for, who are determined wise enough to give counsel on the matter, leading to one after another, until at last Fintan mac Bóchra is found and brought in, and he begins to share his tales. 


He relates the coming of the many mythic and historic peoples into the land, and the first judgments made therein.  When the people then ask him how he comes by such knowledge, he relates a story of knowledge given to him by a fair giant as high as a wood named Trefuilngid Tre-eochair, Triple Bearer of the Triple Key, who agreed to share the order of the land with the people of his day who had need of it in their time.  He is described as being a god who controls the setting and rising of the sun, so clearly one in touch with cosmic order, fitting the epithet 'Master of All Wisdom.'  He is also said to be the consort of the triple goddess Macha, who is the Mare representing Sovereignty of the Land, making him a mythic High King, also a keeper of cosmic order.  He carries the triple key which is a branch, triple bearing nuts (probably hazel), apples, and acorns, all mythic embodiments and symbols of otherworldly knowledge and wisdom, the third thing connecting him with cosmic order.  He therefore presents an eminently qualified figure to dispense cosmic wisdom to the people, which he does, to seven wisemen from each corner of the land, including our Fintan mac Bóchra, now the oldest seanachaí, or story/lorekeeper, in the land.  Then, to test his pupil, Trefuilngid interrogates Fintan in traditional style, so that Fintan may retell what he's learned.  From this exchange, we learn the mythic lay of the land.  This exchange begins thus: 


‘O Fintan,’ said he, ‘and Ireland, how has it been partitioned, where have things been therein?’

‘Easy to say,’ said Fintan: ‘knowledge in the west, battle in the north, prosperity in the east, music in the south, kingship in the centre.‘


This then draws for us the mythic model, which takes the shape of the Celtic Cross: a circle delineating the whole, quartered by a cross delineating the cardinal directions and the four directional provinces of Ireland, and their intersection in the center, delineating where they come together, which forms the central province of Meath, meaning middle.  Each direction and its corresponding province takes on certain qualities which speak to the nature of the different roles, or castes, of ancient Irish society, and it is the roles of these populations which may infer a set of mythic virtues by which a people might be guided.  In keeping with the triples presented in the myth, and rife within Irish culture overall, three virtues will be discussed in the upcoming five posts, each set stemming from its corresponding mythic quadrant of the circle, and its center. 

Why I am a Gaelic Polytheist

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on April 10, 2013 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (3)

There is a blog challenge on at Patheos right now, asking its bloggers to sum up, in 200 words, why they practice the religious tradition that they do.  Here is a link to Steven Thor Abell's Why I Am a Heathen post, with links below to posts by other bloggers on Patheos' Pagan channel:


http://www.patheos.com/Pagan/Why-Heathen-Steven-Abell-04-04-2013.html


I thought it would be fun to respond with my own blog post, so here is, in exactly 200 words, my own piece:


Why I Am a Gaelic Polytheist


I am a Gaelic polytheist because I have heard the call of myancestors since my youth, and the call of the gods of my ancestors, and I have answered.  I have always felt a pull to my heritage and its traditions.  In my younger years, this pull culminated in a pilgrimage to the lands of my ancestors, and in my recent years, it has manifested in a family tradition shared with my children.  The creideamh sí inspires me because it allows me to find my place in this world in myriad ways.  Its culture gives me a place inthe river of clan, between ancestors, dearly departed, children and descendants, with a rich heritage to inherit, study, live, and pass on.  Its worldview paints a picture full of poetry that sings to my soul.  Its values of justice and right action help me live in balance.  Its traditions help me keep in good relations with the powers of the land with whom I share this place.  The Well of Healing and Wisdom offered me its waters and I have drunk deeply.  Brìde has fostered and guided me and I feel Her fire in my head.  My spirit is home. 


Care to take up the challenge?  Leave me a reply, either written out, or a link to your own blog post, about why you are who you religiously are, in 200 words!

 


Samhain 2012

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on November 4, 2012 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (3)

Teaghlach Abhainn Mhòr has officially observed Samhain.  Not everything went as I'd planned (because it never does), and not every experience is what I had hoped it would be, but I have learned a thing or two along the way.


Our observation was spread out over a couple different moments, although that wasn't quite the intention.  The original plan was to hold a family-wide Harvest Dinner, inviting the grandparents, uncles, aunt and cousins over for an evening of family fun and togtherness.  I asked each household to bring along a dish to share, either a harvest-themed dish, or one reminding them of a loved one who had passed.  Then as we sat down to eat together, we could tell each other our ancestor stories.  The plan was well-received by all parties, but then life interceded, as it likes to do.  My mother came down sick and so my folks weren't able to attend.  My brother's car was deemed not road-worthy so he and his partner stayed home.  Then my sister-in-law's parents came into town for a surprise visit and they had to entertain their family.  That left my mother and father in law.  Happily they were still game to come along, and my MIL had already shopped for and cooked her dishSo I cooked my meal, set up the table and chairs, decorated the house, and had to come up with a plan for entertainment, because the game I had planned for the kids to play would not longer be relevant with the cousins out of the picture.  I bought the family version of Apples to Apples for us to play, as we have the child version and were ready for the update.  Dinner was a good time.  We shared our ancestor stories briefly, I had tidied up my ancestor shrine and had its candles lit, and we had a great time playing the game.  I had hoped we'd also get outside for the patio fire (over which my boys make s'mores), but it got late for the grandparents, and after they left, it felt late for us too, so we scrapped it for the night, thinking we'd catch it up the following night.  I left a plate of dinner for the ancestors on the hearth, and we went to bed.  The next evening we were still tired from the day before and put off the fire again. 


Fast forward a week and a half to todayI took my boys out for our second annual Cemetery Visit to the small pioneer cemetery tucked into a nearby neighborhood a few blocks up the road, to honor the ancestors of place; some of the earliest families who settled this area are buried hereI packed the picnic basket with remnents of my great-grandmother's applesauce bread I'd baked for the Harvest Dinner and Ancestor Feast, some apple cider, a candle and lighter, flowers from the Harvest Dinner evening, and a book of poetry.  We set out in mild afternoon weather for the walk, not even needing our coats, which is quite surprising for around here November.  We talked about life, death, and rebirth as we walked, and how our ancestors live on in us, as a part of us.  At the cemetery I lit the candle and set it down at the base of one of the central trees, a tall Douglas fir.  We made offerings of the bread and poured a libation of the cider after we each partook, and then I read one of Shakespeare's sonnets, speaking to aging, dying, and life going on.  After, we took a stroll around the cemetery, just maybe an acre or two in size, looking for the oldest dates and stones, trying to remember where we'd found them the year before.  We stayed until my youngest decided he was cold and his feet were getting sore, so I ended the visit with another short poetry reading, Requiem, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Then we packed up and headed back home. 


While I like what we did today, and the time we spent together, my youngest was definitely not feeling connected to this exercise in ancestor veneration.  He prefers scientific explanations for things and tells me he feels sad remembering deaths, feeling he'd rather not do it.   He also says he doesn't feel anything when we do these things together, except maybe boredom.  This made me feel pretty discouraged.  I questioned myself as to why I am sharing this traditional Celtic worldview with my kids.  I asked my oldest later if he enjoyed the afternoon and he said, yes, it was fun to read the headstones and see the old dates on them.  I asked him if he ever felt bored during our family ceremonies and he said, no, somewhat intrigued, but not bored at all.  I asked him if he ever felt bored when he was his brother's age and he replied, yes, sometimes he did, but he doesn't anymore.  This encouraged me after my earlier discouragement. 


I began to see a pattern of childhood responses that move with their ages and stages, and how my youngest's current response fits into it.  When children are young they are just happy to be a part of their parents' world.  At the pre-teen stage they begin to loose interest, unless the events include enticing elements like parties, games, stories, or sweets, which I do try to incorporate in some way most of the time, just for that reason.  But at the mid-teen stage they begin to be able to appreciate the depth and nuance of the traditions as their brains mature and process on another level.  So rather than giving up out of discouragement at the 'slump stage' of interest, keeping up the forms allows youths to remain close to the traditions so that they might begin to become aware of their deeper meanings when they are able to better grasp them.  I also think of this as leading them to the Well, but accepting that it is up to them whether or not they choose to drink.  I can share the traditions with them, but they will decide for themselves what they make of them.  However, what they make of them might change as they grow, and cutting short their exposure might cut short their own opportunities to connect with the traditions and glean wisdom from them


We never did get around to our Samhain fire; the unused kindling is stacked in the fire dish, and the firewood has gotten wet in the rain.  I don't know now if we'll be getting to it at all; life keeps getting in the way.  But I will take to heart the lesson I've had in ages and stages (yet again!) and continue to keep the faith, keeping up the traditions of my ancestors, for the edification of my descendants, so that their wisdom and truth can remain available to those who might find meaning in them, when the time is right for them to do so. 

Should Your Raise Your Kids in Your Religion?

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on October 20, 2012 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (1)

I see this question come up in various pagan fora and am always surprised by the typical response. 


Often there is a sense of knee-jerk reactions to forced church indoctrination as a youth, and a shying away of repeating the same form with a different religion.  The common answers go something like, I don't want to force my religion on my kids they way Christianity was forced on me, and I have a liberal attitude to religion, so I'll expose my kids to -all- religions and let them choose for themselves, because you can't tell someone else what to believe. 


I disagree with this sentiment in nearly every way, and have not arrived at these same conclusions, despite being taken to church myself as a child.  I'd like to unpack this point of view and illustrate why such concerns need not be the case, and why this liberal approach might not be in a family's best interests. 


First, the issue of force.  What is it?  It is compelling a person to act against their will by threat of, or under the duress of physical maneuvering.  Is this something most of us, as thoughtful, conscious parents are planning to engage in?  Likely not.  So let's take that notion out of the equation right off.  Families which take children's typical behaviors and needs into account when creating family tradtiions to observe together will ensure compliant participation of all family members in household ceremonies.  Does this mean one must ask their children if they -want to- participate?  I think not; just simply set the tone that this is what we do as a family, and proceed to do it, without any fuss over the matter.  If they are young they might not focus much and run around, in and out of the ceremony.  Or, they might be fascinated with the special occassion and all it entails and be enthralled with it.  Just let them come to it as they are personally ready, observing as long as they need to before being active participants, or give them little jobs to get them directly involved.  Joyful participation happens on its own in such a conducive environment.  Such family ceremonies build family bonding amongst members and a sense of shared family culture within the household as a unit, and this feeds a child's innate need for belonging.  When a child has a strong sense of belonging, she feels secure in her place within the household and all that being a part of it encompasses.   


What about the liberal idea of exposing children to all religions so that they might make their own choice?  Especially when children are young, I don't recommend this.  Of course religious literacy is important in our pluralistic society, and being educated on the ways of others will help one to better understand and communicate with many types of people, and these are laudable; being educated and erudite are always positive things and to be encouraged towards -those- ends.  But what are we really asking of the child, when we spread the worlds faiths before him like a smorgasbord and say, choose?  We are asking a child to comprehend worldview and theology and mythos and make a decision for themselves as individuals.  Part of this liberal philosophy is understaning people to be essentially separate individuals with personal freedoms which should not be infringed upon, even the freedoms of children.  But young children's brains have not yet developed the higher cognitive thinking to grasp these abstract ideas and cannot make reasonable choices about them at this stage.  Further, it gives a child a sense that he is 'other than' his parents, or might be, which can feel unstable, alienating, even frightening.  Family traditions observed as a family give children a sense of belonging that they inherently crave and which helps them to feel secure.  Removing this security in the name of choice which a child is not yet ready to comprehend does not foster family culture.  Naturally as a child ages he will better grasp these larger ideas, ask in-depth questions, and many interesting conversations can be had as to the nature of the world, the gods, our relationships with them, and what makes them significant.  And ultimately our children will grow into adults, when of course each will choose for themselves what path to follow, as is the natural course of things. 


Another aspect of this speaks to a sociological function of religion, that being, to teach the nature of right and wrong.  Different traditions have different ideas about this.  If you allow your child to go picking and choosing faiths you are allowing someone else to instill their ethics code into your child, which may be at odds with yours.  Do you want somebody else determining what is right and wrong for your children?  Such fracturing in ideas can be damaging to family culture as well.  Again, as children age, they will naturally have questions about these ideas, which can lead to deeper discussions and further thought.  Your older child might not always agree with you, and this can be a healthy sign of a growing and enquiring mind.  But providing a firm bedrock of ethics for the home will always give your child something to fall back on and feel secure in even while they question and wonder as their brains continue to develop and lead them into new areas of thought. 


Such areas of thought then lead us to what we believe, individually and/or collectively.  While it is true that you never can really tell another person what to believe, the good news in traditional polytheist religions is that you do not have to, and in the end it is not the most important aspect of praciting the religious customs.  In traditional polytheist thought, religions are primarily orthopraxic, meaning based on shared custom, rather than orthodoxic, or based on shared belief, as are the Abrahamic faiths.  This means that a family can share household ceremonies together even while various members may have different ideas about the meanings of the ceremonies.  Truth and value can be derived from the customs even if deep theological belief is absent.  And again, as your children grow, this idea is fodder for many wonderful and interesting conversations you and your children can have together.  As they get older they will naturally arrive at their own conclusions, or more likely an evolving set of them.  But these need not impede enjoying family ceremonies together, and further, as practicing together creates senses of belonging and security, it then lead to identity.  When children identify with their cultural orientation they feel a sense of pride towards it and enthusiastically embrace it, or at least feel a comortable sense of knowing who they are in a diverse society.  This helps diffuse some of the anxiety surrounding identity issues youth might face in the world among their peers and help provide them with a strong sense of who they are.  This in turn helps them to be less likely to be influenced by negative peer pressures, or turn to peer culture to meet those inherent sociological needs for belonging, security, and identity.


Practicing the traditions together with your children is a special thing to do for them, and with them while they are young and growing, for the groundedness and closeness and security it brings them.  These can only be positive forces on growing children, and need not impede any of their natural mental or spiritual development at any stage of their lives.  Further, religion is designed to foster relationships with what is deemed important in a given worldview, and helping your children see the meaning in those relationships will give them a foundation on which to build, adding their own insights as they grow.  It is also designed to help people cope with life's difficulties, and giving them coping guidance can benefit them substantially.  Ultimately, they will choose their own ways as adults, maybe even as young adults still living at home, but the core senses of belonging, security, and identity must always be heeded in fostering a strong family culture within the household, and practicing religious traditions together as a family works tremedously towards those ends. 

We Are Family

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on October 14, 2012 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (2)

Cha nigh na tha de uisge anns a' mhuir ar càirdeas.

All the water in the ocean could not wash away our kinship.

~traditional Gàidhlig proverb

 

It is in the story of our kin and our teaghlach, household, that we see the river of continuity in which we find ourselves, from the beginnings of our earliest ancestors both human and mythic, into the times and histories of our own dearly departed and parents, down through ourselves, and on into our children and grandchildren, flowing on endlessly, with ourselves always having an integral place of belonging within the stream.  No matter who, or where we are, we are always and forever a part of this river, for better or worse.  And each of us has a duty to uphold the integrity of our family and kin and their well-being; physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  While many of us may come from families of dysfunction, it is up to us as adults to embrace true family values, those which serve to foster healthy families at all levels, re-learning them where needed, and live and model them in our homes for our children, doing so as we safely may where dysfunctional family members are concerned.

 

The men and the women of our Gaelic tribal forebears were strong in mind and body and many rights were given to each of them among the many kinds of marriage allowed for in the traditional Brehon Laws.  Relationships of shared power are paramount for today's marriages as well, which should include joint decision-making and care-taking of the needs of family and home. 


Child-rearing in the teaghlach is a very hands-on endeavor in order to, a) parent as consciously as possible by recognizing and honoring the uniqueness of each child; b) to be humbly willing to learn and grow as a parent; and c) to understand our multi-faceted duties towards the mindful raising and guiding of our children into humans of honor and integrity.  Vigilance is required to practice parenting with integrity and to guard against parental pitfalls.  Family dysfunctions can be passed on if parents choose not take responsibility towards understanding generational problems and seeking to overcome them, which can perpetuate the dysfunction and pass the responsibility on to the next generation to face.  Similarly, hands-off parenting, while perhaps not overtly dysfunctional, can leave our children afloat in a world ready to entice them with vapid pop-culture and dangerous diversions and leave them emotionally unequipped to handle themselves with confidence in the face of these influences. 


Rather, it is with cultural and familial identity, strong family bonds, mindful parental guidance, a secure home in which to belong, and the parent's being willing and able to see and nurture each child's unique being, that children can thrive, flourish and mature into courageous, confident, capable and compassionate adults.  We do this by affirming, emotionally and spiritually, at every stage of their growth and development our children's special gifts and passions, as well as their inherent belonging within and responsibility towards their family, their teaghlach.  It is the parents' special obligation to model for their children what it means to function as a member responsible to the teaghlach, to teach the understanding that one's identity is a 'we' as well as a 'me,' and to demonstrate that each member of the teaghlach has an integral  part to play towards the fostering of an ordered, healthy, and happy family home.

 

Celtic Feast Days with the Family

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on September 27, 2012 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (4)

Everybody loves a holiday.  We all look forward to those times to gather with family and friends, to celebrate the bounty in our lives, and relax in the good times.  Our holidays also keep us in touch with our worldviews.  The Celtic feast days guide us round the year, tying us to seasons, seasonal activites, and to the Aos Sí.  The holidays can also tie us to our values.  It is this facet of the holidays I've been thinking on lately, and wanted to share my musings with y'all. 


What I want to draw for you is a map.  Not a map of place, but a map of the cosmos and the people.  The map itself functions like a compass, guiding and directing its viewer.  I will incorporate accepted ideas into this map as well as a few of my own insights.  I will also use familiar ideas and objects in unusual ways.  For example, the form of my map is a Bríde's Cross: 



The Bríde's Cross, or Cros Bríde, is a familiar image to those practicing the Creideamh Sí.  I make a new one annually at Imbolc and burn away the winter by casting my old one on a fire.  Awhile back I began seeing it as a map for tracking the seasonal holidays.  I envisioned the sun in the center, with the spoke to the right being its sunrise and representing the new light of the year at Imbolc.  I saw its downward spoke as a full-sun phase represented by Bealtaine, bringing in the summertime.  I saw the left-hand spoke as the sun's wane, and consequently Lughnasadh, time of harvest, and the year's wane.  The upward spoke then is Samhain, in the time and season of darkness, from which the new year and new light will emerge.  When I talk to my boys about the season changes and turning of the holidays, I will use our household Cros Bríde as a physical guide to demonstrate these ideas. 


The other day I began musing on an expansion of this map, in a sociological sense.  I was thinking, that along with using this map as a device to demonstrate time, I could also use it to demonstrate values.  I don't mean values in the sense of truth, hospitality, honor, etc.  I mean values in terms of what kinds of relationships are most prominent in our tradition, and how we could us the holidays in part to focus on those and take the time to ensure that we, as households and individuals, are in right relationship with those things.  Each relationship category corresponds to a spoke and season on the Cros Bríde map, and provides a deeper and fuller way of engaging with the seasons and feast days.  Let me take you on another turn around the map and explain what I have in mind. 


We will begin where Celts always have begun, in the dark.  At the top-most spoke we stand in the place of deep night, in the season of Samhain.  It is from the dark of the year that it's new life and light is born, and it is from the darkness of womb or egg that new life emerges.  Where can we say our souls rest and gestate, before birth?  Or, where will they go after the passing away of bodily life?  To the place of the Ancestors, the unseen Otherworld.  The darkness represents that part of the world we don't see, and those most prominent members who reside there.  This is of course the traditional time of the year to honor the Ancestors and so it is at this time we as a household ensure that we are in right relationship with them.  We do this by making offerings to them, by remembering their names, recalling their deeds, and honoring their cultural gifts.  Traditionally it is Donn who is seen in Irish folklore who is keeper of the realm of the Ancestors, and it is to his house, Teach Duinn, the dead are said to go to then be guided to their otherworldly abode.  In honor of the Ancestors we as a household visit a local cemetery in our neighborhood, a tiny one originally developed by the pioneering families of this area, now surrounded by suburban developments and a small park.  We leave offerings of flowers, food and drink there and thank them for their hard work in forging a place to live here for future generations, and we talk about what kinds of obligations we have to our people, to ensure a bright future for them.  We also honor our own Ancestors by leaving out an offering of the family feast for them, inviting them to visit and bless our home in the season of darkness and light the candles on our household Ancestor shrine, which we have freshened up for the holiday and dressed with flowers.  We remember that it is from our Ancestors that we come, and that it is to their ways we look in order to carry on their lifeways in our lives and pass them down to our young and future generations.


Turning sunwise round the Cros we come to the right-hand spoke, time of the new light of the day and the year.  The freshness and renewal of life is born from the darkness, just as we are born from the darkness of the womb into the light of our world and families.  Because household families are the first communities into which we are born and on which we initially depend, the season of Imbolc can be said to relate with the Household Family.  This is already evident in the nature of the holiday itself from folk culture, as it was a time of birthing lambs and counting the stores from winter, and blessing the home for the coming year of growth.  This makes it a good time for families to focus on helping each member to be in right relationship with one another, and with the family as an overall entity.  How does each member contribute to its well-being?  What tasks and skills and talents are needed to ensure the health of the family unit and home?  Are those needs being met, and how can each member's gifts and responsibilities improve home life for everyone?  As are the Ancestors, Family is a cornerstone of a Gaelic folkway lifestyle, and every individual in it is responsible to it as a whole, so that family and home can continue to be places in which each member is nurtured and supported.  Families can honor home and family at Imbolc by first lighting the household hearth and there making offerings of milk and cakes to Bríde.  Then they might light a candle from the lit hearth to invoke the new light of the year, carrying it round the house sunwise together, once or thrice, reciting the house blessing charm to Bríde.  Afterwards families might talk a little about the importance of family and home, what is needed to take care of it, and how each member pitches in.  Children's jobs around the house might be reassessed at this time, and upgraded as they get older, or household skills might be expanded upon for the young ones.  The importance of family might be stressed; that every member has a right to feel safe and loved in their home, and that our primary duty towards each member is to take care of each other.  Every member should feel proud of their family and home and secure in their belonging to both.


Taking another sunwise turn we reach the downward spoke, place of high sun and high summer, season of Bealtaine.  Now that we have been born into the Family from the place of the Ancestors we encounter what supports the family and home: the Land.  Summer is the time of fertility and growth, the products of which feed and nourish the family.  In the Gaelic folk tradition, the Land is also Sovereignty, Flaithas, an independent goddess who must be honored and partnered with in order to gain her blessings for the people.  Those blessings are maintained so long as justice rules among the people, but is lost when injustice reigns, and its loss is traditionally evident in crop failure, catastrophic weather, and strife among the people.  Good land and animal husbandry must also be practiced to ensure ongoing fertility and so how we tend our flocks and fields is important.  Seeing the Land as a goddess who blesses and supports us so long as we live justly and honorably, we make offerings of flowers, cakes, and cider to her at Bealtaine, near a major river, to ask for her blessings in the season of growth, and we ensure with our attitudes and practices that our household is in right relationship with her at all times.  We remember to live in Fírinne, or Cosmic Truth, through our just and honorable words and deeds and so ensure the continued blessings of the goddess of the land for our people.


Another turn round the Cros brings us to the wane of the sun and the year, the time of harvest at Lughnasadh.  We were born from the place of the Ancestors into the Family, and then brought out onto the Land, and now the Land is ready to give up her gifts to feed the people.  The people must all come out in force to do the work of bringing in the harvest for winter, and so here we encounter the Tribe, all working together to benefit each member.  The Tribe is lead by the culture hero of the Gael, Lúgh Lámhfada, who lead the Tuatha Dé Danann into a battle of freedom in which the secrets of agriculture are revealed.  There is also an old story in which Lúgh battles Crom Dúbh, the dark crooked one, for the harvest, and upon winning, carries off the goddess of the land and her harvest gifts.  Before the work of the harvest begins, though, the Tribe must gather, and so they reassemble from their summer places.  This is the time of the year extended families often go on vacations or reunions together, reassembling themselves before the busy fall season returns, reenacting their own Gathering of the Clans.  This is also the time of year for county fairs, which display the harvests and skills of the people, and of Highland Games, in which traditional skills and wares are demonstrated and shown.  These are all direct descendants of the Lúghnasadh fairs of our ancestors which convened for at least two weeks in August, sometimes a full month, before the work of the harvest needed to be attended to.  Traditionally the Funeral Games of Tailtiu are held at this time, instituted by Lúgh in honor of his giantess Fir Bolg foster-mother who died in exertion while clearing fields for her people to cultivate.  This may the origination of the tale of Lúgh battling for the harvest and winning the land goddess and her bounty.  At this time the household often has its own extended family gathering of sorts, and it is a good time to reflect on how we each take care of each other for the benefit of everyone and common interests.  It is an expansion on the family and home theme, but offers further ways in which each member might support the health of the whole, and how each role within is valuable in doing so.  Now the one who was gestated with the Ancestors, born into the Family, and raised on the Land can now see what life paths are before him to choose from, which meaningful ways in which he might aspire to grow to support his people.  She comes to know the fullness of her belonging, the greater entity in which her life dwells and to which it is responsible, and which contains and carries on the traditions and lifeways of her people.  The Tribe will be blessed and nourished by its time spent in gathering, and family members will be reminded of their place within.  A Tribe might formalize this time together by making offerings of spirits and meat from the tribal feast to Lúgh, and by building a fire together composed of materials from each household's resources, ceremoniously lit from a relit candle brought from each household which had been lit from its hearth, carrying its spirit within its wick.  Around this tribal hearth, each member might re-pledge what s/he will do to support the people to see the Tribe through the dark winter and meet its needs.  The Tribe might then discuss how it might reassess or improve itself in various ways, and feast, game, and relax together.  Ensuring our right relationship to our people, our Tribe, ensures a strong Tribe which can in turn nourish and support the needs of all its members. 


So we have made a full turn round the Cros and arrive back in the place of darkness and winter, the unseen otherworld of the Ancestors, to rest and reflect, and know that our family has ensured its right relationships with our Ancestors, Household, Land, and Tribe.  In these ways we maintain Fírinne, Cosmic Truth, and we are in perfect alignment with the gods and the cosmos, and gain the blessings of both.

How Many Holidays?

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on September 25, 2012 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (4)

One of the ways in which a modern Celtic or Druidic group will define itself is by how many holidays it chooses to observe.  Those groups tending towards the liberal neopagan end of the spectrum like to observe eight holidays, both the Celtic and the solar days, fitting them into the mythic construct of their choice.  By contrast, those tending towards the conservative reconstructionist end prefer to observe only the four Celtic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasadh, eschewing the solstices and equinoxes as irrelevant and un-Celtic in origin.  Some organizations require their members to observe only those holidays selected by the organization, and memberhsip is in part contingent upon agreeing to do so.


This strikes me as overly rigid with respect to the folk traditions of the Creideamh Sí, which include the traditional Celtic feast days, while also speaking to the solstices and equinoxes in various ways. 


For example, summer solstice, or Midsummer, isn't attested to as a well-recognized holiday observed by the Iron-Age Celts, but in Ireland folk culture records a Midsummer tradition of local people walking in a procession up a hilltop at a proscribed time, after the faeries have had their celebration, with lighted torches to honor the regional land goddess Áine, who is also a fire goddess.  It is true that this communal ritual post-dates the Iron Age, but it is certainly a tradition of the people. 


Another example is the winter solstice, or Midwinter, at which people ritually gather at Newgrange, or Brú na Bóinne, to observe the solstice sunrise through the portal over the doorway of this neolithic stone monument.  Originally this observance pre-dates the Iron Age, but the local folk have taken it up again, and the incoming Gaels did attach their own gods to the place back in the day, with it being known as the dwelling of an Daghda, and later his son Oengus, who took it off his father in a clever trick, perhaps mirroring the entrance of the new young sun and the death of the old, the renewing of the solar cycle witnessed at Midwinter. 


Yet another example comes from Scottish tradition, near the spring equinox, called Latha na Caillich.  This was the day the Cailleach Beara, Queen and Goddess of Winter, finally departed the land and gave up her battle to keep the growth back, as fertility won out at this time.  I'm not aware of any formal traditions attached to this day aside from simple acknowledgement, but it is present in the folk tradition as a day of note. 


Then there are the many neolithic monuments, especially in Ireland, which mark sunrises and sunsets of both solar days and Celtic holidays, and which have become a part of Gaelic lore through those first Gaels attaching their stories and gods to the places, such as the Mound of Hostages on the legendary Hill of Tara, or Teamhír, which is aligned to the sun at Samhain and Imbolc.  Tara was the traditional place of the Samhain feast in the Gaelic lore and people still gather there today to observe the holiday. 


These all indicate that, for a variety of reasons, and with a variety of connections, either local or diasporal, any household might choose to observe any constellation of sacred events noted in the Gaelic folk culture.  A household with ancestral ties to Muster might like to honor Áine at Midsummer, for example, as may have been traditionally done by their people.  Or, a household wanting to pass on the tale of Oengus tricking his father an Daghda out of his hostel might like to observe or commemorate the Midwinter sunrise at Newgrange, which can be done from afar as videos and photos of the event are often posted online.  The power of darkness giving way to the lengthening daylight might be observed by burying a corn dolly beneath a holly bush, where the Cailleach Beara traditionally threw her wand or hammer which spread frost over the land. 


Certainly the Creideamh Sí includes observance of the four Gaelic feast days, but each household ought to thoughtfully choose which, if any, solar events it might wish to observe as well.  There are certainly cultural precedents for doing so.  A household might like to observe all eight of these events or just some of them.  A household might choose to keep to just the four Celtic feast days.  A household might want to include, along with those four, those solar days which are connected with their ancestral heritage, whether just one, or more of them. Any given household might observe 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 holidays, as they prefer.

 

Most importantly, the folk culture is communally held, for all the folk, and not meant to be owned, dictated, or copyrighted by any one organization.  It is also a living thing which  will evolve and grow, as it has evolved from its Iron Age past.  Perhaps it evolved in part from older, pre-Celtic roots into the Iron Age forms we've come to know today.  Guidance on which holidays to observe can be found in the cultural parameters and precedents of the Gaelic traditions, both past and present, and they make a fine compass by which households might be directed, in and of themselves.

Feeling Lughnasadh

Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on August 3, 2012 at 3:45 AM Comments comments (2)

The season of Lúghnasadh is upon us.  Aside from the feast day and festivals in honor of Lúgh and the Tailltean Games in honor of Tailtiu, it is a turning of the tide, a shift in the world around us, a change in the land and the air.  My mother said to me, it seems like when August comes, summer is winding down, and pretty soon it will be back-to-school time.  I replied, you are feeling Lúghnasadh coming on! 


Historically the season of Lúghnasadh was acknowledged to be two week prior up until two weeks after the current official date of 1 August.  But there does come with the arrival of August, called Lúnasa in the Irish to this day, a certain change in the mood of the land.  Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, I begin to see shortening days, and rivers running low with their rocky bottoms showing.  The grasses and fields and wild weeds on the roadsides are browned in the hot sun; the green season has passed.  The sunburnt leaves of trees show dried out tips against the blue sky, and the blackberry vines running rampant are giving up their first juicy fruits, dripping with the flavor of sweet sunshine.  All over my yard, Spider Season is dawning, with their wee bodies and gossamer webs draped across the spaces between bushes and garden gates.


In my garden I see more signs of the passage of the seasons.  Lúghnasadh begins the harvest season, traditionally of the grains of the fields.  While I grow no grains myself, my gardens do reflect what this start of the harvest looks like.  My summer crops are starting to come on now - my summer squashes, cucumbers, green beans, basil, and parsley.  The tomato and pepper plants are fruiting, along with the apple and pear trees, elderberry bushes, and the pumpkin vines, dangling their promise of ripening before me.  Conversely, my spring crops are finishing up now, burning out in the hottest part of the year.  The last of the perennial herbs have been gathered in for the winter, as they all run to flower and seed now where they stand.  The last of my peas were gathered and their vines cleared out.  My final carrot harvest came in with a bumper crop, leaving its bare patch with lovely, loosened soil ready for birthing new life all over again. 


With these cleared places I make a new beginning.  Although the start of the harvest season is thought of as working towards a culmination and a completion, it is sometimes forgotten that this also provides an opening for fresh starts.  I renew my harvested-out patches with heaps of compost gently worked in, and begin the cycle again.  Now is the time to start my fall garden, my second spring.  In go seeds of green onions, lettuces, kale, and a second round of snap peas.  No persistent spring rains to wet them though!  Out in the hot sun I go then, bringing them the moisture they need in the heat, thinking my watering can and garden hose akin to Lúgh's seasonal thunderstorms bringing rain down to the parched land.  We'll see a few of those yet, and have seen one or two already, but seeds need more than the occasional flooding those will bring, so I am out midwifing new life in the garden again, awaiting the arrival of my wee green babies.  I will ask for Brìde's blessing to be on them all the same, even as this is the time of Lúgh. 


At Lúghnasadh I will give thanks for all the garden has brought our household through the spring crops, is beginning to give up in the summer crops, and promises to deliver in the months to come.  Offerings from the garden will be on the Lúghnasadh altar.  Our thoughts will turn towards those harvests yet to come, and with them, the winding down of the summer and the growing season, the coming dark, and the gathering-in time.  But before the return of the dark, one more spring will flourish in my garden, it being a sweet (and tasty!) reminder than all our endings are opportunities for new beginnings.


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