Tag Archives: Celtic

First Harvest

This is not, I think, what the ancestors intended.

Just sitting in my backyard, drinking a glass of lemonade, on the first reasonably cool morning I’ve seen in a while, and simply watching the world go by, is not exactly what I think of when the celtic festival of Lughnasadh comes to mind.

I’ve always thought of it as more of a “working holiday”, with everyone busting ass to bring in the first grains of the season, performing all the mechanical alchemy that turns raw grain into flour, and then the truly ‘High Magic’ that renders freshly baked bread unto a formerly barren world.  Meanwhile, those not otherwise engaged in the sacred rites of food preparation begin to gather in the newly clear fields, to compete with each other in contests of strength, endurance and athletic finesse.

To be fair though, my particular ancestors never had to deal with Texas heat.

And they knew what they were contributing to their community, they could see, touch, feel and even taste the things they produced.  A celebration of the first harvest was a culmination of their own efforts and the benevolence of the land upon which they worked their lives.

For many of us, in this age, the day to day yield of our efforts is a little more difficult to see.

First Harvest?

We can sit on a cool morning under the shade of the oaks, looking through the blooming echinacea, out over the cats playing in the grass and the birds taking turns at the feeder, past the workshop which is nearing completion and out to the stands of honeysuckle which are consuming the white trellis I built for them.  The bushes in the back need trimming (again) and the mosquitoes are buzzing, but there’s always something needs doing and there are always those moments, however brief, when we can choose to let those chores and distractions go for a while, and just savor the moment for what it is.

A celebration of everything that brought you this far.

I wish a joyous Lughnasadh to you all.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Modern Life, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

Fan the Flames

The gods of our ancestors are everywhere around us, though we barely know them.

Their sacred places have vanished, or become ruins, overgrown and crumbling curiosities of a bygone age.  Their sacred names are misremembered and mispronounced, uttered without the reverence and caution that should attend the power which those syllables invoke.  Their sacred stories…,

The stories we have, the myths, the legends, are but fragments of a once rich tapestry, burned almost completely away now, by time and forgetfulness.

For those of us who are driven to seek out the old ways, there is but scant evidence of the gods left to be found in this world.

We pour over the bits that we can still find, while sifting through surviving folk traditions and songs, looking for anything we might have missed.  We speculate and we argue about the fragments we do uncover.  How do they go together?  What do they mean?

And still, for all that effort, we seem to know more about the lives of the Dinosaurs, who at least had the courtesy to die and leave their fossilized remains for us to dig from the Earth.

Let us speak now, of one such nearly forgotten god.


Sometimes called Oghma the Honey-Tongued – because he is a god of eloquence, a master of poetry, and the father of writing.

Sometimes called Oghma with the Sun’s Countenance – because he is a solar deity, or because he exhibits a divinely radiant aspect, or because he likes to cause trouble in academic circles and he knew that taking on a Sun related nickname was a sure way to get people writing papers.

We know that he is the brother of the Dagda, the husband of Étan, and that he has at least two sons.  We know that he is one of the Champions of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of Ireland, and that his strength is second to only one among their number.

We know that he fought in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, and that he died there, or that he didn’t.  The stories have it both ways.

The Irish gods do have a nasty habit of dying in one story and showing up again in some later tale.  Which may have something to do with the impermanence of death when it comes to the gods.  But more than likely, it has to do with the fact that these stories were written down by Christian monks who were trying to…,

…who were trying to…,

…we really don’t know.

We haven’t a clue as to exactly what these guys were trying to accomplish.

We do not know their true motivations or what they may have changed along the way.

We don’t know how well they knew the stories themselves, or why they chose these particular stories to preserve.

Is Oghma really just a flagstone flipping superman with a sunny disposition and a way with words?  Can that possibly have been all that the mythology of the ancient Irish had to say about him?  Or were there stories upon stories, now lost and forgotten because they didn’t fit whatever criteria the monks used to determine what should be saved and what should be let go.

Or were they written down and then lost again.

We may never know.

We owe these unknown monks a vast debt of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean we should put too much trust in them.

Let us take a side trip out of Ireland and into the ancient forests of Gaul where another god, or maybe the same god, named Ogmios, once roamed.

He too, was a god of great strength, usually portrayed as a Gaulish Heracles.  But, unlike the Greek Hero, Ogmios is also said to have been a god of great eloquence, who’s power of persuasion was so strong that silver chains dangled between his wagging tongue and hooks embedded into the ears of his every listener.  As a consequence, every mortal within the range of his voice would joyfully gather close to do his bidding.

The little we know of Ogmios comes to us through a handful of Gaulish inscriptions and from a brief description by the 2nd Century Greek satirist Lucian, a fellow who lived long after the Gauls had been conquered, and one not overly sympathetic to the gods of his own people, much less those of long dead foreign barbarians.



As I said at the start, his holy places are gone, his name misremembered, and his stories are, at best, the stuff of rumor and speculation.

His priesthood however…, his priesthood is as powerful as ever, and it has never waned.

Just don’t look for them among the folks who actually believe in him.

His priests and priestesses are those who write and who speak in a voice we can still hear long after we are parted from them.  They speak to us across the depths of time (think of Shakespeare or Clemens), and they move us with their words even today, when words seem to have so little value.

Only a few nights ago, as I sat with a few hundred others, and listened to Neil Gaiman reading from his stories and poems, and answering questions in a thoughtful, ever friendly manner, I could see in my minds eye, those thin silver chains growing link by delicate link, could feel the hooks sliding deep into my own ears, and I knew that, though he believes the Gods are things created by story, he is every bit the vessel of their power.

Later, reading through his introduction to his latest volume, a retelling of selected myths of Norse Mythology, I found this bit:

“We have lost so much…I wish I could retell the tales of Eir, because she was the doctor of the gods, of Lofn, the comforter, who was the Norse goddess of marriages, or of Sjofn, a goddess of love.  Not to mention Vor, goddess of wisdom.  I can imagine stories, but I cannot tell their tales.  They are lost, or buried, or forgotten.”   —Neil Gaiman

We who believe in the gods of our fathers know that particular feeling all too well.

We were born to find the stories, to tell them, to share in their wisdom, and to bask in their glow.  These things are as much a part of worship as any ritual or prayer.

But the previous generations have not been kind to us, and all that are left to us are the last fading embers of a once great fire.

And yet even that can be light enough, if we are careful.

We must learn what we can from the old stories.

But we must be willing to play with them as well, to prod and poke them until the hint of fire within begins to glow stronger through agitation and exposure to the air.

And we must be open to invention.  It is through Imbas that we allow the gods to speak through us, to fan the flames of creativity and to tell their stories in our voices, for new generations.

It is long past time to fan the flames.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Mythology, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

It would be so easy…,

The sun sets and the fire is kindled.
It would be so easy to feel alone.

I think of my friends and family,
Of confidants and strangers countless,
And I know that for so many of them,
This is just another sunset, another night,
And my energies, to them, seem wasted,

It would be so easy to feel alone,
If not for the fire.

All over the world these fires burn,
Each connected to the others,
One shared light against the darkness,
The warmth I feel against my skin,
Is the growing heat between young lovers,
The sparks which leap and crackle,
Bring wonder to the face of a child.

Separated by miles,
Yet close enough to touch,
All of them.

On this night and thousands more,
Both past and yet to be,
I feel them,
Generations of us,
Basking in the same flickering light.

I think of my friends and family,
Of confidants and strangers countless,
And I know that on this night,
It would be so easy,
For them,
To feel alone.


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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Poetry, Religion, Traditions

The Final Treasure

This is a time of endings and beginnings, a ‘thin’ moment in the turning of the year when death becomes life, and past becomes future.  It is a time of short campfire stories meant to raise gooseflesh, and for sombre reflection upon the grand themes which shape our existence.

Allow me a moment to set the scene:

In an age long before the first mortal man set foot upon the Emerald Isle, there were four great cities hidden across an impassable sea, far to the north and west of that land.

It was in these cities that an ancient race of gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann honed their great skills before taking to the sea, riding within a great mist, and settling finally upon the shores of Ireland.

And when they came out of that otherworldly realm, they brought with them four great treasures – objects of such power that, in their absence, each of the great cities crumbled into the sea, even as our own mortal world was forever changed with their arrival.

The Sword,

The Spear,

The Cauldron,

The Stone.

When I first began writing here, in April of 2012, I considered the Four Treasures to be of only limited consequence.  That I named this blog after the fourth of those treasures, The Stone of Destiny, had less to do with what the Stone represents, than with my belief that in visiting the Hill of Tara upon which the Stone is said to rest, I had reached a major turning point in my life – the ending of one journey and the beginning of another.

In the intervening years, I have found that the process of writing things down brings with it a clarity that I hadn’t known I was missing.  Years spent studying comparative mythology, symbolism, folk tales and spirituality was meaningless until I began to use what I’ve learned as a lens through which to view my own life, and the world around me.  The process of writing has revealed connections between fable and form that I had not previously recognized.

And as I have wrestled with my understanding of the gods, who are sometimes near enough to touch, and sometimes incredibly distant…,

And as I have cast my nets again and again, seeking that ever elusive Salmon of Knowledge who always seems to be swimming just out of reach…,

I find that my thoughts turn again and again to the four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and I begin to see that they are more than just the magical tools of the gods that the stories make them out to be.

In fact, I have begun to believe that their power is in many ways greater than that of the gods, although, unlike either gods or men, the Treasures have no power to act on their own.

It was not until November of last year that I felt confident enough in my thinking to write down my thoughts regarding the Third Treasure – the Undry Cauldron of the Dagda.

As for the Sword and the Spear…, I had hoped to write down my thoughts concerning them both before now, but each time I try they dance just out of reach.  Their purpose seems so obvious, and much has been written already by people with greater scholarship than I on the subject of magical weapons.  But I feel as though there are connections there which run deeper, and which I have not seen clearly enough yet to speak of.

And as for the Final Treasure…,

I have only just realized that I’ve been talking about nothing but else from the very beginning!

The stories that have been passed down to us say that it is simply a stone of coronation.  In these tales, when the rightful king of Ireland comes into contact with its surface, the stone will roar with a sound that echoes across the countryside for all to hear.

Which is no small thing, but easy enough to dismiss in this modern age when monarchs are few and democracies (at least in principal – if not in practice) are the rule of the day.

But I have recently come to believe that there is much more to the Stone than its functioning as some kind of magical ‘king detector’.  Not when the other Treasures are so much more powerful.

Before the Tuatha Dé Danann brought the Stone with them out of the wreckage of fair Failias, its master was a great teacher known as Morfessa, a name which means “grand knowledge”.

When the Dé Danann arrived in Ireland, the Stone was not bequeathed to any single god, as was the case with the Sword, the Spear, and the Cauldron, but was installed at the Hill of Tara, which served for both gods and men as the political and spiritual center of the island until well into the Christian era.

The Stone of Destiny.

The Stone of Grand Knowledge.

The Stone is not an object of myth.

The Stone is Mythology.

It is that special realm of understanding that does not make the common mistake of conflating truth and fact.  For most people in this modern age, dominated as we are by the twin monotheisms of Abrahamic Dogma and Rationalist Thought, it is truly a foreign shore.

And yet, the more I watch the people around me, the more I listen to them, I am convinced that there is a great yearning in the human spirit, to find those fields again.

People have been taught, as I was, that mythology is the stuff of lies.

If an idea is not found within the covers of a certain holy book…,

If it is not reproducible within a laboratory setting…,

It must be a deception, to be avoided, or laughed at, or simply ignored.

People have an inborn yearning for mythology and they have been taught to avoid all the roads that would lead them there.  Folks have become so used to the blinders that they wear that they don’t even realize there is an entire perspective that they are not even seeing.  And when they do catch a glimpse, it’s like a whole new world opened up for them – which is exactly what has happened.

I’ve been lucky enough to see that transformation happen within a tiny handful of people, and it is, every time, a joy to behold.  And maybe I’m greedy, but I want to see it again and again.  And I want to see it on a bigger scale.

And I don’t think a handful of blogs is going to do it.  Neither will the occasional Pagan Pride Day in the park, or the yearly spat of “What do the Pagans do on Halloween” stories on the local news channel.

I think the answer is in the mythology itself, it’s in hearing the voices and seeing the faces of regular people who experience the connection between the ancient and the modern within their daily lives, and in hearing the tales told with a passion and belief that most have never experienced outside of a Sunday church service.

That is something that I don’t think I can do alone, with a once-a-week blog post.  And that is why I’ll be suspending my regular writing schedule for the time being.

But I’m still going to be around, and I’ll post here again just as soon as the spirit takes me.

In the meantime, I’m going to be looking for the means and the skills and the voices to make something happen.  I’ll be reaching out to people in the coming months, but if you’ve got any ideas that you’d like to contribute, or if you have questions, please oh please, feel free to contact me in the comments!

Finally, I could not close without a heartfelt Thank You to everyone who has supported me this little endeavor of mine, to those who come back again and again to read these musings, and to those who have, over the last forty-two months, taken the time to leave me comment.  I could not have come this far without you all.

Slán go fóill (bye for now).

Tools of the Trade


Filed under About this Blog, Celtic Polytheism, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Truth in Spirit or Blood?

Within certain segments of the Neo-Pagan community there is a deeply held belief that perception is reality.  I have myself, on occasion, expressed this idea in the pages of this blog.  There are many roots which supply nourishment to this belief, perhaps the most important of which is that the core of almost any magical practice is the alteration of consciousness and reality in accordance with the will of the practitioner.

However foundational this belief may be in magical theory, one is far more likely to find it actually practiced within the various Pagan Forums and Chat-Rooms that populate this, our worldwide web.  Just pick a thread, wait for someone to make an outrageous claim (it won’t take long), call them on it, and see how quickly you are flayed alive by the crowd.

Perception CAN be reality, but it can just as easily be a lie.  The gods are renowned shape-shifters, the mind is susceptible to wishful thinking, and perception often shifts with a change in perspective.  If we are to accept perception as reality we must make an effort to demonstrate that truth in the face of the reality which other perceive.

And now I’ve used a dirty word – truth.

The concept of truth scares the crap out of certain people because they live in constant fear that they will be oppressed through the tyranny of a shared reality.  If some things are true and others are not, than statements like “believe what you want” and “do what you feel is right” lose their power.

So let us examine what may be a relevant example from my own past, before we move on to current events.

I was engaged once, to a lovely young woman whom I had been seeing exclusively for a year or so.  She was funny and smart and beautiful to me in a way that made my heart sing whenever I looked at her.

Probably, it was all this arterial crooning that distracted me from some very real warning signs that things were not going to work out for us in the long run.  Looking back on it years later, there were several things that made me go, “hmmm,” but the one that comes to mind at this particular moment, was the thing with the Rabbi.

The Thing with the Rabbi.

We were still in the very early stages of planning our nuptials and there were a few very basic questions we needed to get out of the way early on.

Who would conduct the ceremony, was one such question.

I’m a polytheist worshipper of Celtic gods.  My family is primarily composed of Catholics.  And there was her immediate family of lapsed Presbyterians.  So there were several possible directions from which to approach the issue.

“Well, we’re going to need a Rabbi,” she said in a serious tone.

I remember searching her face, looking for the mocking humor that often bubbled just beneath the surface.  “Why would we need a Rabbi?”

“Ummm,” exasperation, “because I’m Jewish!”

Oh gods, it was this again.  I’d actually forgotten.

We never really talked much about religion.  Neither she, nor her parents, attended services, even on holidays.  She did not express an interest in religious topics when they came up in conversation.  For all intents and purposes, she appeared to be agnostic.

Occasionally, however, she’d claim to be Jewish.

She had told me about a family friend, one of her mothers old schoolmates, who was Jewish.  Through years of observation she had picked up the same accent, which she would pull out from time to time, along with a few key words and mannerisms, to demonstrate her Jewishness.

It was like watching Mike Myers doing his old SNL Coffee Talk skit.  She’d suddenly lapse into this outlandish character and have us all rolling in laughter.

Coffee Talk

And at first, I thought there was nothing more to it than that.

But then, every once in a while, she would drop some comment into a conversation, referring either to Holocaust, or to a more general discrimination against “her people”, and it was always very personal to her, and not simply an expression of empathetic feeling toward an often persecuted minority.

It didn’t happen often, and when we first started dating, I just assumed that she was Jewish.  I mean, she got really excited by Christmas while never displaying a menorah, and her diet certainly wasn’t kosher, but what does any of that really prove?

By the time I’d slipped that engagement ring onto her finger, I knew better.  But still, it was such an infrequent dip into a harmless fantasy…,  It seemed like nothing I should be worried about.

“I thought you were raised Presbyterian, isn’t that what your mother said?”

“Oh yeah, but I converted years ago, I told you.”

“Okay, but you have to take classes for that right?” I asked, “Because I am absolutely on board with having a Rabbi involved, but I think one of us is going to have to be, you know, officially Jewish, for that to happen.”

“….” (annoyed glare)

“Is there a particular Rabbi we should be talking to, or a specific Synagogue you had in mind?”

“…” (just staring off into space now)

And there, suddenly, in the back of my mind, I could see this little guy franticly waving a big red flag.  Needless to say, I’d see more of him as time went on.

She perceived herself as Jewish, and she could have been, if she’d done the work necessary to alter reality.

Simple belief wasn’t enough.

Truth got in the way.

A Simple Matter of Black or White.

So if you have kept up with the news at all in the past several days, you must know that I have been leading us, after my own fashion, to the case of Rachel Dolezal.

News sites and social media started working overtime last week, when it was learned that Dolezal, who heads a chapter of the NAACP and who has listed her race as African American on multiple forms and biographies, was born of two caucasian parents.

On the surface, it seems like a simple story: Crazy white woman pretends to be black.

But the truth, on this occasion, is just a bit more complex.

Rachel Dolezal

However white her parents may have been, she was raised with four adopted brothers who were themselves, African-American.  Furthermore, everything that I have read about this woman suggests that she has spent her life subsumed in African-American culture, becoming a community leader, an academic expert, and a voice of advocacy within the black community.

But is that enough?

Does active participation in a community and self identification with a particular culture trump the simple fact of her genetic makeup?  And if not, if the racial signature in her blood is more important than the work she has done to integrate herself into that particular culture, then by what criteria do we determine race?

Prior to the American Civil War, one was legally considered to be of mixed race if a full quarter of his ancestry was non-white.

In the 20’s, the “One-Drop Rule” began to appear in legislation around the American South.

And let us not ignore those voices within the African-American community who have criticized people like President Barak Obama, for not being “black enough” despite a very obvious and well documented African ancestry.

What is race, and does it have any significance in the face of culture?

My own ancestry is largely Celtic (Irish and Welsh), but the content of my blood would mean nothing if I did not strive to find a Celtic identity within myself.  The Celts were a people of many races, linked together by commonalities in language, history and belief, a culture that stretched from Asia Minor to the British Isles, and which survives still today, in places like Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man.

I believe that something of that culture survives in me as well.

But wishful thinking isn’t enough.  It takes work and study to really BE something in this world.

We have no control over the content of our blood, but the content of our spirit is a different matter entirely.

Race may be expressed as a skin tone, as a checkbox on a census form, or as a means of oppression, but all these things are meaningless.

It wasn’t a subset of chromosomes that inspired the civil-rights movement, it was a culture, a community, and a spirit that was willing to do the hard work necessary to change reality to meet its own perceptions of a better world.

Is Rachel Dolezal a black woman?

I don’t know.

But if spirit along with hard work, trumps blood, as I believe it must, does it really matter?


Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy

Sacred Space: Back to the Altar

Altar Cup and Book

The Sun rises, its light breaking through the naked trees and piercing the heavy bedroom curtains I have drawn against the dawn.  The patterns of branches in a golden glow sway against the cloth, inviting me to step out into the morning, promising warmth and comfort in the dawning of a new day.

These are lies.

Yes, the lizard on his rock would tell you that the Sun’s rays are all the warmth one could ever need, if that is, he were not frozen to that rock in the 20°F air.

It’s cold out there folks!

It’s winter in Texas, and while we may not have to deal with snowplows and the like, it is too damned cold to be doing much of anything outside this morning.  And this from someone who likes the cold, and abhors the sweltering heat of Summer that all my friends and neighbors are already crying out for the return of.

The winter chill, drives us indoors and away from any outdoor project that is not of critical importance.  And so, by necessity, my backyard temple/shrine project has been very much on the back-burner these past several weeks.


Oh sure, there are things I could be doing – out there.  But I want this project to be a ‘labor of love’ and quite honestly, I find no benevolent inspiration in the numbing of my fingers.

Also, there is the small matter of a recently cracked rib.  Which is, itself, another story and entirely beside the point I was trying to make.

It is enough to say that the cold weather does exactly what it is supposed to do.  It drives us home, and to the sacred hearth, if we have one.

If my small house had a fireplace, it would be dressed as the primary place of worship – the very heart of the home.

Altar Cernunnos

Lacking that, I have instead, a small altar – the expression of Sacred Space within my home.

It is spare, at the moment, in reflection of the Winter season.

It changes in design and content with the passing of each Celtic feast day.

The altar will begin to bloom again with the coming of Imbolc.  It will grow wild and chaotic in Beltane’s passing, and will take on rich, golden hues when Lughnasadh holds sway.

Altar Base

With Samhain, comes the season of closure, of sleep, and of the sacred balance between the light of life and warmth, and the darkness and the cold that lie just beyond.

There is no particular arrangement to my altar.  The sacred geometry of that space reveals itself to me each season, as I dress it anew.  Next winter, it will doubtless look very different, than it does today.

Altar Morrigan

There are some constants of course…,

There are the images of the primary gods and goddesses of my worship…,

There is the great book, where I will record the myths and traditions that shape my belief…,

A cup, for libations and sacrifice…,

A candle against the darkness…,

A sphere of gold-sheen obsidian, to represent the blackest night, and the promise of light that hides even there…,

And, of course, there is the sickle, Druids’ blade and harvest tool, its razor crescent turned outward in warning, because the harvest is done, and this is the season when the Earth bites back!

Altar Geometry

All this, and more, set upon a heavy wooden frame.  Totem and tool, symbol and sacrifice, a physical expression of the sacred, as warming to me as a roaring fire.

It is a place to go, when driven inward by the cold.

The deceitful Sun is moving higher into the air now, and I have much yet to do, this day.  Some of those errands will drive me out into that hard, bright chill, and I will bring the warmth of the gods with me into the day, and then back again.

Back to the altar.


This is the sixth post in a series following my progress (or often, lack thereof) in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.


Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Religion, Sacred Space, Spiritual Journey

The Third Treasure

The Sword,

The Spear,

The Cauldron,

The Stone,

They were called the “Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann” because they were brought into our world by those ancient gods who arrived in Ireland in a time before the first mortal men would walk its shores.

Each of the Treasures came from a shining city somewhere in the north of the world.  Those cities are gone now, abandoned by children of the Goddess Danu, although no tale survives to tell us why.  Perhaps there was some cataclysm which forced the Dé Danann to emigrate to our humble realm, bringing the Treasures with them.  Perhaps it was the action of removing these sacred relics from their former homes that brought those fabled cities to ruin.

When I first began to explore the mythology of my ancestors, I largely ignored the Four Treasures, favoring instead the stories of the gods and heroes themselves.  With time and study, however, I have come to see the Treasures are far more than just magical tools which make occasional appearances in the lore.

I think that if the divine cities of Failias, Gorias, Findias, and Murias ever existed, and if they did indeed fall, it was through the agency of the Four Treasures and their departure from that world, into this.  And our world was changed, bent, altered in some fundamental way, upon their arrival here.

Cauldron Sculpture

Sword • Spear • Cauldron • Stone

In the mythology of the Irish, the Cauldron belonged to the Dagda, the Good God, who was the father of his mighty tribe.  The Dagda was wise beyond measure, a warrior of unparalleled strength, and a craftsmen of surpassing skill.  And like any good father figure, he was a provider for his family.

The great cauldron he carried was the instrument of his providence.  In some stories, it is said that no man could walk away from that vessel unsatisfied.  In others, it is said that it would provide sustenance to all in equal measure to their worth.  But in any case, the cauldron was a font of nourishment.

In the mythology of ancient Greece, there are tales of the Cornucopia, the horn of the goddess of abundance, broken off by the infant Zeus in his exuberance, and overflowing with all the bounty of the harvest.  The Cornucopia, the horn of plenty borne by yet another father-god, is a symbol well remembered at this time of year, although I suspect that most of those who display this symbol in their Thanksgiving decor, do not remember its divine associations.

And there are more stories still.

The Cauldron has many names and many owners, but always it is a source of life, abundance, and rejuvenation.  And if in some stories the Cauldron provides sustenance for those who hunger, it shouldn’t be surprising that it may provide life for the dead who are placed within its hallow sphere.

The Third Treasure is, above all things, the vessel of life.

Swords • Wands • Cups • Coins

Not long ago, the mythology of the Celtic tribes began to fade away.  The gods retreated into slumber, or watchful silence, or perhaps they simply wandered among other people in other lands for a time.

A new religion and a new mythology swept out from the East, to dominate the hearts and minds of the people.  A doctrine of personal salvation pushed aside the old communion between the spirits of man and tribe and land.

But even as the people forgot the old ways, the symbolism endured beyond fickle human memory.  We forgot the old stories and invented new ones, but the Treasures remain, whatever origin we choose to invent for them.

And the Cauldron of the Dagda becomes the Sangréal, the Cup of Christ.

And its powers remain the same.

The merest sip of its contents is said to sate the starving and cure the dying.  The holy chalice is said to have held the blood of a dying god, making of it a conduit between the mortal and the immortal.  The cup is both things, at once, and as such, is equally capable of bringing the light of divine inspiration to those who catch even a glimpse of it, while reducing rich farmland to a barren waste, if treated improperly.

The Third Treasure is, above all things, the vessel of life.

And the cup which dispenses life, may withhold it in equal measure.

How could it be otherwise?

Spades • Clubs • Hearts • Diamonds

The Four Treasures were brought to our world in a time long before memory.

Perhaps it really was the Tuatha Dé Danann who carried them to us, from cities more beautiful than we could ever imagine.  Perhaps it was the gods of the Greeks, or the one worshipped by the twelve tribes of Israel and their descendants.  Maybe all the stories are true (as they tend to be), or none of them.

I don’t know.

What I believe is that the Treasures came to our world, and they changed it.

And they changed us.

I have read a few interpretations of the old stories that would suggest that the Cauldron exists within us.  I don’t know if the ancients believed that, but it makes a kind of sense to me.

The Third Treasure is, above all things, the vessel of life.

And what better description could there be for the human heart?

The heart dispenses the stuff of life to the whole of our bodies.  It has the power to inspire us to great deeds and to light the fires of love within us.  Sometimes, when all the world seems arrayed against us, it is only through the power of a determined heart that we are sustained.

We are nourished by the heart within us, and the many hearts we encounter in our life journey.

But we must be cautious.

The lore warns us that the objects of the gods are perilous in the wrong hands.  The heart that warms and sustains us one moment, may make a desert of our life in the next.  The human heart has its own mythology, but its power remains the same, and the cup which dispenses life, may withhold it in equal measure.

Heart, Cup and Cauldron: The Third Treasure of the Tuatha Dé Danann is weighing heavily on my mind come this week of Thanksgiving.  I will write about the other three Treasures in due time, but for now I ask that you be mindful of that sacred vessel within you.  The power of the gods beats within your chest, and through it you may nourish the hungry and quench the thirst of the most parched wanderer.

Or you may withhold its power and make of your life a desert that stretches beyond the limits of your sight.

Such is the power of the Third Treasure.

Such is the power in you.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Ireland, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Silver Hand

The room is darkened, with only a single candle burning upon my altar.

I close my eyes.

My breathing deepens and slows.

I allow the unruly thoughts of a busy mind to drift away like leaves in a stream.

The flow of the stream is gentle, the water almost silent as it glides past.

And in that silence, there is distant birdsong and the whine of passing insects.

In a room, in the dark, my eyes remain closed, my body relaxed.

In another place my eyes are open and my body is in motion.

I know this stream, this river.  I have walked here before.

The water swirls past me, downstream, as I walk carefully toward the source.

The ground along the riverbank is rough in places, and I want to be careful.

The least misstep could tumble me out of this quiet meditation.

I hold my worries out and drop them like pebbles into the calm water as I pass.

The ripples expand across the surface of the water.

They dissipate and vanish behind me.

The walk is going well.

More often than not, I topple and wake.

Or I falter under the weight of thoughts and concerns I could not leave behind.

Tonight I stroll along the riverbank and my pace is steady and true.

I breathe and I walk.

Following the river back through time and memory brings me to the well.

And now I stand on the outside of a ring of trees.

Nine mighty hazelnut trees have stood sentry here since before time began.

Finding the space to slip between these great trunks is no easy task.

Root and bough, they bar my way.

Frustration threatens to cast me back into darkness.

I gaze up into the sunlight which passes through the towering cage of branches.

That’s the key – become the light!

I pass through the boundaries between ignorance and knowing.

And find myself standing, at last, on the edge of the well.

This is the center, the beginning, the source of life and truth.

I look deep into those dark waters and there is movement within.

The Salmon of Knowledge is feeding again.

I crouch at the edge of that sacred pool.

I reach out…,

And there is a flash of metal on the mirrored surface.

A silver hand, gestures in warning, waving me away from the water.

I should have remembered.

Among even the gods, only Nuada and his cupbearers may visit this well.

Nuada, the first and fallen king of the Tuatha Dé Danann…,

Disfigured and made whole again, with an arm of pure silver…,

And maybe that is why he alone may touch these waters.

Not with flesh, but with the silver hand.

I can feel myself slipping now.

My journey has been for naught, a fools errand.

The wisdom held in this pool is not for me to have.

The vision is slipping away now.

I bow my head in despair, holding my face in my hands.

And in the moment before I wake, I feel cool metal resting against my cheek.

I open my eyes and the room is dark.

A single candle burns upon my altar.

In the dim circle of light it casts, I see an empty place that needs filling.

I will be looking for a new token to hold his place among the gods I honor.

I will be looking for the Silver Hand.

The Silver Hand


Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Mythology, Poetry, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Leprechaun Elvis

I was finishing up my last couple hours of work this last Friday, already mentally checked out and embarking on a rare weekend off, when one of my fellow employees dropped this particular nugget of wisdom…,

“There are no African Americans in this country, except for those who have come here and earned their citizenship within their lifetime.”

So I let him stand there for a moment, all proud of himself, and then I asked, “so, you are also saying that there are no Mexican Americans, or Chinese Americans, or Irish Americans?”

His answer: “Yeah, if they’ve been here for a hundred years, then no.”

Huh, I guess the next time I visit San Francisco, I’ll swing by Chinatown and let them know.  They are all just Americans, the same as everyone else, and it’s about time they started acting like it.


I remember being taught about our national heritage in grade school.

We learned how all those varied heritages — African and Middle Eastern, Asian and Slavic, Irish and German — they were merely ingredients for the great “Melting Pot”, the goal of which, as far as I could tell, was to distill away everything that was special and unique about them until all that was left was ‘American Culture’.

Or, as I would argue it, ‘until nothing was left at all’.

And the old “Melting Pot” has been very successful in its work.  So many people in this country seem to have no greater connection to their ancestors than the seemingly arbitrary arrangement of letters that make up their last name.

And yet, for all that, my pontificating young associate is as wrong as he could be.

I spent most of this Saturday among fellow Irish Americans (and Scots and others besides) at the North Texas Irish Festival, held yearly in Dallas’ Fair Park.

Like many other ethnic communities in this nation, the survivors of the Celtic Diaspora have learned that in order to survive in the face of the accursed melting pot, you have got to market yourselves to the masses.

And so we have Leprechaun Elvis, ambassador of all things green and kitschy, and I don’t know what we would do without him.

And he's holding a hunk, a hunk of green-clad pup!

And he’s holding a hunk, a hunk of green-clad pup!

Some may choose to cringe at all the plastic bric-á-brac lining the shelves of a show like this, but to do so is to court disaster.  Interspersed among booth after booth of Guinness T-Shirts, are crafts people fighting to keep alive the arts of weaving, crochet lace making, ceramics, and weapon smithing.  Here and there you will find gathered those dedicated to the preservation of the Irish language, history, and mythology.  And it would be hard to overlook the musicians and dancers who flock to such an event, hoping to grow their audience, and the audience for Celtic music in general, beyond our own limited community.

The North Texas Irish Festival brings you only the best Celt-Inspired memorabilia and deep-fried everything.

The North Texas Irish Festival brings you only the best Celt-Inspired memorabilia and deep-fried everything.

This years theme was "Erin Go Bark" with special attention being paid to the many wonderful dog breeds of Ireland.  As always the North Caledonian Pipes and Drums (right) were on hand to keep things 'regimental'.

This years theme was “Erin Go Bark” with special attention being paid to the many wonderful dog breeds of Ireland. As always the North Caledonian Pipes and Drums (right) were on hand to keep things ‘regimental’.

Dozens of Celtic musical groups were on hand including one of my favorites 'The Town Pants', hailing from far Vancouver, Canada.

Dozens of Celtic musical groups were on hand including one of my favorites ‘The Town Pants’, bringing their own brand of ‘West Coast Celtic’ from far Vancouver, Canada.

And so I raise my glass…, ummm…, my plastic cup, and I salute you, Leprechaun Elvis.

May we meet again under sunny March skies!

No matter how great a time you are having, eventually you are still gonna be like this little guy - one tired pup.  Sláinte!

No matter how great a time you are having, or how awesome the company, eventually you are still gonna be like this little guy – one tired pup. Sláinte!

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Filed under Culture, Ireland, Modern Life, Photography

Let me try again:

We all have rituals.  They are the actions, the words and the thoughts that, through repetition, become the markers against which we judge our progress through life.

Most of these rituals are just the little day to day things that we never even really stop to consider.  We might call them habits, if we bothered to notice them at all.

Some few rituals come more rarely, monthly perhaps, or even yearly.  Not all of them are pleasant, (who likes doctors visits or doing their taxes?), but if we are lucky, there may be more of these occasions that we look forward to with longing, than those which we dread.

As I write this we are just about a week away from Lá Fhéile Bríde, which is the modern Irish name for ‘The Day of Brighid’.  It is the Celtic celebration, more commonly known in Pagan circles as Imbolc, which falls on or about February 1st.

I have a number of rituals which are associated with this particular celebration that I could share with you.  I could write about the symbolic relighting of the hearth fire, my offerings to the goddess of free verse and raw milk, or the reading of the omens in land and sky.

These are all important rituals to me, although I am better about keeping some than others.  There is one very personal ritual which I associate with Imbolc that I look forward to more than any other.

Ever year, as the calendar turns to February, I watch a movie.

I watch my favorite movie.

Because, I can think of no better way to celebrate Lá Fhéile Bríde, which the ancients called Imbolc and the Christians renamed Candlemas, than with a repeat viewing of ‘Groundhog Day’.


Now, I could say, at this point, that the American celebration of Groundhog Day is, in itself, a faint memory of the ancient Imbolc traditions that were carried into the new world by Irish and Scottish immigrants.  The links between the ancient holiday, the secular holiday and the odd-ball comedy of the same name are there, if you want to find them.  But there is seriously no need.

The movie is deeply spiritual in its own right.

I may be getting ahead of myself.

If, somehow, you are unaware of the plot, it goes like this:

Phil Conners (played by Bill Murray) is a self-centered weatherman assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Trapped there overnight by a blizzard, he awakens to find that the previous day, February 2nd, is repeating, over and over and over again.  Nothing, not even death itself, can release him from this seeming eternal hell.


The film’s director, Harold Ramis, has said that while he did not intend the movie to present any particular spiritual viewpoint, he was surprised by the variety of groups, from Buddhists to Evangelical Christians, who felt the movie spoke to them.

“So instantly people were identifying the film as ‘teaching’, and in such a parochial way, each seeing it as an expression of their own particular point of view, without recognizing that it was, in fact, a universal point of view.”

—Harold Ramis – Director

So, what do I see there that compels me to slip the disc into the DVD player year after year?

Maybe the thing that draws me back is the sly way in which an alternative understanding of deity is presented to us.  In one of my favorite scenes, Bill Murray’s character Phil is explaining to Rita, his television producer and love-interest (played by Andie MacDowell), that he is repeating the same day, again and again…,

Phil:  I’m a god.
Rita:  You’re God?
Phil:  I’m a god. I’m not “the” God… I don’t think.

To prove his point he then moves about the busy cafe in which the scene takes place, telling her things about the other diners which he should not possibly know.  When she asks him if what he is doing is “some kind of trick”, this is his response…,

“Well maybe the “real” God uses tricks, you know?  Maybe he’s not omnipotent.  He’s just been around so long he knows everything.”

Most people probably just see this as an irreverent joke, another throw-away line in a stream of one-liners, but to me it hits very close to home.

I’ve never believed in that one, omnipotent, omniscient being that so many people center their faith around.  For me, the gods are very much like us, except that they are not bound as firmly by the same physical laws which restrict our movements.  For example, I have never believed that the gods experience time in the same linear fashion as we do.  Perhaps, I have often thought, the gods exist eternally within the moment, and so are able to be, where they need to be, when they need to be there, if not everywhere at once.

Indeed, as the movie progresses through repetition after repetition, and Phil becomes more altruistic in his intentions, we witness the creation of a being, both more and less than human, effectively immortal, who through movements mostly invisible to the those around him, is able to shape the world, even as he is shaped by it.  He is the master of every skill, the knower of every secret, and yet powerless against a finality which, in this state, he himself cannot experience.


So yes, there’s a glimpse of the gods, hiding there in plain sight, but I’m drawn to this movie for other reasons as well.

Maybe it’s because it’s not just another movie about redemption.

Phil Conners is not redeemed.  He has nothing to be redeemed for.

Phil is a cynical, sarcastic, jerk.

So am I, a lot of the time.

These are not sins for which we must seek redemption.  These are character traits all too commonly found in those who are prone to self-reliance and disinclined toward being “team-players”.  We call ‘em like we see ‘em, we don’t go in for the ‘touchy-feely’, and if that makes us unpopular, well, that’s okay, because if you want something done right, you had better be glad there is someone willing to do it themselves.

Phil is not redeemed at the end of the movie.  He is renewed.

After repeating the same day over and over again for years (centuries? millennia?), he has found a way to renew himself, to turn his great strengths away from self defense and out toward his community.  He is given the chance open himself, to try again to find his proper place in the world.

It’s not really a new concept.

Some ancient cultures have been known to celebrate yearly rites of renewal as the Winter gives way, at last, to Spring.  These celebrations are seen as an opportunity to take what we have learned from the last turning of the great wheel and apply that knowledge and experience to the coming year.


I feel like I could have explained all of that more succinctly.

Let me try again:

We all have rituals…,


Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Movies, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods, Traditions