The Masculine Principle in Paganism – Part 1: The Fairy Branch

This was originally written back in November 2015 following the talk I gave for the Pagan Federation.  I also apologise for it being sort of badly written as I originally posted it after writing it on my bus journeys to Derby and back.  And I can only think ‘Men’ with a capital M was from my phone’s autocorrect and I overlooked it.  Enjoy….

Earlier on this month I attended a Pagan Federation conference on exploring ‘The Masculine Principle’ within spirituality.  It was perhaps the first time there was a very strong presence of men in a Pagan meeting!  Indeed there was only one woman and she was keen for her Husband to find masculine-centric things to be involved in.

The talks covered different ground: Smith Gods and the powers of fertility, potency and creation, the journey of Male Spirituality through the ages of a lifetime and how we cope (or not), male bonding and finding acceptance with oneself.  It was especially interesting throughout the whole day these following points came out that seem to be the things that Men are looking for in any spirituality or path: Fellowship, initiation, acceptance, their place in the world.

My talk covered the character of the Masculine Principle.  It was originally made for the Nottingham Goddess Camp, where the event organisers asked if I could give a glimpse into ‘Male Spirituality’.  Were they mad?  Could they not see I am not exactly the burning example of full blown testosterone fuelled machismo?  Either way I arose to the challenge (there’s a phallus metaphor in there somewhere hur, hur….) and did the best I could back then.  The talk was made and done, but I knew it was unfinished.  There was more to contemplate and examine as well as live through.  And that was back in 2012 or thereabouts.

Cue 2015 and I was asked to resurrect my talk.  I’ve lived since then and in doing so my mind expanded to give the talk that I delivered on Saturday the 7th November at Treadwell’s Bookshop.  So I dusted off my old thoughts, talked with a few folks and helped form my talk anew.  It’s still not 100% finished.  And like any artist looking at their work, it never will be.  But, faithful reader, I present to you a series of posts (I predict 4, however if I end up with more, that’s ok) exploring the murky world of The Masculine Principle.

 

WHAT THIS WILL NOT BE: Is a Cis-white-heterosexual-male written tirade against Feminism, Women’s Right’s or any immature self-sympathy wallowing in misogyny or seeing the world as “unfair” to Men.  Scratch that- to anyone!  Neither will this be an instruction guide on ‘How To Be A Man’, although you might take stock from any of the material given and be inspired on how to be a better person in general.

 

***

 

So, what’s The Fairy Branch got to do with it?

Why it’s this story which I used for the basis of my talk.  I originally got it from Claire Hamilton’s ‘Tales of the Celtic Bards’ but I’ve put my own spin onto it, as any storyteller should and shall do so for this blog series:

 

Once, long ago, Cormac MacArt, the High Chief of Ireland looked down from his fortress on the hill of Tara to see a man walking the land from the West.  He had long white hair and a cloak that shimmered with teal, green and blue hues, the colours of the sea.  Going down to meet this stranger, Cormac learned this man came from Tir na n’Og, the Land of Youth.  The Stranger told of how his land was a land of plenty, there was no want and everyone lived in peace.

‘If only my lands were as peaceful and prosperous as yours, come! Let us be allies and friends!’  Cormac offered, the Stranger accepted and they laughed and talked some more until Cormac saw the silver branch with three apples golden in colour.

‘This, is a magic branch,’ explained the Stranger.  ‘With three shakes, it will send all who listen to it into a short slumber.  You can have it if you like, but I will name my price a year from now.’

Cormac agreed, thinking that he has plenty of cattle, gold and weapons with which to trade.  The deal being made, the Stranger left and Cormac showed his new toy to the court.  He was very pleased.

A year and a day passed, and at one feast with his people, Cormac is alerted to the Stranger’s appearance.

‘Greetings, Cormac Mac Art, I trust the branch gives you pleasure?  I have come to ask my price for it.’

‘Greetings and name it.’  Cormac agreed, prepared to empty his coffers of whatever the Stranger asked.

‘I demand the price be your daughter.’ The Stranger declared.

The court hushed in silence, but Cormac had already agreed and could not go back on his word.  He nodded in agreement.  Well, the court burst into uproar as the young girl left with the Stranger.  So stricken was Cormac at the lament, he took out the branch, shook it three times and made everyone sleep.

The next month, the Stranger appears once again, this time asking for Cormac’s son.  Once again, Cormac cannot stand the upset to himself and his people, he shakes the branch a second time.

The Stranger comes a third month, this time asking for Cormac’s wife.  Being honour-bound to keep his oath, Cormac agrees and he shakes the branch for the third time.

‘ENOUGH!’ Cormac roared upon waking.  ‘The Stranger has asked too much of me, warriors to me!  Get your best horses, weapons and armour…. we’re going to find this stranger and get my family back!’

And so Cormac on his strongest horse, finest armour and keenest weapons charged down the hill of Tara with his host, but as soon as hoof touched the base of the hill there was a great fog from the ground.  It was so thick that none could see their comrades nor hear their voices.

Cormac pressed forward alone until he came across a land not his own.  The grass was thick and a vibrant green.  The sky was the deepest blue with peachy-gold lining the horizon.  Each tree he passed had healthy and bountiful fruits.

Travelling further, he came upon a house with horsemen trying to lay huge white feathers for the roof.  Each time they did this, a breeze would whip them off and they would try again and again.

Travelling further, he comes upon a young man keeping a fire which would die down quickly, so the lad thrust a log into it to keep it going.  Which it would then flare up but immediately die down again and so the lad repeated himself again and again.

Travelling further, he comes upon a pool of water being fed from five streams.  Around the well were nine hazel trees, and when a hazelnut would fall, a salmon leapt out of the pool and took the hazelnut into its jaws.  At this pool, Cormac climbed down from his steed and took a handful of water into his mouth.  A calm took him and he realised he was being watched, yet felt unthreatened, he turned to see a woman and a warrior dressed in blue.  They were beckoning him to join them in their feasting hall.

Cormac joined them and sat with the small company around a cauldron.  Before them was an old man, an axe and a pig.  The old man nodded and smiled to Cormac, indeed the woman and warrior seemed as if they too were pleased to see the High Chief.

‘This is how this works.’  The old man began; he then took the axe and chopped the pig into four quarters.  He took the first piece and dropped it into the water of the cauldron.

‘The fires of this cauldron will only light when there is a truth being told; so as this will be our meal it will be warmed by truth.  And my truth is this:  When my neighbours’ pigs broke free of their pen, they came near my home.  I helped him gather all of the pigs until they were at his farm and as a reward he gave me one of those pigs, this axe and this cauldron.  And he told me that I can cut the pig into four pieces everyday and boil it in the cauldron and never go hungry because the pig will be whole the next day.  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

The woman was next; she took her quarter, dropped it into the water and said:  ‘The animals around us keep us warm with their fleece and hides.  The cows I have are plentiful in their milk and if allowed to roam freely, their milk would probably feed all in the world.  The animals are our friends not just our livelihood.’  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and her meal was cooked.

The warrior was next; he took his quarter, dropped it into the water and said:  ‘There is a force that grows in the Earth.  It allows us to grow crops and puts fruit on the trees.  Our lands sustain us.’  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

Cormac was last, he took his quarter, dropped it into the water and said: ‘I met with a stranger one day and because I was so enchanted with the magic branch he had, I lost what was dearest to me.’ And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

The warrior turned to him and asked ‘Then you must be Cormac MacArt, the High Chief of Eire?’

‘I am he,’ Replied Cormac ‘and in my foolishness I traded my family for a magical bauble and seek to get them back.’

‘Come now!’ said the old man ‘are you not enjoying your meal?’

‘I would enjoy it better with the right company.’  Cormac admitted solemnly.

‘Then be sad no longer!’  Said the old man, but not in an old man’s voice.  The old man stood and disappeared in a bright white light which vanished after a few moments.  In the old man’s place was the stranger with long white hair and his cloak shimmering like the sea.

‘Greetings, Cormac Mac Art!’ Said he.  ‘I am Manannan MacLir, it was I who gave you the branch in order for you to find what was most precious to you: your wife and children!’ With that, the two doors at the other end of the hall opened up and to Cormac came running his family.  They embraced in joy, they were unharmed and time moved slower here they said.  All took part in the feast and Mannanan MacLir explained the three mysteries Cormac came up on:

‘The horsemen were like the man who follows his own vanity; he has no substance for vanity is fleeting.  The young man is like a man who uses up his strength too much for others and has none left for himself.  The well you saw had the Salmon of Wisdom which is fed by the inspiration of the hazelnuts that fall.  That well is the well of the heart and is fed by the five senses, for it is only by knowing the world around us is wisdom gained from it.  But the world is fed by the wisdom we give into it.  You can keep the branch; I have another gift for you, here.’

Mannanan MacLir passes a cup with four sides to Cormac, explaining that it will break upon a lie being told in its presence, but a truth will make it whole once again.

After their meal and drinking everyone fell asleep and Cormac MacArt, with his family awoke back at their fortress in Tara.  The people were confused as Cormac had only set out an hour whence!

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