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Gaidheal-blog

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This is the main blog for the fellowship Comhaltacht na nGaedheal: Cairdreabh nan Gàidheal. Edited and managed by Rob Barton

Lá na Cailleach...

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Tue, March 21, 2017 11:47AM
..... (Day of the Old Woman - The Veiled One) - in Scotland this marks the time of the winds...... winter there breaks with winds - strong winds..... funny thing is that here where our Poball lives, in the North Eastern US, winter breaks with winds also..... "in like a lion out like a lamb" is what we were told about March when we were kids..... the winds this year have been blowing strong..... especially with the last few winter storms..... the final hammer blows of An Cailleach before she takes her rest..... tired from bringing winter - and from standing guard over the fields, under their blankets of snow...... quietly in the corner... that last sheaf of one growth to be the first seed of the new fields.

She who built mountains.... She who built islands..... Her grave is inside a hill - a hill that was built - by hand when the people did not even know of the use of metals ..... even before they were Gaels.... yet the tales of the making of the surrounding mountains..... so old - how long has this tale survived??? passing from aged lips to youthful ears.... across countless generations...... what was her name - when those stones were young??? That moment in the year when the days are equal and light is truly about to take dominance - that is the time when the light reaches into that ancient grave.... and her world is illuminated??? or something - someone may be illuminated.

She has buried many husbands - as she returns to her youth only to age again as the cycle of time turns around and back upon itself.... Mother of many gods were are told..... Mother of many tribes we are told..... when you stand and look at the far away mountains and see the veil of the clouds drifting around them..... she whispers her name..... when you stand on a mountain and those clouds become a fog around you.... her embrace is chilly and you shiver from her touch..... a Mother's cool hand on a fevered head.... the most profound silence - and you feel eyes on you there in the mist...

Honour to An Cailleach.... Ancient Mother... ancient builder.... wielder of staff and hammer.... bringer of winter..... the storms that rage.... the winds that clear the skies.... pour offerings to her.... speak her name with honour over the feast as the firelight flickers across the faces..... celebrate the winds.... celebrate the parting winter..... honour Her as she passes - for a time- into The Mountain.....

Tied Together

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Wed, February 22, 2017 11:45AM
The air is still - and a little biting - but no longer truly cold..... spring..... Brighid has brought it to us again..... Tapadh Leibh (Thank You)...... her day has just passed.... but today is her day also.... An Caillech has set aside her hammer or wand and is taking her rest in a mountain - far away and right there, both at the same time.

The snow is melting fast in the late morning sun and the icy crystals sparkle in the light as they fade away into the puddles and glistening ribbons of water...... it was crunchy underfoot on the walk out here to stand among the trees on a newly bare patch of forest floor.

There are a thousand little voices of rivulets tinkling here an there all around as the melt runs and writhes its way downward toward the pond..... or the stream...... the stream is swollen..... imagine how it rushes to the sea.... the way Boann rushed to the sea in a tale of long ago. The pond is spilling over the little dam and the chorus of tiny streamlets sing over the distant roar of the water pouring across the dam.

A right handed toss and a length of natural fibre rope sails up into the air..... unravelling - it spins its way skyward..... the sunlight behind it stings tears into the eyes that follow its flight - flailing in an arch that carries it into the still-bare tree limbs where it tangles itself in an embrace with the trees and comes to rest - two knotted ends still swinging lightly..... there it hangs..... so many knots.... so many hopes and wishes..... nature will have it now.... will take it as it hangs in the weather night after night for a few seasons until it has been consumed by the world and time.... looking up at it hanging there with a blue sky behind it and in the bright light of the spring sun..... in places the sky has sheets of white - not really clouds so much as thin gossamer veils.....

This is the aftermath of a rite with Poball nan Ealachan Naomha.. after the prayers and the offerings.... after the feasting and the laughter....... just a lone draoi quietly completing one of the parts of the rite...... a length of rope started it - only natural fibres - before the rite, it is passed around ..... each person can whisper a prayer or a wish and tie a knot into the rope.... some knots are tied to be tightened and made more solid with a tug while others are knots that release with a pull - it all depends on the request to the gods.... to the ancestors..... to the Sidhe.... during the rite the rope is held up an pulled and some knots tighten while others set themselves and their dreams free.... This is just one of the thousands of little customs that make up how a people are themselves and what they do as themselves.

It isn't known to be a specific ancient Gaelic practice but it is consistent with Gaelic practices.... if Cathbad or Amerghin or Birog saw it, they would understand... maybe they do see it, and understand...... didn't the Manx tie things into ropes..... wind for later when they might be becalmed.... so we tie things into ropes..... aren't clooties tied into trees.... so we hang the rope high in the trees.... not a specific practice but consistent with known practices.... and it ties us together..... it ties dreams an hopes together into one length of rope...... we tie ourselves together with it.

And it hangs there in the trees with something of each of us.... a touch from each hand... the whispered breath of hope tied to it as firmly as those knots.... the whispered breath of hope released out into the world as some knots let go..... a message to the world that we are here, and we have dreams and we have hope and we have tied ourselves one to the other and woven our dreams together...... and we are a people.....

A day for Brighid

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Tue, February 07, 2017 11:31AM
And so they came, to gather inside where it was warm.... at the hearth..... to stand together against the cold that was scratching at the door..... a heavy hammer of winter beating at the warmth.

They brought the things for a feast... things to share.... the open hand, giving one to another, food and mead. To pass things back and forth in that eternal exchange of give and accept.

In a dark room.... names were called and honoured... ancient names.... the names of gods..... a tiny flame was lit on a wick from Kildare..... then three flames lit..... in that small light... songs to gods and ancestors..... a song to Brighid.... songs to exalt ..... the women gather at the flames and they light more small flames until the room fills with flickering light dancing in the eyes of those familiar faces... faces of friends - of loved ones.

Waters were mixed.... waters of land... waters of sky.... waters of sea.... the waters of memory flow an we can see those faces that have moved on from this place..... waters are dipped into cups carved of ox horn.... the cups are passed and the waters are shared.... hand to hand... blessings are called..... the cloots are blessed as a priestess passes them over the flames - lips moving in a whispered prayer... the doll is placed in her bed....

There is a feast..... laughter..... stories.... mead.... joy..... Brighid is there...... then they each go into the night... take a bit of that fire and carry it out - spread it into the world..... Brighid steps out of the mountain and winter retreats.... and soon there will be that wonderful mantle of green spreading across the land.... with the colourful embroidery of flowers - and heather...

Was this long ago??? in far away land??? is this tonight - here???
Were they ancestors??? are we them???
Is this flame ancient??? is it new???
Are these the same waters flowing across centuries???

Yes, yes it was.... yes it is

Of wolves and hounds

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Fri, January 20, 2017 01:42PM
The mystique of the wolf..... the ancient Gaelic and European werewolf...... the wild running warrior bands..... the Diberga..... the shape shifters.... protectors.... even sometimes reavers - when reaving is called for....

An attractive idea to many of our young warriors..... I was young and wild once..... I was alone with no tribe - it was a time to howl..... and many of the young warriors feel the attraction.... but very very few are cut out to run those snowy trails.... far fewer than those who think that they would be a perfect wolf..... funny thing is that of the few who are perfect for it many of them carry it well beyond their youth and only begin to excel when maturity settles onto them....

A great deal has been written about this phenomenon of that world long ago..... and increasingly a world and phenomenon that is reappearing..... most of it has been crap some of it has been very good ...... I recommend starting with these by Saigh Kym Lambert and by Faoladh.

Yet most, actually the overwhelming majority of the Laochra (Warriors) of ancient Gaelic society were more akin to the hound for most of their lives..... and it is the hound that most of us today should embrace..... these laochra were not wild though they could take to the wilds when needed..... they were like the hound that sits at the edge where firelight meets darkness..... where wildness meets order...... they could hear the wild howls, and may even answer them...... but their place, their home was with the folk.... protecting order.

The greatest of our ancient heroes was a hound..... The Hound....... and he too would shape shift...... and he defended order and he was part of the people...... one of the greatest animals in our myths was a hound and it defended a province and it was said that Ireland was full of the fame of the hound...... even Fionn Mac Cool (Mac Ubhall) had two hounds though he led a band in the wilds....

Wolfing is returning - just as our people are returning to the ways of our gods an our ancestors...... and as the tribes return and reform an rebuild so the warriors are again being honoured and recognised for their role in protecting..... there always have been few wolves... and we honour them and are in awe of them.... and we should likewise honour and be in awe of the hounds of which there always have been more among the people.

If you are given to wolfing then celebrate that and we will celebrate you....Do not lament if you are not a wolf...... do not struggle to be something that you are not...... yes that is something special - and beautiful to be and to see..... but it is a rare path....
be that tribal laoch ...... be the hound..... respond to those howls but stand at the edge to protect... be among the people yet able to run into the night and the wild.... our tribes and our folk will honour you as you stand among us and between our order and things which would break it.... better to be a good hound than to try to be something that we are not..

Of wolves and hounds... they are cousins..... they are mirrors for one another in many ways...... they stand across from one another at the line.... the strand or shore where one world meets another the hounds stands among the folk on the firelight side while the eyes of the wolf glow just their beyond it in the dark..... but they both howl..... they both can hunt and fight and protect...... may they both be honoured and appreciated.

Small Strokes

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Tue, January 03, 2017 12:30AM
For about thirty years now this movement has been gaining steam.... and some of our leaders have been doing this for that long.... we have gotten good at articulating the broad strokes about sources, rites, beliefs and so many of those big strokes that primarily pant the picture of what we do.... big strokes... big sections... the melody lines of this song that we are singing to our gods and ancestors - to our kids - to ourselves - to one another - to our world .... as we paint and sing and speak and dance this ancient path into a modern world.....

But what about the little strokes??? the things that we actually do day to day??? the things that our kids see and hear us do??? the little stokes - the tiny colours that are the shadowing and shading in the bigger picture.... the harmonies that wind around the melodies... the tiny steps and subtle movements in the larger dance.... the little lines of the poem that we are creating for ourselves.... the things that we whisper into the night?????

The prayers the we say over our altars.... the little plate of cookies on the windowsill with the tiny cup beside it.... the first drop of our drink that we spill to the spirits when we are outside... the plate of food set out for the Good neighbours.... that last blessing on the home when we leave for a journey.... the blessing of the four tires of the car before we go... the coin that rolls under a chair and then gets left there.... not ours anymore...

When we offer a welcoming cup at the door..... when we accept it with a blessing on the host and home.... I always go to answer the knock at the door and never just say "come in"... never - I want to see and know who or what I am inviting into our home... if you call me I will come but I won't answer until I see you... I want to know who or what is calling me before I answer.... never tarry on a bridge unless it is just long enough to say a prayer or make an offering - and make sure to also leave a gift for whoever may call that bridge home..... especially if it is stone... they like stone...

My son won't let me tarry in a doorway... he will push me through instead "in or out Da".... just like my grandmother when I was a kid.... when did he learn this... was it from me???? drive by a graveyard I hear my children whisper "blessings on the dead"... they are adults now but still they carry that "beannachd na marbh" they hear it in Gaelic now .... did they know about the late night blessing over their sleeping forms when they were tiny???? do they know about it now that they are grown???

stir the food always sunwise.... if someone stirs your soup or your tea leftward at our house.... don't eat it.... seriously just don't.... the tangle-foot hex on the welcome mat... if anyone has ill intent they trip coming through the doorway.... see water captured by a stone after the rain??? dip your fingers in and bless yourself head - hands & heart wetting those spots with the water.....

We have big bricks in this wall that we are rebuilding ...but these things are the mortar and they hold those bricks together.... the little things..... just simple little things....

Nan Sìdhichean.....

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Sun, December 11, 2016 01:42PM
..... is Scottish Gaelic for The Fairies and the word Sìdh is a adjective that can be attached to describe any noun as being of a fairy nature..... of - of the fairy world..... There are lots of native terms in the Gaelic languages that are translated as 'fairy' and lots of euphemisms.... and they carry over into English.... The Good Folk..... The Fair Folk... People of the Mounds....... The Other Crowd.... Good Neighbours.... and many more...

Myths - tales - customs - traditions....... these things abound across Gaelic lands - and with an enormous variety of detail and thought as one moves from one local area to another.... even from one family to another.... some families and clans are directly related to the local Troop or Tribe or Kingdom of the beings of the Other-world..... the Fairy-world..... some people may have positive interactions with fairies while their neighbours may be terrified of the same local beings.... there are division of Seelie (nice/helpful) or Unseelie (dangerous) Fairies.....

..... it is my experience that Seelie and Unseelie are less a matter of identity and more a matter of mood and attitude.... and that any fairy can act mercurial.... so it is best to remain considerate and respectful of them so as to avoid giving offence...... I am constantly astounded by the people-folks who believe that the other-folks are generally interested in our lives in any significant way..... it has been my experience that fairies in general do not give a pair of poops what we get up too..... and we should all be very happy about this.... I know I am.... and I actually do intentionally interact with them..... from time to time....

Other-world..... fairy-world....... and it is just that - it is its own world with its own time and its own space and places.... and while we seem to focus on certain beings of the Realms of Fairy we should remember that there are fairy dogs... fairy horses.... seals..... birds..... pigs... deer.... goats (watch the goats) really pretty much every type of creature that we know will have reflections in the otherworld..... (be careful when chasing or following an animal, especially speckled or white ones).... there are fairy fields growing fairy foods and fairy trees bearing fairy fruits..... fairy tables holding fairy feasts.... fairy houses ..... it is a whole world - complete in and of itself (if you are lucky???smiley enough to visit, you might not wanna eat anything)

While there are certainly many beings and creatures of fairy..... don't look for the Disney versions of fairies with their cute little butterfly wings and scanty clothing over a buxom figure.... those cute little Victorian Fairies are not what you are going to find if you go looking..... and your Midsummer Night might see you looking like and ass in many ways... because there is more truth in the actual traditions than you can shake a spear at.... and cute... safe... loving fairies are not common to the lore.... even when they are a Leannan Sidhe (Fairy lover).... enjoy cautiously???? or run like hell and make sure that you cross a running stream as you flee...

This could become a book about fairies so easily... there are a lot if them already.... books that is.... well and fairies too... there are lots and lots of them..... every culture in the world seems to know them..... not as fairies (that's us) .... but with lots of words from lots of languages..... but there are many of these Other-world beings out there.... everywhere.

Some people hold that some of the Sìdhichean are the An Deithe (Un-Gods) of ancient lore..... sometimes people seem to be able to join them and become one of them... even sometimes taken as a child..... changelings we call them...... some people call these great and powerful other-world beings Sìdhechean Mor (Great Fairies) as opposed to the smaller nature spirits running around here an there who would be the Little Fairies or Sìdhechean Beag ....in some places a few of the ancestors are seen to have joined their ranks...

Whatever views one holds and whatever lore one has studied there are a few good practices to which one should adhere..... tip a drop of whatever you are drinking outside to them.... leave them goodies but always as a sharing of your bounty and NEVER AS A PAYMENT.... cookies on the window sill and bit of milk or even something stronger.... leave gifts at hollow trees or anywhere that feels like it sees you or is watching you.... and don't pee in those places or behind those trees...... if they do something nice for you, let them know that you appreciate it but don't say thank you (they really seem to hate that) .... and they don't like feeling like the hired help.... don't leave garbage lying around, they like things to be clean.

The basic principle is that you should try to be as good a neighbour to them as you can because they are your neighbours..... they are just around the corner.... it is just that it is the corner where worlds and parallel universes meet... and while we may not easily be able to go 'round that corner they can come 'round it any-where and any-when ..... time and space are relative to individual worlds so they can be justifiably angry today for something that you did tomorrow..... and you can give them a gift today that they received yesterday.... that's just the way that it is with them.

First Snow

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Tue, December 06, 2016 02:49AM
An Cailleach has come.... Failte Mathair nan Diathan (Welcome Mother of the Gods)..... today was first snow.... so now winter is truly on us..... Brighid is at her rest - for a time....and for a time the hammer blows of of the cold will fall onto our world...... a world that has become an anvil.

She is the Blue Faced Hag...... she is the Veiled One.... like the veiled peaks of the mountains.... mountains built by her hands..... these cold winds will scream through the peaks and across the valleys..... the sound of a wailing darkness...... a Great Darkness is upon us.... and it is as it should be..... it is as it has always been.

Her darkness is something great .... it is something that should be embraced...... hugged and held close.... it is her gift to us.... it is an ancient gift.... a gift that many cannot or will not understand.... wilful ignorance??? ... maybe..... or maybe just fear of the dark.

We think of winter now..... so many do not like it...... but it was different.... once - long ago - when the world was different..... what was winter - the Great Darkness - like in that world... a world where the ancestors walked??? What was winter like???.....

.....It is during the Darkness that the people are together..... food is plenty.... the harvest has just passed so grains... beans... roots... are stored everywhere.... there is a supply of butter.... the end of summer saw a slaughter of the animals that would not be wintered over..... and so the meat has been preserved and great pieces of it are hanging in the rafters where the smoke gathers and protects it.... sausages... hams.... bacon..... a fire burns constantly and a pot simmers over it...... honey is gathered in pots and skins are tied tightly on them to keep the kids out... so many kids.... running everywhere..... always noisy and always smelly... and always beautiful...

The young men who had taken to the hills with the herds.... just after the crops were put in.... they are back home now... after months being away in the hills and forests.... the young warriors and hunters are back from the forests.... those who journey in the summer are home now..... those who were away learning from poets and priests - they are home too...... the Great Darkness is also the Great Homecoming when everyone is home and the houses and halls are crowded.

Very little work is done outside during the short days..... but these long nights.... so much is done.... as tales are recited and songs sung.... the fireside work of winter is going on all around.... some fingers are spinning..... someone is carving to repair handles broken over the summer..... leather is being cut and sewn.... clothes are being sewn and made.... horse tack is being fixed and the handy craft sorts of things are going on around the fire..... there is a buzz of activity and voices all around..... until a young poet begins a tale learned over the summer and then silence - save that one lone young voice.... speaking.... singing.... sharing.... the smells of smoke...food...people... leather... wool.... the scent of the hair of some child that has fallen asleep against your chest.... the sound of someone snoring somewhere out of the way...

That was - is - the gift of the Great darkness of An Cailleach .... you see..... her great winter.... her howling winds.... her hammer blows upon the world..... they drove the people inside... together...... around the hearth.... the hearth became the anvil upon which those hammer blows moulded the people..... it was then that each generation learned so many things from the last generation.... this is where they were the most together..... this is where people were woven into a people... a tapestry.... this is where the tales were heard and the songs sung..... and memories shared an ancestors - friends - remembered....

An Cailleach is called the mother of many gods and of many tribes..... this is how she mothers us..... she teaches us to hold one another close... against the cold..... she teaches us how to be a people....... so there is much to be celebrated in her Great Darkness and the storms of her hammer blows..... when the howling in the peaks are calling to us to go home.... to be warm and with our people.... why ever fear the dark... the cold... the howling??? Welcome it.... welcome the Great darkness.... welcome Herself....

Hair

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Sun, November 27, 2016 04:31PM
Many of us - not all - wear our hair long and many of the men wear facial hair also....... it feels like a connection to our ancestors..... and it is.

But it is more..... it is a net that reaches out and entangles us into the world..... because it is a sensory organ..... we feel with it... we touch with it - or more so, it feels what touches us.... wind....sunlight..... other people. How many of us will smell a baby's hair ..... or snuggle into the hair of a lover and tremble when we feel it brush across us?

When we do cut our hair there are numerous customs.... some burn the cuttings..... some bury them.... some just throw them away .....

One custom - in our home and a few other homes - is different. Cuttings and hair collected from brushes are offered out to the wild so that the birds can weave them into their homes.... and the little field mice can take them into their burrows and nests........ the creatures weave the strands into the world.... and we become more connected to our land as these pieces of ourselves are woven into the trees and the tunnels..... among branches and roots.

Imagine it..... the chieftains are entangled this way into the trees around them...... a ban-draoi is woven among the roots and leaves of the land where she prays and makes offerings ..... healers and fairy doctors who have given this part of themselves to be spread out and joined into the world around us..... warriors and hunters who move through a forest that they are braided into - like the braids hanging from their heads.

There are reasons why we feel this way and why we experience the world this way.

Sources tell us that most ancient Gaels wore their hair long and that most hair styles were long in nature. It was common for men to have moustaches and beards, and in some areas facial hair style was dictated by societal ranks. There were likely styles designed for specific roles in some Gaelic areas. Braids for the warrior, or special hair cuts..... there may have been a special tonsure for the draoi ..... there is a term in Old Irish which translates roughly as 'hair like a cowl' and which speaks of hair that is matted into what some have called 'fairy locks' ..... now known as 'dread-locks' .... tangles and matts placed by the Good Folk into the hair of the sleeping and the manes of horses should not be removed according to some traditions.....So yes, it does connect us to our ancestors even if only as a celebration of their ways.

During the Vietnam war , the US military wanted to create a small corps of highly skilled scouts, and so they recruited young men from various Native American Reservations - young men who were known as skilled hunters and outdoors-men. They sent these young men through basic training and scout school and the young native men performed in their graduation tests at a normal, average level.... the same as everyone else. The Army was disappointed and they did interviews of the young men to find out why they performed below hopes and expectations. The consistent answer was that the young men complained that their heads had been shaved and they had been 'blinded' by this.

Second round of tests... another group of young native men.... divided into teams of two.... one in each team kept his hair and one had his head shaved. The men trained side by side... same exact training... stayed together... went everywhere together.... basic training plus scout school. Graduation tests... men with shaved heads - average ..... men with long hair - incredible scores.... especially harder to sneak up on - even in their sleep.

Army decided that having long haired hippie looking scouts would compromise image and discipline so they shelved the study.... shaved all the heads... sent them to Vietnam. ...... Dumbasses ran the Army then.... maybe they still do.

Precious little study has been done about the issue since then but consider that every hair is attached to a nerve only inches from our brains. Imagine how complex a neural net that can form.... imagine how those thousands of hairs respond to every breath of air -every movement - how much information is being gathered?

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