Seeming as my ‘Masculine Principle in Paganism’ is proving to take longer than I anticipated to translate from my mind, I read this post from my friend Catriona at the druidswell blog. And it’s glorious!
It offers a refreshing version of the Cerridwen and Taliesin story in a realistic and angry way. No fluffy bollocks here! Enjoy…..
Was the title of my slot for the Society of Ley Hunters conference, here in Attenborough, Notts, Friday 18th Sept, 2015.
The Grove of the Corieltauvi were asked if we would be willing to send a speaker to discuss any of the ancient stories of the original tribes who lived here (here being Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire). So me being the gobby type agreed. I misunderstood at first, I originally thought they wanted me to talk about solstice alignments throughout the landscape. I know bugger all about Ley Lines and solstice alignments (it’s all angles an ting innit bruv?) but thankfully it turned out they wanted me to talk about the above subject. Ah. Right. That’s ok then.
The Admin was especially keen for me to tell the story of Bran and Branwen. Sure, no problem!
…. Hang on!
What’s a Welsh tale about a giant got to do with the East Midlands? I’ll explain in a moment.
I arrived at Attenborough’s Nature reserve and paid my respects to the Lady of the Lake on the way (it appears as long as there is water, She will be there- another subject for another post!) and found my way into the very beginning of Bob Trubshaw’s talk about the Queens of the Valleys. An interesting talk on historic locations and I even learned what a staple was (it’s a wooden pole with intricate carvings used by the Anglo-Saxons before stone crosses became popular; pronounced “Stapple”). Trubshaw confessed he hadn’t even approached half of his subject by the end of his talk and had overestimated the amount of information he was going to use.
Next up was local historian, author and folklorist Frank Earp speaking about the landscape of Nottingham, especially the Hemlock Stone and the Cat Stone. The problem with the Cat Stone is its gone! It was there up until the 1940s but now is nowhere to be seen on the landscape. And it’s not as if you could just lift it up, the thing was about four ton! Earp also managed to fill in for Peter Liddle who sadly couldn’t make the day.
Then there was me telling the tale of Bran the Blessed, or to use his real name: Bendigeidfran. Of the thirteen ships that came from Ireland, his half-brother, Efnysien, cocking everything up on purpose. Of Branwen’s insult, the armies of Britain coming to Ireland to get her back. Of Gwern’s demise by Efnysien and how he destroys the Cauldron of Regeneration. Of Bendigeidfran’s wounding and the ‘Assembly of the Head’ ending with its burial White Hill in London.
So what has it got to do with the people of the Corieltauvi? In one word: Lir. The God of the sea.
The tale I used was from the Second Branch of the Mabinogi. The first few names we are introduced to: Bendigeidfran, Manawydan, Branwen are all children of Lir. Lir, or Leir lent his name to Leir-Cestre, now known as Leicester. Leicester was known in Roman times as Ratae Coritanorum
Local legend has it that Leir was buried in a vault under the River Soar. This was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth and is thought not to tell of the burial of a King Leir, but contain fragments of the deity, Leir. This is all written more elegently in this article by Leicester historian and folklorist Charles Bilson here. But if you want the short version, its this: Monmouth wrote of a King Leir, which inspired Shakespeare to write King Lear. There was no real King called Leir, but there was the deity called Leir who was cognate with the Irish Lir. Builders found a temple dedicated to Janus by the River Soar. The Soar was called the Legra back in the Domesday Book and earlier records go on to show the Legra was originally called… Leir! If this is all true then that means the Coritani/Corieltauvi had Leir as one of their gods.
So, telling the story of Bendigeidfran turned out to be a good call. I also went into detail about:
Beheading: And peoples of this land believed the soul resided in the head.
Branwen: The possibility of her being a goddess of generosity and communication (she taught a starling how to speak during her imprisonment, she also advised her brother on how to compensate Matholhwch for the insult suffered. And she also interpreted the ‘Extraordinary news’ seen by the Pig herders. If not a goddess then she certainly was a supernatural being, seeming she was the daughter of a god.
Cauldron of Regeneration:
Cauldron’s in old mythology usually have magical powers. The Daghda’s never runs out of food. Manannan Mac Lir’s (an Irish reference!) boils up food after four thruths have been told around it. The one in this tale brings the dead back to life but without the power of speech.
I would love to have gone in to more detail, Branwen and Sovereignty, for instance. Or the idea of the rectangular house being used as a trap, something that is often repeated in the Irish tales.
There aren’t any tales or legends of the Corieltauvi/Coritani people left behind. But I did go into some of the folklore of the region which may have had links, even if the original stories and meanings have been forgotten.
I told what I knew of Black Annis, a Cailleach type figure based in the Dane Hills of Leicester. Folk tales have her with a blue face, sharp claws and drank the blood of children. A belief that was so instilled into the local mentality that cottages were built with a low window so she couldn’t get hold of any new born babes. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I want to write a post on her, but I wonder if she was actually a local goddess that became demonised by the Church.
The last story I told was that of Yallery Brown and how young Tom found this impish creature underneath a ‘Tiddy Stone’ in Lincolnshire. It’s one of my favourite tales to tell and even though I admitted it is not a left over tale from the Corieltauvi folk, it is still a warning about interfering with things that should really be left alone. That being said, I did end it by saying to Frank Earp that if Nottingham’s Cat Stone was indeed moved and the warnings of moving such stones, large or small, are true; then whoever moved it must have suffered deep shit. Earp nodded in agreement.
The day ended with a fascinating talk by Peter Knight in showing the similarities of symbols in both Christianity and Paganism. And believe you me, there’s a lot.
My friend, Missy Dragon, informed me that the Allotment group of St Ann’s were going to miss out their wassailing because the usual fellow wasn’t there.
So, in the way of daring me to do it, she asked if I’d be up for it. What’s this? A British tradition being left out? Not on my watch meladdio!
So I managed to, very last minute, book the day off and get in contact with the organiser for the Children’s Activity Day. She sent me an email with the wassailing song they normally do:
The Wassail Song
Old Apple tree we wassail the And hope that thou wilt bear For the Gods do know where we shall be Come apples another year To bloom well and to bear well So merry let us be Let everyone take off their hat and shout to the Old Apple Tree.
Spoken: Old Apple tree we wassail thee And hope that thou wilt bear Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagfuls And a little heap under the stair.
THREE CHEERS FOR THE OLD APPLE TREE:
Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!
Erm, did you just say song? I don’t sing, shiiiiiiittttt! So I did my research and found the melody on YouTube:
For those not familiar, Wassailing comes from the Anglo Saxon ‘Waes-Hael’ or ‘Good Health’. The practices of it vary from place to place, county to county as does any of its songs. It is normally practiced in January, in some places, 12th Night.
The one I got involved in had us sing the song, pour Apple juice on the roots, put toast onto the branches via my lovely ‘Toast Maidens’ and make lots of noise with pots and pans. Yes, very good fun, but what’s it all for? Quite simply: to make the fruit trees give a good yield.
The pouring of juice (traditionally ale or cider with eggs in it, but it was a children’s event, so I used Apple juice instead) gives back nutrients into the ground. The toast is to encourage birds to come to the tree, so that they’ll stay around and in spring spread the pollen with their wings and droppings, encouraging pollenation and growth. The noise allows the sound vibrations to go into the wood and somehow encourages the branches to become more productive. At least, that’s as I understand it. I could have got this totally wrong however.
Other versions involve pissing and whacking the tree with sticks, some are done with a fire, the varients go on.
It was a sunny if cold day, but the small crowd of children and parents that followed seemed to enjoy it as we went to the Apple trees and caused lots of noise and joyful hullabaloo. I only had time to learn the song on the way there, so I was very grateful for my friend, B. Turning up and lending her singing voice. We all ended up singing the song to the tune of ‘ Oh Christmas Tree…‘ Because we made a joke about it, so we made it so. We changed the lyrics to incorporate pear and cherry trees until we ran out of toast. Then I told the local story, recorded by local storyteller Pete Castle, called the Watercress Girl. This involved a young girl being hired by a witch to clean her house, but the girl ends up stealing from the witch (why? Why would she do that? Was she stupid?) And gets the fruit tree orchard in the Witch’s garden to lie to the witch so she could get away. I thought it highly appropriate.
For my very first public Wassailing, I’d say it went well, I even got praised for it, but the real praise goes to Missy Dragon for telling me about this event in the first place. Also to B. And her partner, for my Morris friends for coming along, the folks at STAA and the people who wanted to join in and of course to Pete Castle for the tale he put in his book.
If you fancy making traditional Wassailing drinkies, here’s the link:
Ah yes, here we are!
That time of year where (for the fortunate) family gather together to exchange gifts and share in feasting and drinking.
For some this is a time of family, for quite a lot it is the celebration of a certain individual who was said to be born at this time.
For the Pagan community it is a time where friends and family gather, the feasting still takes place (not to mention the usual tired arguments about Christmas vs. Yuletide); although quite a few of these are celebrating either the Winter Solstice, the birth of Mithras or even Modranacht. Or even none of the above.
In British folk tradition, there is the concept of Misrule at Yuletide. Folklore says there are spirits roaming about and causing trouble during the Twelve Days. Even the early Church had Fool Bishops ruling the land for one day in Christmas.
By Yuletide I don’t just mean the Pagan observances of the Midwinter Solstice.
Yuletide, in its classical sense, meant any of the celebrations or observances taking place from the beginning of Martinmas (11th November) to Candlemas, the 1st February. Chances are this was an effort by the Church to allow the populous to keep their original winter customs spanning from Samhain to Midwinter then to Imbolc.
And during this time a lot of the folk customs, though having possibly Pagan origins were in fact practiced by people who were Christian. Here’s a few:
*The Old Oss (Horse)
And its variations have the comedic if sad sacrifice of a horse that has gone past its prime. It can be traced back to medieval times where the in the 7th Century, Theodore of Tarsus once declared:
“If any of one on the Kalends of January walks as a stag or as a little old woman, that is to say if they change themselves into the likeness of wild animals, or clothe themselves in the skins of cattle and wear the heads of beasts, they shall do penance for three years: for this is devilish.” (David Clarke, Strange South Yorkshire: Myth and Magic in the valley of the Don, Sigma Press, Cheshire, 1994, p.77).
And even the Plough Plays have the theme of good overcoming evil (white knight vs black knight) only for good to get a grilling from evils mother. Think of it as an ancestor to the Pantomime.
Has as many variations as it does origins although Border Morris (sticks, painted faces) began as a winter time activity.
What they all share (despite being resurrected into the public consciousness by Cecil Sharp) is that they all contain an element of mischief and chaos. Border Morris has lots of shouting and hollering as well as the black face said to scare away evil spirits (another aspect of Yuletide, now only enacted with traditions like opening all windows and doors at New Year’s in order to release all the present year’s bad luck. Be sure to close them gently… lest you run the risk of trapping any passing spirits in your home!). The Old Oss involves dressing up as a beast, something banned around the 7th century, obviously our ancestors didn’t care for it and carried on, ban be damned! The Mummers and Plough plays are bawdy comedy stories involving men dressed as women, quack doctors with ridiculous cures for death. Usually the character of Beelzebub turns up at the end to take money from anyone to give them a reason to buy beer.
These were originally done throughout Winter, but it was Cecil Sharp who brought them back for Boxing Day.
Practical jokes on our neighbours were also popular… possibly a reason why there is the practice of putting coins into the Christmas pudding, which then became a sort of divination.
I’m normally playing St. George or the Doctor characters in the Mummers Plays I’m involved with, so this years Solstice was the first for a while where I’ll not be in costume.
However, to keep within the spirit of Misrule, I’d like to leave this little bit of writing to give an image in your mind:
The children gaped on in horror as they looked at Father Christmas laying flaccid on the now snapped Christmas tree. He reeked of sherry and his beard was soaked in mince pie vomit, the stench of which crept along as he breathed heavily. “Are- are you alright, Father Christmas?” Tommy asked warily. Father Christmas rolled his bloodshot eyes at young Tommy and tried to pull at his magic bin liner, not quite managing to reach it. Cynthia slowly walked forward to the magic bin liner and passed it gently to the exhausted man. “Giveitfugginhere!” Father Christmas mumbled, grasping the black polythene in his trembling hand. He quickly thrust one gloved hand inside and pulled out…. a fist. Which slowly revealed one digit facing the two children, before he collapsed and fell asleep. Cynthia walked back to Tommy shaking her head. Tommy hugged his little sister and told her“Never mind, we’ll make him some coffee and phone Mrs. Christmas.“ The little girl looked up with a hopeful glint in her eyes. “Yes! And maybe next year someone else will have to be the last house on Christmas Eve…”
Okay, this is going to be a big one. We’re going to go nice and deep. So go and put your kettle on and make your self a tea, coffee or hot chocolate and get yourself ready.
This is the second installment of what was supposed to be a three part series which was taken from a conversation between me and my Pagan friends from Newark, Heidi, Helen and The Nathans.
You can read part one here. This entire post explores some of the themes we discussed. The question of deity came up in the Grove I belong to, which you can find here.
The title question didn’t come up exactly like that, but the conversation went in the direction of talking about the gods and were Druids priests?
As for the priest thing, I think that’s debatable as the accounts we draw on for classical Druidry were written by Greek and Roman writers going on third hand information in trying to explain a totally different culture by their own standards.
Do I worship gods? Yes. I regularly give offerings and light a candle when I feel the desire to do so. There’s no point in doing ritual if it feels like a chore now, is here?
And it all depends on what you mean by god.
Still got that hot drink? You might want to consider something stronger, beer or whisky helps….
I don’t believe the gods are cloud dwelling, toga wearing bearded individuals who play games of fate with our lives for sport.
Neither do I believe that the gods are space aliens from another world/dimension and that magic was only a science our ancients didn’t understand…. although I do find the case of the Dogon tribe in Africa very interesting indeed.
I have written before of my fascination with the Tuatha De Danaan and I am inclined to believe they were once real people who either were one of the most famous Celtic tribes of all time, or they were exceptional in their own individual spheres. Are they creator gods? No. Although in their pantheon, they brought light to the Isle of Destiny and the world was here before they were.
I have discovered that my form of belief falls within what is called Animism, where you believe all things have a spirit. An essence, spark of the divine: Prana, chi, numina, nwyfre, soul whatever you want to call it. And it is this essence that is eternal. I have a hypothesis that goes:
Every thing has a spark of creation in it. Whether it be animal, vegetable, mineral, water or a star. Just because we see the world differently from a tree, or a dolphin or a mouse, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their own ways of life and form of consciousness. This spark/divine essence/thing is what remains when our physical body dies. Now, say that someone dies and they were exceptional in some way. The rest of the community that individual served need help with something our dead person was very, very good at. So they call upon the essence of that individual to help them… and it works. It works so well that for generations that particular spirit becomes regarded as an ancestor. Further generations down the line and that ancestor becomes deified. They become a god.
Say, for some reason, other people now call upon this deity, and it catches on. Then for other reasons, the practice stops and the deity becomes forgotten… What happens here? Does it die? Does it go around inspiring people? Or does it roam existence until someone some when finds information about that deity and wants to begin practice all over again? And should there be someone to give it reverence or worship, does that mean the person or persons giving to it add something of themselves to it?
We see this happen with the Saints, it happens in Native American cultures when they revere a household totem, of which there are two types. One is a personal totem which acts as a sort of good luck charm, the other is a family totem that cannot be bartered or lent or sold. But it can become adopted by the whole tribe as a Godhead as it is added to the rote of ancestors. In short, gods can be made.
When most people say ‘god’ they mean a creatrix being that creates all things and knows everything about everyone in all space and time. When they say ‘gods’ they mean beings who are beyond mortal. I classify gods, ghosts, spirits, otherworldly beings, elementals, demons, dervishes, spirits of place, etc as Non Physical Beings, NPB’s for short.
This is because I believe that if you go with the above as a form of consciousness, then that means they are not limited to any one particular physical form or shape. They can choose a myriad of forms with which to approach us, or in some cases (if not all), it depends on our own perception filters on how we see them. I also believe that there are NPBs that have been around for a very long time and occasionally helped our ancestors in some way, whether through inspiration, advice or intervention. I believe that some of these beings even became the Godhead for certain peoples and societies.
Do gods control us? On the contrary, my own personal take is that fate is pretty much a sealed deal: you’re born and you die. Destiny, however is what happens in the middle and it is up to us to make it work. Its like we have a certain line we follow in life that, if we do follow it, can result in our highest potential being fulfilled (which goes onto our spirit being given the chance to grow). I believe the gods, or at least other NPB’s who give a shit about us want to help us keep on this course, whatever it is, and in helping us achieve this, help themselves.
So, this brings me on to the models I discussed with the Newark gang…
1: All Gods are real-
Yep, all gods, deities, spirits, anything out there that is an NPB is in fact real.
Brighid is a conscious entity that is fully aware of who and what she is, and even helps us out. She inspires us with poetry, creative endeavour, prophecy and helps midwives make the right choices. Odin disguises himself as many different people to interact with our world (Midgard). There are land spirits wrecking strange havoc in your house, we call them poltergeists now, just say you’re really sorry and offer them milk. Jehova/Yahweh is simply the God of Israel, not of everything and his word has been rewritten that many times, no one remembers what he was really on about. Spirits of the wind actually do dance, creating wind eddies,Fire is alive and well and watches you! Its ALL true.
2: Spirit is all-
Similar to above, but everything is simply spirit in other forms. Spirit is the underlying thing that binds all living (and dead) beings. Think of the Force from ‘Star Wars’. It flows through us and around us as well as beyond us. It is by tapping into spirit that NPBs have knowledge of past, present and future as well as having some telepathic knowledge about us. Nothing dies, it only transforms. There are spirits of all kinds, spirits of people, animals, plants, the planet, the winds, water. Even ‘gods’ are spirits.
3: We ARE The Gods-
A very interesting idea coming from books on Chaos Magic. This goes on the premise that we are in fact our own gods. All that magic you’ve cast, spells been made, those signs of synchronicity that lead you to things are all your own doing. Any NPB that is personal to us is a manifestation of our own self made into an interactive form. So yes, Anubis IS probably talking to you because YOU created him!
The NPB is a sort of avatar if you will. In short, we are more awesome than we dare to imagine!
4: It’s all crap-
There does remain the possibility that everything I’ve described above is totally, utterly, absolutely rubbish. There are no gods, there are no spirits or magic, things don’t happen for our benefit and it is all just coincidence coupled with a desire to believe.
We are born, we die and that’s it. The universe is not a self-exploring entity and we are a nanosecond blip in the infinite cosmos. How gloomy and boring is that?
I’m sure there are more models and possibilities, but if I wanted to examine this subject in more detail, that would mean turning this essay into a book.
My belief is a mixture of models 2 and 3. I believe that everything has a spirit or essence, that spirits don’t all have physical forms and that there are conscious entities alive and active in our world apart from us and other creatures of the world. I believe that we can create our own interface entities that have the potential to become NPB’s of their own consciousness and become individual beings.
I believe that there are independent NPB’s that actually want to help us. But why? Is it because they feed on our belief and off us? Or is it because, like us, they were once actual people who became deified and evolved in someway. And through helping us by showing us how to access our own potential and increasing the potency of our own spirit we can become like they are… our spirits evolve? (Y’know… like pokemon!)
I’m nearly finished, I promise! So, as you sit there with the last mouthful in your drinking vessel waiting for you, I’ll finish on this note:
Last Monday I received a message from my friend, Dianara. She is a Priestess of Diana and she had a message from the Morrigan for me: ‘Everything is for your own good, stop complaining and get out of there…‘
Okay…. I get that this whole year has been about change. And yes I agree that whatever I have or am still going through is indeed for my benefit. Complaining? I probably was and didn’t realise it. As for getting out of there, me and Dianara talked and she felt that it was more of a bad place I was in, a sadness or bad mental state. This is where the message hit home. For a couple of weeks I was indeed sad. Things had made me question my actions and second guess myself. I hadn’t told Dianara what had been bothering me before the message and I hadn’t given any sign of Les Booky Farce of my sadness, so how did Dianara know? Because the Morrigan, my Great Queen, my assigned deity from the Tuatha De Danaan whether she be a deity, an ancestor, a construct or whatever she is told my friend a message for me. Which is exactly what I think the Morrigan would say: ‘Quit yer bitchin’ and chin up, it’ll be worth it!‘
And so to my sadness I say two words: No More.
Thanks for the message, Dianara and thanks Morrigan for the kick up the ass.
Here we are: 2014, a year away from the Hover Boards we were promised in the movie ‘Back to the Future 2’.
Bringing in the New Year has undergone many changes, especially in modern times where the mainstream celebrate with fire works and lighting Chinese Lanterns, perhaps unknowingly passing the old year and welcoming the new with the most basic (and instinctive) method of communal celebration: fire.
The New Year in folk tradition paints this as a time of transition, not only numerically, but in the world around us as well as the Otherworld. Yorkshire lore has it that high winds around NY are the ‘Winds of Change’ where the new year is literally blowing away the old year, its effects and energies being cleared away. In some areas including Yorkshire and beyond (apparently this also applies in Southampton), it was tradition to open all the windows just after midnight to let out all the bad luck and spirits gained from the old year… you had to be careful closing the windows though, because you could end up trapping a passing spirit in your home!
And in this transitional chaos, the world was seen as being in flux. Meaning, if you knew where to look you could divine what the new year portended.
One Celtic tradition has it that if you were to watch the skies all of NY night, and you knew your clouds, you could tell what the year has in store. I honestly can’t remember where I got that from, I think its Irish with variants in Scotland and Wales.
* First Footing: good or bad luck on you and your household depending on the looks of the first man to come to your door just after midnight:
Dark Hair: Good fortune
Red Hair: Bad fortune (there’s your racist).
In fact, with that tradition, apart from the dark haired fella, any red headed, squint eyed, flat footed, women (there’s your sexist) are all bad luck! Although if a man has a high instep or rides a horse then that’s very good luck (!?…). I have flat feet and, in the right light, red in my hair, so next year I might go and knock on the doors of any neighbours who piss me off!
* Clocks: Should be wound up at the time of the beginning of New Year to bring good luck.
* Waking up: For a girl to awaken in the morning of New Years Day to see a man pass by, from her bedroom window, supposedly meant she can hope to be married before the year is ended.
So, getting into the spirit of New Year divinations, I asked my Druid Animal Oracle this simple question:
“What do I need to focus on in 2014?”
Raven (Bran) reversed.
It means recognising that you cannot build or make foundations of something new without the destruction of the old. It can also represent having to endure the dark in order to find the light.
Or it can mean the realisation of opposites “in light there is darkness, and in darkness, there is light”. There are stars in the night sky and there are embers that darken in any fire.
I will admit to thinking “Oh shit” when I drew it, but at the same time there is a sort of dread excitement… a development of something new but something will have to give way, what that will be is for 2014 to reveal.
Anonymous, ‘The Complete Book of Fortune: The secrets of the past, present & future revealed‘, Blaketon Hall Ltd, Exeter, 1988, p. 483.
Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm, ‘The Druid Animal Oracle Deck‘, Connections Book Publishing Ltd, London, This version printed 2005, pp. 20. Illustrated by Bill Worthington.