Posts Tagged ‘ancestors’

Apologies for my tardy completion of these conference notes.  it seems with May, comes activity.

David Stifter (NUI Maynooth) presented the final paper of the conference. Professor Stifter made news last year with his ground-breaking translation of one of the oldest written passages in Old Irish.  His comprehensive translation of the third of the three charms in the Stowe Missal – a ninth century mass book, or pocket book – contributed greatly to the understanding of these important passages.  This book was one of practical use, to be used by the priest in tending to his daily tasks.  Those tasks would undoubtedly have included tending the sick. The performer of the charm speaks in the first person singular, the patient in the second person singular, and the supernatural power in the third person.   The structure of the charms is of heading, spell, and historiola.

The Owl or guardian stone at the bend in the west passage at Knowth.

The Owl or guardian stone at the bend in the west passage at Knowth.

The three charms:

Against the red eye

I invoke the bishop of Ibar who heals.
May you be saved!
May the blessing of God
and the protection of Christ heal your eye.
[with an eye with him, with his vision with him?]
The sight of your eye is whole.
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay of the spittle
and rubbed the clay over his eyes
and said to him:
‘Go and wash yourself in the pool of Siloe’
(which means ‘sent’).
He then went away and washed himself and he came seeing.

Against a thorn

My splendid spittle, it presses out a thorn.
May it not be a blister, may it not be a blemish,
may  it not be a swelling, may it not be a disease,
may it not be bloody gore,
may it not be a grievous hole.
My charm, the splendour of the sun,
heals a swelling, smites a disease.

Against urinary disease

Let it flow like a camle lets it flow,
Give a liquid like excellence (?) gives liquid,
run like streams run.
Let forth a gush.
three pigs went into their ,
It should be there where one goes.
Let if flow what has not flown,
Give your unrine into an .
Your strength and your health.
May a healing of health heal you.

I wondered just who Iber was, as the Carmina Gadelica mentions an “Ivor” in connection with Brighid:

The Feast Day of the Bride,
The daughter of Ivor shall come from the knoll,
I will not touch the daughter of Ivor,
Nor shall she harm me.

My notes make a connection with the Old Irish for Yew, and a pre-patrician saint.  Four of these saints are listed: Ailbe, Ciaran, Declan, Iber (who was associated with Ulster and the Beggerin Island, and perhaps also Aran, Kildare, Meath and Munster).

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Professor Eoin Grogan (NUI Maynooth) gave an enticing presentation on the archeological, or material, evidence of charms in ancient Ireland, titled, “Taken to the grave – possessions, mementos or charms?”  I enjoy archeology, and often search out academic papers on the topic, so this presentation was a delight for me.  He touched on a few finds I already knew about, and offered some details I was unaware of.


image from Eachtra Archeology Project

He began with the relatively recent – and significant – discovery near Mitchelstown (which is just down the road from me).  At this newly excavated site, the earliest anthropomorphic material good was found.  An early Bronze Age pit was discovered with the ‘burial’ of a remarkable clay cup, fashioned into the likeness of a face.  This remarkable find is unique in several ways.  First, it appears (along with an accompanying vessel) to have been ritually buried.  Secondly, it is fashioned into the likeness of a human face, with some stunning and notable attributes: both ears are facing opposing directions.  Thirdly, the anthropomorphic cup can not stand on its own, it requires the assistance of an accompanying vessel.  This accompanying vessel has not face, but it does have ears – also positioned with each facing opposing directions.

The ritually important aspect of this arrangement is evident when their placement in the pit burial is taken into account.  The cups were placed in such a way, that one ear of the pair was facing a cardinal direction – and with four ears, all four directions were attended to.

Professor Grogan also mentioned the famous use of ‘poppets,’ as recorded in the Early Irish Law Series, Volume II;  Uraicecht Na Ríar, The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law; Edited by Liam Breatnach; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies;1987:

The offended Druid, possibly along with a full contingent of students representing the seven poetic grades would rise before sunset and proceed to the top of a hill where a whitethorn (Hawthorn) grew.  The Druid(s) would stand with their back to the tree holding a clay image of the object of the satire.  When a north wind blew they would chant the satire while piercing the clay image with a thorn from the tree.

Evil, death, short life to Caíar,
spears of battle will have killed Caíar,
may Caiar die, may Caiar depart- Caíar!
Caíar under earth, under embankments, under stones!

Note: the Irish version looks much more poetical.

He talked about finding deer antler, unadorned, in several early medieval graves, and linked it speculatively to a European custom of a bridegroom taking an antler to his marriage bed to secure affection between spouses.

The two most provocative points were the burial in the Curragh, and the anthropomorphic bog find.

At the center of a burial complex in the curragh, a 20-30 year old woman was buried alive.  They know this due to the eventual placement of limbs, and the pressure to the skull.  This could have represented a willing burial, as it seems being the First interred in a burial complex was an important symbol.  I was immediately put to mind of the human sacrifice of sacral kingship.

(See ‘Human Sacrifice in Iron Age Europe‘)


The gorgeous Yew-wood boundary marker, found in the bog at Ralaghan, Co. Cavan, which dates to the middle-Bronze Age was discussed.  This sensuous carved man, has an opening for his detachable genitalia.  The similarity to continental artifacts was discussed, with mention made of the detachable penis as a fertility object that would have been rubbed in many households upon entering the dwelling.  The Ralaghan man seems to have been placed into the bog as a votive offering.

(Also, check-out the ‘Red Man’ of Kilbeg: an early Bronze Age idol from Co. Offaly)

Lastly, and so as not to be remiss in the recording of my own notes, a burial at Kilteasheen, Co. Roscommon was mentioned.  In this burial, two individuals were placed next to each other, with large black stones placed in the mouth.  The stones were placed after death, but before rigamortis had set-in.  Were these individuals satarists?

NOTEif anyone can remind me of the exact mineral or process responsible for this – or point me toward a source for the information:

Ground water absorbed in the teeth can predict the exact geographic area a person lived in childhood.  Talk about being intimately connected to our Place!

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Awake, awake, you ancient watchers
Awake awake and let me in
Come down come down, from your waiting houses
Come down come down and let me in
~Sharon Knight

Here, at the end of all things,

let me start at the beginning and introduce myself.  I am a native Texan, living in Ireland.  My sense of Place is intricately and intimately tied with the land  which is now known as south and central Texas.  I was born on the coastal plain, a land that stretches wide, with clear vistas from horizon to horizon: fertile and verdant.  Where big winds blow and the sky is a yawning expanse. Adopted at birth into a farming family, my youth was spent in isolation with nature.  My nearest human neighbors were over a mile away, and I was the only child of an only child.  I spent my days alone and barefoot, roaming creek bed, plowed field,   empty barn, and lonely byway. My grandparents passed to me their wisdom: planting and harvesting by the moon and signs, cures, folk knowledge, and  ancestral  stories.  Descendants of Welsh and ScotsIrish emigrants, they adhered to a system older than the society that swallowed them.  I was fortunate to have been cocooned in their land of enchantment – 250 acres, and then some, to roam and explore – unfettered – nurtured by the accumulated lore of generation upon generation….of  human and other-than-human persons. Love to you – always ❤

My blood seeks movement,

and I traversed the greet North American lands as a young adult, living and breathing in many regions.  My heart pulled me toward mountain, desert, forest.  I tasted and loved them all.  As these things go, eventually the blood pulled wide – to Far lands across an ocean …..and some of them I have kissed.  My bed is now in Eire, but how long She has me….only Fate knows. Deep in The Avondhu of east Cork, which escaped glaciation, my eyes seek and my ears are open.  Surrounded by new voices, new ways….. I follow my mesolithic ancestresses blood.

I  have always been pagan…… my grandmother infused my praxis as a witch….and my blood drives me back  – into a misty past, where we were all once truly Human.

To Mabon and Gene;
Katie and Thomas;
Chilton and Love-Ann

…Victor, Cora, Gwydion:

None are forgotten
nothing fades forever
all that has past comes around again

For here, what is Remembered Lives
What Is Remembered Lives

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I am back to musing about roots; namely, getting to mine as a pagan. I had thought to write a blog post on my ancestor work, which amps up tremendously this time of year, but every time I turn around the notion of world view, and what it means to BE pagan, is in my face. When a thought rabbit continues leading me down its hole, I take it as sign and tend to follow them. So here goes.

Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram, was a life changing book for me. I highly recommend it, especially if you are practicing a pagan path of ANY sort ….Heck, all thinking humans living in modern culture should read it! In it, he says this:

Yet I remained puzzled by my hostess’s assertion that these were gifts “for the spirits.” To be sure, there has always been some confusion between our Western notion of “spirit” (which so often is defined in contrast to matter or “flesh”), and the mysterious presences to which tribal and indigenous cultures pay so much respect. I have already alluded to the gross misunderstandings arising from the circumstance that many of the earliest Western students of these other customs were Christian missionaries all too ready to see occult ghosts and immaterial phantoms where the tribe speople were simply offering their respect to the local winds. While the notion of “spirit” has come to have, for us in the West, a primarily anthropomorphic or human association, my encounter with the ants was the first of many experiences suggesting to me that the “spirits” of an indigenous culture are primarily those modes of intelligence or awareness that do not possess a human form.

After being reminded of this recently, I read this:

The first pitfall: the Norse sál or sala, “soul” is borrowed from the Old Saxon sala (German, seele; English, soul). This term did not exist in the Norse language, just as, incidentally, the word religion replaced custom (sidr).
Claude Lecouteux (former professor of medieval literature and civilization)
The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind

Then I stumble upon this:

The worship of water, as represented in the wells, is often mentioned. The Tripartite Life, and Tirechan, in the Book of Armagh, relate how St. Patrick, in his journey through Connaught, came to a well called Slán, which the heathens worshipped as a god, believing that a certain ‘prophet’ [ancestor] had caused himself to be buried under it in a stone coffin to keep his bones cool; for ‘he adored water as a god.” More than a century later, in the time of St. Columba, there was a well in Scotland which the pagan people “worshipped as a divinity.” These healing wells were generally called by the appropriate name of Slán [slaun], which means ‘healing.’ It is to be observed that well-worship was not peculiar to Ireland: at one time it prevailed all over Europe.
A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland
P.W. Joyce

While I am again musing on how our pagan ancestors viewed the water, the winds, and the other-than-human persons living near them as deserving of acknowledgement and communication, my mind alights on an idea widespread in pre-christian Europe: “good” ancestors became the tutelary spirits of the land. It is understood that tutelary spirits are specific to a defined geographic area (hence the name), and in Ireland (as I have read was true in Rome and elsewhere) they were associated with boundary markers (standing stones).

Pillar-stones were worshipped in other parts of Ireland as well as at Moy-Slecht and Clogher. The Dinnsenchus, after speaking of Cromm Cruach and the other twelve, remarks that from the time of Heremon to the coming of the good Patrick of Armagh, there was adoration of pillar-stones in Ireland: a statement which we find also in other old authorities. In the Brehon Laws, one of the objects used for marking the boundaries of land is stated to be “a stone of worship.” This interesting record at once connects the Irish custom with the Roman worship of the god Terminus, which god was merely a pillar-stone placed standing in the ground to mark the boundary of two adjacent properties – exactly as in Ireland. Even to this day some of these old idols or oracle-stones are known; and the memory of the rites performed at them is preserved in popular legend.
A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland
P.W. Joyce

Back to Lecouteux. Toward the end of his scholarly work on the subject of the dead, he expounds on the idea held in the ancient world that the soil was made sacred (sanctified) by the ancestors. Most people were buried within the home and remained an active part of the family. Especially potent leaders were placed within special burial spaces (pit or mound). Boundary markers, whether a pillar stone or a grove of trees, acted both as contact points between the ‘living’ family and their ‘living’ ancestor, as well as markers indicating the ‘bounds’ or limits of that ancestral spirits’ domain. If you think of the Irish oath, “I swear by the gods my people swear by”, you get a real sense of the prominence of living ancestor customs. Each tutelary spirit (ancestral protector) presided over the tribal lands UP TO the boundary markers. If you were from one tuath, going along your merry way, and come across another tuath’s pillar-stone…you might be concerned about their tutelary spirit taking you out. In fact, the mythologies mention a few of these encounters.

All this to say what? Our modern ideas of worship, devotion, gods, spirits….are just that – Modern. The ancient world seemed to view things much more pragmatically. Yea, there is a numinous world out there (though they clearly had VERY different ideas of what that meant, and what the human obligations toward it were). You scratch my back, and I’ll remember you. You fail to provide peace and prosperity, we are moving on. They DID make offerings though. They kept their ancestors fed – and now I have come full circle, because that is what I initially thought I would ramble about….

Ancestral work.

next time.


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