Celtic

When history adds to your modern practice

Today I dived head first down the rabbit hole of Google Scholar and a wide array of historical academic papers that are available to read. While saving a whole bunch to read later, one caught my eye.

Washing and Bathing in Ancient Ireland

A. T. Lucas

The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland

Vol. 95, No. 1/2, Papers in Honour of Liam Price (1965), pp. 65-114

I am relatively well known to be a woman of Feasting, as I consider food, the acts of hospitality and feasting to be a huge part of  my spiritual well being. There is however another portion that is likely not as well known because it’s just not something that I was able to concretely connect as “Gaelic” in my practice. Certainly it is something that has always been a important aspect of my practice, but I chalked up a lot of that to be unique to me. Sometimes, you read something and then you make historical and spiritual connections you didn’t “know” were there but were completely there and now can consider more ways to incorporate it. In this case it’s, Ritual bathing.

Since childhood the pleasure and just comfort of a good hot bath has always had a place in my heart. My household regularly used hot showers and baths as a way to help aid the healing process of headaches, colds, flu, muscle aches, and pretty much everything under the sun. There is the vinegar bath for a bad sunburn. The oatmeal and milk bath for chicken pox. The Epsom salt bath for other illness. When I moved out of my parents house, I started having intense migraines and stumbled on the remedy of showers where you turn the water to as hot as you can stand and then as cold as you can stand, repetitively. You kinda feel like your getting torn apart and are exhausted afterwards but for a long time it was the only relief I could find.  Along my witchcraft path I learned the value of purification baths, and adding a variety of other herbal and stone items for magical purposes. Likewise I discovered that while I sucked a meditation and trance work, I could easily slip into trance and meditation in a steamy shower or bath.

At that time, it made sense to me, in that water, especially running water, is a gateway to the Otherworld, and steam seemed associated with the mist and fog that is also seen in Irish myth and folklore to be a portal to the Otherworld. The act of bathing seemed to create a liminal state of its own that I’ve always felt connected to and it’s been a useful way to de-stress and in general keep emotionally balanced over the years.

But I had never made any stronger connections to Irish mythology or lore until recently. A few years back, my partner was experiencing some intense stress at work. Anyone who has a lot of stress in their lives, know how it just starts to take a toll mentally and physically. For some reason, I called to mind the story of the young Cúchulainn returning from battle still in his battle frenzy and being dunked/bathed in three vats of water to cool his furor and return him to a more human state. I felt a connection with the stresses and dehumanizing aspects that service jobs can reap upon a person and the inhuman state of Cúchulainn in the story. It seemed to me that the act of being bathed ritualistically as the young hound was, was a way of bringing him back into the fold of his people. Bringing him back to peace and civilization in some way. I started to use showering in this way, after work. A way to wash away the grim and rat in a maze feelings that Corporate America can bring, and return to a state of comfort, balance and humanity. It helped. It became sacred and essential in our comfort rituals.

The article highlights some facets of bathing and washing in Ancient Ireland and in Irish myth that I hadn’t taken the time to ponder before. In particular it’s connections with hospitality and even feasting(!).

It outlines various examples of how a bath was one of the requisite amenities given to a guest as part of the rules of hospitality. We are given the example of the bad hospitality of King Bres Mac Mac Eladain who had a poet of the Tuatha dé Dannan visit. He was conveyed to a small house which was narrow, dark and dim, there was neither fire, nor bath, nor bed. Three small cakes, and they dry, were brought to him on a little dish. The next day he rose and he was not pleased. From this and the other examples tales of Cúchulainn, King Donn, Mael Dúin, being greeted with lavish beautiful welcomings the included lovely women to bath them, the argument that having a comfortable and plush bath available for guests was considered the mark of a good household.

Comfort is one of the tenets of hospitality, and while I have generally considered my mother’s propensity for buying copious amounts of soft bath towels and having over flowing baskets of colorful washcloths available, to be her desire for a magazine type home,  I now look at it at it as being very gracious. If I were to show up at my mother’s house unannounced with 5 or more guests unexpected and we all needed showers, she would have clean fresh towels and cloths ready and waiting. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for my own. In fact to own the truth, my house has only a handful of towels and they are almost never all clean at once. Something to consider.

The article also make the connections to prestige and honor to be the first to bath, making several references to chieftains and kings being granted the right to “the first bath and the first drink” at a feast. There is some interesting information that makes a strong case that bathing of somekind (whether full body or hands and feet) were done prior to feasting. This makes sense in a logistical and hygienic sense, as well as adding a layer of ritual cleansing to feasting that just makes energetic sense. It also reminded me a lot of a podcast I was recently recommended, Dark Ages Feasting – The British History Podcast. Which, while predominately looking at Anglo-Saxon traditions, covered the ritual handwashing that took place before eating at a feast. He also pointed out how uncouth many of we modern folks are in comparison, how often do you actually wash your hands before a meal? More things to consider ;

The article only briefly touches on the connection of ritual bathing by women being connected to healing and magic, but there is enough to make note of and keep an eye out in further reading.

There is a lot of minutia of daily life in ancient Ireland, that perhaps not everyone would consider interesting lol, but I love it.  Things like theories of what sort of detergents they used, how they heat their water, what the tubs looked like, the different words that meant different types of bathing. These things don’t necessarily add anything to my modern practice, but they help to provide another piece of the puzzle to a worldview of the past. I feel like that helps to create a depth of understanding that solidifies my modern practice.

If you have made it this far in this much longer ramble than anticipated post, all of this is to say that I recommend the article lol. It has opened some ideas in my head as far as ritual feast  activities, and that I for sure need an lovely washing station in my future feasting hall. It reinforced  my I practice of using bathing for sacred ritual purposes as well as for community and hospitality building in some ways. More food for thought on how to relate to the every day life and I suppose a little window in how I break out academic articles and relate them to my practice.

Sacred Places: The Stream

Sacred Waters Jan 2016 (14)

I recently visited another of my sacred sites in the area. It is the new year and thus a new batch of sacred water is needed. This sacred water is gathered from a sacred stream and I use it in various ways through out the year. Sometimes, I make a couple trips throughout the year if more is needed, but generally one batch can last a whole year.

We first stumbled across the stream and trail when we were relatively new to the Bay Area and desperately needed to find escape from the house and troubles we were living with. This trail and the stream provide a respite, and an escape to tranquility. It very much has the feel of a fairytale trail and there are many bridges and picturesque scenes that tempt and sooth the mind and soul. I have found a lot of comfort  here and over the years have seen it change just as I have changed.

Sacred Waters Jan 2016 (22)

The trail is easy to miss off the side of the rode. Tucked away in a ravine close to where the stream meets the sea. This time of year there are usually less people out and about, and this day was a wash with rain and sun. The trail itself was lush green in some parts, and scorched brown in others. A testimony to the drought and dry conditions we have been experiencing. While there were ripe young little ferns soaking up the recent moisture and wet, there were also large withered mature ferns for whom the rain came too late.

Sacred Waters Jan 2016 (2)

The Guardian of the Stream and Trail

The Stream has many Guardians that come in a variety of guises. This particular entrance to the trail and stream however is watched over by this magnificent Boulder and his tree companions.  There is no mistaking his presence, and it is important to pay respects and offerings before going further, especially if you intend to be gathering anything. The Old boy looked tired but content on this trip. His craggled face covered in new life, while the old ferns lay limp at his base. We stopped for a bit and chatted, paid our offerings and looked for ill omens. The moss was thick and happy on the trunks of his tree companions and we were all just happy to be there.

Once you pass the Guardian it is a short walk to cross the bridge to the Otherside of the stream. It had never really dawned on me before the significance of this, but this time as we crossed over the dark wet bridge I could markedly feel the shift. We receive the blessed water from the Otherside. I don’t particularly have any lore to back up this intuitive knowing, but it certainly seems correct and there is plenty of stories of the power of crossing moving bodies of water.

The sacred area that I have spent much time just resting with and feeling the purification of the place is a little corner of the stream. The stream itself seems to be unconnected to it’s “Official Gov’ment” name and has thus far been blissfully silent on any other name it might prefer. I am sure it has a name, but it is one that I am not meant to know it seems, and that is alright with me. It seems content to be The Sacred Stream in my own thoughts, and maybe someday I will discover a word beautiful and joyful enough that it would be pleased to have as a nick name. Until then it is the Sacred Stream and one of it’s places of power is where the Living Bridge crosses it’s small rapids. The Living Bridge is a massive Redwood twin that at one point far far in the past fell over the stream and continued to grow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The two Redwoods are spectacular to behold and are perfectly happy in there location. The stream itself is a paradise, enticing you with it’s crystalline water and lovely pools. I fantasize about bathing in it’s waters every. single. time. However the waters are generally too cold to such naive desires. But it is soothing to rinse your feet, scoop up some icy water and bath your face feeling rejuvenated instantly.

We dallied and made offerings, cleansed some of our favorite stones in the cold water and in general enjoyed ourselves. At length we gathered up our water and made our way back to the realms of men and the sea. There were more adventures ahead of us and Manannán was working some breathtaking scenery out in the ocean. It was one of those days that you are just happy to be living and enjoying. As Imbolg approaches and Bridgit’s Holy Day with it, I’m sure this sacred water will be put to good use and doubly blessed. I remain ever grateful to have the chance to touch and see such amazing clear water flowing. May it continue to be so and flow evermore.  

 

Everything on it’s ordained path…

Image: Big Dipperby AloriaTheZombie

http://aloriathezombie.deviantart.com/art/Big-Dipper-321841368

Everything on it’s ordained path…That is the message that I keep getting from the Beyond these days. As my world shifts and moves around, as I adjust pace to keep up with the path that is unfolding beneath my feet, the few times that I have actually sat down to ask if I should do a thing, or whether or not this is a good idea, the answers come back with no great amount of useful information. Just “It’s time. Go with it.”. At the beginning of this year I got a reading, from someone who did not know the intimate details of my life, (no small feat! Someone you know is good but doesn’t know you is hard to come by in this small world.) They pointed out that this year is my Chariot year. A year of opportunities, to just take the ones I wanted and not wait. That was the key. Don’t wait. As somewhat of a slow moving cautious Bull Woman, I find that advice a little hard to take. But I decided to focus, the hone my vigilance, my instincts, and just act.

It has not been an incredibly easier year. The changes that have come has brought with it a lot of rocky road just as much as it has brought new blue sky. There were times when I thought, maybe I had just made huge mistakes. Maybe I had gotten it all wrong. But then my friends would buoy me, my love would ask me what I wanted to do and support me as I had my copious amounts of feelings. All the while the next thing would come along and it would have been foolish to let insecurity keep me stagnant. All the while the same signs would make themselves known. The Chariot. Ursa Major. The Bull. The Cauldron.

Now that the we have reached the Dark half of the year, the momentum that I have gained begins to feel more tangible. I am excited to say that there is a lot of amazing and hopefully grand things on the horizon. I hope to be able to wrap up some of the events that happened this year that I have yet to blog about before the end of the year. There was an beautiful and powerful ritual to Epona, a satisfying and rejuvenating devotional camping trip dedicated to the Morrigan. And a few other personal entries.

For those of you that have stuck around, thank you for you continued support. I am looking forward to being able to share more of the comparison’s from translations from the Tain, and other pieces of my personal practice. Along side more posts about the Cauldron and the many exciting projects that are brewing there. The Cauldron of the Celts, is creating the welcoming space and inclusive active community among Celtic practitioners, that I have longed for. We are just in the seedling stages, but the love, devotion, and enthusiasm is there, so I can only pray our efforts bear fruit.

In the mean time I continue to practice my stride, enjoying the new comforts my new prosperity provides, and at the same  time tending to the responsibility and finical aid to my family, I haven’t been able to provide in the past.  May the Gods continue to guide my path to become better for my self and my loved ones. May my eyes see true, and recognize the opportunities and sign before me. May the Ancestors guard and bless me and may the Realms continue in their ordained paths.

Great Queen guide us, that our strength and wisdom be true.

Great Queen guide us, that our strength and wisdom be true.

Beltane and the Great Queen

As part of the ongoing creation and sanctification of the Cauldron of the Celts Sacred Calendar, we have the honor of adding two more days to the calendar. Both in honor of an Morrighan. I was having a rather hard time figuring out where exactly the holy day of the Great Queen would go on the modern calendar year, and it wasn’t until we welcomed more to our merry band of Celtic devotees that the answer revealed itself, apparently you need at least an attempted murder to get things brewing. With the help of my dear sister Verity Blue Midnight, we realized that one day was just not enough and that the date was less consequential than the timing. So for this year and hopefully many more future years to come we will be honoring the Morrighan on the full moon of May and the dark moon of October.

To be clear, I do not know of any direct connotation in the lore or otherwise between the Morrighan and the moon (although if anyone does know of some I would be interested in looking into it). However, given her association with the liminal states, it felt more correct for her days to be on a lunar calendar whilst the rest settle into the solar modern one. While her connection to Beltane and Samhain seem fairly clear, and are clearly felt. This years May full moon fell just days after May 1st/Beltane. Which seemed a blessing on things to come.

We crashed into May with a thunderous bang. I have always found this time of year to be one of high emotions and high energy, this year is proving no different. While my sister priestess planned a loving devotion to the Great Queen for dusk on the full moon, petitions tended to while walking a labyrinth at dusk and offerings given in honor and praise, I ran off to the woods. Truly it was a weekend where her presence and the spirits of this time of year were all around.

The Beltane Sun 2015

It started before dawn on Beltane, way up on inspiration point with the Morris Dancers jovially playing and dancing up the sun. It was incredibly warm this year, a contrast in years past when you would have to bundle up to greet the golden rays, a marker to the change our earth is going through. Every year I am amazed at the flutter and anticipation that this sunrise brings. What if I’m late? What if this time it rises early? Silly, perhaps. But it is part of the magic and the buzz of Beltane.

Beltane 2015

This year the heat and dryness of our land prevented any morning dew to be found. I suppose I can go one year without the blessings of Beltane beauty upon me. After basking in the golden hour light for a while longer it was time to go in search of food and then to work. A stark change from years before where I could stumble back to bed before rising and prepping for the day. The Rooster, a local cafe, was kind enough to provide us with a lovely meal, and then we decided to spread the May Day cheer by buying flowers and passing them around the office. There was quite a bit of bemused confusion as to why they were being given or offered flowers, and an equal amount of delight at discovering flowers on ones desk for apparently no reason. All and all I consider it a Beltane well managed.

The Canyon

That night we cleaned up the house, left out some offerings, and prepped for an escape to the woods. We left bright and early the next day, heading straight for the Canyon. A trip we have made countless times over the years that holds so many memories. It was brilliant and beautiful all day. Clear skies, jubilant sun, and fresh crisp air. Everything a person could need to clear their head and help ease their burdens. We decided for this trip to explore all the little side roads off the canyon in search for a great camping spot. We found many treasures, but one that still has a hold on my heart and desires.

There are several places through the Canyon where you cross the Feather River, and at one such place there is a road, and up that road is an oasis. You can’t see it from the road. We had just stopped because I have an ever growing obsession with rocky rivers and a need to be by them. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not there was going to be a way down to the water, but there was. I was not prepared for the beauty that I saw.

Ladybug Lagoon

It was like stumbling upon the lagoon from Neverland. Completely picturesque. I desperately wanted to dive into that crystalline water, but the reality is that water is far too cold for swimming just yet. Treacherous and beautiful, the way I like it. We stayed by the river for a long while, climbing rocks and enjoying the serenity of it all. The Lumberjack recounted the story of coming to this spot once and all the rocks were covered in ladybugs! There were a few ladybugs here and there and many a butterfly on this trip. It seemed only natural to name the place Labybug Lagoon. I will gladly and happily be returning here this year.

Wash away my fearsClear waters

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come to the river, child of the heart
Lay by the stream, all cares depart
Great Lady wash from my soul
My weakness and the doubts that I hold
Splendid One wash me in the waters from beyond
I arise glorious with only my courage and tresses donned

After stopping and scouting many more places, including my beloved Bullard’s Bar we settled down to camp for the night. We did not plan enough ahead to have gotten a campfire permit, so we went without. Eating a humble but filling meal of sandwiches and fruit, we enjoyed the calming solace of being outside and away from the hustle and bustle. We found a broken knife and fashioned a game out of throwing the blade and trying to get it to stick in some rounds. We planned to buy a small archery set to bring out next time, for fun and practice. We gathered some wild cedar tips and made them into bundles, the Lumberjack even picked some dogwood flowers for me. I think that dogwood is probably the regional equivalent of the Hawthorn in this part of the woods. It was in bloom everywhere, crowning the forest in beauty and joy.

The moon was full and splendidly bright, the air was cold and fortifying. That night prayers where made to the Gods and the Ungods with heartfelt devotion to see us all through the challenges and trials we walk. Offerings were made to continue to bring prosperity and joy to my beloveds. The land and all it’s many treasures were thanked profusely for being steadfast and welcoming. With a much lighter heart I slept that night.

The return home was slow, as we were want to leave. We revisited our plans and what the next five year holds. Each of us know we can’t stay forever in the city, it wears too much on out emotions and spirit. May this year bring the beginnings of dreams realized for my family and all those seeking and working towards their goals.

Blessed Beltane everyone! I pray that the month of May keeps you well and shows you the way to your dreams.

To Brigid

Cauldron of the Celts – Sacred Calendar Year – Brigid’s Holy Day

Being a Gaelic Polytheist that does not currently have a Gaelic Polytheist community at hand, I spend a lot of my time and effort being a public priestess in a interfaith pagan coven known as CAYA Coven as I have found the community aspect to be so very enriching to my life and practice. Over the years CAYA has grown to the point where we can now group off into devotional affinity groups of priestesses that share a deity or culture or other grouping. One such groups that I am apart of is the Cauldron of the Celts. All of us publicly dedicated to deities that fall under the “Celtic” umbrella. Currently that means Irish and Romano-Breton but in future could include Gaulish, Welsh and so on. Being a multi-faith group means that everyone is coming from a different angle as far as practice and so forth but I have to say that it has been refreshing to have more people to talk about the lore and cultural background of things, as well as be able to share our devotions and put on some truly wonderful rites for the gods.

In that vein we have collective decided it would be a good idea to start a Sacred Calendar year for the group, with a holy day selected for each of our dedicated deities. Understanding that nothing about this is particularly Gaelic but a more modern adaptation to further foster reverence and honor to the gods. It also provides an opportunity to share with the wider community, and be of service. With that being said the first day of reverence this year starts with Brigid, and below is a humble offering for all those who feel called to partake.


To Brigid

Cauldron of the Celts Sacred Calendar Year – Brigid’s Holy Day 2/1/15

The Cauldron of the Celts, a multi-faith devotional group within CAYA Coven, is endeavoring to establish our Sacred Calendar Year. Each priestess is publicly dedicated to a deity who falls under the wide “Celtic” umbrella and has chosen a date on our modern calendar year to be a day of reverence to their deity. In an effort to connect with other devotees and be of service to the public we share this calendar and some of our own workings, that we may all raise up the Gods names in honor.

Our calendar year begins with Brigid’s holy day on Feb 1st.

The priestesses of Brigid, Foxfire Kells and Doyenne Rowan, invite you to send us any petitions you wish to make before the goddess and we will offer them to her in supplication and gratitude on her holy day. You may email them at cauldronofthecelts@gmail.com.

Below are a few words from the priestesses of Brigid:

Imbolc is celebrated in honor of the goddess Brigid between January 31st and February 2nd; the name of the holy day comes from the Old Irish imbolg or oimelc, meaning “in the belly,” referring to the season of lambing and ewe’s milk. Brigid emerges from the silence of winter to herald the coming of spring and new life and growth; she is also a goddess of the forge, of the hearth, of poetry and inspiration, and of healing. Her symbols include lambs or sheep,  wells, writing implements, acorns, apples, milk, snowdrops and crocuses, and, of course, fire.

Imbolc falls during the Celtic tree month (a neo-pagan construct based on Robert Grave’s interpretation of the ancient symbolic language of ogam) of Luis (lweesh), which is the Gaelic name for the rowan tree, so one activity you can do is to make a protection charm of 2 crossed rowan twigs bound with red thread. For more information about the history of the Rowan and red thread charm you can find a incredibly thorough article here.

Another one of Her traditions is to leave out cloth or clothing to be blessed by Brigid on Imbolc, often to be used for healing and protection purposes for the following year. Given the current events happening, Her face of healing is very clearly one that is needed in the world and in our community.

To welcome and honor Brigid into your home and life, you may wish to perform the following ritual:

Lay out a white or yellow cloth
Place a white candle in the center
Arrange around the candle 3 acorns and/or apples, a small bowl of fresh water (spring water or melted snow is ideal), a sprig of juniper, and a small bundle of wool roving.
Prepare an offering plate with a piece of bread spread with soft cheese and a drizzle of honey, and some apple slices.

Light the candle and contemplate what new projects or endeavors you want to nurture this year. How will you tend to these goals? How will you tend to yourself? What parts of yourself or your life are beginning to emerge with the Spring? How do you keep the fires of your creativity and motivation burning as the year wears on?  Do you make space in your life for pleasure and the warmth of family (however you define it)?

Say a prayer or sing a song to Brigid to bring her into the room.
Feel free to use or adapt this prayer, as you wish:

My good lady Brigid,
I call upon you to light the fire of inspiration in my heart,
to warm my hearth and burn away the cold shroud of winter,
just as the snowdrops burn through the frozen ground to burst forth in flower
and give the promise of renewal.

My good lady Brigid,
I offer you my devotion and gratitude
for the many ways you bring joy and beauty to life in the world.
May my lips ever sing your praises and my hands bring comfort and healing;
ever may the embrace of my favour glorify your name.

Offer Brigid the bread with cheese & honey and the apples, for sweetness and sustenance.

Dip the juniper sprig in the water you have charged and asperge your house to bless and protect you in the coming year.

More Links and Points of interest:
Detailed article about the customs in Ireland and Scotland of Là Fhèill Brìghde
:http://www.tairis.co.uk/festivals/la-fheill-brighde
Craft Ideas for Imbolc: http://unfetteredwood.blogspot.com/2014/01/crafts-for-imbolc.html
video from Gaol Naofa on the celebration of Imbolc: http://youtu.be/oEieym5uI7k
Podcasts from Story Archaeology about Brigid and her various tales:  http://storyarchaeology.com/category/series-01-mythical-women/mythical-women-05-the-search-for-brigid/

Cauldron of the Celts 2015 Sacred Calendar Year:
Feb 1st – Brigid’s Holy Day
March 19th – Sulis Minerva’s Holy Day
June 21st – Honoring of the Selkie
August 1st – Lugh’s Holy Day
August 9th – An Dagda’s Holy Day

Táin Tuesday: The Wealth of a King

This is a continuation of “How Conchobar was begotten, and how he took the Kingship of Ulster” but whereas the first part of the story I feel is more his mother Ness’s story (of being a mastermind and all around sharp lady), the second part of the story tells us more about what is to be expected from Kingship, idealized and legendary kingship, but in the paragons of myth we can find the lessons of the mundane. The first paragraph extols Conchobar’s virtues and how beloved of Ulster he was. There are the things you would expect such as:

There was no wiser being in the world. He never gave judgement until it was  ripe, for fear it might be wrong and the crops worsen. – Kinsella

Now later on we may talk about how true this statement actually is in reference to some the judgments he actually makes as King. But for now it is a telling piece of what is valued in a leader and very neatly and simply showcases the connection between sovereignty and the land.  This is a theme that you might have heard espoused before, especially if you have been looking into or have any connections with any of the many Irish Sovereignty Goddesses. Cue the Morrighan, Macha, Aine, just to name a few. I feel like there is a lot that could be said about this connection, but the one thing that strikes me in this reading may be the simplest. The sacred connection between mankind and the land.

If we concentrate down this, the king’s actions/words/being can cause crops to worsen and the people to suffer, we clearly see the ownership of stewardship in all things. We as human beings are not separate from the land that we live on.  This is a very animist view of things, and further gets complicated for those of us on U.S. soil and other places wherein colonialism has left us a history to have to weigh-in. But the solid foundation that there is a sacred connection between all of our actions and the land seems pretty clear and worth remembering. This simple foundation gives weight to the meaning of offerings, to seeing signs and omens in the day to day life, to cultivating the skills of wisdom and judgement. Because ultimately if you are taking on the mantle of personal sovereignty then you are taking up the mantle of your actions, your words, having profound affect on your world.

There are things that make the modern person raise an eyebrow and make a face, namely these:

So high was their regard for him that every man in Ulster that took a girl in marriage let her sleep the first night with Conchobor, so as to have him first in the family[…]Any Ulsterman who gave him a bed for the night gave him his wife as well to sleep with.

Ahhh Ancient times, when men were men and women were chattle. Now besides this being a very sexist way of showing the adoration and love Ulster had for it’s king it may also show a bit more of the practice of Ancestor worship and the ties of kingship. There is an interesting article written by Fedelm Cruithn titled A Semiotics of Kingship in the Tain which goes deeper into the topics that I am brushing over, but talks directly about this connection:

The Táin also indicates a very important relationship between the king’s popularity and his genealogy. The men of Ulster worship Conchobor so highly, they allow their new brides to sleep with him on the first night, in order to “have him first in the family.” (Kinsella 4) Try to imagine an Egyptian king sleeping with the wife of every man in Egypt! In this part of The Táin, there seems to be a break from the droit de cuissage or ius primæ nocti, (law of the first night), which reflects the right of a ruling man to “sample the wares” of his family subjects. In this instance, there’s a peculiar combination of a worshipful gesture made by free men honouring their beloved king and a genealogical insurance policy for the tribe: a figure of royal blood who shares his blood with the people of his kingdom. This points to the possibility that in Celtic kingship, unlike many other sovereignty traditions, the king was not only expected to be of perfect stock, but was also expected to revitalise and perfect the stock of the tribe. In this way, Conchobor becomes a prize breeding bull, woven into the very fabric of a story about the royal cattle theft of a sacred bull. (Mac Cana 52)

This idea of genealogy, of being descendants of legendary heroes, and even the Gods themselves, is not a new idea or one that is only found in the Celtic context. While overall interesting to think about on it’s own, for me personally it just throws more weight into the respectful practice of Ancestor worship. These Legendary Heroes and Kings were looked on as family, as kin.

Extrapolating further and tying this back into the ideas of personal sovereignty in the modern context, this close connection of king and people teaches me that those that I consider part of my tribe, my community should be treated as family. Again writing that out seems like such a given, but I was lucky enough to grow up in a family were taking care of each other is given. It is easy for me coming from that background to extend that outward to know that there are times when the good of the all is more important, and that these duties when founded in love hold great rewards.

The last part of this tale goes on in great detail on the houses and wealth of the mighty King. Of note that he had three houses each with a different task. Lets just go ahead and point out that three is a number of great weight in the Irish world and it will be something to look for in future. Craebruad the Red Branch, Tete Brec the Twinkling Hoard, and Craebderg the Ruddy Branch.

Craebruad, was where the kings sat and presumably where Conchobor lived. We are told that it is the Red Branch and red is for royalty. This is just flat out interesting to me and endearing to me. Red is not usually the color associated with royalty, that would be purple. It could very well be that there was not readily available dye for making purple at the time, one of the leading facts to purples elevation to royalty in other places and times. But I’m inclined to think not…I could be wrong, but having seen a lot of the craft work of Ancient Ireland and knowing that they did have some contact and trade with the outside world if only from Viking influence it seems far fetched to believe that purple was just not a color they could replicate. So then why the elevation of red? In Rome red was the color of the army, due mostly to the great availability and thus cost effectiveness of the color. Gotta love the Romans and their keen accounting skills. But then that is just it, red is the color of war. Red is the color of blood and passion. I would even venture to say that red is the color of courage. Could this also be a contributing factor to it’s royal associations in Ancient Ireland, where valor and courage were such prized items? Another interesting note is that red usually helps to depict Otherworldly things, White animals with red ears and so forth. Perhaps this too tied the Kingship and royalty to the spiritual and sacred.

All and all I find it a fascinating tidbit. Not the least of which is that Red is a color I associate very clearly with.

But what of the other houses? Tete Brec, is the place that holds all the beautiful and deadly weapons and armor of legendary heroes. Everything from Cuchulainn’s shield to everyone else’s and their goblets and javelins and swords beside. And in Craebderg is where all “the severed heads and spoils” were kept.  There are several ways that these houses could be analyzed, but again on this reading I am struck by Craebruad representing the King’s duties to politics and the people. Such a fine house with all it’s decorations and trimmings much play host to many heroes and Chiefs, foraging alliances and offering hospitality.  A point underlined by Gerg’s vat, from which at any time 30 men may be drinking from it in Conchobor’s room and the vat is always full. Such abundance and generosity are things that a sovereign must maintain. With Tete Brec I see the need to maintain protection, an entire house filled with arms and shields of mighty warriors, of whom may be called upon at any moment. It speaks to the bravery and the heroism that is idealized in sovereignty. And then Craebderg, the ruddy branch, where we see that bravery and heroism has been tested and proven true. This is not just a king who speaks of valor but who has the proof of those swords and shields in a house all of their own. The grandeur and glory must not be without merit.

This speaks to the heroic morality versus the passive morality that is seen elsewhere, and was one of the key things that turned me away from Judeo-Christian religions. With them it is all about the things that you should not do. Whereas to me being judged and held to your actions is more in alignment with the make up of my soul. I am not a “good person” because I do not steal or any number of the other tenets of “Thou shall not”. It is through my actions based on the real features of the situations that mold and shape me. Just as it is that Conchobor’s actions, be them in judgement or on the battle field is what molds and shapes him into a legendary king.

The Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen – Lessons in the fire

The main error committed by those who have called the Morrígan a “war goddess” has not been in giving her that designation, but in defining it too narrowly. When one considers what war was for the medieval Irish, rather than in light of what war means now, or even to the Romans, the designation becomes as complex and nuanced as its subject herself. All the messiness, the intricacies, and the facets of the Morrígan are the facets, intricacies, and messiness of war as the Irish knew it. Nearly all the important narrative texts of medieval Irish literature, and Ulster cycle texts in particular, center on that enterprise. It is therefore no surprise that the Morrígan, as embodiment of war, would appear conspicuously in these texts. Fame and glory, gore and terror: in war, are all one. And so the Morrígan. — The Morrígan and her Germano-Celtic Counterparts A dissertation by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein

Ever since reading Epstein’s wonderful dissertation this quote has stayed with me. It helps to succinctly keep the mind open to all the possibilities and facets of such a complex goddess and culture instead of getting too trapped in single ideas. I am always looking to learn more and to more full integrate my spiritual beliefs into my everyday life. So when new nuances come to light and settle so harmoniously with what I already have in my life and methods it just helps to deepen those bonds that I have found and created.

Last year I was inspired to go on a ritual camping trip to honor the Morrighan. Having found a truly amazing location that would include a 3 mile hike to the campsite and then allow for a beach side ritual, I was deeply motivated and looking forward to the challenge that this camping trip would provide. I often find that physical challenge is something that I yearn for in my day to day life that is absent. Thankfully, I don’t have to struggle to procure food, or fight for my life. This is a privilege of the modern first world that I live in and I am grateful. Yet…there is a part of me that wonders if I can ever truly know myself in such comfortable surroundings. There is some nameless voice in my soul that believes that it is through adversity, danger, fear, that you temper your core and truly find yourself. Many a sleepless night I have wondered if I am truly living my principles by not fully embracing this belief.  Shouldn’t someone who believes such things dive head first into a life that would manifest these things? Shouldn’t I have joined the military? The Peace Corp? Any other of countless paths that would bring me face to face with what I describe? It is the paradox of my existence in that this belief and pull goes head to head with my belief that life is meant to be enjoyed. That I consider my life well lived if I and my loved ones are happy. I am a conflicted soul if ever there was one lol.

So here presented itself a safe but challenging opportunity to get out into nature and connect with myself and the divine. More I knew that there were others in my community that would welcome the opportunity for the same. In my public priestess work amoungst a  mixed crowd of personal paths I relish the opportunity to do things the way I do them and invite others along to partake. I spent some time trying to figure out who to invite and how open to make this trip. Ultimately it seemed best to invite those who worked with the Great Queen or had approached me about working with her and those willing to undertake the physical challenges.

Not surprisingly when you set out with the intention of holding a ritual camping trip with the Great Queen to challenge yourself, you are challenged…and expected to adapted.

The first location that inspired the trip was just flatly not available for the weekend for up to a year in advance. Being someone who has only ever done much camping in national forest situations I was shocked that a month in advance was not enough. That in fact a year was needed. Adapted or die, right? Lol

Interestingly as this first plan and rendition of the ritual trip fell away there was an extreme influx of emotional and personal challenge in our community and amoungst my dear inner circle.  Things were hard, everyday was an emotional roller coaster. Within my own house we are still grieving for the loss of the Lumberjack’s mother and the first year of her passing quickly approaches. As anyone who has suffered through hard times know that the stress, depression, anxiety and other aspects take their toll physically and mentally. During this time I continued to pray, and to hold that some how I would do my best to honor her and her glory.

It was the Lumberjack that had me look farther inland after spending so long looking for a good site on the coast. I wanted some place that was a little less populated than most state parks and also had some water source. Then as the emotional turmoil reached its peak we went for a long and much needed drive out to scout out prospective camping sites. There is something spiritually comforting to me about long driving trips. It probably hearkens back to my childhood spent driving from one side of the country to the other. Something about it can just rest my mind, pull me out of the drudgery and see the bigger picture of life. I have to say that is was exactly what the doctor order. Truly I am blessed to have the Lumberjack in my life willing to support me and tend to my emotional needs amoungst everything else.

The drive up was beautiful and the location was stunning. It was a much more developed camping site than the original site, but still remote and next to an amazing reservoir. Stunningly blue and filled with pyrite and quartz. The location did not have the same wild rugged energy that had drawn me to the first location. Instead it was serene, inviting and ethereal. Standing on the banks looking out on the tranquil reservoir feeling that familiar welcomed feeling of finally being able to breath fully deeply, two ravens languidly circling the trees and I just accepted it as a gift. The time and energy of the present was harsh and tumultuous, here was the time and the place to gain respite. To nourish the soul. How often do such opportunities present themselves? And again should you limit the understanding and honoring of the Gods? No we would not be physically challenging ourselves, and meeting nature in the untamed wilds. But each and every one of us were being challenged in our daily lives. Having to self analysis, to face difficult situations, people and conversations and not turn away. It seemed more than possible that in the stillness and rugged outdoors we all would find a piece of ourselves that would help to preserve us through the challenges at home.

Bullard's Bar

With the new location came new possibilities. If the original offering of physical exertion and shear will to make this happen was no longer the center point, then naturally food would be the new center. Food is the center point of most of my offerings and connection to deity at home and I saw no reason why we shouldn’t feast to her honor. Luckily for me the group was equally eager to bring abundance and feast to the trip, and in the end we had so much food. We planned the meals together as a community. Marinated Chicken and grilled corn, plenty of sandwich meats and cheese for lunches and snack, pancakes, bacon and eggs for breakfast, and a Primal Heart beef stew for the culminating supper. No one went hungry.

We spent out days in the cerulean quartz charged water. Delighting in the refreshment and glitter. Quickly we found a treasure of pyrite laced clay mud. Smooth and glorious it immediately became a favored past time to cover ourselves in clay and search for quartz treasures on the shore. Beer, laughter, swimming, mud, I didn’t know these were things I needed.

The late days were spent tending the fire, getting the stew started and fighting off mosquito. I enjoy cooking on most days, but I have not had the pleasure of cooking over that many open flames yet. That is soon to change, there is something amazing and so heartening to throw hunks of meat into a cast iron pan over a roaring fire, hearing the sizzle, smelling the sear. There is a deep contentment in getting a large cauldron boiling and stirring into it the intentions of health and comfort for all.

Generally I associate my cooking with the Dagda. He has a shrine in my kitchen, and it well associated with food. His cauldron of plenty, his ever roasting pig, etc.  But over that fire, I felt her presence. There isn’t much more that I can say than that. Upon returning home from trip I was inspired to look up an article that was in my que to read for a while on Tairis Tales, I vaguely remembered it was about cooking and the Morrighan. Lo, indeed it was:

There is a popular belief that the Morrígan is a war-goddess and not much more than that, but like any other deity, things are never as simple as they might seem. Aside from her associations with war and magic there are some intriguing references in popular lore and the medieval manuscripts that associate her with the Fulacht na Morrighna, or ‘The Spit of the Morrígan’, often simply referred to as the ‘Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen’ (or variations thereof…). — Fulacht na Morrighna

Isn’t that just amazingly in alignment with just freakin’ everything? I laughed when I read it. Just laughed. But more it really did drive home the feelings and inspirations that I felt in that campsite. This part in particular:

It’s notable that the last paragraph in the excerpt above specifically mentions outlaws approaching the Morrígan, since the fulacht themselves are generally found in places that are not associated with settlements; they are commonly called fulacht fiadh, the latter word meaning ‘wild’, possibly referring to the location of them, or else the wild meats (such as deer) that were cooked and then consumed in them. Outlaws were usually young men who left their tuatha to live outside of normal society (and therefore the law and protections that such status within the tuath brought with it), and made their living as hunters and warriors for hire (or brigandage). 

We very much were outside of our normal community for those three days. We were outside of our homes, our families, and the usual titles and jobs that we tend to day to day. For those three days were were just in the “wilds” and had found comfort and solace at the hearth fire of the Great Queen. It is my hope that the other also felt this since of comradery and sanctuary amoungst the trees, the swooping birds, and dirt.

Over the two nights I told the tale of Cu Chulainn and his first meeting with the Morrighan and then his last stand. Probably not my best retelling but it was fun and heartfelt. Ritually I kept things simple and as I do at home just part of the natural weave. Offerings to the Land, Sea, Sky and Ancestors on arrival. Burning juniper on the first fire of the night for protection and blessing. Offerings to the Morrighan every night. Chicken hearts roasted over the open fire and joyfully popped into the mouth. Offered up on the open flames to the Phantom Queen. I sang her songs, and then we that felt called to sang their own inspirations. We asked for wisdom and visions that we might need. We raised our glasses in her glory and honor. We composed a new song to her in the dark by the light of the fire. We enjoyed ourselves, and washed our clay and oil caked hair in cool water. We laughed, we ate, and just lived in her presence.

One dim morning I sat up in my tent to brush my hair and listen to the wind in the trees. Just in time to watch a sleek regal raven swoop down and land on a branch above our camp and sweep a glance over us all before flying off towards the water. It was a moment of peace and I smile remembering it even now.

There are many small lessons that I took away from this trip. It was a subtle expression of what is usually portrayed to be a very catalystic deity. It was the light hearted stories of glory and triumph. It was the comfort of a well cooked meal found even so far from home.  I hold a renewed respect and love for my Queen. The Queen who demands self improvement at all times, who does not flinch at throwing adversity and terror to teach lessons. The Queen who knows, who sees, and who foretells. Is the same Queen who keeps her people fed, who shows that even in the wilds there is a way. There is always a way. Maybe just not the way you were expecting…

I look forward to more such trips. To trying my hand at returning to the original location and the different lessons learned there. But ultimately I am grateful I have the opportunities that I do.