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Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

Euhemerism and demonisation, ‘two Christianisingdevices of unimpeachable orthodoxy which were disseminatedthroughout Europe’,(16) were not employed until the tenth century. This was not due to ignorance; Irish clergy were aware that other Christianwriters, such as Isidore of Seville, used these techniques. Instead,there developed the doctrine that the old gods, the Tuatha dé Dannan,were ‘half-fallen angels’ or ‘a branch of the human race whichsomehow escaped the contagion of the Fall’. (17) This is clearlyradically syncretic, and not merely an illustrative use of pre-Christianmaterial, as proposed by Carney and others. The conclusions of Carey, a cautious scholar, are supported by other reputable research. (18)

Brigit: Goddess, Saint, ‘Holy Woman’, and Bone of Contention;  Carole M Cusack 

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Strong winds have buffeted the house all evening. My brother the West Wind blows strong from the Atlantic, bringing news of Spring’s imminent return. Snow drops, their delicate heads cascading over the pebble steps to the Good Neighbor’s house, and daffodil shoots, the circle the front garden, confirm this most hopeful of news.

Spring.

Just in time for Imbolg.

Funny how that works

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At 4pm today I needed lights on in the house.  It was dark; or at least dark enough.  As I drove to the train station at 4:15pm, I needed the headlights on.  My body feels the dark now.  St. John’s Wort has given me welcome relief from the depression of the lengthening night, but today–for the first time–I felt the deep desire to withdraw: to climb into a warm bed and remain (at least until the sun returns).

The dark may finally be  impacting me because community has retreated.  I have had visitors almost the entire Autumn and early Winter.  First, a dear friend and initiator was here for a week; then a craft sister and friend for another week; and most recently, two of my sweet friends brought my faery god-daughter  for three weeks!  This has me musing on the role of community at different times of the solar year.

For instance, here in Ireland this is the traditional time for story-telling.  I have mentioned previously the taboo against story in the summer half of the year.  I wonder now how much of this was purely practical.  Not just work-wise, as there would be less physical work engaged in during the winter, but also, psychologically.  I have been brought to task on this blog, by a friend who is a scholar in the field, for being over simplistic in my approach to folklore, but Professor Ó Crualaich (in The Book of the Cailleach)makes much about the theaurapeutic role story and folklore played for oral cultures.

Might the telling of story, and the gatherings those sessions required, during the long dark have played a significant role for a community suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Soon enough I will escape the solitude and stillness of the dark.  Like a magical bird, I will take flight– returning for a time to the land of wide sky and high sun.  I am spending the holiday back home with family, and there are three things I am looking particularly forward to:

Margaritas, BBQ, and REAL Mexican food!  🙂

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In my window seat, perched above the valley, I see scattered farm lights. I sit here in the dark, window open. A stillness so deep, there is only a whisper in the bare limbs of the trees. Barking. A farm dog scent of fox.

The Dark.

Porch light casts a yellow glow, making beautiful shadow forms poised in contemplative silence. My heart races out beyond the confines of my skin. Consciousness swirls kaleidoscope in awareness of that larger Mind which is unfathomably deep.

Do I dance?
do I Sing?

This holy moment is a breath for me to fill my lungs with. A black mouth of time for me to kiss, because there is no separation–only longing. How can I Be other than weep for the delight and ecstasy of it.

Where are You?
what is outside your window?

I dare you-in this moment….

open
listen
close your eyes and hear

tell me what is there, in your place

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Story Archeology

If you have not heard of this podcast and you have an interest in Irish Myth, wait no longer! Check it out today!

Story Archeology

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Now that I am in Dublin attending another conference (this one on Lebor na hUidre), I better get some of my notes from the last conference up here! It has been weeks now since I was in Sligo for Archeology of Darkness, but I have had guests in the meantime so do pardon my tardiness. Now, without further adieu….some of my notes (they will be posted in parts):

The gods of darkness come bearing gifts
Robert Hensey

This lecture will outline areas that have perhaps been under-theorised in archaeology. These include the use of dark places for the purposes of ritual retreat; archaeological landscapes by night; emotional reactions to dark places; the relationship between the darkness of winter and mental health; and darkness as a crucial feature of the construction and use of a wide variety of archaeological monuments.

Robert introduced the idea that perhaps ancient peoples viewed themselves as “seed” going into the earth, when they journeyed into the great mounds and tombs, and even caves. He also brought up Oiche na Sprideanna (Night of Spirits) and touched on this time of year (samhain) being a time when the Tuatha de Dannand collected their tithe..as the living Irish chieftains later did, as well.

He reminded us not to slide into bias, as not all cultures view the dark as scary or evil. He also pointed out an area of research (which I informed him of) still to uncover: how seasonality (SAD) may have contributed to the use of dark spaces and ancient peoples’ perception of the dark.

The dark side of the sky: architecture and the dead in Bronze Age Ireland and Scotland
Richard Bradley

For many years it was tempting to consider megalithic tombs and stone settings as a single phenomenon, elements which were shared between communities on either side of the Irish Sea. That is no longer tenable. Recent research has shed new light on the chronology of these monuments and has identified distinctive changes in their architecture during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods. It has also shown how some of these traditions might have been renewed during the Late Bronze Age. One feature that transcends different styles of buildings is their orientation towards the south west; another is their association with human remains. In the past both features have suggested a link between cremation burial and observations of the moon, but it is possible to account for a wider range of evidence if this is treated as evidence for a new emphasis on the night, the use of fire, and the dark side of the sky. There is an important contrast with older structures, some of which emphasised the direction of the sunrise. Examples of the new developments include Irish wedge tombs, and Scottish recumbent stone circles and Clava Cairns. The same preoccupations even extend to Stonehenge.

This talk was incredibly informative and entertaining! He urged us to think of cosmology when we consider the direction the monuments are facing. There was a major change in ancestral shrine (tomb) building, with chamber and court predominant until 3500 bce, with the majority facing the rising sun (predominantly E, but also all along the spectrum of NE, E, SE). There are passage tombs with solar and equinox alignments, toward both the source and the “loss” of light. Wedge tombs are later, at the end of the neolithic / beginning of metal age and they face the declining light – or the dark side of the sky (SW and W).

Professor Bradley listed several examples, including: clava cairns, raigmore, and croft moraig. Raigmore cairn was built on top of an existing house, and mimics its design,with a HUGE and notable exception. The original house (of the living) favored the rising sun. The cairn (house of the dead) favors the decreasing sun. This represents an exciting direct alignment change! This site has a recumbent stone circle, with the recumbent (altar stone) in the SW.

Late bronze and middle iron saw lots of cremated bone, lots of burning – but no bodies. There is a supposed connection between the reduced light (tombs facing the dark of the sky) – the dead – lighting of fires. There is no sign of feasting at these sites (which puts me in mind of the Drombeg circle in cork).

At croft moraig the first phase of use was recognition of a glacial mound and a glacial erratic (large rock laying on top of a natural mound, away from other rocks). There is some alignment when sun phenomena are viewed from this rock and an adjacent mountain. The second phase of use at this site was a stone circle, followed by a house, and finally an oval enclosure now turned to a sunset alignment at midwinter.

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toward Dublin

for Lebor na hUidre!

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…a cold whisper of breath stillness

From the recess of the cave, with the story of Nera swimming behind darkened eyes, I hear a faint sound. I move to light a candle, which I place in a nook by my friend. I sit next to her, settling on a rock, as I move my hair away from my ears and listen.

The cold of the rock seeps through my rain pants, past the cotton of my trousers, and into my bones. My breath is steady. My eyes…open.

“hhhhhsssshhhhhhhmmmmmm……….”

The faint sound, a woman’s whisper, returns – rippling on silent waves.

Moments pass like eternity, and the universe comes into being within a breath. I wait, listen, and ask. As it was said, so long ago regarding Mongfind’s Feast, “wherefore women and the rabble make petitions to her on samain-eve.” And I did.

When we finally exit, slow and tender, we scratch crawl back into the world of mud. The liquid body of the mother.

Now comes the fun part: removing our muddy boots, smeared pants, and baptismal robes to ease into a human machine. The car is not spared, but we glide into the starry night warm – electric piston thrust crackling with technology fire.

We are in desperate need of a toilet, and warm food. Chances are not great for the food, so we settle on cold meats packed away earlier for just such occasions, and search for a petrol station with public toilets. Down the lonely roads we head – merrily chatting about our day: the long drive, unfound mounds, and twilight expeditions. Through the midlands and small villages, past pubs and occasional pedestrians – into the dark of the bogs.

There is a detour underway, so we leave the main road behind and follow little orange road signs, deeper and deeper into a darkening world – finally succumbing to US election coverage on the radio.

shimmy

Something doesn’t feel right.

pull

Oh, you have to be kidding me!

slugslushslug

(My heart sank in that moment, as I glanced from side to side and saw no lights.)

I slowed and gently pulled the car over. (This is when my friend looked at me, realization dawning.) I reach for my backpack, riffle around – past muddy gloves and soft apples – until I find my earth encrusted torch. Outside, I pass its tiny warm yellow light over a deflated tyre.

No words cross the threshold of my mouth until I reach Himself on the mobile. You see, I don’t know how to change a tyre.

In the middle of Offaly, after midnight with nobody around – on astrological Samhain, we sit. We listen to US election reports. We wait for Himself to find someone willing to rescue us. We feel slightly silly.

Approaching 1am I notice a light. Only a small blue point at first, it dances along a steady plane moving closer. I watch it, thinking it may be a person with a small torch or key light. The light hovers, then moves toward the car. At the boot. At the back passenger window. I reach for the controls to crack the window, expecting help, and turn on the car lights – in case help is a drunken weirdo.

Nothing.

I grab the torch and shine it past my friend.

Nothing.

Not a soul, or a sound, or a light.

I turn on the car, in what feels a seamless movement, to ensure the doors are locked! The hum of the engine comforting – low fuel or not! The wait wasn’t long though. Eugene pulled up with his big tow truck 20 minutes later, changed the tyre and led us into town – where money from the ATM and a full petrol tank were the order of business.

Reluctant to drive fast on the tiny spare tyre, we inched our way home. Again, a drive that aught to have taken a couple of hours drew out to epic proportions.

Bleary eyed and senseless we pull up to the house at 4am.

Take note all you who would venture out of a night, willingly, during the season of the Dead…..

Make sure you have a good map, headlamps, clean/dry clothes, plenty of petrol and food, but most of all – make sure you can change a tyre!

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Samhain….a brilliant time to begin a story, or a blog about the story of Place (more on that shortly). In Ireland, the winter season (Samhain to Bealtaine) was and is the time for seanchas; the time when the seanchaí share their wisdom over a pint or near a turf fire. In fact, it was and is taboo to tell stories in summer. Why? Well, why would you want to be indoors when the day lingers like a kiss and the sun delays her journey, making way for exploits? But, let’s get back to beginnings.

I celebrate secular Hallowe’en like those around me; with carved pumpkin, candy, and costume. It’s a festival ripe with otherness, and i love decorating for the children. Samhain, on the other hand, is the time of my Ancestors, of petition and of looking. I honour this Gate between the astronomical date (which fluctuates) and the New Moon. This year, the cross-quarter day fell on the 6th of November, and I now look toward the New Moon on the 13th.

As happens during times of was and is, there is often a dangerous journey, where you encounter amazing figures, and confront moments of choice. Now, if it please those listening, I want to tell you a story of Place; the story of one of the Three Great Caves of Ireland: Oweynagat – mouth of the Other-world, at Rathcroghan.

My friend Crow was here from Texas, and she and I thought it wonderful to journey on the cross-quarter day, from Cork – through the midlands, to Roscommon. In truth, our aim was to find Sheebeg in Leitrim, view the world through Fionn’s eyes (or at least his big bronze statue), and then head back toward Cork, stopping at the Cave of the Cats on our way. But in those times of was and is, plans rarely happen as we imagine.

The distance from my cottage to Carrick-on-Shannon is roughly 170 odd miles. Accounting for Irish backroads, and the small villages one must drive through when using those roads, the journey should be no more than a reasonable 3-4 hours. Well, after 5 hours of non-stop driving, we reached Carrick in need of food. We dined overlooking the mighty Shannon as Light quickly departed the sky, and with it, our hope of visiting Sheebeg before dusk.

After our meal, we set-off: reasonable directions in hand. We turned this way and then that, back-up and that way and then this. Remarking, “Ok, we have had to turn around twice now. That’s our quota for this adventure.” Up to Keshcarrigan and back, back to Keshcarrigan and out. After 2 hours and still no Sheebeg, we turn our faces, in the now PITCH DARK, and head toward Oweynagat.

Handily enough we arrive at the cave, see a hedgehog waddle across the lane, park our car and don our outer-gear: boots, wet pants and jacket – we have also remembered our torch (which is another story…that time we mounted Tara at Samhain, in the deep darkness of a storming night without a torch). Past the stile the ground is a foot deep in mud and cattle track. Fitting, somehow, for Maeve’s kingdom and her lust for cattle. We move through the pasture, raising our legs high. The mud sticks and holds us. A sucking sound released as our feet escape.
Squish.
Splotch.
Suck.

I shine the torch into the low opening and dive; head first I slide into the outer chamber. I feel the first touch of cold earth against me. Wet. My fingers reach to steady myself and are covered in liquid mineral. Every surface a dripping ooze on hard bone. The torch is now smeared, christened, and I need to use my hands for the next descent – so its slender gritty coldness goes in my mouth, between my teeth – hoping there was no cow poop in that mud.

Into the next chamber I slither. Inching further down and then turning, so my friend can see the way. Naturally, we have only one torch. After the third section we reach the round bottom. We situate ourselves on flat rocks, settle and breathe. Then I switch off the light.

Dark.
drip. Drip.
Cold.
drip. DRIP.

In the deep dark of an Irish cave at Samhain, the story of Nera runs through my mind: carrier of the dead and discoverer of plots.

One Samhain night, while feasting with the other warriors, Nera accepted a challenge to go out into the dark and place a withe around the ankle of a dead man. Two had been hung that day at Cruachan, and either would do for the dare. It was a dreadful night, full of horror and whispers. Nera went out, in the shivering dark, to place the withe; once, twice, thrice – but it sprang off each time.

Then the dead man spoke.

He told Nera how to make the withe stay, and Nera certainly took the advice. Then the dead man asked his favor in turn….he wanted to be placed on Nera’s back so he could get a drink of water.

A dead man on his back? What else could he do, he had taken the advice.

The corpse hung on Nera’s neck as he was taken through the night to the first house, “Oh, I can not enter! The fire has been smoored!” (1)

At the second house, “Oh, I can not enter! They have thrown out their feet water before bedtime!”

Finally, at the third house, “Ah, here is my drink!”

And the corpse drank of the feet water, which was by the unkempt hearth, and with his last sip…..the dead man spewed the water from his mouth and into the faces of those sleeping in the house – and they all followed him to….

Death.

I sat in the dark of the cave, imagining the feel of a cold corpse on my back, and icy breath in my ear, when SUDDENLY…

————————
(1)
Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, by Alexander Carmicheal, [1900], at sacred-texts.com
PEAT is the fuel of the Highlands and Islands. Where wood is not obtainable the fire is kept in during the night. The process by which this is accomplished is called in Gaelic smaladh; in Scottish, smooring; and in English, smothering, or more correctly, subduing. The ceremony of smooring the fire is artistic and symbolic, and is performed with loving care. The embers are evenly spread on the hearth–which is generally in the middle of the floor–and formed into a circle. This circle is then divided into three equal sections, a small boss being left in the middle. A peat is laid between each section, each peat touching the boss, which forms a common centre. The first peat is laid down in name of the God of Life, the second in name of the God of Peace, the third in name of the God of Grace. The circle is then covered over with ashes sufficient to subdue but not to extinguish p. 235 the fire, in name of the Three of Light. The heap slightly raised in the centre is called ‘Tula nan Tri,’ the Hearth of the Three. When the smooring operation is complete the woman closes her eyes, stretches her hand, and softly intones one of the many formulae current for these occasions.

Another way of keeping embers for morning use is to place them in a pit at night. The pit consists of a hole in the clay floor, generally under the dresser. The pit may be from half a foot to a foot in depth and diameter, with a flag fixed in the floor over the top. In the centre of this flag there is a hole by which the embers are put in and taken out. Another flag covers the hole to extinguish the fire at night, and to guard against accidents during the day. This extinguishing fire-pit is called ‘slochd guail,’ coke or coal-pit. This coke or charcoal is serviceable in kindling the fire.

THE sacred Three
To save,
To shield,
To surround
The hearth,
The house,
The household,
This eve,
This night,
Oh! this eve,
This night,
And every night,
Each single night.

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snow

The first snow…on the first day of winter.

image via Irish Weather Online
Snowfall in Kilfinane, Limerick, this morning. Image Veronica Santorum-Crespo

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