Myths for Everyday Life

How can mythology fill the void left in us by modern life? And loosely where does my inspiration come from?

Bell Flowers and the Fairy Folk

Beautiful crystal and clay bell flowers.

Beautiful crystal and clay bell flowers.

All bell shaped flowers are sacred to the Fairy Folk. Mortals had to approach and cultivate these flowers with care so that they would not incur the wrath of the Good Neighbors. These necklaces were created to bring some of the magic and healing of fairy gardens into your life.

A few bell flowers that were especially sacred to the Folk are foxgloves, bluebells, and cowslips.

The cowslip, a member of the primrose family, was a plant especially sacred to the fairies. Fairies were said to love the little yellow flowers so much they protected them at any cost. If you trampled on one carelessly you might find yourself under a fairy spell forever. Probably my favorite cowslip reference comes from SHakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire.
I do wander everywhere
Swifter than the moon’s sphere.
And I serve the fairy queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their gold coats spots you see.
Those be rubies, fairy favors.
In those freckles live their savors.
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits. I’ll be gone.
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.

Foxgloves, or “folk’s gloves” have a rich mythic past. The foxglove contains a deadly poison called digitalis, which in small doses is medicinal. Like the cowslip whose ruby red spots Shakespeare spoke of, the spots on the foxglove come from little fairy fingers touching the plant. The Folk wore the fox glove as actual gloves and hats. It was bad luck indeed for a mortal to harm the plant.

I love the tale from Norway of the bad fairies giving the fox so that is footsteps would be utterly silent. With silent step the fox can raid the henhouse undetected. In Norway the plant is known as Revbielde, or “fox bell”.

Perhaps of all the bell shaped flowers the bluebell (or harebell) is the most quintessential of the fairy flowers. The Folk ring these flowers to summon all to the midnight revels. At times they ring them to summon humans who tend to dance themselves to death, thus explaining an alternate name for the flower: Dead Man’s Bells. If the folk wanted to abduct a child, they would also ring them, for children can hear the sound of these flowers and are quite enchanted by them. In other tales, clasping a handful of these flowers was reputed to give a mortal the fairy sight. Fields of bluebells were said to make the veil between the worlds thinner and create a gateway to Faery.

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.

There is a spell in purple heath
Too wildly, sadly dear;
The violet has a fragrant breath,
But fragrance will not cheer,

The trees are bare, the sun is cold,
And seldom, seldom seen;
The heavens have lost their zone of gold,
And earth her robe of green.

And ice upon the glancing stream
Has cast its sombre shade;
And distant hills and valleys seem
In frozen mist arrayed.

The Bluebell cannot charm me now,
The heath has lost its bloom;
The violets in the glen below,
They yield no sweet perfume.

But, though I mourn the sweet Bluebell,
‘Tis better far away;
I know how fast my tears would swell
To see it smile to-day.

For, oh! when chill the sunbeams fall
Adown that dreary sky,
And gild yon dank and darkened wall
With transient brilliancy;

How do I weep, how do I pine
For the time of flowers to come,
And turn me from that fading shine,
To mourn the fields of home! – Emily Bronte

So if you would like to own some of the magic of these mythic flowers yourself you can find some here! in my Blomming store.

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Ice Crystals and the Oran Mor

Like a Celtic knot, writing this book on the Oran Mor and Tree of Life generates long and winding paths from the center, through strange lands, and back to center.  The Oran Mor in ancient Gaelic translates roughly into “great song”.  It has been said that the Celts were a people who did not compose a creation story like that of Genesis in the Bible.  While it is true no Celtic myth on the origins of the world has been discovered, the Oran Mor is definitely a Celtic creation story.  The Great Song is so central that it is as the air we breathe, vital to us, all around us, but rarely thought of.

We won’t find it written because we are the story.  We write it with every breath.  The Oran Mor is creation itself, life and the Universe developing and becoming ever more complex.  Like the Celtic knot, it has no beginning and no end.  We are simultaneously created from it and creating it.  Like one of my favorite spirit songs says: “We are the weavers, we are the woven ones.”

So how did I get from esoteric Celtic myth to reading Caltech papers on the morphogenesis of ice crystals?  Well it all started with the Big Bang (as everything does).  I have been captivated for the last month with the origins of the universe and how it can help us to understand the concept of the Oran Mor.  At a very early stage of the Big Bang the universe was quite uniform.  It was hot, symmetrical and crowded.  As it expanded at an incomprehensible rate, it cooled and the symmetry was broken.  Some parts became more dense than others and forces like gravity and electromagnetism (e.g., light, X-rays) began to sculpt the early Universe.  Over time it became more and more complex until we have stars, and slugs, and coffee, and all manner of curious thing.  This trajectory of change both created us and is us.  Each of us can trace our origins directly back to the birth of the Universe.  As so many mystical traditions of the world have said, long before the science caught up, we are the Universe made conscious.  There is and ever has been one thing.

But Ice crystals?  It turns out considering the formation of ice crystals from a dense, hyper-saturated cloud of water vapor is literally a more down to earth way to grasp how this beautiful, complex life can form from a symmetrical, undifferentiated primordial soup.  The key to the intricate patterns of a snow crystal lies in the molecular structure of water.  Water is made up of two elements:  two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  Before the oxygen bonds with his two hydrogen buddies he has rotational symmetry.  That is a fancy way of saying no matter how you rotate and view the atom it looks exactly the same. Like a sphere, no matter how you look at it, it looks precisely the same. Boring!  Not much filigreed complexity comes out of a sphere.

The possibility of a beautiful snow crystal comes when those two hydrogen join in.  They bond to the oxygen in a way that makes 105 degree angles with the oxygen.  These angles are what determine the 6-pointed pattern of the snowflake.  There is still symmetry, but a more dynamic one allowing mind-boggling complexity to grow.  All those ornate crystals form because the original symmetry was broken.  Yet the crystals have a family resemblance because their growth is also constrained by the 105 degree angles of the atoms in the water molecule.  Just like the broken symmetries of the Big Bang over vast stretches of time can create stars, slugs, coffee, and a gaggle of unique humans.

And so it is with the Oran Mor, the melody of the Great Song adding new instruments, varying the theme, and singing through all of creation.  Both the creator and the created, weaver and woven.

If you want to get crazy technical and read a fascinating paper on snow crystal morphogenesis: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~atomic/publist/engsci2.pdf

Categories: Harebrained Schemes and Useless Information, Myths for Everyday Life | Leave a comment

The Settling of the Manor of Tara

Have you ever forgot to pay a bill on time?  Or failed to find your car keys where you generally leave them?  Even forgetting small details can throw your life into chaos for a time.  Imagine becoming forgetful of even the guiding principles of a nation or an individual’s spiritual practice.  Remaining lost can begin to unwind even the fabric of who we are.  Consider too a land where no one can recall the governing principles or invoke them when needed, perhaps these are civil rights or democracy or the ‘golden rule”.  Sometimes we need someone to remind us……

Each third year in the castle of the High King at Tara a Great Feast was held.  Every noble and many of the people from each land in Ireland were expected to attend and swear their oaths to the King.  They came to share the bounty of the lands and people and participate in contests, poetry, and games of strength.  But this year the nobles stood at the entrance to the feast squabbling about why they should be sharing their bounty with other lands and why they owed their allegiance to the King.  As the bickering wore on a great unease settled on them all as they realized they had forgotten the right order of things.  No one could recall the sacred dividing of the land and the alignment of things within their souls and how both of these things were connected to each other. They all suddenly felt very lost..

So it was that they sent word to the High King that they could not attend the feast until they were reminded of the right order of things within and without, and thus could recall why they attended the feast every third year.  When the High King heard their demands, he was disturbed, for neither could he recall the right order of things.  Undaunted the King commanded the wisest of lore keepers and sages be brought before him and describe the sacred partitioning of both land and soul in Ireland.

One after another the sages failed to recall the proper order of things.   They were down the the last lore keeper in the land  the King asked if he knew of another older and wiser than he who could remind them.  The elderly sage spoke of Fintan, son of Bochru who had been on Ireland before the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha.  Fintan had lived thousands of years, if he could not recall the order of things, no one could.

Fintan attended the assembly when ordered.  As he proceeded up the hall of the castle even the nobles bowed before him for his great age and wisdom was apparent in his regal bearing.  When Fintan asked why he had been summoned to the gathering, the King’s druid told him that both the nobles and the people had become lost and could not recall the sacred partitioning of Ireland and the human soul, it was as if their minds were cloaked in mist.

And then Fintan spoke:  “Ireland was my mother long before the five invasions.  Long did I live in her caves, drank of wisdom from the sacred Boyne.   I lived for a time with the Fir Bolg, and the Tuatha, and witnessed as they were driven underground by the Sons of Mil.  When I speak today, I speak for the land.  I am Fintan, Son of Bochru.  I have been a salmon.  I have been an eagle.  I have been a man of verse.  I know of every people who have walked this land.  I have survived flame and spears and great wars.  I have seen the coming and going of Kings like waves on the sea.”

FIntan told of an ancient time when a gathering much like the Great Feast occurred when a mysterious spirit-man came striding out of the west.  He was like a man, but not a man and when queried he said he was Trefuilgnid Tre-eochair and that he was traveling from the land of the Setting Sun to to the land of the Rising Sun.  The spirit-man commanded a council be brought together so that he could relate to them the harmonious partition of land and soul and the connections between them.

When the wisest among them were assembled he gave them the teaching of the sacred wheel by which they should live their lives and steward the land.  He spoke:  “Knowledge dwells to the west, the otherworld, where we soak in wisdom.  To the North dwells Battle, the only important battle being the one that is fought within, it is where we go to test ourselves and to grow.  Prosperity lies to the East where we learn of and share the bounty of life.  Music lies to the South where we heal and remember the Great Song that winds through all.  Sovereignty lies at the Center where we are in good stewardship of the land and in right standing with our Soul’s path, and the people around us.  So it has always been and so it will be for all time.”

When Fintan finished relating the story it was as if a fog was lifted.  The fighting stopped because the nobles, wise men, and revelers gathered were reminded of the right order of things, and they could all take part in the Great Feast.  As we stand at a time when so many and our leaders have forgotten the proper order of things, how can we remind ourselves and live the life of the sacred mandala so that we too can partake of the abundance of the Great Feast?

For the full version of this tale:  http://www.ucd.ie/tlh/trans/rib.eriu.4.001.t.text.html

I will be offering a workshop on the Celtic Medicine Wheel at Evolvefest in less than 2 weeks!  Evolvefest is a beautiful chance to celebrate positive changes and to generally hear amazing bands and speakers.  http://evolvefest.com/molly-stanton/

 

 

 

The right order of things within and without

The right order of things within and without

Categories: Myths for Everyday Life | 1 Comment

The Three Cauldrons

In their birth orientations

In their birth orientations

The drawing is a culmination of my week of work researching the 7th century poem by Amergin, The Cauldron of Poesy.  Three cauldrons are born in every person.  These are very different from chakras.  Chakras are energy centers, while the cauldrons are containers.  Think about what you do with a cauldron.  You pour various things into it.  You can certainly cook in it, and you can pour things out of it, or more interestingly you can serve things out of it.  You can brew good health, emotional balance, and wisdom in them.  The Celts recognized that people had variable levels of potential and skill, but also that everyone can grow and improve.  Those with full knowledge in a cauldron have it upright, those with partial knowledge it is tilted on its side, and for those few sages with full knowledge and inspiration it is fully upright.

In the Raw and the Cooked Levi-Strauss discusses the cook as a mediator, transforming something from the natural realm into a mode for human consumption.  And so it is in the three cauldrons.  Experiences, talents, potential, dreams, food, relationships, sorrows, joys are all stirred in their cauldrons to transform them for us into sustenance on our earthwalk.

My true Cauldron of Incubation
It has been taken by the Gods  from the mysteries of the elemental abyss
A fitting decision that ennobles one from one’s center                                                                                                                                        that pours forth a terrifying stream of speech from the mouth. (Amergin, Cauldron of Poesy)

The Cauldron of Incubation is located in the abdomen and is born upright. It is the source of your health and survival skills. In cases of illness it can tip onto its side, or at death flip onto its rim and spill out.  This is your connection to the EARTH it is what you were born with. Your natural born skills and talents are served up to you at birth in this cauldron, simmering away in the vessel and feeding the Cauldron of Motion in the heart.

I sing of the Cauldron of Wisdom
which bestows the merit of every art,
through which treasure increases,
which magnifies every common artisan,
which builds up a person through their gift. (Amergin, Cauldron of Poesy)

The Cauldron of Wisdom is located in the head and is born on its lips in all people. This cauldron is turned through training and ecstatic inspiration. In Celtic myth one way to turn this cauldron is to seek the well of wisdom, drinking from all 5 streams that emanate from it.  The Cauldron of Wisdom, if upright, receives inspiration that comes from the part of you that is divine and eternal. This cauldron is your connection to SKY, which is felt most keenly during sudden flashes of creative inspiration that come as though from the aether.

I sing of the Cauldron of Motion
understanding grace,
accumulating knowledge
streaming poetic inspiration as milk from the breast,
it is the tide-water point of knowledge
union of sages
stream of sovereignty (Amergin, Cauldron or Poesy)

The Cauldron of Motion is the bridge between the other cauldrons and the true site of poetic inspiration.  This cauldron is the most pivotal as it determines access to the others. It is often born on its side, it thus holds only a little and it must be flipped over through life experiences. This is the cauldron that manages emotions, expresses them, and from where poetic inspiration comes. This is your connection to WATER, that chaotic ever changing force of life. This is your experience, the things you learn with age, your obligations. This is where you hone your skills, practice your art and learn from that path.

The particular life experiences Amergin speaks of may be surprising.  He speaks of joy which turns the cauldron upright.  Joy comes from divine sources, and human joys which he lists as the joy of sexual union, good health, learning and honing a craft, and the joy of ecstatic frenzy.

Yet it is through sorrow that we come to know joy.  By transforming the four sorrows of longing, grief, jealousy, and disciplined pilgrimage to a holy site.

The state of being in the betwixt and between was very cherished by the ancient Celts.  Being in the liminal place between the earth and sky (head and abdomen) it is easy to see how the Cauldron of Motion would be the focus of much of Amergin’s poem.

Interested in learning more?  I will be giving a workshop expanding on The Cauldron of Poesy and the meanings of the cauldrons.   Breathwork and meditation techniques to balance them and keep them moving will be the main focus of the workshops.  A book on the Oran Mor and the Tree of Life is also soon to appear on Amazon!

Sunday August 18, 2013 at the Mystic Garden Festival in Bethel, NY  Mystic Garden Site

And August30- September 2, 2013 in Pottstown, PA at Evolvefest

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Fomorians and Physics Part 2: Schrodinger’s Fomorian

The Battles of Moytura seem to suggest we have a triple nature.  A physical aspect, a mental aspect, and a spiritual aspect.  Our mental aspect, symbolized by the Fomorians, can be a great ally to the spiritual, like when our thoughts center on gratitude, compassion, seeing beauty everywhere we tend to grow spiritually.  But the mental aspect can be a great enemy of the spiritual, like when we construct prisons of negative thought chatter for ourselves focused on failure, guilt, shame, and other toxic emotions.  These feelings, if nursed, can ebb away at our spiritual center.  Just as the Fomorians began to exact extreme tribute under the rule of Bres, the Beautiful:

“But in spite of Bres being so beautiful, his reign brought no great good luck to his people; for the Fomor, those whose dwelling place was beyond the sea,  began putting tribute on them, the way they would get them under their own rule….And it was a hard tax they put on them, a third part of their milk they asked, and a third part of their corn and a third part of their children, so that there was not smoke rising from a roof in Ireland but was under tribute to them.  And Bres made no stand against them, but let them get their way.”  – Lady Gregory

Many years ago I became fascinated by the idea of quantum consciousness.  That a part of our brain, the creative part, is quantum, and another part more “classical”, the habits and perceptions that make up the world.

One central idea in quantum mechanics is that a particle does not exist as a fixed mass in a fixed space until it is measured, or until consciousness perceives it.  Consider a single, lonely electron.  Before I peer down to the atomic level and perceive it with my consciousness, it is in the realm of potential.  It could be, when measured, in any number of locations, but is not in any of them until I “see” it, then POP!  there it is.

This led to Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment with a cat.  Since I love cats, I will use a Fomorian.  So I have captured this one-eyed Fomorian and popped him in a big box with a single radioactive atom and a geiger counter.  The atom will decay according to it’s rules of probability, let’s say 50/50, and the counter will tick.  The tick will trigger a hammer which will break a bottle of poison killing the Fomorian.  He was a tax collector but that is neither here nor there.

So in 1 hour there is a 50% chance the atom decayed, the counter ticked and the Fomorian shuffled off his moral coil.  If we open the box and look there is a 50% chance he is indeed defunct, and a 50% chance he will live to collect taxes another day. But what if we do not look?  Quantum mechanics tells us that if we don’t look, or don’t apply our consciousness,  the Fomorian is both alive AND dead.  Both possibilities remain possible.

I was always stumped by acts of real creativity, of truly bringing something new into the world.  Until I began to read about theories of quantum consciousness.  A part of your consciousness, that part connected to the universal consciousness has access to that realm of potential, all possibilities.  When we have a truly creative solution, we have collapsed that potential down to a new manifest reality.  We really are dreaming the world into being.  This is, I believe the spiritual side of us, the creative, vast, consciousness we sometimes touch in meditation.  The side represented by the Tuatha de Danaan.

But then here come the Fomorians, led by the tax collector that was indeed in my box.  Alive.  Each time our consciousness reaches into that quantum realm of potential and we experience a moment of reality, we are more likely repeat the process just as we did the first time.  And each time our minds perceive something that same way we begin to bypass the part of ourselves that has access to the realm of potential.  So we develop habitual ways of viewing the world both at a perceptual level and a habitual thought sort of level.  This gives us the illusion of a continuous consciousness in a continuous world.

Now what if we have repeatedly collapsed the potential in a negative of harmful way.  “All men are selfish jerks.”  “If I go in the water I’ll drown.”  “I am not smart enough to do what I really want to do in life.”  “People are just out to screw you.”  Then this does indeed become our reality and we fail to see any of the sea of possibilities available to us and we can be cut off from the spiritual.  Those mental level Fomorians exact quite a tax indeed!  The Fomorians of this repeated collapse of potential into a harmful reality really do take hostage our access to the spiritual.

But every once in a while we are faced with a situation where we have no script, where we have for a moment an invitation to peer beyond our certainty that the world and ourselves exist as we perceive them.  This is exactly why I became a firewalk instructor.  Faced with that moment when all my past Fomorian level experience told me fire would burn me, in a totally new situation, new possibilites became available to me.  I took a step, and it was the crack in the facade that I continue to widen with other practices designed to unwind the programs and perceptions I believed were real, but which no longer serve. We have an opportunity to truly make a new, creative choice and begin to unwind the bonds of our own Fomorian tax collectors, maybe meet the good Fomorians like Elatha who came to the Tuatha out of love.

So ends my musings on Fomorians, Physics, and Fire at least on the blog.  There is so much more to learn and ways to apply these ideas to change your life.  And here is a start:

If you would like to learn more about how the stories of the ancient Celts can lead your deeper into a satisfying soul-centered life, I am giving a series of teachings on the subject at Walking WInds Holistic Center:  http://www.walkingwindsholisticcenter.com/workshops.html

For information on upcoming firewalks:  www.followingthefire.com

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Fomorians and Physics Part 1: Your Inner Fomorian

One of the quirks of Celtic Mythology is the apparent lack of a story detailing how the world came into being.  The Celts believe that everything that has or ever will exist already does right now.  For a long while I struggled to wrap my head around this position.  But my recent return to the study of physics and consciousness has led to one of those famous “a-ha moments”.

I have been stirring in the cauldron of my soul the stories from the Lebor Gabala Erin, or the Irish Book of Invasions.  Upon learning that the First and Second Battles of Magd Tuireadh (Moytura) could be viewed as a roadmap of human soul-making and a lesson in creating and manifesting ideas.

As briefly as I can put it, the Tuatha de Danaan (The fairies in later stories) resided as a sort of disembodied spirituality but decide to come to Ireland.  Arriving in a cloud of mist (already a state between spirit and matter), they eventually battle with the then residents of the island, the Fir Bolg.  Immediately prior to the battle they meet some of the Fomorians, raiders from under the sea who sometimes rampaged over the island.

The Fomorians are often deformed, proud, warlike and greedy.  All aspects of the shadow side of the ego!  But Eriu, one of the Tuatha is visited by Elatha, a Fomorian King, they fall in love and have a child, Bres the Beautiful.  Not long after, the battle with the Fir Bolg commences.

The Fir Bolg are, in many ways, the opposite of the Tuatha.  They are larger, their weapons denser and more primitive.  Nearly all the descriptions of them focus on their physical attributes.  So putting it all together, The Tuatha (spirit level) come to Ireland and meet and intermingle with the Fomorians (the mental level), and do battle with the Fir Bolg (the Physical level), thereby integrating them for the first time into all beings.  Isn’t this how we bring any idea in our heads into the world. At first the Notre Dame cathedral was an idea existing only in the mind of its creator (spirit level), and through the tasks of drawing up plans, getting workers, and scheduling tasks (mental), work began and over 200 years of labor the beautiful church was erected (physical).

Shortly after the battle with the Fir Bolg,  the Fomorians return to exact intense taxes and bully the now balanced Tuatha.  Leading eventually to the Second Battle of Moytura.  Isn’t it generally true in our spiritual endeavors that our thoughts, or what Buddhists would call the monkey mind, babble away preventing us from either conceptualizing a new vision or taking effective action in the world?  And very often those thoughts become our prisons, a running repeating commentary of our failures and fears that eat away at the body and prevent us from experiencing the joys of the spirit.  Just like the Fomorians began to tax and bully the Tuatha.

Coming tomorrow, Part 2:  Schroedingers Fomorian.

If you would like to learn more about how the stories of the ancient Celts can lead your deeper into a satisfying soul-centered life, I am giving a series of teachings on the subject at Walking WInds Holistic Center:  http://www.walkingwindsholisticcenter.com/workshops.html

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On the Importance of Tending Your Fire.

The tale of the Birth of Taliesin has long been a favorite story.  The story is like a kaliedoscope, layers and layers of meaning shift with the sands of my life to present ever more beautiful and revealing meanings.  Having recently returned from my firewalk certification, I think it no accident that I encountered the story not one day after my return.  And less than a week after that the discussion in the therapy group I lead turned to sustaining the passion and drive to manifest life goals.  Three pieces fitting together so clearly prompted me to wander into the mist to seek the counsel of Cerridwen, Gwion Bach, and Morda:

In a time when the world was young and still greening there lived a powerful sorceress who once composed a drink of such raw magical potential that it would render to the receiver of the drink the reeling, panoramic understanding of the entire cosmos.  She wove this powerful magic for her poor son Avagddu, who was of quite startling ugliness and profound stupidity.  If but three drops of the mystical potion would fall on Avaggdu’s tongue, his profound wisdom and genteel manners would make him quite a desirable dinner guest and more than make up for his hideousness in other regards.

And so it was that such deep magic is not accomplished by waving around a wand and shouting some mumbo jumbo.  No, such an impressive brew would be more like working on a famous painting; lots and lots of tinkering for months and months.  Cerridwen was certainly not going to do all the work herself she had too much shapeshifting to do and prophecies to work out , so she put a servant, Gwion Bach to work stirring the mixture and a blind man, Morda to tend the fire beneath. For a year and a day the two labored over the brew;  Gwion Bach stirring an endless round and Morda kindling the fire, giving it constant attention.  Toward the end of the brewing time an accident happened, maybe because his arm was cramping up from a year of stirring. Three drops of the draught splashed onto Gwion Bach’s thumb.  His automatic response was to put his thumb into his mouth to reduce the sizzling the potion had caused.  At that moment Gwion Bach attained all the knowledge of the cosmos that was meant for Avagddu.  The cauldron split ,and so did Gwion Bach!

He ran and was pursued voraciously by Ceridwen, because of the wisdom gained from the brew, Gwion Bach new how to change his shape.  Over the land and air and sea he and Ceridwen fled, changing shapes the way Hollywood starlets change clothes. The pursuit raged on until in desperation Gwion Bach turned himself into a grain of wheat which was subsequently devoured by the jabbing beak of the chicken Cerridwen.  She became instantly pregnant and nine months later gave birth to the Bard Taliesin.

It is on the task of Morda that I focus.  Though he is in the story for such a short time, there are three important aspects to him.  Firstly we are told that he is blind.  Second, he kindles, or starts the fire.  Third he lovingly tends it with constant attention.

Fire.  Fire in our lives is the passion that gives the energy to work toward our life goals.  Without it we have a set of pretty pictures about where we would like to be, but lack the oomph to take action every day.  How often, when our dreams seem small on the horizon do we sink back onto the couch and turn the TV back on.  How many times have we let the first obstacle on the glorious yellow brick road to our vision send us into the dark caves of all the reasons why we can’t have what we want.

I envision Morda tending to the fire by bringing various woods and laying them gently on the fire.  By using his life’s breath he grows the flames.  Blind to the appearance of the brew, he has to use his intuition about the alchemy happening in the interior of the cauldron.  Most of our distractions are visual, so being blind also allows Morda the luxury of a singular focus.

We each of us need to be our own Morda.  We must blind ourselves to distractions that might eat away our energy for working toward our vision.  This includes outer distractions and inner ones that surface in the form of sloth and fear.  We must, like Morda, be attuned to the inner state of our cauldron, has our vision shifted, deepened?  We must tend the fire constantly.  If we want to realize our dreams we cannot fly on autopilot.  Spend some time with your vision, how will you feel when you accomplish it, what feeds your passion for it today?  What step did you take today, no matter how small toward it?  And like Morda, we we need to tend the visions of our lives lovingly.  Only then can our potion of wisdom brew!

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Finding the Hag in Ireland

As I plan another voyage to Ireland, I look back on last year’s voyage.  I had not really seen it while I was on the journey, but the trip was really an exploration of the Cailleach in the landscape of southwestern Ireland.  Her story is woven into the land in County Kerry, County Clare, and County Cork.  The Cailleach bears many names, Biera, Bheara, Sheela-na-gig, Bheur, the list goes on.  She is a wise woman, bestower of sovereignty, and shaper of the land.

I first encountered her overlooking the sea on the Beara Peninsula near the Church of Kilcatherine in County Cork.  Here she is overlooking the sea, having lived many lifetimes, she sits in peace and stares out to the sea.  She seemed to me to resonate the power of survival.  Old beyond reckoning, she maintains her feminine vigor and outlasts.

The Cailleach sits in peace by the Irish Sea

 

The Burren in County Clare also resonates with her presence.  Here at the Cliffs of Moher is a stone called the Hag’s Head.  It was at this very spot where the Cailleach had fallen in love with the hero Cu Chulainn.  He did not share her affection and he fled from her.  She had him cornered near the coast when he leapt a mighty leap at the cliffs landing safely and continuing his flight.  The Cailleach tried to follow and lost her footing falling to the sea below, dashed on the rocks.  Throughout her cronehood, she never loses her vitality!

The view of Hag's Head at the Cliffs of Moher.

 

From the soaring heights of the Cliffs of Moher we explored the Burren, a seemingly desolate limestone landscape.  From a distance the land here seemed grey and dead.  I was less than thrilled to be there after all the dense forests and sweeping seascapes I had seen in my travels.  It wasn’t until I saw the Burren close up that I realized that it was bursting with new life. It gave the appearance of death and desolation , and indeed the limestone that comprises the landscape is the petrified remains of billions of tiny lives.  But what renewal!  Hiding in every jigsaw like gap countless tiny, delicate flowers .  Petra fertilis, the fertile rock.  And how very like the Cailleach, hiding the beautiful seeds of youth in the wrinkles of her advanced age.

The seemingly harsh rock cradles the delicate new life of this flower....

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The Morrighan and the Spiritual Battle of the North

“Victory over oneself  is the primary goal of our training.” – Morihei Ueshiba

Last post, the concept of the Morrighan as “just” a War Goddess was challenged.  Today I’d like to devote a second day to discussing her by widening out the meaning of war in Celtic myths.

In reading Celtic mythology too often it can seem like a cavalcade of bloody battles.  Indeed the Celts were fierce warriors who fought plenty of battles, however mythically speaking there are some cues that the battles fought in the myths are not simply physical battles, they symbolize far more than this.

Ireland is divided into 5 provinces, and a deeper spiritual meaning is assigned to each.  To the east is Leinster symbolic of prosperity.  To the south is Munster where Music dwells.  In the west Connacht, the seat of knowledge.  To the North lies Ulster the place of battle.  And in the center is Meath where the High King at Tara reigns and we find sovereignty.  When reading an Irish myth, the place the story occurs as well as where the figures in the story come from are clues to what is happening below the surface of events.  It is in these clues where the meaning of the story can be sought.

Battle lies to the North.  But what sort of battle are we talking about, really?  What does it mean to be a warrior?  Battles temper and test us.  In battle we are forced to become more than we thought we were.  Yet caution is needed here because battle is a double edged sword.  On the one edge is blind aggression, the shadow side of battle.  This is battle undertaken in anger, fueled by blind hatred.  Interpersonally, this is the argument meant to belittle and tear down the other.  At the level of countries this is projecting our unwanted qualities onto the other side and seeking to wipe them all out.  Intrapersonally this could be an addiction, seeking to escape or wipe ourselves out from a place of deep self-loathing.  Though it may seem forgotten in the modern world, there is an honorable side to battle.

There is the sort of battle undertaken to defend the weak.  In battles of this nature the goal is not to destroy the enemy for we know that aggression only leads to more aggression.  Rather the battle is to resolve conflict.  To achieve this requires skills of discernment, refinement, and understanding.  There will be times when these will fail and we are left with the option of controlled aggression, but it is minimal and as a last resort.  Interpersonally this battle is the attempt in a conflict to understand one another and resolve differences lovingly.  Intrapersonally, this could range from stopping our addiction, facing ourselves and our choices and achieving greater peace in our hearts.

This sculptural necklace represents the gentler lessons the Morrighan is trying to teach us.

In the two myths we have discussed, the Battles of Moytura and The Cattle Raid of Cooley, there are clues that the Morrighan is a warrior of the more enlightened sort.  Note that both of these stories mention the north.  In fact it is the Ulstermen (north) who raid the cattle of Connacht.  In the Battles of Moytura, the Tuatha de Danann arrive in Ireland in a mist from the north.  The Morrighan is one of the Tuatha, whose race symbolizes peace and balance.   In the Second Battle of Moytura, she and the Tuatha are battling the Fomorians, a race symbolizing chaos and destruction.  So already there are clues that the Morrighan is an enlightened warrior.

This enlightened warriorship becomes more clear when we take a closer look at her relationship with Cu Chulainn in the Cattle Raid of Cooley.  Cu Chulainn is a typical adolescent, albeit with near godlike powers (being the son of Lugh).  His brashness gets him into trouble in almost every tale he is in.  In the Cattle Raid the Morrighan certainly prompts him into the battle by stealing the magical cow that sets off the events of the story.  When she first appears to him in the story he rebuffs her rather dismissingly, but regrets this decision once he finds out who she really was.  She curses him and then when he is fighting Ferdiad, she attacks him three times.  I believe here she is teaching him a bit of a lesson, holding him accountable, and testing him spiritually so that he will grow from his adolescent ways.

It seems then that he has made an enemy of her until he is on his way to the battle that will mean his death.  The Morrighan first appears to him as the Washer at the Ford, an omen of death.  When he does not turn back, she sabotages his chariot in an attempt to keep him from the battle.  And finally, when he is dying she keeps him company in the form of a raven.  Clearly she is attempting to teach Cu Chulainn by tempering his brashness and changing the way he battles.  She has mixed success.

So what have we learned about her.  As the Crow she shrieks, raising a furious din, calling us to battle.  Our own souls make this noise when we encounter a situation requiring a psychological fight.  She foretells battles where things might not go well for us by appearing as the Washer at the Ford, how many warnings do we get when we are battling with aggression or anger that we should make a different choice.  And despite our failings someone is always there with us during painful transitions.  The Morrighan would like to be our ally in battling bravely and honorably, but we so often force her into a much rougher role.

Click here for Part 1 of the Morrighan discussion.

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Morrighan, the Phantom Queen

The Morrighan has been on my mind a lot lately. My thinking more deeply of her began last year in Ireland when I met her at the Cliffs of Moher and continued after a somewhat disagreeable discussion with another person interested in Celtic Mythology.

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland the Morrighan's energy radiated from this crow.

 

This individual felt that the Morrighan was only a warrior, a murderer even.  I certainly did not agree.  This description is too narrow, she is certainly a War Goddess, as she took part in the First Battle of Moytura.   In the Second Battle of Moytura she awakens the God Lugh to the fight, thereby bringing the Tuatha de Danaan the means to victory over the Fomorians.  She then goes on to encounter the Dagdha as she was washing at the river (foreshadowing her later role as the Washer at the Ford), and following a tryst with him, gives vital information about the plans of the Fomorians.  She appears again at the end of the Battle to offer two distinct prophecies about the future of the Tuatha and Ireland.

In the story of The Cattle Raid of Cooley, we again find the Morrigan instigating the battle by committing the act of theft which begins the battle that eventually leads to the death of Cu Chulainn, the most famous hero of the Irish mythic sagas.  The relationship between Cu Chulainn and the Morrighan is complex.  She offers herself to him, he rejects her, she harries and curses him  throughout the story.  Yet, in her guise as the Washer at the Ford, she foretells his death, even attempting to prevent it.  Finally, at the end of the tale as Cu Chulainn is dying, she remains with him and keeps him company in the form of a raven.  So there is both a gentle side to her and a role of guiding souls in transition (psychopomping).   And though she is so often listed in glossaries of Celtic figures as a War Goddess, she is rarely shown actually fighting.

Clearly she is not the one dimensional figure that she can be made out to be.

So for the rest of the week, I will be posting and musing about the Morrighan and her multitude of roles, which will take us on an adventure of the meaning of war in the ancient Celtic cycle, love of rough places in our lives, and the complexity of mentorship.

 

Categories: Enchanted Jewelry, Myths for Everyday Life | 2 Comments

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