Monday, March 19, 2007

The Celtic Animal:

"Modern urban dwellers are cushioned, to and extent, from the rhythm of the seasons, from the immediate effects of good and poor harvests and of the health and fertility of flocks and any pre-industrial and rural society, the association of communities with the natural environment and their dependance on it are both close and direct."

Miranda Green identifies the close proximity that ancient Celts had with their environment. It was essentially a life that involved a close ineraction with nature. With foliate and zoomorphic designs Celtic artists took much of their inspiration from the plant and animal world to produce some of the most fantastic and original art in history. The Celts percieved supernatural forces in all natural phenomena to the extent that every tree, mountain, rock and river was seen to possess its own 'numen' or individual spirit. The sanctity with which elements of the landscape and natural phenomena was beheld further led the Celts to venerate animals dwelling in the land, and further becoming the objects or elements of elaborate rituals and the center of profiund belief systems. In some cases animals became the link between the ordinary and the divine sacred, or otherworld.

On the most basic level, animals (in Celtic mythology) are tied into fertility and vitality, as Lars Nooden points out. They also become channels of communication to the realms of the Gods and spirits. The origins of these beliefs may be shamanic. Certain animals are associated with specific attributes;

1) Boars represent fertility, wealth and courage.
2) Salmon represent knowledge and wisdom.
3) Snakes (and dragons) represent strife, trouble and infertility.
4) Birds represent prophetic knowledge, skill of for-seeing the future.
5) Horses, cattle and pigs (all domesticated animals) represent fertility, assurity, personal wealth and status.

The Celts firmly believed in rebirth and reincarnation as demonstrated by the story of Fintain and the Hawk of Achille. Some Celtic people believed that the soul of a person may be reborn as a very small animal, sometimes a fly or worm. Druids believed that the tiny and humble wren was the reborn soul of a human and was considered sacred, called 'Droo-in.'
In Christian Celtic myth the four evangelist (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are represented as animals; the winged man of the incarnation, the majestic lion, the sacrificial calf or ox, and the ascending eagle.

For me, the epitomy of the relationship between the Celt and the animal world is summed up by a 4th century AD monastic scribe, idly writing a poem in the margin of a manuscript ( a Latin commentary on Virgil) in which he compares himself and his pet cat:

"I and 'Pangur-Ban' my cat,
Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind...

...So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban my cat and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his."

More than anything the Celtic view of animal life reminds us that we should perservere in maintaining a working relationship with the natural world order. Perhaps we are not 'the dominant species' but simply one element of a greater whole. We must repsect animals as beings with inherent souls and/or spirits, that can enhance our appreciation for the universe, our dialog and communication with the Gods, ancestors and spirits. If we take the life of an animal in order to preserve our own let it be done with dignity and due respect. All creatures should be awarded the honor that is due to them by reason of their simply existing.

Jain Zazek, The Art of The Celts.

Joelle Miller, Symbolic Meanings of some of the Animals Appearing in Celtic Art (From Celtic Myth and Magic by Edain McCoy):

Lars Nooden, Animal Symbolism in Celtic Mythology:

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tacitus and Caractacus

Caractacus was the Chieftan/King of the Catuvellauni tribe (lands central/west Britian, north-west of London towards Wales) at the time of the Roman invasion under the Commander Aulus Plautius (circa 50 CE). He had a brother named Togodumnus, together they were sons of the British King Cunobelinus. As a strong and dominant force, Caractacus and his tribe resisted the Roman invasion for over 9 years, although they were defeated by Roman forces in the East.
Caractacus moved west to the Silures (Glamorgan in Wales) where another skirmish took place with Roman troops, although it was an undecisive conflict. Then he moved north to the tribal lands of the Ordivices (central Gwynned, south Clywd, north Powys) in preparation for a major battle. The exact location of Caractus's last stand is unknown, despite archeological surveys, though local legend suggests a place called Caer Caradog, or Llanymynech, a limestone bur in Shropshire, a natural location for strong defense/offence position.

Caractacus was apparently an intelligent and capable General. It was at this location that he was defeated by a force under the command of the Roman Governer Ostorius Scapula in 51CE, however, Caractacus escaped the carnage of the battle and ran northwards to the lands of the Brigantes under Queen Cartimandua. The Brigante Queen was a Roman sympathiser and under a 'client/ruler' contract (the Romans allowed her to rule with comparitive automny). Queen Cartimandua therefore welcomed, held and then handed Caractacus over to the Roman authorities. He was then dispatched to Rome as a slave (together with his wife and son). Such was Caractacus's sense of nobility and justice that the Emporer Cladius pardoned him, and allowed him and his family to live out their life in peace in Italy. Caractus's place and time of death are unknown. For me, the most poignant part of Tacitus's record of these events, is his record of Caractus's speech at the Emperor's tribunal;"Had my moderation in prosperity been equal to my noble birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as your friend rather than as your captive; and you would not have disdained to recieve, under treaty of peace, a King descended from illustrious ancestors and ruling many nations. My present lot is as glorious to you as it is degrading to myself. I had men and horses, arms and wealth. What wonder if I parted with them reluctantly? If you Romans choose to lord it over the world, does it follow that the world is to accept slavery? Were I to have been once delivered up as a prisoner, neither my fall nor your triumph would have become famous. My punishment would have followed oblivion, whereas, if you save my life, I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency"In this speech, Caractacus displays a well informed knowledge of the international politics of the day, I wonder also if he was fluent in Latin (or the Romans in Gaelic)? He is also acutely aware that his life and actions have a historical importance, knowing that his captors are recording everything for posterity. Strange as it may seem, had it not been for the Romans we may never have known about Caractacus, the Gaels, the Druids and have such important documentation. There is an ancient stone which commemorates Caractus:

Pictured above, at Winsford Hill (SS 88983355) The inscription reads "CARAACI NEPUS', or the 'kinsman of Caractus.' The location of the stone is Exmoor, an expansive and wild plain located in the south-east of Britian in Devon. A shelter was built for it in 1906. The stone was first documented in 1219 as a Forest boundary and called the "Langeston". A little stone hut has been built round it! There seems a modern impulse somehow to domesticate standing stones, to impose our suburban mind set upon their wildness.The practice of siting a Romano-British memorial stone, along a track way up on the hill is a Roman one - think of the tombs along the Appian Way.

Tacitus. Annals, Book XIICoutrell, Leonard, "The Roman Invasion of Britian," Barnes & Noble, New York, 1992

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Woad (Isatus tinctoria/I. indigotica)

In his memoirs of the Gallic wars against the ‘brutish Western Pagans’ Julius Caesar draws a conclusive observation of the tribes he encountered in the south east of Britain in his principal invasion;

“Omnes vero se Britannii vitro infuciant.” (All the Britons die themselves with woad).

In addition to its historical use as a dye and a medium for tattooing, woad also has a long tradition as a herbal medicine. Also called Da Qing Ye in the Chinese pharmacopiea, it is a powerful antibacterial and antiviral; containing the essential compounds Indican and Isatin B. This makes it suitable and effective against most common bacterial infections, particularly those originating from staphylococci, pneumococci and meningococci. Another scientific study identified another antimicrobial substance in woad called tryptanthrin which is effective against dermatophytes, which are fungi that cause skin diseases such as ringworm. Woad may help with a variety of conditions such as influenza, meningitis, encephalitis, and common skin disorders such as warts, and athletes foot. As an anti-inflammatory it increases phagocytosis (the pathogen destroying capacity of white blood cells), thus aiding the elimination of infections.

The recommended dosage of the powdered herb is 2g, 4-6 times per day.

In the Judgement of Cormac Mac Airt, a historical Irish tale, Woad or glaisin plays a key role in the restoration of justice; When Cormac, the rightful heir to the throne of all Ireland was a boy, he lived in Tara in disguise; for the throne was held by the usurper Mac-Conn, so that Cormac dared not reveal himself. There was at that time a female ‘Brewy’ or peasant named Bennaid whose sheep trespassed on the Royal Domain and consequently ate up the Queen’s valuable crop of glaisin (woad-plants) which were used for dying cloth. The Queen instituted proceedings for damages, and the question came up before the King for a decision. The King, who after hearing the evidence decided that the sheep should be forfeit in payment for the loss of the glaisin. “Not so.” Exclaimed the stranger-boy Cormac, who was present. And who could not restrain his judicial instincts and inheritance. “The cropping of the sheep should be sufficient for the cropping of the glaisin; the wool for the woad, both will grow again.” “That is a true judgement.” Exclaimed all, “And he who has pronounced it is surely the Son of a King.”

More info on Woad body-art:;_ylu=X3oDMTA4NDgyNWN0BHNlYwNwcm9m/SIG=12k0rhh4t/EXP=1152915585/**http:/

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Teaglach: A Family Spiral...

This poem investigates the spiral of life, from death, through the gate of rebirth to life. The connection between dark and bright, the spirit manifested within the body. Within the structure of the poem I have attempted to reconcile the old theological doctrine of dualism and extend it, to incorporate the validity and connection between the transcendant and the corporeal. There within is the notion of our life on a constant spiral, ever connected from ancient time to infinite possibility.........

Teaghlach (Family Spiral)

Spiritual swirling world, disintegrating strands of life
Forgetting memories, whirls of sense, vibrant
Wandering down-ward, wind-washed descending
Maze of voices, concentric, slipping
Dividing sound of rains, splitting
Surfing, swimming, dripping round
On a serpentine path
An invisible
Warm – delicious
Lake of nourishment
Gentle, palm-voices forming
Finger-prints etched, building in
Bone, muscle, sinew, flesh, ovular
Creating, envisaging, formula – bond
Perception, apprehension, desire into
Force; heart – pumping, wrenching, sucking contraction
Surge – gushing, bursting, screaming, swirling spiritual

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

God of the Seanrog

The Shamrock and the Spring Equinox.

As a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th the shamrock has gained immense notoriety and popularity. It has come to represent the entire immensity of Irish Celtic culture, and a cause of cultural celebration. This is both a secular and religious occasion in remembrance of the death of the fifth century Christian Saint Patrick. Whilst the spiritual aspect of the feast may have been held for over a thousand years, the first secular day was only celebrated in March 17th 1752 in New York, by Irish troops serving in the British Army.

My investigations into the origins of this day led me to believe that this celebration was, in the pre-Christian Irish community a festival of the Vernal Equinox. Although there is no written evidence to support this theory I took into account several sources, including the very potent symbol of the shamrock itself. The first fragment of Pagan Irish lore that I considered was a ‘God of the Shamrock’ mentioned in a medieval tale called ‘The Settling of the Manor of Tara.’ Tara’ by the name of Trefuilngid Treeochair (Triple Bearer of The Triple Key), the one who causes the sun to rise and set and who stands at this point midway. A glorious God of Spring not unlike the figure of Dionysis, who brings as yet unripe fruits of green, and aids in the divisions and organization of the land. The name ‘Tree-foil’ means three-leaves and is connected to the characteristic form of the shamrock.

It is reputed that at Armagh St. Patrick explained the doctrine of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost through the example of the three-leafed shamrock:

Good St. Patrick traveled far, to teach God's Holy Word
And when he came to Erin's sod, a wondrous thing occurred
He plucked a shamrock from the earth and held it in His hand
To symbolize the Trinity that all might understand
The first leaf for the Father
And the second for the Son
The third leaf for the Holy Spirit
All three of them in one.

However, Patrick was only too well versed in Irish Pagan mythology and beliefs, and was prepared to adapt and employ them within a Christian context to win bodies and souls to the new religion. It may be seen that often he presented himself as a Druid, practicing a new form of magic to attract followers and disciples.

The shamrock was already a sacred plant in Pagan Irish culture. Known as the seanrog or ‘summer plant’ it represented several triads and trinities but most notably the three moral qualities of love, courage and wit. It was a symbol of the Goddess Brighid as virgin, mother and crone,together with her three spiritual facets; the inspiration of poetry, craft of making, and the success of healing. Most importantly it was a perceived as a Celtic solar wheel, perhaps linking the vernal and autumnal equinoxes with the high summer solstice, or more realistically the festival of Imbolc, the spring equinox and Beltaine. This native spiritual desire to achieve balance and harmony from nature is beautifully captured in a poem by Frederick Casey, the Bard of the OBOD:

Pick a clover and make a wish
Kiss each leaf and let the wind take it out of sight
And with the coming of the balance of day and night
May the Shamrock's luck swim to you like a fish
Back from the waters of the returning tide
The stream of Spring is filling up
Open our soul to fill it like a cup
With the energy that winter tried to hide

So, whilst we can never claim that St. Patrick’s day was originally celebrated as the Spring Equinox we can claim the humble shamrock as a Celtic symbol of spring. It gives us a sense of inspiration within history and tradition, a positive reminder of a green season and the coming summer, and most recently has been discovered as a healing agent for cancer. It is traditionally included in the bouquet of an Irish bride for good luck, and part of an older ceremony called ‘the drowning’ in which the plant is placed into a toasting cup, when the toast is proposed, honored and drank the shamrock is removed from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder.

Perhaps the most ancient and symbolic representation, as well as the most debatable in one of the stones at Newgrange, dating back to 5000 BCE, inscribed with three spiraling leaves which closely resemble the form of a shamrock!

But I leave you with a small acrostic poem by Joseph Rohrbach which seems to sum up the hidden mysteries and values of the shamrock…

Simple little plant
Head held high
As if a promised
Magic lies within
Randomly bestowed
Over the finder
Carrying a sweet
Kiss of luck

Go mbeannai Dia duit (May God Bless You)

David O’Draoi

St. Patrick’s Day:

Dr. T. Umbrello of UCC Biology Dept: The Shamrock:

The Pagan Trinity:

Triskelle: St. Patrick and The Shamrock:

The Shamrock, And Other Sacred Plants. Irish Druids… by James Bonwick.

Christine O'Keefe, Trefuilngid Tre-Ochair:

Alban Eilir – The Vernal Equinox:

Ireland Newsletter, June 2001:

Labyrinth Ireland:

BBC: The Truth Behind The Shamrock:

Poem of the Day, Joseph Rohrbach:

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Uisce Beatha: Water of Life:

The Waters of Life.

“When I was at school in the early eighties I had a friend called William Hue. William exhibited symptoms of what we now call ADD or ‘Attention Deficit Disorder.’ He was destructive, violent, and anti-social. William was written off as a bully and a malcontent by fellow pupils, and teachers. No positive or constructive action was initiated by any person in authority to analyze or improve his behavior and condition. Sometimes he would masturbate in class, he made lewd sexual comments to teachers and school staff, intimidated other kids, indulged in sado-masochistic rituals (cutting himself with knives, or sticking pins into his genitals), violently attacking students without provocation or reason, obsessed with corpses and death, habitually stealing and a frequent truant. At the age of fifteen he was attending an English language class and disrupting the class as usual. Mr Pink, the teacher asked William to leave immediately and report to the headmaster. William did leave, but instead of reporting to the school office he went to the restroom and removed a chain, then went back to the English class and proceeded to attack Mr. Pink with the rudimentary weapon. William then ran out and went home. Once there, he swallowed an entire bottle of barbiturates with several glasses of vodka, sat down on the couch beside his sister and died. William’s father, who was equally unstable, arrived at the school next day with a shotgun, with the sole intention of shooting Mr. Pink. Fortunately the police arrived in time to arrest him and prevent any further disturbances. I am 42 years old now and I have reflected on this episode many times, trying to make sense of it. I had the good fortune to study a program of medicinal nutrition which enlightened me greatly and I found myself slowly beginning to understand the hidden complexities of this tragedy. William and his family lived in a house built before the 1920’s with lead plumbing and pipes intact. I thought of a low class boy with nutritional deficiencies, living in sub-standard housing… a pattern formed in my mind… combined with all the possible disadvantages here was a child poisoned and made insane by drinking water that was heavily contaminated with lead.”

This study paper is an assessment of the importance of, and the role that water plays in everyday life. Why water is such an important issue, locally, nationally and internationally. I will focus on three key areas; water as a nutrient, a physiological and psychological necessity for stable life, the ecological and environmental status and the importance of water with regard to issues of contamination through pollution and its effects.

Water as a key nutrient and its physiological importance.

Water or H20 is an essential nutrient to the maintenance, development, growth and normal functioning of human and all biological life forms. It is second only to the necessity of oxygen. Water is a scientifically inorganic compound and the most abundant in the human body, comprising nearly 2/3 of the total body weight. The total liquid content of the human body is approximately 40-40 Liters. Water is the medium or solvent in which most bodily processes take place, inside and outside of cells. A solvent is a substance in which most compounds are dissolved. When water is the solvent for a mixture (a blend of two or more molecules) the mix is often called an ‘aqueous solution’ which contains sodium chloride or NaC1 and other molecules, which together form the ‘internal ocean’ of the body. Adults can survive many weeks without food, but only a few days in the absence of water. Fortunately, for those that do not drink the required standard per day many food types contain water which in a small part compensates for what is lacking in consumption. For example, 100 g of raw beef contains approximately 60-70 g of water. The kidneys are responsible for maintaining and regulating the water content of the body. An excessive loss of water can occur through vomiting, diarrhea and heavy sweating through exercise, a hot climate or high fever. If water intake is not increased in these conditions then dehydration will occur. A temperate climate requires an approximate liquid intake of 1 liter or 2 pints per day.

The Ecological, Environmental and Global Status of Water.

70% of the earths surface is covered by water; this represents 1.4 billion cubic kilometers or 335 million cubic miles. This is enough water to submerge the entire United States to a depth of 150 kilometers or 93 miles. 97% of this is sea-water or 370 billion billion gallons. Only 1% of the earths waters are fresh and available for drinking, 2-3% is contained in glaciers and ice caps. So, it can be easily understood that at least 35% of inhabited lands on earth are threatened from lack of fresh, drinkable water;

Humans already use approximately 54% of all accessible, usable, or renewable water. This is expected to rise to 70% by the year 2025. (Postel, Daily and Ehrlich, 1996. ‘Human appropriation of Renewable Fresh Water.’ Science 271: 785-788)

Not only is water indispensable for human life it is also used in agriculture (raising crops for food, to maintain livestock) as an essential part of aquatic life from which we also derive valuable sources of protein as fish, and as part of the general production and maintenance of our modern lifestyles, with regard to cleaning, sanitation and hygiene. Drinking water is therefore a valuable commodity. Population growth increases demand and when the quality of water is compromised by pollutants, the overall issues become very serious indeed;

If the worlds water supply is compared to one gallon (3.8 liters), freshwater would make up for 4 oz (118 milliliters) or 3%, and readily accessible freshwater, which is for immediate use would come to a total of 2 drops. (Miller, G.T. 1998. Living in the environment, 10th edition, Wadsworth Publishers, California.)

Today at least 400 million people live in regions with severe water shortages. By the year 2050 it will be 4.000 million. (Hinrichsen, D. B. Robey, and U. D. Upadhay. 1998. “Solutions for a water-short world.”
Population reports, Series M, No 14, John Hopkins University School of Public Health, Population Information Program, Baltimore, Maryland.)

Environmental Concerns and Water Pollutants.

The quality of drinking water is now a very serious concern. The main causes of water degradation are:

1. Population growth and consumption.
2. Infrastructure development, which included the construction of dams, dikes and diversions which disturb the ecosystem.
3. Land conversion, the appropriation of water-land for human habitation or the destruction of wet-lands.
4. The uncontrolled release of pollutants into the environment, including human waste, agricultural and industrial waste and the byproducts of chemical processes.


In this paper I am mainly concerned with the degradation of the water supply. Metals used in industrial processes such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and manganese are discharged into the atmosphere or more seriously into water sources. In agriculture, organophosphates, fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and other noxious substances are polluting the environment and drinking water supplies through run-off or infiltration. Other contaminants are dioxins, PCB’s, paints, glues and adhesives, gasoline and cleaning solutions are all pollutants and by-products of our technological and industrial age. It is estimated that 2 million tons of human waste are discharged into water courses every day.

The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program of the U.S. Geographical Survey performed a major survey of 139 streams in 30 states of the U.S. between 1999 and 2000. They identified 95 different chemical substances with residential and industrial sources; both human and vetinary drugs including antibiotics, hormones, detergents, disinfectants, plasticizers, fire retardants, insecticides, antioxidants, chemicals included; coprostanal (a fecal steroid), cholesterol (a plant and animal steroid), N-N-diethyltoluamide (insect repellant), caffeine (stimulant), triclosan (anti-microbial disinfectant), tri (2-choroethyl), phosphate (fire retardant), 4-nonlphenol (nonionic detergent metabolite), common steroids and non-prescription drugs. The final analysis of this report states that little is known of the potential human and environmental health effects of the 95 chemicals. Even less is known of the possible interactions occurring when these varied chemicals are mixed together.

Consumption and the Known Effects of Water Pollution.

In 1998 the Clean Water Action Group Alliance of Massachusetts formed a partnership with the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility Group. Together they investigated the possible effects of toxic substances in the environment, particularly on the neurological development in children. This was prompted by the increasing numbers of children displaying symptoms of neurosis and brain disorders. The resulting paper was published as ‘In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development.’ The paper identified
Key chemical contaminants in the air, in water and food which contribute to hyperactivity, ADD, lower IQ levels, and motor skill impairment. The specific toxic chemicals and heavy metals identified as dangerous were; lead, cadmium, manganese, organophosphates, dioxins, PCB’s and solvents. The report concluded that 80% of all Americans have shown physical evidence of one or more harmful pesticides in their bodies. In other medical trials, hair mineral analyses of children with ADHD showed high levels of metals such as mercury, cadmium, manganese and copper, thus implicating a direct link between children’s capacity for learning and developmental disorders. Approximately 3-4% of children in the U.S. are diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Case Study:

Arnold was an eight year old boy who was a bit of a tear-away at school. He came from a broken home and tended to be disruptive socially. One day at break time there was a panic in the playground when Arnold tried to hang himself with his tie, by attaching it to the climbing frame. His father was called and he was taken home. The following day we arranged a mineral screen. It was found that lead in his body was twice the normal upper acceptable level, and that his body zinc was one third below the lower limit of normal.

“It is now recognized that children who are heavily exposed to lead from car exhausts or pollution often suffer from learning and/or behavioral problems. Some hyperactive children that undergo treatment to remove lead from their bodies improve eventually.”

Dr. Stephen Davies. Nutritional Medicine. P 376. London 1987

Similar disturbances can arise in adults because of the same reasons;

“Today we live in a state of environmental pollution. There are over 100,000 chemicals in the environment that we ingest through what we eat, drink and breathe. Contaminants in the soil, water, air and food supply. The toxins in time penetrate and leak through the blood brain barrier and enter the brain tissue. This process happens with several heavy toxic metals such as lead, copper and aluminum. These chemicals and heavy metals by affecting brain chemistry, affect the mind and behavior, and they must be removed.”

Dr. Philip Hodes (on schitzophrenia)

“Many of the people that have developed so called ‘mental illness’ are suffering from things like mercury, lead, copper, aluminum and iron poisoning. These toxic metals affect one’s thinking and behavior. People can develop bizarre behavior and distorted thinking, along with warped perceptions, as a result of these toxic heavy metals. Add to this toxic stew all the insecticides, pesticides and herbicides that we ingest daily.”Dr. Hal Huggins. NY Times, (Science) April 27th 1993.


A report by The Friends of the Earth shows that 50 tons of mercury is being discharged into the environment every year. Mercury is a deadly poison which damages the brain and developing fetuses; the National Academy of Sciences confirms this, that exposure to mercury can cause severe health impacts such as learning disabilities in children and growth in fetuses. The NAS has extensive data on the effects of mercury on the brain and its development. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) biochemist, Kathryn Mahaffey in a January 2004 forum estimated that the number of children at risk of developing problems from mercury pollution has doubled, that one in six women has enough mercury in her system to potentially harm the development of any fetuses she might conceive. 630.000 babies are born each year with dangerous levels of mercury in their blood. Now 45 states warn against eating fish from rivers, streams and lakes because of mercury contamination. This represents a 63% increase from 1994, when only 27 states issued warnings.


A report by researchers at the University of Iowa found that herbicide pollution of the municipal water supply was affecting the normal growth of fetuses. The study covered several communities with herbicide polluted rivers and water sources, and discovered that infants of mothers in those communities had a higher risk of IUGR or intra-uterine growth retardation, a condition in which the weight of the baby is lower than that of children the same gestational age. The condition is associated with apnea, brachycardia, respiratory distress, hypocalcemia, sepsis, celebral palsy and overall impaired development. The herbicide atrazine was identified and the mean level calculated at 2.2 micrograms per liter. The current maximum concentration permitted for atrazine is 3 micrograms per liter.

Legislation and Pollution Prevention.

The history and development of water pollution preventing legislation;

1899 – The Rivers and Harbors Act.
1948 – The Water Pollution Control Act.
1956 – Amendments to The Water Pollution Control Act.
1965 – The Water Quality Act.
1972 – The Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
1977 – The Clean Water Act.
!987 – The Water Quality Act.

Whilst drinking water in Western Europe, the United States and Canada is of an infinitely higher standard than the rest of the world, still too little is done on the part of environmental government agencies to create, maintain or improve the current standard. And, as I have discussed the current standard is unacceptable and dangerous. In 1998 water bodies in the United States were assessed and 40% were found to be unfit for recreational use because of nutrient, metal and agricultural pollutants.

The U.N. World Water Development Report.

Obviously the various acts introduced to protect our supplies of drinking water are not effective. The evidence already forwarded points to this; medical, environmental and technological research into the effects of water pollution point toward the damage done to human life, why?

The EPA currently tests for only 80 contaminants, when the U.S. water supply contains approximately 1000 differing chemicals or pollutants. With regard to mercury pollution the EPA has said it would require companies to reduce emissions by 90% in 4 years. The Bush administration proposed instead a more relaxed standard. In January 2004 the EPA proposed a rule that would only require a cut in mercury emissions by 70% over 14 years.

The Bush administration has received millions of dollars in campaign funds from electricity utility and energy companies; in 2000 – 2004 the Republicans received $1.4 million in PAC. More than 70% of the electricity companies $8.4 million contributions fund for the 2000 – 2004 cycle amounted to $5.6 million.

Therefore, the Bush administration’s stance on pollution reflects the primary opposition of energy companies to tighter pollution control. The Bush administration defines the role and effect of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Clean Water Action.

The primary role of the Clean Water Act (1977) is to prevent the dumping of pollutants into water sources. The CWA includes a program to address indirect sources of pollution called TMDL (total maximum daily loads). The Bush Administration, under pressure from industry is being persuaded to‘re-write’ the TDML program, which would substantially weaken the act.

Clean Water Action is an active organization which represents citizens concerns, working for a clean and fresh water supply, campaigning against widespread pollution and lobbying on a political level to ensure safeguards against water contamination are continued.

Personal Advice and Action.

Join a local Clean Water Action or environmental group and campaign for a cleaner and better environment for you and you family. From their you can get advice, support and information on your own water supply, political action, and further links on improving the environment and water throughout the U.S. The website address is:

There are many varied changes that you can initiate to improve your health and avoid the possibly dangerous side-effects of polluted waters. And in doing so you will also be a pro-active supporter of the environment. Here are some general tips:

1) Contact your local water authority to find out exactly what is in your drinking supply. These authorities are required by Federal law to analyze and publish their findings.

2) Always run water from the faucet for a minute in the morning before using it. This procedure is known to flush out any build-up of toxic metals that have accumulated in the pipes overnight.

3) Do drink at least 2 pints of water a day for maximum benefit, this may vary according to your climatic conditions, so consult your doctor or dietician for precise advice. Also try to use a reliable brand of bottled mineral water and/or charcoal filtered water as your main drinking supply.

4) If you child is exhibiting symptoms of ADD/ADHD, or other unexplained erratic behavior consider a hair-mineral analysis: consult your doctor and/or dietician for more information.

5) Adopt a natural healthy lifestyle; eat more fresh/organic foods, investigate natural medicines and herbs rather than synthetic ones (whose residues eventually end up in the water system), practice natural forms of contraception, and seriously consider the topic of over-population when planning a family.

6) Use environmentally friendly cleaning and home products.

For more advice and information on home safety with respect to water and the environment, go to ‘Safe-Home’ a leading website which provides a more detailed guide to ensuring you and your family can work and protect yourselves and the environment safely and effectively:

Inspiration: The ‘Essence’ of Water…

The sage’s way, TAO is the way of water.

There must be water for life to be,
It can flow wherever.

And water, being true to being water is true

Those in the way of TAO, like water
Need to accept where they find themselves;
And that may often be places where the water goes
To the lowest places, and that is right.

Like a lake
The heart must be calm and quiet
Having great depth beneath it.

The sage rules with compassion,
And his words need to be trusted.

The sage needs to know like water;
How to flow around blocks
And how to find the way through without violence.

Like water, the sage should wait
For the moment to ripen and be right:

It flows around

Without harm.

(From the ‘Tao Te Ching, chapter 8)

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Seanfhocal... 6 Irish Proverbs with commentary:

Seanfhocal… Irish Proverbs

The Kingfisher.

1) Irish Proverbs are filled with nature symbolism and imagery honoring the legendary connection to the land, the wind, the sea and mountains, the kingfisher and the mackerel, the thistle and the plover, the horse and the hare, and even the common crow are all called upon to mirror human hopes, achievements and failings. Irish proverbs are a celebration of Irelands time-honored virtues; faith, gentleness, love of nature, tolerance and trust in life after death. On Ability;

"The Gobadon (kingfisher) cannot work both tides at the same time"

The active life requires balance, making the right choices at the correct moment. The discerning individual will focus all their attention on one task at a time, and contrary to modern perceptions 'multi-tasking' is not beneficial to the good of the soul. Take time to consider, meditate, make sound plans, develop a direct course for action and execute your intention with resolve for a positive outcome.


2) There were several categories of insanity and madness in ancient Irish society. Dasacht or 'madness' was thought to be caused by the fluttering wisp (dlui fulla dlui or alluigh) of a curse from a Druid. A fit of insanity was often called baile, or buile, and it was believed that during the fit the persons body became as light as air. Overall the insane person was regarded under the indigenous Brehon laws with much immunity, with a special divine grace and allowed to wander undisturbed.

"Crafty advice is often gained from a fool or a lunatic."

If we can imagine walking along a beach littered randomly with common stones and pebbles, and then suddenly finding a jewel we would be ecstatic. So it is with wisdom, the most precious and valued is not to be gained in the great halls of learning, universities, or libraries full of thousands of words, it is rather those observations glimpsed in the epileptic and random rattling of the wild mind. That anarchic mind which so often see's the world from an alternative perspective, the lateral mode of thought as defined by Edward de Bono.

The Wheel of Returns.

3) The Druid and Ancient Celts believed in a sort of 'karma' which in essence rests on the principle that whatever actions you performed in the world would come back to you in an eternal circle or wheel of existence. If you treated someone badly, that very same behaviour would, sooner or later reappear in your life to remind you, and perhaps until you truly understand existence and your personal role within it - the cycle would continue. Druids held to one and certain predominant principle; that of truth, both outward and inward (in the microcosm and macro-cosm) existing as a divine source of enlightenment. Therefore the Druid strove to balance and maintain an equility of behaviour, that is to be truthful and honest in their actions and intentions. The irish proverb regarding affections;

"Like the sun on a hill-top, but a thistle on the hearth"

This points to an individual who has not attained this balance within themselves. They shine gloriously on the outside, but inwardly are bent and malformed, intentions do not match behaviour. So it is important for us to reflect on the nature and intentions behind our apparent generosity, match the hand with our heart. As the great Bard once said; "To thine own self be true." Meditation on this is the first step toward a beautiful marriage of mind, body and soul, and a positive and dynamic relationship with friends, family and society.


4) As I mentioned in the last proverb, the ancient Irish and Celtic peoples generally had a strong believe in the transmigration of the soul, which is re-incarnation. The immortality of the soul was strongly tied to the ever revolving wheel of existence, passing continually from one existence to another. Some believed that the soul passed onto a land known as Tir na N'Og, or the land of everlasting youth to be refreshed and then once again reborn. For this reason the traditional Irish wake was a happy and often riotous affair with much celebration and drinking, to send the soul off with a party. On the other hand a birth would be greeted with sadness, aware of the fact that the soul of a person was reappearing into the world. The continuing cycle of existence is expressed in this proverb;

"As the old cock crows, the young chick chirps."

Here we see birth or youth and age or death in complete unison of faith. Both reveal a transcendant beauty where neither age nor wisdom really count; the cycle of life continues. Some of the old Irish tales express the belief that the soul may be reborn into other forms such as animals (for example the story of Fintain and the Hawk of Achille), and for this reason we must be extremely wary of intentionally hurting any forms of life. All life is held to be sacred, each body is the vessel for an immortal spirit, travelling through the boundaries of our perceived reality.


5) Anger is a negative emotion born out of inner frustration at people or events that do not conform to our own world-view, or the way we want things 'to be.' This emotion can ultimately be self destructive if we are not mindful enough to channel it into positive action. Positive action requires us to verbally explain our problem with a specific issue that confronts us, and by doing so our condition may improve. So many problems in the world arise out of anger, ignorance, violence, immaturity, obstinance, bigotry, racism, sexism.....and the list goes on. Perhaps you can be the person to say "the buck stops here" and be different, to follow a logical line of reasoning, not only that but to recognize anger and frustration in others and be a mellowing balm for their upset state of balance, bring them to a sense of harmony and repose. This Irish proverb recognizes several types of people prone to emotional upset;

"No wrong to be done to seven classes of persons excited to anger:- a bard, a chief, a woman, a prisoner, a drunken person, a druid, and a king in his own dominions."

More than anything this proverb teaches us to see the world through the perceptions of others, some in society bear a greater responsibility and are under immense pressure and stress, others are convicted of crimes and stripped of their liberty and self respect, some resort to the use of drugs to try and escape the crushing and degrading effects of modern life, a woman's life involves supporting a family, work, responsibilities, tension and stress.

Mahatma Ghandi said "Be the change you want to see in the world." And in the context of this discussion it could not ring more true. Understanding, openness, and integrity are key facets of both inward and outward change towards a viable peace between people. A mellow word of support to your colleagues or boss at work costs nothing, but may be rewarded manifold and begin a sort of 'chain-reaction' that ultimately brings a resounding and beautiful transformation to your world.

The Earth Mother.

6) Our earthly mother sustains and nurtures us with the milk from her breasts, she tends to our physical well-being and ensures that we grow and mature with enough strength and skill to compete in this world. Our spiritual mother regards our soul, she is the eternal and beginning of ages, the ancient one who is like a stream of inspiration which provides food and fuel for our inner existence. The Ancient One is the one who exists in all of us, as a miniscule seed of immortality.....but which is like the fragment of a star. She controls the seasons and the weather, she has seven youthful periods and seven mates, being reborn over and over in the universal wheel of life, she is the Hag of the myths who dwells beneath the river, of whom the old Irish kings must embrace before being able to mount the throne of authority and once kissed turns into a beautiful and seductive princess of the earth. The Cailleach is the Earth Mother;

"As old as the Cailleach Beare."

In Celtic and Irish myth the Cailleach is the originator of all that exists, the beginning and the most ancient. The eternal Goddess. The danger in refusing to recognize her importance in our spiritual make-up is a fragmentary sense of being, her femininity is an essential factor in our abilty to recognize realms beyond this world, to have faith and direction, to be inspired and to create, to listen and then act with sincerity and certainty. For men, the acceptance of her power and supremacy is one of the most important steps in achieving the nobility of the soul. One of my mentors composed this extraordinary Gaelic creation myth, based on the legends of the Cailleach;

In the Cave of Death beneath the Endless Abyss, there was nothing to be known. All was a "head in a bag." Yet something was not to be denied. Forward strode the giant, dark figure rhyming to her self as she went. In search of her self and seven periods was she. Mighty stones fell into the darkness and color shimmered forth in her wake. Magical writing and symbols appeared in swirls and diagrams as a luminescent testimony to her being. The Sea parted before her as the mountains surged upward seeking the lost home of her apron. Her youth preceded her even as her age marked her. Perhaps it was this that caused the changes though some say that it was the search for her sister-self. The Sun and the Moon came forth to mark the eons of her passing. Life marveled at her endless age, yet there was a point where all came together again. It was so fated even as the birth of no thing marked the endless change. No thing and its sister sang across the ages. The Sun and the Moon sought one another. The Seasons came on the Winds and the Trees remembered their seeds. The Land swelled in her belly and the Stars wandered as cattle across the night sky. The hammer of awareness shaped the Sky into a cauldron in which to serve the cosmic stews, even as the source of plenty sought refuge from chaos. Yet in it all her sadness was uplifted by the joys of her coming lovers even as her youth was stolen seven times the number of infinity from her. Yet hope and love belied this grim vision and a kiss reshaped her misshapen form into loveliness once again. A lover found and a world renewed as the doorway was passed by the Old One and she became the Young One once more. A memory shaped a name and an apron sustained the worlds as the Cave and the Cauldron echoed existence to one another. By Searles O'Dubhain

Sourced From:

Proverbs and Sayings of Ireland, Edited by Sean Gaffney and Seamus Cashman. MJF Books, NY. ISBN 13-978-1-56731-759-6
(With my own commentary!)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Ardam Dossaibh... Highest of Bushes... That is the Oak:

The Druids and traditional Gaelic clans are closely associated with trees, in his book 'The Druids' Peter Berresford Ellis’s defines this relationship, and suggests a possible meaning of their title;

“The Druids were an indigenous Celtic intelligentsia, evolving from the original wise men and women during the age of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ among the ancient ancestors of the Celts, losing their original functions but retaining the Celtic name of those with ‘oak knowledge.”

Ellis’s main theory is developed through an analysis of the possible meaning of the term Druid, being connected to the Irish dair or oak, dru-wid or ‘oak-knowledge’ and hence interpreted as meaning ‘those whose knowledge is great.’ Other root meanings that Ellis discovered are dru meaning ‘immersion’ and drucht or dew. Ellis concludes that the Druid is one who was immersed in (oak) knowledge.

Within Gaelic (and Irish) culture both the oak and trees in general are venerated, traditionally used a metaphors and models for society and as a means of describing the attributes of individuals and clans. Trees also take a primary place in spirituality and cosmology; modern Moville in Ireland which is 28 Km north of Derry (near the Inishowen Peninsula) takes its name from the old Gaelic Magh Bhile or Plain of the Sacred tree. Lough Gur in County Limerick reputedly has a sacred tree (the crann bethadh or Tree of Life) growing from its bottom, and according to myth the Lough disappears every seven years to reveal the growing tree. Nearby is a pasture in which a stone monument stands as a representative of the tree; the Cloch a Bhile, a seven foot reminder of the mythic ‘supporter of the world.’

Stuart Piggot has identified a ‘sacred oak cult’ in comparison with certain cultural elements within ancient Greek beliefs, finding similarities between the Dryads or Oak-Nymphs and the Druides, Druidai, Drysidae, and the Gaulish Druvis. Dryads were also the priestesses of Artemis, whose souls dwelt in the sacred oak trees.

The pagan veneration and respect for the oak was maintained even after Christianization; Irish churches were known by the old Druidic term dairtech (oak-house): Kildare (Church of the Oak), Durrow (Plain of the Oak), and Derry (The Oak Grove of Calgaich). There are numerous examples of tribal associations with trees, perhaps the most famous was the Craobh Ruadh or Red Branch of Ulster, the warrior band of Finn Mac Cumhail. A 17th century poem dedicated to the O’ Niall clan likens them to a Yew tree;

You are like a certain yew - there was one time - whose straight tops it was difficult to bend - on account of the union of its branches - One night this same yew under the stress of the thundering storm - which blew from the clouds - had its powerful roots torn.

According to the Ogham tract from the Auricept na N’Eces (The Scholars Primer) the oak is classified as a chieftain tree, described as Ardam dossaibh or Highest of bushes and Gres sair or carpenters (crafts-mans) work. More than anything the tree was symbolic of life itself and represented the genealogical traditions that infused much of Gaelic society, the origin of the meaning of the ‘family tree.’ Very often a family genealogist would be described as a Craobhe Seanchias or one with ‘tree-knowledge’ meaning of course that they had an extended knowledge of lineage and descent (and probably all the attached history, folk-lore and stories.)

Continuing and maintaining my interest in Druidry, geneology and the oak tree I pursued research into the folk tradition of the oak in British culture, and discovered the ‘Gospel – or Charter Oak’;

The Gospel Oak is a 1000 year old tree in Addlestone, in the county of Surrey, Britian which marked the boundary of Windsor forest. It is one of a number of trees scattered throughout the country collectively called 'Gospel Oaks' or 'Crouch Oaks.' They are so named because they were employed as center-points from which religious instruction or preaching were performed by ministers to congregations (particularly unpopular topics disdained by the mainstream religious establishment.) John Wycliffe (1320-1384) used the Addlestone Oak to preach the bible in the common language, as opposed to Latin. Others who used the Gospel Oak were the Scottish preacher, John Knox (1505-1572), George Whitfield (1714-1770), and Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892).

Gospel Oak is also a suburb of North-London, and named after a particular tree under which parishioners gathered to hear an annual reading of the gospels.

I believe that this practice was the continuation of a tradition which extended back to Celtic times, perhaps within the period that the Romans occupied Britain. Druidic ‘hedge’ schools may have been established in remote locations, instruction and elucidation performed beneath the aforementioned oak trees (out of sight of the Roman authorities.) From this perspective we have inherited a love and respect for this particularly majestic tree - within whose shade the evolution of our ancestor’s education grew, their inspiration blossomed, traditions preserved, language and custom kept a living thing, in peace, meditation and tranquil reflection.

Inspired by the notion of the oak tree as a form of natural learning-book I composed a nine-fold system of life learning, which for me represents a primal Druid rule of order by which I could assess and direct my life in compassion with the Earth, the elements and human society;

1) The Earth. From the roots, trunk and lofty branches of the tree I understood the 'three realms' or great triskele, earth, water and air. I began to understand the various phases of my life, birth, life and death, and the intertwined unity of the inner psychology of my unconscious, subconscious, and conscious. The life cycle of the tree is always continuous; growth and order yields fruit and seeds, which themselves develop into separate lives with their own personality and dynamics. The ‘mother’ tree dies, is consumed by the earth to give fresh pasture – the life continues.

2) The Spirit. The solidified manifestation and expression of spirituality. The tree is nurtured from a seed or spirit, watered and fed, the tap root (or the core of the tree's existence grow first - through the winter). My soul must be fed - with right actions, truth and direction, connected to the earth, following justice and respect for all that which is around me.

3) The Circle. Understanding and realizing place, time, motion, position, seasons. The eternal and infinite revolution of being.

4) The Mind. As the tree stretches out in growth, and I must strive in the pursuit and practise of wisdom, knowledge and learning. This must be as natural as a branch and blossom stretching out toward the sun. The continuation of the effort expended by my ancestors, who passed life onto me through their own struggles, work and pursuits.

5) The Heart. To grow with maturity, to possess responsibility for myself and my family and community. To be a home and haven for those around me, the tree provides these conditions for a host of wildlife, even wood for humans to use as an essential component of construction. To love and heal, support, guide, enlighten.

6) The Seed. To plant and germinate, cultivate, grow in accordance with the seasons and provide fruits for harvest. To give and receive.

7) The Labor. To be, or to have singular purpose, to possess skill, provision for my family through the intelligent use of all my senses; sight, taste, smell, touch, feeling. Understanding the whole character of my nature and using that nature for success in life.

8) The Dream. Realizing my spiritual and physical differences, the seen and unseen (roots and branches), the inner and outer, and bringing the spiritual (within me) to a successful realization. The tree is a place for me to sleep, to dream, to recall history, understand the present, imagine the future.

9) The Preservation. Understanding the importance of existence, avoiding or fighting against extinction, preserving memory and tradition, never to forget the lessons in life.

I found inspiration in a quote from John Wright, a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids;

"Let the trees be consulted before you take any action, every time you breathe in thank a tree, let treeroots crack the parking lots at the World Bank Headquarters, let loggers be druids specially trained and rewarded to sacrifice trees at auspicious times, let carpenters be master artisans, let lumber be like gold, let chainsaws be played like saxaphones, let soldiers on maneuvers plant trees, give policemen and criminals a shovel and a thousand seedlings, let businessmen carry pocketfuls of acorns, let newlyweds honeymoon in the woods, walk don’t drive, stop reading newspapers, stop writing
poetry, squat under a tree and tell stories..."

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Eight Celtic Days of Celebration...

The High Days.

Mean Foghmar, The Autumn Equinox. September 21st.

In astronomical terms this represents the date (around the third week of September) when night and day are approximately equal in length. The sun appears to cross the celestial equator and decline or descend toward the south. The term ‘equinox’ is derived from the Latin, with aequus meaning equal, and nox meaning night. The lunar month in the Coligny calendar leading upto the equinox was called Edrinios and meant an ‘arbitration-time.’ In the Irish tradition this feast is called Clabhsur (closure) in West Munster, and represents a coming to terms and an end to the relationship the tribe or community has had with the earth.

So, this festival comes after the harvest, and represents a ‘fallow-time.’ It is a thanksgiving for the benefits of the agricultural season, the warmth and light of summer and marks the end of a period of growth, fertility and expansion. This is a time of reflection, appraisal, assessment and preparation for the coming dark season of winter, the storage of essential foods and provisions that must last until spring. This was also a hunting season, a time in which the basic nutritional provisions could be supplemented with wild game.

On a spiritual, physical and mental level this is a period in which we can evaluate our past months, our successes and achievements, which of our plans and projects have bore fruit, and lay to rest all those efforts and struggles which lie uncompleted. A time to forgive and forget, to settle arguments and close the door with a cheerful wave.

In mythical and poetic terms this is the day of battle between dark and light, perhaps no better visualized in the Celtic tradition than in the Cath Maige Tuireadh, in the combat of the God Lugh against the forces of the Fomoraigh. Unfortunately in this spoke of the year’s wheel it is darkness that triumphs, but also a barreness and a period of mourning, the caoin or lament for the dead and departed which in seasonal terms reaches an apex in the following festival of Samhain.

Samhain October 31- November 1.

The Celtic festivals are all linked to a wheel of life which reflects the stages in the human development, of birth, life, death and then rebirth. Samhain is both the end and the beginning of a new year and thus represents death and ritualistic rebirth. The Celtic year was divided into two aspects: An ghrian mor or ‘the greater sun, and An ghrian beag or ‘the lesser sun.’ A light half of the year which ran from the festival of Beltaine in May to Samhain in November, and the dark half which manifested itself from Samhain to Beltaine.

It was believed that the veil between this world and the otherworld was thinner at this time of year, and allowed for clearer communication with long passed and distant ancestors, for Druids especially it was a time of divination and omen seeking, praising and honoring the ancestors, and traditionally a place would be set at the feast table especially for the kin-spirits who would be expected to return this night.

The Celtic scholar Alexei Kondratiev identifies five key elements in the Samhain ritual; it is a time of renewal, of giving way to the past and contemplating the coming year. Of hospitality, with respect to the tradition of honoring the dead with tributes. The process of dissolution, in which the normal façade of objective reality disappears and allows the paranormal, the extraordinary and the spiritual dimension to enter our lives. A sense of timelessness, involving the practice of divination in non-linear time and space wherein the boundaries between the physical and spiritual are diminished. Sacrifice, tribute and payment were two key issues brought forward at this time as a means of thanks-giving for the harvest and a way of honoring the spirits of the land.

On a personal and practical level Samhain is a time for deep, thoughtful and meditative reflection. A time in which we can escape the mundane and repetitive aspects of our lives and indulge in foolery and trickery, jesting and of course feasting. A time to remember the passing of our loved ones, and reflect on the joyous times we spent with them. A time to share the fruits of our year’s harvest with those around us. A time of past, present and future.

Mean Geimhridh, The Winter Solstice, December 21st

The Winter Solstice is the darkest point in the year, the shortest day when little sunlight makes for a benign introspection. The mind, body and soul yearns for warmth and comfort, a simple sign that can give some element of hope in a period of frost, death and stillness. It is at this auspicious time that the sun, at its lowest point on the southern horizon pierces the dark inner chamber of the Brugh na Boinne at Newgrange in Ireland. Through a small hole above the entrance sunlight enters the palace of both the Daghda, the Good-God, and Aenghus Mac Ogh (his son, the chosen child of youth). This event calls to my mind the Fleadh Aise, ancient feast of the age, a celebration of eternal existence instituted by the old Irish god’s the ‘Tuatha de Danaan.’ The significance of this event is a reminder that from this point onward the sun will grow in strength, eventually reaching full maturity at the Summer Solstice on June 21st.

The Celtic tradition at this time echoes the Christian, the child of light is born or becomes manifest within a dark world, a child of hope for the future. Differing Celtic traditions give this child varying names, be it Aenghus Mac Ogh, or Mabon ap Madron (Great-Son of the Great-Mother). Another key character I associate with the Winter Solstice is Lugh, the heavenly warrior returning with a glittering sword, a light of illumination, a spirit which emboldens and inspires.

One of the most curious rituals at this point in the Gaelic wheel of the year is ‘Wren Day’ on the 26th of December. More formally called St. Stephens Day, originally is was a ritual in which a Wren was caught and sacrificially killed. To the Druids the wren symbolized the power of prophesy, a king of birds with the power to cross the barriers of this world and the heavens. It has been suggested that the wren is the embodiment of the God Lugh, whose blood is spilled on the earth and therefore ensures a prosperous and fertile season to come. The poor little corpse of the wren is then taken around the various habitations of the community with requests for money to bury it. An elaborate and beautiful coffin was constructed and the wren buried with significant and tender care.

All the evergreens are used to decorate the home at this time; holly, ivy, pine, and juniper remind us of the eternal nature of the spirit in connection with the soul of nature. Mistletoe as an emblem of fertility is coupled with the oak, the king of tree’s, bringing him his crown of glory.

This is a time of innocent pleasure, of sharing the twinkling and bright objects around us to illuminate our sadness. Of sharing hearts and comforts. At this time I make a bowl of spiced cider to share with friends and also a wee sip of golden mead, and celebrate the never-ending path and the eternal light that shows the way.

Oimelc January 31st to February 1st.

A seasonal rite with pastoral and agricultural associations. The term Oimelc or Imbolc is thought to be derived from a root word translated as milk and meaning (in this context) the time of lactation, since this was the first period if the year when the ewes gave birth and suckled their young. In this sense, Oimelc was considered the first day of spring, connected to the fertility of the earth, the feast of flowing and first ploughing. This day is also celebrated as La Fheile Bride or Brighid’s Feast. Brighid is one of the most fascinating and complex of individuals in Celtic tradition. The Irish chronicler in Cormac's Glossary describes Brighid as a poetess, a female sage, a woman of wisdom, or the goddess whom poets venerated because she was renowned for her protecting care. So, originally a much honored Goddess of fertility, inspiration of craft, and healing, her mantle was assumed by the famous saint in Ireland and carried forward within the precincts of the holy church of Kildare (church of the oak).

It was at Oimelc that the spirit of Brighid would be beckoned within the home for a blessing, either as a young girl impersonating the Goddess, or as an effigy called a brideoga, a small, carefully constructed straw doll. Another tradition involved the making of a special cross of Brighid, called a crosoga, and a belt or girdle called a crios. All of these in combination are seen as an effort to bring light and illumination (bri) into the home, life and the hearth or heart of the tribe. Another key element at Oimelc is the appearance of the Rioghan or the Queen Serpent, the magical oracular snake which had spent the past half of the dark year hibernating, and emerges to pronounce its opinion on the favorability of the weather. In Ireland this custom involved the grainneog or hedgehog (a small mammal like a porcupine), and indeed this tradition is continued today in the USA as ‘Groundhog Day.’

This is a time for gentle re-nourishing of the spirit and soul, of new beginnings, of personal invitations, of contemplating and preparing a fresh voyage of adventure, and of being certain that the warm breath of the sun, though distant is coming to inspire and kindle the hearth of our being.

Mean Earraigh, The Spring Equinox, March 21st.

There is no confirmative evidence that the ancient Celts celebrated more than the already documented four agricultural festivals of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasad, and Samhain. Mean Earraigh is, like the other solar festivals an anomaly within traditional Gaelic tradition. An Irish-Gaelic verse (based on the information provided by Cormac Úa Cuilennáin in his 10th century Glossary) by an unknown author confirms this:

Rathaí firinneacha na bliana: "The true seasons of the year:

Rath ó Lá 'le Bríde go Bealtaine, The season from St. Bridget's Day to May Day,

Rath ó Bhealtaine go Lúnasa, The season from May Day to Lúnasa,

Rath ó Lúnasa go Samhain, The season from Lúnasa to Samhain,

Rath ó Shamhain go Lá 'le Bríde. The season from Samhain to St. Bridget's Day."

J. A. MacCulloch in his Religion of the Ancient Celts indicates that the so-called solar festivals, the solstices and equinoxes are derivations from other cultures, possibly Roman, Christian or Pre-Celtic societies. The celebration of the Midsummer is pan-pagan, that is, it was celebrated by a variety of cultures throughout Western Europe. The Irish Gaelic terms Geimredh, Earrach, Samradh,and Foghamhar, are all terms which describe seasons of the year ie; autumn, spring, summer and winter but which reflect a desire to present a further division of the year and successfully combine a solar and lunar calendar.

Miranda Green considers only the four agricultural festivals as authentic, and that the addition of the solar festivals borrows from another parallel pagan movement known as Wicca (headed by Gerald Gardner), in which these are called the ‘Sabbats.’ John Michael Greer, Archdruid of the AODA is quoted as saying that the solar festivals are purely inventory within the Druidic and Celtic system of belief, an aspect of the romantic Druid renaissance headed by Dr. William Stukely in the 1700’s;

“The solstices and equinoxes were the festivals of the Druid Revival, and that was specifically because of Stonehenge – its orientation to midsummer sunrise is hard to miss. Much of the early Revival lore was inspired directly by the old megalithic ruins. (The cross quarter days didn't get added to the Druid calendar until the early 1950s, when Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner invented the "ancient" eightfold year-wheel over a couple of pints of beer in a London pub.)”

However, with this in mind is it possible to celebrate a festival of the wheel of the year in an authentic context? In validating this festival I drew viable details from several Celtic differing sources. St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th of March is perhaps close enough to the equinox to have been a pre-Christian rite of spring. Perhaps the most celebrated symbol of this particular day is the shamrock, a natural symbol of Druidic trinitarianism. The so-called God of the shamrock is a divine figure mentioned in ‘The Settling of The Manor of Tara’ by the name of Trefuilngid Treeochair (Triple Bearer of The Triple Key), the one who causes the sun to rise and set and who stands at this point midway. A glorious God of Spring not unlike the figure of Dionysis, who brings as yet unripe fruits of green, and aids in the divisions and organization of the land.
So, at Mean Earraigh we stand on the thresh-hold of balance between night and day. It is a time for order and the definition of boundaries, of drawing plans and honoring the elemental forces in the Earth. This is the ideal time to ‘spring-clean’ the home, to locate and institute newly discovered dynamics in our personal and professional lives.

Beltaine, April 30th – May 1st.

This festival echoes with the same liminal mystery of Samhain, and ending the An ghrian beag or dark-half of the year. Beltaine is principally a fertility festival.

In the widest possible sense fertility includes the growth and activity of mind, body and spirit, the creation of art and crafts, poetry, foods, and nurturing intellect and inspiration. Also training the senses to appreciate the world around us, our community and life. Within the context of a Celtic fertility festival Beltaine is a reminder of our role and participation in a greater symbiotic cycle; that of the earth and nature. In this particular ritual the key role of fertility is given special status in an agricultural sense, traditionally a time when the shoots of the first planting would be coming forth from the soil, and the ‘light-half’ of the year is increasing in its strength.

Another interesting fertility figure in Gaelic tradition is the ‘Sheela na Gig.’ The Sheela is a carved stone female figurine with open legs, exposed and showing her clutching her vulva with both hands. Most scholars associate her with the ‘cailleach’ or Old-Hag, she may also be a representation of the Goddess Brighid, and many examples are found inserted into the masonry of churches, cathedrals or monasteries. One community in Ireland has been reported as using the figurine as a power object for woman during the process of childbirth and to ensure an easy delivery. Kathryn Price NicDhana sees the figure as one primal aspect of the changing year of traditional Celtic seasons:

“In much of the Scottish lore the year is ruled alternately by the Hag of Winter and the Maiden Queen of Summer. Yet I see Síla as another, lesser known, third face of this well-known duality: the manifestation of the usually-hidden doorway that emerges when these forces are balanced or in flux. She holds the doorway which opens in the liminal-times: the days of Bealtaine and Samhain, the twilight of sunrise or sunset, and when the mists arise where the land and the sky meet the waters. She is both and neither, an Otherworldly force that refuses to fit into either/or categories”

At Beltaine all fires would be extinguished, and the hearth fire relit from the embers of a central bonfire. Cattle and sheep would be driven between two fires in the community as a sacred rite of purification and sanctification for the coming year of light. Communal celebrations included dancing, singing, and general earth centered activities that incorporated the marriage between the people and the feminine protector or land-Goddess, the flower maiden.

In a modern context we can celebrate Beltaine as our own fertility rite by pursuing creative and rewarding activities, stimulating the mind, body and soul with nourishing tasks: learning and knowledge, exercise and fresh nutritional foods, and the cultivation of a sacred and spiritual path to culture our soul. A deeper involvement with nature and the environment can be rewarding, also building and maintaining meaningful relationships can drive away the deserts of depression and loneliness. Whilst Beltaine is mainly associated with the key concept of rebirth and reproduction, it also has the capacity to bring us to a greater understanding of creativity, inspiration and endurance.

Mean Samraidh, The Summer Solstice, June 21st.

The height of summer, when the sun reaches it’s highest point in the sky and the day of greatest length. Mean Samraidh means ‘middle of summer, and from this auspicious day the sun will grow increasingly weaker until the Winter-Solstice.

Although there is no definitive historical Celtic connection many British Druids celebrate the dawn of the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, when the sun casts a shadow as rises at the central stone onto the earth, perhaps signifying a symbolic fertilization of the ‘mother-earth.’ In Gaulish belief the sun was associated with a deity called Grannos, a god of healing and solar worship, also connected with healing wells. Grannos was usually paired with a goddess called Sirona or Star. Grannos appears to be cognate with the Old-Irish Grian, also meaning sun. The Irish Celts were renowned astrologers and it is difficult not to believe that the event of the Summer Solstice had no meaning for them. We find that in Old-Irish the term reithes grian was used to describe the ‘zodiac’ and its literal meaning was ‘wheel of the sun.’ A later Middle-Irish term is concurrent with this, Crois Grian or Girdle of the Sun. One other term in Irish-Gaelic is used to describe midday, which is lo-chrann. This term is still used in a modern context to describe an illuminating, guiding and brilliant light. So, perhaps within a traditional belief the Solstice may have been perceived as the ‘midday’ of the year, a time for healing, guidance, and empowerment within the ever-circling wheel of life.

A herb traditionally associated with the Summer Solstice is St. John’s Wort, which is encapsulated as a chant within the Carmina Gadelica:

“Saint Johnswort, Saint Johnswort, I deem lucky the one who will have you; I harvest you with my right hand, I store you away with my left hand; whoever finds you in the fold of the young animals will never want for anything.”

St. John’s Wort was seen as a bloom inspired by the solstice, and thus taking on its power and depth for healing. In modern healing it is principally used against depression and some have used it (despite its reputation for photosensitivity) as a sun-burn protection.

Other identifiable customs associated with the concept of the ‘solar-wheel’ are the traditions in which hoops of oak are constructed, set afire and then rolled down steep hillsides, with a mass chase after it. Within a modern context the Solstice is a time for reveling in the healing power of light, the interconnection of our bright spirits in communal sharing, being guided by astronomical and astrological events, and the solemn anticipation of the emerging dark side of the year.

Lughnasadh, August 1st.

Lughnasadh was a festival originated by the God Lugh in honor of his foster-mother Taillte, both in her memory and as an elegy to her death. Cormac in his glossary defines the suffix nasadh as cluiche no aonach meaning ‘game or assembly.’ So, this was a time in which numerous tribes would come together for sportive and competitive games, to exchange news and information and form fresh allegiances.

The Holy Mountain in County Mayo Ireland, formerly known in pagan Celtic times as Croachan Aigh (Mount of the Eagle) and now called Cruach Phadraig (The Mountain of St. Patrick) is the scene of a ritual which predates the Christian era. Druids and their acolytes would walk to the top of the 2510ft high mountain on the last Sunday of July as part of the Lughnasadh festival, make invocations to the gods and goddesses and leave offerings of harvested wild fruits as a sort of thanksgiving. Archeologists reckon that such rituals date back to 3000 BC. The current festival, known as 'Garland Sunday' is in celebration of the 40 day fast by St. Patrick in 441 AD. So-called because pilgrims leave garlands at the top of the mount.

During Lughnasadh many people would pick wild berries from the hilltops, called fraughans, herts, bilberries or blueberries, and make them into festive desserts, puddings or jelly (jam in Europe). Such a delicacy is the Fraughan-Fool with cookies, and incredibly simple to make:

Ingredients: Blueberries, Granulated sugar, Whipped Cream.

Method: 1. Crush the berries with a potato masher and sweeten to taste with the sugar. 2. Fold in the whipped cream (equal to about 1/2 the volume of berries). 3. Chill and serve with your cookies.

For the cookies: Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1 stick of butter, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar

Method: 1. Rub the butter into the flour, then add the sugar. Form into a dough and knead lightly. 2. Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness, cut into rounds with a 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter. 3. Place on a buttered baking tray or on parchment, and put into a preheated oven at 350 F until pale brown (about 15 mins), take out on cool on a wire rack.