The Celtic Tree Month of The Birch

 

The Celtic Tree Month of The Birch

December 24 – January 20

 

The Celtic meaning of the birch tree deals with:

  • Growth
  • Renewal
  • Stability
  • Initiation
  • Adaptability

 

Listen closely and you will detect whispers of transformation and growth in the midst of the birch groves within your soul.

The birch is highly adaptive and able to sustain harsh conditions with casual indifference. Proof of this adaptability is seen in its easy and eager ability to repopulate areas damaged by forest fires or clearings. Bright and beautiful, the birch is a pioneer, courageously taking root and starting anew to revive the landscape where no other would before.

This is a powerful metaphor for our lives. The birch asks us to philosophically go where no other will go (voluntarily or otherwise). The birch asks us to take root in new soils and light our lives with the majesty of our very presence. The birch sings to us: “Shine, take hold, express your creative expanse, light the way so that others may follow.”

Paradoxically, while the birch is a brilliant symbol of renewal, it is also symbolic of stability and structure. The druids also held the birch as the keepers of long-honored traditions.

Associated with the sun, the birch is a solar emblem, and facilitates passion, energy, as well as growth. This solar association is paralleled when we learn the druids carried birch bark with them as kindling. Birch serves as a perfect igniter as it will start to burn even when damp. This makes it a prized fire starter over most other wood types.

Here again, this makes for a perfect analogy. The birch asks us to serve our fellow man with a fire in our hearts. In this respect, the birch reminds us that even if our spirits are dampened by the set backs in life, we can always catch fire from the spark of passions that drive us to divinity.

 

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To the Moon

Moon & Witch Comments & Graphics          To the Moon

Greeting to you, gem of the night!
Beauty of the skies, gem of the night!
Mother of the stars, gem of the night!
Foster-child of the sun, gem of the night!
Majesty of the stars, gem of the night!

Scottish Gaelic, traditional folk prayer

A Must Read To The Children For Winter Solstice

BRAN THE BLESSED, A FAERY KING MYTH

The Yuletide season provides us with an ideal opportunity to reflect on the ancient Welsh myth of Bran the Blessed, a vivid and compassionate tale that embodies the Wiccan values of giving, light, and rebirth. Bran’s story is one of personal sacrifice, conciliation, and a king’s love for his people and land. If he does not meet his obligations to the Goddess, Earth Mother, and the land itself turns against him. Bran’s myth is about how to become a good king.

Bran’s sister, Branwen, is Goddess of the Land, and as such, she is Bran’s reason for being. As Faery King and Guardian of the Cauldron of Rebirth, Bran is committed to his role as champion of Her cause. The Cauldron of Rebirth, originally from Ireland, has the power to bring dead warriors back to life and is a special symbol of the law and power of the land.

In the story, Branwen marries Matholwch, the King of Ireland, in order to form a bond between Britain and Ireland. Branwen’s brother however, is upset by the marriage and kills all of Matholwch’s horses. Bran replaces the horses, but Matholwch is not satisfied. In order to heal the breach, Bran must also give Matholwch the Cauldron of Rebirth. Despite so generous a gift, Matholwch is still not appeased. He mistreats Bran’s sister so badly, Bran must march into Ireland to save her. To prevent his arrival, Matholwch burns the bridge leading across the Shannon River. But Bran shapeshifts into a giant and acts as his own bridge, carrying his men on his enormous shoulders through the sea. Thus we find in Bran’s story the important line, which serves as a lesson to future leaders, “He who would be chief, let him make himself a bridge.”

Without the Cauldron of Rebirth, Bran’s forces are defeated and Bran is wounded. He orders his own beheading and while his men transport his head to be buried in the White Tower of London, Bran teaches everything he has learned from the Goddess’ Cauldron of Rebirth, passing on his wisdom to all future generations. This image of Bran’s head is one of many examples found in Celtic mythology and witchcraft of the skull as a symbol of power and wisdom. The skull is not something to be feared. Modern witches wear skull jewelry, symbolizing the house of the brain.

Yule is a good time of year to think about what we learn of Bran’s myth. This is a magickal moment of the ever-turning wheel: like Bran’s story, it is full of heart and passion, lightness and gravity, hope and realism. This is a time when we reflect on the unconquerable human spirit that the story of Branwen and Bran represents. (Laurie Cabot, Celebrate the Earth)

Cabot goes on to say she believes Yule, more than any other moment on the Wheel of the Year, is indicative of the unity of the Wiccan tradition. At Yule, we desire to cherish the best of all we have, and to seek out and acknowledge what is of great value in others.Yule is an awakening and a thankfulness for our knowledge of and our connection to the Wheel of the Year.

 

Earth Witchery

Correspondences for Sacred Plants of the Winter Solstice

Sacred plants of the Winter Solstice

by Selena Fox

HOLLY

Symbolizing: Old Solar Year; Waning Sun; Protection; Good Luck

Forms: boughs over portals, wreaths

Divinities: Holly King; Old Nick; Saturn; Bacchus; Wood Spirits; Holly Boys

Traditions: Roman, Celtic, English, Christian

 

 

MISTLETOE

Symbolizing: Peace, Prosperity, Healing, Wellness, Fertility, Rest, Protection

Forms: boughs, amulet sprigs above doorways, kissing balls

Divinities: Oak Spirit; Frigga and Balder

Traditions: Celtic, Teutonic

 

 

IVY

Symbolizing: Fidelity, Protection, Healing, Marriage, Victory, Honor, Good Luck

Forms: crowns, wreaths, garlands

Divinities: Dionysius; Bacchus; Great Goddess; Ivy Girls

Traditions: Greek, Roman, English, Christian

 

 

FRANKINCENSE

Symbolizing: Sun, Purification, Consecration, Protection, Spiritual Illumination

Forms: incense, oils

Divinities: Sun Gods, Ra at Dawn, Bel

Traditions: Babalyonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Jewish, Greek, Roman, Christian

 

 

MYRRH

Symbolizing: Healing, Death and Afterlife, Purification, Inner Peace

Forms: incense, oils

Divinities: Isis, Ra at Midday

Traditions: Egyptian, Jewish, Christian

 

 

WHEAT

Symbolizing: Sustenance, Abundance, Fertility, Good Luck

Forms: grain, straw figures and symbols, cookies, cakes, breads

Divinities: Earth Goddesses; Saturn & Ops; Goat Spirit; Fairy Folk

Traditions: Roman, Celtic, Scots, Teutonic, Sweedish, Christian

Who Were The Celts?

Who Were The Celts?

 

The Celtic empire once ranged across Western Europe, and their armies eclipsed even those of Rome. Who were these mighty people, and what became of them?

The Celts (Kel’tz) were a diverse group of people whose empire once spanned the European continent.  Archeological digs from Halsted, Germany to the Orkney Isles of Scotland have uncovered evidence of Celtic settlements as far back as the late Bronze Age.  But where did  these brash, nomadic people come from, and what became of them?

Recent archeological digs in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor indicate the possibility that the Celts were not indigenous to Europe at all.  The fact that the original Celtic stock were primarily a dark haired people with swarthy complexions only verifies this new theory. This theory is the migratory theory;  when applied the Celtics sometime in the millennia of the Bronze Age entered Europe from somewhere in Asia Minor.  It wasn’t long before they settled in the region of the Danube River basin and soon began raiding and conquering their neighbors.  The Celtic conquest continued until their tribal lands covered most of Western Europe, from the Danube to Rome and westward as far as current-day Belgium.

Though their rise to power was quick, the Celtic domination of Europe was short, as empires go.  Over the centuries following the Celtic Golden Age seen at Halsted, the Celtic people were pushed farther west by new conquerors and empires, sprouting up in Athens, Macedonia, and, eventually, Rome.  To the North, the savage Goths pushed the Celts southward as well, condensing the majority of Celtic society into Gaul and Iberia, which today make up France and Spain.

If the origins of the Celts are historically dubious, the name they identified themselves with remains a mystery.  While historical accounts exist, as well as a few Celtic carvings referencing tribal names, Celtic writings don’t make any reference to a racial name.  The only surviving accounts to make reference to the Celtic people were written by Roman and Greek historians.  In fact, it is from Greek texts that the Celts received their ethnic name, Keltoi, a Greek word for “stranger” or “outsider.”  This identifier was altered by late Roman writers and eventually adopted by the Celts as a means of identification in trade and war.

Many historians and archeologists believe that the original people who entered European millennia before the birth of Christ had no name by which to identify themselves as a people.  They were nomadic, in many ways, and little more than a loose conglomeration of independent tribes and family groups.  If this theory is true, it adds a new dimension to the mystery of the Celts with a question that might never be truly answered: Who were the Celts?

Historical records and archeological evidence have much to say about Celtic culture and society.  Predominantly in Roman histories, reference is made to the deep racial pride of the Celts, and their stubborn refusal to be dominated or ruled.  According to Roman chroniclers, a Celt would choose suicide over surrender.  Nor was Celtic society a fluid structure like the Hellenic or Roman empires, but rather a loosely-linked group of autonomous tribes, each headed by a separate chieftain.  Within each tribe, the people were further divided into extended family units known as clans.  Each clan was subdivided into lineages, called “˜fine’, represented by the paternal kinship. Roman writers, examining this pastoral mind frame from their urban vantage point, no doubt found much to disdain as barbaric and primitive in Celtic society.

However, far from the barbarians with which they were often identified, the Celts had a highly developed society.  The basic structure of Celtic society divided the people into three classes:  the royal clans, the warrior aristocracy, and the common people, often referred to as Freemen.  And, though slaves did constitute a small percentage of the population, slavery was generally frowned upon in Celtic society. However, though Celtic social structure appeared loose and primitive to the Romans and Greeks, the Celts were by no means the “savage race” which the Roman scholars often slurred them by. Archeological evidence has shown the Celts to be an advanced race, for their era.  They made use of chain mail in battle and utilized machines for reaping grain.  There is also evidence that the Celts had begun extended roadways across Europe centuries prior to the Roman Empire’s much-lauded road system, and it is widely believed by historians that it was from the Celts that the Romans and Greeks first learned the use of soap.

However, regardless of their apparent advancements, the Celts were not an urbanized people, and their tastes ran to simple rather than extravagant.  Certain themes appear repetitively in reference to Celtic culture, including the predominance of rural settlements, the traditions governing hospitable feasts, and the evidence of fellowship drinking. Pork tended to be a primary item of diet, and clothing often followed a plaid design. However, though rural themes predominated their society and many settlements were merely farming communities, the Celts were far from uneducated. They placed high regard on thorough education and life-long study. The Druids, who are believed to be the Celtic scholars and priests, were required to undergo a period of training which lasted around twenty years. Also contrary to popular belief, historians have concluded that the Celts had a written language as early as the third century BCE, but made little use of it except on coinage and memorials, placing a higher value on the ability to remember vast quantities of information correctly.

Celtic society declined in the face of Rome’s advancing power, however.  As Roman culture stamped more of the face of world politics and trade, the Celts soon found themselves with no choice but to accept Roman rule. And, as Roman culture began dominating the Celtic tribes, the tribal culture was replaced by a racial identity.  By the withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain in approximately 340 CE, Celtic culture had waned nearly into oblivion.  It would enjoy a brief period of renewal with the fall of Rome, only to be quickly conquered by the Germanic culture advancing across Europe. And so, the proud people who had once dominated the European continent would be lost to myth and legend, leaving more unanswered questions than road signs to their once-golden culture.

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About the Celtic Tree Month Reed October 28 to November 24

Celtic Tree Month Reed

(Ngetal)

October 28 to November 24

Those Born Under This Sign:

Reed signs among the Celtic tree astrology signs are the secret keepers.  You dig deep inside to the real meaning of things and discover the truth hidden beneath layers of distraction.  When there is a need to get to the heart of the matter, most certainly the Reed sign will find the core.  You love a good story, and can be easily drawn in by gossip, scandals, legend and lore.  These tendencies also make you an excellent historian, journalist, detective or archeologist.  You love people because they represent a diversity of meanings for you to interpret.  You are adept at coaxing people to talking to you, and sometimes you can be a bit manipulative.  However, you have a strong sense of truth and honor so most of your scheming is harmless.  Reed people join well with other Reeds, Ash or Oak signs.

Celtic Meaning Of The Reed:

The Celtic meaning of the reed within the Ogham deals with:

  • Purpose
  • Protection
  • Purification
  • Clarification
  • Communication

Today we may not consider the reed a tree, but in the time of the ancient Celts their landscape held prolific reeds in swamp areas; some growing up to 20 feet tall.

The druids viewed any large plant like this with a woody stalk to be a tree, and the reed was considered very important.

All things of the natural world were honored by the Celts, and all things represented the connection with life.   In this way, the reed was highly revered for its usefulness in the day-to-day practices of the Celts.

The reed was used for many purposes by the Celts.  Specifically, they would weave reeds together to make thatched roofs on their homes – some of which (when properly constructed) last up to a decade or more.  This is where the reed obtains its symbolism of protection.  It is also a natural insulator, and the Celts honored it highly during cold, wet months.

Reed gives off a faint sweet smell when macerated, and so the Celts were known to lay out pressed reeds as flooring in their homes to deodorize.  This was also a practice for cleansing and purifying homes.

Reeds also made good candles, and were viewed as beacons of light during the dark nights.  This is another facet of the reed’s purposefulness in the life of the Celts.

The reed gets its symbolism of communication from several sources.  In the hands of a good craftsman (and there were many among the ancient Celts), a reed would make a fine whistle, flute or recorder.  These were highly prized amongst the people, particularly bards. Through these flutes and music the spiritually-minded Celts would communicate fantastic worlds of vision, heroism, and beauty.  

Secondly, if you are still enough, you can hear them sing a song when the wind blows through a field of reeds.  If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing it, you know it is an eerie experience.  The Celts viewed this as an otherworld voice, and considered it a message of powerful importance.

Take the time to incorporate these symbolic meanings of the reed in your life.  Gather some up and bring them into the house to open up the energy and clear the air.  Or, try fashioning a flute from a reed and take it to your next drum circle to play!  Your Celtic ancestors will get such a kick out of that!

Reference:

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Speaking Out About Halloween

Speaking Out About Halloween

by Dana Corby

Halloween: the time of year that just about everyone associates with Witches, along with ghosts, goblins, and other scary “supernatural” beings. But I’ve been a witch for more than twenty years and I can tell you there is nothing either scary or supernatural about us. And there is nothing more to fear on Halloween night than on any other night of the year.

Each year as October approaches, self styled experts flood the media with dire warnings about the supposed physical and spiritual dangers of celebrating Halloween. They trot out the same tired old rumors of poisons and razor blades in trick or treatcandy. They hint that your neighbors are probably child molesters. Lately they’ve been making the astonishing claim that Witches put curses on the treats they distribute, so that the children who eat them will be “possessed by demons.”

There is no truth to any of it, there never has been!

Witches are actually rather ordinary folks; not a wiggly nose among us. We have jobs and families, we vote and pay taxes, and we want most of the same things you do: Peace, prosperity, a good world to leave our children. Unlike most people, though, we spend part of each autumn faced with open religious discrimination, based on needless ignorance and fear.

Witchcraft, also known as Wicca, is a modern revival of the pre-Christian religions of western Europe. We are pagans, that is, we see divinity in nature rather than in a transcendent spiritual realm or an omnipotent being. We speak of our deity as the Goddess or Mother Nature, although to most of us the godhead is dual – both Goddess and God. As such, our beliefs lie outside mainstream Judeo-Christian concepts.

This does not mean however, that Witches are in any way opposed to Christianity. Like most religions throughout history, we grant that different faiths are right for different people. We oppose only the mistaken belief of some individual Christians that since they posses the only “real” religion, constitutional freedoms of religion do not apply to the rest of us. On the rare occasions that Witches find themselves in conflict with Christians, we see it as a civil rights matter, not a religious dispute. We are not interested in arguing “my Gods better than your God.”

Wicca’s ethic laws are at least as stringent as those of other faiths: Our law says “Harm none,” and that means not our neighbor, not our neighbor’s dog, and certainly not out neighbor’s child. It prohibits not only physical harm but such intangibles as violation of another’s free will. And it means ourselves, as well; a Witch should cultivate both bodily and mental health.

This outlook on morality, because it does not rely on obedience to specific commandments, covers much more behavior: Rather than worrying about sinning, we try to foresee the results of our actions so as to take the wisest course. While we may not share Christianity’s beliefs in heaven and hell, we do believe that all actions have consequences, and that whatever good or evil we do will find it’s way back to us. Our ethos comes from within rather than being imposed from outside or above. It is based on personal honor and responsibility, and by these principals we live and hope to live again on our beloved Mother Earth.

As worshippers of nature, Witches celebrate a wheel of eight Sabbats or sacred days: Ancient festivals marking the round of the seasons. The Christian calendar, as even some Christian writers have noted, borrows heavily from Paganism. This is no doubt because until very recently people of every faith shared the same experience of the land and the passing seasons.

We share Yule, for instance, which is the old name of both the winter solstice and Christmas. Easter, derived from the celebration of the Spring Equinox, is even named after the Saxon fertility Goddess Eostre. And though Protestantism abandoned them long ago, both Imbolc (Lady Day) and Lammas (August Eve) have been retained in the Catholic year, as has All Hallows Eve…Halloween

To witches, Halloween is a religious holiday much like Thanksgiving, a time to feast in praise of nature’s bounty. It is also our New Year’s day, time to let go of the old and look forward into the future. The old name for this festival is Samhain, pronounced approximately “Sow-un.” This is a Celtic (Irish, Scottish) word meaning “summer’s end.” Some writers have claimed that Samhain is the name of a Celtic death god, but Celtic scholars consider this a fabrication. In fact, Samhain is to this day the name in parts of Ireland and Scotland for the month of November.

Samhain is the last of three harvest festivals. August has Lammas, the grain harvest; In September was Mabon, Autumn Equinox and the apple harvest; and on the eve of November is Samhain, the cattle harvest.

The idea of a cattle harvest is strange today. But in ancient times, it was essential. Though the Celts counted their wealth in cattle, they could not keep whole herds alive through the winter. Rather than let all of them starve, they kept the best animals for breeding stock, the rest were blessed, thanked, and butchered. This was not some occult “blood sacrifice” but practical animal husbandry, done with respect – essentially “pagan kosher.”

Every community held it’s own Samhain feat, and the people stuffed themselves with all the autumn goodies they would not see for another year, especially that great seasonal luxury, meat. They stored up food for the winter not in a refrigerator, but as fat on their own bodies. (We of course do have refrigerators. Our feasts come mostly from the super market.)

With the dying of the cattle and the seeming dying of the year, it was appropriate also to remember the communities’ human dead. The religious side of the feast of Samhain has always included recalling by name our loved ones who have passed over during the year, with prayers for their safe passage. This is the origin of the secular Halloween’s “spooks”: The spirits of all the beloved dead gathering around one last time for our farewells. For us this formal letting-go is an important aspect of the grief process.

Pagans in general, and Witches especially, do not share the horror of death which pervades mainstream culture. Because we are a joyful people , we hope to avoid death as long as is practical, but we do not particularly fear it. Witches see it as a transition, an alternate reality, which in it’s own manner serves life. Because we love life, Witches are healers and gardeners and artists, cooks and craftspeople and teachers of lore. Because we value balance, Witches honor Death at Samhain.

The part of Halloween that makes it Halloween to most Americans is of course, “trick or treat.” Interestingly, this custom, though ancient, is preserved much more faithfully in North America than in the old countries. Large numbers of Irish and Scots emigrated here just before the old ways began dying out in the British Isles, in the period between Queen Victoria and World War 1. By then the celebration was far different than it had once been.

The house to house begging processions that we now call trick or treat were not originally part of Halloween at all. From the Middle Ages right up through he renaissance such processions were a major part of Advent and Christmas; like most Yule customs, the true origin is lost in Pagan antiquity. Along with other Yule merriment, the processions were suppressed during the Protestant Reformation. But the people would not give them up, and took them underground by simply moving them to Halloween.

One feature of modern Halloween, though, has always been a part of it: disguises…

The ancient Celts believed in fairies, as many modern Celts still do. And they believed that at Samhain the walls between our world and the realm of fairy grew thin, and that the fair folk could come over. The fairies were said to ride the mortal lands then stealing beautiful human children to raise as their own. So, mothers “uglified: their children for the night: dirtied their faces, ratted their hair, dressed them in rags – whatever might make the fairies overlook them. And the children, kids being kids even in the middle ages, thought this was a blast! Eventually, as usually happens with folk customs, the reason for it was forgotten: today any kind of costume can be worn, or none at all.

So, what should a modern parent do? Is it safe to send your children out trick-or-treating? Though not as safe as it used to be, the truth is that it’s fairly safe if you use some common sense.

Those horrifying tales of razor blades and drugs in candy have happily proven to be what is called an urban myth, like the sewer alligators and the ghost hitchhiker: You know someone who says they know someone it happened to, only no one actually does. Hospitals have offered free X-rays of Halloween treats for many years now, and have never found a foreign object. Only one case of Halloween poisoning has ever actually been substantiated by the authorities, and it proved  to have been done by the children’s own father after they came home. It seems they were insured better than they were loved.

Nor are your children likely to have any spells cast on them on Halloween or any other time. While there are a few “wanna-be-Satanists” around who might  like to cast spells on your kids, the truth is, they can’t. Magick has natural laws, just like any other physics and chemistry. One of those laws is that innocence is armor against evil. Another is that magick takes work. The kind of people attracted to “black magick” generally either are just showing off or think they’ve found a way to get what they want without work. Once they realize the enormous amount of effort it takes to violate the free will of even a child, they’re all through.

What the Witches on your children’s route are likely to do to them is make them mad: We tend to give out healthy stuff instead of candy. One Witch I know gives toothpaste!

But real dangers do exist. Every year trick-or-treaters are hit by cars on dark streets,  bitten by dogs, fall down stairs – any number of mishaps. Predatory humans, though mercifully few, are real. And excited, sugar high children are not careful. So the parents must be.

Make sure that your children’s costumes enable them to see and be seen; if you can’t talk them out of going in black as Dracula or a ninja (or despite all I’ve said here, as the “wicked witch.”) Make sure they carry a flashlight so they’re not invisible in the dark.

Arrange with your neighbors for a “safe house” on each block; make sure your children know where it is and forbid them to enter any other house on their route. This could be a great PTA project. Best of all, of course, is to go with them.

Ration the sweets once they’re brought home. A heavy sugar overdose can trigger hyperactivity, hypoglycemia or in rare cases, even diabetes. In any case it’s bad for their teeth and hard on tummies. But don’t worry about your neighborhood Witches, we’ll be busy celebrating Samhain!

Dana Corby publishes pamphlets and booklets through her publishing company Rantin’ Raven Press.

The Simple Facts About Samhain

The Simple Facts About Samhain

Shadowfest (Strega), Martinmas (Celtic/Scottish) Samhain, popularly known as Halloween, is the Witches’ New Year. This is the last of the three harvest Sabbats marking the end of the growing seasons. Celtic custom decreed that all crops must be gathered by sundown on October 31st. It is a time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Deceased ancestors and other friendly spirits are invited to join in Sabbat festivities and be reunited with loved ones. In Ireland it is still custom to leave candles in the windows and plates of food for the visiting spirits. Keep a fire lit or a candle burning all night to honour and welcome the dead. If clothes are left outside overnight, they will take on bewitching powers for all who wear them. Darkness increases and the Goddess reigns as the Crone, part of the three-in-one that also includes the Maiden and Mother. The God, the Dark Lord, passes into the underworld to become the seed of his own rebirth (which will occur again at Yule). Many Pagans prepare a Feast for the Dead on Samhain night, where they leave offerings of food and drink for the spirits. Divination is heightened this night. Jack-o-lanterns, gourds, cider, fall foliage can be used as altar decorations.

SAMHAIN, All Hallow’s Eve / Halloween

SAMHAIN

All Hallow’s Eve / Halloween

by Mike Nichols

 


 

Halloween. Sly does it. Tiptoe catspaws. Slide and creep. But why? What for? How? Who? When! Where did it all begin? “You don’t know, do you?” asks Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud climbing out of the pile of leaves under the Halloween Tree. “You don’t really know!”   —Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

 

Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve. Hallow E’en. Halloween. The most magical night of the year. Exactly opposite Beltane on the wheel of the year, Halloween is Beltane’s dark twin. A night of glowing jack-o’-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume. A night of ghost stories and séances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest. A “spirit night”, as they say in Wales.

All Hallow’s Eve is the eve of All Hallow’s Day (November 1). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the eve is more important than the day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31, beginning at sundown. And this seems only fitting for the great Celtic New Year’s festival. Not that the holiday was Celtic only. In fact, it is startling how many ancient and unconnected cultures (the Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example) celebrated this as a festival of the dead. But the majority of our modern traditions can be traced to the British Isles.

The Celts called it Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. (Some modern covens echo this structure by letting the high priest “rule” the coven beginning on Samhain, with rulership returned to the high priestess at Beltane.) According to the later fourfold division of the year, Samhain is seen as “autumn’s end” and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as “sow-in” (in Ireland), or “sow-een” (in Wales), or “sav-en” (in Scotland), or (inevitably) “sam-hane” (in the U.S., where we don’t speak Gaelic).

Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celtic New Year’s Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year, just as the new day begins at sundown. There are many representations of Celtic Gods with two faces, and it surely must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain. Like his Roman counterpart Janus, he would straddle the threshold, one face turned toward the past, in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, mystic eyes attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds. These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year’s celebration.

As a feast of the dead, this was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidhe mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of faery stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cockcrow.

As a feast of divination, this was the night par excellence for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to reestablishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and, hence, it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tealeaf reading so likely to succeed.

The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the “historical” Christ and his act of Redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where seeing the future is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval church from co-opting Samhain’s other motif, commemoration of the dead. To the church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God—thus, All Hallow’s, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls.

There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, / My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.

Perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday is the jack-o’-lantern. Various authorities attribute it to either Scottish or Irish origin. However, it seems clear that it was used as a lantern by people who traveled the road this night, the scary face to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray. Set on porches and in windows, they cast the same spell of protection over the household. (The American pumpkin seems to  have forever superseded the European gourd as the jack-o’-lantern of choice.) Bobbing for apples may well represent the remnants of a Pagan “baptism” rite called a seining, according to some writers. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice’s head is immersed. The fact that the participant in this folk game was usually blindfolded with hands tied behind the back also puts one in mind of a traditional Craft initiation ceremony.

The custom of dressing in costume and “trick-or-treating” is of Celtic origin, with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also,  the “treat” that was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go ‘trick-or-drinking’. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house-to-house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing. In fact, the custom known as caroling, now connected exclusively with Midwinter, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing (i.e., men dressing as women, and women as men). It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to “try on” the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. (Although in Scotland, this is admittedly less dramatic—but more confusing—since men were in the habit of wearing skirtlike kilts anyway. Oh well…)

To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called “The Great Sabbat”. It is an ironic fact that the newer, self-created covens tend to use the older name of the holiday, Samhain, which they have discovered through modern research. While the older hereditary and traditional covens often use the newer name, Halloween, which has been handed down through oral tradition within their coven. (This often holds true for the names of the other holidays, as well. One may often get an indication of a coven’s antiquity by noting what names it uses for the holidays.)

With such an important holiday, Witches often hold two distinct celebrations. First, a large Halloween party for non-Craft friends, often held on the previous weekend. And second, a coven ritual held on Halloween night itself, late enough so as not to be interrupted by trick-or-treaters. If the rituals are performed properly, there is often the feeling of invisible friends taking part in the rites. Another date that may be utilized in planning celebrations is the actual cross-quarter day, or Old Halloween, or Halloween O.S. (Old Style). This occurs when the sun has reached fifteen degrees Scorpio, an astrological “power point” symbolized by the Eagle. The celebration would begin at sunset. Interestingly, this date (Old Halloween) was also appropriated by the church as the holiday of Martinmas.

Of all the Witchcraft holidays, Halloween is the only one that still boasts anything near to popular celebration. Even though it is typically relegated to children (and the young-atheart) and observed as an evening affair only, many of its traditions are firmly rooted in Paganism. Incidentally, some schools have recently attempted to abolish Halloween parties on the grounds that it violates the separation of state and religion. Speaking as a Pagan, I would be saddened by the success of this move, but as a supporter of the concept of religion-free public education, I fear I must concede the point. Nonetheless, it seems only right that there should be one night of the year when our minds are turned toward thoughts of the supernatural. A night when both Pagans and non-Pagans may ponder the mysteries of the Otherworld and its inhabitants. And if you are one of them, may all your jack-o’-lanterns burn bright on this All Hallow’s Eve.


 

Document Copyright © 1983 – 2009 by Mike Nichols.

The Morrigan, Phantom Queen

The Morrigan

The Phantom Queen

The Morrígan (“phantom queen”) or Mórrígan (“great queen”), also written as Morrígu or in the plural as Morrígna, and spelt Morríghan or Mór-ríoghain in Modern Irish, is a figure from Irish mythology who appears to have been considered a goddess, although she is not explicitly referred to as such in the texts.

The Morrígan is a goddess of battle, strife, and sovereignty. She sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above the warriors, and in the Ulster cycle she also takes the form of an eel, a wolf and a cow. She is generally considered a war deity comparable with the Germanic Valkyries, although her association with a cow may also suggest a role connected with wealth and the land.

She is often depicted as a trio of goddesses, all sisters, although membership of the triad varies; the most common combinations are Badb, Macha and Nemain, or Badb, Macha and Anand; Anand is also given as an alternate name for Morrigu.

There is some disagreement over the meaning of the Morrígan’s name. Mor may derive from an Indo-European root connoting terror or monstrousness, cognate with the Old English maere (which survives in the modern English word “nightmare”) and the Scandinavian mara and the Old Russian “mara” (“nightmare”); while rígan translates as ‘queen’. This can be reconstructed in Proto-Celtic as *Moro-rīganī-s. Accordingly, Morrígan is often translated as “Phantom Queen”. This is the derivation generally favoured in current scholarship.

In the Middle Irish period the name is often spelled Mórrígan with a lengthening diacritic over the ‘o’, seemingly intended to mean “Great Queen” (Old Irish mór, ‘great’; this would derive from a hypothetical Proto-Celtic *Māra Rīganī-s). Whitley Stokes believed this latter spelling was a due to a false etymology popular at the time. There have also been attempts by modern writers to link the Morrígan with the Welsh literary figure Morgan le Fay from Arthurian romance, in whose name ‘mor’ may derive from a Welsh word for ‘sea’, but the names are derived from different cultures and branches of the Celtic linguistic tree.

Invocation of Morrigan

Morrigan Morrigan Three times Three,

Hear the words I ask of Thee.

Grant me vision, Grant me power,

Cheer me in my darkest hour.

As the night overtakes the day,

Morrigan Morrigan Light my way.

Morrigan Morrigan Raven Queen

Round and round the Hawthorn Green.

Queen of beauty, Queen of Art,

Yours my body, Yours my heart.

All my trust I place in thee,

Morrigan Morrigan Be with me…

Morrigan As The Triple Goddesss

The Morrígan is often considered a triple goddess, but this triple nature is ambiguous and inconsistent. Sometimes she appears as one of three sisters, the daughters of Ernmas: Morrígan, Badb and Macha. Sometimes the trinity consists of Badb, Macha and Anann, collectively known as the Morrígna. Occasionally Nemain or Fea appear in the various combinations. However, the Morrígan can also appear alone, and her name is sometimes used interchangeably with Badb.

The Morrígan is usually interpreted as a “war goddess”; W. M. Hennessey’s “The Ancient Irish Goddess of War”, written in 1870, was influential in establishing this interpretation. Her role often involves premonitions of a particular warrior’s violent death, suggesting a link with the Banshee of later folklore. This connection is further noted by Patricia Lysaght: “In certain areas of Ireland this supernatural being is, in addition to the name banshee, also called the badhb“. Her role was to not only be a symbol of imminent death, but to also influence the outcome of war. Most often she did this by appearing as a crow flying overhead and would either inspire fear or courage in the hearts of the warriors. There are also a few rare accounts where she would join in the battle itself as a warrior and show her favoritism in a more direct manner.

It has also been suggested that she was closely tied to Irish männerbund groups (described as “bands of youthful warrior-hunters, living on the borders of civilized society and indulging in lawless activities for a time before inheriting property and taking their places as members of settled, landed communities”) and that these groups may have been in some way dedicated to her. If true, her worship may have resembled that of Perchta groups in Germanic areas.

However, Máire Herbert has argued that “war per se is not a primary aspect of the role of the goddess”, and that her association with cattle suggests her role was connected to the earth, fertility and sovereignty; she suggests that her association with war is a result of a confusion between her and the Badb, who she argues was originally a separate figure. She can be interpreted as providing political or military aid, or protection to the king—acting as a goddess of sovereignty, not necessarily a war goddess.

There is a burnt mound site in County Tipperary known as Fulacht na Mór Ríoghna (‘cooking pit of the Mórrígan’). The fulachtaí sites are found in wild areas, and usually associated with outsiders such as the Fianna and the above-mentioned männerbund groups, as well as with the hunting of deer. The cooking connection also suggests to some a connection with the three mythical hags who cook the meal of dogflesh that brings the hero Cúchulainn to his doom. The Dá Chich na Morrigna (‘two breasts of the Mórrígan’), a pair of hills in County Meath, suggest to some a role as a tutelary goddess, comparable to Anu, who has her own hills, Dá Chích Anann (‘the breasts of Anu’) in County Kerry. Other goddesses known to have similar hills are Áine and Grian of County Limerick who, in addition to a tutelary function, also have solar attributes.

Morrigan Poem

by Anne-Christine Johnson 

 When the crows shriek thier frightening warnings,       

When autumn ends, and Winter falls,  

You will see a Lady a wondering,

weeping through the saddened fields.       

She is turning the Silver Wheel of the seasons.


When the crows heed their endless calling,  

Look to the Moon to see a Lady, dancing in the blackened clouds,

And when at night you see her coming, fall in wonder of what  

beauty she possesses, and shed your tears.  

The Great Queen is walking her footsteps once again.    

Morrighan, Morrighan, you’ll call her by name.


When the old earth opens from beneath your feet,   

crows will catch you before you fall and place you in

Her cauldron,  where rebirth waits and death awakens,   

your prophecy you will find. What you see is Her,

walking the shadows and howling to the Universe,  

forewarning Her arrival.


Black hair falling to Her feet, fill the ocean and become the waves,

Her legs become the forest; Her breasts become the mountains.     

Her womb becomes your ancient home.

Morrigan

by Danielle Dee
The Morrigan is a goddess of battle, strife, and fertility. Her name translates as either “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen,” and both epithets are entirely appropriate for her. The Morrigan appears as both a single goddess and a trio of goddesses. The other deities who form the trio are Badb (“Crow”), and either Macha (also connotes “Crow”) or Nemain (“Frenzy”). The Morrigan frequently appears in the ornithological guise of a hooded crow. She is one of the Tuatha Dé Danann (“Tribe of the goddess Danu”) and she helped defeat the Firbolg at the First Battle of Mag Tuireadh and the Fomorians at the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh.

Origin

The origins of the Morrigan seem to reach directly back to the megalithic cult of the Mothers. The Mothers (Matrones, Idises, Disir, etc.) usually appeared as triple goddesses and their cult was expressed through both battle ecstasy and regenerative ecstasy. It’s also interesting to note that later Celtic goddesses of sovereignty, such as the trio of Eriu, Banba, and Fotla, also appear as a trio of female deities who use magic in warfare. “Influence in the sphere of warfare, but by means of magic and incantation rather than through physical strength, is common to these beings.” (Ross 205)

Eriu, a goddess connected to the land in a fashion reminiscent of the Mothers, could appear as a beautiful woman or as a crow, as could the Morrigan. The Disir appeared in similar guises. In addition to being battle goddesses, they are significantly associated with fate as well as birth in many cases, along with appearing before a death or to escort the deceased.

There is certainly evidence that the concept of a raven goddess of battle was not limited to the Irish Celts. An inscription found in France which reads Cathubodva, ‘Battle Raven’, shows that a similar concept was at work among the Gaulish Celts.

Valkyries in Norse cosmology. Both use magic to cast fetters on warriors and choose who will die.

During the Second Battle, the Morrigan “said she would go and destroy Indech son of De Domnann and ‘deprive him of the blood of his heart and the kidneys of his valor’, and she gave two handfuls of that blood to the hosts. When Indech later appeared in the battle, he was already doomed.” (Rees 36)

Compare this to the Washer at the Ford, another guise of the Morrigan. The Washer is usually to be found washing the clothes of men about to die in battle. In effect, she is choosing who will die.

An early German spell found in Merseburg mentions the Indisi, who decided the fortunes of war and the fates of warriors. The Scandinavian “Song of the Spear”, quoted in “Njals Saga”, gives a detailed description of Valkyries as women weaving on a grisly loom, with severed heads for weights, arrows for shuttles, and entrails for the warp. As they worked, they exulted at the loss of life that would take place. “All is sinister now to see, a cloud of blood moves over the sky, the air is red with the blood of men, and the battle women chant their song.” (Davidson 94)

An Old English poem, “Exodus”, refers to ravens as choosers of the slain. In all these sources, ravens, choosing of the slain, casting fetters, and female beings are linked.

“As the Norse and English sources show them to us, the walkurjas are figures of awe an even terror, who delight in the deaths of men. As battlefield scavengers, they are very close to the ravens, who are described as waelceasega, “picking over the dead”…” (Our Troth)

“The function of the goddess [the Morrigan] here, it may be noted, is not to attack the hero [Cu Chulainn] with weapons but to render him helpless at a crucial point in the battle, like the valkyries who cast ‘fetters’ upon warriors … thus both in Irish and Scandinavian literature we have a conception of female beings associated with battle, both fierce and erotic.” (Davidson 97, 100)

The Morrigan and Cu Chulainn She appeared to the hero Cu Chulainn(son of the god Lugh) and offered her love to him. When he failed to recognize her and rejected her, she told him that she would hinder him when he was in battle. When Cu Chulainn was eventually killed, she settled on his shoulder in the form of a crow. Cu’s misfortune was that he never recognized the feminine power of sovereignty that she offered to him.

She appeared to him on at least four occasions and each time he failed to recognize her.

  1. When she appeared to him and declared her love for him.
  2. After he had wounded her, she appeared to him as an old hag and he offered his blessings to her, which caused her to be healed.
  3. On his way to his final battle, he saw the Washer at the Ford, who declared that she was washing the clothes and arms of Cu Chulainn, who would soon be dead.
  4. When he was forced by three hags (the Morrigan in her triple aspect) to break a taboo of eating dogflesh.

Encyclopedia Mythica

The Morrigu

 by J. Laskey 

She haunts you in your dreams

When you wake you can’t even scream

You hear the wind in the midnight sky

Upon which the Morrigu shall fly

She is justice and everything right

Look out for more than dreams tonight…

Between both worlds the crow awaits

This perfect twist of fate Life or death, living or dead

You can’t escape the places you’ve tread

Mark my words, make no mistake

It’s only everything she will take…

Morrigan’s Image Representation

“The Mare-Queen” is often shown as a black raven or hooded crow, who feeds on the killed warriors after battle. She appears also as a caillech, one-eyed old woman. As a shape shifter, she would often appear as a raven or red cow. But sometimes when she is hot and looking for love she is also an attractive young lady.

Morrigan’s Role

The origins of the Morrígan seem to reach directly back to the megalithic cult of the Mothers. The Mothers (Matrones, Idises, Dísir, etc.) usually appeared as triple goddesses and their cult was expressed through both battle ecstasy and regenerative ecstasy.

The Morrigu is prophetess of all misfortune in battle and has knowledge of the fate of humanity. She is also the messenger of death as the dark lady/washer at the ford : Morrigan is seen washing bloody laundry prior to battle by those destined to die.

Her personality is associated with the sometimes frightening aspects of female energy.

As a protectress she empowers an individual to confront challenges with great personal strength, even against seemingly overwhelming odds. Roman chroniclers reported that Celts went into battle naked, exposing tattoos to summon their magical forces.

Morrigan’s Signs & Symbols

Sacred animal: Cow and Mare, Raven and Crow

Ford of a river

The Colors RED and BLACK.

Weapons like spears,swords and shields.

Blood

Blackthorn

Additional Information on Morrigan

Attributes: archetypal Goddess of war, death and passionate love.

Representation: as a black raven or crow, who feeds on the killed warriors after battle.

Relations: Wife or Lover of Dagda, Daughter of

Offerings: Blood sacrifice

“Shrine of the Forgotten Goddesses”