Category Archives: General

In the search of the Mabon.

It’s that time of year when the whole, “Why is the Equinox called Mabon?” debate rears it’s ugly head. Like many Gardnerians I’m fairly unimpressed by the name thanks to a whole bunch politics. There are other names for the festival, however, my personal preference is Equinox. It’s a good sturdy name that even those who do not follow my path understand. But On the whole I’m pretty happy to state that it’s each to their own.

I thought about writing a nice long academic post about the historical evidence and the modern justifications for calling this festival by certain names. But it’s been done to death by many very eloquent people. So if you are looking for that kind of article may I suggest you start HERE with Jason Mankey’s blog on the subject.

For the last few years I’ve been very much about the experiential being balanced with the academic. And that wondrous synergy that can occur when the historical and factual meets the new imaginings of dedicated practitioners of the craft. So this year I thought I’d approach the whole event in a different and innovative manner.

Last Winter Solstice I took part in an excellent read along on Twitter #thedarkisreading. In which participants read the enchanting Susan Cooper book “The Dark is rising”. Not only was it lovely to have a reason to sit and read for a short while each evening. It really made me focus on certain seasonal themes. Which gave me an idea.

One of the primary sources for the existence of Mabon ap Modron (Great Son, son of the Mother) is the Welsh Medieval tale “How Culhwch won Olwen”. The story is included in the misnamed collection of tales known by most as the Mabinogion. On the surface it’s a rip roaring tale of adventure, knights and valiant kings, brave young men and giants. This epic quest for true love sees the erstwhile hero and his amazing companions travel from the very South of Wales all the way to Cumbria. Performing seemingly impossible feats. Meeting the oldest animals and battling formidable creatures using all the powers and Magick sat their command.

It can of course be read just as that, an amazing tale of daring-do, but its a tale of layers. Embedded within are mysteries for those who care to look. Initiations of the body and mind, for those who would immerse themselves ritually into the very tale itself. So this year I resolved to take time reading it to see what wisdom it could impart for me during this season. A touch of meditative bibliomancy if you will.

I’ve studied this story many times, as an Awenydd of the The Anglesey Druid Order it comes up a fair amount in the orders amazing annual training course. So I wasn’t really sure what I might get from this exercise being so familiar with the text. But the gods of Land, Sea and Sky never fail me.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer quantity of shape shifting that occurs during the tale. Culhwch’s mother Goleuddydd (quite literally daylight) losing her mind in an echo of Rhiannon’s story and seemingly reverting to a zoomorphic state to give birth. Poor Pryderi is linked with a stable in the first branch, Culhwch a pig sty. Perhaps his mother is the very same sow that led Gwydion to the Ash tree from which the young Sun God Lleu Llaw Gyffes hangs between the worlds.

In fact pigs feature very heavily in many of the tales, from the very first branch it is the swine of Arawn slipping into this world that starts the whole story arch moving. Not a mare of sovereignty at all. Is this then an indicator of an older or parallel belief/initiatory system hidden within all the tales? Certainly food for deep thought. And now undoubtedly the focus of experiential ritual in my future.

I find this idea particularly poignant as the whole tale hangs on the hero’s relationship to sovereignty. In his case his relationship with Arthur. The kings willingness to trim the youths hair in recognition of kinship is echoed in the demands of the Giant Ysbaddaden. Reading between the lines his only real desire is to ensure an appropriate wedding feast for his Goddess like daughter and to have his hair trimmed using the comb and scissors held between the ears of the great Boar Twrch Trwyth (another pig). Thus effectively regaining his own sovereignty. Interesting huh?

Secondly the textual notes to the tale (if you get a good translation) reveals that one of the companions Teyrnon Twrf Liant ( Great Lord, Roar of the flood tide) whose kingdom in Gwent is often associated with the Severn bore. Now I’ve known this for a while, but I’ve never really put much consideration into it. My ritual landscape is primarily that of North Wales. But the Mabon of whom we seek it is claimed was held somewhere along the Severn estuary. He was discovered by the Salmon of Lyn Lliw who travelled the bore every flood tide. So here we have our divine child of the season, in his prison in Caerloyw (Gloucester) but held apparently by the bore. Just as Pryderi was kept by Teyrnon in his youth. And when is the bore at his strongest. At the equinoxes.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad name for the festival after all. I rather like it in-fact especially if we were to pair the autumnal equinox of Mabon with a vernal equinox of Modron…..oooo now there’s a thought?

Manawydan – A Pilgrimage

It must be close to a decade now since I made my first conscious pilgrimage. A journey to the Norfolk village of Walsingham. At that point I didn’t even know that pilgrimage was still a ‘thing’. I had read Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath at college. And we had debated the purpose for people making pilgrimages in the middle ages. But by the time I took those tentative steps. Barefoot towards the Slipper Chapel. I was about as far removed from mainstream religion as you could get. So, I was unaware of any modern practise and was surprised to find a thriving tradition.

In fact the purpose for that entire journey was about as far away from Christianity as you could get. So the destination raised more than a few eyebrows. It was the culmination of a prolonged and often confusing contact with a particular spirit. I am not entirely sure what her motivations were in asking me to light very specific numbers of candles in each of the shrines I came across. Other than perhaps to bankrupt me, because votive candles aren’t cheap. But in my heart I suspect it was to install into me what now appears to be a life long fascination with ‘the journey’. And how it is both an act of magick and of devotion that transcends religion.

Artists house on the Camino, a stop for pilgrims

Since then I have marvelled at the very beginnings of humanity. At the Cradle of Humankind in the Sterkfontein caves in South Africa I took time to honour my ancestors. I have fallen in love with Lugo a wonderful ancient city on the Camino Primitivo (the original way) heading towards Santiago. There I felt the power of the Great Mother Isis. I have travelled alone from the very Northern tip of France to the Sierra Nevadas in Spain in a personal journey of enlightenment. Left offerings to the Goddess Minerva in an ancient thermal spring. Performed rites to Hekate, Asteria and Perses under a meteor filled sky by a crystal mountain lake. I have followed my nose and communed with the spirits of place in Carnac. Rested on the nearby tumulus St Michel. Stretching my mind far out to sense Glastonbury Tor and St Michael’s Mount far away along the serpentine line.

In recent years the focus of my pilgrimages has been almost singular. The Isle of Yns Môn. I travel along the North Wales costal route, and key points along that journey have become like a mantra. The droning of my engine. The sound of my car tyres on the Tarmac beneath me. Acting like the Buddhist prayer wheels. Rumbling out to the universe my devotion to the landscape around me. And an Island that always feels like home.

So this weekend saw me rise early on a cold and positively wintry morning. With parts of the country caught in the grip of the ‘Beast from the East’ I was uncertain how many would join us in a Pilgrimage to meet the God Manawydan. An event which I helped to organise for members of The Anglesey Druid Order as one of their “Deity Days”. Manawydan is particularly close to my heart as he was the first male deity I ever felt a true connection with.  He reminds me of my own foibles, fragilities and sometimes downright bloody mindedness. He also ensure that I never forget to claim my sovereignty. Nor does he fail me when I have a need for certain types of Magic. But that is another post for another day.

We live in a results based world, where everybody talks in terms of where they went. What they achieved. What they hope to achieve. Always aiming for the final destination. Impatient to be anywhere but where they are right now. Of course I am not perfect and there are many ways in which I still live a thoroughly modern life. But when it comes to my Magick, my Spirituality, I try very hard to take time to enjoy the process. Therefore, my purpose of this day was not to ask him for anything for myself. Just to honour him with each step I took. To facilitate others coming to know him. And hopefully kindle a deeper connection with him.

His location in the Anglesey landscape is without dispute. His story, as we know it, starts with the marriage of Branwen in the 2nd Branch of the Mabinogi. The festivities taking place in the village of Aberffraw. Situated on the south western coastline of the Island. So it was pretty much a no brainer then to walk part of the famous costal path.

View on the Coast Path

We started from Llyn Coron (Crown Lake), through the village and along the costal path to the ancient city on the headland at the mouth of the estuary. Along the route we contemplated his nature and how it might inform our own actions. We left offerings to him and to the house of Llŷr. And we ritualistically left behind us, in small cairns, representations of that which we felt stopped us embracing Manawydan’s qualities of Humility, Justice and Magic. Particularly in relation to claiming our own sovereignty.

My offering in the humility cairn was a handful of pure white dog whelk and cowrie shells which I always covet when I walk along the sea shore. I had been systematically ferreting them away as we walked. For that stretch of coast line is particularly rich. Treasures to bring home and add to my collection. It pained me greatly when I realised that I couldn’t get more humble than to give away a thing I prized in honour and recognition .

The Scallop, A Symbol of Pilgrimage

So imagine my joy later as we were clearing the beach of plastic when I was rewarded with the most beautiful, almost perfect Queen Scallop shell. A symbol which has become almost universally associated with the act of Pilgrimage thanks to the Camino de Santiago. In my mind a clear sign that Manawydan was pleased with our endeavours.

If you would like to know more about The Anglesey Druid Order and what they do you can find them here and here.

Of Oak Ash and Thorn, with the focus on Thorn

As I mentioned earlier this year, I am spending much of the next year studying the Ogham and by default the lore and uses of the trees in the Ogham sets. As May has come around it became very obvious as the sultry scent of Mayflower assaulted my nostrils each time I went walking that my tree for this month had to be The Hawthorn. It’s latin name is Crataegeus Monogyna and It is a member of the Rose family. It normally flowers between May and June. However, there are several different varieties including ones that flower twice a year (Summer and Winter) and one with pink flowers. Other names include the following:

  • Whitethorn
  • Mayflower
  • May Tree
  • Thorn Apple

Fruits are known as ‘Haws’ and are edible and make a reasonable fruit ‘leather’ and a great chutney, however care must be taken to de-seed them as they are quite toxic.

Medicinally the Haws are also considered good for the heart. Although caution should be taken to consult a medical practitioner. Strung as beads on a red thread the berries are considered to be a powerful protection amulet. The bark can be used to make a black dye. 1

Associated with Beltane and all May Day celebrations. It is sacred to both Pagans and Christians. Folklore says that the Glastonbury Thorn sprang from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea and in Staffordshire an old folk rhyme claims that “Under a thorn, Our saviour was born” as well as it being believed that the Crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the way to the Cross was made from Hawthorn.

In Ireland even to this day it is believed to be Fairy tree if stood alone. However if part of a hedgerow it is thought to ward off malicious fairies. The connection with the Fae seems to be very important during Beltane, Summer Solstice and Samhain. It is considered very bad luck to interfere with a ‘Fairy Thorn’.

These trees are considered very liminal in nature. And the locations in which they grow are thought not only to be great places of power but also spaces where the veil between this world and the other is the thinnest. Therefore performing divination, energy healing, communing with the Genius Loci are all great activities to carry out under the watchful presence of a Hawthorn tree. 2

Finally Hawthorn trees that stand guardian at ‘Holy Wells” are often hung with Clooties, these are strips of cloth either charged with a prayer or dipped in the sacred water and used to bathe the sick person before being hung out upon the tree. In Appleton in Cheshire there is a tradition of bawming (decorating) the tree. The following song known as “The Bawming song” has some interesting tree attributions which reinforces the commonly held belief that lone Hawthorn trees are places where both the Fae and Humans meet for lovers trysts.

The Bawming Song


The Maypole in spring merry maidens adorn,
Our midsummer May-Day means Bawming the Thorn.
On her garlanded throne sits the May Queen alone,
Here each Appleton lad has a Queen of his own

Chorus:

Up with fresh garlands this Midsummer morn,
Up with red ribbons on Appleton Thorn.
Come lasses and lads to the Thorn Tree today
To Bawm it and shout as ye Bawm it, Hooray!

The oak in its strength is the pride of the wood,
The birch bears a twig that made naughty boys good,
But there grows not a tree which in splendour can vie
With our thorn tree when Bawmed in the month of July.

Chorus

Kissing under the rose is when nobody sees,
You may under the mistletoe kiss when you please;
But no kiss can be sweet as that stolen one be
Which is snatched from a sweetheart when Bawming the Tree.

Chorus

Ye Appleton Lads I can promise you this;
When her lips you have pressed with a true lover’s kiss,
Woo’ed her and won her and made her your bride
Thenceforth shall she ne’er be a thorn in your side.

Chorus

So long as this Thorn Tree o’ershadows the ground
May sweethearts to Bawm it in plenty be found.
And a thousand years hence when tis gone and is dead
May there stand here a Thorn to be Bawmed in its stead.

Chorus

Sung to the tune of “Bonnie Dundee” 3

 

  1. Discovering the Folklore of Plants by Margaret Baker
  2. Celtic Tree Magic by Danu Forest
  3.  http://www.appletonthorn.org.uk/

I think I could turn and live with animals

Today I wrote the following statement:

One of humanity’s biggest problems is that we believe ourselves to be better than animals and less than the Gods

This is not a new thought for me. Probably one of the earliest realisations I had that my world view did not fit with most of civilised society was the revelation that most people do not believe that animals have souls. That there is no after life (heaven if you will) for animals. I knew then and there I wanted no part of any religion that placed me in an afterlife without animals. Despite my apparently outgoing and gregarious nature my natural state of being is introverted. At parties and gatherings you will find me with the pets and the children (those wonderful humans who have as yet not forgotten how it is to be animal). I am quite animalistic in my nature I trust slowly, love fiercely and have unwavering loyalty. And because of this I truly struggle with many aspects of civilised society, the delicate nuances we are supposed to perceive, the intricate games we are supposed to play.  

I am loathe to use certain vocabulary as it has been abused by the new age community and the cultural misappropriation of  such paths as the indigenous American population and their belief in totem and power animals make it even more difficult to express myself adequately. But I truly believe that connecting with the animal natures with yourself can make for a richer life both in the magickal and mundane realms. It is something our old Gods knew all about. Our Gods and Goddesses were often zoomorphic. Ceridwen knew how to change into a greyhound, an otter, a hawk and a hen. Dylan son of Aranrhod became a seal and returned to the waters. Rhiannon is made to take the form of a horse (or is it her natural form) as part of her punishment for the alleged murder of her son Pryderi. It is such a common phenomena that it might be argued that to be divine you have to access the animals within. Isn’t that an interesting thought, to become Godlike we must understand our animals. But how?

We can of course pay a small fortune to be taken on some Shamanistic journey to find our inner beasts. And I’m not going to decry that. It can work. But often our  journeys to find our “divine animal nature” can be far more mundane and internal. For example after a week long retreat many years ago I was informed that my “totem” was a frog, a liminal creature capable of existing between the worlds of earth and water, a psychopomp and wise one. The Druid animal Oracle has a wonderful image of a frog, the like of which you could find in any garden pond. It states that the frog brings medicine and can help develop “sensitivity to others, to healing and to sound through your skin and your whole body and aura”. To be frank I pretty much snorted at this description, the only thing I had in common with a frog was that when I sang I croaked. And yet I couldn’t shake a certain feeling of kinship. 

When it happened it wasn’t some fabulous realisation of some wonderful aspect of my being that made the connection. It was a realisation of a darker aspect of my nature, an understanding and acceptance of my shadow shelf that finally allowed me to make that bond. The animal Oracle also says about the frog that “There is a hidden beauty and a hidden power in all of nature”. And there as I was quite a few years later, meditating on the idea that a frog had a “hidden power” when ‘pop’ sat on a rock in my interior landscape was a South American red eyed tree frog. Although not poisonous this frog is brightly coloured to shock it’s predators into thinking twice about whether or not it is a tasty snack. Giving it a superlative glamour. And although small it is a fearsome predator in its own right. In addition many of its cousins are poisonous, you squeeze one of them too tight, or hurt them in any way and there is at best a good chance you’ll have hallucinations, paralysis and seizures and worse case, if you try and eat one of these little fellows, well if they are going down they’ll take you with them in the most excruciating way possible. Now that I could relate to. 

You see connecting with any animal aspect isn’t always about the nice things, let’s face it nature just isn’t nice and neither are we. I am very distrusting of anybody who comes across as too nice, too smiley, too spiritual, they are the ones who normally have the most to hide and so far Ive never been proved wrong. My lovely friend Kath told me over a decade ago that I had an instinct second to none. Something I used to dismiss. But it is a divine animal trait in its own right, for after all why is it that a perfectly placid dog can suddenly take umbrage at a specific human being? We’ve all seen it. They sense something that apparently we can’t. Or maybe we can, if we learn to embrace our divine animals. 

Sometimes the animals we are drawn to on the mundane are also teachers for us. My friends know of my passion for Otters. I call them my favourite water borne terrorists. Liminal like the frog existing between earth and water they are often associated with shape shifting and their almost immoral behaviour makes them tricksters of the highest order. They are mustelids meaning they belong to the same family as badgers, weasels, minks and Pole-cats. They are often social and playful, knowing the joy of play for the sake of play, expecting nothing more in life than what they have. Yet they can often kill for fun, not for hunger. They can be vicious and nip and bite, they can fight to the death. But all tricksters pretty much without exception are catalysts for change even if that is by viscous means.

Tricksters are highly intelligent, often seeing a bigger picture or path unavailable to others because they are blinded by dogma and social conventions. Hermes invented lying, and nearly all tricksters have an ability to be economical with the truth, as such the Otter is very good at letting you know when someone is lying to you, because if you’ve embraced that inner divine animal, you know a big whopper when you see one because you’ve considered telling the odd one yourself. Loki, another of the zoomorphic Gods plays a pivotal role in Ragnarok resulting in the death of the Gods. Again, if you’ve embraced that destructive side of your nature then it’s really easy to see when the walls are about to come toppling down. And of course sometimes you realise it’s necessary that you bring the walls down yourself. Anansi, Coyote, Kitsune, Gwydion, Efnysien, Reynard and Puck are all tricksters worth investigating, more than a few of them have a connection to an animal or a zoomorphic aspect. They can be the hero, the bad guy, the fool and the wise man all wrapped up into one. Yet you cannot deny their divinity, their connection to the sacred.

So here is a thought, perhaps the way to fix the world is to start behaving as if we are better than Gods and less than animals and work towards integrating those two aspects of our nature.

The Last Wolf of Albion

I have to admit to feeling a little nervous about attending a Camp in Cumbria before March had even waved us goodbye. Reports of snow on higher ground by friends the previous week hadn’t helped that feeling. I may be a southerner by birth but my paternal family are all northerners and I’ll have lived under northern skies for fifteen years this September. I am a northerner at heart, and we are made of sterner stuff. So as Saturday dawned cool and clear I donned a thermal vest under my T-shirt and fleece and headed towards Grange-Over-Sands and the Humphrey Head Centre where The Druid Network were hosting a “Leap into Spring” event.

I love the Lakes with a deep abiding passion, many of my childhood holidays involved fishing at Arnside, woodland rambles near Kendal, minnow trapping at the Troutbeck, scrambling around at the feet of Shap. To name just a few activities. And it was during these holidays that my love of folklore and myth probably first took seed. Both my father and grandfather were excellent story tellers, and the raucous songs and tales they made up for my delight are memories that make me smile even on the greyest day. So it was great news to me that the location of my weekend adventures was purported to be the site where the last wolf was hunted down and killed and that a great story accompanied it. A story that has been brought to my attention, for no apparent reason a number of times over the last few months. So obviously it has some as yet unknown lesson to teach me. So as the start of my adventure through the landscape of the last wolf I thought I might share its sad tale.

The Last Wolf

Once upon a time, for after all it’s important for all good stories  to start like that don’t you think? There lived a very powerful family who resided in a beautiful tower near the village of  Allithwaite. In those days the landscape was different to the one we know now. It was a much wilder place. Inhabited by much wilder creatures. Possibly the most fearsome of which was a ferocious wolf. His howls could be heard all across Over-Sands and on moon lit nights the local peasants brought as many of their sheep inside as possible for the Wolf had a voracious appetite.

The beasts indiscriminate hunting went on for many years before the common folk could take no more and pleaded with their lord to help them. To rid them of this menace. Sir Edgar Harrington listened to his serfs and swore to rid them of the predator. He called to all the Lords and Knights across the region asking for aid. If they caught and killed the wolf then half his lands and the hand of his orphan niece Adela would be theirs as reward.

Now Adela was less than happy with this state of affairs, but as an Orphan ward there was little she could do. All she could hope for was that either that the wolf escaped to hunt another day, or that the man to which she would be wed was an honourable and decent man. She knew though that her heart would never belong to any other man than John. The son of Sir Edgar. As children they had played together and as they had grown so had their love. Once he came of age John had asked his father for her hand but had been refused for Sir Edgar saw great alliances that could be made with her marriage. John left in anger to travel to the Holy lands swearing never to return. Leaving a grieving Adela behind.

So as the appointed day arrived nobles across the land assembled. Forming the greatest hunt the land had seen since Arthur had valiantly pursued the elusive White Stag. Adela pleaded with her ward begging to accompany the men so that she may see the triumph of the man to whom she would be wed. Finally he agreed and as her horse was being saddled a mysterious knight arrived to join the hunt. Mounted upon the most magnificent glowing white Arabian stallion the knight refused to dismount or remove his visor whilst the final preparations were made. Instead he silently watched the fair maiden.

The horn sounded and the hunt began. The Wolf a wiley old beast led them a merry dance. The hunt zig zagged across the land, from Coniston to Windermere with many an erstwhile suitor falling by the wayside. Finally the chase led the remaining pack to Humphrey Head with the mysterious knight leading. He cornered the beast and speared him through his heart. Turning to Adela he lifted his visor to reveal to his prize that he was her long lost love. Sir Edgar seeing the truth of the situation summoned a learned Monk from Cartmel Priory who happened to be in the retinue. He instructed the Monk to marry the couple there and then. In front of the holy well that springs even to this day from the foot of the cliffs at Humphrey Head.

It is a truly wonderful tale, full of some very interesting motifs which could be remnants of long lost sovereignty stories. The maiden being married to a mysterious knight who is mounted upon an otherworldly white beast. But what is even more fascinating is that the myth has now become inextricably link to the geology of the land.

Firstly the Holy well which although somewhat sad and neglected still remains to this day. It is mineral rich and tastes a little like Alka Selzer with a slightly silky/slimey texture. And although the water is heavy with salts and minerals it is obviously unpolluted as small freshwater shrimps could be seen swimming in the small pools where the water collected as it trickled down to the marshes just a few meters below.

Secondly is the Haematite which can be gathered in the shingle at the foot of Humphrey Head. This is a black/reddish brown stone which is high in Ferric Oxide. It is sometimes known as Blood stone. A good way to identify the stone is to give it a quick lick and rub it against a rock, if it comes up red then you know you have the right rock. Of course if you have a magnet on your keyring you will also be able to test the stones as even if the Iron content is fairly low you will feel a slight draw to the stones. Might be a bit more sensible than licking them. But hey where is the fun in that! And if you do lick them, you can see how these stones have become linked to the story of the last wolf, their Magickal red stains are the drops of blood shed by the Wolf before he met his final demise on the cliffs above.

 

It is claimed that Haematite is great for protection, grounding and dispelling negativity. And I have used it for that purpose previously but the stones I gathered have now found themselves upon my Brigid altar, after all a Goddess of Smithcraft could definitely use some Iron ore.

It was a truly wonderful day full of myth and magick and a sense of sacred within the landscape. I cannot wait to go back to visit and explore more. Perhaps even discover other legends about the surrounding lands. The Woodspirit camp is being hosted there this year. That sounds like a promising adventure.

 

 

The Blessings of Brigid

For a couple of years now I have been trying to make more of a conscious effort to really connect with the festivals on the wheel of the year. So at the end of January I found myself accepting an invitation to attend an hour’s silent vigil in the woods dedicated to the Goddess Brigid. I’ll be frank, whilst I love dark nights, woodland walks and candle-lit vigils I was rather perplexed as to my subconscious motivations. Brigid is not a deity Ive had a lot of connection with and nor did I really want to. To explain, I think how you interact with deities is a bit like how you interact
with people. There has to be a certain something about the person or nothing will never develop. They will remain just somebody you know in passing, might say “hi” to as you walk past in the street because you recognise them. But you wouldn’t necessarily stop and talk. And to be frank my previous interaction with Brigid had left me pretty much as cold as the Imbolc snow that so often scatters the ground at that time of year. So I think it goes without saying that I was more than a bit shocked when during the vigil a quiet internal voice instructed me to continue to light candles until Equinox.

Publicly Ive been wearing my Druid hat almost as much as I’ve been wearing my Wiccan hat of late so it occurred to me that this sudden tentative spark of connection may be related to that, Brigid is a goddess of poetry and often a patron to Bards. It also occurred to me that it was an aspect of Brigid I was feeling as a soul calling rather than an actual connection. At that early point of connection during the vigil it was close to seven weeks since I had set foot on Anglesey, the longest I have gone in well over 18 months. The author Kristoffer Hughes suggests that the Goddess of the river Braint which bisects the Isle of Anglesey is a localised version of the Goddess Briganti, whom many believe to also be Brigid 1. Therefore although admittedly in a reluctant manner I started lighting a candle whenever I sat down in my study and when away, I made an effort, if only for a fleeting moment, to think of Brigid and her sacred flame. After all Imbolc to Equinox was not a long time, right?

Of course Spring is now most definitely upon us and Equinox is looming fast and I find that the whole catalog of synchronicity which has followed is such that I am now left without a shadow of a doubt that the relationship now has some form of chemistry going on. A spark of interest which wasn’t there before. What that interest is I have no idea, and whether there is a longevity to the interaction is equally mystifying. However, the more I read about her, the more I can see the similarities she shares with the two other Goddesses that have at one point or another shared my life. And there are a couple of aspects which have me positively entranced. For example, How can a fairy Princess, the wife of Angus the Ever young, a Tuatha de Dannan also be patron of smith craft, an occupation which even into history is an Iron rich activity?
I think sometimes, when connections are made you have to go with your gut and follow your nose, and just enjoy the journey, no motivations, no ulterior motive, no “What’s in it for me?”. So I find myself with a small shrine to Brigid on my window, and not unsurprisingly everything I needed for it to feel right was either made available to me or I had in my possession already. Including some beautiful glass crystals that reminded me of the “Guiding Star of Bride”

 “Over her heart gleamed a star like crystal, pure as her thoughts and bright as the joy that Angus brought her.”

And with that I thought I would finish with an enchanting poem I found telling of the search of Angus the Ever young for his Princess.

Angus hath come — the young, the fair,
The blue-eyed god with golden hair,
The God who to the world doth bring
This morn the promise of the spring;
Who moves the bird to song ere yet
He hath awaked the violet,
Or the soft primrose on the steep
While buds are laid in lidded sleep,
And white snows wrap the hills serene,
Ere glows the larch’s vivid green
Through the brown woods bare. All Hail!
Angus, may thy will prevail
He comes, he goes, and far and wide
He searches for the Princess Bride2

  1. Hughes, K. The book of Celtic Magic, Llewellyn 2016
  2.  Mackenzie, D.A. Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, Stokes 1917

Of Ash, Willow and Ivy

Trees, Ogham, musings
I had planned to start my new year with a study of the Ogham, I have a lovely journal that a friend gave me. Its hand made, quite literally of wood, so it seemed perfect for my needs. There was absolutely nothing stopping me. And yet January rolled past and Imbolc arrived and for reasons that completely escape me, nothing was written in my natty little journal. I couldn’t really put my fingers on why I couldn’t start.

The weeks passed by and I found myself getting increasingly irritated with my non action. Anybody who knows me well knows that whilst I have the propensity to be lazy my default mode of operation is busy, and doing more than most would deem possible. And I had free time because I had also decided that this year would be the year that I learnt how to say “no”. So I was only taking on projects that excited me. It isn’t even like I’m a complete towney who doesn’t know her chickweed from her cleavers, or oak from birch. This should have been easy, flowing, logical even.

The Ogham has been neatly compartmentalised into different aicme (groups), and in more modern times thanks to the ubiquitous Robert Graves they’ve been assigned months. So what could be easier. In January I would study The Rowan, February it would be The Ash, and so on. It was only when I was writing up some practical exercises that meant absolutely nothing to me that it hit me. I was so tied up with the book learning, the ordering, the sequences, that I was completely ignoring the experiential. The single most important thing. Without the experience then we are nothing more than armchair academics, not people fully here in the present, experiencing all that life has to offer. And then I froze, unable to progress.

I know I am not the only person to get this way. We spend our lives regimented, ordered, encouraged to fit into little boxes of explanation and routine. It allows us to make sense of the senseless and derive meaning from the meaningless (but more about that another day). But nature, it’s messy and higgledy piggledy. It happens when it wants, where it wants and pretty much how it wants. Yes there are structures and patterns within it, but it isn’t regimented. Ash Trees burst their buds when the weather has been sufficiently warm enough not because somebody once wrote that they had to sometime around Mid-March. So when we are presented with fuzzy boundaries we stop, try and make the patterns and connections, fit things into little boxes again before we move onwards. So there I was frozen. Then whilst preparing a lesson for a Tarot study group that I run, (which was also failing to fit into designated temporal and physical boxes) I read this lovely quote by the multi-talented Mark Ryan who co-created the original Greenwood Tarot, which has captured the hearts and minds of so many people.

The best advice I ever got about Tarot was: ‘Read the book, meditate with the cards, then put the book away and do your own thing’

I needed to do what I do best, get messy, get dirty, get loud, mix it up and work with what inspired me at the time it inspired me. Be wild, beautiful and unruly. Be that Midday or Midnight, March or May. Forget the tree calender, sure put it in my notes, its an interesting tidbit, forget documenting the trees according to some unfathomable pattern that only the mind of a 20th century genius poet could ever understand. Read the books, meditate on the tree and then put the books away and do my own thing.

Really sometimes moving forward can be as simple as that. Put the books away, sources are really important, but not to the point that you are frozen in academic analysis.

And of course the minute I let go, the inspiration began to flow. I realised that I’d been working with a number of Ogham woods for a very long time, it didn’t matter that they belonged to different aicme or that they might be studied out of order. And of course the irony the wood I chose as my first study was The Ash just as it’s calendar month came around, but you can rest assured the rest won’t fit into that construct. Continue reading

If the Goddess doesn’t love you

I actually thought I’d written about this before, but a search of the site suggests otherwise. I know Ive joked about it online in recent years and my close friends have heard this story at least once. And the synchroncities keep getting such that for at least 2 years I’ve been meaning to make this blog post.  But something happened tonight that I feel its time to put my thoughts out to a wider audience. A few years ago now I had the pleasure of meeting Marian Greene, the author of A Witch Alone. Being a bolshy and decidedly arrogant young thing I didn’t hesitate to give her the benefit of my opinion regarding the quality of her work. Specifically what I thought of a particular chapter in her book The Path through the Labyrinth. It’s actually an excellent book, but somewhat dated, and is difficult to get hold of which is why I don’t recommend it very often. However, it has some interesting concepts and ideals that would leave some spitting feathers. I know I did.

The biggest gripe I had. In fact the primary reason the book hit the deck and the wall more than a few times related to the following paragraph

The Cup or the Chalice, Goblet or Cauldron should always be a gift of love, received by you unasked. If no one loves you enough to give you some symbolic token which can stand in for your magical cup, then the Goddess won’t love you either!

It took me a long time to get past that statement, how ridiculous and condescending. So much so that until recently the rest of the paragraph was lost in a haze of irritation and frustration. I think I even made several comments both at the time and in the intervening years that if “the gods” demanded such things as a criteria for their love then I neither needed them nor wanted them. How rude and presumptuous. And with those thoughts in my mind I went barrelling through my life. And life is hard and requires a lot of barrelling. It was easy to not worry about the rest of the paragrapgh. To forget it even….except I couldn’t.

To be worthy and respected, loved and wanted is the only way to thread the maze of relationships between the human and magical levels. Love yourself, become worthy of loving, love others honestly and you too will be loved and rewarded.

And why couldn’t i forget it you ask, well this is why I cant.

 


Let’s go through this little tale of joy. So the universe apparently likes to take the mick just a bit. My first chalice came fairly shortly after my first big public rant about how people in the closet would be crushed by such off hand statements about the Goddess’ love. A lovely lady named Jay and I were in the charity shops after doing a few days of intensive elemental and tantric  work, there were two Agate cups the same, she grinned and so did I. It was a bond, and more so she wouldn’t let me pay but gave me one of the pair. A permanent and wonderful memory of our magick.

The second two are gifts from my mother, the first she commissioned when I became HPS of my own Coven and I bemoaned the inadequacy of Chalices in large rituals, so she had made a chalice in English elm that would hold a half bottle of wine and then some. Shortly after was my birthday so she also had a one person sized Chalice made. Then came a gift from my then best friend who wrote one of the most important rituals of my life. Followed swiftly by a birthday gift by my current High Priest and High Priestess. I am sure by now you are all laughing. But none more so than me, because when I was feeling very low today as the result of a few friendship transitions, I got given two stunning Olive wood cups by a wonderful friend.

Apparently the universe likes to remind me, that people do love me, when i hit down on the emotional elevator, somebody is there, when I have a major landmark, then apparently the goddess loves me enough that someone else channels it. And reminds me I am worthy and respected enough that the Goddess gives me cups*

*NB Please don’t ever stop giving me cups, it seems i need them and i certainly want them because if nothing else when i am feeling low i can look at them and remember when the Goddess loved me haha!

And in the absence of facts…..Modern Festivals to Hekate

If there is one subject that is guaranteed to get some folks hot under the collar it has to be the trend of celebrating thoroughly modern and historically inaccurate festivals. It is a practise that until just a few years ago I disagreed with quite vehemently. Looking back now it is fair to say that in the early days of writing Temple of Hekate I felt that it was very important that people understood how the ancient Attic calendar really worked and wrote upon it at some length. Although those pages didn’t make the editorial cuts I felt strongly enough about it that at a later date I posted a blog entry so the details were available for all to see. This opinion hasn’t been a passing fad either, but as I stated when I discussed the Deipnon way back in 2009 and is worthy of repeating, I am not a reconstructionist, far from it. But I was and still am very heavily invested in debunking some of the more common “myths” that I had stumbled over myself in my early days of research and practise, so I tended to shy away from the modern, the unverified, and the inaccurate.

I’ve done some perspective changing since that time, quite surprisingly so. I think the first inkling of the change was when we realised that Her Sacred Fires was here to stay. Now hurtling towards its 7th anniversary and showing no signs of slowing down we appear to have created a thoroughly modern festival enjoyed by thousands. And this isn’t the only one. August the 13th is another, a modern date fixed as the result of a mis-understanding of how the Attic calendar worked, but it has grown and swollen and truly become a thing, a world-wide thing. A thing that people can get behind, work together with, create and share and laugh and love. How can this thing be bad?

Furthermore we have literally just celebrated Hekate’s Day on the 16th of November in The Sanctuary of Hekate Enodia. When Mima, my friend and CoH Torchbearer who co-runs the Sanctuary with me suggested we do something to mark the date I nearly fell off my chair. This festival doesn’t even have the dubious honour of being a festival that once existed and got dumped into a modern calendar. This festival has, as far as I am aware, no historical precedence whatsoever. In fact it is the epitome of everything I hate about modern practise, a new thing pretending to be something old. And then it hit me, it’s not the celebration that I hate, in fact I love a good excuse for our Sanctuary to come together and do work. It is the belief that it dates back to some long ago historical practise that fills me with dread.

So we put up some information regarding the provenance of the festival and ahead we went. And all I can say was that the connection between some of the group was quite startling. We were all working remotely but the imagery shared was so similar. So similar that I had to feel that we were getting nothing less than a resounding stamp of approval for our actions and the work and effort we have all been putting in recently. We certainly shall be celebrating this date again, along with Her Sacred Fires and August 13th (which traditionally is the Roman festival Nemoralia and the ill dated Festival of Kourotrophos, Artemis and Hekate – which should actually be celebrated on 16 Metageitnion but let’s not split hairs). At the end of the day the religion of the Greeks and Romans and many others was fluid, it grew and changed and was subject to regional variations. Somethings were adopted, others allowed to pass into memory only, some lost to the ages. If we fail to recognise that then we fall into dogma and fundamentalism. An ethos I decided I did not agree with a long long time ago.

So we shall celebrate these rites, knowing their true nature we shall perform them anyway. We shall lift our heads proudly and say, we created this in honour of the Goddess Hekate, we honour you just as our ancestors did but in times and climes appropriate to us.

En Erebos Phos!

 

 

 

Wait for the Bright Constellation of the Bear to Decline

I have spent the last few days immersing myself in the folklore and magic of Brittany. My main intention was to visit some sites renowned for their Fairy lore and others for their Arthurian connections. Both are topics I am currently writing about for various projects and I often find that visiting a place connected with my work can spur my imagination and get my creative juices flowing, and it has certainly been the case with this visit, but not always in the way that I have imagined.

Today I took the time to visit the Tumulus of Kercado. A tumulus is a burial or ceremonial mound normally of the megalithic or Neolithic period which has maintained its earth work, where as a Dolmen is normally the menhirs (standing stones) and table-stone covering it without the earthwork which would have originally covered it. The Tumulus of Kercado according to the leaflet I procured at the gate is dated to around 4500BCE and is considered to be one of the most complete of its kind, and although it isn’t as big or impressive as the Tumulus of St Michel which I visited yesterday, it actually had a stronger atmosphere, possibly this could be attributed to not having a ruddy great Christian Chapel built on the top of it.

But I digress.

Carved upon the roof of the table-stone, inside the chamber is a “double headed axe” a symbol quite common both in the Megalithic monuments of Brittany and else where in the world. Some scholars have argued quite persuasively that these Axe engravings were a method of stellar and solar time keeping which automatically got me thinking of Hekate. Firstly her connection to the stars through her mother Asteria. But more importantly her potential connection with the Snake Priestess. In Minoan myth, Priestesses were said to carry into ritual the Labrys, another form of double headed Axe.

Whilst there is no proof that the Minoan Snake Goddesses statues dating from 1600BCE and found on Knossos during excavations in the early 20th Century, were either images of Priestesses of Hekate, or even Hekate herself, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that leads many (myself included) to believe there is a connection of some form. One of our most famous descriptions of Hekate comes from Apollonius of Rhodes who claimed that when Jason called upon Hekate Brimo she arrived “garlanded by fearsome snakes that coiled themselves round twigs of oak; the twinkle of a thousand torches lit the scene; and hounds of the underworld barked shrilly all around her”. And her connection with snakes continues for some of the infamous lead/curse tablets found around ancient temples call upon Hekate who is depicted upon the lead strip with snakes. And Medea who depending upon the myth being told was either a Priestess of Hekate or possibly even a Granddaughter had the ability to charm the snakes, and called them forth to aid her in her creation of poisons and also as offerings to the Goddess herself.

But what is very curious about the quote by Apollonius is that he claims that Jason has to wait until for the “bright constellation of the Bear to decline, and then, when all the air from heaven to earth was still” before he could perform his rite to Hekate. Which leads me back to where I started, the Double Axe in Kercado is believed by some to be a form of Astrolabe, circling around Polaris just as the great Bear constellation does. This carvings dimensions allow for calculation of the Equinoxes, the Solstices, as well as moonrise and sunrise. How clever is that, now I wonder is this why the Minoan Priestesses were carrying Labrys’ too? Would it be amazing if we could prove that?!