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“[4.19.1] Heracles, then, delivered over the kingdom of the Iberians to the noblest men among the natives and, on his part, took his army and passing into Celtica and traversing the length and breadth of it he put an end to the lawlessness and murdering of strangers to which the people had become addicted; and since a great multitude of men from every tribe flocked to his army of their own accord, he founded ad great city which was named Alesia after the “wandering” (alê) on his campaign.
[4.19.2] But he also mingled among the citizens of the city many natives, and since these surpassed the others in multitude, it came to pass that the inhabitants as a whole were barbarized. The Celts up to the present time hold this city in honour, looking upon it as the hearth and mother-city of all Celtica. And for the entire period from the days of Heracles this city remained free and was never sacked until our own time; but at last Gaius Caesar, who had been pronounced a god because of the magnitude of his deeds, took it by storm and made it and the other Celts subjects of the Romans.”
Extract from LIBRARY OF HISTORY BOOK IV by Didodorus Siculus
The Greeks were so in awe of the Celts that they took credit for their creation. Greek demigod Heracles, or Hercules was not only closely linked to the Celts, but he was credited as being their physical father. The Greeks were a lot shorter in stature to the Celts, so it seems natural that they would spring from a giant among them.
The tenth labour of Heracles
To accomplish his tenth labour, Hercules had to journey to the end of the world. Eurystheus ordered the hero to bring him the cattle of the monster Geryon. This creature had three heads and three sets of legs all joined at the waist. He lived on an island called Erythia, which was near the boundary of Europe and Libya. On this island, Geryon kept a herd of red cattle guarded by Cerberus’s brother, Orthus, a two-headed hound, and the herdsman Eurytion. Hercules set off on for Erythia, encountering and promptly killing many wild beasts along the way, and he came to the place where Libya met Europe. Here, Hercules built two massive mountains, one in Europe and one in Libya, to commemorate his extensive journey. These mountains became known as the Gates or Pillars of Hercules. The strait Hercules made when he broke the mountain apart is now called the Strait of Gibraltar, between Spain and Morocco, the gateway from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
Sailing in a goblet which the Sun gave him, Hercules reached the island of Erythia. Not long after he arrived, Orthus, the two-headed dog, attacked Hercules, so Hercules bashed him with his club. Eurytion followed, with the same result. Another herdsman in the area reported these events to Geryon. Just as Hercules was escaping with the cattle, Geryon attacked him. Hercules fought with him and shot him dead with his arrows.
When he carried away the oxen of Geryon, he visited the country of the Scythians. Once there, while asleep, his horses suddenly disappeared. When he woke and wandered about in search of them, he came into the country of Hylaea. He then found the Echidna in a cave. When he asked whether she knew anything about his horses, she answered, that they were in her own possession, but that she would not give them up, unless he would consent to stay with her for a time. Heracles accepted the request, and became by her the father of Celtos, Galatos and Iberus, the ancestors of the Celts, Galatians and Iberians.
Although this tale is considered mythology, the names of the Celts, Gauls and Iberians were bestowed on us by the Greeks. Many mythological tales have their beginnings in truth and are embellished over time. However, there is evidence that the Celts, Gauls and Iberians accepted Hercules as their father. Let’s look at some of these.
Breogán, founded a city called Brigantia and built a great tower. From the top of the tower, his son Íth glimpses Ireland. The Gaels, including some of Breogán’s sons, sail to Ireland from Brigantia and agree to divide it between them and the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Irish pagan gods, who take the Otherworld. Brigantia likely refers to A Coruña in present-day Galicia and Breogán’s tower is known as the Tower of Hercules. A Coruña is a city and municipality of Galicia, Spain.
The battle of Alesia in 52 BC that marked the defeat of the Gauls under Vercingetorix by the Romans under Julius Caesar corresponds with Diodorous’ description of a great Celtic city founded by Hercules. Caesar described the battle in detail in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Book VII, 69–90). The battle’s outcome determined the fate of all of Gaul: in winning the battle, the Romans won both the Gallic Wars and dominion over Gaul.
After being conquered by Caesar, Alesia became a Gallo-Roman town. It featured a town centre with monumental buildings such as temples, a theatre and a forum. The location of Alesia was unknown for many centuries until Emperor Napoleon III developed an interest in the location of this crucial battle in pre French history. He was writing a biography of Caesar and saw the command of Vercingetorix over all Gaulish armies as a symbol of the French nation. At the same time he realized that the future French nation was heavily influenced by the Roman victory and centuries of rule over Gaul.
In 1838, a find with the inscription: IN ALISIIA, had been discovered near AliseSainte-Reine in the department Côte-d’Or near Dijon. Napoleon ordered an archaeological excavation by Eugène Stoffel around Mont-Auxois. These excavations in 1861–65 concentrated on the vast Roman siege lines and indicated that the historical Alesia was indeed located there. It was protected by a wall enclosing the area, with at least two pincer gates and in 52 BC it possibly had a population of 80,000 including refugees and men under the command of Vercingetorix.
Later archaeological analysis at Alise-Sainte-Reine has corroborated the described siege in detail. The remains of siege rings said to match Caesar’s descriptions have been identified by archaeologists using aerial photography validating these findings and ending the long debate among archaeologists about the location of Alesia.
A Symbol of Strength and Power
Whether you accept that Heracles/ Hercules was the father of the Celts or not, we can certainly see attributes of him through our Celtic ancestors. The strength and determination he displayed during his trials is echoed in the determination and fighting spirits of the Gauls, Iberians and Celts against the Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The fact that Celtic culture has survived to this day, despite tremendous odds, is a testimony of strength just like Hercules, so he is a great figurehead and role model. I’d be proud to acknowledge him as my father.
Was Lupercalia a Precursor to St. Valentine’s Day?
Lupercalia was held every year, on the 15 February in ancient Rome. It took place in the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by a she-wolf. The Lupercal contained an altar and a grove sacred to the god Lupercus. Since St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated on 14 February many believe that there is a link between this ancient celebratory ritual and the romance of the latter. What actually happened on Lupercalia and is there a link to Valentine’s Day?
The Luperci, who were priests dedicated to Lupercus, assembled on the day of the Lupercalia. They sacrificed animals, namely goats and young dogs, to Lupercus. Lupercus was a fertility God and these animals were specifically chosen because of their strong sexual instinct. Two male Luperci youths of noble birth were then led to the older Luperci. One of the priests then touched their foreheads with a sword dipped in the sacrificial blood. Another priest immediately wiped off the bloody spots with wool dipped in milk. The two youths were then expected to break out into a shout of laughter. This ceremony is believed to be a symbolical purification of the shepherds Romulus and Remus.
After the sacrifice was over, the Luperci partook of a meal, at which they were plentifully supplied with wine. They then cut the skins of the goats which they had sacrificed, into pieces. They covered parts of their body in imitation of the god Lupercus, who was represented half naked and half covered with goatskin. They cut other pieces of the skins into thongs, and ran through the streets of the city, touching or striking persons whom they met in their way, with the thongs.
Women especially came forward willingly, since they believed that this ceremony rendered them fruitful and eased the pains of childbearing. Running with goatskin thongs was considered a purification of the land and that of touching persons a purification of men and women. The goatskin itself was called februum and over time the festive day became “dies februata” and the month in which it occurred Februarius.
Apart from similar dates, links between Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day are tenuous. The two only get equated in the 20th century, partly due to fundamentalist Christians wanting to attack Roman Catholic celebrations and discredit them as pagan. A lover’s festival, however, doesn’t necessarily derive from the ancient fertility rites and flagellation by goats.
There is actually no shred of historical evidence for the connection. In fact, St. Valentine’s Day was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 CE in honour of the Christian martyr, St. Valentine of Rome, who was executed on that date in 269 CE.
Saint Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings to soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. According to legend, Valentine restored sight to the blind daughter of his judge and wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell before his execution.
1 February is St. Brigid’s Day, which has been celebrated for hundreds of years in Ireland. Who was St. Brigid, how is her day celebrated today and what are her links to a much older Celtic Goddess?
According to the story recorded by an Irish Catholic priest, Saint Brigid was born Brigit and her mother was Brocca, a Christian baptised by Saint Patrick. Her father was Dubthach, a Leinster chieftain and Brocca’s slave master. When Dubthach’s wife discovered Brocca was pregnant, she was sold to a Druid landowner.
When Brigid was born, she grew up pure and virtuous and the stories state that she fed the poor and healed the sick. At age ten, Brigid was returned to her father’s home, as he was still her legal master.
Brigid’s charity did not end when she left her mother, and she donated Dubthach’s possessions to anyone who asked. Dubthach tired of Brigid’s charitably nature and took her before the king of Leinster. Whilst Dubthach spoke to the king, Brigid gave Dubthach’s jeweled sword to a beggar, so he could barter it for food for his family. The king witnessed this and convinced Dubthach to grant her freedom saying, “her merit before God is greater than ours.”
On being freed, Brigid returned to the Druid and her mother, now in charge of the Druid’s dairy. Brigid took over from her mother and often gave away milk. However, the dairy still prospered and the Druid eventually freed Brocca.
Brigid’s father Dubthach, had arranged for her to marry a bard, but she refused and made a vow to always be chaste. She devoted her life to the church and at age 40 founded the Church of the Oak, a monastery, which was built above a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, beneath a large oak tree.
Whether St. Brigid is a real historical figure is a matter of great debate. Her feast day was originally a Celtic pagan festival called Imbolc, which marked the midpoint between winter and spring.
Some scholars suggest that St. Brigid is a Christianisation of the goddess Brigid. Others believe she was formerly chief druid at the temple of the goddess Brigid. When she converted to Christianity, she then transformed the temple into a Christian monastery. After her death, the name and characteristics of the goddess became attached to the saint. St. Brigid was made one of Ireland’s three patron saints, alongside St. Columba and the more famous St. Patrick.
Since 2018, St Brigid’s Day Festival in London has become an annual celebration. St. Brigid’s Day is a time to celebrate the enormous creativity and talent of women and is now celebrated at Irish Embassies and Consulates worldwide. From February 2023, St. Brigid’s Day will become a Bank Holiday in Eire.
A Return to the Source. Searching for the Mother Goddess at the Well
Recently, I set out to find an Ogham stone that is northward of Midleton in north-east county Cork. Funnily, it’s a 40 minute drive both from my home in Cork city and my family home in Mogeely . The townland is called Rathcobane and is a few kilometres from the village of Bartemly. The drive ended with a slow drive up a very narrow boreen/botharín (or one of those narrow roads that hints that it once had tarmacadem millennia ago) back in the which ended in a farmyard. Google Maps was saying that it was in a field that was full of cattle and there was no sign of a public access point (nor was there an OPW heritage signpost for it). I went up to the farmhouse and rang the bell. There was no answer and there was no sign of anyone around the farmyard. I waited for a bit in case that someone would eventually show but had to chalk it down for another time to visit. The 3D image and a small history of it’s discovery is found here Rathcobane ogham stone – Download Free 3D model by oghamin3d (@oghamin3d) [a20b515] (sketchfab.com) . But the journey was not an entire waste of time.
I came across an old grotto which was used by Catholics during the Penal Regime. After the time of Cromwell, there were laws passed that were anti-Catholic in both Ireland and Britain which one was that any kind of Catholic religious service was illegal and punishable (sympathetic protestant landowners turned a blind eye to this a lot of the time and let Catholics hold their rites in rural locations away from the public eye on their land). Nearly 500m down the road, there is a parking area for two cars and a small pathway with a sign reading St. Bartholomews Well. You follow a path through a field, over a small footbridge and then to a clearing with wooden benches that surround a natural spring well. The stone structure and steps are from the early 1900’s made by a local builder and there is a recess on the left of the entrance going down to the water which has a plastic jug. At the bottom of the well are plenty of coins left by modern day pilgrims (all Euro coins). The townsland is called Garrynataggart or , as gaeilge, Garraidh an tSagairt ( garden of the priest). This is not the only ‘Holy’ Well named after Bartholomew as there is another in Kinsalebeg, west county Waterford close to the Blackwater river and this one isn’t that far from that river either. According to Christian lore, Bartholomew was one of Christ’s apostles who brought Christianity to Armenia. Apparently, he was martyred by being flayed alive and then crucified as punishment for converting the Armenian king. His feast day is August 24th and the medieval pilgrimage to both sites (there are probably others).
‘Holy’ Wells are natural springs and have Goddesses usually associated with them. The most famous of Irish Tobair Naofa is the Well of Segais. According to medieval texts, this is the site of the death of the mother Goddess Boann which gave birth to the life giving river Boyne of the Lagan or Leinster area. Another is John’s Well up in Mushra mountain in north west Cork which I have written about quite a lot. It is originally the Well of Lasair, Inge Bhuidhe and Latharian who are associated with the harvest cycle or nature cycle which brings us to the characteristics of the mother Goddess archetype. The medieval pilgrimage here is at the Summer solstice. All of these Wells have legends of miraculous cures of afflicted pilgrims. A pilgrims reply to a blog linked below describing Bartholomews Well:-
“Your original blog post provided the knowledge and impetus. This evening, I travelled from Cork for my first ever visit to Bartlemy and to St. Bartholomew’s Well.
It was wet – both overhead and underfoot. When I first arrived, there were only four and I was told that one drank from the well but one should take the water from the flow of water over the rocks having left the well enclosure as it is there that the blind man is reputed to have stumbled and wiped his eyes with the water and regained his sight.
By seven, there were 25 – 30 present. Most appeared to know many present so I expect that the majority were local. The five joyful mysteries were recited followed by a man from the locality thanking all for attending and giving some history of the well.
The weather did not permit note taking so please forgive the missing bits but:
The well is located on private lands (Mr John Arnold who campaigned against the post office closure and regularly writes in the Evening Echo). The bridge was constructed about twenty years previously. Prior to that those visiting the well travelled down an old mass path from the main road up by the adjoining cross. The mass path would have been used historically by locals to attend the local church but would have fallen into disuse with the construction of the roads. One man present, who was resident in the locality for 40 years, recalled clearing the overgrowth from the path to access the well on the pattern day.
There was some thought as to whether the celebration at the well was carried out on seven (or maybe nine) days as a ‘rogation’.
There is a poem/song which includes reference in the first verse to the blind man who gained sight at the well.
The well is understood to come from a deep spring as the height and temperature of water tends not to vary much with the seasons. The well enclosure was constructed in around 1900 upon the direction of Fr. Barry – a priest who is buried in the grounds of the local church and is apparently well known for his deeds. A mason’s name is on a plaque at a nearby well (I cannot recall the mason’s name but it may have been Greaney or similar) and it is assumed that he also constructed the enclosure.”
There is no known explanation as to why the well is called after St Bartholomew – he being one of the apostles, then known as Nathaniel. He headed east to Armenia where he was burned alive and so martyred. He is the patron saint of butchers and so his image generally has a butcher’s knife. The date of celebration of St. Bartholomew was 4th September but was brought back to 24th August with the Gregorian Calendar.
I was unsure as to which came first – whether the well was named in honour of St. Bartholomew after the name of the village or whether the village (and associated horse fair) were named after the saint.
The well is located in a glen. It is thought to possibly have pre-christian origins as many such traditions were encouraged, adopted and Christianised by the church.
It was an evening where I learnt much but also realised that there is very much more to learn
What is interesting to note is that the Christian pattern was originally in September or Mean Fomhair (mid harvest is the direct translation for the month in Irish). Was the Well originally associated with the autumnal equinox? There are some passage tombs dotted around the country which were constructed to herald both equinoxes at sunset as were some larger stone circles (the Dromagorteen stone circle that I visited in Bonane, county Kerry is one such example). The autumnal equinox is also the Irish mid-harvest celebration before the end of harvest celebration of Samhain. I am not claiming that Bartholomew’s Well is traditionally associated with this celebration but local folklore does often hold hidden clues to the past of that particular area. It’s best to look at the river Blackwater. It is 168km long and originates in the Kerry mountains of Mullaghareirk. It travels along north Cork and exits into the Celtic Sea by Youghal town on the Cork/Waterford border. The Blackwater or An Ábhainn Mhór, has a legend associated with it:-
“The ancient kingdom of Caoille covers approximately 250 sq miles of the Blackwater Valley. In the 3rd century AD, High King Cormac mac Airt decided to raise taxes from Fiacha, King of Munster. Fiacha felt that he paid enough tax, and so inevitably, they went to war. Cormac’s Druids made the river and springs run dry, thus depriving the people of Munster access to water. Fiacha called upon Mogh Ruith, a powerful blind magician, for help. Mogh Ruith restored the water and conjured up terrible magical hounds that devoured Cormac’s Druids. His breath turned into storms which blew devastatingly over Cormac’s warriors, turning them to stone. Cormac was defeated, and Fiacha gave the lands of Caoille to Mogh Ruith in reward.”
If we look at this legend, Mogh Ruith’s daughter is Tlachtga, who is a famous and powerful druid who gave birth to three sons and died on the hill in county Meath which is named after her but that is too far from the south of Ireland and rules her out as the associated Divinity.
Fermoy town has a medieval history associated with it and has a historical link with monastic orders such as the Cistercians and neighbouring Carmilites. Viking raids were frequent via the Blackwater from the Youghal Viking port. Fermoy has two female saints associated with it, Cranat and Canir. Both are holy virgins which hints at a Christianisation of Goddesses of Nature such as the famous Brighid and also the three nuns of Mushra, sisters of St. John as well as many others in Ireland. Both of these ‘saints’ defy the typical submissive female role of medieval Irish writings.
“Cranat, a saint of only local importance, was affiliated to Fir Maige Féne, a mid-ranking Munster people who have given their name to Fermoy. The saint, who seems to have flourished in the sixth century, is not mentioned in the annals and was probably little known outside Fir Maige. Her two major church dedications, Kilcranatan (Cell Cranatan) and Hermitage (Dísert Cranatan), are in that people’s territory. Indeed, the link between saint and Fir Maige is underlined by the claim that Cranat was the uterine sister of their king. It is possible, although unlikely, that she is the same as the Cráebnat commemorated on July 17 in the Martyrology of Donegal. Meagre details can be supplemented by a short later medieval Life of Cranat that draws on early medieval traditions and is certainly indebted, as will become apparent, to the Lives of Brigit. There is no reason to think it is anything other than a male product. The question remains as to whether it records female aspirations. The Life is no more than an anecdote which purports to describe the defining moment in Cranat’s career, a moment when she successfully opposes Cairpre Crom († 579/80), King of Munster, and asserts her autonomy. Cairpre attempts to marry the saint against her will, with the full approval of Fínán, her half-brother and king of Fir Maige Féne. Cranat, being a woman, would have been legally at the mercy of her male kindred, but she is more than a woman and, as a saint, adopts miraculous strategies. She decides to preserve her virginity through the tried and trusted ascetic method of self-mutilation. Cranat’s mutilation is arresting—she plucks out both her eyes. This is described in the following scene: … ro chinn ina menmain na raghadh go fer 7 nach millfedh a hoige… Ocus ro bhen a dí súil asa cinn 7 dosfucc i llaimh na dí chailleach battar ina farradh .i. Maelbracha 7 Laithche. …she made up her mind that she would not go to a man and that she would not ruin her virginity…. And she struck her two eyes out of her head and she put them into the hands of the two nuns, Máel Bracha and Laithche, who were in her company.
Canir was a little known saint of Benntraige in south Munster and, if her association with Senán is anything to go by, she flourished in the sixth century. Senán was a major saint and his monastery, Inis Cathaig on Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary, was a major church. Canir appears in an episode towards the end of his medieval vernacular Life. It bears the hallmarks of being an originally independent anecdote, particularly as Senán is not portrayed in the normal heroic light. The episode describes how Canir, a holy virgin, is praying in her Benntraige hermitage when she has a vision of all the churches in Ireland. A pillar of fire rises from each, but the highest blazes from Inis Cathaig and Canir decides that she wishes to die and be buried there. The saint travels north until she reaches the Shannon Estuary. This is no obstacle and she walks across water, only to be accosted just before landfall by an unwelcoming Senán. He refuses to allow Canir ashore, simply because she is a woman. Senán’s overt misogyny is overturned by Canir in the following dialogue: ‘Ni thiagat mna a n-indsi-sea’, ol Senán. ‘Cid dia ta latsa sin?’ ol Canir. ‘Ni messa Crist, ar ni lugha thainic do thathcreic ban inás do thathcreic fher. Ni lugha roces ardaigh ban inás ardaigh fher. Robhatar mná oc umaloid 7 oc timterecht do Crist 7 dia aps[t]alaib. Ní lugha, dano, thiaghuit mna isin bhflaith nemhdha inait fir. Cidh, dano, arna gebhtha-sa mná cucat at indsi?’ ‘Is talchar atai’, ar Senán. ‘Women do not come to this island’, said Senán. ‘Where did you get that arrangement?’ said Canir. ‘Christ is no worse than you, for he came to redeem women no less than to redeem men. He did not suffer less for the sake of women than for the sake of men. Women have given humble service and ministration to Christ and to his apostles. Women then, no less than men enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Why, then, would you not take women to you onto your island?’ ‘You are stubborn’, said Senán. Senán acquieses. Canir steps ashore, receives the sacrament from him, dies and is buried. One of the most noteworthy aspects of this episode is the way Senán ignores Canir’s walk across water, a miracle that marks her out as a saint and imitator of Christ. Instead it is her verbal abilities that convince the male saint and leave him, for all practical purposes, speechless.”
The above is taken from the published work of Elva Johnston, Dept. of Early Irish History, University College Dublin and her paper “Powerful Women or Patriarchal Weapons?”.
These are local folklore of the township Fermoy or the thuath Fir Maige Féne. The two saints described above do bear striking similarities to the christianised aspects of the mother Goddess archetype. There are two aspects that stand out. First with Cranat and that is she had two other nuns with her which gives us the 3 aspects of Nature( as with Lasair, Inge Bhuidhe and Latharian of Mushra). The second is with Canir and that is that she was walking on the surface of the water(even though that is not what impressed Senán but her verbal eloquence which was more valued by the medieval monastics. It would be my guess from the above that the Wells of Bartholomew are associated with one of these as an Irish Goddess of Nature.
Whenever you see the Wheel of the Year, Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane are clearly marked. However, for some peculiar reason the ancient Irish celebration of Lughnasadh is usurped with Lammas.
Lughnasadh is established in Celtic Mythology and our article on Áenach Tailteann and Lughnasadh establishes that it was set up by Lugh to honour his foster mother, who died after cultivating the fields of ancient Ireland as a celebration. The word “Lammas” on the other hand is from Old English and means “loaf mass”. In early Christianity, the first loaves of the season were blessed by the church during mass, hence the name.
Why then, would any pagan want to substitute a name honouring a Celtic deity, with one from a Christian celebration? Some of this comes from the Druid renaissance of the late 1700’s. Druids of that era aligned themselves with Christianity. Even Iolo Morgannwg’s Druid Prayer originally said “Lord” not “Great Spirit”, “Goddess” or specific deity. Granted there are Christian Druids, so understandably they could use Lammas. However, they don’t use Candlemass for Imbolc, or May Day for Beltane or Halloween for Samhain, so the inconsistencies with Lammas are astounding.
What is even more astounding, though, is that Wiccans and other pagans also refer to Lughnasadh by its Christian counterpart. So a plea, please to my pagan brothers and sisters. Can we start honouring the ancients and call Lughnasadh by its original name.
What is Lughnasadh?
Lughnasadh or Lughnasa (pronounced Loo-na-sa) is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa, in Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal, and in Manx: Luanistyn. Traditionally it is held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox.
It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and (as previously mentioned) the English Lammas. The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. It inspired great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking, and trading.
Ancient religious rites included an offering of the First Fruits, a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull, and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. Many of the activities would have taken place on top of hills and mountains.
Lughnasadh customs persisted widely until the 20th century, with the event being variously named ‘Garland Sunday’, ‘Bilberry Sunday’, ‘Mountain Sunday’ and ‘Crom Dubh Sunday’. The custom of climbing hills and mountains at Lughnasadh has survived in some areas, although it has become a Christian pilgrimage. A number of fairs are also believed to be survivals of Lughnasadh, for example, the Puck Fair.
Modern pagans usually celebrate Lughnasadh on 1 August in the Northern Hemisphere and 1 February in the Southern Hemisphere, often beginning their festivities at sunset the evening before. Some pagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the summer solstice and autumn equinox, or the full moon nearest this point. In 2022, this astronomical midpoint falls on 7 August (Northern hemisphere) or 4 February (Southern hemisphere).
Evidence about ancient Celtic calendars, seems to concur, that they followed a Lunisolar calendar, with intercalary months added. So it is likely that Lughnasadh is more of a lunar, than solar festival, with the Celtic month starting at the first quarter (according to Caesar).
For the Order of Celtic Wolves, Lughnasadh is seen as a time to give thanks to the spirits and deities for the beginning of the harvest season, and to propitiate them with offerings and prayers not to harm the still-ripening crops. The god Lugh is honoured by many at this time, and gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings. Many also honour the goddess Tailtiu at Lughnasadh, and may seek to keep the Cailleach from damaging the crops, much in the way appeals are made to Lugh.
During Lughnasadh, it was popular to celebrate Handfastings. This included trial marriages, that lasted one year and one day. If the couple was still happy after that period, it could be made permanent, otherwise, it could be broken, without any consequences and each would be free to remarry. Others would make their bonds from the previous year permanent.
So, however you celebrate Lughnasadh may your harvest be bountiful and whatever deities you follow (or don’t follow) may you have a blessed time. May you eat well, drink well and maintain good health.
“There are 100 ways to accomplish your goal. Chose one and attain your dream.” Sara McFadden, Irish Visually Impaired Rally Navigator.
Slíabh a haon.
Last year, I stopped at an area outside Kenmare just before the Cork/Kerry border at Cath’s Pass called ‘Druid’s View’ when I was travelling back from the Ardgroom stone circle. It’s a beautiful area nestled in the mountains on the other side of the ‘Pap’s of Anu’. Coming up to the area, I drove past a turn-off adverting ‘Banone Heritage Park’ and made a mental note to check it out when I got the chance. A year later, while on a week’s holidays from work, I made a family day out of it and we set off at 10am. This time, I was not using any route planned by ‘Google Maps’ and decided to go the main roads instead of travelling the “quickest route” along secondary roads (Google have never travelled these roads and are making it up as they go along, is my personal opinion from my experience of getting lost in the wilds of west Cork and Kerry using their service.)
The road trip was picturesque, travelling from Cork suburbia alongside the yawning trail of the Óllpheist Laoi, past the lone orthostat at the side of the road coming into Lissarda, seeing a graffiti artists impression of an Morrigú alongside a portal dolmen painted on the side of a white building in Macroom town, passing by the castle of Carrignapooka, through the Gaeltacht of Ballymacire and Ballyvourney, coming upon the ‘Paps of Anu’ as you enter the Kerry border and turn off for Kilgarvan. This road is beautiful. One minute you are travelling through wooded areas and then into limestone protruding green mountainous areas which are a reminder of the glacial movement of the last Ice Age. Then as you travel to ‘Druid’s View’, the mountains rise in front of you. There you enter the Heritgae Park and pull up the car beside the reconstructed Crannóg sitting in a pond at the base of the trail (or trial as my partner put it).
The heritage part has several sites ranging from the neolithic, bronze age, medieval up to the time of An Gorta Mór. We went up the mountain using the ‘Druid’s Walk’ (easier gradient) and came across the Dromgorteen Ringfort. It is very impressive for its size and depth of the surrounding ditch. When I tried to picture how it was like back in its time of use, I could see cattle-raiders thwarted alone by the natural defenceof the ringfort. It was such a strategic location. The corbelled walls were still intact and exposed for inspection. The view of the surrounding area was amazing.
Further up, the stone circle comes into view and is very impressive. A large central stone (Bronze Age burial marker) inside a group of surrounding stones. You had the solstice entrance between the two portal stones and a unique astronomical feature where it marks out Imbolg/Samhain and also both equinoxes as well with two stones on either side of the axial stone (opposite the portal stones). It also catches the moon rise between two further mountain peaks. It has an adjoining fulacht fiadh and further nearer to the peak, there is an upright bullaun stone and a singular orthostat. There is also a path leading to the remnants of a 17th abandoned Gorta Mór homestead that serves as a reminder of mans inhumanity to man during times of hardship, The former blighted furrows are a stark reminder behind the remaining thick stoned walls of the small homestead. Then it was the downwards journey using ‘Fionn’s Hill’ which is the steeper gradient.
It is a 2km journey through time which I was grateful to be able to accomplish with my loved ones but that is not the whole tale.
Slíabh a dhó.
My partner is visually impaired and has achieved a lot in her lifetime. She is involved with the Irish organisation, Vision Sports, who are a voluntary body that make sports inclusive for the visually impaired. My partner has involved herself in walking groups, swimming, tennis, and soccer which has been made possible by Vision Sports. The body got in contact with Motorsports Ireland and something wonderful was made possible last year.
I bought my partner a ticket for Mondello Racing track where she could sit in the car alongside a rally driver and experience a race first hand as well as being able to drive the track for a few laps under the supervision of a driving instructor. The park was fairly packed with other visually impaired people from all over the country and I was amazed with such a good turnout. It was a mix of those who have been impaired from birth or from an incident that occurred later in life. The age group ranged from 13 to 81.
The first part was the driving of the track for a few laps under the guidance of the driving instructors who brought automatic dual control cars. This was a great opportunity for those who had never driven before or haven’t been able to get back behind the wheel since an incident (something a lot of us take for granted with our own sight). In the afternoon, they got to ride shotgun in rally cars with drivers who made sure their passengers got the full experience. My partner loved it and she was very nervous at the start especially getting behind the wheel for the first time. She did it.
There was a speech held halfway through and it was there where Sara McFadden spoke as a guest speaker. She is an employee at Mondello Park and is a Rally navigator. Not only that, she is also visually impaired. She did not let that get in her way to achieve what was her dream. She found a way to be a navigator in the shotgun seat of a professional rally team. “There are 100 ways to accomplish your goal. Choose one and attain your dream.” That is a very inspiring quote from someone who did accomplish her goal even when the odds were firmly stacked against her. You can read a newspaper article on her journey here ‘Rallying is her passion’: Teen to become one of Ireland’s first visually impaired rally navigators (thejournal.ie)
In our lives, there are many mountains to climb. There are many paths to the summit. While there are some who take everything for granted and have the option of picking the easy way (‘Druid’s Walk’), there are others who have no choice but take ‘Fionn’s Hill’ and more often than not they put the moaners and begrudgers to shame. Another person who is a prime example is my partners younger sister who is also visually impaired since birth. She has a PhD in Irish Law and is the first Irish Visually Impaired woman to complete the ‘7 marathons, 7 continents,7 day’s’ challenge and is an ultra-athlete Cork lawyer Dr Sinead Kane shortlisted for Outstanding Young Persons of the World | Irish Legal News . Before anyone tries to point out something, none of these two ladies come from financially well-to-do families. They built themselves from the ground upwards against the odds and succeeded with a passion that very few people can build up within themselves. They pave the way for others who do not all have the same adversaries but the similar path. These are the people who we should take our inspirations from.
Bígí linn leis na daoine atá ag barr an tslíab agus bainigí sult as an radharc.
The Seat of the Kings of Munster: A History (Rock of Cashel)
In a previous post I mentioned passing St. Declan’s Way while cycling in county Waterford. This is a Pilgrimage Trial that extends from the coastal town of Ardmore in county Waterford to the Rock of Cashel in county Tipperary. Typical of Ireland, it is by no means a straight line and goes through certain places on the way (it’s a long way to Tipper…..okay, I’ll stop now).
“It follows the route that Declan took when going to Cashel to meet Saint Patrick in the fifth century. In turn, it is the way that Pilgrims have taken to visit Saint Declan’s monastery, holy well and grave in Ardmore for the past one and a half thousand years.”
It starts at the Well and monastic site dedicated to Declan in Ardmore, County Waterford and travels through Aglish, Cappoquin, Lismore, Mount Melleray, across the Knockmealdown Mountains into county Tipperary where you travel through Goatenbridge, Ardfinnan, Cahir, and finally to the base of the Rock where Patrick supposedly preached to the masses at the time. All the towns mentioned here have medieval Norman and monastic foundations. The monastic ruins in Ardmore date to the 12th Century and so do the ecclesiastic building upon the Rock of Cashel. The Viking settlements of Cork and Waterford which are on both sides of Ardmore even predate them, so the above folklore quote has a very big hole in it speaking from a historical evidence point of view. But in saying that, Cashel has a very rich history of regal splendour, architecture, and deep sadness that comes from great horror and tragedy.
“Patrick came across the Devil in a cave in the mountains and a spiritual struggle ensued. Defeated the Devil bit a piece of the mountain and spat it at Patrick before retreating. The rock landed 20 miles away and became the Christian conversion platform of Patrick.”
I arrived here as a day out for my partner and myself as the seoíge was staying with her cousin for the Bank Holiday weekend. The weather was terrible, and it was bucketing down from the heavens all the way from Cork up the country. Found a small museum which was very interesting, and it shed light on different areas of the history of Cashel from the Bronze Age, medieval times, the Great Famine, right up to Elizebeth II’s visit. Their collection was impressive for a small building from Bronze Age Bog Butter (4000 years old), a single menhir rescued from nearby Queensfield, Giant Elk skulls, medieval ecclesiastic paraphernalia, a genuine Blueshirt uniform, genuine RIC uniform, the original Gorta Mór anniversary painting for the Choctaw tribal visit to Dublin Castle in 1995, among many others. The museum was once the old Famine Workhouse building as well. But I will get to that later.
“During his reign, Óengus mac Nad Froích, was converted to Christianity by Patrick on the mount of Cashel. During the baptism, Patrick planted his Crozier into the ground but it passed through the Rí’s foot. Óengus remained silent and endured it throughout the entire rite. Patrick was horrified at what he had done but the Rí said he thought it was part of the ceremony.”
Cashel was the ruling seat of the Munster Ard Rí of the Eóganacht Dynasty from at least the 7th Century right up until the 10th Century. They lost their right to rule by the Dál Cais . This remained until the Rí Muirchertach Ua Briain donated the site to the church in 1101. The first building was built by Conall Corc, the Rí of Munster between the 4th and 5th Century. The Rock is an elevated site, and you can clearly see why it was strategically chosen as the view is fantastic from all sides and can be easily defended against the rival Tuatha’s of Leinster (in particular, neighbouring Osraige which kept changing hands until possibly the 9th Century). Brian ‘Boru’ mac Cennétig, the famous Ard Rí of Ireland was crowned there in 978. The donation of the site to the church was politically motivated. Brian Boru’s grandson, Muirchertach, was still of the Dál Cais. This ensured that the Eóganacht could never try to raise a sword to reclaim what was once theirs.
Two of the earliest structures that survive today are the Round Tower and Cormac’s chapel which were constructed in the 12th Century. The chapel has Romanesque style architecture. Three friaries were also built in the neighbouring vicinity. The Benedictines, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans. The Benedictines were ousted by the Cistercians at a later date (I don’t know the reason why).
The cathedral was builit in the 12th Century in a cruciform layout. The central tower was built in the 14th Century and the residential castle was constructed in the 15th Century. Walking through the ruin gives you an idea of the amount of workmanship that was put into its construction. The gothic arches are still striking and the immense barrel-vaulted ceiling of the central point of the cruciform is a testimony to the engineering of the time. You can still make out the different layers of lime plaster in patches and there is still a preserved piece of Celtic style ecclesiastic wall art still there. Some mural carvings have been restored. There are burial plots of long-passed venerated clerics inside the building and outside amongst all the high crosses are even burials dating to a few years ago. In the far end corner is a burial area belonging to a prominent family. The Scully’s paid for a very impressive carved high cross and had it erected in 1867. During the 1975 renovations, a lightening rod was attached to it. In 1976, lightening stuck the cross and destroyed the top of it. The fallen part is still at the foot of the hill outside the grounds.
Up until the 1600’s, ownership of Irish land was 80% Irish Catholics. Cromwell came to Ireland and the Irish Confederate wars began. As an aftermath this percentage changed dramatically to 10%. In 1647, a descendant of Brian Boru, Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin brought English parliamentarian troops to Cashel. The Catholic population fled to the walled cathedral grounds and O’Brien’s troops laid siege. He demanded immediate surrender and a fee of 3 thousand pounds. He also demanded that the bishop Theobald Stapleton surrender personally stripped naked of his vestments. Stapleton refused to shed his clothes and O’Brien had him burned alive. He also ordered the slaughter of most of the surrendered populace who were men, women, and children. Legend claims that the number was as high as 3000. The area where the slaughter took place is named Bóthar na Mairbh or Road of the Dead.
During an Gort Mhór (the Great famine) of 1845-52, a workhouse was in Cashel built (where the museum now stands) for the starving evictees. During this time, the Irish population declined and to this day has never reached the same level as it was then. The decrease was due to emigration, starvation, and also disease. One of the main causes of fatalities from disease was from the workhouses. The idea of the workhouse was to provide meagre sustenance in exchange for hard labour which could also contribute to death from exhaustion. The people were packed like sardines in a small hall. Because of such large populations in a tight space, disease would spread like wildfire and would be extremely fatal to both the malnourished and injured.
That is as much history of Cashel as I can give without delving too much and literally boring the pants off you. If you ever have the chance to visit, remember the fact that this rock was once the seat of kings and that the famed ‘Lion of Ireland’ was coronated here. Be inspired by the engineering feats and the fine craftsmanship regardless of creed. But also remember the tragedy of the death and suffering of the innocent regardless of creed.
I have already shown you a picture of a map of East Cork/West Waterford with heritage sites mapped out, that I received last Bealtaine in the post Imrama agus Imbas ag an Bealtaine – Home | Order of Celtic Wolves (wordpress.com). Last year, I went on a holiday to Tramore with my best friend and we brought along the families. It is a typical seaside holiday town with a large coastline, large themed swimming pool, late opening funfair, a slot machine hall, horse racing track, old style fish and chip shops, etc. etc. I could go on but if you are familiar with Blackpool in England then you get the idea. My buddy and his family love this type of thing and he has a passion for pop culture with a large collection he amassed over the years. The four girls were in their element (both young and old). Across from the hotel, there is a carpark and, in the carpark, there is a sign which I found unusual to find in this funfair orientated tourist spot. Titled “The Dolmen Drive”.
It’s a good spot as it will capture the attention of those who have interest in the local history or prehistory in this case. Unfortunately I did not get the time to go to even one of them as I knew my friend and his family would not enjoy it like myself and my little seoíge would. Fortunately, I am returning to Tramore later in the Summer after the Grianstad, and then I will take time out to visit some but hopefully all of these. Here is a list and links of some of them.
Dromlohar Standing Stones (you need to remember that this is a reconstruction as some of the 5th ogham stones, suggesting that burials continued up to this time, were taken from their original site and used in constructing a nearby church centuries later.)
There is another site that is not mentioned in the ‘ring’ and that is this one which boasts of a rare Irish tomb architecture which is the tomb at Ballynamona which is the only court cairn in the southeast of Ireland. It is also only one of four known to exist south of a line from Dundalk to Galway. Ballynamona Court Cairn in County Waterford is the only court cairn in the southeast. The name comes from the fact that this type of tomb usually has a courtyard area found at the entrance to the chambers. Of the court -originally 7 metres wide and 6 metres deep – only a few of the large orthostats remain, but the gallery, on the other hand, is well preserved. The entrance is marked by two very small jambs set inside the front edges of the wall slabs which form the gallery. A single slab divides the gallery into two separate chambers.
I hope in the near future to share with you my personal photos of these when I eventually get to visit them. Go raibh maith agaibh as do chuid ama a ghlacadh ag léamh an aiste ghearr seo agus as féachaint ar na seoda ársa seo.
The exact dates of Midsummer festivals vary among different cultures, but is primarily held close to the summer solstice. The celebration predates Christianity, and has existed under different names and traditions around the world.
St. John’s Day
Although we all know that the birth of Jesus is celebrated on December 25th to tie in with the Winter Solstice, the birth of St. John the Baptist was designated as June 24th around the 4th century at a similar time Christmas was first established. These were both established during the first council of Nicea, convened by Constantine I, Emperor of Rome and the first to convert to Christianity, held in 325 CE.
In the Gospels, John, born of Mary’s sister Elizabeth was exactly 6 months older than Jesus. The significance of this is John the Baptist “was understood to be preparing the way for Jesus”, with John 3:30 stating “He must increase, but I must decrease”; this is symbolised by the Sun beginning to diminish after the summer solstice and eventually increasing after the winter solstice.
Up to the Council of Nicea, though, birthdays and special designated days were avoided by Christians, with only a Mass held around the Passover to mark his death and resurrection.
The Council also outlawed Arianism, named from Arius, that disputed the divine nature of Jesus as having a beginning, being begotten from his father. As opposed to him being one and the same as his father. This was actually pre Trinity, but the doctrine was the duality of the Godhead.
To say that the Council of Nicea basically took pagan ideas and Christianised them might be going too far. However, given the former beliefs of many and the cultures that prevailed at that time, it is highly likely that Christianising pagan celebrations, such as the Solstices, would give a previously simple Church a more universal appeal to potential converts.
It is likely then, that St John’s Day celebrations draw from much older pre Christian Summer Solstice celebrations. The seasonality of the celebrations with the decreasing and increasing being applied to days certainly has an old world pagan feel to it. It is actually far more like that John was born around March/April and Jesus around September/October time, but that’s a more indepth discussion.
The fires of St. John
Throughout Christendom “Saint John’s fires” are lighted on mountains and hilltops on the eve of his feast. These probably have a much older pagan connection.
In Ireland the celebration is also called “Tine Cnámh” meaning Bone Fire. Lit by the oldest present, the youngest present would throw in a bone as part of the celebrations. As part of some customs after the dancing and celebrations were over, revellers would bring home a spent ember from the fire, this was thrown into a field to bring good fortune in the year to come.
In his poem “The Sisters,” published in 1861, Limerick poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere describes “Bonfire Night” or “St. John’s Day Eve” in a post-Great-Famine world that still lay in ruins: –
“At last, After our home attain’d, we turn’d, and lo! With festal fires the hills were lit! Thine eve Saint John, had come once more, and for thy sake As though but yesterday thy crown were worn, Amid their ruinous realm uncomforted The Irish people triumph’d. Gloomy lay The intermediate space; — thence brightlier burn’d The circling fires beyond it. ‘Lo!’ Said I, Man’s life as view’d by Ireland’s sons; a vale With many a pitfall throng’d, and shade, and briar, Yet overblown by angel-haunted airs, And by the Light Eternal girdled round.”
Herbs and Potions
As the first day of summer, Saint John’s Day is considered in ancient folklore one of the great “charmed” festivals of the year. Hidden treasures are said to lie open in lonely places, waiting for the lucky finder. Divining rods should be cut on this day. Herbs are given unusual powers of healing, which they retain if they are plucked during the night of the feast. St John’s Wort is the best known of these herbs. In Germany people bring these herbs to church for a special blessing.
In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Eve, Oberon seeks to punish Titania. He calls upon Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, his “shrewd and knavish sprite”, to help him concoct a magical juice derived from a flower called “love-in-idleness”, which turns from white to purple when struck by Cupid’s arrow. When the concoction is applied to the eyelids of a sleeping person, that person, upon waking, falls in love with the first living thing they perceive.
Love-in-idleness is actually a reference to the wild pansy, botanical name Viola Tricolor. And Shakespeare is drawing from Roman Mythology, in which Cupid shot one of his arrows at the imperial votaress, but missed and instead struck it. As Cupid is the god of desire, affection and erotic love, the flower’s juice received the trait, to act as a love potion.
Spirits Roam The Earth
In Scandinavia and in the Slavic countries it is an ancient superstition that on Saint John’s Day witches and demons are allowed to roam the earth. As at Halloween, children go the rounds and demand “treats,” straw figures are thrown into the flames, and much noise is made to drive the demons away.
In Shakespeare’s time it is also highly likely that similar beliefs were held, considering the supernatural content of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Midsummer Pole
In some Northern European countries, such as Sweden, the Bonfire customs are no longer part of Midsummer (and reserved for Walpurgis Night), but a form of Maypole is erected.
This Midsummer pole is decorated with greenery and flowers. The maypole is a comparatively new part of Swedish Midsummer tradition. It came to Sweden in the late Middle Ages from Germany, where the pole was decorated with leaves and raised on May 1 (hence the name).
Since spring comes later to Sweden it was hard to find the greenery to decorate the pole on May 1, so the tradition was moved to Midsummer. Some sources also attribute the perpetuation of the term majstång, or maypole, to the archaic Swedish word maja, meaning “to decorate with green leaves.”
Traditional dress is worn and in some areas males dress as the green man (with green faces an garnered in greenerer), whilst females are adorned in flowers. Traditional music is played and they dance around the Midsummer pole.
Midsummer was considered to be a time of magic, and anything to do with nature was thought to have a special power. Gathering flowers to weave into wreaths and crowns was a way to harness nature’s magic to ensure good health throughout the year. Even though most people these days probably are unaware of the magical origins of the tradition, weaving crowns of flowers is still a major part of any Midsummer observance.
A Time of Romance
“If music be the food of love, then play on.”
Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” demonstrates that Midsummer was a time of romance (or unrequited love – we’ve all been there, or will go there at some point).
A Swedish verse says, “Midsummer night is not long but it sets many cradles to rock.” For maidens, it’s said that if you pick seven (or sometimes nine) types of flowers and place them under your pillow, you will dream of your future husband. So Midsummer is a time to enjoy romance and embracing natural sexual attraction and pairing.
In the old days in Finland, unmarried women would use special charms and bend over a well, naked, in order to see their future husband’s reflection.
The Midsummer Feast
Of course, no celebration is complete without a feast. InSweden, Midsummer is a national holiday, second only to Christmas and always celebrated on the closest Saturday. All Swedes take to the countryside and after celebrating they have a picnic lunch of pickled herring with potatoes, dill and chives, whilst drinking nubbe (vodka schnapps).
In Latvia, folks feast on bacon pie and sweet beer. Italians vary and have regional midsummer traditions. In Rome, people eat snails, believing that these horned creatures will protect the consumer from devilry. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, you may prefer the traditional dishes of northern Italy. There they prepare dishes (including salads with fresh tomatoes) with aged balsamic vinegar.
Stonehenge and other ancient monuments
In Britain, Midsummer is connected with music festivals and Glastonbury. Stonehenge is considered THE place to be.
Stonehenge is aligned with the Solstices and dates back over 5000 years, a huge gap between the building of Stonehenge and St John’s Day. At Stonehenge on the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone in the north-east part of the horizon and its first rays shine into the heart of Stonehenge.
English Heritage provide free Managed Open Access to Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice. However, Stonehenge is a significant World Heritage Site and to many it is sacred. So a plea goes out respect the stones and all those who are attending. In previous years, Stones have been marked and descrecated by disrespectful attendees.
Amplified music, alcohol, illegal drugs and disorderly behaviour are not tolerated at Stonehenge, though difficult to police due to the sheer numbers that attend. It is a sacred place and the Order of Celtic Wolves suggest that the nearby music festivals are the places to party, whilst you take in the atmosphere and absorb the magical field around the Stones.
There are also many other wonderful Stone Circles around, so maybe choose to celebrate the Solstice at a quieter event, if you are like me and enjoy a bit of peace and contemplation.
To finish (pun intended) let’s look at the traditions of Finland, where Midsummer is the main national holiday. Midsummer is the high point of summer in a land that sees continuous Sun during this period and the most popular time to start annual vacations.
Like Sweden it takes place on the Saturday between the 20th and 26th of June. In Finland it was a tribute to Ukko, the god of thunder. Since he controlled the rain, you had to appease him in order to get a good harvest.
Bonfires were also burned in Finland, a ritual that continues today. Although in the Swedish-speaking areas of the country people have been happy just to put up a well-decorated maypole.
In modern times in Finland, Midsummer is also a celebration of Saint John (hence the Finnish name for the holiday: Juhannus), a time for some people to consume vast quantities of alcohol and a popular weekend for weddings and confirmations.
In Finland, it is a time for barbecues, plenty of drinking with friends on country vacations, with plenty of alcohol.
So, whether you are pagan or a Christian there are plenty of traditions based around the Solstice, or make your own. I like nothing better in Britain than meeting with friends, enjoying a ritual and having a nice bowl of strawberries and cream.
Solstice Blessings to all from all of us at the Order of Celtic Wolves 🙏
Senbecc grandson of Ebrecc, from the sídhe, came from the plain of Segais seeking imbas, and Cú Chulainn encountered him on the River Boyne. Cú Chulainn captured him, and he explained that he had come looking for the fruit of the nuts of a fair-bearing hazel. There are nine fair-bearing hazels from he got imbas: it used to drop into the wells, so that the stream bears the imbas into the Boyne. Then Senbecc sang to him some of his lore, and a song:
“I am not a lad, I am not a man,
I am not a child in learning.
The mysteries of god had made me gifted.
I am Abcán, a sage of learning, a poet from Segais.
Senbecc is my name, Ebrecc’s grandson from the sídhe.”
Then Senbecc offered great rewards to Cú Chulainn for letting him go free, and Cú Chulainn would not grant it. Then he stretched out his hand to his harp. He played him a wailing-strain, so that he was wailing and lamenting; he played him a laughing-strain so that he was laughing; and finally he played him a sleeping-strain so that he cast him into slumber. Then Senbecc escaped down the Boyne in a bronze boat.
Imrama agus imbas leis an carr
On the first Sunday of the month, I travelled up to Beenalaght early in the morning hoping to conduct my Bealtaine personal decompression ritual at sunrise but unfortunately it was raining down from the heavens all through the half hour drive. By the time I had walked through the field from the car up to the standing stones, it stopped and then continued to pour when I got back to the car after the ritual. I was very lucky on that one but unfortunately still couldn’t catch the sunrise coming through the Bronze Age monuments. Later, my partner suggested that we go to a Bealtaine Fair in a village called Knockanore north of Youghal as a family day trip as she is originally from the area and wanted to show the little seoíge where her mammy spent time as a little girl. The fair was a small craft exhibition in an equally small community hall, and I was inwardly groaning but I came across an exhibit hosted by the KGK (Knockanore Glendine and Kilwatermoy) Heritage and Historical Society. My partner did a face palm. While she went around the various stalls, I was caught up in conversation. They recently (in the last few years previous to the pandemic lockdown) uncovered a Bronze Age burial urn (which is the one pictured on their poster) and donated it to the Cork Museum of History. I had never realised how many standing stones, ogham stones and ring forts were in the area ( and I thought West Cork and East Kerry were heavily populated with them). I was given a printout of a map with very one of the above that the group had located.
I couldn’t go around the area looking for some of these sites as time was pressing on and it was a family day out, but journeys have their rewards and the best ones are those that are completely unexpected (like finding a heritage conservation group in the middle of nowhere). My partner wanted to go to Glendine church which is in a deep small valley halfway between Knockanore and Youghal along the Blackwater to show the seoíge another place of her childhood. On both sides of the road, the floor is carpeted with beautiful blue flowers in between trees for miles. There is a beautiful small waterfall that comes out from under the road and makes up for its size with harmonious noise. There is lime cast steps that lead to nothing up the side of the hill ( I read up later that there was a national school there for several years from 1865 onwards before there ever was a church built there later around 1890 ). There area is so beautiful, it’s no wonder nature is a religion in herself. You could spend hours there just wandering around listening to the water roar in the background just lost in contemplation.
Imrama agus imbas leis an bad
Last year I bought an inflatable two seat kayak and never got the chance to use it for a whole year. Finally, I got out at 5.30am on Sunday morning a week later and headed out to Passage West in Cork Harbour. The water was so calm and there was a thick mist all around. It was nothing but total peace. I paddled up alongside the Greenway (it’s an old railway line that was converted to a cycleway and walkway) between Passage and Rochestown and back. I even went out a small bit out into the mouth surrounding myself with the early morning mist on all sides which reminded me of the Myth of the Gaedhil looking for the shores of Ireland to exact revenge for their slain brother, Ith. In my minds eye, I could see the figure, Amergin, rise up amongst the warriors and sing his famed amhrán (song) which lifted the heavy blanket of fog that the druid’s of the Tuatha Dé shrouded the Island in.
Two Saturday’s later, I brought the seoíge out on the kayak at Garryvoe strand in East Cork which is 5 miles from where I grew up in Mogeely. The wind was fairly strong but it was very warm at the same time. We were cooking in our wetsuits driving down to the beach but once out in the water, it was worth wearing them. Popped her at the seat in the prow and slid into my seat and grabbed the double-sided oar. The water was very choppy and the small one was enjoying being bashed from the sides by the waves and generally being tossed from side to side unless I went perpendicular to them, and the swells have us go up and down smoothly. At this point, it wasn’t too hard to see Aonbhar, an capal bán naofa Manannan mac Lír(sacred white horse) rise out of the water and gallop gracefully from crest to crest until his charge has reached the shore. When sppeding to the shore on the boat, in my minds eye, the kayak became the chariot of electrum and the small one a water sprite calling instruction to the white steed of an Domhan Eile Naofa (Sacred Otherworld) for safe passage to land. As well as this inward scene, I could also picture an early expedition of the mythic early Gaedhil exiled from Scythia and searching for a new home:
They found a fair island there,
in the Libyan Sea of the warriors’ swords;
for a year and a season, with renown,
they dwelt on that day;
the radiance of the hands of Lámfhind
was like fair candles.
They had four leaders, it was not feeble,
after crossing the Libyan Sea:
Elloth, Lámfhind swift across the deep,
Cing and his brother Caicher.
Caicher found a remedy for them
against the mermaids beguiling;
this is the remedy which fair Caicher found:
pouring wax into their ears.
It is Caicher, an illustrious union,
who prophesied to them
at the Rhipaean mountains, with harmony:
‘There is no rest for us until [we reach] Ireland’.
‘Where is lofty Ireland?’
said Lámfhind the savage warrior.
‘Far away’, said Caicher:
‘not we but our fair children will reach it.’
They set their course[?] venomously, in their company,
southward past the Rhipaean headlands;
the descendants of Gáedel, with purity,
conquered the Marshes.
An illustrious child was born there
to Lámfhind son of Agnoman:
Éber Glúnfhind, the pure gryphon,
curly-haired grandfather of Febri.
The kindred of bright nimble Gáedel
were in that land for three hundred years;
they dwelt there from then
until the coming of victorious Bráth.
Occe and Ucce, without reproach,
were the two sons of Elloth son of Noenual;
Mantán son of Caicher, Bráth the good-
those were their four leaders.
Fourteen men, with their wives,
was the crew of each warrior-laden ship,
together with six splendid mercenaries;
they won three battles in Spain.
Imrame agus Imbas leis an rothar
Again this year, I took on a virtual charity cycle (Special Olympics Ireland) for the month of May. The challenge was to either cycle the length (600km) or the breadth (300km) of Ireland. I had to take on the 300km as I didn’t have time this month to even attempt the 600km. On one of these cycles, I set off on a Saturday morning at 5.30am and took the Blarney route. I got to the top of Clogheen Hill and it’s impossible to give justice on what I saw. The morning fog was carpeting the valley at sunrise. I hope the accompanying pictures that I took will strike you the same as it did me that morning. Even the thick mist rising from the small river in the wildlife sanctuary between Blarney village and Killeens was something to stop for. On all cycles, the white blossom veil of the Giving tree of the Sídhe hangs from branches in abundance. Again, these wonders of Nature can bring about a very profound experience.
Another cycle was from Youghal to Kelly’s Cross, going into West Waterford on the main road. It is all uphill and the sun was baking. I reached the cross and sat down for a small break. At the start of the return journey I spotted a single standing stone in the middle of a field to my right (later I checked it on the map above and is the solitary site to the upper right of Ardmore). Halfway way down before the Gaeltacht ends, I passed Cosán Deaglaín Naofa (St. Declans Way) which is a medieval pilgrimage trail from Ardmore, county Waterford to Cashel in Tipperary. Here is the link on its folklore, Home – St. Declan’s Way (stdeclansway.ie) . Historically, Cashel was the seat of the Rí of Munster and wasn’t handed over as a gift to the church until roughly the 10th Century when the roundtower and church was built. The church and round tower in Ardmore date to the 12th Century. Among the medieval sculptures of New and Old Testament biblical scenes, there are two 5th century Ogham stones located there as well.
Guím gach beannacht oraibh agus ar do chosán mar atá sibh á lorg imbas ar do imrama.
Continuing with our series on Celtic Diet, here’s a couple of recipes for Beltane.
Beltane Bannock is an oatcake, made and eaten on Beltane morning to ensure the health of crops and your herds. An old folk magic ritual was performed where the bannock is separated into nine ‘knobs’, each one dedicated to something they felt preserved their livestock or a plea to local predators before being shared and eaten. A rhyme like this was recited: – “Here to thee, wolf, spare my sheep; there to thee, fox, spare my lambs; here to thee, eagle, spare my goats; there to thee raven, spare my kids; here to thee, martin, spare my fowls, there to thee, harrier, spare my chickens.”
1 1/2 cup oatmeal
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tbs. lard or butter
1/2 cup hot water
Combine oatmeal, salt and baking soda in a bowl.
Melt the butter, and drizzle it over the oats.
Add the water, and stir the mix until it forms a stiff dough.
Turn the dough out on a sheet of wax paper and knead thoroughly.
Separate the dough into two equal portions, and roll each one into a ball.
Use a rolling pin to make a flat pancake that is about ¼” thick.
Cook your oatcakes on a griddle over medium heat until they are golden brown.
Cut each round into quarters to serve.
Caudle is a warm, thick and sweet drink that was often prescribed to those who were sick, pregnant or to new mothers. This can be served with the bannock, which can be dipped into mix. The oldest surviving recipe is just a list of ingredients; wine, wheat starch, raisins, and sugar. Later recipes state ale or
wine is heated and thickened with egg yolks and/or ground almonds, then optionally spiced with sugar, honey, saffron, and/or ginger.
1/2 pt (1 cup) milk
1 tbsp oatmeal
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp sugar or honey
pinch of salt
nutmeg or mixed spice
whisky, ale or white wine
Heat the milk in a pan with the oatmeal and a pinch of salt.
Stir well and bring to the boil, then simmer until it starts to thicken.
Stir in the eggs, sugar and spices (added according to taste), and keep simmering for at least five minutes – stir well to make sure the mixture doesn’t burn or stick to the pan.
Remove from the pan and add in as much whisky, ale or white wine as you prefer.
Serve immediately, either on its own or poured over bannocks or a dessert.
Bel from whom Beltane receives its name is also known as Belenus and is one of the most widely worshipped Celtic deities. He is a sun god known as “The Shining God”. Like the Norse Sol he was thought to ride the sun across the sky in a horse drawn chariot. In the 3rd century, Bel was the patron deity of the Italian city of Aquileia. Some ancient images of Belenus show him to be accompanied by the Gaulish Goddess Belisama.
Of the four main Irish celebrations, Beltane and Samhain were the most important. In the story of the “Wooing of Cu Chulainn”, the ancient celebration of Beltane is described. The year is described as being in two divisions of summer from Beltane (the first of May in our modern calendar to Samhain and winter from Samhain to Beltane. At Beltane Druids used to make two fires and made magical incantations as they drove the cattle between them every year. This was to protect the cattle against plagues. The young ox and cows were entrusted to the God Bel, whose protective powers were believed to be in the flames, smoke and ashes of the fires.
The people of ancient Ireland would also walk between the bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. People would take embers and re light their home from the Beltane bonfires. They would feast and offer food and drink to the Aos Sí. Homes would also be decorated with yellow May flowers. People used morning Beltane dew on their faces to stay young and beautiful. When Christianity arrived, many of these customs and more became part of May Day. Beltane is also a celebration of love and this harks back to the ancient tale of Cúchulainn and Emer, or the divine pairing of Belenus and Belisama.
The May Pole
Primarily found within the nations of Germanic Europe and the neighbouring areas which they have influenced, the May Pole maypoles are believed by scholars to have been erected “simply” as “signs that the happy season of warmth and comfort had returned.” They are of ancient Germanic pagan origin and the true meaning has been lost in the midst of time. Their shape allowed for garlands to be hung from them and were first seen, at least in the British Isles, between AD 1350 and 1400 within the context of medieval Christian European Culture.
The May Queen
In the British Isles and parts of the Commonwealth, the May Queen or Queen of May is a personification the May Day holiday, and of springtime and the coming of summer (the transformation of maiden to sexual maturity). The May Queen is a girl who rides or walks at the front of a parade for May Day celebrations. She wears a white gown to symbolise purity and usually a tiara or crown. Her duty is to begin the May Day celebrations. She is generally crowned by flowers and makes a speech before the dancing begins.
A May Day festival is held on the village green at Aldborough, North Yorkshire on a site that dates back to Roman times and the settlement of Isurium Brigantum. A May queen is selected from a group of 13 upward girls by the young dancers. She returns the next year to crown the new May Queen and stays in the procession. The largest event in this tradition in modern Britain is the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.
A May Day celebration held annually since 1870 in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, has the distinction of being the longest running May Day celebration of its kind in the British Commonwealth.
Morris dancing is common during Beltane and May Day celebrations. Morris dancing is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. They clap their sticks, swords, or handkerchiefs together to match with the dance.
While the earliest (15th-century) references place the Morris dance in a courtly setting, it appears that the dance became part of performances for the lower classes by the later 16th century. In 1600, Shakespearean actor William Kempe Morris danced from London to Norwich, an event chronicled in his Nine Daies Wonder (1600).
As you can see there are many ways to celebrate Beltane and May Day. It is a time of the turning of the seasons. Beltane and Samhain are also both times when the veil between Annwn, Mag Mell and Tír na nÓg are at their thinnest.
At Samhain the veil between the worlds of the living & the dead is thin enough that we can connect & convene with our beloved dead.
At Beltane it’s the veil between the human world, and the world of the fae, aes sídhe & nature spirits that has grown thin. These spirits & faeries are thought to be especially active at this time of year. Offerings can be left at the ancient faerie forts, the wells and in other sacred places in an effort to appease these nature spirits to ensure a successful growing season.
Wherever you are, celebrate in whatever way you can. Honour your ancestors and ancestral spirits and keep old traditions alive.
When the sun begins to rise on this morning a flame will be lit signaling the beginning of Summer and blessing the fertility of the upcoming harvestide……
The Bealtaine Festival was often the first chance for neighbouring tuatha to greet each other after the long winter months and great celebrations ensued. Goods were exchanged and gifts offered to the various Gods and Goddesses.
Feasting, dancing, music, tournaments and trade were all avidly partaken in as the festival proceeded. It was also customary to drive cattle around the fire with the belief that the smoke from the sacred fire would protect them from harm.
The Bealtaine Festival was revived on the Hill of Uisneach in 2009 and todays’ festival remains much as it was in ancient times, a chance to meet old friends and make new ones. A family-friendly event that welcomes all the different tuatha to celebrate the beginning of summer at the sacred centre of Ireland. In 2017, the ceremonial fire was lit by the Uachtarán (President) of Ireland, Michael D Higgins; making him the first Irish Head of State to do so since the last Ard Rí or High King, nearly a thousand years ago. Introduction to President Michael D Higgins on Hill of Uisneach – by Ruairí McKiernan – YouTube .
The origins of Uisneach lie far beyond recorded history with surviving monuments and relics dating from the Neolithic (3700-2500 BC) and Bronze Ages (2500-500 BC) which confirm its ceremonial status in pre-historic times. There is no definitive translation of the word Uisneach as it likely predates the Irish Gaelic language. It is translated as “place of the hearth” or “angular place”, indicating a ceremonial sanctuary.
In early written sources, the area in which Uisneach is located, is recorded as ‘Mide’, meaning ‘middle’. Originally a name for the hill itself (i.e. Uisneach Midi, the ‘hearth’ at the centre), over time the territory expanded to become the medieval Kingdom of Mide which gives its name to the modern counties of Meath & Westmeath.
The first known map of Ireland, created by the Greek cartographer Claudius Ptolemy in 140 A.D. is thought to have shown Uisneach (which Ptolemy called ‘Reba’) at its centre. It is just above Annica in small writing in the picture below.
Since pre-Christian times the hill has been regarded as the ceremonial & sacred centre of Ireland; the meeting point of the ancient provinces, where laws were struck and divisions agreed. In later years, when Tara became the political seat of the Ard Rí of Ireland, Uisneach retained its position as the country’s spiritual centre.
It was customary for the Ard Rí to ritually ‘marry’ the sovereignty Goddess (representing the land) at an inauguration ceremony known as the ‘Banais Righe’ (wedding feast of kingship). This ceremony may have been part of the ‘Ard Fhéis Uisneach’, a great assembly and fair held at the beginning of Bealtaine when the great fire was lit on the hill to mark the onset of summer.
In the first millennium AD, Uisneach became the chief residence and assembly site of the Clann Cholmain kings, who ruled over the Kingdom of Mide with some even becoming Ard Rí of Ireland. The last of these was Máel Sechnaill Mór, who became Ard Rí in 980. His reign lasted until 999, when Brian Boru came to Uisneach to claim sovereignty over Mide and ultimately the Ard Rí of Ireland. However, after Brian’s death at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, Máel Sechnaill was re-instated as Ard Rí and reigned until his own death in 1022.
As well as royalty, Uisneach was the residence of important families of poets. Taigh Mór O Coffey, described as being ‘Chief Poet of Ireland and Scotland’ was born at Uisneach in the mid-sixteenth century. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Uisneach was the site of great political rallies, with Daniel O’Connell, Padraig Pearse and Eamonn De Valera addressing huge crowds from atop the Ail na Mireann (the famous landmark stone). The famous Irish writer James Joyce was a regular visitor, enthralled by Uisneach’s many stories. He later mentioned the hill in his novel ‘Finnegans Wake’, referring to Ail na Mireann as ‘the mearing stone’.
I won’t be able to attend the festival in Uisneach myself this coming weekend as I have family commitments but will be travelling to ‘Na Séisear’ at Beenalaght in North County Cork (you may have seen the video) and will be conducting a personal decompression at the oncoming sunrise. Hopefully, the weather will be better than it was at Castlenalacht last Winter Solstice. Andrew (Filtiarn) and I have discussed the unnecessary need to build our own fire pits for ritual purposes. It would be poor judgement with the current climate. I will be on private land and I don’t think the farmer would welcome the idea of me burning a piece of his property. Filtiarn will be conducting a group ceremonial decompression at Brockholes Stone Circle in England which is a Nature reserve, and I don’t think fires are welcome there either. I will be symbolically lighting a candle just before the sunrise.
Bíodh spraoi agaibh ar an lá naofa seo agus beannachtaí Bealtaine oraibh féin agus ar do chlainne.