Balor and The Very Hot Solstice of 2017

I love the Irish myth of Lugh’s slingshot victory over Balor of the Evil Eye, at the (second) battle of the gods at Moytura. I once told their story with home-made puppets as part of an OBOD grove ceremony. It was as solemn and mythically accurate an occasion as you can imagine from the picture below.

This myth is, of course, more properly associated with Lúnasa, the August festival – but this year I’m claiming its relevance for this summer solstice (which has no myths associated with it, as it wasn’t celebrated by the Irish within folk memory).

Characters, left to right: Ethniu, imprisoned in a tower (interpretation apparently taken a bit from Rapunzel); Cian; Balor of the Evil Eye (interpretive influence obvious); Lugh Lámfada.

There are many theories about who Balor in the Irish myths might have represented*. One is that he was the blazing summer sun that destroyed the crops, who needed to be slain, perhaps with a sacrifice, so that the harvest could happen. This year, that mythic concept resonates rather well with me — and probably with a lot of the people in Britain, suffering a run of hot weather of the kind that we are never prepared for. (We live in houses designed to hold the heat, most of which were built in the Little Ice Age, and we have no air conditioning.)

And, looking at it less literally, that Eye of Evil that threatens our land could stand for a lot of things, in UK society, in this post-Brexit post-election summer of chaos…! But then, in my theology, Chaos is the pool that feeds the Xartus, the tree of Justice and the pattern of the universe.

Here’s to you, Lugh Samildánach, victor over the blazing Eye that threatens our land.  May chaos never destroy the order of the universe. May the order of society never become so hard and unyielding that chaos cannot rebuild it.

You can read Lugh’s story here.

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*As usual, I am more focused on mythic truth than ‘historical accuracy’ of myths (given that even the concepts of ‘historical’ and ‘accuracy’ are really socially constructed and unstable things). AKA, take my UPG at your own risk! (Especially when it comes to the Xartus, which is based on one person’s interpretation of one speculative idea and is almost pure mythic truth and UPG.) I haven’t had a chance to find sources for this interpretation of the myth of Balor this year – I’m so busy with my PhD that I hardly have time to blog at all at the moment – but I’ll edit with references when I get a chance. In the meantime, it’s still the interpretation that Wikipedia references. I’m told that this interpretation is quite dated. But again – mythic truth! :)

Books To Read: A Druid’s Primer

druid's primer bookLuke Eastwood, ‘A Druid’s Primer’. Moon Books, 2012. ISBN 1846947642.

Eastwood has created a really interesting approach to modern druidry here. He’s done a lot of good research into histories of pagan practices, both ancient and modern. He then merges everything he’s learnt into a mix of existing and new philosophies and practices. This is a good book for anyone fairly new to druidry who wants to be better informed about some of the sources we draw on, as well as for more established druids who want to try a new approach to mixing the old and the new. It’s a very Irish-focused book, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (though you won’t be surprised to hear that that worked well for me), but he does draw on British and other myths and folklore too.

But the problem with separating books into ‘recommended’ and ‘not recommended’ categories is that most Pagan books have parts that I like and parts that I… don’t. This book is no exception. Overall, I really enjoyed it. But let’s get into the things that I didn’t enjoy.

I’m getting really tired of books that repeat myths that we know are simply not true.

First myth: Let’s address this once and for all, shall we? The snakes that St Patrick drove out of Ireland were NOT THE PAGANS. There is absolutely no evidence that anyone thought they were, until very recently. The first reference that I can find to this idea is in Marion Zimmer Bradley – from the 1980s. It’s a modern Pagan idea. And I really wish this particular myth would burn and die. Eastwood doesn’t endear himself to me by repeating it.

Second myth, more problematic as it runs through the whole book: Modern Druidry is not ancient. Eastwood has a good grasp on the history of modern druidry, and that of ancient druidry (as far as we know anything about it). His problem is mixing the two up, believing the commonly-held view that modern Druids are the direct inheritors of the wisdom and knowledge of ancient druidry.

And that’s not entirely his fault. This myth is everywhere, after all. OBOD has its own version, as do other druid orders. But it really is a myth. Modern druidry has very little to do with ancient druidry, other than basic inspiration – and everything to do with being a beautiful modern spirituality rooted in the old sacred earth that we could do worse than embracing as, well, modern.

So now that I’ve started with the things I disliked about the book, let’s get into the good stuff – and there was quite a lot of it.

For example, he has some great chapters that merge ancient myth with modern druid ideas, such as the light body exercise. He relates the modern sun and moon cycles celebrated by most modern druids, to ancient myths that contain echoes of cosmological and solar folklore – including the myth of the Dagda and Aengus at Bru na Boinne, and the story of the Mabon. The chapter on elements is largely based on the Western magical tradition, but mixes some Irish mythology in. His chapter on healing, with botanical information on herbs/plants and their mythical and folkloric uses, is a lovely addition that I didn’t expect to see, but enjoyed.

My favourite chapter was on Ogham. This was a surprise, as I’ve done a lot of work with Ogham, using both new and old ideas on it, and I find that a lot of what’s written on it can be fairly terrible. But Eastwood’s extensive research really comes into its own here. He combines medieval and neo-Pagan sources on Ogham into a really lovely set of interpretations on each of the feda. He could have written a whole book on Ogham – as he says, he’s only had time here to skim the surface of all the sources, myths and ideas relating to it. If he does write more on the subject, I’ll read it!

As long as you’re aware of the limitations, this is a really good book with some refreshing approaches to the modern druid way of drawing on the old while being rooted in the new. I’ll be using a lot of this book in my own practice.

My rating: 7/10.

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

Z is for… Messing With Zeitgeibers

Zeitgeiber: any external or environmental cue that entrains, or synchronizes, an organism’s biological rhythms to the earth’s 24-hour light/dark cycle and 12 month cycle…
– Wikipedia

I stayed up all night last night, for the first time for many years (since way back when I had a much healthier body). I got through the Cauldron forum‘s ‘Up All Night’ solstice vigil solely thanks to good company, good music, and some calculated messing with my zeitgeibers. Continue reading

Midwinter

Inspired by Tana at My Witchy Diary, I’m blogging my up-all-night solstice. The lovely folks at the forum where I post, The Cauldron, stay up all night for an online winter solstice party, and I’m giving it a go (even though my success is doubtful and I’ll probably fall asleep around 3am). I’ll update this post as I remember.

I adore Alban Arthuan – the earth feels very, very still for a while. This afternoon/evening I did some outdoor offerings and a house blessing, then went to the little park by my house and watched twilight turn into night. I came home with some little pieces of holly and ivy for my altar to land, sea and sky.

Winter Solstice 2012

8.30pm. I have not yet started on the wine, as I have to do a station run to pick up the wife later. My Solstice feast consisted of a rather delicious curry, to a soundtrack of seasonal music (Killers ‘A Great Big Sled’ currently playing). My to-do list includes candle-making and writing.

10.30. Making candles and a honey jar by candlelight, to choral music, moonlight dancing in the window. We are such stuff as dreams are made on.

1.55am. Am flagging, as expected (chronic illnesses don’t mix with very late nights, so this might be bedtime for me!) but have had a lovely, reflective time discussing all manner of interesting things with some very good people.

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8.55am. I was up for the sunrise. I did my first full ADF rite as the sun rose – the Winter Solstice rite that Teo Bishop has written for the Solitary Druid Fellowship. It was wonderful. Even if it was pouring with rain and so windy that the candles wouldn’t stay lit. I imagined the sunrise!

Solstice rite 2012

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ season run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late schoolboys, and sour ‘prentices.
Go tell court-huntsmen that the King will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time…

She’s all States, and all Princes I;
Nothing else is.

Princes do play us; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic; all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties
be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.

Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls thy sphere.

– John Donne, ‘The Sun Rising’