The Scribe in Me.

The Scribe in Me.

Machnaimh - Reflections.

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...

Samhain Reflections at Labacallee

Being a Druid I naturally took an interest in philosophy, and was drawn to the Stoic philosophers for a while. Stoic philosophy states that to live a good life, one must understand the rules of the natural order, as everything is rooted in nature. One of the better-known Stoic philosophers, a guy called Seneca the Younger said “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” That phrase has been going around in my head as we approach Samhain. The last two months have been the most challenging of my life - my beloved mother passed, and my beautiful daughter was snatched from the jaws of death. Without wringing out detail, suffice to say, I find myself on the fulcrum of generations, reverberating from the Richter scale shocks that all of that entailed.

It's my time to honour the Goddess of Winter. Autumn has left by stealth and the nights are creeping in, the veil between worlds thins. We invented Halloween and there be times when the liminality of it scares me, how we must bow to the might of nature, hunker down for the winter, and hope the Cailleach allows us to survive to spring. She holds authority over all that is decaying and dying, the cycle of life - death and rebirth.

I'm not easily intimidated but I’ve had just cause, I can't help but feel that something was coming for me. Some scythe of sorts has sliced through my life. The ancient people in my culture, divided the year into two portions one associated with the dark and the other the light.

The Hag being the daughter of the sun, grows younger, more powerful, and more beautiful in the hibernal season. This is the time that her powers are at their most potent. Recent events have challenged me beyond measure, but these are the times that I find myself in and it is to her that I must go for strength.

The Hag is said to have lived seven lifetimes before being turned to stone and many Irish megaliths were formed from the stones she dropped to earth from her apron as she flew by. Her staff (a slachdán-wand of power) causes the ground to freeze and when she washes her cloak storms rise. She turns from stone back into human form on November 1st, she is not one to be messed with and I may tread carefully.

The Cailleach is held both in reverence and in fear and rightly so, and I can attest to that, recent events aside. I was too raw for ritual, but I had to pay her homage in some way. So, I gathered in some apples from my orchard and a dropeen of the good stuff and took myself off to Labbacalle, a 4,500-year-old wedge tomb near Glanworth in Co. Cork, Ireland. Translated as the Hag's Bed, this tomb is one of many associated with her. She is the daughter of the sun, gaining her life force from the darkest time of year.

Clouds hung low in a foreboding sky and rain spat in torrents as I journeyed. The clouds parted, and the sun splayed shadows on glistening grass when I arrived, and I took all of that as a good sign. Her bed is an impressive monument. I sat with her awhile, on a dry warm stone, feeling welcome and strangely calm. It was like a refuge, a haven from the madness of recent times. This woman of mystery is honoured so much she wears a veil; and I too wore a cawl out of respect. It is said that she takes on many guises, and often those of the birds and the beasts of her native land.

So, what did I think of when I communed with the Winter Goddess? "Where do you go to my lovely when you are alone in your head?" I hear you ask. My first thought was how close to the road this monument is, surely some of it was tampered with when the road was built. I researched the OSI map viewer to see if the 1836 maps could offer me any insights and they just added to the enigma. I'm not an archaeologist but I do know a fair bit about megalithic structures. Wedge tombs are something of an anomaly of tomb design because they tend to be monuments specific to one significant person. I've seen enough wedge tombs in my time to know this one is a whopper. Knowing it’s a woman's tomb when history mostly records male monuments excited me.

When I visit such monuments, I go with an open mind and let them speak to me innately rather than researching them beforehand. The wedge tomb is an exclusively Irish phenomenon and this tomb reminded me of one I'd seen in Locmariaquer in Brittany, France. Both tombs have wan outlier type standing stone, but that is where the comparison ends, though there must be links between French gallery tombs and Irish wedge tombs. Then I was struck by the vein of quartz through the standing stone, and I reflected on how quartz must be a feature of Irish megaliths.

The other thing that stood out for me was how the monument seems to emulate the landscape of the hills beyond as it tapers from entrance to end and again this is a feature that I often see. All of this is utterly fascinating as it shows me that the ancients had a logic and a philosophy to their tomb building, and I find this is all very intriguing.

I thought about how the weather had cleared and how welcome the site felt and how the sun lighted and warmed me on this late October day. I thought about how the eastern end of the tomb has a most unusual design feature and about the people who mulled over the architecture. There are two chambers that I could make out and all the stones in the structure are massive and imposing. This monument was designed to stand apart, to make a statement, whoever was interred here was important.

Then I got to thinking about "Calle" and who she was and how on excavation they must have disturbed her remains. I wondered where those are now, in some vault in a museum no doubt and is this not an act of desecration and sacrilege? And I wondered if I should protest, but knew somehow that the Cailleach transcended all of that. I thought too of mothers and daughters and of the place that was mine in the middle of the continuum, at once daughter and mother. I had moved up a notch and was now simply mother and was thus confronted with my own place as future ancestor. There is a responsibility in that, a duty to my legacy, to future generations or at least the Mitochondrial Eve DNA. In a time when so much is churning and changing, I was glad of the opportunity to be reflective.

In my reflections I thought of the wonder of friends and of the people who carried me through the trials and the tribulations. I thought of all the ones who lit candles and did vigils and water ceremonies. I thought of the people who held me in circles and willed me well. I thought of the many cards and flowers and food left at my door and the texts and emails of hope and encouragement. I thought of the hugs and the squeezes in a time of Covid and of those who dared to, bless each and every one. I thought of the strength I had to find in me and of how I must curl in on myself now for a while until renewal comes. And I felt so grateful to be so loved.

I wondered about fear and dread and what you do with it and where do you put sadness when it is set to consume you. I thought about trust and how you must suspend yourself from the undefinable and hope that it bears the weight of you, and that if it doesn't and you come crashing down again, that there will be a soft place to land. All I can do is find a place to gather myself, plant my feet firmly on the ground and assume it holds me up, and of how I must put one foot in front of the other and begin again.

Hope is something I can do in abundance, as I said to one doctor, 'I will do the hope, you do the doctoring.' As I drove away, I observed a stately heron rise from the river nearby, flying with an eel in its beak and I was stunned by that, reminded again of the power of this ancient woman. I left in peace, as in peace I had begun. I hope I brought her good dreams before she finally woke from her summer hibernation and left her an apple and whiskey for breakfast.

'As the golden green fern

Curls in on itself

So too must I…

And stand as a sentry would,

With stalk supported fronds,

Sheltered,

In my sacred space.'

Mawie - Samhain 2021

 

Further Reading

1. Hull, Eleanor. "Legends and Traditions of the Cailleach Bheara or Old Woman (Hag) of Beare". Folklore, Volume 38, No. 3, September 30, 1927. pp. 225-254

2. Mackenzie, Donald Alexander (1917). "Beira, Queen of Winter" in Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend".

3. MacKillop, James (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1 p. 45.

4. Monaghan, Patricia (2004) The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit. New World Library. ISBN 1-57731-458-1

5. Ó Crualaoich, Gearóid (2006). The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer. Cork University Press. ISBN 1-85918-372-7.

6. Ross, Anne (1973, reprint 2004) "The divine hag of the pagan Celts" in The Witch Figure: Folklore Essays by a Group of Scholars in England Honoring the 75th Birthday of Katharine M. Briggs. ed. by Venetia Newall. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-415-33074-2.

7. Zucchelli, Christine. Sacred Stones of Ireland. Cork: Collins Press, 2016. ISBN 978-1-8488-9276-7


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.

'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????

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..