Summary: I re-order the next few questions so they make more sense. Continue reading
Horses may be the most important animal in Irish mythology, rivaled only by cows. They had major socio-economic importance in ancient and medieval Ireland – people’s livelihood depended on good, strong horses, and the relationship between a human and their horse was mythologised as something of a magical union. Irish folklore says that horses have a human ancestor, which accounts for good horse-and-rider alliances. Continue reading
A poem that Jack wrote for me. Fantastic stuff – I adore it.
The Hard Earth
if I fall and scrap my knee,
I give my blood to the unforgiving
earth, and though she doesn’t soften,
I feel a momentary hardening
in myself, a sense of the stone
that holds me up
there was a time when even mountains
were young and soft and warm, still
molten or raw in the air. there was
fire in the void, unlimited by oxygen,
and there was ice without ocean.
she came between them, new and sharp,
giving as she took what was hers,
meeting the water and letting him
shape her, and she him
she remembers when the ice scraped
her bare, when the humans first built
grass huts and cut stone tombs
into the hills, was already old
when the gods fought for land.
she learned to wear their forms
and reach out to the humans
but they sensed the height
and the depth that echoed in
her words and images
her stone is still her, still hers,
through glacier and flood,
invasion and tourism, and she
cannot be chased away. what’s her
is hers. and the blood soaks into
the stone, and the feeling recedes
leaving a very large rock and
a very small person
It seems to me (and this is just my interpretation) that there are two types of modern druid magic. In one, the focus is on the images of ancient druids controlling the forces of nature. In another, there’s a trend of seeking oneness and harmony with the environment, an approach where the magic is more about understanding our place within the land and the delicate balance of its forces, than attempting to impose our will onto it.
I won’t say I’ve never done the former, the kind of magic that imposes my will on the world/the land, rather than seeking union with it. But not when it comes to weather or the ecosystem.
What I do do a lot of, is calling on deities for help with weather. I assume that they, like land spirits, have a much better understanding of my ecosystem and its needs than I ever could. This tends to lead to much hilarity from SJ, who’s always saying “Ask a god to move this storm” (generally when we’re trying to drive through it) and I call on Manannan, who makes the most sense. (Or, when I’m desperate, Bhearra the goddess of the wild land and its wilder weather.) “He’s a rain god!” SJ argues with me. “Find a sun god.” And then I point out that, in the British isles, we were always guaranteed to have more in the way of thunder and storm deities than, say, gods of clear sunny days. From Taranis to Thunor to the many river goddesses, we are surrounded by water, and any gods who embody our land will probably be a bit… drippy. We do have sun deities, but, like Sulis, they also have springs and underworld associations and lots of other watery goodness.
And why not? Why wouldn’t I, like them, want to revel in the incredible beauty of the surprising, never-static weather of this land? I’m not one of these people who says “Ugh, raining again.” The weather is incredibly fickle here (raining? wait an hour – it probably won’t be). SJ has this strange, optimistic belief that every storm comes with a rainbow (no, they’re not being trite – they really think so and apparently can argue it with bad science) – so our life is full of “Quick, find the rainbow!” moments. There’s the wonderful excitement of suddenly going from a wet day to a sunny one, or of the mists that come down so fast you can wander into the Otherworld in them, and which lift again just as quickly, so that it looks you really did pass into another land. Is there anything more beautiful? Would I really want to impose my socially-constructed, limited idea of ‘a good day’ onto that?
The recent storms and months of flooding around here were very scary, specifically because they were different patterns from usual. The weather didn’t change. It just rained, for months. Towns flooded, people lost their homes and died. The rivers Soar and Avon, and my beautiful Trisantona, the Trent, are still trespassing into the fields around their boundaries. While the evidence is still being collected, the Met Office is putting recent weather down to climate change.
And that’s what happens with people mess with the weather. Build more factories and power stations? Be aware that you’re going to pump crap into the sky and the rivers. Drive more cars? Be aware that you’re contributing to the global rise in carbon dioxide that contributes to ‘global warming’. Do weather magic? Be aware that there’s a good chance you’re going to shift patterns that are really important to the local ecosystem. Or worsen patterns that are already screwed-up because of pre-existing environmental damage, like at the moment. If you can deal with that, fine. I don’t think my ethics can extend to that level – not with my very human perspective on the landscape. In tandem with deities who understand weather patterns better than I do, maybe.
But wouldn’t it be even better for me to keep trying to live in harmony with the weird, surprising beauty of the climate of my islands, that have given rise to myth and folklore and the best ghost stories? And am I not more likely to hear the land spirits that way, and be in the right mindset to form alliances with them that transcend the temporary annoyance of a little bit of rain? Yes, sometimes the weather can make me really ill – arthritis doesn’t like the damp, and I do much better in the summer than in the winter. But these are the patterns of life. What else would I miss if I gave them up?
I have a very clear memory of a school assembly – a Christian one – led by my lovely primary school teacher Mrs B (who always seemed, to 6-year-old me, to be aged about 100). She was talking to us about an upcoming school trip. She said that we could pray for good weather, but we had to leave it in the hands of God, and remember that while we’re praying for sun, the farmer down the road might be praying for rain. And that, since we and the farmer couldn’t both get what we wanted, we had to be prepared for bad weather and a cancelled trip. We can’t be greedy for the weather we want, she said. We’re not the only people who want things.
It’s still the best lesson I’ve ever had on the subject. Thanks, Mrs B, for your excellent druid weather magic ethics!
There was a woman here long ago that they used to call An Chailleach Bhéarthach and she never shed a tear and she never drank or ate anything, hot or cold, only cow’s milk, always.
– Folk-tale from Galway, cited in O Crualaoich
And what she had to eat was:
Real, pure madhbhan* from Whiddy
Duileasg* from the harbours of Cape Clear.
Fish from above in the Laune
And wild garlic from Beleach Bheimis.
– Folk-tale from the Beara Gaeltacht, cited in O Crualaoich
*Types of seaweed.
8) Variations on this deity (aspects, regional forms, etc.)
9) Common mistakes about this deity
10) Offerings – historical and UPG
8 & 9:
There are many Cailleachean in Ireland and Scotland. I think that they’re not the same – except when they are. Many of them have enough in common that they may have roots in common,1 which is why it’s easy for people to (mistakenly) talk about ‘the Cailleach’, as though there were only one. Usually, when they reference ‘the’ Cailleach, people are talking about the Scottish lady, and her seasonal associations. But there are others. All tied to the land, in my experience, but not all winter deities.
I’ve already talked about Duibhne, who is also known as the Cailleach Corca Dhuibhne (or, in English, the Cailleach of Dingle). She appears to me most often as a young woman, and it may be that she was only syncretised with the concept of the ‘Cailleach’ later2 – she may have been an independent land goddess first. There are Cailleachean in Sligo (I really want to read this book), and at the megalithic tomb in County Meath, and up north, in County Clare. And of course, there are the Scottish Cailleachean, of whom I know very little.
But just because there are Cailleachean all over Ireland, doesn’t mean they’re all the same. While I don’t know the others well (except for Duibhne), I know that Bhéarra is the embodiment of her land and its culture. Songs and tales from the peninsula are not about the whole of Ireland – they’re about specific places, like Bantry, the little harbour on the edge of the Beara peninsula that has seen famine, oppression and loss, as well as joy of its own. ‘My’ Cailleach is all of these things and more — everything the land and its people have experienced.
As a fertility-of-the-land and harvest goddess, I offer her ‘fruits of the land and sea’ a lot (mentioned in her myths) – fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, grain. That always seems to go down well. Grain-based products are particularly good – oat-bread and porridge are mentioned in one tale. So are sea foods, in another, from seaweed to lobster.
Given that Baoi’s name may mean ‘white cow’, and that she has a bull, I really like the story that says she never ate anything except dairy products. I’ve only just started offering Bhéarra dairy products, and so far, my personal thinking is that she seems like them, but not as much as some things. I’d like to try offering her beef, too.
She seems to like whiskey. Like, really like it. I have no textual provenance for this idea – it just felt like a thing to offer her, so I do. I try to find whiskeys local to Cork, which is a bit tricky – I can usually only find those when I’m there. (The owner of the off-licence in Bantry has looked at me weirdly several times when I’ve asked for the most local whiskey he has, which is usually the cheapest!)
In the next few posts, we’ll start moving into serious UPG territory. Advanced warning!
 O Crualaigh argues that Bhéarra is the root, the figure from which all the others came. I’ve read other interpretations that say that the Scottish lady came first, though. I think we’ll probably never know, but it’s interesting to speculate.
3) Symbols and icons of this deity
Well, it all depends how many of the stories of the other Irish Cailleachean you integrate into Baoi’s mythology. I put a limit on this, to some extent – but if I’ve read of/heard Beara people talk about it as an aspect of Baoi, I’m more likely to include it.
Based on that, some of her possible symbols are: Continue reading
See here for the introductory post to this little series.
1) A basic introduction to the deity
An Chailleach Bhéarra. The Hag of Beara. Sentainne Berri. Baoi/Bui. Here is the post I wrote about the earliest experiences I had with her.