Breaking the rules, part 1: Modifying Keltrian practice

My Feast of Flowering altar to Boann and Nuada last year.

A confession of sorts: When many Keltrians honor Bilé at the Feast of Flowering, I instead welcome Nuada Silver-hand. Similarly, instead of Danu for the Feast of Fruiting, I honor Aine, the Sun Goddess. When I lived in an apartment, I didn't make my offerings to a sacred fire, instead leaving them at the foot of a designated tree after the rite. When I had a working study group, we didn't use mead and water, but opted for a single chalice of an agreed-upon beverage: New York apple cider (non-alcoholic). I've never had "patens" for my chalices, and admittedly have never been truly clear on what they are.

If you have read the Book of Ritual, you're probably smiling by now -- or frowning, if you consider yourself a strict traditionalist. The uninitiated (metaphorically speaking) may grouse: "Wait, you're the Vice President of the Henge. How come you get to break the rules?"

Naughty rule-breaker, including narrative rules

I've meant to write an essay on this topic -- perceived ritual rule-breaking -- for a long time, but never quite knew how to broach the topic. I couldn't come up with clear research other than the "unverified personal gnosis" (UPG) so dreaded in Reconstructionist circles, or a tidy introduction like I so often do in my academic articles on the Gods.

So, abandoning my usual literary reserve to the wind, I'm just going to hack at it, piece by piece.

By the book, the good and the bad

Altar - Keltrian Druid - Gathering 2012

Altar - Keltrian Druid - Gathering 2012

When you're just starting out on a path, there is a natural tendency to go "by the book," using it as a guide to all matters. In many cases, this is a positive development. Adhering to the suggested rituals -- the language, the progression of seasonal deities, the format -- year after year can help you impress Keltrian traditions upon heart and mind. You become part of the culture and its traditions, sharing the waters of the Well of Knowledge.

There are, however, downsides. For one, you might be physically unable to conduct the rites as suggested, due to a lack of land and resources, health considerations, and more. If you're practicing in a college dorm, candles are out. If you have allergies, burning incense might be off limits or practicing outside in an oak grove when the trees are pollinating. You might not be able to locate a sickle or even a sacrificial branch. (A Keltrian living in Singapore, where the cutting of trees is prohibited, has run into the latter problem.)

In short, strict adherence "to the book" would disqualify many people from Keltrian practice -- and that's not the intent at all.

"The Druidess", oil on canvas, by French painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1890)

In such cases, modifications to the ritual format are necessary. I would like to emphasize that a "modified" ritual is not an inferior ritual. It is not less-than, a poor substitute, the equivalent of No Frills versus name-brand. It is simply different.

There is another downside to going "by the book" that can pop up later in your spiritual development. You've read the lore and continue to practice -- and come to different conclusions than listed in the official texts. Are you still a Keltrian?

If your conclusion is that the Lebor Gabála Érenn is foretelling the arrival of the Great Spaghetti Monster, probably not. Keltrian beliefs and practices are centered on the Gods and Goddesses of the ancient Irish, so it's not appropriate to worship deities from other pantheons in the context of Keltrian ritual, although I'd like to point out that this doesn't mean you can't honor such gods outside of Keltrian ritual. (So, if you like to chant to Ganesha after your yoga practice, go for it.)

But if you're taking the same lore/myths/scholarly materials and interpreting it in a way that's supported by the lore (or myths or scholarly materials), that can be perfectly appropriate.

The fact is the Druids didn't write anything down, and much of what we "know" is sewn together from little scraps embedded in half-remembered myths, scholarly speculations based on related Indo-European cultures, and physical artifacts unearthed by archaeology. There is great room for interpretation. What's more, we can't follow these interpretations to the letter because we don't live in the same world as the ancient Celts, with animal sacrifices, a presumably hereditary priestly caste and sacred kings.

That's OK. Another pesky fact: Religious practices change. If Druidry existed in an unbroken line, what it would look like today would be far different from what it looked like when Julius Caesar came invading. Case in point: Hinduism derives from an unbroken Indo-European polytheistic tradition, and has changed dramatically over the past 3,000 years. Vaishnava Hindus today are vegetarians; 2,000 years ago, they sacrificed animals as part of their religious rites. (These traditions are preserved in their oldest texts, the Vedas.) Druidry would have adapted to the end of monarchies, democratization, urbanization and other realities, should they have developed on its watch.

This doesn't mean that "anything goes" when it comes to Druidic belief and practice, but it doesn't mean "my way or the highway" either.

Looking ahead

I hope to make this essay the first in a series on the issue, looking at how we can make Keltrian ritual more accessible -- and also more adaptable.

I would like to emphasize that these efforts are not a criticism of the Book of Ritual or other Keltrian texts. I love Keltria and I find value in it; I wouldn't have stuck around if I hadn't. If you consider yourself a by-the-book traditionalist, all the Gods' blessings upon you!

But these reflections are intended for those who are struggling with the "rules" and, consequently, their place in Keltria. I've been there, truly, and I say to you: Yes, you are welcome here. Even if you live in an apartment, can't do rituals with mead due to substance abuse issues, or question Bilé's interpretation as an Irish god.

Some of the topics I hope to write about (eventually) are:

  • The non-negotiables. What you really do have to abide by to be a Keltrian Druid.
  • Ritual adaptations due to health concerns, physical realities or personal philosophy
  • Choosing different Gods and Goddesses for seasonal rites (but still Irish, of course!)

Beannachtaí!

No Maypole? No problem! Tips on celebrating the Feast of Flowering

A maypole in East Frisia, Germany, by Matthias Süßen - Own work

No doubt they rose up early to observe

The rite of May, and hearing our intent

Came here in grace our solemnity.

-- Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

The great hinge of the year swings to Beltaine, the Feast of Flowering. The cows head to the summer pastures, driven between the smoke of two fires. Flowering branches are brought indoors, to spread the blessings of the green on all therein. Deft hands weave crowns and garlands of blossoms, ornamenting all for the rite.

At modern Pagan gatherings, Beltaine is commonly celebrated with the weaving dance of the Maypole – and the inevitable laughter when the ribbons tangle or someone heads in the wrong direction. Contrary to popular belief, Maypoles aren't an ancient Celtic tradition; they appear to be native to Germanic societies, although the concept of a sacred tree – bilé in Irish lore – is found in cultures worldwide. That doesn't mean, of course, that modern Druids can't have a Maypole in their rites; maypoles have certainly become an entrenched part of Beltaine traditions through the decades, and that's unlikely to end soon.

Flowers, of course, are a traditional part of May Day festivities, as are visiting holy wells. Beltaine, however, is primarily considered a fire festival; the name is often translated as the “fires of Bel” for the Gaulish Belenos or the Irish Bilé, although whether Bilé is a true God is subject to debate. The “fire” portion of the name – tine in modern Irish – is uncontested, however.

Why fire? Beltaine heralds the start of summer, as Samhain does winter in Celtic tradition; the flames are reminiscent of the waxing sun – and perhaps more importantly, the rising tide of life-force. While modern Pagans tend to think of Beltaine as “that sex festival,” it also has themes of purification and protection, as animals and their associated humans leave the bounded home of winter and venture out into the wider world. Fertility is, of course, part of the festival – as are tricks and spontaneous connections with spirits, especially the Sidhe. As with Samhain, the spirit-world is close and many Celtic tales are associated with this time of the year.

Photo by Cypresseyes

I've been Pagan and a Druid for quite some time, and have seen Beltaine celebrated in a wide range of ways. In that spirit, I offer the following thoughts for those who struggle to find a way to celebrate the season.

You don't have to do that sex thang.

Pagans in general are a fun-loving folk, and Beltaine can bring a gamut of randy jokes and flirtatious behavior. For individuals with trauma or pain associated with sexuality, this can become uncomfortable or even frightening. For those of us who lack an appreciation of juvenile humor or reserve our sexual impulses for significant others, a lot of common Beltaine “customs” can just be flat-out annoying.

I admit: I became discouraged by Beltaine as a young woman, when I literally had to hide in a horse stall during one ritual to avoid unwanted attention. (No, not exaggerating – sadly.)

Good news: You don't have to celebrate the holiday that way.

When I celebrate the Feast of Flowering, I honor Boann – Goddess of the river and wisdom – and her husband Nuada, the Sword-God and light of truth. I focus my celebration on the Earth itself, making and offering caudle – a type of porridge – to the land, and bannock with nine knobs to the critters, one species each knob. Most often, that latter is preventative in nature: “I give this to the carpenter ants, so they don't invade my house this upcoming year.” I also walk between the smoke (or at least the light, if I'm doing this indoors) of two fires and relight the hearth-candle for the season.

Key concepts: The awakening Earth and her creatures, light, fire, and the purification and protection offered by fire.

Alternative Maypoles

Let's face it: Maypoles are pretty impractical, even for those who want to celebrate the traditional fertility festival. Yes, there are instructions available on how to build and install one of PVC pipe for even the smallest of backyards, but not everyone is particularly handy with that sort of thing. If I tried to install a Maypole by myself or with a small group of grove mates, chances are that I would end up in the ER after doing something clumsy and Youtube-worthy.

Enter the Alternative Maypole! (Not to be confused with alternative facts; a pole and maying are actually involved.)

One year, White Cat Grove decorated its own interpretation of a Maypole: a seven-foot tall branch. Rather than dance around it, grove members decorated it with ribbons, feathers, beads and butterflies as the ritual act; we also decorated a wreath, which we then attached to the top to symbolize the union of male and female. Afterward, you can offer your creation to the Earth or the fire, or keep it around as a power-object. (I have the pole and wreath to this day in my ritual room.)

Key concepts: Male (something linear), female (something circular), ornamentation, joy.

Cloths tied to a tree near Madron Well in Cornwall. Photo by Jim Champion via Wikimedia Commons

The well-dressed well

Boann is, of course, a river goddess; Nuada is also associated with fresh water, as well as the light of truth and possibly clouds or the sky. Belenos/Bilé, the God most often associated with Beltaine in Keltria, is associated with bonfires as well as trees. With this in mind, you you can choose to focus your Beltaine ritual on the intersection of fire and water or, alternatively, tree and water, sky and water, etc.

Consider well-dressing: Decorate a watery place (springs are traditional, but a bowl of water would work just fine) with flowers, cloth strips known as clooties, even candles if you're working with a bowl. In this polluted age, the waters could use the extra blessings and energy.

Key concepts: April showers bring May flowers, the purity and protection of our water sources.

Do I have to do the May Queen thing?

Personally, I've never enjoyed the selection of May Queen and May King, although I understand the concept. There is a beauty of embodying community's energy for the year – which is how I've often seen this interpreted in Pagan groups – but there also is a weight of expectation to it. The Queen and King dyad can be especially problematic for groups with an unequal number of men and women, and the genderqueer also can feel left out.

Perhaps it's childish of me, but I admit there's also the current of “Crap, I never win anything” associated with it. (Fun fact: I won exactly one drawing-by-chance in my life. The prize: A potted daffodil. My luck ends there, at least when it comes to winning stuff. Needless to say, I don't bother playing the lottery.)

While we didn't have enough men – well, any – for the May King, White Cat Grove did select a May Queen one year with the traditional bean in the cake. The next time, we said “Screw it” and unanimously elected my cat Missy as the May Queen. She had a blast that year, greeting everyone at the door when they arrived and even walking between the two fires.

So, as with everything Beltaine, you can skip the whole May Day royalty bit if you want to.

Key concepts: If it doesn't work for you, screw it. (Not literally, unless it's consensual.)

Happy Maying, all!

Poem: Equinox

The blue has returned, a harbinger

of the next generation of robins,

the bold hydrangeas on the neighbor's bush

 

but that's all in the planning just now.

There is white snow and shreds of white cloud

the meltwater rushing over gravel

 

and everywhere a song: the wild laugh

of the woodpecker, the sigh of lovelorn

chickadees, the blackbirds' electric trill

Crocus by Jenne Micale

Sword, harp and singing bird: Aonghus Óg

Edain came out of Midhir’s hill, and lay

Beside young Aengus in his tower of glass,

Where time is drowned in odour-laden winds

And Druid moons, and murmuring of boughs,

And sleepy boughs, and boughs where apples made

Of opal and ruby and pale chrysolite

Awake unsleeping fires; and wove seven strings,

Sweet with all music, out of his long hair,

Because her hands had been made wild by love.

When Midhir’s wife had changed her to a fly,

He made a harp with Druid apple-wood

That she among her winds might know he wept;

And from that hour he has watched over none

But faithful lovers.

– William Butler Yeats, “The Harp of Aengus”

Amid the falling snow, the light lengthens; buds began to swell on the icicle-laden branch. The green force of life trickles and then flows in tandem, rising forth as winter’s cloak melts from the land.

It is at this time – the birth of spring and its slow swelling – that Keltrian Druids honor Aonghus Óg, the Young Son with the swan wings.

Áengus_mac_Óg,_Irish_deity

A painting of a Victorian era description of Áengus mac Óg, via Wikimedia Commons. Painter unknown.

His name has been variously spelled, and variously interpreted. Scholar and linguist Marie-Louise Sjoestedt interprets his name as “unique force,” while Celticist Mary Jones translates it as “Chosen One.” Writer Aedh Rua, drawing on other research, connects it to the old Celtic/Gaulish name Oinogustus, interpreted as “one choice” or, occasionally, “one strength.” His title is a bit more consistent: Mac Óg means “young son,” and Óg simply “young.” There are, however, variants: Mac ind Óg “son of the young/son of youth” and even Mac in Dá Óg, “son of the two young ones,” which perhaps refers to his parents, Boann and the Dagda (Sjoestedt 41-42).

He is associated with swans, which appear in a variety of myths, as well as four birds that continually circle his head, bringing joy and love (Rolleston 121). Some descriptions have him playing a harp of gold, drinking the ale of immortality and using his cloak of invisibility to protect chosen lovers (McKillop 138). In a larger sense, he appears to be the same god as the Welsh Mabon and Gaulish Maponos, the Divine Youth whom the Romans interpreted as Apollo. To draw on a wider range of Indo-European mythology, he has qualities in common with the Indian Kama, the Slavic Lado/Yarilo and the Norse Baldur.

But don’t let the swans and the flowers fool you; Aonghus is more than a winged Victorian Cupid figure. To use a Greek analogy, he’s equal parts Eros, Apollo and Hermes: the lover, the poet and the trickster. His is the primeval force that shatters the arbitrary chains of tradition — a bit like sex itself. Love may have swan wings and a harp, but he also carries a sword. And he’s not blind; in fact, he’s sharp-sighted and pretty darn smart.

A love that crosses boundaries 

Aonghus Og, from the 1914 book "Heroes of the Dawn," via Wikimedia Commons

Aonghus’ parents, “the Two Young Ones,” are the river-goddess Boann and father-god Dagda. There is a catch, however; Boann is already married to a god named either Elcmar or Nechtan, who may be the same as Nuada Airgetlám, the Tuatha de Danann god associated with rulership, justice, the sword and law. Associated with fresh water and a magic well that eventually transforms Boann into a river, Nechtan must be tricked the allow Aonghus Óg to be born; when the Dagda sends him off on an errand, the gods stop the passage of time to make a single day last nine months, allowing for the birth of the Young Son, who is then sent to his brother Midhir (“judge,” whom I interpret as the Celtic moon god) to raise. Upon his birth, his mother said, “’Young is the son who was begotten at break of day and born betwixt it and evening’” (Rees and Rees, 216), the origin of his title and also a hint of the god’s interesting relationship with time.

While Boann never leaves Nuada, it is perhaps telling that Aonghus is born of an affaire de coeur rather than a sanctioned partnership. He later helps his foster-father Midhir in his own matters of the heart, winning him the hand of lovely Etain (or Edain) via a series of impossible tasks with some help from dad – and conveniently ignoring the fact that Midhir is already married to the goddess Fuamnach. His brother and new wife live with him for a year, perhaps circumventing the rule in which the elder wife would be able to work her will on the new bride during the first days of partnership. When Fuamnach turns Etain into a jeweled insect, he provides Etain a home and protection in the form of a glass room. When the elder wife tricks Aonghus and Midhir away from Etain and blows the latter away with a Druidic wind, it is Aonghus who seeks vengeance, ultimately beheading Fuamnach in a rare act of violence (Heaney 25).

In short, propriety and social rules do not matter to the Young Son; throughout myth, he supports the path of the heart, no matter the cultural ramifications or consequences. He’s probably a great fan of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, although he’d likely give the titular couple more time together before the inevitable disaster.

He does meddle in human affairs of the heart, although in a protective role rather than the typical Cupid-armed-with-arrows image. His foster-son, Diarmuid of the Love-Spot, has the magical ability to inspire transgressive love, which he tries to curtail by keeping the infamous spot covered. He inevitably slips up and Grainne, new bride to his chief Finn, falls in love with him – although, dismayed by an arranged marriage to a man older than her father, she was admittedly on the lookout for a better opportunity. She forces Diarmuid to run away with her via a potion and a geis, over his protests. Interestingly, Aonghus seems to bless this love – spiriting the couple away in his cloak of invisibility over the heads of Finn and his men, giving Diarmuid advice on how to keep one step ahead of Finn, and later also spiriting away Grainne alone as Diarmuid fights on. As Diarmuid fights, he uses Aonghus’ sword, Manannan’s spear and a hefty dose of trickery to win the day.

Swan in snow. Photo by Jenne Micale

Love and Time

Aonghus has a complex relationship with time and its manipulation. As seen above, his birth comes after an alteration of time – an illusion that allows a day to last nine months. He is also heavily involved in the myth of Midhir and Etain, which involves the repeated transformations and ultimate reincarnation of the latter, who is continually gained and lost by her love, a cycle reminiscent of the waxing and waning moon.

He gains Brug na Boinne, his home, through the verbal manipulation of time-concepts. He asks the occupant at the time, the Dagda, to borrow the house for a day and a night. Feeling generous as Aonghus does not have a sídh mound of his own, his father grants the request. When he shows up the following day, Aonghus won’t hand over the house-keys. Irish, as it happens, has no article that differentiate “a day” from “day” itself. Or as the god explains it: “’It is clear,’ said the Mac Óc, ‘that night and day are the whole world, and it is that which has been given to me’” (Rees and Rees, 88). It’s a bit of trickery that would make the Greek Hermes proud.

From his conception, Aonghus alters the perception of time – although not time himself. He doesn’t stop the sun’s passage or count the years of Etain’s loss; other gods do that. Instead, he’s an illusionist, making us question the reality of what we see and experience and to look to the loopholes in the contract. In some senses, the Young Son stands outside of time, a perspective that influences the One Choice that must be made. These choices aren’t only limited to love; he advises his father, for example, to trick the ravenous Fomorian satirist Cridenbel by mixing gold coins in his food (Blamires 101), thus poisoning the Fomhoire and providing an alibi all at once. Standing outside of time and recognizing the limits of perception are, in essence, the key to cleverness.

Aonghus interacts with time in another way: by freeing the light and warmth of spring. According to a Scottish myth, the Cailleach – a goddess of winter – imprisons his sister Brighid in the mountain Beinn Nibheis, and Aonghus rides on a white horse to save her (Kondratiev, 152). The god associated with youth, poetry, love and springtime frees the fire-goddess, and together they bring the spring to the wintry land.

The fort of the yew-berry

While Aonghus plays a role in many myths, he’s the focal point of Aislinge Óenguso, the Vision of Aonghus. For a year, the god sees a beautiful woman in a vision or dream; she plays the lute or harp. He falls deeply in love with this vision-woman and begins to pine away, unable to rouse himself from his trance-state. Physicians call in his mother Boann, who searches the world for this woman to no avail. Then they call in his father, the Dagda, who has a rather comical, if pragmatic, response: “What is the use of talking to me? … I know no more than you do” (Celtic Miscellany, 94).

The Dagda, however, calls in another of his sons: Bodhbd (Bodb) Dearg, whose name means “Red Raven” and who is associated with arcane knowledge. Bodb’s search is successful and he finds the woman at Loch Bél Dragon, the Lake of the Dragon’s Mouth. Her name is Caer, a name that appears to be connected to the word cathair, which means a city or rocky fort; she is also called Ibormeith, or Yew Berry. Bodb takes his brother to the lake, where he recognizes the woman of his dreams – who wears a silver band around her neck, connected by gold chains to 150 other young women.

Unable presumably to catch her attention, Bodb refers Aonghus to the rulers of the land, the famous Maedhbh (Maeve) and Aillil, who summon Caer’s father, Ethal Anbhuail, to their hall. He refuses to come, and their forces – aided by the Dagda – overun Ethal’s sídh. Amid threats to his safety, Ethal tells them that he cannot give Caer to them, for she is a shapeshifter whose own power exceeds his own – and possibly that of Aonghus. After a little ungentle prodding, he admits to them how she may be approached: she changes shape each Samhain at the lake. Caer’s hand, as it turns out, cannot be won by either force or trickery.

Come Samhain, Aonghus goes to the lake, where he picks out Caer from 150 identical swans linked by silver chains. He simply calls to her, introduces himself and asks her consent to the match. She gives it, provided that he permit her return to the lake. He happily grants this and they fly off together in the shape of swans, singing the song that puts all into blissful slumber for three days. “The girl stayed with him after that,” the eighth century version of the tale ends (Celtic Miscellany, 97).

In some senses, the story is reminiscent of the Roman Cupid and Psyche, save that the roles are reversed; it is the god who must pursue the vision of his soul and win her hand. Force and flattery cannot win her, only the ability to choose the beloved correctly from others – a task that resurfaces in Midhir and Etain, except the king mistakenly chooses his own daughter rather his wife. After the choice is made, the beloved is asked her consent, which she gives in exchange for free will. Perhaps tellingly, she never leaves him – even though she has the right to leave and return to her lake at any time.

The Rees brothers compare this story to Indian tales of Gandharvas, or nature-spirits who appear as half-bird and half-man; their wives, the Apsaras, are water-nymphs (276). Kama, the Indian god of love with his flower-tipped arrows, “is also called ‘The Gandharva,’” they note (278); Aonghus turns into a swan alongside his bride, in essence, becoming a nature spirit. To take a larger view, shape-changing swan-maidens persist in folklore throughout the world, as part of a larger theme of animal brides.

The Fort of the Yew Berry is obviously something other, a boundary-crosser with great power, the last according to the admission of her father. Where, or what, is the City of the Yew Berry? James MacKillop provides this answer: “Her nickname Ibormeith (yew berry) implies something of the nature of her character. The long-living evergreen yew is commonly a symbol of immortality in European tradition and is still often seen in Christian cemeteries. Wood from the tree is hard to burn and was the favoured material in druids’ wands” (167). The City of the Yew Berry represents a kind of immortality, the numinous, shape-changing power of spirit that lies behind magic.

The story of Caer and Aonghus can be seen as the definition of ideal love: seeking, finding, asking consent and granting free-will. It can also be seen as the artist’s pursuit of the “Muse,” the creative spirit behind the work. (MacKillop, interestingly, sees Aonghus as a god of poetry rather than love.) It can also be interpreted as the sacred’s courtship of and relationship with the soul, who has her own free will and agency.

Restorer of the soul

On swan wings, we alight on another of Aonghus’ roles: the restorer of the soul. Caitlin Matthews considers Aonghus as a powerful “healer of souls” (283), and a primary guardian of the soul-shrine with his sister Brighid (328). In support of this, we may remember the songbirds (or swans, depending on the story) that circle his head, whose tunes inspire joy, love and release from depression. Aonghus and Caer also bring bliss and restful sleep to all those who hear them sing. In some tales, when his brother Midhir loses an eye breaking up a quarrel, Aonghus is the one who brings the physician Dian Cecht to restore him.

Matthews in particular cites Aonghus role in protecting Etain when she was in the shape of a fly, and thus vulnerable to Fuamnach, and his treatment of Diarmuid after his foster-son’s death. While Aonghus cannot restore him to human life, he brings him to the brug, where he breathes the spirit into him every day, allowing the two to converse for a while. Diarmuid experiences, in short, an eerie kind of half-life similar to that of the speaking head of Bran the Blessed in Welsh lore. To Matthews, “Aengus is concerned with the harmony which should be in the soul-shrine” (328), which perhaps explains his violent reaction to the repeated disharmony caused by Fuamnach.

As spring edges into fullness, allow your soul to listen to the song of Aonghus – his birds and his harp, his longing and his love. Like springtime itself, he is fresh and new – the “force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as poet Dylan Thomas puts it. That force – chi, prana, spirit – is a powerful one binding us to the cosmos and its cycles as long as we live, and to art, love, music and visions. Aonghus Óg is a manifestation of this force, which is not limited to lovers or the young, but feeds all who drink from its sweet waters.

Bibliography

A Celtic Miscellany. Ed. and trans. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson. New York: Penguin Books, 1951.

Blamires, Steve. The Irish Celtic Magical Tradition. Cheltanham, UK: Skylight Press, 1992, 2012

Heaney, Marie. Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends. London: Faber and Faber, 1994.

Jones, Mary. “Óengus mac ind- Óg.” Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia. http://www.maryjones.us/jce/oengus.html. Accessed Dec. 29, 2015.

Kondratiev, Alexei. The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. New York: Citadel Press, 2003.

MacKillop, James. Myths and Legends of the Celts. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Matthews, Caitlin and John. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman’s Sourcebook.Rockport, Mass.: Element, 1994.

Rees, Alwyn and Brinley. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. London: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Rolleston, T.W. Celtic Myths and Legends. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1917.

Rua, Aedh. Celtic Flame: An Insider’s Guide to Irish Pagan Tradition. New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2008.

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.

“The Wooing of Etain.” from Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume II, ed. and trans. A.H. Leahy. London: David Nut, 1906. Published on http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/etain.html, Accessed Dec. 30, 2015.

Druidic symbol approved for VA gravestones

Circle Sanctuary's Lady Liberty League reports: "On January 9, 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) added the Awen to its list of emblems of belief authorized for inclusion on the gravestones and other memorial markers it issues to honor deceased veterans.   It is number 65 on the list: http://www.cem.va.gov/hmm/emblems.asp

The first VA headstone with the Awen is already in production and is for retired Air Force Captain Wayne Laliberte of Texas (1954-2013)."

Click here for the full article.

Poem: After the Solstice

Clent standing stones, winter sunset, by Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons

The night lies heavy now, a starless quilt
that holds the gloom close. Candles in windows
call the errant soul home and light the way.

Know, too, that the geese are still flying south,
writing their great letter in the dawn sky.
See the field mouse creeping across the road.

See the goldfinch and his mate greet the Sun.
Know, too, that She is pushing back the night
minute by minute each sunset and dawn.

Light in darkness: Ritual ideas for the Feast of Rebirth

Photo by Cypresseyes

Photo by Cypresseyes

The snow drifts down, light and powdery with the breath of the cold. Dawn tarries and night hurries in.

Now is the time of Meán Geimhridh, what the Henge of Keltria terms the Feast of Rebirth. Traditionally, we honor the Dagda (the Good God, as in "good at everything") and Brighid (her name has been interpreted as "exalted" or "she who rises") for this feast day.

If you have Keltria's Book of Ritual, you'll notice that they don't include suggestions for "Grove's Choice" for the Feast of Rebirth; you're meant to come up with your own ideas here. Grove's Choice is essentially the symbolic act at the heart of the ceremony, and is up to the practitioners; since most people operate as solitaries, I like to call it the meat (or tofu) of ritual.

So, what's my tofu like for Meán Geimhridh?

This year, I'm doing something different: Making a set of prayer beads, according to the instructions set forth in Lunaea Weatherstone’s Tending Brigid’s FlameThe making of the beads is part of the ritual. From my script:

I call upon you, Brighid Bean-Goibhne, Brighid the Smith, for your inspiration in this work. I call upon you, Dagda, the Good God, who is good at all things. Bless my work.

Afterwards, I will immediately use the beads for their intended purpose. Later on in the rite, I will also light candles and chant to strengthen the waxing light, which is something I do every year. The chant (which I always sing, rather than speak) comes from the lore, although the melody is my own:

Peace up to the sky

Sky down to earth

Earth beneath heaven

Strength to everyone

The prayer beads are a new innovation. We'll see how it goes this year. As I make the beads, I plan to play a mix CD I made for Brighid some years back. (Yes, I do make mix-tapes for the Gods. I also have a Morrigan mix and Aonghus Og mix about.)

In previous years, I've tried different innovations. I've honored Brighid as the Goddess of the Hearth and the Dagda as the Lord of Abundance by holding the ritual in the kitchen, baking bannock and meditating on the Gods of the Season while the bannock baked. I've done a trance-meditation on the light reaching the spiral in the heart of Brugh na Boinne (Newgrange).

When White Cat Grove was more than just me, I also had each member present write a blessing on a slip of paper and put it in the bowl; they included such things as health, warmth, financial security, right livelihood, etc. Here's the meditation:

Dagda, the Good God, has a cauldron from plenty from which none ever go hungry. He is the father that feeds the tribe, lover and protector and nourisher. The Red One of Knowlege bestows blessings without stinginess, without fail, for all those who seek. And so, in this time of cold, let each of us follow example, granting blessings in a time of darkness.

What blessings does the world need most -- you, your family, your Druid sisters? Ask not for yourselves, but as the bestower of blessing. When the Dagda's spirit moves you, take up the paper and pen and grant four blessings on separate slips of paper. Then fold them and out them in the offering bowl

At the end of the meditation, each of us took one slip to show the Gods' blessings on our own lives. The rest went into the offering fire.

These are just some of the ways I cook my ritual-tofu for the Feast of Rebirth. Feel free to use any of these ideas, and to share your own!

Feed the fish: Drop your hazelnuts into the Well of Wisdom! We're always looking for submissions to the Keltria blog: poetry, photos, essays, articles, recipes, random musings related to the Henge and more! Share your imbas with your fellow Keltrians. Contact HH-Editor@keltria.org or dulcimergoddess@keltria.org.

Name Poem: An exercise for the poetically-minded

I recently finished Lunaea Weatherstone's Tending Brigid's Flame, a truly wonderful book about my matron Goddess. I can't recommend it enough, truly.

One of the many explorations and exercises Weatherstone recommends is the creation of a name-poem, similar in spirit to the Song of Amergin or the Song of Taliesin. The poem captures your essence of self -- your attributes, perhaps the turning-points in your life if you choose to include them -- in imagery that speaks to your spirit.

Weatherstone doesn't go into the purpose of the poem, specifically, but I imagine it can be used to give strength when you are weary and courage when you are afraid. It sings the soul back home, and changes when you feel that you need to change it -- like your life.

My name-poem follows. What is yours?

I am the fox that escapes every hound

the speckled veery on its forest perch

the tune of a song threaded by birds

 

I am the ink that scribes the words of truth

the artisan of the air, beading words

and music into a vast creation

 

I was born of blossoms in the sun's heat

the much-cherished daughter of the heavens

who bears a name of ill-repute and boldness

 

I am a warrior of the wind

who lands no blows but sends the opponent

into the diamond net of gravity

 

I am the pale phantom and the noose

whose borrowed name asks: “Who is like god?”

I am the namer and the describer.

 

I am the walker in dreams, the changer

behind the veil of sleep, the traveler

in my coracle of harp string and drum

 

I am a fisher-cat for fierceness

and an owl for grace. I am the great leaves

of borage, the blue stars of its bloom

 

I am an oak tree, a green stone, a stoat,

a spear, the strength of the arm and the foot

I am a priestess of flame and delight

 

I hold the dream-spear of the Red Woman

I wield the sword of the Fisher King

I serve at the altars of all the Gods

the_arts_poetry

"Poetry", part of the series The Arts, by Alphonse Mucha (1898) via Wikimedia Commons

Ogham Poem: Sail, the Willow

Willow tree in spring, England, by Sb2s3 via Wikimedia Commons

Willow tree in spring, England, by Sb2s3 via Wikimedia Commons

This is the latest in my series of Ogham explorations through poetry. For interpretations, I rely on Erynn Rowan Laurie's Weaving Word Wisdom, which -- in my view -- is the best book on Ogham currently available. For her interpretations, she relies on traditional poetic phrases associated with the feda; these are what I draw on in my poetry. Sail, of course, means willow. I use the Latin salce (pronounced sul-chay) to mimic Verdi's "The Willow Song."

 

Your long hair swinging, you sway over

the mere to peer in its murky depths,

the bees singing the song of your name

O salce, salce, salce, O --

 

and the branches underneath the dun

forge the faces of the dead, beloved

and gone, humming with the bees their song

O salce, salce, salce, O --

 

Music is the delight of the dead.

Fleshless skulls sing from under the skree

send tendrils to the waters below

O salce, salce, salce, O --

 

The heavy scent of your garlands mask

the compost of misplaced desires, sins

and crimes. Even maggots make their place

O salce, salce, salce, O --

 

Make a garland of your hair, a harp

strung of its gold that tells always truth

the muddy pond steals back from the sky

O salce, salce, salce, O --

 

Garland dead lovers and living seers --

The moon pulling the tide to ebb

unveiling the dead under the foam

O salce, salce, salce, O --

 

Nine times nine, a chorus of witches

hums with the bees and the mighty dead

under that ghost light, that lamp of time

O salce, salce, salce, O --

 

Let your voice rise with the time and tide,

rush like waters under the tree,

lave the unclean, unshroud the hidden

O salce, salce, salce, O --

 

Your long hair swinging over the hole

that mirrors the sky, you sing with the bees

"Music is the delight of the dead"

O salce, salce, salce, O --