EXCERPT – Druidess, Priestess, Poet & Seer: Women’s Historical Roles in Celtic Religion

By Sharynne MacLeod NicMhacha
(Sharon Paice MacLeod)

We have often seen the Victorian image of the white robed druid carrying a golden sickle while gathering mistletoe from an oak tree. Sometimes there are depictions of female druids as well, although the role of women in Celtic pagan religion seems to be less obvious. What roles did women historically fulfill in Celtic religion? While the evidence we have is sparse, there is actually more than we might think to help us decipher women’s roles in Celtic society, and in particular, their sacred spiritual roles.

Rozentals Nave

First of all, how do we know any of ‘what we know’ about Celtic women in religion? Greek and Roman writers were quick to mention the strength, character and relative independence of Gaulish women, especially compared with women in their own cultures. Later, the early medieval Irish law tracts (which are believed to have preserved some fairly old information about Irish society), provide quite a bit of interesting information about the legal status of women (keeping in mind that these may be laws ‘as recorded,’ and not necessarily reflective of women’s status in all cases). Overall, from what we can see, women in Celtic cultures seem to have had more rights than women in some other ancient cultures, although they did not have equal status. However, a lack of complete equality (which is still a factor in our own society), does not necessarily equate with subservience or victimhood, and there must certainly have been empowered women who ‘broke the mold’ despite the official rules.

We know there were historical female rulers and leaders. A Celtic woman named Onomaris from Galatia bravely led her starving people across the Danube several centuries BCE, conquering foes and obstacles and establishing a new homeland. We also know of at least two historical female rulers in Britain during the Roman occupation: the treacherous Cartimandua and the fierce Boadicea.

Although not historical in nature, female leaders and warriors are mentioned in Celtic legends. The female warrior Scáthach was said to run a school where she taught martial arts to men. Queen Medb (later anglicized as Maeve) was a legendary Irish queen, who in....

Continued in Issue #43 of Keltria Journal.


Cover of Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #42

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick -- Issue #43

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #43 -- The Heroes Issue. Is available in its entirety from MagCloud.

Books & Papers
by Sharon Paice MacLeod

[amazon_enhanced asin="0786464763" /][amazon_enhanced asin="0786471387" /][amazon_enhanced asin="0674055969" /]

Review: Celtic Visions

Celtic Visions: Seership, Omens and Dreams of the Otherworld

by Caitlin Matthews

Reviewed by Autumn Rose

Celtic VisionsTypically for this author, Caitlin Matthews’ newest book is a blend of information and practical suggestions.  On the information side, she gives us nine meaty chapters describing and interpreting the psychic practices of our druidic Irish and Welsh ancestors.  The descriptions go well beyond dictionary definitions and are illustrated by quotations mostly from original sources.  In addition, Matthews offers in some cases interpretations not previously encountered by this reader.

For example, she touches on the corrguinnacht, the crane posture.  In this posture the practitioner stood on one foot, with one hand raised and one eye closed, while performing a spell.  According to Matthews, the aim was to “cancel” one side of the body in the physical world so that it could appear in the Otherworld, thus allowing the practitioner to exist in both realms simultaneously.

Another such interpretation involves the ancient Irish custom of imposing geasa, or taboos.  Matthews describes geasa as soul contracts, designed to protect the soul for as long as the contract was not broken.  If the person in question was a king, the protection extended to his kingdom.  Violations of geasa chipped  away at the soul, and successive violations weakened it progressively.  Thus, in the tales of Cú Chulainn and of Conaire, when each had violated all his geasa, he became vulnerable to death.  It’s interesting to note that this interpretation links the strength of the body to the integrity of the soul.  In the case of a king, again, the health of his soul determined the health of the land.

Beyond these and other explorations of ancient Celtic psychic beliefs and customs (e.g., the bull ceremony , the Three Cauldrons, poetic inspiration and so on), Matthews seeks to help readers adapt these customs for personal use today.  To quote the author herself, “This book will not make you a seer, but it will help you become better attuned to your instincts, imagination,  insight, and inspiration.”  When an author makes a claim like this for his or her work, it should always be understood that fulfilling the promise depends almost entirely  on the effort the reader/practitioner puts into it.  Reading the book is not enough by itself.  Nobody gets from Point A to Point B by reading a map.  One has to undertake the journey.

Matthews gives the reader plenty of help along the way.  At the end of each chapter she provides a suggested exercise intended to put the practitioner in closer touch with both the proximate world of Nature and the Otherworld.  For example, after the chapter titled “Omens and Divination” she shows how readers, by habitually observing their natural surroundings and noting events that follow, may learn to recognize omens that can inform and guide them.

The icing on the cake of this book is a pronunciation guide---always a gift to those not versed in Old Irish.  I recommend Celtic Visions, especially to beginning students, for its wealth of  information and  its usefulness as a guide to personal development.

[amazon_link id="1780281110" target="_blank" ]Celtic Visions: Seership, Omens and Dreams of the Otherworld[/amazon_link]

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Dimensions: 7.5 x 5 inches
  • Publisher: Watkins Publishing, 2012
  • ISBN: 978-1-78028-111-7

Review: The Gaian Tarot

The Gaian Tarot

by Joanna Powell Colbert

Review by Jenne Micale

Buy the Gaian TarotMany years ago, Joanna Powell Colbert’s detailed and intricate drawings caught my eye when I was perusing a Pagan-themed book. When I learned several years ago that she was working on a Tarot deck, I was excited and delighted. The Gaian Tarot – published by Llewellyn – is the long-awaited result.

Every card in the deck features Colbert’s incredibly detailed artwork and is replete with natural imagery, from the field of lavender in the Nine of Earth (in which the central figure is Colbert herself), to the turtle and fish in the Guardian of Water, the warring eagles in Five of Air, and the shining water and rotting bird in Death. The suits are divided according to element and the court cards according to age: Child, Explorer, Guardian, Elder. The humans depicted in the cards exemplify the range of human diversity and offer, in their way, a utopian vision of what our society could be.

The cards are loosely based on Rider-Waite, although they have their own take on traditional images. The Seven of Water, for example, displays not a woman lost in dreams (contained by chalices), but a man who chooses a chalice and drinks it to the full. While the Six of Pentacles is traditionally the alms-giver, the Six of Earth shows money being exchanged at a farmers’ market. The Eight of Earth – one of my favorite cards – shows a father teaching his daughter how to play djembe rather than a child carving a pentacle, although the Rider-Waite and Gaian tarot both express the dedication required in mastering a skill. The Fool is now the Seeker, the Empress the Gardener and the Devil, Bindweed – to name a few of the changes in the Major Arcana.

To a novice tarot reader, the departure from Rider-Waite may make learning this deck a little problematic. The relative dearth of negative cards may complicate readings for more mundane purposes; the Ten of Air – geese flying during the fall migration – espouses a theme of endings, but not in the dramatic and traumatic manner of the Ten of Swords. But overall, the Gaian Tarot is excellent in giving guidance in spiritual matters – wise and gentle – and for meditation. Highly recommended.

[amazon_link id="0738718912" target="_blank" ]Gaian Tarot[/amazon_link] by Joanna Powell Colbert
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications; Crds edition (September 8, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0738718912
ISBN-13: 978-0738718910

Review: Tree Readings: 13 Ogham Tree Oracle

Tree Readings: 13 Ogham Tree Oracle

by Carmen Reyes

Review by Tony Taylor

Book Cover - Tree Readings 13 Ogham Tree Oracle - Carmen Reyes

Tree Readings is a lovely little book that walks the reader through thirteen of the ogham consonants.  “Q” and “Z” are not included nor are the vowels, however, because they really are about kennings and the tree lore that is okay.  She helps the reader discover their tree allies and inspires cultivation of relationship with the trees and the goddesses related to them.

The book is divided into two major sections, first the Tree Signs.  In the Tree Signs, Carmen assigns an ogham to standard trees and then focuses on the benefit of the ogham.  For example, Holly’s ogham is “Creativity and Mastery.”  She includes a “Lady” she associates the ogham with, adds some key associations, words, poetry, and a Celtic astrology association.

In the Kennings, Charms & Treasures section, the author provides botanical highlights, associations for the Word Ogham, various other associations, and, most interestingly, to a particular Goddess.  I was distracted by the inclusion of Roman & Greek deities; however, adhering to one pantheon os specific to Keltrian practice.

She finishes the book with a Tree Calendar, information on tree essences, references to further reading, supplies, and a nice bibliography.

Carmen is a member of the Henge of Keltria and I considered nominating her book as the “Best academic book” by a Keltrian, to the Druid Academy Nomination Award Committee  (DANAC) for an “Oakie” award.  However, there are no DANAC awards this year, but I am hoping I will still be able to submit her fine book next year.

I recommended Tree Readings for anyone wishing to develop their relationship with trees.
[amazon_link id="1453690719" target="_blank" ]Tree Readings: 13 Ogham Tree Oracle[/amazon_link] Tree Readings: 13 Ogham Tree Oracle

  • Paperback: 76 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace (July 29, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1453690719
  • ISBN-13: 978-1453690710

[amazon_enhanced asin="1453690719" /]   [amazon_product_cloud title="Product Cloud Widget" market_place="US" category="All" height="280" width="336" show_title="True" show_popovers="True" background_color="#ffffff" hover_background_color="#cc6600" popover_border_color="#918C8C" hover_text_color="#ffffff" title_text_color="#000000" title_font="Verdana" title_font_size="13px" cloud_text_color="#003399" cloud_font="Verdana" cloud_font_size="14px" curved_corners="False" show_amazon_logo_as_text="False"/]

Review: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi

REVIEW: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi:

Radical Techniques for Beholding the Divine

by Will Johnson

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

Book Cover: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi

In popular writings, Jalaluddin Rumi is often seen as the enigmatic “whirling dervish” and Sufi mystic who, infatuated with his teacher, produced vast amounts of ecstatic poetry, and also gave rise to a sect known for its whirling dances. Some have interpreted his writings as metaphoric references to Allah, while others have suggested a deep human love relationship between Rumi and Shams-i Tabriz. Will Johnson, however, asserts that much of Rumi’s writings refer to a specific practice in which he engaged with his teacher/partner Shams: the simple but profound act of gazing into one another’s eyes.

This concept of the practice of the gaze puts many of Rumi’s verses into a new light for they refer not just to a soft-headed romantic staring, but an open-hearted discipline. Thus, at least some of Rumi’s verses are not just about an infatuation between two mystics but, rather, a practice that, when surrendered to, creates a delicious union and a spiritual otherworldly experience, while awakening sensations in the body.

Again and again Johnson circles back like a spinning dancer to the theme of union. He encourages this practice not just for exploration with a “great friend,” as he calls it, but also with one’s consort (in a Tantric manner), as well as with nature, and even in the city because, as he says, everywhere you look - if you look properly - you will see the face of God. This gazing practice is intended to help us wake up to the fact that union is available and “free for the taking.” Johnson, further, suggests ways to prepare for gazing with the beloved, such as practicing with a candle, with one’s own face in a mirror and breathing practices.

There are some interesting parallels to the Celtic worldview. The physical world and physical body are not to be transcended here, according to Johnson. Rather they are the door that grants entry into the invisible world. As one learns acceptance and surrender, Johnson says that one begins to look not just with the eyes but with the whole body. “Presence is the key that opens divinity’s door,” he says. Also, a few years ago, I presented some workshops on Celtic Spirituality in which I read passages from the writings of John O’Donohue while participants sat looking into one another’s faces. In just a few minutes, many were deeply moved – showing the power of gazing receptively and without judgment into the eyes of another.

Since meditation is so often seen as a solitary practice, and since so many of our human interactions are superficial avoidance of genuine intimacy, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Because of its meditative nature, and because of its promise of opening the heart and vision to the deeper nature of all around us, it seems especially appropriate for those engaged on the Ovate and Druid paths.

[amazon_link id="1594772002" target="_blank" ]The Spiritual Practices of Rumi: Radical Techniques for Beholding the Divine,[/amazon_link] by Will Johnson; ISBN: 1-59477-200-2; pp 192; Inner Traditions; $14.95.

[amazon_enhanced asin="1594772002" /]