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

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 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....


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?

Gaelic lands???

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Wed, November 23, 2016 12:08PM
We have walked on this land.... and it bore our footsteps with strength.
We drink from the veins of its rivers and streams.... it has quenched our thirst.
Roots digging deeply into it have fed us..... and we are sustained.
Fallen upon it in despair..... and it caught our tears.
Rose again to stand.... and it has lifted us up.
Buried our dear ones in it.... and it embraces them.
Poured our offerings onto it.... it has gifted us in return.
Prayed upon it.... it has listened - and answered.
Sought a home.... and been sheltered

A recent discussion about current events and "Celtic regions" leaves me wondering. While we research Gaelic peoples and the regions in which they lived historically, do we then consider those historically Gaelic regions to be the only currently Gaelic regions? Would that not mean then that the Gaelic identity belongs only to people born there; in those places?

If we say that the identity only belongs to speakers of Gaelic languages then much of Ireland, Scotland and Mann would not qualify.... that can't be right. But parts of Nova Scotia would qualify even though it is only relatively newly inhabited by Gaels..... that sounds right. Or does it?

There are more people of Gaelic descent in the diaspora than in the home countries of origin. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Carolinas all have significant populations of the diaspora.... think of the Irish who have migrated to England...... and a lot of Irish Wild Geese went to Spain and continued to speak their language for generations. Have you seen South Boston? Would you tell them that they are not Irish? Would you expect to walk away without injury? Just over a century ago there were Gaelic speakers still in the American South.... they had been born there yet they still spoke their ancestral language.

Some say that it depends on the relationship with the land.... an historically Gaelic land usually is meant by those who say such things. But what if the relationship is with a new land .... but it follows a Gaelic model and structure? What is the Gaelic part??? Must it be the land? Is it the model and structure? Does it have to be both? Can it be either one or the other? Or is it down to the language only... is praying in that language enough? Must it be the land, the model and the language together only?

It is a complex issue but perhaps an answer can be found that while it is not simple is still yet direct. People move... they migrate... but they don't just become a new people suddenly. Culture evolves, changes, even devolves.... but that is generally slow. People from Gaelic lands went to many new places.. they often had to go in order to survive. They often kept their languages for a time... and many of their customs and practices. They were still Gaels and their model of the world and life was still Gaelic. They prayed and worked the land and entered into a relationship with that land, a relationship based on Gaelic models. They had children.

To say that those new lands became in some way Gaelic or a new Gaelic region is not incorrect or wrong. If people are there who use a Gaelic model for their relationship with the time and space of that place then that relationship makes that area in some way Gaelic. The language may be part of that model... it is for many of us a strong component of that model.

The presence of those who use a Gaelic model for their relationship with that land need not displace others or negate the relationships of others with that same land. The relationships are separate things between people, peoples and their home.... their homeland.

If you live in New Zealand and you have a relationship and practise that is based in a Gaelic model and your neighbour walks the same forest and has a relationship and practise that is that of the Maori then you both have relationships with the same land. The presence of the Maori relationship does not preclude the presence of the Gaelic relationship and the Gaelic relationship does not displace the Maori relationship. The land and the spirits of place understand both relationships. The same can be said of the Americas where so many different native traditions maintain their relationships with the land while newer relationships have also been established along other models.... one model does not mean that the other model doesn't work or is not appropriate.

A direct answer may be this. We walk a land, and that land may be traditionally and historically Gaelic or newly inhabited by Gaels. We form bonds and relationships with that land and we form them along a Gaelic model. We pray in Gaelic and we call ancient Gaelic deities.... and we do it where we are. That place then becomes in some way Gaelic. It doesn't negate or displace others... it does not mean that our neighbours cannot have completely different relationships with the same land and with other deities. Our deities may have sacred places far away in this world but they are not bound to those places and they travel the otherworld also and the otherworld is only just here around the corner.... a whisper away.

A new birth

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Thu, November 17, 2016 11:57AM
A little before dawn, just a few breaths ago..... a new child was born... her parents welcomed her in Irish.... her three brothers waiting for the news. Their family grows.... our Poball grows.... our people grow.

Gu robh beannachd nan diathan agus ar sinnsearan air a' phaisde seo. (May the gods and ancestors bless this child.)

Anail is breath..... breath is life ..... words are carried on breath and so, carry the power of life. With words - breath- White-knee quelled the storm. Words made up the contract with Eriu .... a queen - The Queen used words to incite the De Dannan to great feats.

Poems, charms, songs and stories come to us from ancient days..... each made of words - of breath ..... the key to many of the magics of the Gael. Our gods and ancestors spoke and sang the world into shape ... speaking the laws and giving order to wildness.

There is a song of our people which started singing itself thousands of years ago.... it is also a poem and we each add lines to it..... it is a story that tells itself into being always creating the world of the people.... always creating the people of that world. It knows where we have been..... it whispers where we are going ..... it takes us there.

In the ogam it is actually the first sound of anail the sound 'ah' that is associated with birth and is described as the first sound of a child..... and the last sound of the dying. It is part of that song that our people sing beside a birth bed.... a grave.

Birth is the most pure of magics... of miracles... blessings on this new mother..... blessings on this new father.... blessings upon their family, their hearth and home.

A new voice just took a first breath and lifted a first note..... picked up from someone who had laid it down. She will sing it now...... for a time.... Welcome baby Freya..... we have a lot to tell you.... and you have a lot to tell us...... as this great story continues....

The Pin

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Sun, November 13, 2016 11:08PM
Time was not as it is today and in those days it was measured in the feats of gods and heroes. It was noted by things such as a feast that filled many cauldrons or a Queen standing alone holding a battle field against an army of godlike warriors - of a single eye which could lay waste a multitude of warriors. The ground shook beneath the feat of armies of gods and the world was poised to fall or be remade.

It was perhaps long years ago or maybe just moments. Time was - is - different. Was it far away or just there beyond the corner of our eyes. When was then and where was there? Was it only once or is it again and again - a world constantly renewing? If we listen on a still night can we yet somehow hear echos of the first cry of a mother's grief?

"We fear fear three things. That the seas may rise and cover us, that the ground may open and swallow us and that the skies may fall upon us." ....... well.... the seas are definitely rising .... perhaps armies of gods are not marching but the ground is shaking beneath our feet ...... how many of us are glancing at the skies??? Is this where our world is struggling - is this when it is to be saved..... again?

Children were born to the two tribes of gods.... a prophecy foretold that a grandson of a god would be his undoing..... a grandfather ordered his grandchildren to be thrown to the sea... wrapped in a bundle they were taken to the shore but the pin opened.... one child fell into the shallows and was saved.... by a pin in the 'bay of the pin'.... He was spirited away... fostered in the crafts..... fostered again in the ways of the warrior..... he would stride shining like a second sun to the centre of the world..... Lugh took his place and became the king of the war... the ridgepole of battle.... his long and skilled hand would bring victory.... and his wisdom would bring order.... reorder the world...... all because of a pin..... a little pin....

The Well of the Pin is known throughout Ireland and there are several of them which bear this name...... who knows how long people have come to them and offered pins?.... simple pins.... simple prayers...... are those pins and prayers so simple then?.... is there a depth of centuries that we cannot fathom? Is there a magic there that we can feel?.... a little pin....

In the 1980s a plague fell on us and we started wearing little pins to show that we stayed safe...... I remember..... I remember the slowly dying eyes of a lover..... maybe those pins saved some of our lives. Today we have started wearing these pins again to show that we are safe people...... and for some of us..... Lugh's people.... a charm of great power.... a charm of Lugh.... a little pin

Usually there is a small Brighid's cross hanging from our rear view mirror. But the state of things right now in our society perhaps calls for the Hand of Lugh to be brought to the fore in our spirituality for a time. The hand of the good king who led during an existential struggle. So the Brighid's cross has been relocated and a safety pin hangs there now.... a little pin

Pray that again a little pin can help save our world..... a little pin.... maybe tonight somewhere in Ireland a hand offers a pin to a well and a voice prays for us all? If I were there I would open a pin and offer it and ask Lugh to lend his hand to this battle to remake our world.... maybe some friend will do it for us.... a little pin.... there can be so much power in a symbol.... a little pin.

Charm bags

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Fri, November 11, 2016 01:12PM
So we know that in the late 1800s some of the Irish were making charm bags. They were described as small about the size of a hazel nut so that they could be easily concealed about the person. They were, in some places, secretly sewn into wedding dresses. Often to the ends of protection from unpleasant Fairies. Cool right? (If you work with Fair Folk I do not recommend using things that they find offensive - seems like a no-brainer but yeah, that.)

We don't have a lot of descriptions of how they were made and the best source that I know of is from James Mooney 'Medical Mythology of Ireland' 1887. But he does tell us a few of the things that might end up on there like dirt or dust... and.... wait for it........ chicken poop. Seems that fairies are not fond of the dirty little animals and well poop is as dirty as it gets. Frankly if you tell me that you have chicken poop.... or really any kind of poop in your pocket, I'll avoid you also. Note that I try to make nice with the Good Folk and so I do not place anything designed to repel or offend them in my bags.

Things that you might consider adding:
iron (might bug the Fairies)
little brass safety pins (Lugh has a relationship here)
Tiny hagstones
other things that have meaning to you.

Most folks in our Poball have made one of these and, I presume, carry them. Here's me making one. In the first pic I have a little round patch of leather cut from a chamois, in the centre. At noon we see a waxed string, at one is holy water collected at the end of our local rites, at two we see a jar of Irish sea salt, at three there is a bag of charcoal from our sacred fire, next is a bag of Irish peat and finally a little silver bead (skull) at six.

Second pic, a bit of everything has been placed on the patch and wet with a few drops of the water. A piece of string has been cut to bind it. I bind it with the waxed string into the little bundle that you see in the final pic. I say a few words (make up your own) for what I want it to represent and attract or repel. Splash some whiskey in a cup for the house spirits and..... Bob's your uncle.


Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Thu, November 10, 2016 03:04PM
Sibling Co-adoption

For twenty years I have known my 'sister' and she is my sister. We have held one another in joy and tragedy. I have cried to her and she to me. She helped raise my children and I hers. She can remember when one of my children was born and came home and when another was born to never take a breath. We didn't have the same parents or the same childhood, though we each know a great deal about the childhood of the other. But she is the sister of my heart because she has looked into my heart and shown me her own.

Many of us have, in our lives, siblings - brothers and sisters of the same hearth and home. We share parents, a childhood and a history and heritage. We are often a joy to one another and at other times a challenge. But we remain family and we have that bond of kinship - that shared history with its fond recollections and grudges.

And then there are those who stand with us and love us and who become brothers and sisters of our hearts and our spirits. An they are no less brother or sister to us - sometimes they may even be more of a true sibling than those of blood and childhood. We call one another brother or sister because that is what we truly are to one another or should I say rather that is what we do for one another.

If we look in ancient Irish law we see a wonderful system of fosterage and that system creates foster siblings and under the laws these foster siblings have special positions. A foster brother will have a claim in the death price of a murder victim established as recompense to be paid by the murderer. The foster-brother-of-the-blanket has an even closer relationship and has an even larger claim than other foster siblings.

In some modern tribes there is a tradition of blood-siblingship and this may be facilitated formally or informally as is the local custom. Here among the Ealachan we have a formal sibling co-adoption process which may seem a bit simple due to the outward directness of the process. The spiritual, emotional and social parameters may not be visible from the surface but the flowing currents of them are deep.

We will host a feast for the tribe and for friends. There will be a fire built and blessed. The two people who are adopting one another will each offer a few drops of their own blood into a cup of clarified butter where it will be mixed so that it becomes one blood. The gods and ancestors will be called and the two people will swear kinship to one another before the gods, the ancestors and the people. The people will witness and acknowledge the oath and the mixing of bloods. The clarified butter will then be offered to the fire - to the gods - one blood - a bond of kinship. Then the feast will be shared with much toasting and celebration. Simple - direct - life changing. It serves us well.

Samhain Tide

Gaelic culture and religion.Posted by Rob Barton Mon, October 31, 2016 08:02PM
So here we are again standing on this shore of one year with waves of a rising tide swirling around our feet..... soon it will begin to recede and leave us standing on the shores of a new year. But for a few moments - a day - we are between these years and these worlds. Standing in the sea and on the land and not completely in or on one or the other. The winds of winter are starting to blow against our faces - it's cold and bracing and wakes us up. Wind also carries these ancient voices - just there- on the edge or hearing.... all you have to do is listen. We can smell the sea and feel the spray as it splashes off of the stones of the shore - the waves flow back and whisper that crawling gravel sound as the water washes back into itself.

There has also been our annual rising tide of Samhain posts and blogs. Some of them are completely false and some are very well informed.smiley Folklore here.... fakelore there.... Not going to throw a hat into the ring of posts... don't want to dance around the hat..... too many dancers...... too many hats.... There are already so many pages about ancient Gaelic gods and traditions... too many to count. Ancient lore and tradition are important certainly.... we live on it.... consume it like the candy that the kids are out seeking in their disguises...... "trick or treat"... some pages are the trick.... some are the treat.

What about tonight?......What do we do now in order to connect and experience?.... What are the customs that we have?.... Do we have customs at all?.... Really?.... Are our groups developing modern customs that feel in tune with the ancient ways?..... We do live in this world..... we should walk in this world.

I can only speak for one Poball (People) but here are some things that we do - some things that we share and experience......
We do a rite - doesn't everybodysmiley....... we will put out the old fire and then we will call to the dead... name by name... tears and smiles... loss and love.... it hurts but memory is alive and so the pain is sweet because we can touch them again through it. They answer..... they stand there .... just in the darkness.... with us again. Then there is a new fire... future..... hope... light...flickering to life in the eyes across from us.... sometimes there are more eyes than people??? smiley..... but that's just fine.

We pass a breac (hard oat bread) with a marked piece and the person with the marked piece is supposed to be especially dedicated.... this year.

Then we feastsmiley we will set a place with pictures of loved ones.... pass a horn of mead (made by our mead maker for this purpose) ... toasts are made. Sitting at the same table... sharing cups and quaichs (that was redundant but you know what I mean) we eat together with stories and songs... we laugh.... sometimes cry..... even sometimes argue smiley.... but we are together... and that's nice. Sometimes we even give a gift or two... little things.... but giving is a great way to start a new year. then there is the tea cake..... three gifts hidden inside.... three blessings for the new year... head.... hand.... heart.... we tear it apart with our hands..... kind of violent but we laugh... and three lucky souls get the blessings. Sometimes a child gets their tribal bronze ring or a first tartan sash.... or a household may get their quaich.

Then we wait and make it last a long time...... hugs.... everyone heads home. The firepriest will collect some coals from the new fire to use in the other fires for the new year.

This is what we do here.... I hope that everyone has some things to do - some new customs and traditions of doing - some people to do it with.

Happy Samhain

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