Welcome to a more or less Celtic Reconstructionist blog, where love of the Old Gods is still strong

Montag, 30. Januar 2012

2012 Pagan Reading Challenge

I've been debating for almost a month now whether to join or not to join, but curiosity finally got the better of me...

So as of today, I will be participating in the Pagan Reading Challenge! The aim is to read pagan- and witchcraft-themed books throughout the year - novels, reference books and the like.
As I plan on reading up on Celtic Reconstructionism in more detail than I have so far, the Reading Challenge might actually give me the much-needed kick in the butt to sit down and get reading.

I will continue updating this post when I've finished reading a book from the following list (bold prints = I've read it).

  • Mara Freeman. Kindling the Celtic Spirit
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley. The Forest House.
  • Neil Gaiman. American Gods.
  • The Edda. 
  • Stephanie Woodfield. Invoking the Morrighan.
  • David Rankine and Sorita D'Este. The Guises of the Morrighan.
  • A. J. Drew. Wicca for Couples - Making Magick Together.
  • Raymond Buckland. Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft.
  • Gerald Gardner. Witchcraft Today.
  • Scott Cunningham. Wicca in the Kitchen.
  • Scott Cunningham. Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

Freitag, 27. Januar 2012

Belief - Coming out of the Broom Closet

And the hills they are hollow, and home to the fae
Who dance on Midsummer’s eve
Some people don’t understand when I say
These are the things I believe.
The Hills they are Hollow – Damh the Bard

Last week, I was sitting in the pub with a friend of mine. We had exchanged belated Christmas presents a week before; she had given me a lipstick I had coveted for some time, while I had bought her a bookmark showing the Christian fish symbol, since I knew she is Christian and because she is starting to work as a teacher and is going to need devices to keep track of information.
We then came to talk about this present I gave her, and about religion in general (I should add that we only met half a year ago, so we haven’t had many deep conversations about this topic). Then, presumably because my husband is atheist, my friend asked whether I was an atheist, too.

While I am fairly certain about my faith, at first I had problems answering. In an English context, I would probably have said that I am a pagan, but the term is used too little in Germany, and I felt that I’d need too lengthy an explanation about what kind of practice this involves. For Germans, Wicca is a better-known term, let alone through TV shoes like True Blood, but a proper understanding of the term is still fairly poor, and further, I don’t see myself as a Wiccan, so using this term would not really have helped me. In the end, I resolved to simply say no, I’m not an atheist, but am still not happy with it and feel like I owe my friend a proper answer.

So for this post, I plan to sketch in rough terms what I believe and what I aspire to be. As this post is mainly intended for my friend, I will gloss over some areas; people who’d like to know more should check the references at the end of the post that will lead them to more in-depth resources.

Now to my belief. I see myself as a practitioner of a branch that is referred to as Celtic Reconstructionist (CR). The term CR refers to “a polytheistic, animistic, religious and cultural movement. It is an effort to reconstruct, within a modern Celtic cultural context, the aspects of ancient Celtic religions that were lost or subsumed by Christianity” (http://paganachd.com/faq/); so, in essence, CR is a “re-creation of ancient Celtic pre-Christian religious and cultural practices” (http://www.ecauldron.net/reconcelt.php). Celtic in this context comprises the countries or parts of countries Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany (Kondratiev 2003) who all share related languages and cultures. My emphasis here lies with the Irish nation, its culture and language past and present; I’ve even studied Irish for a year (although my skills and pronunciation are sometimes way off the mark).

Since the question of CR is how Celtic religion would have developed without Christianity, a practitioner of CR tries to find answers by checking resources available to them. These are historic texts and those dealing with mythology as well as archaeological information on the pre-Christian period, addressing questions such as how the Celts brought offerings before their gods. This approach is by necessity quite scholarly in nature, but obviously studying history is not all there is to it (otherwise we could simply get an MA in history). Yet, weighing our sources is important to get a proper working basis for our own practice.
However, not every facet that is of interest nowadays can be verified by archaeology and ancient lore. This is where the concept of UPG, or unverified personal gnosis, comes in. The term refers to insight gained through visions, meditation etc. that is in keeping with the lore. If, for example, Zeus was imagined by one practitioner as protector of healthy, loving marriages, I’d be suspicious since it disagrees with all that is known about Him.
Now that we’ve explained the “what,” let us progress to the “who” of CR.

In my worship, I focus on the Irish pantheon. For me, the gods are beings with distinct characters and personalities, hence, to use the technical term, I am a hard polytheist. There are too many Irish gods and goddesses to go into detail here, so I’ll just focus on those that I have a connection to: Anann and Manannán Mac Lír.

As stressed in my “A” post, Anann is an Irish earth and mother goddess, who is associated with the green fertility of the land. Manannán, on the other hand, is the Irish god of the Ocean (ir. lear means “water”), of storms and of magic (for more information on Him, see source below). Anann and Manannán Mac Lír, then, are my matron and patron god – my “god mom and god dad,” so to speak. What these terms mean is that these are the gods who have chosen me to work with them. They have made this more than clear. I’m not prepared to go into detail here, but usually this can happen, say, in a vision, during meditation, or when you realize you keep coming across a symbol or animal associated with them in greater frequency than is normal for you and/or the time of year. Matron and patron gods, then, foster you, help you grow, and give you hints when you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Apart from Anann and Manannán, I also have a relationship with Thor, the Norse thunder god, whose presence feels like He is my “god older brother.” This is not strictly CR, as Thor does not stem from a Celtic pantheon, but I shall address this issue in another post.  
As in Christianity, then, in CR you can have personal contact with the divine through prayer, meditation etc.
While praying is a highly personal way of getting into contact with the divine, throughout the year there are eight festivals that are celebrated by CR practitioners.
The festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lúghnasadh are the major ones in the Celtic calendar. Being earth festivals, their focus lies on the tribe and its interaction with the land through agriculture (Kondratiev 2003: 110). Samhain marks the end of harvest, when the veils between the worlds are thinnest, and includes celebrations with ancestors who return to the living. Imbolc marks the period of the first lactation of ewes, when spring is about to come. At Bealtaine we celebrate nature and abundance, and Lúghnasadh represents the outcome of the harvest and the high point of summer.

The other four festivals, i.e. the Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice and  Autumn Equinox are sun festivals by nature and focus on the alternation of summer and winter. There is discussion if these four should be celebrated at all, since they are not attested for the ancient Celts; however, Kondratiev (2003: 111) stresses that they have now become part of a living Celtic tradition, e.g. Summer Solstice is celebrated in many Celtic countries as St. John’s Day.

CR practitioners also focus on the phases of the moon, from its waxing period of growth and expansion to its waning state of stasis and recollection (Kondratiev 2003: 221). In the moon phases, as well as with the eight festivals, a mindset of polarity is apparent: the Celtic year starts at Samhain with a period of rest and breeding of new life in darkness, while the light half of the year brings life and the plans of the winter period to fruition (Kondratiev 2003: 79ff.).

As structured as this may sound, CR does not require of its participants to use certain established prayers, nor does it have a holy scripture. So while we try to adhere to practices handed down through the ages, we are fairly free to establish a contact with the divine that really suits our needs.

Concerning its stance towards Christianity, Kondratiev (2003: 63f.) stresses that pagan Celtic faiths and Christianity can and need to co-exist to fully re-create the Celtic ways. Through all his work for CR, Kondratiev remained a Christian until his untimely death in 2010. While Christianity is not a path that would work out for me, Christians and pagans need to respect each other to co-exist in a complete recreation of Celtic life as well as in the world at large.

Blessed be,

Kondratiev, Alexei. 2003. The Apple Branch. A Path to Celtic Ritual. New York: Kensington.

Online sources:
http://paganachd.com/faq/ (an extensive list of q and a, covering all aspects of CR, e.g. theology, ritual, ethics, as well as common misconceptions and definitions)
http://www.imbas.org/ (site of a now-defunct CR organisation that holds interesting articles on topics such as Celtic gods or the Celtic peoples)
http://www.ecauldron.net/reconcelt.php (mainly a list of resources with a short introduction to CR)
http://www.celtic-nation.org/Lorekeeper_home.htm (an online course devised by Kondratiev, among others, as a study guide to get to know Celtic culture and spirituality)
http://www.manannan.net/ (a site dedicated to Manannán, with myths, personal stories, art and poetry)
Damh the Bard – The Hills they are Hollow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZIHAHj8ZcM


Freitag, 20. Januar 2012

Brighid – Goddess of Swans and Poetry

Brighid, Bride, or Saint Brigid, as She is known, seems to me to be one of the most revered goddesses in the Celtic pantheon. For Her, an eternal flame is kept burning by the Brigantine Sisters in Kildare, and Mara Freeman (2001: 47) goes so far as to call Her the closest we have to an Irish mother goddess.
However, I have never felt a close connection to this goddess. So when I decided on reading up on Her and Her associations, I found that some of the animals and functions commonly associated with Her, e.g. the swan and poetry, are attributes of the goddess Anann for me. Hence, in this post I will try to clear up my confusion about these two goddesses. I will focus mainly on Brighid’s associations with swans and on Her function as a goddess of poetry.

An online source dedicated to Her describes Brighid as the “White Swan.” This connection is also made in a poem by Robert Graves, where She says:
“Black the town yonder,
Black those that are in it,
I am the White Swan,
Queen of them all“

Apart from these hints, Brighid’s association with swans may be due to the fact that swans return from their winter habitats around the time of Imbolc, which again is Lá Fhéile Bríde, or Brighid’s Day. Swans further represent the connection between land, sea and sky, since they abide on land which is close to a body of water and, being birds, they can rise up to fly.
For the Druids, the swan was a representation of the soul and was believed to assist with travels to the Otherworld. The swan is also sacred to the Bards, whose cloaks were made of swan feathers.
This ties in nicely with Brighid being the goddess of poetry granting the “fire in the head” of poetic inspiration. Thus, it strengthens the claim that Brighid and swans are closely connected.

For me, the connection of swans and poetry is intuitively clear. Not only do swans reside at liminal spaces where the land and the waters of inspiration meet (again an association with Brighid as the goddess of wells and healing), but they are also referenced as being mystic and poetic animals in popular songs, such as those of Marc Bolan, who I greatly admire:

“Wear a tall hat like a druid in the old days
Wear a tall hat and a tattooed gown
Ride a white swan like the people of the Beltane
Wear your hair long, babe you can't go wrong.”
Ride a White Swan - T. Rex

However, while I myself have written numerous poems featuring swans and the liminal space of the seaside, I have never felt the divine spark of inspiration as coming from Brighid. Rather, I feel that my matron goddess Anann, who represents the land aspect, and my patron Manannán, whose realm is the sea, are both inspiring me to write. Yet as there is textual evidence for Brighid being the goddess of poetry, I shall try and listen more closely next time I feel compelled to compose a poem.

Further, when I read enquiries about Brighid and swans in an online forum, the general consensus seemed to be that although the facts seem convincing, there is hardly any evidence for this connection (evidence here meaning ancient textual sources). But  obviously, as I only started researching Brighid, it is possible for me to have overlooked such a textual source. So my conclusion in this area will be to keep researching this detail. 

Another fact that I found interesting while researching Brighid is that of Her green mantle which gave Ireland its green colour. Intuitively, for me, green is associated with Anann. She is a goddess of fertility and of the land, hence green, the colour of fresh leaves and grass, seems to sit better with Her than with a goddess of fire and water. So I am wondering whether Brighid at some point was conflated with a land goddess or whether Christian influence had anything to do with the colour green being associated with Her. 

So, as a tentative conclusion for me, I can say that while the connection between poetry and swans is clear now, the person of Brighid has not become more tangible during my research; hence, it will need further reading to figure out my introductory questions concerning Brighid and Anann. Yet since Brighid has been turned into a saint, for me it seems difficult to assess which of Her attributes and associations are truly pagan in origin and which stem from Christianity.

Blessed be,

Freeman, Mara. 2001. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. New York: HarperCollins.


Freitag, 13. Januar 2012

Anann – An Irish Mother Goddess

Anann, or Anu, who appears to Her followers in the form of a white swan, is often described as being the mother of all Irish gods. Her name is said to mean “plenty” or “wealth,” and Ireland itself is referred to as Iath nAnann, the land of Anu (Woodfield 2011: 83). Thus Anann is the supreme goddess of Ireland, it seems – or is She?
When you check the sources available to a Pagan seeker – be it on the internet or in books – you inevitably find confusion about Anann, i.e. what Her true name really is,  who She is and if She exists at all, and also which connections She has to other goddesses in the Celtic pantheon. 

For me, at least, Anann’s existence is undoubted. However, this does not always seem to be as clear-cut a case. For example, Mara Freeman (2001: 82f.) in her book “Kindling the Celtic Spirit” equates Anann (or as she calls Her, Anu) with the goddess Danu. For Freeman, and no doubt for many other believers, Danu is seen as one river goddess among many in the Celtic pantheon. She is linked to the Danube river and is possibly also related to the Indian goddess Dānu, whose name means “Stream; Waters of Heaven.” This would make Danu a pan-Indo-European goddess who has been equated with Anu.

However, as is stressed in an online encyclopaedia, *Danu is just a hypothetical construction from the possessive form Danand. Yet Danand, who appears in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, isn’t described as the mother of all gods. So, the encyclopaedia makes clear, Danu and Anann are not the same person, at all.
But is the matter clear now? Far from it.   

While the Sanas Cormaic, a glossary from the ninth century, lists Anann as indeed being the mother of all gods, Woodfield (2011: 84) in her book on the Morrighan stresses that Cormac is from Munster, hence he might have equated the earth goddess he was most familiar with, i.e. Anann, with the mother of all gods.
In contrast, the Lebor Gabála Érenn equates Her with being part of a trinity formed by Badb and Macha, going by the communal name of the Morrighan (see e.g. Rankine/D’Este 2005: 138, incidentally, a book about the Morrighan’s different guises). Yet in other sources, the name Morrighan appears to have been used as a title for Anann only, meaning something like “Great Queen” or “Great Mare.” From my unverified personal gnosis I come to believe that the Morrighan and Anann are two distinct goddesses, but since this is no actual proof in the matter, let us look for further evidence.

This is a difficult feat to accomplish, however, since additional information on Anann is scarce. Most sources mention Her being connected to two mountains in Munster, Co. Kerry, named Dá Chich Anann or the Paps of Anu. These hills, looking from the distance like breasts, are understood to be the nourishing breasts of the goddess. As this clearly hints to Anann being connected to the earth, the fact might further underline the claim that Anann and Danu, who is essentially a river goddess, are not the same goddess at all (Woodfield 2011: 84). 

Another goddess figure by a similar name, Aine Cli, daughter of Manannán Mac Lír, is also associated with a mountain in Munster and seen as Munster’s protective goddess. But Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia makes it clear that Aine is a later conflation with the figure of Anann.
Apart from this, when you research on the internet, the same information keeps repeating itself, often word-for word; let me summarize these bits and pieces:
  • Anann is a – if not the – Mother Goddess and is associated with fertility
  • fires were lit for Her at midsummer
  • Her priestesses taught and comforted the dying
  • She is the Maiden aspect of a Triple Goddess/the Morrighan
  • She appears in the form of a swan, an expression of purity and grace
  • She is associated with wells and water
As interesting and intuitively true as these “facts” may sound, my problem with these sources is that they don’t cite any references for their claims. As I am about to start my PhD, checking facts and making sure they come from a trustworthy source is very important to me; hence, I find it difficult to believe some facts I come across online. This is especially so when said internet sources seem to include some logical incongruence. One e-book I found claimed that Christendom turned the goddess Anann into an old hag to discourage belief in Her, but at the same time also made Her a saint “to smooth the part of conversion.” I wonder if both can be true at the same time, or if a certain amount of Christian-bashing went into these alleged facts. 

So what are we going to do when we seek to establish a connection with Anann? Speaking from a purely non-scientific, personal perspective now, I find that it is still possible to attune to Her energies through prayer, but other than the internet sources cited above, I feel Her presence the strongest at the autumn equinox. Even before I learned about Anann and the Celtic path, I often wrote poetry including images of Ireland and swans, hence the image of Anann as a swan speaks strongly to me. I also incorporated a small swan figurine in the altar I maintain in Her honour.

So, as a conclusion, what we can learn from research like the one I attempted here is that while some conflations can be revealed by a close study of the sources available to us, sometimes in the end it is up to ourselves to decide who to call on and which name to use when praying to our Gods and Goddesses.

Blessed be,


Freeman, Mara. 2001. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. New York: HarperCollins.
Rankine, David and Sorita D’Este. 2005. The Guises of the Morrighan. Irish Goddess of Sex and Battle: Her Myths, Powers & Mysteries. London: Avalonia.
Woodfield, Stephanie. 2011. Celtic Lore and Spellcraft of the Dark Goddess: Invoking the Morrighan. Woodbury: Llewellyn.

internet sources:
Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia: http://www.maryjones.us/jce/anu.html
Singleton, Judy. “Anu Celtic Goddess of Fertility”: http://www.cyber-spy.com/ebooks/ebooks/Anu-Celtic-Goddess-of-Fertility-%28ebook%29.pdf (note: this source is representative for many other pages on the internet listing basically the same facts; I chose this one as reference because it is easiest to read concerning the layout)

Anu drawing: http://www.cauldronnetwork.com/articles/0509/Anu.jpg
Paps of Anu photo: http://www.goddessalive.co.uk/issue3/images/paps_anu.jpg]

Montag, 9. Januar 2012

Welcome to the Mists

Dia duit, dear traveller, and welcome to the Mists of Manannán.

Rest here for a while and partake of the feast of Eamhain Abhlach, the Apple Island. Listen to tales of yore that tell about our ancestors and our Gods. Hear the bard sing praise of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Perhaps, you’ll find some delicious treats which strike your fancy. Or you might feel inspired to join in the discussions about the Celtic soul.

But first, before we can embark on our journeys down the Celtic path, let me introduce myself.
I call myself Harzgeist; this is the German for “ghost of the Harz mountains.” The Harz mountains are a region in the middle of Germany - Lower Saxony, to be precise - where I was born and raised.
The area has long been famous for its magic. Here, the old lore is still very much alive. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe attested in one of his plays that witches still met at the Blocksberg, or Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz region.

In winter, Odin’s Wild Hunt is said to pass over the hills and mountain ranges and you have to be careful not to be spotted by the Hunters, as they will carry you away with them to some unknown realm from which you might never return. Other lore also attests to the presence of a belief in the Germanic Gods, like the Woden’s Oak that can be found in the woods around my hometown, or the Oak of Justice, where justice was spoken and condemned people hanged in the not-so-distant past.
I grew up with old tales told by my mother; tales that are still whispered by the fireside. Tales of monks haunting silver mines; stories about small towns named after a huge, strong wild man who was said to have lived there a thousand years ago when the first mines started to yield ore; tales of the devil and of those cunning enough to trick him, too.

Naturally, I was always fascinated by the supernatural. Nature held and does still hold a great fascination to me. You can find me outside in a rainstorm anytime, praising my gods, rejoicing in the pure water cleansing me. But it was not until a friend lent me Scott Cunningham’s Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner that I started truly walking a Pagan path. I kept reading widely, from the classics like Gardner and the Farrars to A.J. Drew’s Wiccan Bible and a lovely book called Raising Witches. However, I remained – and still remain, unfortunately – solitary in my practice as I didn’t find like-minded folk in my area willing to practice with me.

Now, four years after reading Cunningham’s book for the first time, I reside in a place close to Heidelberg, where I studied German and English literature and linguistics as well as Psychology. I am currently planning on doing my PhD on ‘Cross-Cultural Impoliteness in Children’s Literature’ and just started walking a path more oriented towards the Celtic pantheon.
As not to let my spiritual side wither while I embark on a scientific career, I decided to join in on the Pagan Blog Project. So for the next year, come and join me on the Mists of Manannán each Friday to travel further into the mists.

Blessed be.

For the original post on the Pagan Blog Project: http://onewitchsway.com/pbp2012/