The Scribe in Me.

The Scribe in Me.

All Druids have a reflective place, it is where we journey inward. We learn from nature and we learn from myth and we pass on our reflections as our way to impart insight. Here are some of mine...

Cocoons

We are at Bealtaine; the liminal time, a time when the veil is thin. The shadow of the Rowan makes a portal in my hedge. It is hawthorn and leafy and in blossom. To some it offers escape, but I know it to be a deception of the light. There is a whisper in the wind as it rustles the shrubbery; a sound to treasure in the thorned and narrow bushes that square around my cocoon. There is a whole world that revolves around us and soon, soon the Universe will call.

Beneath me are the souterrains, the other world places, shrouded and sacred.. To the east, dawn displays her rosy fingers; they stretch and streak the sky, the sun begins to steal and gift every slither and filigree of light. In the south lies the Nire Valley, gouged by glacier through the Comeragh peaks, the place where I too was forged. To the west, the weather vane dressed in rust, points in the wrong direction, that too tells lies. To the North are horses, descendants of Macha and Enbarr of the Flowing Mane, careless and spirited and free. Above is a hue of blue, with wisps of cloud that scrawl kisses into the sky.

These are perfumed hedges that sing of blackbird, thrush and robin. Theirs are the songs of my heart. If I were to seek escape through the hedge’s imagined door, the spinney needles of thorn camouflaged in the hedgerow would scrape and gouge me. I’d be spirited away by the Faery Queen to some other Sidhe place beneath Slievenamon, punished for my meddling.

I could take on the Sidhe, battle their forces and take my chances. I could try arrogance and be the sole world dweller immune to the virus. The Sidhe and viruses though, have a different nature to us, but, a right to exist too. No good would come of me flying in the face of such things.

No Druid wields a scythe to slash through; there is no Prince to lift the glass lid. Yesterday a little man, in a big truck delivered flat packed radiator covers. I asked him through the open window, if perhaps he would like to swop places with me. He considered it briefly before telling me to go feck. Then he turned twelve wheels onto the road and drove away again.

Nature is showing me mirage escape routes through my hedge. I see this as a good sign. This too will pass. The Universe has a plan, we can’t comprehend it, but there is a divine order in all things and we must yield to our fate.

My cocoon will flake and fall away eventually. I will have a different nature then. I will unfurl my wings, display my frock and shimmer in the sun. A rebellious red admiral perhaps, but ultimately, just another butterfly flitting in the breeze. Not all who wander are lost.

You see I have come to know and to understand that sometimes the boundaries that keep others out are the exact same ones that keep you in. All will be well; all manner of things will be well.

 

A Woman Emerging...

I sit beneath the canopy

Of an ancient Hawthorn

In the Priory of Kells,

23.5 km further away then

I’m Supposed to have ventured.

It sprays me with petals,

Scented and rose pink.

Adorned in scarlet robes

And shimmering in the sun

I've emerged from my cocoon.

There are ravens in the tower,

Shadows on the cloister,

And a man in a Hi-Viz jacket,

With tools on his belt.

He barely glances my way,

Mindful, to keep his distance.

As much to be polite as admiring.

Red clad metamorphic rebels

Are today’s novelty, he has seen,

Every crackpot here.

You see...

A woman emerging from a cocoon

Has an altogether different nature,

Now she has wings.

Bealtaine Fires

Uisneach is in Co. Westmeath, it rises to about 600 feet above sea level, and is considered the centre or naval of Ireland. It is primarily a place of assembly associated with the druids and the festival of Bealtaine. Thought to be the burial site of both the Earth Goddess Ériu and the Sun God Lugh and as such is regarded as sacred ground. Its name can be translated as "place of the hearth" or "place of cinders".  In Irish mythology, Uisneach is the site of a sacred tree (the Bile Uisnig), and a place of assembly (the mórdáil Uisnig) associated with the druids, which, was held during the festival of Bealtaine. I will not have the honour of being there in 2020 and seeing her skirts spread across the body of Ireland, nor be part of lighting her sacred fires, but, I will keep her fire lit.

No less than twenty counties have a line of sight to this ancient place. Furthermore it is the meeting place of five provinces, Ulster, Munster, Leinster, Connaught and Míde, the fifth province being the entrance to the otherworld which can only be accessed at the "cat stone" at Uisneach. This stone known officially as "Aill na Mireann" (the Stone of Divisions) is a sacred, fissured and fragmenting limestone boulder on the south west slope of the Hill. It stands at about 20 feet high and weighs in excess of 30 tonnes. It stands as a symbol of Ireland being united in its divisions, which indeed it is. The divisions were first made by an ancient race known as the Fir Bolg. Uisneach divided Ireland into "knowledge in the West, battle in the North, prosperity in the East, music in the South and Royalty at the Centre."

The history and herstory of Uisneach fascinates me. Some texts claim that "Aill na Mireann" was ringed by a stone circle, and some claim that these stones were transported by the Druids to Wiltshire in the UK and make up the circle at Stonehenge. A lot of the myth and legend surrounding Uisneach has bourne true in archaeological evidence, so maybe there is some truth in that claim, who knows? "There are more things in heaven and on earth..."

The royal sites of Ireland served as the seats for the Gaelic kings of Ireland. It is said that each site had a route way from it directly to Uisneach. These sites are; Caisel, Emain Macha, Dun Ailinne, Cruiachain, and Teamhair. Many royal sites served as ceremonial locations for inauguration ceremonies. Prospective monarchs benefited from associating themselves with these places. Uisneach became the seat of the High Kings and it became customary for the claimant to the high throne of Ireland to "marry" Ireland’s founder Ériu at a ceremony on Uisneach. Coupling with the Goddess was what gave them sovereignty. Irish Kings were not 'crowned.'

The Dagda was Ireland's Sun God of the Tuath Dé Danann. His primary residence was at Newgrange, but he is also said to have lived at Uisneach. Bealtaine is one of the great sun festivals of Ireland, the others being Imbolg, Lughnasa and Samhain. These are liminal times when the veils between this world and the other world are lifted. The Dagda is said to have stabled his solar horses at Uisneach. The triple war goddesses associated with sovereignty and kingship (Ériu, Banba and Fódla) were closely associated with horses (as well as ravens), and the divinatory king-making ritual of the Druids involved a prophetic sleep sewn inside the skin of a sacrificial mare.

It is the Dagda who secures the services of the goddess of sovereignty. It is the Dagda who sleeps with Morrigan, thus securing the victory of the Tuatha Dé, and it is the Dagda who fathers figures like Brigit and Aine, who act as goddesses of sovereignty. His name "Eochaid" is also indicative of a sovereignty connection, as it is the Horse Goddess who often confers sovereignty to the king; many kings in Irish legend also have the name Eochaid. The Dagda is also known as Eochu Ollathair "Horse Great-Father" generally taken as his "true" name and not a nickname. Archaeologists have discovered these stables on the north flank of the hill, under a wheel-shaped enclosure concealing two souterrains beneath a paved floor in the shape of the divine Mare, pursued by a galloping Stallion. After the Tuatha De Dannan were defeated in battle by the Milesians, they left to go elsewhere while some chose to stay in Ireland. Those that stayed agreed that they must live beneath the earth, and they were led by a great King in the west, Finnbhear son of Dagda, who it was said reared him from a horse.

The roots of Uisneach lie lost in the mists of time but, surviving monuments and relics range in date from the Neolithic, early Bronze Age to the medieval period so it has been a significant site for some five millennia. At this site there is a lake Lough Lugh, where it is said the great harvest God Lugh of Lughnasadh met his fate at the hands of Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht and Mac Gréine, the Sons of Sons of Tuireann. There is a cairn known as “Carn Ludach”  closeby where Lugh is buried. As a warrior of the Tuatha de Dannan, he came to Uisneach to rescue his mother from the tyranny of the evil Formorians. After defeating them and killing their leader, Balor of the Evil Eye, Lugh became king. Lugh was an important a god to the ancient Euro-Celts, he was  the great Sun God of the Irish, patron of Arts and Crafts, leader of the Tuatha de Dannan. Many European cities were named for Lugh such as London, Lïsbon, Loudan, Lyons and others.

Often celebrated as a sovereign goddess, Ériu represents Ireland in the form of a woman. Eriu was one of three sisters, however, neither Banba nor Fódhla are as well known or respected as Ériu. Identified as children of Adam, the sisters are according to the Lebor Gabála "older than Noe... on a peak of a mountain was [Banba] in the Flood." The only two other people which are said to be this old and to have survived the flood are Tuan mac Carill and Fintan mac Bóchra. Ériu is the woman who gives Conn the cup of sovereignty in "Baile in Scáil." In the Lebor Gabála Érenn ("Book of the Taking of Ireland"), the Milesians meet the goddess Ériu at Uisneach. Ériu was said to have been the wife of Mac Gréine, a grandson of Dagda. Amergin, King of the Milesians, fought with Queen Ériu. When the Queen was mortally wounded, she asked Amergin to grant her a dying wish; to bury her under Ail na Mireann and name the island after her. Thus Ériu became a Celtic Goddess who gave Ireland its name. The Gaelic name Ériu was later changed by the Vikings into “Ériu’s Land”, or Ireland.

The Hill of Uisneach was connected directly to the Hill of Tara, by the Slighe Assail, one of the five roads that meet at Tara, the modern day R392 mostly follows the course of this ancient highway. The Dindsenchas ("lore of places") says that Uisneach is where the druid Míde lit a sacred fire that blazed for seven years. The tale Tucait Baile Mongáin ("Mongan's Frenzy") describes how a great hailstorm during an assembly on the hill created the twelve chief rivers of Ireland.

The lighting of the Uisneach fire is a ritual practice of rebirth, it signals the igniting fires on many hills across the whole island creating a unique, fire eye, with the Uisneach fire being the pupil. We must all honour this sacred practice.

April from the Latin verb 'aperire' meaning 'to open.'

April is one of my favourite times of the year. Nature springs forth, buds open and flowers begin to blossom. It is really a lovely time. Mother Nature introduces herself, the days get longer, the sun warmer, and birds nest and even the hares come out of their winter hibernation. Spring is the time of pleanty, the time of hope, the time when we want to be facing the world and all of its potential. Yet...

We seem condemned in these COVID times to fly in the face of nature, to do the opposite of opening up. It is the tension in the duality of opposities really. This duality teaches us all that every aspect of life is created from a balanced interaction of opposite and competing forces. Yet these forces are not just opposites; they are complementary. They do not cancel out each other, they merely balance each other like the dual wings of a bird. Ying and Yang, Male and Female. We must be mindful of that and we must believe that in the grand scheme of things, in the universal plan, there is a reason for it.

Shakespere's Sonnet 98 tells us'

'April, dressed in all his trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything.'

Ironically William Shakespere was born in April and died in April, not too many people can say that. The month of April has huge associations with the Goddess of love Aphrodithe and the planet Venus, so evident in the night sky at this time of the year. Both Goddesses are synonomyous with fertility and abundance. And we are socially isolating and staying in our caves.

The month has brought me many gifts, most notably a sister, a brother and a daughter and a year ago today my elder daughter got married. While I have a lot to thank the month for, there have been many griefs in it for me too. History records major tragedies in April also, most notably the sinking of the Titanic and the Chernobyl disaster, nothing whatsoever noble about it. There it is, balance all in the round.

In these cocooning times, I reflect on the nature of the process of metamorphosis. In the life cycle of a butterfly, the cocooning stage is when when the most dramatic changes in the insect’s appearance.  It is when they are at their most vulnerable to predators and other hazards, and need extra protection. While the insect lies still to complete its development, the cocoon helps ensure that it reaches adulthood unharmed. This is what we are called to do and this is what we must do. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly, morphs from a crawling earth bound creature to a flying air bound one. We all want to be flitting about as social butterflies, and this virus demands the opposite, social isolation.

In my reflection I realise that my time here is not done, that I have a mission to complete. I have too many people that are important to me. I want to enjoy and celebrate with when I can finally spread my wings and display the myriad of colours that is me. By learning to hold the tension of the opposites, we stretch and grow bigger. This allows space for seemingly opposite ideas, feelings and behaviors to peacefully coexist. We become less rigid and more flexible, less judgmental and more tolerant, less fearful and more loving.

The Irish believed that gods/goddesses, druids, poets, and others in touch with the magical world could be literal shape-shifters. We will be changed, the world too, when we finally emerge from our cocoons, from our caves, and maybe that is no bad thing. Holding the tension of the opposites is a more emotionally intelligent way of operating in the world. 

And know there are paradoxes, oh yes and to further confuse there are paradoxes within paradoxes. Life is a mirror of our own internal psyche. Use this time to reflect on who you are really, who are you in yor soul.  A paradox usually involves contradictory-yet-interrelated elements, they exist simultaneously and persist over time. You never step into the same river twice. What is, is, you cannot say something is nothing. 

"But one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow." Kierkegaard

Get creative, think inward, stay safe, protect others, by doing that you save so many lives and that makes you positively heroic.

Ostara the Goddess after whom Easter is named.

'April come she will, when springs are ripe and filled with rain' ... so sings Simon and Garfunkle. It is my favourite time of the year. It's the time of Ostara, the Goddess after whom Easter is named. She arrives at dawn, from the East, after the full moon that comes after the spring equinox. She comes bearing gifts; the warm winds, the budding leaves, the birdsong. She is wreathed in flowers, the bluebells, the primroses and often dances in the wind. 

Goddess Ostara presides over personal renewal, fertility and fruitfulness. As a spring goddess she oversees the budding plants and burgeoning fertility of the earth. As is her month, her mood is glad, but like the weather she is capricious, innocent and known by turns. We begin to see her sacred animals, the hares. She is so associated with fertility that the hormone Eostrogen is also named after her. Because there are equal hours light and dark at the equinox, this is a time of balance. Nature is in harmony. As plants bloom and new life returns, the theme of resurrection is ever present.

I welcome her by placing a garland of greenery and flowers on the entrance to my house. Eggs get decorated and placed on my altar. At dawn I wear green and walk towards the east and the first flower I find I press between the leaves of a book. I ask her to help me to realise my full potential, to express my ripeness, celebrate my potential. Then I plant seeds and wish as they mature and blossom I will too. Then I light a fire and get rid of decayed leaves and deadwood and whittle staves out of what I can salvage and share them with my tribe. And if I'm feeling really daring I eat chocolate.

Happy Easter everyone.

 

 

Three hares, sacred to Ostara the Goddess after whom Easter is named.

Knockanaffrin Standing Stone, Nire Valley, Co. Waterford.

Where it all began...

People often ask me about my fascination with stones. It is difficult to give a succinct answer, because it is a deeply spiritual thing and well, that is just so subjective. How do I tell people that stones speak to me and not have them calling for the men in white coats? I have stone radar, of this there is no doubt and my trips and travels are almost entirely centred about them, directly or indirectly. 

My wonder lies almost entirely with anything megalithic, but primarily with the construct of stone on the landscape and its relationship with both the surrounding countryside and the cosmos. No megalith that I've ever seen yet, stands entirely alone, it always had a relationship with another monument and/or an astrological alignment. 

So is it Archaeology? I only have a passing interest in that. Perhaps it is history which I love and I'm not bad at. I think it may well be the language of them, what they say in their ciphers, in their scripts. For me though it is a much deeper thing, a resonance, an echo from the wisdom of the ancient ones. And I love words. It is the thing that speaks to the primal Druid in me. Maybe it is that mystery, we all love mystery.

I grew up in a Bronze Age landscape, one that was a lot untouched by time and amongst a people who seeped nature's innate knowledge. The field systems around me were all D shaped, and stone lined. There were dips and barrows and stone rows and circles and mounds and hollows and cairns and replenishing wells and oak woodland. Each had a higher power, a deity or a druid associated with the place. All such places had to be respected. 

One such place is a standing stone in the middle of the Gap between the Nire Valley and Rathgormack and an ancient routeway or "Bealach", one will find it in the townsland of Carrigeen which means 'little stone or rock'. It stands 2.5 meters tall and commands great views.  It stands solidly upright and is oriented in a WNW-ESE direction. It looks like ochre sandstone that glints with quartz. It tapers to a point at it's peak which has a little notch indent in it and this is aligned to a point on the mountains beyond. It is completely without adornment and simply speaks for itself. The Nire River tumbles past beneath.

Some people say it was a marker post, a half way point, others say it is a boundary marker. I see the shadow it casts, its alignment to other Bronze Age sites and mostly I just see it's stalwartness. It has stood there for thousands of years, holding the secrets of the ages within it. There is this energy that I see around it, a translucent glow, as a life force almost. For me, it brings peace. 

Such stones in Ireland have a sacred dimension and were especially significant to the Druids and their divinations. They are shrouded in intrigue and many carry mystical powers. Stones like the Lia Fail on Tara for example spoke like an oracle. Thomas Hardy in Tess of D'Urbervilles captured some of the essence of such places, it remains one of my favourite books.

'It's an ill wind that doesn't blow some good.'

These are trying times that is for sure and we all in the grip of the Covid-19 virus. It sort of attacked by stealth, went from a concept in China to a global pandemic at warp speed. It has created panic, shut schools, closed borders and taken people's lives. None of us knows nor fully understands the scope of its reach, nor the claws of it or the jaws of it. Something tells me though, that we are all about to find out. We have been cast into the midst of chaos and don't know which end of us is up.

I have been inordinately busy at work, the culmination of an innovative project that I have been working on since last August. Everything was falling into place, working well, I was in the midst of celebrating it with my very supportive colleagues. Just an ordinary day in a Druid Scribe's life. One that is fuelled by inspiration and a get on with it work ethic. One life, one chance to make a difference, the power of one.

Then, I get a circular, simply put... "Our files show that you have an underlying medical condition, please check you are not at risk..." Now I have been using hand sanitiser every 15 mins and wiping surfaces and avoiding touching my face for two weeks now. I am fine, not unwell, filled with energy, vim and vigour and loving the culmination of my endeavours and delighting in watching my project unfold. Bottom line is we are all at risk of contracting the virus; some of us are more susceptible though. And I had received an instruction, so I called my doctor.

I didn't get an appointment, or even a chance to chat and discuss my quandary over the phone. I merely got a promise of a call back. I got on with my day and forgot about it. By 4pm my place of work was closed until the end of March in an unprecedented decisive measure to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

On the way home I got a call from my brother, and as I sat in my car on the verge of the road he told me that our mother had been put on lockdown as she had an underlying condition that made her at risk. No visitors, no contact, no physical interaction from the outside world for two weeks. It was very sobering all in a moment and I loved my brother his decisiveness and his leadership and his loving and protection of our mother and I am so grateful.

Later still I grilled my Linda McCartney sausages and lit my candles for protection and intention. As I fed the cat before I'd fed the dog, it has to be done in relays you see, because one chases the other, my doctor called, it was 8.15pm. Bless him, he was at the end of a long and trying day. And I do bless him, for he is my greatest advocate and one of the few men in my life that I trust implicitly. He has had my back for more years than I care to remember, always speaks plainly and kindly to me and knows my form. His instructions were clear, self-isolation for 4 weeks, my underlying health issues put me too at risk.

So here I am, day one, blog writing and making plans. My freezer is stocked, and I have a standing order with the organic farmer up the road - all part of managing a working woman's Druid lifestyle, and I bake my own bread. I can survive without going near a supermarket, and for me supplies are not the issue, interacting with people is. And there is enough tea tree oil in my house to disinfect a small planet. . 

I have the best friends in the world bar none and I know they will reach across the divide and in creative ways and I look forward to that. Because it is rare that I create time enough to enjoy them, my interactions are always snatched between other things. This will actually be good for me.

I made a decision last year to take a shorter working year and I am lucky that I have employers who support that. I had decided to have an extended sabbatical in the south of France and finish three writing projects that have bogged me down too long. Again, I am lucky that I can do that, that I have the means, the gumption and the wherewithal to make it happen.

I am one of life’s doers, I get on with things. That is how I am made. Tether me at your peril. My flights are booked, my accommodation ready and yet all of that might change, I may be confined to this side of the Celtic Sea and I give all of that to the universe come what may.

And now, I have this gift of four weeks, that yesterday I had not factored in, so I may do the divil and all and I may finish my writing projects and start new ones. I have a chance to reorder my house, my things. I love, love my work, being a Librarian is one of the few professions where you can do nothing but good all day. And it chimes well with my research work and my writing work. People often ask me what my perfect job would be and I always say that if I had the means I would be a full time writer, like Virginia Wolfe with an independent income and a room of my own. Yes, I would be that. And now if I live in the moment, I can be that, so it is so precious to me.

It is an ill wind that doesn't blow some good. I have come to know that the Universe in her infinite wisdom sends us everything, the good things and the challenges. They are all sent us, to make us, to test us, and to take us to where we need to be next. And I can always hole myself away in west Cork or south Tipperary beneath Slievenamon and how bad.

International Women's Day

International Women's Day falls on the 8th of March every year. It celebrates the achievements and potential of all women across the globe. I had the honour of celebrating it with a coven of 13 women in the Brewery Lane theatre in my local town of Carrick on Suir. We put on a hell of a show as a benefit gig to improve our creative community and the refurbshment of the Tudor Artisan Hub - The Mecca of all creative people in Munster and beyond. We packed a punch. We stepped into the limelight and spoke our truth and sang it and danced it and we did it for the silenced ones. We did it as women for women and by women. Unfortunately though, none of us will see gender equality in our lifetimes, this the sobering finding of the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, which reveals that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years. 

I have long been an advocate for the power of one. That is every individual pushing the boat out, going the extra mile, pushing out edges, testing the mettle of things, going one step beyond. Being involved with a powerful group of women showed me the power of collective action. Look what happens when we all step up. 

The benefits are immeasurable. We achieved our aim, raised nearly two thousand quid, which will make a fair bit of a dint in the refurbishment project. That is the quantifiable bit, the catalyst effect though is where the real benefits are. Women wrote songs, got invited onto radio stations, penned poems, story slams, sang, danced, rejoiced. Each and every woman on that stage went beyond their comfort zone. They reached out into the hearts of men and women to effect change. 

So sisters and brothers, step up. We are all equal and just different. We each have our strengths and our vulnerabilities, no one half of society should enjoy benefits over another. That is not moral high ground, it makes our world, our daily existences better. Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society.

To my coven of sisterhood, so proud of each and every one of you. xxx

Be my Valentine.

Firstly Happy Valentines, I hope you all feel cosseted and have the safety of the love you deserve. Of Valentines, I have had the gamut. I've had cards sent to me by my mother, one sent to me by my best friend in school just to be able to say I got one. I've had cards delivered by secret admirers and years when the postperson studiously avoided my house, eyes cast downwards. I've had smutty cards, loving cards and I even had a note delivered on Valentine's Day breaking up with me which contained the immortal line 'It's not you, it's me'.  I have had the most thoughtful romantic cards. I've been whisked away for weekends and I've had the times when all the girls at work got flowers except me. 

Today, being St. Valentine's Day, I got to thinking of the nature of love. What the hell is it anyway? It is a 'many splendored thing' and according to Martin Luter King it 'is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend' so it must be pretty powerful stuff. We all have our own version, all of us have been toppled by it at one time or another surely? Hopefully we have anyway for is it not better to 'have loved than to never have loved at all?'

 Have I loved? Oh yes. How do I know this? I know from the amount of times I have made an eejet of myself. That must be love right? Either that or insanity and maybe it is a fine line. Have I been loved, I think so. I hope so. I like to think I'm loveable, though I'm a fiercly independent soul, tis hard to break into me.

Truth is you'd have to be a saint to put up with me. He is supposed to know that every time I stomp off in a fit of pique he is supposed to came after me. He  walks in when everyone else walks out, that's the deal. And he has to be able to hug like no one else. He absolutely must put me first in all things. I am the Queen. I didn't go around kissing toads to not find me a Prince. He absolutely must like Leonard Cohen and Time Team, and eat all my vegetarian food. I need him to be a Jack of all trades, to check  my car for oil and water and makes sure my tyres are in good working order and never, ever tell me how to drive. I could list another three paragraphs of prerequesites but I'd say you get my drift.

And I have had lovely gestures too. I've had a signed copy of a Brian Moore book brought for me when he found me listening to it on "The Book on One". I've been met at the airport on my way back from somewhere so as not to haul my luggage onto the bus. I even got a pearl once. My favourite though, was the Willow Pattern set of china I got, all because the lady loves willow.

The Chinese fable of an eloping couple transforming into doves became of one the most identifiable design elements of 18th and 19th century crockery, known as the Willow Pattern. Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father's humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. (It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class.) He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.

On the eve of the daughter's wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke's ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves. Now that is romantic. Who needs roses????

Shelter from a Storm

"Silent, oh Moyle, be the roar of thy waters

Break not ye breezes, your chains of repose

While murmuring mournfully Lir's lonely daughter

Tells to the night star her tale of woes." 

 

The sea of Moyle is the narrowest strait of water between Ireland and Scotland. It links the Atlantic to the Celtic Sea and stretches for twelve lonely miles. A finger of each land stretching towards the other, tantalisingly close yet forever divided. It was here that the Children of Lir were cast for the middle three hundred years of their banishment. Elegant and graceful as swans, singing plaintive their story, but it lost to the wind and the waves and the night star. Who bore witness? Myth did, we read it in their tale.

I’ve been in my house for twenty years now and I know every creak of every rafter, every lift of every tile every clack of every air vent. I know where storms that rage in from the Atlantic hit the house, the spill of rain on every window. My house is safe and snug and bedded into the side of a hill and I feel content here. I’ve enough supplies, candles and a gas stove if there is a power out. I’ll be grand. So while I know all of that there is an inner part of me that wants not to be listening to the cry of the wind and the splatter of the rain. I don’t like being hemmed in, I rail against it, I need to be heard, enough already. It is nowhere near the Sea of Moyle, but we all have one.

It is grey and dreary and my windows are crying. The fire is glowing in the grate and every light in the house is on to counteract it. I have just set a play list on my surround sound speakers to offset the fury of it. John Denver’s ‘There is a storm across the valley’ being overtaken by ACDC’s ‘Thunderstruck’. (That song always makes me play air guitar.) To say nothing of the storm that is ranging in my heart to coincide with it. Two storms aligning, spinning, nature out in sympathy with me. I’ve become one of the ‘Riders of the storm.’

When and how do storms happen? There is a unique set of circumstances, essentially, it is the clash of opposing forces, simply that, but boy can they wreak havoc and destruction. Yet, nature sends them, they have a reason, ultimately they serve a purpose, in the round, in the counter balance of equilibrium, and so to my conundrum. There are some things you can only learn in a storm.

You know when you offer someone shelter from the storm and they chose to lie under the lightning strikes? What do you do then? Leave the door open and the draughts enter and the criminals and thieves and the wild animals? Do you close it, but leave it unlocked and watch in despair through your crying windowpanes? Do you blot it out in a philosophical playlist or do you get your oil skins and lay out there with them, risking life and limb and being no good to anyone? ‘And the thunder rolls.’

It kept me awake all of the live long night. And now my head aches, low, over my eyes, dull and throbbing. I can wish away the storms; I can appeal to my higher power to give me better coping strategies. I can close the blinds and turn the volume up, ultimately though, I’m compelled to bear witness. It ain’t easy; it affects my state of mind, my state of grace. What the hell is heaven’s plan anyway?

Sometimes it seems futile, like voting for a dead person on a ballot paper after getting drenched in the effort. There was nobody to hold the door open when the wind gusted it shut on me, nor shield me with an umbrella and noo big sister swan to fan her wings. I tried to hold my own, but it turned inside out. A tree that falls in a forest that somebody might hear. I suppose though there is a catharsis in bearing witness. Well, there is for the one being witnessed.

I know that in Shangri-la they have beautiful sunsets. We must trust the sun to come up, to rise again in the east, to warm and to thaw the land. ‘There will be sunshine after rain.’ Writing is a medium that sustains me, I put it out there. Someone bears witness or do they? Maya Angelou said that, 'There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.'

Some hearts carry heavy and terrible burdens. I have come to know that not every heart can carry them. Bearing witness, simply that, is the greatest gift that we can give to another. It is a gift that you can give to yourself too, but it asks you to reach out, to take risks, to dare to share. Sometimes you even have to rustle up a storm, and step right into the eye of it. 'Tis a risky business, hearts can and do get shattered.

What happens when you dare to take the risk yet you remain unheard? That is a tough one. One answer is to not share it there again. Another is to chance it a second time and hope, but live with the consequences. The third option is to cop right onto yourself and be very choosey where you share it. In order to see the sunshine, you have to weather the tempest.

The same works in reverse, when you offer to bear witness, when you reach out and you get rejected. You must be kind and respectful, you must leave the latch off the door and you must be prepared to step up if called. The rest you can do sweet eff all about. Except maybe, try to bear that story inside of you. Rejection is a dark place, and bleak in the wake of a storm, but it builds character.

Eventually there will be a sliver of blue in the sky, shadows cast on the paintwork of my car and a raggedy cat looking to be fed. The storm will abate. Someone made me jam for my croissants. Sweet moments of a Sunday amidst storm clouds. My friend is on the phone offering to take ‘author’ shots of me, someone reaches and I grab the outstretched hand 'shelter from the rain.' I will not reject the offering. Not sure how they will come out in this Gawd awful weather, but I suppose they will be atmospheric. There are fair-weather friends and the ones that love you even in the storm ‘Sky, blue and black’. ‘If you ever need holding, call my name, I’ll be there…’

 

Two faced figure on Boa Island, Co Fermanagh. Ireland.

Happy New Year

Our pre-Christian island of Ireland is obscured in myth and fable; we were called Hibernia by the Romans, ‘the land of winter.’ Did you know that it is the only country in western Europe not to be colonised by the Roman empire, though there were many commercial and cultural ties. It is said that they didn't bother with us because wine could not be produced here and the weather was too grotty. The reality was of course that we were a thriving culture with our own way of doing things and well, we weren't so easily swayed. Besides, who needs wine, don't we distil the water of life?

We know that the Ogham text, devised by Irish Druidic scholars derives from Latin, was used as a secret language. It is a lovely script; easily enough understood once you know how to decipher it. It's an alphabet with about 25 characters written along a central spine or cut with strokes that either radiate right or left or across this spine in different clusters or groupings that correspond with a letter or a tree. I have been busy making my Ogham staves, so far I've done Oak, Hazel, Holly and Rowan and stopped because I managed in my endeavours to reef my finger with a Stanley knife. These things happen sometimes when you do be head butting a new year, sometimes you have to stop and reflect. I am not great at that, for I am forever doing, I'm one of these people who gets up and gets on with things. I knew I had a bit of a sabbatical so I surrounded myself with a few books and escaped into Simon Sebag Montefiore and the trials and tribulations of Young Stalin put my finger cut in the halfpenny place.

St Palladius and St Patrick are credited with bringing Christianity to these shores in the 5th century and with them, the written word. The prehistory prior to them is known as the Dark Ages and it is from this time many of our Celtic pagan idols originate. One such idol can be found in a cemetery on Boa Island in Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh, and it depicts a bilateral faced figure, like the Roman God Janus. Visiting there is on my bucket list for 2020. I have decided on a bucket list of 12 places to visit in 2020 so let me share those with you here. Anyone who wishes to come withme should just give me a bit of advance notice and you'd be more than welcome. Here is the list and in no particular order; Boa Island in Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh, Ireland The Helix, Home of the Kelpies, Falkirk, Scotland, Abernethy Round Tower & Symbol Stone, Kinross, Scotland, Aberlemno Sculptured Stones, Aberlemno, Angus, Scotland, Brechin Cathedral Round Tower, Angus, Scotland, Mary Magdaline stuff in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, France,The source of the Nire River, Co Waterford, Ireland, obar Bride, Co Kildare, Ireland, Tobar Segais, Co Kildare, Ireland.Sky Garden, Skibereen, Co Cork, Ireland, Cathair Crobh Dearg, Co Kerry, Ireland and The Yew Tree, Muckross Abbey, Co Kerry, Ireland.

That is only one a month, very doable one would argue. If anyone can manage all of them, it will be me. Of course I have made a whole host of new resolutions, none of which I am going to name here, because they are all very personal and all very private. Last year 2019 brought me many blessings and some challenges. In the round what stands out most are the writing opportunities I embarked on, the fun I had and the bonds made along the way. I am so grateful for my Writers Tribe. Ireland is a country of many beliefs and there are countless New Year related customs. All around our shores people are dunking themselves into the sea and people cleanse their houses as well as their bodies. There is another tradition where people go around the house banging a loaf of bread on the walls, this somehow, someway, takes away all of the bad luck and makes sure we have enough provisions for the coming year. Another symbol of good luck is if your first visitor is a tall dark and handsome young man (so please make your way to my house all of you). I'm not allowed to visit anyone because I have red hair and if the first person arriving at your threshold is a red haired woman that is not considered lucky. I've resolved to wear the headscarf when I do venture out.

January as the song goes is 'Sun, like a fire (Fire) Carry on, don't be gone Bring me out of my home, sweet home, Gotta know me, gotta show me You've been facing the world You've been chasing the world.' It is new beginnings, time to do it all over again. Go willing, give it your best. What am I going to do? First, a load of laundry, for I must pack for the first of my trips, (a future blog post) then after I've located the headscarf, I will visit a dolmen. On the way back I will visit the bakery, get bread to tap the walls with, and something sweet and yummy for the hordes of good looking young men who will visit. Then I will invoke Brigid and do a healing ritual on my house and the people I love and some other sort of ritual to ward off my detractors. Then I will fold clothes into my rucksack, before I fly away again.

I read my stars - apparently with the influence of Jupiter and a few other planets, I'm going to have a great year. I scanned the headlines and saw that the Pope pulled himself from a woman's grasp. Oh irony, haven't they been doing that since the 8th century? What a metaphor to start a year on though. And did you know there was once a female pope? Yep, Pope Joan, who is described as a talented and learned woman. Good things my lovely readers, peace, traquility, love and light to you all and Happy New Year.

Photo courtsey of Pete McGowan (the very talented).

Midwinter Solstice

Most of Irelands traditions, folklore, customs, piseogs have roots in a much older wisdom, that of the Celts and the Druids. Indeed many of our Christian traditions have their roots in the Pagan Druid traditions and Christmas and its modern day celebrations are no different.

The Winter Solstice is an astronomical phenomenon marking the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It occurs every year around the 21st of December. The sun makes a sine wave across the sky over the course of the year. In summer it is in the northern hemisphere and over the Tropic of Cancer while as in the winter it is in the southern hemisphere and sits over the Tropic of Capricorn. During this time the sun "stops" for approximately three days before it starts to slowly creep back north again. In Irish, the Winter Solstice is "An Grianstad", literally translating as "the sun stop".

This marked the turning point in the battle of dark versus light in the world. At Newgrange, a beam of sunlight illuminates an entire passage in the ancient tomb structure and it’s been happening for at least 5,000 years. It will probably go on for another 5,000 years if we’re careful to preserve our history. On the island of Ireland, our ancestors who constructed Newgrange did not see Winter Solstice as an adversarial event, but a turning point in which reverence of the vital energies of darkness and lightness are understood, honoured and celebrated. The alignment of this ray of sunlight represents the Sun God, placing new life into the womb of Mother Earth.

The Knockroe Passage Tomb, on the Kilkenny-Tipperary border, is just as important. This megalithic burial site, which dates back more than 5,000 years, is unique, in that it aligns with both the rising and the setting sun on the Winter Solstice. It has separate tombs, one facing east and one with a westerly aspect. Conditions permitting, the east facing chamber lights up at sunrise and the west facing chamber is illuminated at sunset. Newgrange is only illuminated at sunrise. It is no accident that the winter solstice and Christmas fall so close together on the calendar, as older festivals have given way to modern versions. The names change but the themes remain closely linked.

I reside 9.3km from Knockroe Passage Tomb, and where else was the Druid me going to be for the Midwinter Solstice? I have been going there every year for nearly 20 years, and this year was only the second time in my life that I witnessed the sunrise on the day and wow was it a special moment. And I had the honour of celebrating it with my Druid Tribe and we sang to welcome the sun over the horizon and it was the most beautiful thing. There are no words ever for a Druid Scribe.

The land owners and local community along with the OPW have to be commended for their management and sustainability of this site. They have been responsible for the excavation and monitoring of this sacred place and the ongoing development. In this celebration every year where the Druids are made wholly welcome, they are also contribuating to the intangiable cultural heritage. There is this unwritten, unspoken thread between us all that pays reverence to our ancestors in this simple way and I for one am a better person for it. My soul is enriched.

'Síocháin, suaimhneas, solas agus grá: Peace, tranquility, light and love.'

 

Tilting at Windmills

Tilting at windmills is an idiom that means fighting imaginary enemies. It has its origins in Spanish literature and is taken from the classic Spanish novel, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. In the novel Quixote sees the windmills of La Mancha in the distance and imagines them as giants and sets himself the task of jousting with them. It is of course a futile exercise, for they are not giants nor his enemies and mere inanimate objects on the horizon. It has become a metaphor for railing against the wrong things for fighting the wrong fights, putting energy into pointless endeavours.

So what of my imaginary enemies, who are they, what are they. I like to think of course that I have no enemies that I am much loved and nobody in this world would be set against me ever. That is of course a high ideal. I have passed the midpoint in my life and it would be naive of me to believe that I haven’t made a few enemies along the way. That said, I’d like to believe I’ve dropped all of my swords and moved on. There are other enemies though, the unseen ones, and the ones hidden in plain sight and while we can be set for tilting and ready to tackle them, sometimes you can be blindsided and never be ready for them at all.

I am proactive about my health, I have had to be, my body could never lie for me and protested very loudly and put me on the flat of my back may is the time when I ignored it. My doctor too is my greatest guardian and not a year will go by that he doesn’t order for me a battery of tests, all designed to keep me above ground, no winning that argument. So on Friday, three weeks before Christmas I found myself having the following; a mammogram, a smear test, an echocardiogram, a 24hour blood pressure monitor, several blood tests and a urine test.

In my life these things are fairly routine, but, there was a moment, when I was stood naked in a cubicle, vulnerable and wondering. It was one of those ‘What if?' moments. What if one of these tests doesn’t come back clear, what then?? That was quickly followed by the ‘cop onto yourself, it will be grand’ thought, these are only imaginary problems, worry about them when they are a problem. Easier said than done, says you. You see my mind has to go to the worst case scenario; I have to make an internal cope with it plan in my head in order to proceed. That is my survival strategy and geeze it is strange where I go in my head.

The first thing I did when I left was made for the supermarket and bought chocolates for the nurses who examined every intimate part of me professionally and practically. Everybody needs chocolate, and women who spend all day referring to my mammary glands as tissue, especially need it. Then I contacted the solicitor who handled the sale of my house in order to make a will! She, who is also in my writers group, poked me indulgently, citing retirement as the reason she couldn’t and referred me to a colleague. There is my first windmill. I wanted her to do it, we have a great relationship, it would have been seamless. Now I’ve got to do it with a stranger, and well that is a stress I need to be in the full of my health for and what if I am overtaken by events? (Cop onto yourself worry about that when it is a worry!)

Then I got to thinking about the Cervical smear scandal and the experiences of people like Vicky Phelan and I broke out into a cold sweat. So much so that I believe my blood pressure monitor will definitely be gone askew, with unexplained spikes that will cause them to review my medication. I am not even going to articulate what worries and bleak darkness entered my head around breast cancer for to give them an airing is not something I want to do.

I chose instead to call on my cavalry. They consist of a very eclectic mix of people in and of the universe. They are the Rev James, who guides me to myth and legend and the most likely source of answers, Maol Loga who takes blackthorns out of my heart, St Michael the Arch Angel and my higher power and my guides and my friends who all in their own way protect me. Then I brought sage and salt and invoked Brigid for protection, I placed Rowan over my door and hung the Brat Brid out again on my chimney.

That night I emailed a Druid friend of mine who lives in Wicklow, he is a stone mason and every year he gets a strange commission out of me, like carve me a mermaid, or can you fashion a sun and moon plaque or a Yew wand with an ogham inscription, but, I think his next commission is the quirkiest yet. I told him what I wanted as a funerary monument after I am gone. He already thinks me as cracked as a cricket so I wasn’t unduly worried about his reaction. It is great when people think you stone mad already, gives you great liberties.

Then I set about writing a long autobiography with my last wishes for my daughter. Seeing as she is not yet 23, I’d say she is most likely to throttle me and that might be the actual cause of my demise and none of the above worries. Am I tilting at windmills, most likely? It is just how I’ve got to do things though. I also know that I promised my daughter that I was going to live to be a hundred and that is a promise I intend to keep. The blood tests and urine tests came back within the normal perimeters so that bodes well. Unless of course they made a mistake which is of course possible. (Cop onto yourself, worry about it when it is a problem!) The rest I will keep you updated on.

I visited the windmills of La Mancha about two years ago, what stunning edifices and I am very glad to be able to say that I lived long enough to see them up close and personal and not one of them did I grapple with. Tabhair dom o Dhia do chosaint..

Birthday Reflections

November is my month and today is my birthday. I should be with friends shouldn't I? I should be getting ready to be taken out someplace in celebration and instead I chose to tether myself to a keyboard to give birth to a book. Is this a woman on the verge of HRT stuff? Who knows, all I know is that I have never felt happier in my life. It is good to reflect in a birthday day on how lucky I am to be able to pursue my life's purpose.

There are those that call me a stone mad woman. It is true, imagine! I am though, mad in the sense that I love ancient stones, megalithic structures, standing stones, dolmens, stone circles etc. The places where my being is most content is amongst stones. I don't think that I'm stone mad in the sense of mental mad, though there are those that could and would argue that perhaps I am. There is a great freedom in that.. When people think you a 'bit odd' you can push the edges out of things. That's such a well spring for a Druid Scribe. I call it 'Imbas' or inspiration. Here on the south Breton coast I am surrounded by ancient megaliths and in tandem with that, I bring along with me the 'gaul' of the foreigner. I have never mined so many rich seams of writing in my life.

The novel is started. Chapter one is with my copy editor. I am beside a lake in the Comeragh mountains, stalking a white stag in chapter five curently, and whilst it began life in a particular framework, my baby is revealing herself to have a much more ancient heritage. This time of Samhain, is a time to dig deep and I am a woman alone and away from home doing exactly that.

I tend to flout convention, not on purpose, just that I'm comfortable enough in my own skin to not to be cramming myself into boxes that society makes for me. It's true too that I have an adventerous spirit, a bravery about me and I don't fit into many of the pigeon holes that women are 'supposed' to. I've the courage of my own convictions, so I'm stone mad in that sense too.

I'm not someone who cries easily. Sometimes at the movies a tear will trickle down my cheeks or at a funeral I will well up, but, in the ordinary, everyday scheme of things, I just pick myself up, dust myself off and get on with life. Yesterday I discovered a standing stone or as they say here a 'Menhir' just outside of a place called Kerseller. I didn't know it was there, I was just driving along and something in me knew. That ancient wisdom of the pagan in me knew,  and low and behold there it was, all 6 meters of it! It was the best birthday present ever. And I cried.

There is this expression, 'good grief', it's an awful misnomer. Is there any such thing as a good grief? Tears seep their way into every life, because all lives have losses and mine has been no different. I have had the gamut; the grief of failed relationships, the loss of a parent, the loss of a sibling, the loss of a child, friends who have been snatched away by tragic events. I've had days when I got nothing but grief and people in my life who thrived on giving it to me. I'm a survivor though and come armed with the ability to dig deep and rise above it, like the Cailleach who drops her troubles from her basket and turns them into mountains and glens. 

The Kerseller Menhir is located north of Moëlan-sur-Mer and located in a meadow just beyond the mill known as Moulin du Duc. It is known locally and affectionetly as 'le bonheur des dames' or as I translate 'the delight of the ladies'. It is not uncommon of course, for standing stones which are entirely phallic, to get such associations. This one though, is particularily well named.

Firstly it is well endowed, standing at a whopping 6 meters with ample girth and tilted at an interesting erect angle. You have to marvel at the sense of humour of the ancient people though, for around the rim of this ancient megalith is a ring of quartz giving this menhir a very phallic appearance! So much so that I found myself wondering if there were, carved beneath the earth, a giant Easter Island like figure. (Maybe I am on my own too much and I really have gone mad.)

So why the tears I hear you ask? Here is the thing. Grief is a weight I carry around with me. Most times I am fit to bear it and other days the burden is too much. Grief singes the edges of every feeling I ever had and brings in its wake the gift of perspective. It has taught me what matters and what doesn't. It has shown me my true friends. It had made me value who is important and who is surplus to requirements. It has given me the ability to be bluntly honest and enabled me to bear rejection. In life I roll with the punches, that is not to say that I don't brace myself against some of them, it is just that I no longer sweat the small stuff.

There is a legend associated with this standing stone though. It is said that twice a year, at Christmas and on the feast of St. John that this stone turns on itself. Isn't that fascinating? That is Midwinter and Midsummer, opposing solstice times, an apt place for a Druid Scribe to be drawn to and guess where I will want to be hanging out at midnight for the Winter Solstice? 

Grief has taught me to leave people be who they are, to allow them into my life if we chime together, and to go in peace if we don't, without rancour. Grief is not something I get over or accept, it is something I endure, it is a privlidge, and I endure it very simply, by putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe that is why I like stones so much, they have stood erect, proud and, graceful for thousands of years. Maybe it is that act of holding myself up that emulates eternity. I guess it is all just an act of survival.

So in practice when the tears come, or the anger, or whatever manifestation it finds, I open up to it and let it out. And on those days, the world can go feck. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to and be very grateful for crystal adorned tilting stones that manifest themselves in my honour. 

 

 

 

'Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.' Pythagoras

“Ex nihilo nihil fit” = "Out of nothing comes nothing" is a quote from a presocratic Greek philosopher called Parmenides of Elea. This philosophy purports the premise that the difference between a world that did not exist and one that does can't possibly be; since it could not be created 'ex nihilo' in the first place. What is, is - simple as that. For 'something' to come out of 'nothing' is not logical. Now, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

So what of creation? All Christians work from the premise that God created the world and all that exists from nothing. Such was the conversation I ended up having with a visiting friend over coffee this morning. Profound or what? I was with Parmenides and I think he was with Genesis, but no matter. Wouldn't that wake you up of a morning? Just as well I was having decaff, Lavalle, on the Rive Droite,  Doëlan.

They say in friendship you should steer clear of politics and religion for fear it would come between ye. These subjects are highly contentious and can result in  a heated argument. Not discussing religion or politics is a golden rule in social ettiquette. Discussing philosophy comes perilously close, though we'd probably survive the argument because it would be reasoned debate; and neither of us would bend and we'd be wise enough to accept the other as they are and that's the stuff of comradeship really.

I know nothing of the nature of nothing and hey while I'm mildly curious I don't have a compelling need to research it further. I leave that to the Stephen Hawkins of this world. I long ago gave up on the one true way for I've seen the nuances in things, the shades of grey (more than 50). I kinda just accept the status quo, what is, is - and that works for me. And as it is my two feet (I think) that carry me around every day that's fine, it works for me, horses for courses and all of that.

My friends can have opposing views, they can have enhancing inferences, they can stand on their heads and sing Danny Boy, point is there is a wonderful mystery in friendship. It is a rich tapestry, a melding of mind in a weird and chaotic world. There is an invisible thread of connection in friendship that just does you good, no matter what your differences. It is an awesome gift really. And you can dispense with the socially expected norms, not labour under decorum. Friendship is a lovely thing.

When you consider the human race, and each of us a mere insignificant peck of matter in a gargantuan universe that we know no bounds of, it really is a wonder when you connect in respect and admiration and friendship with any one. When you do, you really ought to mind it.

Deep and meaningful conversations (DMC's) over coffee are a fuel to life.  To enhance an existence is both a joy and a bonus and whether it was foraged out of nothing or something really is insignificant. What is significant is that you value the friendship, it's essence requires nuture, regard and reverence and one that is given and not expected, one that is perpetuating and not forced, and it won't survive at all without damn good coffee! All of that should be considered under advisement really. That is my celebration of today. Such that it is!