Archive for the ‘Bealtaine myth’ Category

Bealtaine is here, and many wondrous occurrences  with it.  As most know, Bealtaine heralds in the light half of the Irish year (and I specify Irish because this word is Irish, and its use would be restricted to this specific geographic area and meteorological experience – it’s certainly the BRIGHT half long before May back in Texas!).  Many customs surround this ushering in.  Some are folkloric in nature and others historic, even mythic.

“May Day serves to divide our story-telling year in two equal halves (no stories after May Day until Samhain, when darkness comes to claim us back). It is considered direly unlucky to get into storytelling around Mayday — singing is a different matter, however.”

Marion Gunn, Folklorist / Linguist, University College Dublin

On the Hill of Uisneach, both historically and mythically, Bealtaine fires were lit and a sacred assembly held.  This practice is being rekindled with the modern Festival of the Fires.  There is not, as yet, legislative activity taking place but there is, without doubt, festivity, remembrance, and one kick-butt Fire!  Warriors on horse back patrol the perimeter, ensuring that the neighboring, and sometimes waring, tribes keep their peace.  Bards and musicians share their craft while families stroll the sacred hills.  A visit to the holy well may bring healing, if a votive offering has been made in LoughLugh.

This was a time of purification (the ancients seemed awfully concerned with purification, I’ve noticed).  Cattle and people were cleansed with the smoke of the rising fires.  The great fire at Uisneach was echoed by answering fires that were lit on neighboring summits. The resulting topographic web of fire stretching from the omphalos of Uisneach outward to the coast of Ireland, created a “fire-eye,” a divine oculus mundi, or eye of the world through which the goddess of Ireland, Aine…Eriu, could once again see and be seen.

Of monumental landforms, mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote, “to be seen in the eyes of the Goddess and to move upon [her] as she revealed herself in hill and vale was to be part of both time and timelessness, matter and spirit.”

From the lofty to the daily, we turn to the tiny Primrose.  This delicious yellow flower of early spring is to be collected on May Eve, before dusk, by children who make posies or small bouquets with them.  They are to be hung in the house or over the door, laid on doorsteps and windowsills, strewn in profusion, to protect against the Fair Ones…who traipse at this time of year!  As an added benefit, if you rub them on a cow’s udder her milk will increase!

Here in Cork, particularly the southern part, May Eve was known as “Nettlemas Night”.  Boys would parade the streets with large bunches of nettles, stinging their playmates and occasionally unfortunate passersby who got too close.  Girls joined in this as well, usually stinging their lovers or boys they especially liked!  In most parts of Ireland, it was believed that taking 3 meals of nettles in May guarded against illness for the rest of the year.  Other parts of the country dispensed with the stinging, instead nettles were gathered on May Eve, pressed into a juice, and everyone in the house drank a mouthful, … to keep a “good fire in them” for the rest of the year.

Now, something a bit more maleficent, and of interest to us Hedge Witches, is the May Eve Curse.  Vervain, Speedwell, Eyebright, Mallow, Yarrow, Self-Heal, St. Johns Wort:  if collected on May Eve under the enchanting words, these herbs do great harm and nothing natural or supernatural may dissuade.

For myself, on the gregorian day, I traipsed about stone circles with two friends.  Three times Three we visited them: water, earth, and sky. In the enclosure we raised our voices, along the way we shared laughter and, where appropriate, offerings of fruit…or gentle tears.  On the astronomical day, … pilgrimage to Uisneach to join the tribes, of course!

Let the Debaucheries of Summer begin!!

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How beautiful they are…the Lordly Ones who dwell in the Hills….

I climbed Sliabh na mBan recently, home to the women of Feimheinn and the sídhe of Bodb Derg….grandfather of the Children of Lir…the white swans.  This area of Tipperary is called Magh Feimhein and the wide plain that stretches beneath the mountain is sacred.  The stories of this area all involve women or are centered around women, from otherworldly women that enchant mortals to an all female race to the summit.  I climbed the Mountain of Women to meet the land and to gather what gifts were presented.

One of my dear friends is getting married in June.  A gift I want to bestow, (as all good Faery Godmothers should have something to offer), is fertility.  I was certainly blessed with it and the land I reside on is rich with it.  As I set out on this pilgrimage, for sacred journey it was, I held my friend and her partner in my heart, and I listened… for what the land might offer.

The day was gorgeous.  This spring the Cailleach has kept a hold, either not wishing to depart or not quit finished with us.  The days have been cold and gray but the morning I left for my climb the sun shone bright; Gráinne full and strong in the sky.  Which is interesting… because one of the stories of this area tells of Gráinne winning a foot race to the summit of the mountain against women from other counties,  for the prize of Fionn as husband.  (Grainne means sun and Fionn is a nickname that means white or bright)  It definitely felt propitious and I tingled with anticipation.

The path to the summit takes you first through a thick forest of pine. It was cool and dark. My eyes spied something gleaming white in the underbrush. Bone, tossed in a pattern I couldn’t read. The first gate is often surrender. I made my offerings, thanking the land for Her gift. There were forgotten dwellings, strange stone walls, and tumbled stone in the dark. I felt immediately welcome and the place delighted me. So much so, that I was reluctant to leave it.

I emerged from the forest onto heath, a moonscape under the white light of the sun. The light is different here. I don’t know enough about the latitude and how that affects the refraction of light but I can see it and feel it. When the sun shines full it is a white, bleaching feeling. The land, perpetually covered in low cloud mist that sometimes appears and other times does not, is turned to haze when the temperatures rise. I have noticed that sunrise is a warm, golden hue, often clear and gorgeous. But once the sun rises above a certain angle the cloud suddenly, as if by magic, becomes visible. They were obviously there all along, the white wool clouds of Her cloak, but not until the light shines through them above a precise angle do they reveal themselves. This magic trick comes into play again when the temperatures reach 20 Celsius. It might be a blue sky day, with not a thread of Her cloak visible, then suddenly…. White Filmy Gossamer.

The ascent was hard. My breathing labored and I thought of childbirth. Up, up, up. When I thought my heart would explode I stopped, turned, and let the sun fall full on my face as I drank in the view. Stunning. Stretched out for miles were fertile fields. The image of my dear friends danced perpetually in my mind. I was climbing for myself, and I was climbing for them. I don’t know how many times I had to stop, but they were frequent. The nearer the top I got, the more frequent my breaks became. I felt as though my legs were lead. At one point I sat, dismayed and afraid I couldn’t make it. Maybe ¾ of the way up it seemed too much. Two crows flew overhead, laughing.

“Yes, I know. I’m a foolish sight, aren’t I. We silly humans have forgotten how to be two legged animals. I’m sure your ancestors saw many a person skip up this ‘hill’.”

There was a small monument along the path, written in Irish and Ogham with a delicate image carved onto the top. I paused long here, sinking down into the land.

“Who are you?”

As I began my trek again under the blazing sun I felt the sweat run down my back. I thought of my friend, and the beads of perspiration that will gather on her brow during labor. Mór Mumhan, whose valleys are so rich, whose estuaries drip with fecundity, whose round belly and breasts are nourishing, and whose vengeance is fierce against those who would harm her children. Great Munster! Full of song and the poetry of great deeds.

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

I labored up the mountain, a poppet for my friend. Life sized doll. My body laboring as her body will. I wanted to cry, “I can’t do this!”

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

And, as all long struggles eventually do…. At last, I reached the end. The summit stretched before me. Ravens soared. A cairn loomed ahead. I held my rock, for you always add a rock. It’s respectful. Beautiful nipple atop a full breast. I was a child come for succor, come to drink of the fertility of this land… Munster the Great. I sat at the base of the cairn, my head resting on a large boulder. I closed my eyes and listened to the secrets of the wind. Shadows watched and eyes were on me. I looked up to see a Raven hovering just above me. We saw each other. Then she glided back out of sight on the wind.

I spent as long as possible on the summit, drinking in the 360 views, trying to memorize the shapes of the surrounding hills, straining to hear their voices. When I finally began my descent, on the ground was an object, long, slim, and perfect to hold in my hand. I grasped it firmly, like a strong cock. It was into this I let pour all the energy and dream and thought and toil. I held it all the way down, allowing the day to drain into it.

They dance with white shapely arms,
the women of Feimhein,
Singing of the riches under the Hill
for great is the warrior who holds it.

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