Keltria Journal -Storytelling: Life Viewed Through a Mythic Lens

EXCERPT

Storytelling:  Life Viewed Through a Mythic Lens

by Daphne Bishop

Photo of a Thatched cottage by Irish Sea

Niarbyl - Thatched cottage by Irish Sea Photo by Joseph Mischyshyn via Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

At the beginning of [amazon_link id="0500270392" target="_blank" ]Celtic Heritage[/amazon_link], the historians Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees take us into the southwestern Kerry cottage of a traditional Irish storyteller. They describe him as he relates a series of heroic tales, anecdotes, proverbs, rhymes and riddles. He is a “literary artist,” one who has memorized hundreds and hundreds of tales and yet cannot read or write English. His words draw neighbors and friends who visit continuously, sometimes in groups. They sit by the man’s hearth, listen attentively and never interrupt a story in progress.

A hundred years later, in South Africa’s infamous Robben Island prison, a group of apartheid-era prisoners fights for the right to read, write and study. Among them is Nelson Mandela, who will spend twenty-seven years of his life behind bars. His comrade, Sonny Venkatrathnam, is eventually granted the right to one book. After talking it over with his fellows, he chooses the complete works of William Shakespeare, a volume whose tales reverberate with markedly similar political struggles. The poetic words depict the anguish of injustice and untimely death, but also resonate with transcendent themes of human endeavor and triumph. Throughout the bitter years of imprisonment, Shakespeare’s stories, which were composed centuries earlier and in a very different milieu, provide inspiration, intellectual stimulation and hope.

We live in a society that is disconnected from its stories. We inhabit a world severed from the richness of its cultural heritage. Fairy and folktales, myths and sagas that were once taught in schools and formed part of our cultural currency have been forgotten. While many of the earliest scholars who retrieved, preserved and disseminated these stories, especially the English, dismissed them as superstitious and primitive, some modern critiques have been equally harsh. Myths and fairy tales are reduced to stereotypes or, even worse, are too offensive to teach at all.

Millions of Americans are descendants of the six surviving Celtic cultures, yet how many are familiar with the legacy of epic tales, the songs, poetry and wisdom texts that permeated the culture of their forebears? How many realize the marvelous Celtic antecedents of the Arthurian myths, which are arguably the seminal myths of Western Europe, and continue to be retold and reinvented in ever more fascinating ways?

Continued...

[This excerpt is from a three-plus page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #42.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria until the next issue of the Journal is published via the Members Home page.  It is available to the public in both electronic and print form via Mag Cloud.]

Keltria Journal: Sat-Navs and Seanchchaís

EXCERPT: Sat-Navs and Seanchchaís

Finding your way through stories and landscapes

— by Isolde Carmody and Chris Thompson
The Story Archaeologists

Ireland has an international reputation as a nation of writers and storytellers, and it forms a large part of our national identity.  Is this an empty statement of patriotic pride, an outmoded stereotype or a deeply engrained thread of Irish culture and consciousness?  We, the Story Archaeologists, would argue for the last of these options.

From contemporary literature to ancient tradition, the Irish stories are embedded in the Irish landscape.  They are, in a very real way, written into the land itself, and generations of storytellers have read and retold those stories with minute local detail.  When we refer back to descriptions of the types of learning expected of the professional poets, the fili,1 we encounter the term dindshenchas.  The literal meaning of this term is “history” (senchas) of “prominent places” (dind), and it is hard to find a pre-existing English term to convey the concept.  There is a considerable body of explicitly dindshenchas texts, such as The Metrical Dindshenchas edited and translated by E. Gwynn,2 the “Bodleian Dindshenchas” and the “Prose Tales of the Rennes Dindshenchas.”3

However, many tales and poems, from both literary (written) and oral sources, have strong dindshenchas elements to them.  To identify a dindshenchas episode, one need only see whether it answers the questions which St. Patrick repeatedly asks of Oisín and Cailte in the Acallamh na Senórach, “The Colloquy of the Ancients”:4 What is this place called; how did it get that name?

It seems clear that these stories have their origin in a pre-literate oral tradition, although that is, by necessity, unprovable.  We can only build a case for their oral origins through analogy with other cultures.  They have particular resonance with the indigenous Australian stories of the Dream Time, which tell of the shaping of the land and the landscape’s meaning to those who inhabit it.  Some of these stories are demonstrably ancient, with one story from the Queensland area describing a lake which, it has recently been discovered, dried up about 35,000 years ago.5  Unfortunately, we have not yet found such an unequivocally  ancient story from Ireland, but we can postulate and listen to the stories themselves.

What we do have is a written tradition dating back to the 7th century, with later manuscripts containing sagas, poems and legal texts whose language places their literary origin as early as the 8th century.6  Many sagas placed in the mythological cycle, such as Cath Maige Tuired, “The Battle of Moytura”,7 and the Ulster Cycle, such as Táin Bó Cuailgne, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”8, have many passages in Old Irish (7th - 9th centuries CE).  This includes one of the rémscéla, “pre-stories,” to the Táin Echtrae Nerai, “The Adventures of Nera,”9 which we discuss below.

Continued...

[This excerpt is from a five-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #42.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria until the next issue of the Journal is published via the Members Home page.  It is available to the public in both electronic and print form via Mag Cloud.]

 

Keltria Journal – In the House of No Stories

EXCERPT: In the House of No Stories:

Finding the tales of my ancestors

by Jenne Micale

Photo of Jenne Micale

Jenne Micale

In the elementary school classroom, the teacher pushed primary-color tacks onto the map of the world, one for each of our ancestors. Specks of plastic dotted the usual places: Italy, Ireland, sometimes Africa. Our assignment, she said: Find out where your family is from for a book report and, of course, the ceremony that was thumbtacks-on-the-map.

On the way home, my next door neighbor glowed and crowed of her European mutt heritage: English and Danish and French, and whatever else she remembered to say that day. She chanted the names of her line and recounted her family's history as I kicked leaves on the sidewalk. The neighborhood used to be her family's farm, even though it had since been reduced to one green and white farmhouse in disrepair.

At home, I turned to my parents, who shifted their feet and turned to busy themselves with some mundane task: “Where do I put my thumbtacks on the map?”

Continued...

[This excerpt is from a three-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #42.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria via the Members Home page.  It is available to non-members of the Henge and in print form via Mag Cloud.]


[amazon_image id="190571324X" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Talking About the Elephant[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id="0982726376" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]To Fly By Night: Craft of the Hedgewitch[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id="B003IOS0NE" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]The Twisted Book[/amazon_image]

The Pelegian Heresy

EXCERPT: The Pelegian Heresy

A Possible Druidic Survival?

— Brendan Myers

Photo of Brendan Myers

Brendan Myers

Allow me to introduce to you an unorthodox form of early Christianity, which I think everyone who practices modern Druidry should get to know: The Pelegian Heresy. Named for its chief promoter, a British philosopher named Pelagius, it grew in popularity in Britain during the fourth and fifth centuries, around the same time that Roman Christianity was spreading there. I’ve no doubt that it was a form of Christianity, and not a form of Paganism, but there is some evidence which suggests that it inherited some of the teachings of the Druids. Pelagius’ opponents described his teachings as “full of Irish porridge”, and accused him of attempting to revive “the natural philosophy of the Druids”. This of course is not unequivocal proof of paganism, but it certainly suggests the possibility. Pelagius’ use of triads, in the old Druidic fashion, to explain some of his core teachings is also not definitive proof, but it is another potential indicator. A stronger way to detect the pre-christian thinking in the Pelagian world view is by looking at which of its teachings most enraged the Catholic bishops from the continent. Here’s one that stands out:

“In the year of our lord 394, Arcadius, son of Theodosius, forty-third in line from Augustus, became joint-emperor with his brother Honorius, and ruled for 13 years. In his time, the Briton Pelagius spread far and wide his noxious and abominable teaching that man had no need of God’s grace...”1

I think one cannot stress enough the enormous importance of the idea that ‘man had no need of God’s grace’. It is the idea that it’s possible to achieve salvation, however defined, by means of one’s own effort, and without direct assistance from God. This is an affirmation of spiritual freedom, and also enormous personal responsibility. A few fragments of Pelagius’ own letters to his friends have survived history, and with them we can learn a little bit of his mind with them. Here’s a place where Pelagius specifically rejects the claim that we human beings are too weak to achieve salvation on our own:

Continued...

[This excerpt is from a three-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #41.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria via the Members Home page.  It is available to non-members of the Henge via Mag Cloud.]


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Keltria Journal – Birds of Ill Repute

EXCERPT: Birds of Ill Repute:
Grackles and Omens

By Jenne Micale

Jenne Micale

The horde comes in the gray of the dusk, their feathers so black that the light fractures into blue on their heads. Keen eyes gleam yellow as they land under the oaks – one iridescent shadow after another, carpeting the ground in a mass of seething black.

I note the direction: South. Bad news from the South? I think of my ill mother, my harried father who live in that direction, and I ready an arsenal of prayers.

But then I stop. With a determined look, the grackles – almost on cue – start grabbing and flipping up the dead leaves, looking a bit like a high school color guard team. I laugh, remembering the time I had put moth balls under my garden shed to deter groundhogs, only to have the grackles steal them all – and toss them around like balls on the lawn, thinking they were eggs.

Common Grackle

Suddenly, they didn't seem like such bad luck after all – just animals, thinking critters looking for their next meal, as we all are.

The ill-omened Icteridae

When it comes to augury and zoomancy – divination by birds and by animals, respectively.... Continued...

[This excerpt is from a three-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #41.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria via the Members Home page.  It is available to non-members of the Henge via Mag Cloud.]


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Keltria Journal: Against Over Intrepretation

EXCERPT: Against Over-interpretation

by Nimue Brown

Nimue Brown

Nimue Brown

There are two approaches to using signs from nature for divination. One is inherently quite logical but will only give a limited range of meanings. The second is more creatively intuitive but also far more open to the impact of ego and wishful thinking.
If swans come in great numbers to the UK in the early winter this can be a sign of a harsh season to come. The reason is simply that the wind direction that most helps the swans migrate, also brings the bad weather, and the worse the weather is, the further the swans will go to find a wintering spot. The swans are not definite indicators of weather to come, but a large influx of swans can mean the snow is coming. It’s similar to the ways in which animal behaviour can indicate impending natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. They are more attuned to the early warning  signs than we are.

Photo of many swans together in the water.

Swans

Building the knowledge that allows this kind of divination is largely about the investment of time and study. Being aware of normal behaviour patterns and how these are modified by weather changes and so forth is all about observation. Every place has its own wildlife. For example, I know now that when the flocks of curlews stop gathering in the fields, it is a sign of winter ending, as they change their feeding patterns. When I started seeing curlews in the fields last autumn, I had no idea what it signified, and did not hurry to put an interpretation on it.

Without knowing the normal behaviour of another living entity, it is easy to mistake normal activity for omen. Just because I normally don’t see something, does not mean my seeing it is meaningful, only that there is something I am now able to observe. My first thought is to consider the meaning of the activity for the creature or bird I am observing, and the implications of this. The swallows leave here at the start of autumn; their return is a sign of summer coming.  The timing has everything to do with weather and insect populations, and nothing to do with whether I should apply for a new job. If the otters are thriving, the whole water system is doing well. If I see one, it may have far more to do with feeding patterns and otter offspring, than my own emotional life. If the small birds all fly in panic, there may be a predator. They may not be warning me of impending financial disaster. I think when looking at wildlife, it’s best to assume that what they do is about them, and learn from that.
Continued...

[This excerpt is from a three-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #41.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria via the Members Home page.  It is available to non-members of the Henge via Mag Cloud.]