Last month I reported that a tiny Saw Whet owl had struck my car. I associated the death of the bird with the then recent gun murders of children in Connecticut, and tried not to see it as a personal omen of impending death. But sadly I was wrong. Within a few weeks my thirteen year old, tortoise shell Soul Cat started going downhill. I took her to the vet and he diagnosed Lymphoma. She had to be put down right there in the office.
The vet was very sensitive to my loss. He wrapped her in a pink towel and placed her in a tiny white cardboard coffin. I brought her back home and buried her in the garden, under the Hawthorn trees that bloom with white blossoms in the Spring and are covered in red berries in the Fall. It is a spot that has become a cat cemetery, two other cats of mine are buried nearby, with natural rocks to mark their graves.
I should have known about the warnings from Owls. A few years ago I had a similar Owl experience as I was washing dishes one evening. It was summer and the kitchen door was open, with only a screen between myself and the three miles of woods behind the house. An Owl started to hoot, right outside the door. I had never heard an Owl that close to the house and I thought it must be on the roof, calling for its mate or its children. The hooting persisted. I thought to myself “Wow, that is a very loud Owl” and I kept washing the dishes. Finally the hooting got even louder and more persistent. It went on for several minutes. Finally I said to the Owl: “OK, I get that this is a message, thank you!” and I knew that someone close to me was about to die.
The next morning I turned on my computer and found out that Celtic scholar and linguist Alexei Kondratiev had passed to the Otherworld the previous day. Alexei was a very important person to me, he collaborated on every one of my books, providing Old Irish and Scottish terms for the glossaries, with pronunciation guides. He was generous to a fault, and never asked for payment. I would send him a smoked wild Alaska salmon after each book came out, by way of thanks. Celto-philes will recognize the symbolism of the “Salmon of Wisdom” and why the gift was so appropriate for him. He was my Druid, the touchstone to whom I went with historical and spiritual questions about the ancient Celts and Indo-Europeans.
(Excerpt from my book SCOTTISH HERBS AND FAIRY LORE, Pendraig Publishing)
Owl – In Scottish Gaelic the owl is called Cailleach Oidhche (the night hag) and is generally associated with Goddesses. In Welsh tradition Lleu had a magical wife created for him out of flowers by the magician Gwydion. When his wife, Blodeuwedd, plotted with her lover Gronw to kill him, Llew escaped by transforming himself into an eagle and flying into a magical oak. After regaining his human form Llew turned his wife into an owl. 9
Seasonally, February first to second (because all Celtic festivals begin on the eve of the festival day and last until sundown the next evening) marks the season of Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festival of the lactation of the ewes, of candle blessings, and of the Goddess Brighid. Here in New England we have a “January thaw” about the end of January each year and I like to think its because Brighid herself is walking across the land, greening the hills where her feet tread. After Imbolc the cold descends again and the world is frozen until early March.
There are very subtle changes happening on the mountain. While the ground is still slushy with melting snow, the Kinnikinnick bushes (Red Osier Dogwood, or Red Willow, Cornus stolonifera ) which the First Nations use to make smoking mixtures for personal prayer and ceremony are flaming red against the backdrop of fog and snow. I suspect the reddening of the branches has to do with the lengthening daylight. Flame-red twigs are also a fitting symbol for the Fire Festival of Brighid, the ancient Celtic healing Goddess who is Patroness of the hearth, the forge, and the fires of poetry and inspiration.
I was privileged to watch a family of muskrats down by the pond, as they added dried rushes to the roofs of their lodges, taking advantage of the thaw. I have found Coyote tracks in the snow behind the house. Beyond that, everything is still frozen in its winter stasis and nature is quiet, slumbering into Spring.
Gwyl Mair (Imbolc):
In my books and articles I have generally been focused on the Irish aspects of the Celtic Fire Festivals. I wanted to understand the “British” take on things so I visited Imbolc in Wales on 12/14/2012 and revisited The Apple Branch – A Path to Celtic Ritual, by Alexei Kondratiev, in order to understand the Welsh aspects of the season. According to tradition Sant Ffraid (Saint Brighid) floated over from Ireland on a piece of turf. (Presumably that is how the Irish Imbolc customs came to Wales).
In Wales Imbolc is called Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau or “Mary’s festival of the candles” and Gwyl Mair Dechrau’r Gwanwyn or “The Feast of Mary at the Beginning of Spring”.
In English the festival was called “Candlemas” when folk brought their candles to be blessed by placing them on the altar of a church. Candles were also carried in processions or placed in kitchen windows. The mistress of the farm would give the head maid a lighted candle to be used later in the autumn. That candle was to be used during the darkest part of the year, the time for working by candle light, and handed back on February 2nd, when it was light enough that the animals could be fed without the use of a flame.
Divinations were done; two candles were placed on a bench or table and each family member would take a turn sitting between the candles. They would take a drink such as beer from a beaker or horn and then throw the goblet behind them, over their head. If it fell upright that presaged a long life, if it fell bottom up, that meant an early death.
Sunshine on Candlemas Day that meant there would be a good harvest, but if a single crow circled or hovered over the house on Candlemas Eve, that was a bad omen.
- Read more about Imbolc here
- About the Brighid’s Cross
- About Brighid and Gobnait
- The Virtual Shrine of the Goddess Brighid
- A song for Brighid (video)
- Brighid wells in Ireland
- Imbolc at Newgrange, Ireland
* Remember – when you purchase books and DVDs from this site you get a signed copy and a FREE personal note! *
*** Upcoming Workshop Announcement ***
I and my friend Crystalline Ruby Muse, an outstanding Celtic Bard, have created a weekend workshop that will take place this Fall at Earthlands Institute for Environmental Awareness September 20-22, in Western Massachusetts. The workshop is timed for the start of the Fall foliage season, with six vegetarian meals and lodging provided (and airport pickups for those who need them). Folks are registering already, a deposit will hold your space. Find the flier by opening the link below and please share widely!
Celtic Tree Magic Workshop
With Master Herbalist and author Ellen Evert Hopman
And Celtic Bard Crystalline Ruby Muse
The ancient Druids of Ireland used the Ogham Tree Alphabet to share coded messages hidden from outsiders. Each letter is named for a tree or plant, and is surrounded with medicinal and spiritual lore. For centuries this language was only transmitted orally in order to protect its secrets.
Using the Auraicept na n-Éces, a 7th century work of Irish scholars, as well as other traditional sources, we will reveal the meaning of this language. We will teach the poetic, spiritual, medicinal and divinatory meanings of these Celtic trees, all of which can be found in North America, in a context useful for modern seekers. We will venture outdoors where we will lead participants in connecting with the trees through meditation, observation, singing and dancing amongst them. Participants will make wands for individual use using the Ogham divinatory meanings as a guide.
We will teach traditional and modern songs and incantations in Irish, Scots Gaelic, and English to deepen the cultural and spiritual context of our work together. The entire course will be interwoven with ceremony created through Celtic Reconstructionist scholarship, offering participants insight into original Celtic polytheistic spiritual practices.
Students will leave with homemade wands and experience in using them; knowledge for using the Ogham as a divinatory tool; deeper awareness of and connection with ancient and extant Celtic culture; some understanding of how to use these trees as medicine; traditional and original songs to sing in Gaelic and English; insight into ritual in a uniquely Celtic context that they can continue to develop in their own spiritual practice; and a greater sense of connection to the spiritual realms as expressed through nature, song, and community ceremony.
This workshop is appropriate for people who are completely new to the Ogham and Celtic Reconstructionist ceremony, as well as people who have some experience but would like to expand their knowledge and skills. It will be roughly one-third lecture, two-thirds participatory experience, which will include space for a question-and-answer format in which to cover the students’ preferred material.
For information on costs, more about the presenters, and the location of the workshop (in Petersham, MA at the beautiful Earthlands Institute for Environmental Awareness) please download the flyer.
Below you will find this Moonth’s assortment news, freshly gleaned from the internet;
- Earth will not be hit by an asteroid, after all
- The center of our galaxy tastes like raspberries
- Tree Sisters working to save the Amazon (video)
- Monsanto and GE foods banned in Peru
- Video of a plant “walking”
- Loyal cat brings gifts to his human’s grave
- New Zealand to get rid of pet cats?
- Arctic sea ice is disappearing much faster than once thought possible
- First ever video of a giant squid in its natural habitat
- Nature bathing – in the woods
- The Beech Tree
- The Celts were more sophisticated than once thought
- Celts against racism, oppression and neo-Nazism take a stand
- How Leprechauns became a protected species in Ireland (video)
- Hill of Tara digital survey
- The origins of agriculture in Europe
- Ice Age Art
- Roman toilet paper
- Mesolithic Brits burned the underbrush – just like indigenous peoples once did in New England
- Hedges were invented in the Iron Age
- Ancient ax may have been part of a “Pagan ceremony”
- Interactive map of sites in the Boyne Valley, Ireland
- A video describing how the map was made
- Newgrange and the pyramids
- Druids weigh in on managing Solstice access at Stonehenge
- An old article on female Druids (because folks need reminding)
- When the Romans invaded Anglesey
- Elen , a Celtic Goddess
- For the Sami “The word for “herd” is eallu; the word for “life” is eallin.”
- Raspberry ketones for weight loss
- Prevent Flu with vinegar
- Herbs to deal with side effects of chemotherapy
- Be sure to read this if taking green tea while on chemo
- How the Republicans plan to steal the next election. The solution? Ban the Electoral College.
- An outraged electorate is turning the tide against GOP vote rigging
- Women are being denied Constitutional rights based on being pregnant
- What the GOP leadership is doing about rape (not)
- Tar Sands Pipeline planned for New England, be very afraid
- Students get active, protest Tar Sands Pipeline
- The history of the Second Amendment
“This Article challenges the insurrectionist model. The Second Amendment was not enacted to provide a check on government tyranny; rather, it was written to assure the Southern states that Congress would not undermine the slave system by using its newly acquired constitutional authority over the militia to disarm the state militia and thereby destroy the South’s principal instrument of slave control. In effect, the Second Amendment supplemented the slavery compromise made at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and obliquely codified in other constitutional provisions.”
- The truth about Hitler and gun regulation
- The most terrifying interview I have ever watched live on TV
- Gabby Giffords launches a new gun control Pac
- Access to firearms makes it more likely a woman will be killed
- The NRA is just a lobby for the gun industry (we knew that)
- A grandfather shoots granddaughter, thinking she’s an intruder
- Mayors against illegal guns, membership skyrockets after Newtown shootings
- Sign a petition to demand a plan to end gun violence
- The AR-15 Rifle – civilians do not have a Second Amendment right to it
- KBR poisons soldiers in Iraq – now they want the US taxpayer to bail them out of responsibility
- When George H W Bush Sr. resigned from the NRA
- Stand Your Ground Laws cause an increase in homicides
- America claims to “support the troops” yet vet suicide rates are skyrocketing
- Virginia and Michigan pass abortion restrictions on the sly
- Saudi women are now on electronic leashes
May Brighid spread Her cloak of healing, peace, and inspiration over everyone who reads these pages. A blessed Imbolc to all!
* Remember – when you purchase books and DVDs from this site you get a signed copy and a FREE personal note! *