About Steward of the Wood

The Celtic Triad calls their children to them and so it was with Steward of the Wood since childhood. A 7th generation Tennessean, he grew up in the Appalachian Mountains and was nurtured by the forests, streams, and mountains. Free to roam the woods, he quickly made the connections with the spirits of the land, his Scotch-Irish ancestors, and the Gods and Goddesses. This led him to a career as a forester and scientist. His studies of native cultures, their spirituality, and archeology led him to Druidism and the Henge of Keltria which resonated with his Celtic roots. Currently a member of the Ring of Birch, he strives to incorporate Bardic training in his life.

Were They Warriors?

by Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

War has been a factor of the human existence for tens of thousands of years.  Our Celtic ancestors reveled in war among themselves and with others and the Bards revered warriors like Cúchuláinn and Finn mac Cumhaill in tales.  Have you ever wondered if your ancestors were soldiers or supported armies?  Common touch points in the USA are the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Vietnam War.  Entire organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, have developed around this interest in our ancestors.

Learning whether an ancestor served during a war used to be quite tedious, but recently has become much easier. Increasingly, documents about military involvement of past wars have become available online or at least streamlined through federal, state, and local processes.

My grandfather served in World War I and my father and uncles served in World War II. I always wondered if my ancestors also fought in the Civil War and Revolutionary War. Growing up in the state of Tennessee in the U.S. where sympathies were very mixed between the Union and the Confederacy, I also wondered for which side my ancestors fought. Were they arrayed on both sides? In addition, since my ancestors originated from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, I was not certain whether they fought for the American Republic or the English during the American Revolutionary War.

Like many Americans, rumors and stories abounded within my family as to whether ancestors fought; and if so, for whom they fought. As I embarked on my now-consuming ancestry quest a few years ago, I decided to investigate the issue of whether they were warriors or not.

National Archives Building Washington DC

Military records are available in the U.S. through a variety of sources such as the National Archives, books of lists of muster records, and on-line resources. Given these various resources, my first move was to sort through my family trees to develop a candidate list with men between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five for the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. Given that these wars occurred on U.S. soil, I assumed that it was "all hands on deck"; or in other words, every abled-bodied man (and many women) served in some capacity. This age range at least held most of the best candidates. Then the search began.

Sources of information range from free, such as books available from a library or a historical society, to “for pay,” such as www.ancestry.com. As you can imagine, the free sources require more work but can be effective. In addition, the U.S. National Archives are a great source of military records. My personal favorite source is www.ancestry.com. On their web site, I can search military records and have been able to identify seven possible ancestors who served in the American Civil War. To no surprise, given that Tennessee was viewed as a “border state,” most of my ancestors from the western part of the state were Confederate soldiers while those in the eastern part of the state were Union soldiers. It was literally true that the war divided families.

Men with common names are the hardest to prove; and when I looked up several of my ancestors, I found many soldiers with the same name. To solve one case when I found two likely candidates, I ordered the service records of each. To order, go to www.archives.gov . At the bottom of the home page, select “I want to: Get my military record.” This will take you to another page where you select “Older (pre-WWI) Service Records,” which is listed on the left side of the page. Then choose “How to order older military service or Pension Records” and you have the choice of ordering online or printing the form and mailing it. The cost of each of my requests was $25. From the two soldiers who I checked, I was able to determine which one was my ancestor by where he enlisted. It was so interesting to see copies of the actual pay stubs and to follow him across the South. He was wounded and spent time in a hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; then he was a prisoner of war and ended up in Baltimore, Maryland. It is fascinating.

Daughters of the American Revolution Washington DC

Similar records exist for the U.S. Revolutionary War through books and the U.S. Archives. The records of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) are a fabulous resource and are searchable. Records from the DAR are especially useful because: 1) their requirements for proof are strong, hence the records tend to be reliable and 2) they include descendants of the soldier, so several generations are listed. My grandmother, aunt, and cousin were members and they did the hard work to prove our ancestry. Through various searches, I have identified ten ancestors who served in the war and most of them have proven records in the DAR. Interestingly in one case, both husband and wife occur as veterans. The wife “furnished supplies.” This may seem trivial now but I am certain that it could have meant her imprisonment or death if caught. She must have had the Celtic warrior woman’s genes…go Mórrígan! To date, all my ancestors who I have found were soldiers for the U.S. rather than the British.

These are but a few examples of military actions, which may have involved our ancestors. As mentioned earlier, my grandfather, father, and uncles were all veterans, and I have their service records. Despite whether we are supportive of war or not, our ancestors made their choices and those choices are part of whom they are. As we seek to know them, it is also important to know if they were warriors. If this becomes a source of interest and pride, then there are organizations such as the DAR or Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) that you can join to pursue those interests. Keep up the quest.

Ádh mór ort!

You Hear Them Calling

You Hear Them Calling

By Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

Do you have any of those nagging family stories that just will not leave you alone?  One of the many intriguing stories in my family is the reason that my grandfather, Abner Hamblen, changed the spelling of his last name to Hamblin.  My grandfather, his brothers and sisters, and their parents had a major rift before my mother was born.  As a result, my mother, her siblings, and their children did not know many, if any, of their numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Mom told my sister and me that her father changed the spelling of his last name, Hamblen to Hamblin, over this family rift.  According to her story when my grandfather was a young man, one of the numerous Hamblens died; and it seems the maker of the tombstone misspelled the name as Hamblin.  This caused such a furor in the extended family that, in anger, my grandfather changed his name.  I have heard that story my whole life.  It was a sad story, which had nagged me.  I always wanted to say to my grandfather, “Pawpaw, changing your name seemed such a drastic thing to do.  Why would you do that?”  Unfortunately, he died when I was about eight years old so that dialogue was not an option.

Three years ago, I met and started communicating with a second cousin, who had a very different story.  In fact she is a daughter of my great uncle, i.e., my grandfather’s brother, and therefore closer to the event than I.  The story her father told was that Abner (my grandfather) was so mean that he kicked their poor father off his farm and his father had to go live in Chattanooga, Tennessee with his other children.  This new story sparked great interest in me to explore this issue.  My cousin and I have had several other ancestry discoveries together and this seemed to be the next one to tackle.

Given the sleuths we both are, she and I discussed information we already had and what else we needed.  We needed farm deeds; any letters in the family about the subject; to talk with living relatives who might have relevant information; names of family members and if, and when, they changed; birth and death dates and places; and any other information on relationships among family members.  I spoke with several relatives including my aunt, my last living aunt or uncle; my sister; and my cousins.  Unfortunately, they each knew the same story that I did, so that information was not helpful.

Next, we turned to the US Census, which can be accessed in various ways.  I chose to go into www.ancestry.com to which I have a membership.  A complete listing of all US Census is available and easily accessible.  It is also accessible via www.familysearch.org/search  where I entered the first and last name and searched.  I chose various census listings for different decades.  I searched for both Abner Hamblin and Christopher Columbus Hamblen, his father.  As expected , I found that Abner was born with Hamblen as his last name and that spelling was used in the 1880 Census.  To my surprise, he also used it in the 1930 Census.  However, he used Hamblin in 1900, 1910, and 1920.  Columbus Hamblen was listed as Hamblin in the 1860 (actually Hamlin), 1870, 1900, 1910, and on his death certificate in 1941.  He used Hamblen in 1850 and 1880 on his Censuses and 1876 on his marriage certificate.  Hence, they both flipped back and forth freely.

Next, we went in search of land deeds in Anderson County, Tennessee.  I sent a letter to the Register of Deeds giving my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s names and asked if there were any deeds in either name along with a range of years.  I offered to pay for the work.  A very nice letter arrived a few weeks later with copies of two deeds belonging to my grandfather Hamblin.  Much to my surprise, there was no charge.  I looked at the seller of the land and in neither case was it from my great-grandfather to my grandfather. Therefore, we negated the possibility that the feud started over a land transaction that soured.

My cousin's father told her that Columbus Hamblen lived the last few years of his life on my grandfather’s farm.  According to her father, my grandfather kicked his father off the farm and he had to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee to live with his other children.  To help solve this piece of the puzzle, I went back on-line to www.ancestry.com and found a copy of the Death Certificate for my great-grandfather.  These records are also available by writing to the county officials.  Guess what…it was in Anderson County where the farm was located rather than in Chattanooga.  I also recall my uncle telling me that the US Government condemned my grandfather’s farm in the early 1940’s to help create Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  At the time, my uncle helped to dig up the few graves, including my great-grandfather’s grave, in the small family cemetery on the farm to relocate them.  I checked with my cousin and she had documentation that his grave was relocated to a cemetery near Chattanooga.  These pieces of the puzzle then solidified the fact that my great-grandfather died in Anderson County, probably on the farm, and was buried on the farm in the family cemetery.  Apparently, my grandfather had not kicked his father off the farm.  Hence, we debunked that theory.

Sharing this information with our current and future relatives is very important to me.  Early in my ancestry work, I invested in ancestry software to help organize the information.  Then I submitted the family tree information to on-line ancestry services like www.rootsweb.ancestry.com, which is free to use, and www.ancestry.com, which has a cost.  Fortunately, there are several options and the costs seem reasonable.  I looked at a few options and quickly settled on Family Tree Maker.  In fact, I just purchased the 2012 version that is available on-line through the various bookstores (e.g., Amazon.com).  Family Tree Maker is directly connected with both www.ancestry.com and www.rootsweb.ancestry.com  making interconnectedness very simple.  The interconnectedness accelerated my own work and made it much easier once I began to spend a lot of time working on my ancestry.  Using some common type of software is useful because you can then share easily with others and it organizes your information in a standard format.  I initiated a different family tree for each of my four grandparents.  This has kept the file sizes at a manageable level.  Always keep a hardcopy and electronic backup of everything as computers sometimes fail.  Develop a good filing system early as it will serve you in the future.

My cousin and I still have not pinpointed a “smoking gun” but we continue to delve into it.  The cause of the rift was my grandfather’s poor relations with his father.  Although stubbornness and some level of pride run in my family, I feel that my Hamblen/Hamblin ancestors want us to know what happened.  Could it be a lesson for us not to repeat such a disaster?  Are they telling My cousin and me that ill-founded pride causes much suffering? Do my grandfather and his father regret the rift and seek resolution through my cousin and me?

Ancestors are with us always.  They can advise us and help us resolve old issues like the long-festering one in my family and they can help us know the future or possible results of our actions.

In Keltria, we honor the Ancestors as one of the three basic tenants of our spirituality.  We must know them and work closely with them in our search for wisdom.  We may be their chance for peace or vice versa.

 - Ádh mơr ort!

Kilclooney More Portal Tomb – Part 2 of 2

Kilclooney More Portal Tomb

Part 2 of 2

by Steward of the Wood

Continued from Part 1 of 2

Photo of Steward of the Wood at Kilclooney More Portal

Steward of the Wood

The deer we saw were so graceful; and as we passed along the track, they looked up.  In love and deference, they slightly bowed their heads in silent acknowledgement to their Lord, Spirit of the Buck.  At that moment, Steward became aware of the thoughts of the Spirit of the Buck.  He thought, “Steward, on a later journey, you will meet Cernunnos, God of Wild Things and Wild Places.  Cernunnos told me that, like me, he knew you in past lives and even in your current life, he sees you in the forests of the mundane world.  He and his children guide you.  He knows your strong desire to meet and learn from him.”

After a seemingly brief walk, we arrived in the Sacred Grove.  It was about 90 feet across and was encircled by nine enormous oaks.  Their crowns touched on the sides yielding a continuous ring of branches and leaves.  The soil was level and exuded fertility.  Soft to walk on, it was a moist, deep dark brown in color with its top layer infused with leaf mould, surely the home of earth worms and other creatures.

A large stone altar stood in the center and it faced east.  The altar resembled a recumbent stone held within a stone circle that Steward had seen in Scotland with one large stone, six feet long, lying on its side and one standing stone on either side of the recumbent stone.  The standing stones were about the same size as the recumbent stone.  Each stone displayed numerous symbols: circles, wheels, concentric circles, spirals, zigzag lines, and fish.

Finally a well stood on the southeast side near the entrance of the Grove but inside it.  There were nine hazels growing around it in a circle with the crowns touching on the sides and almost touching in the middle over the well.  The well itself was about six feet in diameter and the perimeter consisted of a low stone wall about three feet high.

Since Steward was standing at the southeast entrance to the Grove, he could see the well clearly and it too had similar ancient symbols carved on its stones.  Compared to the altar, more of the symbols on the well were fish.  “Ah, they are salmon and this is the Well of Segais.  It must contain the Salmon of Wisdom who feed on the sacred hazel nuts,” he thought.

Reading his mind, Guide said aloud, “Yes, Steward, this is the Well of Segais.  On a later journey you will meet Boann, Goddess of Springs and Cattle Goddess.  But now, we must not keep her waiting.  Please enter the Grove and offer your praise as you circle the altar, then she will meet you at the eastern portal.”

Steward slowly entered the Sacred Grove.  Tentative at first but with growing confidence, he moved deiseil around the altar.  “Greetings to you loved ones, Nature Spirits: spirit of the deer, of the trees, and birds; so to you Hidden Ones, the faeries, elves, and dwarfs.  I also honor and greet you, Ancestors, my ancestors of this sacred land and Druids of Old.  Gods and Goddesses of my people, my tribe, I honor you and lift you up in glory,” He intoned.  As he approached the eastern portal, he saw movement in the forest and then a woman moved slowly into the Grove.

Tall and lithe, she moved with elegant grace.  Her long, dark, wavy hair cascaded over her shoulders and down her back, helping to frame the beautiful green gown that she wore.  Obviously of fine wool, the gown was covered in Celtic patterns of intricate needle-point.  When their eyes met, blue eyes smiled laughingly back at Steward.  “So you finally came, Steward of the Wood.  I haven’t seen you here since your last life span with us.”

“I have just discovered the portal, Brigid, Goddess of Inspiration, Healing, and Fire in the Hearth,” Steward said.  “Somehow I knew it was you who beckoned me when Epona said ‘She has been expecting you.’  I pray to you daily and we speak in my meditations.  You are even more inspiring to behold in person.  I love you, Brigid, and honor you, dedicating my lives to you.”  Brigid smiled and said, “Yes, we are together frequently in spirit and I guide you as requested.  I know that you are on the Bardic Path and have a request of you.”  At that, Steward slowly, reverently, stepped forward and gently leaned forward as his hands sought hers, in a gesture to kiss them.  With one surprisingly swift motion, she clasped his arms, drawing him to her.  Her embrace was strong for one so lithe.

Steward was enthralled in a state of rapture.  She enveloped him in an embrace that emitted love, healing, yet enlightening and accepting.  When Steward could regain a little of his senses, he felt that they literally glowed, emitting white, healing light.  Inspiration filled his very being…lifting him, skyward.

His spirit soared, banking, climbing, and diving over the forest.  He felt like a giant bird, a hawk, and he began to sense his shape.  And to his astonishment, he was a hawk…a red-tailed hawk.  The rush of the air was exhilarating.  He looked down and even though he was 1000 feet in the air, he could see objects clearly on the ground in forest openings.  Baking left, he spied the Sacred Grove as the distinctive circle of the large oaks.

Suddenly, from above, he heard the shrill call of a hawk.  As he quickly banked to look up, another red-tailed hawk came screaming, and then laughing, past him in a steep dive.  Steward dove following her and then he knew her, it was Brigid!  The pair played on the sylphs of the wind, climbing, diving, circling, chasing, and being chased.  It was ecstatic, beyond inspiring.

Finally, she slowed and circled to place herself beside him as they slowly soared together, side by side in the crisp, blue sky.  Suddenly he could feel her presence inside him, speaking to him.  “Steward, is this the inspiration you seek?”  “It is, my Lady,” he responded.  “Follow me then,” her thoughts spoke.

At this moment she dove for the earth, the Grove in sight.  She circled down in a spiral with Steward following.  He could see their bodies on the ground still locked in embrace, flowing in the rapture.  Brigid, in her hawk-form with wings spread like a parachute and taloned feet outstretched, approached Brigid in her woman-form and the two merged into the woman-form.  Steward followed suit.  The approach was swift and scary but the merging of spirits, as his hawk-form touched his man-form, was quick and effortless.

Back in his man-form, feeling like melted butter in the after-glow of the experience, Steward felt weak but exceptionally good.  Brigid held him, less firmly now and more supportive.  Sensing his weakness, she helped him over to the nearby well where they sat on the stone wall.

Steward of the Wood was the first to speak, “Brigid, you know my request to you for inspiration.  As a Druid and a Bard-in-training, I seek your help.”

“I agree to help you.  How did you like the first lesson,” she asked laughing heartily?  “In all seriousness though, this is a hard, yet extremely fulfilling path you tread.  After many past lives that you have led, it is now time to move into the Druidic realm.  But it is hard at times, joyous at other, and frequently lonely.  Remember, now you serve others.  It is time that your past knowledge is put to use serving the mundane world and the Otherworld.  Past lives as a deer, a hawk, a salmon, a wren, a drop of water, a tree, and many other beings, inform your knowledge.  Bring them to bear.”

“I understand,” said Steward, the words flowing through him like a river.  “I sensed the time was right.  As long as I can remember, the calling of the Earth Mother and her children beckoned me.  My Grandmother, the embodiment of the Earth Mother, firmly guided and sharpened my desire to know my Ancestors.  The Gods and Goddesses called to me and I learned about them in many cultures.  Four years ago, the ancient memories of the Celts and my heritage, imbedded in my genes, spoke to me in a clear voice.  The memories said, “Come home.”

“Listen carefully, Steward,” the Goddess said lovingly but in a slightly forceful manner.  “You are on an ancient search.  This search has guided you through many lifetimes, many cycles, and many eras.  With your interest in walking the path of Druidry, focus on being a Bard now.  Learn those skills.  They will serve you well.  Your teacher, Wren, will lead you.  Give her your full attention.  I will work with both of you.”

“Now the time has come for you to depart,” said Brigid.  “Walk with wisdom.  I love you and am with you always.”  At that, she stood and Steward joined her.  They embraced and Steward closed his eyes, seeking to burn the warm, accepting, loving feelings into his brain.  “Thank you, Goddess, thank you,” he said, the only words that he could muster as he was overcome with deep emotion.

She loosened the embrace and gently separated from him, looking deeply into his eyes…and soul.  “I have helped you in other ways in other lifetimes, but in your human lifetime, you and I are bound closely and you can count on me.”

“And you can count on me.  I dedicate myself to you and this Bardic pathway,” Steward replied.

“Go then, but visit me here often,” said Brigid.

“I pledge to do so,” sighed Steward.

Steward stepped back, bowed slightly to her, and continued the circle deiseil to the entrance on the southeast where guide and Spirit of the Buck awaited him.

Just before leaving, Steward turned to face the Grove.  In a strong, clear voice, he addressed it.  “Ancient Ones, Wise Ones and Hidden Ones, Gods and Goddesses, and Ancestors, I, Steward of the Wood, your child thank you.  I am refreshed as I hope you are by our communion.  It is time for me to depart but I will return soon now that I have discovered the portal.  I thank you with all my mind, body, and spirit.  I thank the Goddess Brigid, for her love and nurture.”

Then he turned to face outward from the Grove and addressed Guide and the Spirit of the Buck, “Are you ready my dear friends?  I cannot thank you enough for your guidance and help.”

“We enjoy your presence, Steward of the Wood.  It is a pleasure for us to have you here and we expect to see you often now.   This Path can be harsh at times, so prepare for some surprises on future visits,” said Guide.  Spirit of the Buck looked at Steward and his thoughts came through to Steward loud and clear, “My son, Steward of the Wood, I have enjoyed your visit.  On future visits, you will join me on forays deep into the forests and Cernunnos and his children will join us.  Also someone else who you just met will be with you from now on.”   At that moment, he motioned upward with his head.  Steward looked up to see a large, red-tailed hawk circling overhead.  As their eyes met, the hawk dipped a wing to Steward and shrieked!

The journey back to the mundane world sped by quickly for Steward.  His mind was swimming as he parted from Guide, Spirit of the Buck, and Spirit of the Hawk as he crossed over the Veil.  So much had happened to him but he was well on the Bardic Path now.  He thanked Manannán Mac Lir for opening the Veil so that he could pass.  “Manannán Mac Lir, I am so grateful to you for helping me by parting the Veil.   Thank you,” said Steward.  “Gladly, I part the Veil for a child of Danu.  Please come often, Steward.”

“I will do so, Manannán.  Walk with wisdom,” said Steward.  Then he entered the passage in the sídhe and journeyed back to the mundane world.

As he exited the dolman, Epona greeted him.  “Steward of the Wood, how was your journey?  Well, I hope.  Did you gain what you sought from Brigid?”

“I did that,” said Steward.  “She has agreed to help me in my Bardic path.  She will serve as my muse and the source of my inspiration.”  At that moment, they were interrupted by a high pitched shriek.  Looking up into the blue sky, they saw a hawk…a red-tailed hawk sailing by.   “It is the Spirit of the Hawk,” said Steward.  “She is the messenger of Brigid and represents inspiration for me.”

Epona smiled and nodded her head knowingly, then turned the white horse toward the gate.  As they walked, Steward reflected on the events of the past few hours.  He had been praying, meditating and seeking guidance and help from the Goddess Brigid as he moved forward as a Bard.  Little had he imagined that those prayers would be answered.  She had soared with him and now he was firmly on his way.

At the gate, Steward looked up into the face of the Goddess Epona.  She was faithful to him and so would he be to her.  “Goddess, thank you.  You have guided me to the Otherworld and I am eternally grateful,” said Steward.

“I understand and gladly serve my destiny.  Please come again, Steward of the Wood.  We await your return,” Epona said.

Steward turned from her, the white mare, and the black dog.  “Where will my journey take me next,” thought Steward as he walked away from the gate?

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Connecting with your Ancestors

Connecting with your Ancestors

By Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

What is it that connects people, not only to family but even to total strangers?  Of course many things attract us, but one of the strongest is our common bonds.  Humans are “pack” animals like horses, wolves, cattle, and many other creatures.  In addition to a common need for shelter and food, there is a basic need for social interaction.  We need each other spiritually as well as biologically.

Have you ever stopped to think of all the ways that you are connected to other humans, both alive and dead?  It is a fact that the DNA in every cell of your body was passed to you by your ancestors.  In fact you are carrying exact copies of genes that are tens to hundreds of thousands of years old.  No wonder we feel closeness with our ancestors.  In addition, our bodies and personalities are shaped by those genes and the family environment in which we grew.  When you look at a stranger’s face in a crowd, do you sometimes see your own or a close relative’s features?  There is a reason for that.  A simple formula (2n) illustrates my point.  For every generation that you go back from yourself, take where n is the number of generations from yourself. For the number of parents, n=1 and you have =2. For your grandparents, n=2 and you have =4 and so on. Just for fun, let’s go back twelve generations, about 400 years, to when the Europeans arrived in the New World.  If I did my math right, we would each have 4096 ancestors.  Can you imagine?  No wonder there is a common bond to others…we are all generally related. Assuming that there are on average three generations per hundred years, how many people were our direct ancestors when the Celts arrived in Ireland perhaps 2500+ years ago, in 75 generations?

Spiritually as Druids, we feel a strong connection to our ancestors as well as to our own spirits from past lives.  We believe that the Ancestors are with us at all times; and remember, yours are there too.  Our parents, grandparents and so on back to the dawn of time are with us… and that is a good thing.  As you pray to the Ancestors during ritual or at other times, pray to your personal ancestors, call them by name, look at their pictures, hold an object that they owned, visit their home or other place where they lived or died.  If you listen carefully, they will communicate with you.  It is exhilarating.  Personally, it is more of a “knowing” that an ancestor is with me or perhaps the hair may stand up on the back of my neck or I may feel a little queasy.  I am learning to not panic but to just “be with it” and listen with all my senses.  By this simple process, I often feel a “leaning or direction” which leads to a solution to my question.

I observed a very interesting phenomenon over my life time, but especially in the past five years as I learned specifically about Druidry.  Almost universally, people like to talk about their relatives, their ancestors, and where they lived.  As I grew closer to my ancestors, I started making a point to ask others about their ancestors.  Almost without exception, someone will tell me about where they grew up and then frequently we begin to talk about the national origin of their family.  It is amazing and incredibly powerful.

Usually the interaction starts with a general dialogue.  For example, this dialogue could develop sitting next to someone on a plane.  With family, friends, and colleagues, the discussion may unfold over a cup of coffee or other libation.  At some point, I ask where they “hail from” and then the dialogue and excitement invariably starts.  I always encourage them to share first and then I share some of my background.  Many times the person asks me how I came to learn so much about my ancestors.  I describe the process of starting with living relatives and resources such as family trees, pictures, letters, etc.  Then I describe using online resources, both free and for-pay.  Usually at this point, I give them the free website of www.rootsweb.com.  Two simple examples follow of how this worked for me.

Last summer, my sister and her life partner visited me; and of course during the visit, I engaged them in a discussion of ancestry. My sister’s partner told me her family story and how little ancestry she knew beyond her grandparents. Later that day, I invited her to sit with me at the computer to investigate ancestry together. Before long, we found information on her parents and grandparents and their siblings. Intrigued, I traced her family tree for several hours the next day and pieced together her ancestry to the early 1800’s.

Photo of Immigrants Landing at Ellis Island - Public Domain - US Government

Immigrants landing at Ellis Island, New York Harbour (c.1900)

She joined me periodically, her eyes glistening and her voice animated. When they left the next day, I presented her with a hardcopy of her family tree dating to the early 1800s. I have known her for over twenty years and cannot remember an incident in which she was so excited.  I gifted her with knowledge and the possibility of connection with her ancestors.  Since then she shared her family tree with her brothers and sisters and they also celebrated. What a marvelous gift and it took so little time on my part.

Another interesting incident happened recently. During a phone conversation with a work colleague from Washington, DC, she asked how I liked living in Colorado.  I replied, “I like it fine and am comfortable with the cold weather since my ancestors evolved in northern Europe.”  She immediately asked me for more details about the origin of my ancestors.  Then she quickly mentioned that her grandparents immigrated to the US through Ellis Island, New York during the 1930s and 1940s.  They were Jewish and originated from central Russia.  Unfortunately she knew little about the family except their names and origin.  I told her of possible resources including websites and how to use them. The power of our conversation fascinated me and her energy and enthusiasm was incredible.

I am called as a Bard and Druid to explore my own ancestry and to help others discover theirs. Many resources are available today, often on-line at our fingertips. Clearly a worldwide movement exists to learn about our ancestors.  Over the years, I watched the increase of the number of individuals listed on www.rootsweb.com from a few million to tens of millions.  The number grows daily…and the website is free.  Starting with this article, I will write a series of articles for Henge Happenings. Each one will address a specific aspect of learning about our ancestors. Please join me for each one and I invite you to work along with me. I ardently welcome your feedback through the Henge of Keltria office or the Keltria-L or Keltria-G group sites.  The Keltria-G group site is dedicated to ancestry. Whether you are already active in your search or just beginning, we all benefit from sharing what we know or asking questions to facilitate our quests.

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Kilclooney More Portal Tomb

KILCLOONEY MORE PORTAL TOMB

Part 1 of 2

by Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

She met Steward of the Wood at the gate to the track, riding side saddle on the white mare with a black dog and young, brown filly running playfully beside her. Epona, Goddess of Fertility and Bounty, smiled down at him in all her glory with that warm, welcoming smile and the aura of health and abundance emanating from her.  As the mare beneath her stood still, the brown filly gently nursed the mare and the black dog nudged Steward’s hand.  “We are glad you came, Steward of the Wood.  She has been expecting you and I am to guide you to the Veil.”  Only then did he remember that Epona was also known to be a guide to the Otherworld (Summerlands, Tír na nƠg).

Steward was awe-struck.  Little had he imagined such an encounter on this fine September day in Donegal, Ireland.  As a Druid, he was in search of the Gods and Goddesses and the Nature Spirits of this ancient land.  In the planning of this quest, his body, and it’s very DNA, tingled at the prospects of encountering the Ancestors, including his own Irish ancestors.  Now he was here, in Donegal, at the site of the Kilclooney More Portal Tomb and looking into the beautiful face of a Goddess, Epona, with her long, dark brown tresses cascading over her shoulders and along the back of her white woolen tunic to grace the mare’s back.

“I greet you Goddess Epona and your companions,” he said, searching for words in his faltering wits.  “I come in love and peace and seek communion with the Gods and Goddesses, those who I honor with my devotion.  I am a child of this ancient land through my ancestors,” he continued.

“We know them… and you,“ she said as a sly smile graced her lips.  “We also know what you seek.  She is waiting for you on the other side in the Grove and I promised her that I would lead you to the Veil.”

A flush of humility overtook Steward of the Wood and he replied, “I am overwhelmed at your generosity and tell me, who she is, and what will I learn.”

“Ah,” said Epona, “that is a good question.  She will reveal both to you, but come, she waits,” at this. Epona turned the mare and led them up the grassy track.

Strolling in the warm sun-bathed afternoon through the verdant land, Steward silently thanked Danu, Earth Mother, for this chance to be with Her and Her children, his brothers and sisters, the Nature Spirits. Wrens danced on the air and serenaded them as they walked through grass and sedge punctuated by white wildflowers.  Their floral fragrance hung sweetly on the air.

He began to detect a gurgling sound, almost laughing faintly on the gentle breeze, low at first but gaining strength.  Pausing and turning to Steward, Epona nodded to the side of the track and said, “Refresh yourself at the sacred spring.  Cleanse and prepare yourself.”

“Gladly,” he replied with a bit of relief.  “I want to enter the Otherworld ready to receive knowledge.”

At that, he walked the short distance to the spring which bubbled, laughing, from the warm, rich ground at the base of a small hummock. Lush, green plants with abundant white flowers encircled the small pool.  The Spirit of the Spring, standing beside the pool, beckoned him.  He could almost discern her form, that of a slender woman, young but ageless, in a gossamer raiment, but she was elusive…with form and then without.  Her voice was that of the spring.  When he approached, he could faintly make out her lithe arms as she beckoned him to her and the spring.

“Thank you, beautiful Spirit,” Steward said.  “I come to you in love and peace.”

She replied, barely audible above the gurgling sound, “we know.  You are expected.  She told us you were coming in search of her inspiration.”

At that he slowly knelt beside the spring and bathed his face, neck, arms, and hands in the silvery, translucent waters.  It was incredibly refreshing, exhilarating, and renewing.  “My mind feels alive; my skin tingles,” he thought.  Then refreshed, he stood up and thanked the Spirit before returning to Epona who waited patiently by the track.

“Are you fully ready now, Steward of the Wood, child of Danu?”

“Fully,” he replied, “and I am ready to meet my destiny.  I long for it.  I have envisioned this in my dreams and meditations.”  She motioned him forward and they continued their journey to the dolman which was only another 100 feet away atop a small rise in the undulating land.  The ancient dolman stood silhouetted against the sky, the enormous grey cap stone resting atop four stone pillars.

Kilclooney Dolmen and horse on cloudy dayAs they approached, Epona stopped beside the dolman.  Looking intently at Steward, she said, “Praise and honor the Ancestors who made this most sacred monument to the Earth Mother as well as the Hidden Ones who guard it.  Then enter her awaiting womb to pass to the Otherworld. You will be welcomed by Manannán Mac Lir who may allow you to enter.  It depends on whether he deems you ready.”

Steward smiled.  “Thank you Epona.  You have blessed me with your presence and I honor you.”  Then he circled the massive dolman deiseil, thanking and praising those who made it, and those who guard the portal.  After a brief pause, he bent over and entered between the two pillars that form the entry way.  In the dim light, he could see the path descending steeply into the dark, brown earth…the womb of Danu. Faintly, he saw torches alternating on the walls.  They illuminated ancient symbols carved lovingly into the standing stones lining the walls.

Walking past, Steward could see concentric circles, wheels, and spirals, ancestral images carved in the living stone by the Wise Ones to express their awe and visions of enlightenment.  He tentatively touched a spiral, tracing it in the cool grey stone with the forefinger of his right hand and suddenly he knew.  “This is the journey that my spirit makes in search of essence…the light of knowledge and understanding,” he proclaimed loudly.  Only silence greeted his knowing.

The only sound was a slight crunching noise as his feet met the soil during the rest of his journey in the dimly lighted passage…the birth canal.  A faint, musty odor was in the air.  Then he rounded a corner and came face to face with an almost blinding light.  Hard to grasp initially, his mind finally understood that it was a doorway…a doorway from the body of the Earth Mother into the Otherworld.

Slowly, Steward continued walking and just before he entered the door, he looked up and saw the symbols on the lintel stone over the door.  It was a series of consecutive zigzag lines cut into the stone.  “The nine waves,” he said out loud, “and I am going beyond the ninth wave to Tír na nƠg.

Emerging into the diffuse light of a foggy place, yet still almost blinding after his dark journey, Steward stopped and blinked several times to regain his sight and finally his composure.  There just 20 feet to his right stood the figure of a man but clearly more than a man.  He was large, easily over six feet tall, with long flowing red hair and a full beard, both the color of fire.  His eyes were the green color of seaweed and seemed to lightly sparkle.  His clothing consisted of a tunic the color of varying shades of water, both blue and green.  As Steward stood speechless, the God strode over to him and spoke with a deep, resonating voice.  “Steward of the Wood, I bid you greetings.  Your coming was foretold.  Are you ready to pass through the Veil?  Are you worthy?  Is your heart clear of guile and are you truly ready to follow the Path no matter where it leads?”

“I am Manannán Mac Lir, Son of the Sea, Manannán of the Red Beard.  I have prepared myself these last four years as I studied the way of the Druid.  Epona has guided me to you and I am ready to walk the Path of Knowledge.”

Horse, dog, and Kilclooney Dolmen“Your Ancestors are here as are the Nature Spirits and the other Gods and Goddesses,” Manannán spoke in his deep, resonating voice.  “You have been here before in past lives and now we welcome you in this life.”  As he spoke, he gently anointed Steward on the forehead with oil making the sign of Imbas.  “May you be blessed in mind, body, and spirit.  Go forth in the Otherworld on this, your first visit in this lifetime.  May it prove to be only the first of many such visits.  Your destiny calls you back.”  As he finished speaking, the fog began to clear.  Slowly at first and then increasingly Steward began to see the Otherworld across the watery Veil.

As perspective slowly returned, Steward realized that he was in a beautiful world.  A sídhe was behind him with the entryway whence he had emerged.  In front of him was a grassy strip of land about 200 feet wide strewn with flowers of all hues…blue, red, yellow, white, and purple.  Across the meadow lay a forest filled with ancient trees.  They were huge and in leaf.  A path led into the woods and disappeared around a bend.

Standing beside the path leading into the forest was a man.  He wore a green woolen tunic the color of dark green oak leaves with a brown leather belt about his waist and brown woolen trousers.  His hair was wavy brown and shoulder length and he had a moderate-length brown, wavy beard with auburn red hue.  He looked strangely familiar to Steward.  He almost recognized him.

At that moment, the man broke into a broad grin and motioned Steward to come to him.  Crossing the grassy meadow, slowly, hesitantly at first, Steward approached the man who extended his hand in greeting.

“Welcome, Steward of the Wood, my friend.  I have sensed you for many turnings of the wheel.  It is good that you return home to us,” the man said.
“I have longed all my life to be here but have only now found the way.  I too have sensed the Otherworld and sought its portal in my travels throughout the world,” said Steward.

“Now that you know the way, you can visit us at any time.  There are many portals and you carry the best of all in your mind’s eye,” said the man.

“What may I call you,” asked Steward.

“Just call me Guide for now and I will reveal more to you later,” said the man.  Guide continued, “I believe you know my companion, Spirit of the Buck.”  At that he motioned to an enormous buck deer that was totally white in color with red ears and jet black eyes.

“Oh, I know the Spirit of the Buck well,” said Steward of the Wood.  “His children, the deer, and I meet regularly and commune in the mundane world.  They have gifted me many tokens that now grace my altar.  I seek and call them and they visit me, imparting knowledge and skills like swift, quiet movement through the forest.  Up to this point, I have sensed you and spoken with you, Spirit of the Buck, my totem.  It is good to finally meet and I honor you.”

“At this, Spirit of the Buck gently nodded his head in assent and then suddenly Steward could hear Spirit of the Buck speaking his mind.  “You have been one of my children, the deer, in a past life.  You know full well how it feels to run swiftly in the forest on silent hooves.  As a human child in this life, you remembered this and were truly a child of the forest.  We watched over you and nurtured you in the forests and mountains of Tennessee.  Welcome home.”

Steward of the wood at Kilclooney DolmenGuide then said, “If you are ready, let’s go to the Sacred Grove.  She is waiting for you.  Change out of those strange clothes and don ones of the Otherworld.  At times, these will be helpful as you seek to blend into the forest and become invisible.”  Then he handed Steward a brown pair of woolen trousers, soft brown leather boots, a dark green tunic like his and a brown belt with a beautiful quartz stone buckle, with carved triskele, and with a metal backing.  Steward quickly changed and was ready to go.  The rough wool against his skin took a while to get used to but then he felt even more at home.

They walked silently on the path through the ancient forest.  As a forester, Steward had been in forests worldwide in the mundane world but had rarely been in ones this ancient with these species of trees and understory plants.  Perhaps the closest was Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, England with its large ancient oaks.  A variety of trees, both in size and species grew in the forest of the Otherworld.  The understory plants were varied and abundant, especially in any small openings.  The air in the forest was fresh and exceptionally clear with a soft fragrance of flowers and the sun shone clearly from the sky.  As he walked, Steward spotted species he recognized, including the sacred trees to the Druids: rowan, alder, willow, ash, hawthorn, oak, holly, hazel, apple, blackthorn, elder, pine, aspen, and yew.   “I have friends and loved ones in these trees in both worlds,” he thought.

The forest also teemed with other life.  Squirrels scampered on the forest floor as well as in the tree crowns, chattering and chasing each other like playful children.  Wrens and finches sang merrily as they flitted through the trees in search of good meals…ah, a crunchy bug.  Ravens perched in the trees and regaled them with their croaks and caws.

Continued next issue....

TARA

by Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

Tara!  Tara…symbolizes one of the most celebrated, sacred sites for all Celts, especially those of us with Druid connections.  “And here I am…at Tara,” Steward of the Wood said out loud to himself.  “Over the years of training in Druidry, I envisioned walking here among the Ancient Ones, gaining sensory images and trying to learn and understand the teachings,” he thought.  And he made it.  Little did he know, or could envision, what was about to unfold.  Magick was afoot.

The Hill of Tara nestles into the landscape a few miles southeast of the sacred Boyne River.  Visible from Tara, the ancient passage tombs of Knowth and Bru na Boinne watch silently but powerfully from hill tops about ten miles to the northeast.  During ancient ceremonies, fires on these sites could be seen from one hill to another.  This part of Ireland is truly a sacred landscape.

Arriving late in the day, Steward walked the site just before dusk, the liminal time when the Veil between the mundane world and the Other World assumes the form of mist.  This is a time when the Ancestors and Nature Spirits roam freely among mortals and time is ephemeral.   The Goddess Boann blessed him as the overcast sky began to rain lightly enhancing the feeling of being in the time and space between worlds.  It was easy to see why the Ancestors chose this site as it is equal in elevation to the other hills as far as the eye could see.  On a clearer, brighter day, Steward would be able to see for miles in any direction.  Lush, thick, verdant grass covered the entire site with a few scattered hawthorn trees (faery trees); the earthen mounds were the only things that interrupted the field of view.   It was quiet to the point of being eerie with only an occasional bird flying over and sheep peacefully grazing.  A pastoral smell of earth, grass, and sheep manure, permeated the air but it was gentle and pleasant.  It was the smell of the earth… of Danu.

Photo of The Mound of the Hostages - Tara, Ireland

The Mound of the Hostages - Tara

Sensing the presence of ancient spirits, Steward communed with the Triad: Gods and Goddesses, Nature Spirits, and Ancestors.  He introduced himself as a Druid with Ancestors from Ireland and asked them to allow him to visit and commune with them, gaining wisdom and understanding of this sacred site and how it fit with the patterns of the earth.  Steward called on Ogma, the God of wisdom and magick, to teach him and help him gain the wisdom of a Druid.  After a lifetime of studying earth wisdom and spirituality and dedicating himself to becoming a Druid four years ago, Steward longed to learn.  “I feel impatient with myself,” he mused.  Druidism has become integral to his way of life and he savored the signs of progress.  “Sometimes it is hard not to question whether I am making enough progress,” he thought.  “Open up and be present in this time and place,” he said out loud as if to chide.

After pausing a few minutes atop the Mound of the Hostages, Steward of the Wood headed south toward the flat topped, earthen mound that comprises the site of Cormac’s House.  The ankle-high, wet grass brushed his boots as he walked, making a faint swooshing sound.  Light rain continued to fall, ensuring life for the lush vegetation.  He mounted the low hill and emerged on a flat top which was perhaps 50 feet wide.  “Ancestors and Nature Spirits, I come to you this day asking for permission to enter your sacred space and commune with you,” he declared in a loud clear voice.  Their consent enveloped him in calmness; and a tingling, excited feeling overtook Steward as they welcomed a Druid in their midst.

There in the middle of the hill was the fabled Lia Fáil, the Inauguration Stone, phallic in shape and about five feet tall.  He lovingly approached it, circling in a deiseil fashion, praying to the Spirit of the stone, and asking permission to approach.  “I am a Druid and I praise you, Lia Fáil, stone of many legends, I humbly seek to learn from you,” he intoned.
As he gently reached out to touch it, Steward was overtaken by a scene of the inauguration of Cormac Mac Airt, Ulfhada (long beard), as the Ard Rí (High King).  The year was A.D. 227 [although nobody else there knew it -ed] and he was engulfed in a great gathering of the clans to celebrate the inauguration.  The excitement and feeling that overtook him was palpable.  “What happened?” Steward thought as he questioned his sanity.

People gathered from all over Ireland.  Colorful tents and wooden structures covered the sacred site and hundreds of people were there.  Steward could see Cormac walking around and talking with people.  He was dressed in a brightly colored tunic of red and green with his iron armor shining. He  wore a fine helmet with a raven on top, its wings moving slightly as he moved his head.  The handle on his sword bore a swirling Celtic design with silver and gold intertwined.  The glossy, leather scabbard was also highly adorned.

Photo of Lia Fail & Mound of the Hostages in distance.

Lia Fail & Mound of the Hostages in distance

Cormac stopped to talk with an almost-equally adorned warrior.  As Steward walked up to join the small crowd surrounding them, he realized that he too wore the tunic and armor of a Celtic Warrior and  noticed how heavy it was, feeling like he was carrying a backpack weighing at least 30 pounds.  He overheard Cormac address the other warrior as “Fionn” and he realized quickly that this was Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn mac Cool), leader of the famed Fianna Eireann.  Fionn was surrounded by several of his warriors and they were all dressed in their finery in preparation for the marriage of kingship (Banais Ríghe) of Cormac with Sovereignty of Ireland in the form of a beautiful white mare.

“Fionn mac Cumhaill, son of the great warrior, Cumhaill, the marriage of kingship is upon us and we will celebrate with the Feast of Tara (Feis Temro) to mark this event.  We are glad you and the Fianna Eireann, Protectors of this Isle, have joined us,” said Cormac.

“Greetings, honored Ard Rí,” said Fionn.  “Your marriage and feast will be sumptuous and remembered by the Bards for all ages,” he continued.  Loud cheering followed these words as more and more of the Fianna and others around them took up the chant, “Ard Rí, Ard Rí,” banging their weapons on their shields.  The noise was almost deafening.

As the clamor died down, Steward heard the squealing of pigs in the distance as they were being prepared for the feast.  The delicious aromas of the cooking food were mixed with the pungent smell of wood smoke from the cooking fires.  The smoke contributed to a bit of haze over the Hill but at least it wasn’t raining.  Being twilight, the haze added even more to the ephemeral appearance of the Hill.

The general clamor of people talking, food preparation occurring, and children playing was thundering as Steward strained to hear Cormac and Fionn talk.  Fionn was accompanied by three other warriors who appeared to be members of the Fianna.  I wondered if they were Oisín, Diarmait, and Caílte.  Finally I got close enough to hear Fionn compliment Cormac’s prowess in his most recent battle with the King of Connacht as Cormac sought to bring the recalcitrant men of Connacht under his rule.  In turn, Cormac told Fionn that he could not have done so without the crucial help of the Fianna.

As he stood listening to Cormac and Fionn, Steward noticed a man dressed in a white robe and wearing a gold torc staring at him.  He wore his hair long but it was shaved in the front of his head.  As he looked at Steward with piercing blue eyes, he walked over and asked in a somewhat hushed tone close to Steward’s ear, “Are you Steward of the Wood?”

Steward replied, “Yes,” also in a hushed tone.  The Druid said that he had a message for Steward as he moved away from the crowd and motioned Steward to follow.

They walked to a relatively private spot and he identified himself as Cathaír, the Druid.  He said, “Steward of the Wood, Long Traveler, in my journey to the Other World a few days ago, I received a vision from Ogma that you would be visiting.  He gave me a message for you.  He said that you were a Druid from another time and far away from Eire.  Ogma told me your studies are rewarded with knowledge about the Triad as well as the patterns of energy flow in the earth.  He hears your requests for assistance and he will work with you.”

Cathaír looked at Steward with a questioning glance.  “Do you understand?”

Photo of Lia Fail

Lia Fail (on right)

To which, Steward replied “Clearly.  I have sought the advice of Ogma many times and am honored that he has heard me and seen the sincerity of my actions.”

Cathaír continued, “The Gods and Goddesses have seen and felt your presence at many sacred sites across the earth, on this Isle and beyond.  They know that you have been seeking them and your Ancestors.  The Nature Spirits told them that they feel your welcoming presence in the forests, beckoning them to commune with you.  The spirits of the trees and streams love your gentle touch and they connect with your ancient spirit. Your magickal name fits you well, Steward of the Wood.  Danu, our Earth Mother, loves you and your dedication to her and all her children.  Your Ancestors take pride in your leadership and all your work to learn about them and especially your efforts to share this hard-won knowledge with your living kin.  They feel your love and acknowledgement and are grateful for it.  Through you and their living kin, they continue to live.”

His final message to Steward spoke of hardships.  “Ogma told me to speak to you of a never-ending journey.  Through your past lives, you have gained much wisdom and sometimes painful experiences.  These serve you well now.  At least during this lifetime, you will be a Long-traveler…a Seeker.  You are fated to journey ceaselessly to sacred sites, to visit beings who can teach you and Ogma will be your guide.  It is lonely at times, but your reward is passing on the knowledge that you have gained.  Your greatest joy will be in reviving and sharing the knowledge of the Celts and their Gods and Goddesses and the Nature Spirits.  Of equal joy will be demonstrating the nurturing value of having a personal relationship with the Ancestors.  You are blessed, Steward of the Wood!”

At this, Cathaír clasped Steward’s hand in friendship, gave him the smile of a true brother and knowledge seeker.  Returning from a state of awe and reverence, Steward said, “Honored Cathaír, I don’t know what to say.  This acknowledgement is unexpected and I thank you for this wonderful news.  I am so grateful that you were willing to carry the message to me.”  Without saying another word, Cathaír quickly moved away into the crowd leaving Steward in stunned silence.

As Cathaír moved away, Steward experienced a shift in time back to the twilight presence where he began seemingly hours ago, but actually only a few minutes.  Steward thought, “Did Ogma cause the shift in time?  Had he been the one who drew me to Ireland in the first place?” Steward thought to himself, his mind was racing with questions.  “I have prayed to Ogma many times, seeking his help and guidance.  Even though I had learned to sense a measure of ‘leadings’ from my prayers, I had not felt a strong direct guidance.  How would that change?  Should I journey to the Otherworld in hopes of contacting him directly?  Would Spirits be his intermediaries?   Steward was stunned but exceedingly pleased by everything that just happened.  He wanted to stay in the past.  Steward gratefully raised his voice to Tara, “Oh powerful Ogma and my Ancestors, especially Cormac and Fionn, I thank you for allowing me to learn with you, to see you and begin to understand.  I will never forget the grandeur of what I saw.  Cathaír, I thank the Gods for you and your message.”

Descending the mound of Cormac’s House, he began to walk back across the Hill of Tara to his waiting car.  Visiting Tara was a dream come true.  The Gods and Goddesses, especially Ogma and Danu, the Ancestors, and the Nature Spirits seemed so close.  What an incredible feeling.  What a mystical and magickal site.

Photo of Sheep Grazing at the Hill of Tara

Sheep Grazing at the Hill of Tara

Footnote: Spirituality infuses everything and everyone at Tara if you open up to the experience.  It is truly a place where all Druids should go and commune.  Prepare yourself before the visit to understand better what you are seeing and sensing.  Read about Tara, including the legends of Cormac, Fionn, and others.  Tara is nourishing and reenergizing to the Druid spirit.   
Our spirituality is growing stronger in the world and visiting these sacred sites and reconnecting with our past and present helps its growth.  We as individuals are strengthened as are the Gods and Goddesses, the Ancestors, and the Nature Spirits.  They feel our strength as their influence and power grows.  It is a mutually-beneficial service.  As we grow, then they grow; and in turn, our Druid community grows.

Walk with wisdom.

Grange Lios Stone Circle

Grange Lios Stone Circle

County Limerick, Ireland

by Steward of the Wood

It was a beautiful, fall morning in County Limerick as we drove through the Irish countryside.  We were celebrating the second anniversary of our Handfasting.  The years had gone by quickly.  Our happiness together was immense, yet each of us still harbored some inner anxiety that the “bubble” would burst. Occasionally, we shared with each other the fear that the joy we still felt together would be gone as had happened in previous relationships.

This trip together was also the fulfillment of a dream for each of us.  For me, it was part of a continuing search for my ancestral roots in Ireland as well as my roots as a Celt and a Druid.  For my partner, Firefly, it was a chance to feel the spirituality and close connection to the land that the Irish feel.  For both of us, it would turn out to be a true spiritual journey.

We were on our way to the sacred area of Lough Gur and the Grange Lios Stone Circle.  It is the largest and one of the best preserved stone circles in Ireland with a diameter of 150 feet and dating back 4000 years to the Bronze Age.  Although built by the earlier Ancestors, the Celts actively used the Stone Circle and revered the entire Lough Gur area as archaeological evidence attests.  The circle contains over 100 stones which are nestled into an earthen bank.  The entrance way, between two large entry stones, faces to the east and the sacred lake of Lough Gur.  Around the outside of the earthen bank are many, very large oak and ash trees as well as several, very large, ancient hawthorns.

Firefly and I walked the short distance to the Circle and approached in a deiseil manner offering praise to the Gods and Goddesses, Nature Spirits, and Ancestors.  I told them that as a Druid I honored them and asked to be allowed to commune with them.  As we walked to the east near the entrance, six small, black-and-white Holstein calves approached, obviously curious about us.  They were grazing on the lush green grass and both the calves and we tried to appear oblivious to each other although this was not true for any of us.  Firefly and I were looking at a very large hawthorn and she stooped to walk underneath its spreading crown to be nearer the tree.  At this point, one of the more curious calves walked up to her; and as I looked on, the calf stretched out its head as Firefly did the same and they appeared to kiss.  Clearly the Nature Spirits accepted our presence and knew that we came in love and peace.  Firefly spoke lovingly and softly to the calf; the scene was magical.  We got goose bumps and the hairs stood up on our arms and the back of our necks to be part of such obvious welcoming by the Spirits.  We expressed our gratitude by leaving an offering of corn meal at the base of the hawthorn.

From there we walked to the entry way of the circle which is lined with large stones.  There is an ancient track to the east connecting the circle to Lough Gur.  This track obviously served during rituals for the sacred processions from the Lough to the Circle.  Walking through the entry stones, each six to seven feet tall, and into the circle filled me with a sense of joy as a smile crept across my face.  To be in this ancient, sacred place was exhilarating to say the least.  The bright sunlight filled the circle and the smell of earth, grass, cow dung, and all the other smells of agriculture wafted through the warm, fall day.   The oak and ash trees surrounding the Circle gave me the impression of ancient guardians, the Watchers and Timekeepers.  A smallish stone formation, flanked by much larger stones, on the northeast side of the circle drew my attention due to its shape and the many shining coins lying at its base.  It had the appearance of a small (3 feet tall) human and consists of stones carefully stacked on each other.  I thought that this must be the famed Crom Dubh or Crom Crúaich (early Milesian God; black or bloody crescent or head; Lord of the Mound; Irish) who is reported to be in the Circle.  We greeted Crom Dubh and honored him, giving our magickal names and the fact that I was a Druid.  Then we gave him a gift of two shining coins.  As we kneeled to place the coins on the rock at the base, it glinted in the sun as Crom Dubh smiled and I felt a shift in time.

Standing up, I turned around to witness a procession approaching down the roadway from the Lough in the east.  The summer sun had not yet risen but was close, yielding an ethereal aura.  Wrens were singing sweetly and the air was filled with a mixture of musty earthiness and the smell of smoke from the torches being carried by the procession.  Firefly and I were dressed in Celtic dress.  She wore a long red and green plaid skirt and a beige blouse with a silver torc around her neck and silver buckle in her belt.   The buckle had a beautiful Celtic design.  I had a long, beige tunic covered by a red and green plaid overcoat and wore a silver torc with boar’s heads on the ends.  I also wore a wide leather belt with a large, silver, Celtic buckle.  We stood on the raised, earthen bank surrounding the Grange Lios Circle, which was a good vantage point.  At least a hundred others also stood on the earthen bank as onlookers to the ritual.  All were quiet as we watched and waited expectantly.

A torch bearer led the procession followed by a Druidess, an ancient woman, dressed in a white robe with a crown of intertwined vines and branches and adorned with bird feathers.  An Ovate, dressed in a green robe with a similar crown, and a Bard, in a blue robe and holding a harp, were next in line and then four musicians playing a flute, a harp, a bodhrán, and bag pipes.  Finally, another torch bearer ended the procession.  The music being played was soft and had a haunting air about it.  The procession entered the Circle and the torch bearer and musicians stood just inside the entrance while the others continued on into the Circle.  The last torch bearer joined the first one at the entrance.  The Druidess, Ovate and Bard moved toward the western side of the center of the Circle and the Ovate and Bard stood slightly behind the Druidess who moved up close to the central fire pit.  Once they were in position, the musicians stopped playing.

Then we all waited patiently and expectantly for Lugh Lámhfhada (of the Long Arm), Radiant Brow, Sun God, to bless us with the first rays of his life-giving sun.  This day was the annual ritual and festival of Lughnasadh, the festival created by Lugh in honor of Tailtiu, his foster mother.  Just before the first rays peaked over the eastern horizon, the Bard called out in a clear, resonant voice and entreated all present to honor Lugh and Tailtiu and to call to them.  At that moment, a panoply of voices and music rose up calling to the God and Goddess.  As if answering the call, the first rays of sun rose over the horizon and streamed down the entry way and into the Circle striking the altar and the Druidesss beyond it.  Simultaneously, the Druidess lit the sacred fire, fueled by the nine sacred woods in the fire ring.  The flames rose into red, yellow, and orange fingers reaching to the sky and the Druidess raised her arms in honor to the God and Goddess.  She held a bronze sickle in her right hand and a bough of ash in the other.  The crowd and musicians were then silent and the Druidess called out to Lugh and Tailtiu to bless the bounty of the harvest and all in attendance.  The fertility and bounty of the harvest were evident by the grain, vegetables, and game arrayed on the altar in front of the Druidess as she touched the sickle and ash over the altar.  The Ovate was called forth to divine the final outcome of the harvest which he did with Ogham sticks.  All waited with hushed breath while he worked.  Finally he looked up from his sticks and pronounced in a loud, sonorous voice: “The harvest will be plentiful and the bounty of the land will be great this year.  We are blessed.”

At that signal, the Bard called out in a clear, loud voice:  “Then let us celebrate the harvest and honor the God and Goddess with games and feasting”.  Everyone burst forth in cheers and musicians reveled in their loud, gay music.  The crowd then streamed into the adjoining field for games and feasting.  The excitement was palpable as they began to celebrate the Feast of the First Harvest.  It is a joyous time especially if the harvest promises to be a good one and the starving time of winter will be forestalled.

Firefly and I stood on the earthen bank and watched and savored the joy of the crowd.  I then heard a clear, strong voice call out: “Steward of the Wood and Firefly” and we turned to face the Druidess.  She welcomed us to the ritual and said she had our answer.  Firefly and I turned to face each other with quizzical looks on our faces while the Druidess broached a sly smile.  We were directed to walk a short distance to the northeast of the Grange Lios Stone Circle to a smaller, but very magickal stone circle.  The Druidess said that the largest stone held an answer for our question but she did not state either question nor answer.  She then stepped up to the edge of the Circle as Firefly and I knelt down and she made the sign of Imbas on our foreheads and then bid us to go.  Her touch was warm and filled with the power of the Earth Mother causing a tingling sensation on my forehead.

We were both speechless as we moved toward the smaller Circle.  The Circle was quite visible but made with smaller stones and no earthen bank as compared with the Grange Lios Stone.  What totally captured our attention was that one of the larger stones (about six feet tall), located on the northeast side,  had split and from the split grew both an ash tree and a hawthorn.  We approached it in reverence, circling in the deiseil manner and offering prayers to the Triad and introducing ourselves.

We could see that the tree crowns merged and their roots were entwined, penetrating the large fissures in the magickal stone.  This stone which had been one solid, powerful, formidable force had split and instead nourished and provided a structure to hold the trees.  Ash, or Nion, signals transformation and change but it also carries the possibilities of growth and maturing.  There is a real strength in ash.  Hawthorn, or Húath, with its numerous thorns indicates obstacles and challenges; and with its red berries and white blossoms, there is a strong presence of the magickal for this is the Faery tree.  Hawthorn also carries the promise of protection, as it was used as protective hedges, and passion with its major role in adorning the pole in Beltane festivals.

As Firefly and I stood in wonder, we reached out to join hands.  With our other hands, we gently touch the hawthorn.  At that moment we knew the answer that the Druidess foresaw.  It was the question we had about the duration of our relationship.  The stone’s hard, strong nature was split to form a cradle for growth and development of the intertwining trees.  They in turn signaled the transformation of thorny, difficult relationships into magickal protection of a strong, passionate love.  Having lived full lives but ones marked with past failed relationships, we had met only a few years earlier.  Our mutual love of nature and of Celtic spirituality had fused a bond that seemed eternal but the past scars haunted us.  Now our eyes met as we formed a three-member circle with the magickal stone and we knew our bond was for eternity.  We embraced and pledged our eternity together, reaffirming our bond that was formed two years past at our Handfasting in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Our eyes closed as we kissed; and when we opened them, our mundane world had returned.  Gone were the revelers in the nearby pasture.  Gone too was the lively Celtic music and the mixed smell of food and smoke from the fires.  What was not gone was the tingling feeling of being alive, blessed by the Triad, and totally connected with each other, the earth, the hills, the Lough, birds flying over…Danu truly blessed us.  This magical experience will be with us eternally and we held hands as we walked back through the lush, green grass knowing that our bond was truly blessed.