Grey Skies, Galoshes and Greed: the (Druid?) Ethics of Weather Magic

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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?

8488755320_da9ed849cc-1The 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!

I know what I like… (30 Days of Deity Devotion 8, 9 & 10)

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.

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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.

Bantry Bay - photo by Visit Cork, flickr

Bantry Bay – photo by Visit Cork, flickr

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Bantry village. Photo by Jim Vaughey, flickr

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Grey seals in the harbour at Bantry Bay. Photo by Jos van der Heiden, flickr

10) Offerings:

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!

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[1] 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.

[2] O Hogain, Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of Irish Folk Tradition.

30 Days of Deity Devotion, 3 & 4: Symbols and Myths

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

30 Days of Deity Devotion: 1 & 2

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.

My Cailleach Bhearra tag is here –  all the posts I’ve written that reference her. Continue reading

(Catching up) S is for… Saints

I don’t talk much about the saints I work with. It’s totally outside my Gaelic tradition – and, indeed, outside my druidry path. I don’t have a detailed theology of what saints are, either. They’re my spiritual ancestors – an ongoing link to Christianity, which remains important to me as part of the history of my spiritual journey and the history of my culture – even if I can no longer support its theology (or host most of its practices) in my life. They are ancestors who are often very willing to help me with folk magic, and to receive prayers and attention in exchange for protection or provision.

In the Gaelic tradition, researching saints often becomes messy quite quickly. demonstrating the fluid boundaries between ancestors, gods and land spirits in Gaelic culture. Some of the saints-as-ancestors may also be gods. St Gobnait, in my UPG, definitely has something to do with Bhéarra – I’m just not sure what. (See my post on St Gobnait for more of my thoughts on that topic.) Studying the stories of the post-Christian saints has taught me as much about Gaelic culture as studying the myths. Both may well have pre-Christian roots – but regardless, I’m not sure the Christian/pagan dichotomy really works particularly well in terms of Gaelic reconstructionism. Gaelic culture has endured on through Christianity. The saints are a complex part of this, knotted into the threads of pagan and Christian Gaelic folk culture. Neopagans tend to have mixed, slightly confused responses to the Irish saints – St Patrick is vilified, but St Brigit is considered to carry survivals of the goddess Brighid in her stories. Keeping in mind how our views of the saints are socially constructed – in this case, by our social context of modern Paganism – could be useful here. My views are just as socially constructed as anyone else’s, but I try to approach the saints on their own terms, and ask what they can teach me.

Some of my saints are Gaelic. Some are not. Some may have pagan roots. Some do not. They are all my spiritual ancestors. They have all helped me, and many other people.

St Catherine, inspirer of scholars and strong women. St Gobnait, lady of the deer and the bees, from the Munster hills of my ancestors. St Francis, gentle brother to animals and to the land. St Cajetan, of social justice and concern for the poor and jobless. Mary, mother of a god, protector of the weak – in all her many aspects. Mary Magdalene, Gnostic avatar of Sophia, teacher of wisdom, whose story has been suppressed and lost, like the stories of so many women before her – and patroness of those whose brains and neurology don’t work too well. St Anthony, of the lost. And many others. They protect me, guide me and work with me. They are my ancestors, and I honour them. I don’t need much more theology than that, really. The rest is mere detail.

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Shrine areas for St Gobnait (well water and bee images) and St Catherine (spinning wheel), next to my general working area for folk magic

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Saints’ shrine – upper level (right to left: St Cajetan, Mary, St Expedite, St Anthony). The configuration changes depending on who I’m working with. Not all the saints want to be a constant presence on my shrine. Some do.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

– From the Breastplate of St Patrick