Book Review – Grail Alchemy

Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition, by Mara Freeman

Reviewed by Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP


Cover Art: Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition, by Mara Freeman

Grail Alchemy - Image courtesy Amazon.Com

In her Grail Alchemy, Mara Freeman tracks appearances of the grail archetype through history and across the world, and relates it to the appearance, disappearance and re-appearance of the divine feminine. This is not just a historical survey, but also a personal one: she leads us toward a quest of becoming the Grail, i.e., achieving full consciousness of the soul. Throughout the work are texts of “Vision Journeys” for the reader to interact with inner images and eventually to build an astral temple for the work. A link is also provided to mp3 files where one can purchase the Vision Journeys. (These recorded journeys are excellently done. Her beautiful voice is accompanied by music and sounds that perfectly support the narration.) She insightfully interprets various mythological stories as forms of initiation, and the Nine Maidens as “primal creator goddesses” that are “continually giving birth to the world of form.”

In a section called “The Dance of Life” she makes a distinction between many forms of Eastern tradition that seek to transcend our earthly existence, whereas the Western tradition for which she speaks calls for balancing opposites and remaining engaged with the world. She notes that the cup and branch of the earlier Celtic mythology evolved into the Grail and Sword, and Stone and Sword of the Arthurian cycle.

She nicely gives larger meaning to elements of the Arthurian cycle, revealing the Round Table as a reference to the solar system, Guinevere as a representative of the Goddess of the Land whereby Arthur’s marriage to her qualifies him to assume his role. She also redeems the image of Ireland’s Queen Medb as a Goddess of the Land rather than just a promiscuous and competitive queen.

Bringing the mythology alive and into the present, she asserts that the awakening of the buried King Arthur depends on our awakening from our “deadly sleep of materialism.” Indeed, the Fisher King has become wounded because of the imbalanced relationship with the Earth and the Feminine. The purpose of the Grail questions, in their various forms, that must be asked to keep it from disappearing, is about bringing the Western wounds – and our wounds – into consciousness. Our global crisis, she asserts, is from “denying the divine presence of the feminine both in the natural world and within ourselves, of valuing the Sword above the Grail.” She notes the role that mainstream Christianity has played in devaluing the feminine. In fact, she references the quest epitomized by Perceval as a search “search of the collective Western psyche for the lost feminine. . .”

Representations of the four gifts - The Spear, the Stone, the Sword, and the Cauldron - Courtesy: The Celtic Journey WordPress blog.

Representations of the four gifts The Spear of Lugh, Stone of Falias, Sword of Nuada, & Cauldron of The Dagda Courtesy The Celtic Journey WordPress blog.

She calls attention to the correspondence of Grail stories’ objects of power – bleeding spear, silver platter, grail and sword –to the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann celebrated by Keltrians.

After this expansive multicultural survey of correspondences and meaning, she begins about halfway through to narrow her focus to Glastonbury and the British magical tradition. In addition, she describes the way some pre-existing features of Grail mythology became Christianized, particularly around Glastonbury. (On the other hand, it could be seen as the returning Christian iconography to its Pagan origins.) She introduces concepts of esoteric Christianity (as found in Theosophical and Rosicrucian thought of the 19th and 20th centuries) with the Christ as separate from a specific human being and the idea that, out the marriage of soul and Spirit, the potentially divine in each of us may be birthed.

When she introduces alchemy, she does so with a partial history, but makes useful notes of correspondences between the seven metals and seven known planets of the time, and other elements that appear as red and white, King and Queen, sun and moon, and the red and white springs at Glastonbury. She notes that the alchemical stages of nigredo, albedo and rubedo correspond to stages of spiritual awakening and relates them to similar concepts in Buddhism, Christianity and Yoga.

As she draws increasing focus on Glastonbury, its 20th century history and the work of Dion Fortune and her organization, she makes note of its red and white springs. She takes further significance from the vesica piscis of the Grail Spring cover, various poems, and symbols of the rose-cross, rose and grail, yin and yang, and the caduceus of both Osiris and Hermes. Scholarship gives way to prophetic assertions that the Cross – a symbol of duality and suffering – can give way to the Chalice as a more appropriate symbol of our time, indicating unity and joy.

One becomes a Grail Bearer, she writes, by aligning oneself with the Higher Self on a daily basis. In addition, the one might align oneself with a stream of magical tradition, create an inner Temple of the Grail, and engage in a dedication rite provided in the last chapter. She makes reference to her own Avalon Mystery School that one might access for further instruction and exploration.

Thus, this is a work that is scholarly, prophetic, inspiring and visionary and, although it may narrow into a particular orientation, she provides a foundation of inner exploration, ritual and possibilities for further study that can support individuals in their personal evolution. Furthermore, she enriches some of the elements of our own Keltrian mythology and deepens their meaning, as well as restores some of the deeper foundations shared by both Pagan and Christian mythologies. She artfully places the Cosmic Christ in a position outside of the conflict between the parochial, narrow imagery of both Christianity and that of the Pagan world.

(I should note that there is a significant typographical error on page 111 where the word “proscribed” is used in place of the word prescribed, referring to one’s withdrawal from the world late in life to focus on spiritual matters – a common Eastern tradition.)


 Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition
by Mara Freeman (Author)

Kindle & Paperback editions available

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Destiny Books; Original edition (January 24, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1620551918
ISBN-13: 978-1620551912



The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe

The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe: Goddesses, Sacred Women and the Origins of Western Culture

[Originally Published in Henge Happenings #99]

McFarland Publishing announced the release this fall/winter of Sharon Paice MacLeod’s new book, The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Sharon is a Henge member and Keltria Journal author.

According to the publisher,

This book is an exploration of the spiritual traditions of ancient Europe, focusing on the numinous presence of the divine feminine in Russia, Central Europe, France, Britain, Ireland and the northern regions. Drawing upon research in archaeology, history, sociology, anthropology and the study of religions to connect the reader with the myths and symbols of the European traditions, the book shows how the power of European goddesses and holy women evolved through the ages, adapting to climate change and social upheaval, but always reflecting the importance of living in an harmonious relationship with the environment and the spirit world. From the cave painting of southern France to ancient Irish tombs, from shamanic rituals to Arthurian legends, the divine feminine plays an essential role in under- standing where we have come from and where we are going. Comparative examples from other native cultures, and quotes from spiritual leaders around the world, set European religions in context with other indigenous cultures.

I am definitely looking forward to reading it. To order, see McFarland Publishing’s web site, or Amazon.Com to purchase.

- TT

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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.


[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?”


[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]

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 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 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 . 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!

Keltria Journal: White Ravens and Druid Birds

Excerpt: White Ravens and Druid Birds:

Wisdom, Power and Prophecy in Traditional Celtic Bird Divination

by Sharynne MacLeod NicMhacha (Sharon Paice MacLeod)

Photo of Sharon Paice MacLeod

Sharon Paice MacLeod

Receiving guidance from the appearance, movement and sounds of birds and animals is one of the oldest forms of prophetic divination, and is found around the world in both ancient and indigenous cultures. In traditional societies humans are understood to be part of the natural world, not separate from or above it. The other living beings who inhabit our world – animals, birds, fish, and insects – are perceived as having wisdom, power and blessings which they can share with human beings, as long as they are honoured and respected.

For those involved with the study or practice of Celtic religion, there are many options to choose from when learning how to understand and interpret the movements and wisdom of our partners in the living web of life. One method is to connect with other living beings and interpret their arrival according to your own personal spiritual or mythic symbolism. Certain animals may appear in dreams, meditations or journeys, and accordingly will have special and perhaps very personalized significance for you.

Photo of a White Raven

White Raven

For example, for one person the owl may be a wonder to see but not evoke a sense of connection. For another the owl who appears in dreams and then on the branch of a tree outside your window will constitute a very different experience. Keeping track of the content of dreams, meditations and other personal workings helps track the appearance and potential symbolism of animals, birds and other creatures.

Another option is to learn about the traditional symbolism of animals in the area in which you live. Someone living in Maine may see different animals than someone in Texas, as might someone living in the south of Britain and the north of Scotland. People following Celtic spiritual traditions in Australia experience a very different natural world than the homelands of their Celtic ancestors, and may not see any of the animals described in Celtic mythology or folklore. Respectfully learning about indigenous traditions associated with birds and animals in your region is another way to connect with the wisdom of the natural world.

For those people practicing Celtic spirituality in Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe, the indigenous beliefs of their own ancestors are available to them, and are present in the landscape around them. The traditional symbolism associated with divination in Celtic traditions may also be practiced in other areas as well, where many of the same animals may be seen (parts of the north-east and north-west of the United States and Canada, for example). Similar animals may be found in other regions, and some associated symbolism can be connected with those creatures in the area you live in.


[This five-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.]

Keltria Journal 41Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick #41

Yule 2012-Imbolc 2013


White Ravens and Druid Birds by Sharynne NicMhacha
Against Over-interpretation by Nimue Brown
The Visit by Tony Taylor
Birds of Ill Repute by Jenne Micale
The Pelegian Heresy by Brendan Myers

Find out more on MagCloud

Earth Light

By Eibhlean

Photo of Eibhlean

I have had the privilege of walking and learning from many esoteric paths during my adulthood journey to understand my place in the world and in developing my personal language of communion with Deity.    The expression of devotion and service that continues to call me back time and again is my love and reverence of the Soul of the Land.   I am never happier, more centered or feel more complete than when I am in the woods surrounded by trees.   For me, it is a feeling of connection on a core cellular level and the one place where I can truly be in the Present.

Our little clan is very blessed to have Land Stewards who have opened their hearts and their properties and allowed us to connect and work with a little corner of paradise in their 50+ acre property.  Our space has a lovely small natural stream flowing three quarters of the way around it from the south west and away in the north east.  Listening and feeling this flow has brought a depth and resonance for me to every Rite we have observed.  We are embraced by some of the biggest oaks, beeches, sweet gums, tulip poplars and birch trees that I have ever had the pleasure to be around.  Tree frogs trill happily in the large Beaver made lake just over the ridge.  Huge vines as thick as our wrists drape and dangle above us making us feel at night as if we are looking up into the roots of the World Tree when we turn our faces to the sky.

Being somewhat of a “Sonics Devotee” I will often use vibration to synchronize and step into that space where I experience a camaraderie and link to the landscape around me.   Singing, chanting, drumming, humming – each can bring a very distinct and immediate message from the collective presence of the landscape.  This connection is a Light, born of Song that encircles and illuminates with a sense of Grace.  It is what R.J. Stewart wrote of as the “Power in the Land”…the power and majesty of Place.

Working with a staff as an extension of that connection with the trees and our own “trunks” has helped me make yet another visceral connection to the consciousness of our world.    Using this tool as a focus has given me much insight into moving my perspective outside of my physical limitations and experience of my surroundings into the “eyes, ears and skin” of the trees themselves.  How does this place present itself for them; what is the language of the touch of a bird’s weight or the brush of another tree limb with theirs?  What stories will the wind move through their branches and leaves?

Well over ten years ago I made a sacred esoteric pilgrimage to Ireland with another group I had entered into Bhairdic studies with.  I still remember the humor that our Druid guide had for me regarding how I always sought the trees to work with, no matter what the particular lesson of that day was.

The path leading to our sacred space was originally a very narrow deer path.  We made a point of meditating and asking the land what it did and did not want us to do as we developed our area to work in.  It was amazing that we had to do very, very little to make our area a workable space for gathering.   The land and animals have always projected a sense of acceptance to our presence.  We have had beautiful moments with deer bucks trumpeting to us from the top of the ridge overlooking our circle.  I had one young buck (he was sporting about four tines on his antlers) stand and watch me set up our space for ceremony quite calmly for a very long period of time.  Deer, fox, reptiles, rabbits and the occasional evidence of what looks like a larger forest feline have made their presence known. We have felt very blessed.

The trees, rocks, water, wind and animal co-walkers offer such a rich gift to us if for no other reason than as a reminder that we are more than what we think we are.    We are all Earth Light and the beauty of Deity shines and sings in every part of our world.