Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Psalm for Brighid/Imbolc 2007

Look! Across the fields and see an ocean of ice retreating,
To a pale silver blush of frost on the distant mountain peaks,
And then, the whistle of a plover, pied herald of a benevolent mother;
A warm fragrance, a taste of inspiration, cold palms eager for the forge...
O' your breath is a fresh sigh of new life, like mist across lands neglected by summers light.
So, the flame licks the shadows past, your hearth is kindled; Welcome...
Your pregnant joy bursts into blossoms of color, and lambs suckle on spring milk.

An bhuil me sa ghairdin? (Am I in the garden?)

A Question of Illumination:

Go mbeid gra is sonas i ndan duit (May love and happiness be your destiny) .........

Many people ask me of the nature of enlightenment, what some call 'Buddha-Hood' and in my own humble way I present them with this short tale of one in ancient times past:
Enlightenment is like the very old man whose sole desire in life was to be like the Buddha, and to this end he spent his days and hours in the temple, praying, chanting, meditating with vigor and enthusiasm in the pursuit of transendence. As he was lighting some incense toward the end of one day there was a huge explosion of amazing light, and he himself was enveloped in a beautiful warm glow which filled him with an intense feeling of absolute bliss. He knew instantly that his moment had arrived, and he ran out of the temple onto the path homeward to tell his wife and son of his amazing experience and joy. He passed under a tall tree by the path, and in the uppermost branches was a small monkey with a large rock, and when it saw the man it threw the rock down... and the rock struck the man directly on the temple, killing him dead!

Such is the mysterious beauty of enlightenment.

Ta me sa ghairdin (I am in the garden).

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Lorica of Lugh Lamhfadha

The lorica or ‘shielding’ has a long and venerable history in Irish Gaelic spirituality. It is known primarily as a morning prayer of protection, oft used by Christian saints such as Patrick to guard themselves against the evils of the world. However, this chanting and lyrical form of poetry predates monotheism in Ireland and can be traced to the incantations and oaths recited by warriors before battle. Adopted then by the ‘soldiers of Christ’ in their spiritual warfare. The Pagan intention was to assume an impenetrable sphere or shield of energy around themselves, much like armor, and this power was one bestowed upon an individual by the gods supreme, as can be seen in this exchange between Conchobar and the hero Cuchulainn in the Tain:

“I swear by my Gods whom I worship, they shall all come under me… just as I have put myself under the shielding and protection of the Gods.”

The other great lorica is ‘Rop tu mo Baile’ or ‘Be Thou my Vision’ attributed to the 8th century High-Poet of Ireland and Christian saint Dallan Forghail, (born 830 CE and martyred in 898). Dallan was famed for preserving and reforming the ancient Bardic Order of Druids, and writing the eloquent biography of St. Columcille ‘Amra Cholium Chille.’ Dallan’s lorica focuses specifically on adopting virtues as a shield, and it is in this context that I created my own chant, together with the use of his primary phrase ‘thou vision’ as a repeating mantra. A short gloss in Dallan’s Amra gives a further insight into his beautiful and poetic mind with relations to virtue:

“Fo is a name for good and for honor;
Fi is a name for evil and for disobedience;
An is true and it is no weak knowledge,
Iath is diadem and iath is land.

Mur means multitude yonder in the law,
Coph is victory, it is a full right word,
Du is a place, du means thy right,
Cail is protection and cul is chariot.”

Other valuable references to Gaelic virtues are found in the ‘Audacht Morainn Mac Moin’ or The Testament Addressed to Feradach find Fechtnach Mac Craumthann Nia Nar, and ‘The Instructions of King Cormac to his son Cairbe.’ Specific legal obligations are to be found amongst the ancient Brehon laws in the ‘Senchus Mor.’ My Lorica is directed toward the magnificent warrior god Lugh, who I see as the Lord of protection, of borders and boundaries, the archetypal hero who appears in the ‘Cath Magh Tuireadh’ or 2nd Battle of Moytura in which he joins forces with the Tuatha de Danann against the malevolent Fomhoraigh. Such are the brilliant and shining strengths of Lugh that the Gaels could never relinquish their believe in him, even after conversion to Christianity, and thereafter adopted him in the guise of St. Michael the Archangel… another formidable combatant and knight of the good against the darkest cosmic forces. I also drew guidance from the nine pagan virtues elucidated in the dedicant program of ‘Ar n’Draiocht Fein’ and then added a grounding plaint wherein the bodily existence is compared to, and woven into the essential elements of existence (as perceived within Celtic lore) and these were taken from a manuscript in the British Museum in London; BM MS 478 Folio 7a. Combined as a whole, I feel that the lorica kindles a powerful and presiding strength of purpose from which no fear could be adopted in the course of one’s daily activities:

The Lorica (Shielding) of Thiarna Lugh Lamhfhada

Rop Tu Mo Baile (Be Thou My Vision, Pron: rop thu may valley)
Shining Valor-God
Balm my senses, with
Sun-blessed tincture
Of visions beyond boundaries

Rop Tu Mo Baile
Bless me with Wisdom
Truth’s deepest well
Shimmering Salmon of destiny
Against slander and deceit

Rop Tu Mo Baile
Bless me with sacred thought
All encompassing piety
Immersed in Natures flow
Against invasion and chaos.

Rop Tu Mo Baile
Bless my heart with courage
Stag leaping with sure power
Swift songs through a glade
Against shadows of weakness.

Rop Tu Mo Baile
Bless my throne of integrity
A seat of high-honor, nobility
From the eternal stone of oaths
Against lips of liars.

Rop Tu Mo Baile
Bless me with oak sturdiness
Rule of discipline and dedication
Perseverance in cross gales
Against lazy cots of sleep.

Rop Tu Mo Baile…
Bless me with a hospitable hand
Greetings generous, healing touch
Charity and purity unbound
Against gluttonous disease and famine.

Rop Tu Mo Baile
Bless with a calm lake of moderation
Weighed on scales of harmony
A hawk balanced in flight
Against slavery and desire.

Rop Tu Mo Baile…
Bless me with fertile eloquence
Poetry of creation seeds
Woven tapestry of fine words
Against blunt tools and barren land.

Rop Tu Mo Baile.

"May my face glow with the intensity of the Sun’s forge, my back blossom with the strength of the tree of life, my flesh be enriched as the deep earth, my blood flow and surge like the oceans wide, my thoughts translucent and graceful as the clouds, my breath fragrant as fresh spring winds, my bones firm and sturdy as mountain stones, my mind tranquil as the phases of the moon, my head in amazement of the blanketed stars at night… and may my spirit remain pure and truthful, within and without, as a living spark of energy in the center with all things of beauty and passion."

Biodh Se

David D.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Litany for Danu

Danu is the Great Archetypal Mother-Goddess of the Gaelic peoples, in the fragmentary creation myths that have come down to us through ages past she is but a mysterious whisper, of immense stature but elusive in character. Danu is connected with the origins of the cosmos and credited with being the first matron of existence. In these modern times She is percieved as a vital life force, a universal energy much like the TAO which flows like a mighty river of passion through all. In the Vedic tradition her name means 'Waters from Heaven' although in the Gaelic perception and language she is all at once the 'Birther, sustainer and giver' Connected to her name is the Irish term 'Dan' meaning destiny, and Bradan which is the name of the salmon.Danu is particularly associated with water, rain and rivers; the Danube is one example named after her. I composed this litany in her honor:

Sireadh Thall… Sireadh Thall… Sireadh Thall…
(Seek Beyond… Seek Beyond… Seek Beyond…)

O Great Danu… A Maithair De (O Thou Mother-God)
O Danu of the Heights and Depths… A Maithair De
O Ocean of Tides, Waters of Heaven… A Maithair De
O Mistress of Mists… A Maithair De
O Sovereign of Warriors… A Maithair De
O Goddess of Grace Overflowing… A Maithair De
O Swift Wind of Blessings… A Maithair De
O Fire of Eternal Glory… A Maithair De
O Cloud of Dreams… A Maithair De
O Mother of Harmony… A Maithair De
O Lady of Green Plains… A Maithair De
O Word of Honor… A Maithair De
O Sign of Tranquility… A Maithair De
O Gate of Heaven… A Maithair De
O Golden Vessel… A Maithair De
O Pillar of Destiny… A Maithair De
O Harbor of Truth… A Maithair De
O Spear of Victory… A Maithair De
O Shield of Tribes… A Maithair De
O Fountain of Hearts… A Maithair De
O Waters Purifying… A Maithair De
O Virgin Snow… A Maithair De
O Origin of the Gael… A Maithair De
O Passion of Love… A Maithair De
O Field of Songs… A Maithair De
O Star of the Sea… A Maithair De
O Maternal Blossom… A Maithair De
O Hand-Maid of the Dawn… A Maithair De
O Pinnacle of the Day… A Maithair De
O Grace of Dusk… A Maithair De
O Serene Cycles of the Moon… A Maithair De
O Resplendent Harvest… A Maithair De
O Fruit of Fertility… A Maithair De
O Seed of Life… A Maithair De
O Mead of Vision… A Maithair De
O Essence of Creation… A Maithair De
O Secret Garden… A Maithair De
O Glimmering Brook… A Maithair De
O Voice of Inspiration… A Maithair De
O Mountain of Shades… A Maithair De
O Cautious Thought… A Maithair De
O Subtle Action… A Maithair De
O Bountiful Reward… A Maithair De
O Temple of the Living Soul… A Maithair De
O Throne of the Eternal Youth… A Maithair De
O Grove of Sanctuary… A Maithair De
O Guardian of Genealogies… A Maithair De
O Nobility of the Oak… A Maithair De
O Return of the Yew… A Maithair De
O Birth of the Birch… A Maithair De
O Wisdom of the Hazel… A Maithair De
O Vitality of the Apple… A Maithair De
O Womb of the Salmon… A Maithair De
O Palm of Silver… A Maithair De
O Maze of Delight… A Maithair De
O Milk of the Sky… A Maithair De
O Whisper of Dance… A Maithair De
O Queen of the Hive… A Maithair De
O Tear of Mourning… A Maithair De
O Great Danu… A Maithair De

Mar a bha… Mar a tha… Mar a bhitheas… Go Brath…
(As it was… As it is… As it shall be… Evermore…)

Ri Traghadh… Sri Lionadh…
(With the ebb… With the flow…)

Biodh Se, David.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A History of Beltaine, the Spring-Celebration

Seo e an samhradh a thiocfas go haerach
Thugar fein an samhradh linn
Samhradh bui o lui na griene
Thugamar fein an samhradh linn

(This is the Summer that will come gaily, we have brought the Summer in, Yellow summer from the bed of the sun, We have brought the Summer in). – Old Irish Beltaine song.

Beltaine (pron. Bel’ta-na) or ‘bright fire’ is the Celtic festival which marks the beginning of the summer. It is traditionally celebrated on the 1st of May, or in pre-reformation times on the first Monday or Tuesday of May. In astronomical terms it is the cross-quarter day at the junction of the vernal equinox and summer solstice. Beltaine was the opening of the fertile season toward the second division of the Celtic year known as ‘An ghrian mor’ or ‘the great sun,’ as opposed to ‘An ghrian beg’ or the lesser sun which ran from the festival and time of Samhain to Beltaine. Thus Beltaine opened the light half of a year, the other half being dark. On the Coligny calendar Beltaine is represented by ‘Samivisionis’ or the time of brightness and illumination occurring from May to June.

The Irish chronicler Cormac in the 9th century links Druidic ritual to Beltaine, in a description of the creation of two bonfires between which a herd of cattle were driven in symbolic ritual to ward off disease. These ritual bonfires had several purposes, being principally the acknowledgement of the power of the sun, as a source of heat, light, power and sustenance, a recognition of the powerful solar healing powers, and it is believed by some scholars as a form of worship of the sun as a deity. In essence the bonfire was a homage and intended to replicate the sun’s power on earth, as a fertilizer; spreading the remnants of ashes over the ground to aid the germination of seed crops, the fire may also have been seen as a purifier which burned out the old year like a hot fever.

Irish myths show a connection between Beltaine, fire and rituals. In the Lebor Gabala Erin (The Book of Invasions) a Druid named Mide who founded Meath, is recorded as being the first to light a Beltaine fire. The tale is somewhat continued in the Dinnschenchas (The History of Places), where the fire started by Mide spreads throughout Ireland much to the annoyance of other Irish Druids. Mide then proceeds to cut out their tongues and ritually burn them, thereby depriving the other Druids of their essential power of expression; speech, prophecy and satire. Tara is the sacred site in Ireland, in County Meath, which dates back to Neolithic times and mythology represented the royal seat of the kings of Ireland. It was later designated as the location for the Congregation of the National Assembly at Beltaine.

Beltaine was also known as ‘Cetsamhain’ or opposite Samhain in Ireland. It does seem possible that the festival was associated with the continental Celtic sun-god and healer Belenus. The name Bel also means mouth or an opening, tane means fire. Belenus probably represented the curative powers of solar energy, whilst also providing a pathway of visionary power between this world and the spiritual plane of existence.

Beltaine appears to have been a major fertility festival, celebrating the birth process behind the agricultural season, and accompanied by explicit and symbolic sexual rituals. The so called ‘Long Man of Cerne’ or the Cerne Abbas Giant, a naked male image carved into a chalk hillside in Dorset, in south-west Britian was the location for annual Beltaine festivals, all recorded in the early 1900’s. The image of the giant with a huge erect phallus definitely connects the festival to fertile celebrations. A description of a May-day festival by the Elizabethan puritan Philip Stubbes (1550 – 1593) in his ‘Anatomy of Abuses’ in 1583, gives an opinionated but enlightening depiction of the process of the celebration:

“Every parish, town, and village assemble themselves together, both men, women and children, old and young……… and either going all together or dividing themselves into companies, some go to the woods and groves, some to the hills and mountains……… where they spend all night in pleasant pastimes, and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch boughs, and branches of trees to deck their assemblies withal. And no marvel, for there is a great lord amongst them, as superintendent and lord over there pastimes and sports, namely Satan the Prince of Hell. But their chiefest jewel that they bring from thence is their Maypole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus; they have twenty or forty of oxen, each ox having a sweet nosegay of flowers tied on the tip of his horns, and these oxen draw this Maypole (this stinking idol rather) which is covered all over with flowers and herbs, bound round with strings and sometimes painted with variable colors, with two or three hundred men, women and children following it with great devotion. And thus being reared up with hankerchiefs and flags streaming on top, they straw the ground about, bind green boughs about it, set up summer halls, bowers and arbors hard by; and then fall to banquet and feast, to leap and dance about it, as the Heathen people did at the dedication of their idols, whereof this is a perfect pattern.”

In Stubbes account there is a definite sense of ‘earth veneration’, fertility and celebration of life, with the involvement of live-stock/animals as oxen, and gay decorations. The origins of planting a representation of a phallus into the earth (womb) and venerating it as a symbol of fertility is primarily Indo-European or Aryan in nature. The Maypole is still the ‘Great Lingam’ (a penis or phallic pillar) found in the core of Hindu temples in India, firmly planted into the receptive ground. John Stow (1525 – 1603) the London chronicler gives an altogether more spiritual assessment of the May festival:

“On Monday in the mornings, every man would walk into sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savor of sweet flowers, and with the harmony of birds, praising God in their kind…”

The month of May represents Maya or Maia, the virgin Goddess of spring. Worship of this particular Goddess and the rituals associated with her have strong connections and are identifiable with the Roman spring festival of Floralia. One key aspect of these celebrations is the presence of a ‘May Queen’ who is inevitably a virgin bride representing the earth mother or Maya herself. The ancient Irish ceremony for the inauguration of a king involved a similar symbolic earth deity, a feminine protectress to whom the king was married, and establishing a contract to guard and preserve the land. The British tradition however appears to lean toward a Latin Paganism, William Stuckley observed several intimations of this in a May celebration in 1724;

“There is a Maypole near Horn Castle, Lincolnshire, where probably a Hermes (a phallic pillar) in Roman times. The boys annually keep up the festival of the Floralia on Mayday, making a procession to this hill with May gads (as they call them) in their hands. This is a white willow wand, the bark peeled off, tied around with cowslips, a thyrsus of the Bacchanals. At night they have a bonfire, and other merriment, which is really a sacrifice, a religious festival.”

In Britain the May festival was celebrated with branches and flowers of the hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), picked the night before and used to decorate windows and doors, which are symbolic of openings, birth, passageways of life through the earth; the feminine aspect of the festival. The hawthorn in this respect was perceived as a cleansing and protecting agent, with the heavy and pungent musky aroma of the flowers observed as an essentially feminine attribute. The ritualistic nature-blessing is preserved in this children’s rhythm from Mother Goose;

The fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be.

Hawthorn, or in Gaelic huath, is the 6th letter of the Ogham tree alphabet. As it flowers in May it was seen as a rising aspect of sexuality, a garland of the leaves were often placed around the tip of the phallic Maypole. Wood from the hawthorn was the principle ingredient for bonfires at this time, since it provides the hottest fire known. Presumably it was thus used by blacksmiths and metal workers and gained a mystical and magical reputation as a tree which provided traditional crafts with the fire of inspiration. Common names for the hawthorn are may, may-blossom and may-bush. The Hitchin Mayday song gives an important role for the hawthorn;

“Remember us poor Mayers all!
And thus we do begin
To lead our lives in righteousness,
Or else we die in sin.

We have been rambling all the night,
And almost all the day;
And now returned back again,
We have brought you a branch of may.

A branch of may we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It is but a sprout,
But its well budded out,
By the work of our Lord’s hand…

… The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain;
And if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again... “

Despite being Christianized the Hitchin song preserves and reveals several Pagan themes and symbols. The term Mayers is purely pre-Christian Roman from the Latin Maiores, who were elder statesmen in the senate, and could possibly be derived from devotees or worshippers of the spring Goddess Maia. Righteousness and sin may refer to the original two divisions of the Celtic year, with Mayday or Beltaine being the cross-over. Rambling during the night contains clear sexual connotations, of the performance of fertile activities to encourage the blossoming of a new year, as does the branch of may with a sprout. Dew was regarded as being left on May morning by the earth spirits or Faeries, and as previously mentioned, anyone bathing in this natural nectar was said to retain their youthful countenance, the perfect health and shape of the inhabitants of ‘Tir na n’Og’ or the Land of Ever-Young. It was on Mayday that the doors or gates of this otherworld were opened up, bringing fresh blessings, and the man who has not gone too far may refer to the ancient Celtic myth of Tir na n’Og; a place of eternal time, beyond normal perceptions… perhaps this man has traveled there, come back yet remained unchanged?

Over the years there were many attempts on the part of the Christian church to prevent the May celebration. In the 7th century the Bishop Eligius of Noyens begged his flock to stop the sexually infused rituals, but without success. Where the church failed, the industrial revolution gained ground. The process of urbanization succeeded in dismantling the village community based cultural expressions of spirituality, in 1829 Thomas Carlyle commented;

“For some unearthly reason, we have machines and mechanical furtherances; for mincing our cabbages; for casting us into magnetic sleep. We remove mountains, make seas our smooth highway; nothing can resist us. We war with rude nature; and by our restless engines, come off victorious, and loaded with spoils……… But, leaving these matters for the present, let us observe how the mechanical genius of our time has diffused into quite other provinces. Not the external and physical alone is now managed by machinery, but the internal and spiritual also…”

Toward the twentieth century, community celebrations like Mayday became increasingly fractured and remote, only distant memories of the past, renamed and politically neutralized, sanitized by increasingly conservative morality, misogynistic anti-feminist propaganda and the desire to mount, extract and control natural forces. Paul Theroux comments on a Mayday journey in the early 1980’s;

“It was London’s labor day, celebrated by marching Union-men and speeches in Trafalger Square……… neutralized as a Spring Bank holiday……… associated with a trip to a coastal resort……… “

Perhaps with an ever growing interest in earth based faith, ecology and spirituality, new links to the ancient practice and significance of Beltaine and Mayday can be forged, with a reworking of the old rituals that lend a profound understanding of the human relationship with nature. Various annual ‘earth day’ celebrations have been instituted worldwide, the most famous being the April 22nd Earth Day started by Gaylord Nelson in 1970. A rival Earth Day creator who claims seniority is John McConnell (purporting to have established his festival one month earlier on the 1st of March 1970 to coincide with the Spring equinox). The McConnell earth day specifically seeks to provide a genuine spiritual, cosmological, intellectual and ancient basis for a dynamic day of earth based activities. The more secular Arbor day, usually celebrated on the last Friday of April, and instituted by J. Sterling Morton in 1872 is again a genuine springtime attempt to involve people with one of the most visible aspects of the natural world; the tree. It may be a romantic notion, but maybe the new naturalists are silently inspired by the words of the mythical bard Fionn Mac Cumhail, hero of the Irish Fiann cycle, who after receiving his divine wisdom sings a beautiful ode to spring;

“It is the full month of May, the pleasant time; it’s face is beautiful: the blackbird sings his full song, the living wood is his holding, the cuckoos are singing and ever singing; there is a welcome before the brightness………

The man is gaining, the girl in her comely power growing, every wood is without fault, from the top to the ground, and every wide good plain………

There is a hot desire on you for the racing of horses, a bright spear has been shot into the earth and the flag flower is golden beneath it……… “

The true essence of Beltaine is the resonance of revelation, the birth of a new vision and belief in ourselves. A true May ritual refreshes our connections with the land, establishes a firm foundation as a marriage in which as respective partners we work together to ensure success, fertility and a bountiful future of joy and bliss. It is encouraging to realize that a new and invigorated movement of Celtic spiritualists are actively pursuing a reformation and reconstruction of the Beltaine festival, and so I give the last word to a Druidess named Kim, who both sums up her appreciation for Beltain and concludes and summarizes this article;

“Beltaine equals in importance to Samhain, as both mark the halfway points in the year. Beltaine marks the beginning of the light half of the year which is called samos. It is celebrated with fire, appropriately. It is a celebration of the Sun, and it's dominance over dark. Fire of purification and fertility are symbols in this festival. Cattle are driven through the Beltaine fires for purification and good health. People leap the fires for luck, babies are passed over the smoldering ashes to health and so on. In Scotland and Wales this fire was built by nine men using nine woods. The sun's healing power is also sought it another custom of rising with the sun and bathing in the morning dew just as the sun hit's it on may day. The fire in water sacredness is the concept behind this. The sun's healing power is said to be very strong on this day. Another practice is to bottle the water/dew and use it in healing remedies throughout the year."

Kim cites two interesting Irish triads (a traditional saying with a spiritually educating undertone)

“The three most powerful divinations are by fire, by water, and by clay.”

“These are the three great powers: The power that ascends, which is fire; the power that falls, which is water; and the power that lies level on the earth, and has the mystery of the dead, which is clay.”

The basic themes contained within the traditional Beltaine festival, and included within the context of Celtic reconstructionism for the purposes of authentic ritual include; the liminal time existing within the transition from the dark to the light half of the year, purification and healing energy from the power of fire, the sacred marriage of the young prince to the spring maiden and the defeat of the ‘dark’ king of winter represented as the hawthorn tree. Generally speaking, we see elements of passion, fertility, love, warmth and increasing natural power… all rising to the summit of the year; the Summer Solstice.


Green M. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. Thames and Hudson, London 1992.
Green M. The World of The Druids. Thames and Hudson, London 1997.
Mountfort P. R. Ogam. Rider Press, 2001.
Nicholas R. The Book of Druidry, Thorsens, 1990.
Plowden A. Elizabethan England. Readers Digest, London. ISBN 0340 23044.
Walker B.G. The Womans Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Harper and Row 1993.
Herbal Remedies, Gedes and Grosset. London 1996.
Theroux P. The Kingdom by the Sea. Washington Square Press 1994.
Dorner P. The Culture of Craft. Manchester University Press 1997.
Kondratiev A. The Apple Branch. Citadel Press 2003.

An Ceangal Foundation:
Meaning of the Ogham Staves:
The Hitchin Mayday Song:
The Gaylord-Nelson Earth Day:
The John McConnell Earth Day:
Arbor day:
Denver Druids:

Biodh se