Calan Gaeaf

Whilst we are familiar with Samhain, which originates in Ireland and Scotland, we should also acknowledge Calan Gaeaf, an ancient Welsh celebration with lots of similarities with Samhain and Halloween.

Calan Gaeaf is the name of the first day of winter in Wales, observed on 1 November. The night before is Noson Galan Gaeaf, an Ysbrydnos (English – Spirit Night) when spirits are abroad.

Children building a Coelcerth

During Calan Gaeaf, children and women would dance around a village fire (Coelcerth) and everyone would write their names on rocks and place them in and around said fire. When the fire started to die out they would all run home, believing if they stayed, Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta (the tailless black sow) would devour their souls.

The following morning, all the stones would be checked. If a stone was missing, the person who wrote their name on the absent stone would be believed to die within one year.

Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta

Adref, adref, am y cyntaf’,
Hwch ddu gwta a gipio’r ola’.

Home, home, at once
The tailless black sow shall snatch the last.

The Celtic Origin of Halloween

During the second battle of Mag Tuired on the Eve of Samhain those slain by the Fomorians were brought back to life by the magical waters of the Slaine Well to return to battle until their secret was later discovered. Many lost their lives from both sides during battle and this sets the tone for Samhain, a remembrance of those who have passed from this life to the next.

Samhain is one of the four main festivals of the Gaelic calendar, marking the end of the harvest and beginning of winter. In Serglige Con Culainn (‘Cúchulainn’s Sickbed’), it is said that the festival of the Ulaid at Samhain lasted a week. Three days before, Samhain itself, and the three days after.

In public gatherings people feasted, drank alcohol and held contests. Bonfires were lit and stones cast into the fires. Every third Samhain a Gaelic cultural festival was held at Tara and the nobles and Ollams (highest ranking Bards/Poets with equal standing to the king) of Inisfail (Ireland) met to create and renew the Brehon laws, and to feast. Druids lit a sacred bonfire at Tlachtga, making sacrifices to the gods by burning them in the fire.

Ancient Neolithic tombs in Ireland are aligned with the sunrise around the time of Samhain. Samhain is a time when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed. This meant the Sidhe (the “Fae”), could more easily come into our world. Offerings of food and drink were left outside to appease them. Divination rituals and games were also a big part of the festival and often involved nuts and apples. Departed kin were requested to attend feasts and a place set for them. Mummers’ plays and disguises were part of the festival, and involved people going door-to-door, reciting verses in exchange for food.

An Mac Tíre: The Wolf and the Irish Son of the Earth; Fact and Lore

In the Brehon Laws, the wolf was dealt with in it’s context for being a threat to young livestock, particularly calves. ‘The Book of Werewolves’, S Baring-Gould. Wolf hunting was considered a public duty, with one law stating that a client had to go on a hunting excursion at least once a week for his landlord. Also, if it was known that a pack of wolves lived in a particular area, it was an offence for someone to drive their neighbours livestock towards them. These Laws even deal with a wolf being taken from the wild and treated as a domestic pet. The Law treated any offences commited by this wolf the same way as a domesticated dog. One thing to note is that the Brehon Laws did not discuss the threat of a wolf to a human as there is nothing mentioned about this scenario. The general consensus would be that such attacks were rare with the exception written in the ‘Annals of Connaught’ 1420 that “many persons were killed by wolves”. It is more than likely a very harsh Winter made the wolves desperate.

The extensive areas of wilderness that existed in Ireland ensured the survival of wolves for a good while with the growing population of humans. ‘The Fauna of Ireland’, FJ O’Rourke. During the 1500’s, there was a substantial trade for wolf skins from Ireland to the port of Bristol with a range of 100-300 skins being exported each year. Up to 1652, wolves were still found in the outskirts of Dublin with a public wolf hunt organised in Castleknock. A Cork city Official wrote in 1698, describing wolves in the city district. As with Irish Catholics, the wolf population also fell foul of the Cromwellian governing body. ‘To Hell or Connaught’, P Ellis-Bereford. The Protestant Planters were horrified that wolves were still common and a bounty was set by the Parliment with £6 per female and £5 per male. Because of this and the ongoing destruction of the Irish natural woodlands, the wolf population decreased rapidly from the 1600’s to the late 1700’s. The last recorded wolf kill was in 1786 by John Watson of Ballydarton, county Carlow who hunted a lone wolf who was killing his livestock of sheep on Mount Leinster.Since then the Irish wolf has been extinct in the country. However all is not lost. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/northern-ireland-public-goes-wild-for-bears-and-wolves-roaming-free-at-sanctuary-in-donegal-38631553.html

In Irish, Mac Tíre is a relatively newer descriptive word and has two other names as well. Bréach and Faol. These are dialect variations that are found in townland names. Foe example, Britway in county Cork in Irish is Bréach Maigh or the Plain of the Wolf, Feltrim, county Dublin is Faol Droim or Wolf Ridge and Clashavictory, county Tipperary is Clais an mhic Tíre or Ravine of the Wolf. There are many more around the country that have these descriptions. ‘Wolf-Forgotten Irish Hunter’, K Hickey.

The above history would suggest that humans and wolves did not get on but it’s qualites were revered and respected by all. It was admired for it’s bravery and warlike attributes which, in legend made the wolf a symbol of kings and warriors. Also, in the legends, it is shown as an animal that responds with good deeds when treated with respect.

When we look at the tales given the Christian filter, especially when they involve saints, their miraclous powers and compassion tame the wolf’s predatory nature. ‘Book of Werewolves’, S Baring-Gould. In ‘The Life of Saint Cainnech’, the saint tames a wolf that had eaten a calf. The owner of the alf complained to Cainnech, who in turn told him to go back to his livestock and clap his hands. When the owner did this, the wolf returned and stood in the place where the calf had normally stood. The cows licked it and accepted its presence, while they were being milked. The wolf returned each morning for the remaining season getting the same treatment. According to ‘The Life of Patrick’, a wolf made off with one of the shepard boys charges and in turn was rebuked by the woman of the house. The next day, the wolf returned with the calf in it’s mouth unharmed and dropped it at the boys feet, before running back to the woods. Saint Colman is supposed to have had a covenant with the wolves in the nearby forest. They would come to hime each day and behave like domesticated dogs around him. Saint Molua is described to have taken pity on a pack of starving wolves by providing them with cooked calf meat in the guest quarters of the monastary. This became an annual event and the wolves protected the monastary and livestock. Another is a tale from ‘De Ingantaib Érenn’ where Patrick’s preaching is vehemetly opposed by the people of Ossary “ It is told that when the holy Patricius preached Christianity in that country, there was one clan which opposed him more stubbornly than any other people in the land; and these people strove to do insult in many ways both to God and to the holy man. And when he was preaching the faith to them as to others and came to confer with them where they held their assemblies, they adopted the plan of howling at him like wolves”. Patrick responded by praying for God to punish the clan, resulting in them suffering “a fitting and severe though very marvelous punishment, for it is told that all the members of that clan are changed into wolves for a period and roam through the woods feeding upon the same food as wolves; but they are worse than wolves, for in all their wiles they have the wit of men, though they are as eager to devour men as to destroy other creatures.”

Sounds fantastical and miraclous, doesn’t it. But there could be a logical reason that is unwritten and the wolves could be human. The Irish werewolf is different from the Teutonic or European werewolf, as it is really not a “monster” at all. Unlike its continental cousins, this

shapeshifter is the guardian and protector of children, wounded men and lost persons. According to some ancient sources, the Irish werewolves were even recruited by kings in time of war. Known in their native land as the faoladh or conriocht, their predatory behaviour is typical of the common wolf, not beneath the occasional nocturnal raid. It’s a possibility that the saints came across them or employed their services. In some folklore, werewolves became so by donning the hide of a wolf. The people of Ossary could have been a group of mercenary warriors who wore wore pelts as a form of uniform and invoked the attributes of the wolf archetype in their daily lives as the wolf was also a symbol in Early Ireland of people who lived close to nature.

In the Cycles, Lebor Gabala claims that the Tuatha Da Danann roamed Irealnd in the forms of wolves. In the Ulaid Cycle, a poem about Queen Maedbh describes her as “ a fair-haired wolf-queen”, the Ulster warrior Conall Cearnach’s name is derived from ‘cunovalos’ meaning ‘strong like wolf’ and in ‘Táin Bó Cuailnge’, an Morrigú attacks Cú Chulainn in the form of a wolf. In the Osiniac Cycle, Fionn mac Cumhaill is said to have ‘ loved the music of far off wolves leaving their lairs’ and Caoilte of the Fianna recounts ‘the music of the wolves’. The 8th Century text ‘Cormac’s Glossary’ defines wolves as creatures of uplifting howls. In the Cycle of Kings, Cormac McAirt, is nursed by a she-wolf and in ‘Suibhne Geilt’, Mad Sweeney says on his death bed “Ba binne liom robhaoi tan, Danálach na gcon alla, Ina guth cléirigh astaoigh, Ag meilighis ag meigeallaigh.” or as Béarla “It was melodious to me once, the cries of the wolves, than the cleric indoors, a-bleating and a-baaing.”

I could go on about describing the attributes of the wolf archetype but that is subjective and the wolf has a personal meaning to each individual. That is for you to make of alone. Seas os comhair na gealaí agus canadh fonn an mac an tíre. Do amhrán ón taobh istigh. Seán Ó Tuama.

The Threefold Path

Up in the hills of Muskerry in West Cork, there are 3 sites. One is a Wedge Tomb, Knocknakilla Stone Circle complex and the Tobar Eoighan Naofa (Well of St. John), all within a 5 mile radius of each other. According to Google Maps, it takes an hour to travel by car but it’s obvious they never physically mapped it as it takes longer due to the nature of Irish backroads and you can’t travel safely the at 80 km per hour (the Irish way of saying slow down is post a high speed limit on a dodgy looking road. Unless you have a deathwish, you will adhere to caution and take your time unless you want to travel to the other side of the planet via giant potholes or blowing your horn at cattle in the middle of a field that you wound up by missing that sharp bend).

Knocknakilla is an interesting stone circle. It comprises of two large portal stones that are outside a much smaller 5 stone ring and there is a minature stone circle to the SouthEast. It is listed as a heritage site but has never been repaired. The area is resting on a bog (on the side of a mountain??) andd one of the portal stones has fallen as wel as the smallest stone in the ring (the altar stone). Nevertheless it is visited at times of ritual decompression as when the first time I was there, there was evidence of Wicca with coloured candles and dreamcatchers left there and I met 3 of them at dawn one morning earlier this year. Knocknakilla is the anglicised name for Cnoc na Coille which translates to the Hill/Mound of the Church in old Irish. I have travelled here on a number of occassions for ritual decompressions when weather permits. It’s highly dangerous up there when raining or after rain. I have also planted a stave dedicated to Brighid of the Forge in the centre of the main stone circle (which was removed by persons unknown). Brighid of the Forge is the main archetype whom I internalise/invoke and there is a reason why I call upon her presence there (apart from the area being covered in Rushes).

Further up the road, an Tobar Eoighan Naofa looks out north. It is a Scared Well dedicated to St. John and the Stations of the Cross are held there but it has a history that goes beyond Christianity. St. John had 3 sisters who were nuns, St. Lasair, St. Inion and St. Latiaran (all nuns of Cullen) it was dedicated to Latiaran celebrating lasair ( flame) at Imbolg , Inghné Bhuídhe ( yellow hair in old Irish, modern Irish is gruaige buí) at Bealtine and Latiaran at Lugnasadh. The aspects seem to follow the growth of cereal crops and with the it’s also possible that she is the Goddess Brighid. The reasoning for this could also be that she falls into the terra forming category as she is also given the title, the Musker Cailleach and the relation to Lasair which translates to eternal flame. The more recent story variation is that she was a wise giantess who carried boulders on her apron and accidently dropped some on her journeys which formed the Muskerry hills (if you have ever driven up here, they are small mountains not hills). There is an Irish Historic Footnote at the site explaining this (I’m surprised that the Church authorities allowed its erection) but it does not go into detail so I had to research further into the 3 names. I looked into the local folklore tales of the townplace of Cullen.

The Wdege Tomb is in a field further down the mountain but there are no records about it as the same with many others of its kind so no one knows who was buried there. It would not be wrong to presume that it is the marked grave of a high ranking individual as there are many graves found in other complexes with adornments found on archaeological digs belonging to that class.

Okay, enough with the local Irish cultural and history lesson. The 3 aspects of the Goddess Brighid convey a lot of meaning to me personally. To some, the perception of the 3 relate to maiden, mother and Cailleach but it is also important that Brighid is not only one of many Irish harvest Goddesses but also of the Forge. In Irish society from when, I am not sure but up to the late 1950’s at least, rural farmers were also the local blacksmith. From this, it is not difficult to see how both farming and smithing can combine. On the farming side, birth, maturation and reaping. From the forge, furnace, tools and strength of tempering. There is another aspect and that is of the warrior as she fought on the battlefield with the Tuatha Dé against the Fomórians in the second battle of Moytura and the cry of her mourning for her slain son ( Ruadan the smithing seed of both Fomórian and Tuatha Dé) became the signal for battle. Thusly, farming, smithing and battle are the 3 aspects of Brighid that interweave to become inspiration, learning and the abiltiy to use the lessons learned in my everyday life or the path I walk. Maybe you see this or maybe you see other aspects. The Triskelle or Triquetra revolves on many points of it’s circumference.

Go raibh maith agat as do chuid ama agus go mbeannaí an bandia duit go léir.
Seán Ó Tuama.

An Cailleach Bhéarthach and the Walker

A good time ago, there was a man, during the time of an Cailleach Bhéarthach that lived at the foot of the Néifinn mountains in County Mayo, and he thought he was a good man for walking as there was in Ireland. But he knew that an Cailleach Béarthach was that bit better than him. So he decided to go and speak with her and take her walking so that he could see how much walking she was able to do more than himself. And he came to her and said that he had business to do in Galway and he asked an Cailleach to accompany him, that there maybe something she may want to purchase in town. She agreed, as she said she needed to get some teasing cards, to card her wool and that, as he was going there, they would go together. She added that it was much better company to have the two of them walking together rather than one person walking on their own.

They got themselves ready and they started off on the walk and it didn’t take them very long until they were in Galway. They had their dinner and an Cailleach bought her teasing cards. When they had all the things bought that they requried-bits and pieces-they set off for home again. They were walking on strongly, sometimes half running, half trotting and it wasn’t long until they were almost at the foot of the Néifinn mountains. But they came to a big river that faced them on their journey. The roads weren’t there at that time like they are now. And they met up with another man who was going some of the way in the same direction they were going themselves. When they got to the river an Cailleach made a run, carrying off with her, under her arm the man who was her companion for the day, and gave a leap across the river. When she brought her companion across the river under her arm, the other man wasn’t able to jump across at all-not even halfway. And the spot where there was a waterfall and a fording place to cross over by, was nine or ten miles away from them. An Cailleach and the man she took across under her arm, had, indeed, made a great shortcut.

“What harm did I do to you”, said the man she had left behind on the otherside, “that you didn’t bring me across like the other man?” “You did not do me a bit of harm”, she said, “but let those things stay unreconciled.” She left him there, though he had never done anything wrong to her, because she thought that it wouldn’t be right for her to be coming to the aid of every last person.

When she was parting from the man who had been her companion for the day, an Cailleach was going a bit farther, she knew full well that he was tiring from the walking. She asked him, “Does your wife have much butter in the house?” “She has some”, he said,” and a few crocks of butter.” “Well, when you get home tonight”, she said,”ask your wife to fetcha crock of butter and to put it with its bottom facing the fire and its mouth away from the fire.” “And let you put the soles of your too feet”, she said, “on top of the butter at the mouth of the crock and stay like that until tomorrow. If you don’t do that”, she said, “you’ll be dead by morning.”

He did as an Cailleach instructed him. He asked of his wife to get the crock of butter and position it. Then he took of his shoes and stockings and put his too feet onto the butter in the mouth of the crock. And by morning every last morsel of the butter had soaked into his feet. And only for that he was dead from the exertion of the day’s walking with an Cailleach.

When an Cailleach arrived home, she took a can with her and milked her goats; and then she had them all milked and settled down before the sun set at the foot of the Néifinn mountains of County Mayo.

The above Cailleach, an Cailleach Béarthach, is the evolution of the fertility goddess, Flidas of County Mayo legends, from goddess to wisewoman or to use other terms that I find personally distasteful, a hag or witch especially when Her description is that of beauty. The tale is a also another evolution, with the advent of Christian Ireland, with hidden meanings of a much older legend. Like all legends or folktales, this serves as a teaching tool as well as entertainment.

The above narrative came be viewed as personal learning path taken on a spiritual or psychological level. When invoking or internalising an archetype, it is what you personally take from the experience is what you learn from. Even in a group setting, a ceremony or ritual still reaches to you on a personal level that differs from the others. The extra companion can be seen as a teacher, research or others in a group. They can only take you so far. When you reach the river, the companion(s) is left behind so that you take the journey yourself with your archetype alone. Take what you personally learned and meditate on it or else the whole process or journey will be dead or lost to you. External dogmatic structures can only take you so far. The journey and leap is yours alone to take.

Go raibh maith agat as do chuid ama a thógáil chun é seo a léamh agus an léim a dhéanamh trasna na habhann.
Seán Ó Tuama.

The Dúile

Ancient Ways or 20th Century Neo-Paganism?

In this written piece, I am not deliberately trying to dispell notions that are modern ideals of neo-paganism believed to be that of ancient paths, but tracing their origins. In this one in particular, the Dúile or the Nine Elements will be examined. It is important to remember that in Ireland, in particular, there is no written evidence handed down through the generations as everything was transferred from generation to generation orally. Ogham is believed by the archaeological community to date back as far as the 5th Century, used as commerations of names on stone and monks transcribed the sagas of old onto manuscripts from the 8th Century onwards. They also got a Christian twist over time to suit the intergration and establishment of the new religion. In the 17th Century, John Aubrey (1626-1697) brought an interest into the mega and neolithic monuments surrounding the Engilsh countryside (see https://orderofcelticwolves.com/2020/08/03/john-aubrey-founder-of-druid-renaissance/?fbclid=IwAR2PKpFaGS09j2zMKWgt-nJRVVgwvTkA9vcPWPItkBP-k08WrGcQlFwipMQ for more details) and in the late 19th and early 20th Century WB Yeats (1865-1939) (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/william-butler-yeats) brought a renewed interest in Irish mythology through his works in literature and the Arts. Because of these two figures and others, we can try to piece together the jigsaw of how our ancient ancestors society worked through prose, folklore, the old saga’s and archaelogical finds, but there are missing pieces still to be filled. Because of these missing pieces, we all (myself included) try to fill in the gaps with resonating parts of our own personal paradigms. There is no harm in that as long as we are able to accept that we may be wrong when new evidence surfaces and change our perception if need be. The damage that becomes is when we step on a soapbox and beat the air fanatically stating that “this way is the only way” and try to convert a flock of followers into your way of thinking. The true art of imparting wisdom is that others use the knowledge gained in their own way and not become a diluted carbon copy of your path.

So what are the Dúile? These are the Celtic nine elements. Accrording to ‘Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla’ Ó Dónaill 1977, the word could be the plural form of element, creation or life depending on how it is used in a sentence (see https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/D%C3%BAile ).This extract from ‘The Summerlands’ Searle Ó Dubhain 1997 will give an example of what the neopagan idea of these elements http://www.imbas.org/articles/elements_duile.html . We know that Tree-Ogham is a modern construct as the archaelogical finds on Ogham are not all tree related and in some modern texts there are additions that have no historical value except for that of modern divination. In fairness, Ó Dubhain does refer to the archaelogist Macalister’s translation of ‘An Lebor Gabala’ but he has made a mistake. Fintan of the Caesarians narrates the saga, not Ollamh of the Milesians. I believe this to be an unintentional error in Ó Duhnain’s perception of ‘Lebor Gabala’ to suit his ideal of the old ways as it is mixed with mythology of mainland Britain and possibly ‘The White Goddess’ Robert Graves 1948.

The Song of Amergin

Am gáeth i m-muir,
Am tond trethan,
Am fuaim mara,
Am dam secht ndirend,
Am séig i n-aill,
Am dér gréne,
Am cain lubai,
Am torc ar gail,
Am he i l-lind,
Am loch i m-maig,
Am brí a ndai,
Am bri danae,
Am bri i fodb fras feochtu,
Am dé delbas do chind codnu,
Coiche nod gleith clochur slébe?
Cia on co tagair aesa éscai?
Cia du i l-laig fuiniud gréne?
————————————-
I am wind on sea
I am ocean wave
I am roar of sea
I am the stag of seven battles
I am an eagle on the cliff
I am a tear of the sun
I am the fairest of plants
I am a wild boar in valour
I am a salmon in the pool
I am a lake in the plain
I am a hill of poetry
I am a word of knowledge
I am the head of the spear in battle
I am the God that puts fire in the head
Who shed light on uncut dolmen?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who shows the place where the sun sleeps?
If Not I
https://cinematicpoems.com/2019/08/17/song-of-amergin-a-cinematic-poem-short-film-in-ireland-directed-by-arnie-hensman-2019/
As you can see, there is a difference between the original prose and Ó Dubhain’s.

So where do they come from if not Amergin’s tale? The late Victorian Age had developed an interest in Eastern Occultism in the wake of Christianity that was beleaguered by scientific developments and new biblical criticisms. For some, explorations of hermetic thought, ritual magick and romaticised notions of Eastern wisdom plugged the gap left by the decline of Christian dogma, ‘Victorian Occultism and the Making of Modern Magic:Invoking Tradition’ A. Butler 2011. From 1899, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn (colleagues of Yeats) blended the two in their literary accomplishments. The 9 elements are very similar to the 9 chakras. https://satorirei.com/2015/07/28/the-9-chakras/comment-page-1/ .

Unfortunately the trail goes cold when trying to research the Dúile beyond the Celtic Revival. Others may fair better. I would be better for you to compare the Dúile with the chakras for yourselves and draw your own conclusions rather than go by mine.

Seán Ó Tuama.

John Aubrey, founder of Druid Renaissance?

John Aubrey FRS (12 March 1626 – 7 June 1697) was an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer.

John Aubrey

He was a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England, and who is particularly noted as the discoverer of the Avebury henge monument. The Aubrey holes at Stonehenge are named after him.

Respected by fellow scientists as a great Mathematician, He was also a pioneer folklorist, collecting together a miscellany of material on customs, traditions and beliefs under the title “Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme”. He set out compiling county histories of both Wiltshire and Surrey. His “Interpretation of Villare Anglicanum” was the first attempt to compile a full-length study of English place-names. 

Aubrey was a non political Royalist, who enjoyed the scientific innovations characteristic of the period, whilst deploring the banning of traditions and the destruction of ancient buildings brought about by Cromwell’s civil war and religious change. Whilst he drank the King’s health in Herefordshire, he also attended meetings in London of the republican Rota Club with equal enthusiasm.

The Monumenta Britannica was Aubrey’s principal collection of archaeological material, written over some thirty years between about 1663 and 1693. It falls into four parts. The first part “Templa Druidum” is a discussion of neolithic “druidic” temples, notably Avebury and Stonehenge.

Although, not a Druid himself, his works and research (which may not all stand the test of time) sparked a renewed interest and soon after modern Druidry came into existence.

Stonehenge July 1887

Stonehenge remains a principle site connected with Druids and had extensive repairs done in the early twentieth century. Without works of John Aubrey, though, its importance may never have come to light.

The Warrior’s Feat- Source of Inspiration and the Ripple Effect

“Always follow your principles, even if it means running against the tide. Fight for what you believe is right, even though it may not be popular. The path of least resistance is the easy path of the many. However, even though you may feel alone, others will also run with you and join you. You will make a difference.” Filtiarn the Druid 30-6-20 Follow on Facebook for Inspiring idea’s.

The celebration of Lúghnasadgh has been of great importance in Ireland since prehistoric times. In early Irish literature of Irish Mythology the festival has been named after the sun god, Lugh Lámhfhada, who took his name after the month of August, Lúnasa in Irish. Lúgh, once a High King of Ireland, was a youthful fierce warrior and a leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann. He was a master in all skills including the arts and crafts and truth, oaths and the law. Lúgh’s foster-mother, Tailtiu, died on August 1 from exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for farming. She was buried under a mound in an area known today as Teltown, County Meath (an area between Kells and Meath). To honour his mother, Lúgh held the first Óenach, or Aonach, the bringing of people together to commemorate a death. It became known as Óenach Tailten, occurring in the last fortnight of July and the first fortnight of August. Óenach Tailten brought the Irish Kings together, to a landscape of governance in Meath, and under a truce would settle disputes between each other. Honouring the dead was extremely important to the ancient Irish, as it is today, so more Óenach’s started occurring in various locations in Ireland. The date of the first Óenach Tailten is often debated but may have been as early as the Neolithic period. The last Óenach was held during the time of the time Norman Invasion. Amongst the activities was one of significance, and that was the warrior’s feat. This was where a champion had a unique talent and showcased it for all to see. The challenge was for other champions to either emulate it or do it better. But this was not based on just one talent but on the other talents of the individuals competing.

Both what Filtiarn and the above description of Óenach Tailten and the warriors feats teach us the same lesson. Doing what you do best despite the criticisms of others and suceeding. Forging your own path and reaping the rewards that you alone deserve. You may tire and even fall but you still get up and power on. The Forge of the Goddess Brighid is burning furiously within you, spurring you on. You have your goals always within reach. The salmon swimming from the sea, up rivers and streams to reach the spawing pool beneath the Hazel tree. Then there are those who take the easy way. Remaining at sea too afraid or unsure to listen to the call of their inner nature. Those who just drift with the current, letting it take them in the one direction enmass just taking what they get. The same can be said for human nature. You have the procrastinators who ‘woulda, coulda, and shoulda’, the ones who are too lazy to get off their bums (trying to keep my language clean here lol) demanding that you shouldn’t do this or that fully envious of and decrying your success and those who (fully capable adults I mean here) have to be continuously spoon fed draining your much needed energy and go mad or throw tantrums if you draw away to get on a bit as they are dragging you back.

The ‘Ripple Effect’ is what one should always strive for. As they radiate outwards it meets another object which itself creates a new source of ripples and this continues with others. This describes how one becomes a source of inspiration to other just by doing what you do best and reaching your goals. There are those who will see that you are striving and will want to do the same in their unique way for their own unique goals be it career-wise or physical-wise. The ripples you make, hit them and they in turn make ripples of their own. You are not telling them how to do it but showing them the way to the on how path to do it for themselves.

Go raibh maith agat as do chuid ama a léamh chun seo a léamh agus cuimhnigh a bheith ina fhoinse inspioráide chomh maith le bheith spreagtha ag daoine eile. Seán Ó Tuama.

Sequani (Coligny) Calendar

Introduction

When the Romans invaded Gaul, they made it law for the people to use the Julian calendar. Despite this the Sequanii tribe, kept the old lunisolar calendar of the ancient Celts alive right up to the second century. How do we know?

In 1897 at Coligny (near Lyon) an amazing discovery was made. The Coligny calendar is a peg calendar made in Roman Gaul circa 2nd century AD, giving a five-year cycle of a lunisolar calendar with intercalary months. It is the most important evidence for the reconstruction of an ancient Celtic calendar. It is written in Latin inscriptional capitals in Gallic.

It was discovered in 73 fragments, along with the head of a bronze statue of a youthful male figure. It has been painstakingly restored, forming a 5 foot wide, 3.5 foot high bronze tablet. When assembled, it displays a lunisolar calendar, which follows both moon phases and the time of solar year.

It is believed that the calendar, dating back to the 2nd century AD, had been banned by the Romans as it indicated druidic practices. It is likely that the calendar was discovered by the Romans, who broke it up to prevent its use. The calendar can now be found at the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon. Since months were repeated, the missing months appeared at least once, enabling researchers to complete the missing pieces of the calendar. The restored tablet contains sixteen vertical columns, with 62 months distributed over five years.

The age of the calendar has been estimated based upon the styling of the letters and images it contains. French archaeologist, J. Monard, has speculated that the Celts created the calendar as a means of preserving the Celtic tradition of timekeeping at a time when the Julian calendar was being heavily promoted throughout the Roman Empire. Druids were members of the educated, professional class among the Celtic peoples of Gaul, Britain, Ireland, and possibly elsewhere during the Iron Age. The Druid class included law-speakers, poets and doctors, among other learned professions, although the best known among the Druids were the religious leaders.

A similar calendar found nearby at Villards d’Heria, but only eight small fragments exist of this.

Importance to us today

This calendar is relevant to us today. Since the ancient Celts placed such importance on the calendar and used it in defiance of the Romans, then as custodians of ancient traditions, we have a responsibility to preserve the calendar for future generations. The Druids were Astrologers and links have been made between stone circles aligning with the summer solstice (e.g. Stonehenge) and features of the night sky (Tara aligns with the moon in Scorpio) and the Coligny calendar. We know that lunar and solar phases were very important to the Celts and should be to us.

Knowth Calendar Stone

This stone engraving is found at the Knowth site in Ireland. According to Martin Brennan author of ‘Stones of Time’ it is a graphical depiction of a lunar calendar operating on the same principle as the Coligny Calendar found in France. It shows all 29 phases of the moon. The spiral covers up those three days when the moon is not seen. The included diagram shows how the centre squiggle in the drawing could be used to measure the 62 month span of the Coligny calendar. The author is only guessing that this calendar begins with the spring equinox.

Druid Months and their Meaning

In spite of its fragmentary state, the calendar can be reconstructed with confidence due to its regular composition. Each month is marked either MAT (complete) or ANM (incomplete). The first half of the month was always 15 days, but the second half would be 14 or 15 days. MAT months are 30 days, and ANM months are 29. An exception is the 9th month Equos, which in years 1 and 5 is a month of 30 days but in spite of this still marked ANM.

The middle of each month in the Coligny calendar is marked ATENVX which means ‘the returning night’. In fact, the splitting of each month in two is the precedent of the modern day fortnight.

There is much debate about when the Celtic months started. I have personally reached the conclusion that the month began with the moons first quarter. This is because the second half of the month would be darker when the moon is never more than a crescent. Other ancient lunar calendars start with the first visible crescent after the new moon, such as the Hijra calendar and this seems to be pretty universal in the ancient world.

Other ancient calendars, such as the Hebrew lunisolar calendar (still used today to calculate religious holidays, such as the Passover on Nissan 14th), which was also a lunisolar calendar also started the months on the first crescent. This calendar was heavily influenced by the Babylonians, with months being named after Babylonian Gods such as Tammuz. See link for further details.

However, Pliny the Elder says the following about Druids; “Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon…. Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things..” This indicates that the month was hailed in on the sixth day (compared to other ancient cultures), which would be the first visible crescent.

The Coligny calendar actually has markings that indicate that held holy festivals were held in the middle of the month (at the time of returning night) after the second quarter moon. The Coligny calendar marks a three day festival starting on the 17th day in the month of Samonios.

The total of 1831 days is very close to the exact value of 62 × 29.530585 = 1830.90 days, keeping the calendar in relatively good agreement with the synodic month (with an error of one day in 50 years), but doesn’t reconcile the lunar cycle with the tropical year. This meets with poor accuracy. Over five tropical years there is an error of 4.79 days (corresponding to 5 × 365.24219052 = 1826.21 days).

However, Pliny’s Naturalis historia (book 16) mentions a 30 year cycle used by the Celts. If one intercalary month is dropped every thirty years, the error is reduced to one day in 195 years. This would be addressed by reducing the month of Equos to 29 days in year 195.

Meanings of the Months

Whenever you look into the meanings of the months and when the year started, you face a huge debate.

Peter Schrijver in Studies in Celtic Historical Phonology states that the common Celtic root of Samo is “summer”, and Samonios is related to the old Irish Cetamuin “Month of May”, “First of May”, “May Day”. So the dates marked on the Coligny calendar mark a mid month celebration of the start of summer, corresponding to Beltane. Other scholars such as Professor Ronald Hutton concur that Samonios marks the beginning of summer.

However, looking at the meanings of other months, such as Ogronnios, which would subsequently tie in with October, means “Cold Month”, I think it is more likely that Samonios means “Summer’s End” and is the month in which Samhuinn would be observed. This is still a three day observance today, with its Christianised counterpart All Hallows Eve or Halloween. Interestingly, the Coligny calendar starts with an intercalary month. The Celts saw time in cycles. A circle has neither beginning nor end. It is continuous, so although modern pagans celebrate a New Year at Samhuinn, the wheel of the year is without beginning or end. It is a perpetual cycle, so New Year would be meaningless, but the celebrations were marked out.

These then are the months and their probable meanings in the Coligny calendar: –

These translations draw from a number of sources, but are not infallible.

In summary: –

  • the Coligny Calendar was a lunisolar calendar used by the ancient Celts and it is likely that Celts in other areas used a similar calendar with intercalary months every two and a half years.
  • The calendar month was split into two parts, the first being from the first quarter of the moon up to the second quarter moon on the 15th day of the month. The second half of the month was either 14 or 15 days.
  • There is a lot of difference of opinion about the calendar, but the ritual noted in Samonios indicates a 3 day festival around the moon’s second quarter and ties in with the modern day Samhain (or Halloween).

The Dream of Oengus(Aengus)

This particular legend was found in the Book of Leinster surviving from the 15th century and maybe familar to theWelsh ‘How Culhwch won Olwen’. It is also the primary source of information that is behind WB Yeats ‘ The Dream of Wandering Aengus’. I am not going to reproduce the original prose as you can look it up for yourselves and enjoy it better but I will give a shortened version.

Oengus was asleep one night and saw a young girl at the head of his bed. She was the most beautiful woman in all of Eiru. He extended his hand to bring her under the covers with him as he greeted he but she vanished. This troubled him all night and during the day he ate nothing. The following night, she visited him again with a musical instrument and played for him. Again when he extended his hand, she vanished. This went on for a year where Oengus ate little to nothing by day yearning for the mystery woman gradually falling in love. As his health waned and fell to sickness, many physicans were called upon but none could diagnose the source of his ailment. Finally, the wise Fergne of Cond, arrived and made his diagnosis.

F “No meeting this, but love in absence”

O “You have divined my illness”

F “ You have grown sick at heart and not dared tell anyone”

O “ It is true. The most beautiful woman has come to me each night playing such sweet music”

F “ No matter, for love for her has seized you. We will send for Boand, your mother, so she may come and speak with you “

Boand came and tended to her son. Fergne explained everything to her. She also searched the entire island for the form in her sons dream. Nothing became of this quest so Fergne was called upon again. He asked for Oengus’ father, the Dagda to be at his side.

D “Why have I been summoned”

B “To advise your son. It is right that you help him for his death would be a great pity. Love in absence has overcome him, and no help for it has been found.”

D “Why tell me. My knowledge is no greater than yours.”

F “ Indeed it is, for you are the king of the Shidhe of Eiru. Send messengers to Bodb, for he is the king of the Shidhe of Mumu (modern day Munster), and his knowledge spreads throughout Eiru.”

Messengers were sent to Bodb and he honoured the Dagda’s request. After another year, news was brought to Oengus’ sick bed. Her likeness was found at Lough Bel Dracon at Cruitt Cliach. Oengus was sent via chariot accompanied by Bobd to see if he recognised her. The chariot arrived at Sid ar Femuin where a feast was prepared in honour of Oengus that lasted 3 days and 3 nights (the people knew how to party). After Bodb explained to Oengus that they should go to the lake and search for the girl. He also explained that he had no power to hand the girl, if found, over to Oengus. After seeing a multitude of the women that resided by the lake, Oengus recognised the one he sought.

B “ Do you recognise that girl”

O “ Indeed I do”

B “ Then I can do no more for you, then”

O “ No matter, for she is the girl I saw. I cannot take her now. Who is she?”

B “ I know her of course: Caer Ibormeith daughter of Ethal Anbuail from Sid Uamuin from the province of Connachta”(Caer is also the Goddess of Dreams)

After Oengus and Bodb returned to the Dagda and Boand with news at Broic ind Maicc Oic. The Dagda decided that they should all visit Ailill and Medb, rulers of the Shidhe of Connachta. They arrived with an army of 3 score chariots(60) and were welcomed at once with a feast that lasted a week. The Dagda explained Oengus’ plight to Ailill who also responded that it was not in his power or his right to hand over the daughter of Ethal Anbuail. Aillill’s sent his steward to Ethal who replied that he would not come before the Dagda nor give up his daughter. Ailill in conversation to the Dagda “ No matter, for he will come and the heads of his warriors with him.” After this, Ailill and the Dagda formed an alliance and rode to Sid Uamuin where they collected “3 score heads” and confined Ethal at Cruachu.

A “ Give your daughter to the son of the Dagda”

E “ I cannot for her power is greater than mine”

A “ What great power does she have?”

E “ Being in the form of a bird each day for one year and being in human form for each day of the following year”

A “ Which year will she be in the shape of a bird?”

E “ It is not for me to reveal this to you”

A “ Then your head off, unless you tell us”

E “I will conceal it no longer, then, since you are so obstinate. Next Samhain she will be in the form of a bird; She will be at Lough Bel Dracon and beautiful birds will be with her, 3 fifties of swans about her, and I will make ready for them”

D “ No matter that since I know of the nature you have brought upon her”

An accord of peace was brought between Ailill, Ethal and the Dadga. The Dagda brought this news to his son back at Broic ind Macc Oic. “ Go to Lough Bel Dracon next Samhain and call her to you there”. The Macc Oic travelled to the lake and came across 150 swans with silver chains around their necks and plumes of golden feathers. Oengus in human form went to the edge of the lake.

O “ Come and speak with me, Caer”

C “ Who is calling to me”

O “ Oengus is calling”

C “ I will come if you will promise me that I may return to the water”

O “ I promise you that”

She went to him and he put his arms around her and in turn changed to the form of a swan where they slept together. They circled the lake 3 times and flew to Broic in Macc Oic.Here they sang until the people fell asleep for 3 days and 3 nights. Caer remained by Oengus side hence in both forms and this cemented the aliance beteen the Shidhe Macc Oic and the Shidhe Connachta.

Like all legends, this one serves as a teaching tool to us. How we see it is up to us as we all have different perceptions. If you desire to reach a goal, it will not fall into your hands just like that. You have to work for it. You have to fashion your tools to suit your goal and use your strength of will/magick. But if you force too hard then breakage occurs and the goal is lost. Another lesson we can learn here is empathy. Walking a mile in another’s shoes serves us the knowledge of what it is like from a different perspective. Seeing both black and white but understanding the grey between.

Go raibh maith agat as do chuid ama ag léamh seo agus tá súil agam go bhfónfaidh sé mar fhoinse inspioráide cosúil le gach finscéalta aosta.

Seán Ó Tuama.