Archive for the ‘Celtic Tradition’ Category
Ogham letter: F
Ogham name: Fearn
Celtic tree month: mar18th to ap14th.
The alder grows to a height of approximately sixty to seventy feet with a girth of twelve to fifteen feet. Juvenile trees are conical in shape rather like fir trees but as it matures its crown becomes more open and straggly. The leaves of the Alder are roughly round in shape, pointed where they meet the stem and slightly flattened at the other. In colour the leaves are a dark glossy green. There is no autumnal colour so to speak, the leaves just get darker and darker till they fall as, sometimes as late as December.
The Alder has male and female catkins on the same tree, the female catkins look like small cones which stay on the tree all winter.
The leaves of the Alder make an excellent poultice for all sorts of swellings and inflammations. This could be because the Alder is reputed to be able to balance fire (inflammations) and water (swellings) it is said placing Alder leaves in work boots and socks helps tired and aching feet, I wonder about this as I would think this to be jolly uncomfortable. Alder bark made into pills was said to have been beneficial in the treatment of general digestive weakness and enteritis. A decoction of the bark was once used to try and stem internal bleeding. The same decoction could be used as a gargle.
There are several possible meanings to the name Alder. One being that it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon root Alor or Aler meaning reddish brown. This could be from the fact that the wood of the Alder which is a pale colour turns red when cut leading the wood cutters of old to think that the tree was bleeding.
Another possibility is that in Scandinavian myth the first women was created from the Alder, and in Irish myth the first man so possibly Alder simply means Elder.
The Alder is closely associated in mythology with all forms of resurrection. The alder is closely associated with the yearly cycle of the Sun in fact the spring equinox falls within the month of Alder, a time when the power of the Sun is restored to us.
The Alder is known as a tree which is the King of the Fairies and as such carried people of into the otherworld. This other world thought pattern is carried on in that the bird most associated with the Alder is the Raven. As white birds such as the Stork became synonymous with birth so the Raven was associated with death and the otherworld. It is interesting then to find that the Deities most thought of in respect of the Alder, such as Saturn, Chronos and Bran for the Gods, and the Morrigan for the Goddess are also Raven deities.
Poised between spring and summer, Beltane is the Celtic quarter-marker festival of budding fertility. As the sun waxes brighter in the northern hemisphere, it is a festival marked by flames and bonfires in earthly reflection of the heightening solar powers. The fires are and were also intended to purify the world for the upcoming bounty of spring fruits and autumnal harvests.
Standing as it does on the cusp of warmer weather and as the herald of the vivid growth and coloring of late spring and summer, Beltane was a festival of the in-between. In the ancient mythology of the Celtic Isles, particularly Ireland, it represented a changing of regimes and hunting grounds among the Tuatha de Dannan, the Fianna, and the more human aspects of the ancient population. Famously, the Sons of MÍl (the mythical Milesians) first landed on the southwest coast of Ireland on Beltane in an attempt to upset the balance of power and claim the islands for themselves. As they first stepped foot on the beaches and upon feeling the power emanating from the earth on the sacred isles, connecting them to the sacred day, the sun, and the cycle of life and death; their poet Armhairghin composed a song-chant in honor of the occasion. He sang:
“I am an estuary into the sea.
I am a wave of the ocean.
I am the sound of the sea.
I am a powerful ox.
I am a hawk on a cliff.
I am a dewdrop on the sun.
I am a plant of beauty.
I am a boar of valour.
I am a salmon in a pool.
I am a lake in a plain.
I am the strength of art…”
The sacred place on the sacred day of Beltane inspired an ancient invocation of one-ness between man and the universe: a positive invocation that inspires boundless definitions beyond the borders of human conception and perception. For, like its parallel fall festival of Samhain, it is a time when the boundaries between the worlds is dim. And like Samhain, it was a time when fierce protections were set in place to ensure that the roaming faeries and ancient gods of Dark Age and early Medieval Ireland did not interfere with mortal affairs or kidnap mortals into the Otherworlds beyond the mortal veil. Of particular concern were the Aos SÍ (the people of the Mounds), better known as the Tuatha Dé Danann or the Sidhe: the common name in Irish Gaeilge for the Mounds themselves. These faerie mounds which still dot the landscape of the Celtic isles are in reality Neolithic burial sites. But prior to the archaeological excavations conducted over the past several centuries (and really, still), these mounds were superstitious spots on the map. They were sites associated with the unknown depths of antiquity that had come before and when the early religions of the pagan past were translated into Christian terms as fairy tales and mythic saints, the ancient mounds retained their mysterious symbolism.
Legends held that the mounds variously housed the denizens of faerie or acted as party portals between the mortal realm and the Otherworlds ~ which in Celtic mythology are a complex and intriquing web of inter-dimensional theories modern physics are currently exploring. On certain special days, (Beltane among them) the locks between the layers of reality were undone, and the Aos SÍ were able to travel into the mortal realm via the Faerie Mounds and other portals within the landscape despite their contract with the Milesians that they must remain in the Otherworlds. Often their travels involved wild rides through the countryside or midnight dances near the mounds or in the surrounding forest. Hapless mortals lured into their revelry would often disappear, never to be seen again or returning suddenly years later, thinking only a few days had passed. Such was the case of the literarily infamous Tam Lin from last year’s Sacred Mists Beltane Blog who disappeared with the Sidhe and returned centuries later.
In order to avoid being caught up by the Aos SÍ, various rituals were enacted for protection and to simultaneously draw the good blessings of the faerie folk upon their households. The bonfires, ripe with fertile and purifying symbolism, also serve as faux-faerie fires. In this sense, the bonfires act as a sort of apotropaic magick whereby the humans mimic the revelry of the fey thereby keeping other bands of Tuatha Dé Danann from wandering their way by convincing them that there were already faeries in residence. Less flammable offerings of foods were also often left outside of the house or certain plants or flowers hung over the doorways and windows to keep the sidhe out, while still currying their good favor as they passed by on Beltane, Samhain and other days of the in-between. Milk, honey, cakes, and bouquets of fresh and dried herbs were, in particular, favorite offerings to the faerie folk.
Though Beltane is an ancient festival of hope and confidence, it is still widely celebrated in the modern world as one of the highlights of the Wiccan and Druidic calendar. And the belief in faeries and in other magickal denizens of the house and countryside remains strong the world over. So be sure to celebrate this festival of light, growth, and impending summer. It is a marker of good things to come!
Check out Sacred Mist’s Free Beltane Spells and Recipes : especially the Fried Honeycakes ~ just be sure you make enough for you and the Aos SÍ!
[Pictured at the top is Edward Hugh's Midsummer's Eve].
Given that St. Patrick’s Day is technically a Catholic holiday, one strongly associated with the casting out of the pagan culture of Ireland; it might seem a little anti-magick. And perhaps for the past four centuries that St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated there has been a certain stigma to it among pagan and wiccan sub- cultures. But over the past few decades a marvelous transition has occurred and St. Patrick’s Day is no longer just a celebration of the late 4th century missionary it was created to honor, it is a celebration of Irish culture. And my-oh-my, Irish culture has A LOT to celebrate.
In a certain sense, one can say that Celtic culture is one of the oldest continuing in the world today, often with many of its symbols and superstitions still intact. Established by the late fourth millenium BCE in Ireland, Celtic culture actually originated in the mountains between Europe and Asia, spreading out westward across the land. For once upon a time, “Celtic” culture was not just limited to the British Isles, but swept across much of Northern Europe in various forms like the Hallstatt (8th-6th c BCE) and La Tene (450 BCE-1st c. BCE) cultures. The Celts, tied together by linguistic similarities and an ancestral homeland in the Indo-European mountain steppes, dominated western Europe for a little over a millennia before cultural interaction with Mediterranean cultures, particularly the Romans, transformed their way of life significantly. As one of the farthest western bastions of Celtic culture, one left reasonably undisturbed by the Romans until the early Christian period of St. Patrick, Ireland represents a metaphorical bank vault of less disturbed facets of ancient Celtic culture, and especially its magick and lore. Even once Ireland had adopted Christianity, it tucked away much of its myth ~ hiding it among Christian stories or saints and relegating it to its own realm of well-believed superstition.
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In one of those rare confluences of the natural world, the cusp between December 20th, 2010 and December 21st, 2010 will hold special magickal significance.
Tomorrow, as many of you may well know, is the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day of the year and its longest night. Traditionally it is a time of celebration, of rebirth; as winter fully begins within the grand circle of life, we honor the transition between the seasons. From time immemorial, man and womankind has commemorated both the astronomical event it represents and the symbolism inherent of the occasion. Life and Death, Spring and Winter: the turning of the clock and the changing of the season are inevitabilities we have charted and attempted to understand. We have built stone clocks and viewing points to witness the transition. Neolithic monuments like Newgrange, Ireland and the infamous Stonehenge; as well as modern viewing points like the Sunstones atop the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley display the actual moment of the Solstice as the sun reaches its lowest yearly high in the sky. The parties and festivals to celebrate the Solstice have traditionally lasted much longer than that single moment in time: anywhere from a night of partying to several weeks of merriment. Often several festivals would take place at the same time. In ancient Rome, the Saturnalia, the Festival of Invictus Sol (itself an accumulation of several festivals to many sun deities), and the more ancient Brumalia were celebrated all together. Today the Germanic Yule and the Celtic Midwinter Grianstadh an Gheimhridh still compete alongside the more mainstream Christmas and Hannukah, when really, they too are celebrating that same winter solstice in disguise. At the time of the world’s greatest darkness, we are all working together to celebrate the light.
If you remember we had called peace to the quarters and recited the universal Druids prayer. Now comes something that is only found within Druid rituals and that is the chanting of the Awen. The Awen is the Druids equivalent of the Buddhists Om and in ritual is chanted three time or in multiples of three. Its pronunciation is Ahh-ooo-when. Only then is the circle cast which is what I believe to be the biggest difference in ritual between witches and Druids. The circle is cast often with the use of a sword with the caster using some appropriate words. Once the circle is cast it is then consecrated with water and fire and the quarters called. Within OBOD the quarters are associated with particular animals which are used as the quarter calls East is the hawk of dawn, South is the stag at noon,West is the salmon of wisdom, and North is the great bear. So that is the opening concluded and we move on to the rite.
In open ritual the rite will not normally consist of a magical working, these are reserved for more private workings. In open rituals the rite usually consists of some dramatic material. At the open ritual of the Dobunni grove which is the Grove that is led by professor Ronald Hutton we had a crowning of the May King and Queen. I was honoured to be crowned the May King. The rite within a Druid ritual is quite often a time of fun and laughter as it was this day.
The closing or the time of recall is done as in in most rituals as a reverse of the opening, so we would start by reciting the Druids oath three times. The oath is made up of the words “We swear by peace and love to stand, heart to heart, hand in hand. Mark O spirit and hear us now confirming this our sacred vow. The oath is recited three times followed by three chants of the Awen. At this time the quarters would be closed and the circle dismantled. That then is a Druid Ritual as I understand it to be.
Beltane is one of my favorite turns of the wheel. It is a time to celebrate the sensual and sexual nature of all beings, and to drink in the passion that swirls around us. Here in the northern hemisphere we are seeing the land awaken after a deep slumber through the cold winter months. We see the blossoms appear on fruit trees, with their gentle fragrance and delicate stamen tempting bees toward them in a seductive dance that ensures a bountiful harvest later in the year. The air is charged with fertile, fiery energy that seems to emanate from every direction and fills us with passion as we look around and celebrate life.
Beltane, just as its counterpart Samhain, is a time when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and the two intermingle. It is a time when the faeries awake from their winter slumber and begin to dance and play in the fresh grasses and flowers that herald their coming. In times past, branches of Rowan were set in window sills and flower petals were laid at entryways to serve as protection from the mischievous Faerie folk who were buzzing with energy, much like child awakening from a long nap; ready to play!
It is said that on the eve of Beltane, the Queen of the Faeries rides out on her white steed, tempting those she comes across back to the Land of the Fae. There is a lovely ballad from Scotland, written in the 13th century, called “Thomas the Rhymer”. In it, a young man named Thomas meets a beautiful woman riding a white horse while he rests upon a riverbank. She reveals herself to be the Queen of Faeries (Elfland) and, after sealing him to her with a kiss, takes him on her horse. They ride long and far until he expresses hunger, but she refuses to allow him to eat anything other than what she gives him. While they are stopped, she reveals to him where they are headed. She shows him three distinct paths: one heavy with thorny brambles leading to heaven, one beautiful and inviting which leads to hell, and one that is lush and green which leads directly to her lands. There she tells him not to speak lest he never return to his own land. She then gives him clothing and keeps him there for seven years. To read more about this, do visit the website dedicated to Tam Lin.
Thomas the Rhymer
also known as “True Thomas”
1. True Thomas lay on Huntlie Bank,
A ferlie he spied wi’ his eye
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by Eildon Tree.
2. Her shirt was o the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o the velvet fyne
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
Hang fifty siller bells and nine.
3. True Thomas, he pulld aff his cap,
And louted low down to his knee
“All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see.”
4. “O no, O no, Thomas,” she said,
“That name does not belang to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee.”
5. “Harp and carp, Thomas,” she said,
“Harp and carp along wi’ me,
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your bodie I will be.”
6. “Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunton me;”
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.
7. “Now, ye maun go wi me,” she said,
“True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
And ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro weal or woe, as may chance to be.”
8. She mounted on her milk-white steed,
She’s taen True Thomas up behind,
And aye wheneer her bridle rung,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
9. O they rade on, and farther on–
The steed gaed swifter than the wind–
Untill they reached a desart wide,
And living land was left behind.
10. “Light down, light down, now, True Thomas,
And lean your head upon my knee;
Abide and rest a little space,
And I will shew you ferlies three.”
11. “O see ye not that narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
12. “And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path to wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
13. “And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.
14. “But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever ye may hear or see,
For, if you speak word in Elflyn land,
Ye’ll neer get back to your ain countrie.”
15. O they rade on, and farther on,
And they waded thro rivers aboon the knee,
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
But they heard the roaring of the sea.
16. It was mirk mirk night, and there was nae stern light,
And they waded thro red blude to the knee;
For a’ the blude that’s shed on earth
Rins thro the springs o that countrie.
17. Syne they came on to a garden green,
And she pu’d an apple frae the tree:
“Take this for thy wages, True Thomas,
It will give the tongue that can never lie.”
18. “My tongue is mine ain,” True Thomas said;
“A gudely gift ye was gie to me!
I neither dought to buy nor sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.
19. “I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye:”
“Now hold thy peace,” the lady said,
“For as I say, so must it be.”
20. He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were gane and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen.
I wish you a most blessed and beautiful Beltane for our readers in the northern hemisphere and Samhain for our readers in the southern hemisphere!