Excerpt from “Muimme naFiann: Foster-mother of heroes”

 I’ve not blogged for awhile and am not sure when I will again. My writing focus was on getting a new submission for the next Air n-Aithesc and since submitting it we’re trying to catch up on winterizing here, the flu had floored me during the time I had AnA issue 2 coverhoped to be doing most of this.  As I have my submission for the summer issue done (for the most part, current reading may make for a few alterations), I am hoping to focus on cobbling some of this stuff I’ve been putting into articles back into Teh Project which, you know, it was all stolen from to begin with. ~;p (ETA: also need to get in some CEUs and will probably rewrite some fitness stuff specifically focused on the training program) So….I figured I’d copy fellow AnA writer Morgan Daimler and post an excerpt from my article “Muimme naFiann: Foster-mother of heroes” in the current issue. That would be Air n-Aithesc Volume I Issue II Lughnasadh/Samhain which you can order right at that link should you wish to read the rest…

 

 

Muimme naFiann: Foster-mother of heroes

When the subject of women warriors come up, Scáthach, Cú Chulainn’s teacher, is one of the first noted, along with Medb.  Yet even more so than Medb, Scáthach’s story is not her own but a very brief part of Cú Chulainn’s.  Much of what is “known” about her today is embellishment. The idea that she is the eponymous Goddess of the Isle of Skye, [i] is a Goddess of War, the dead and even blacksmiths is found repeated within Pagan sources.[ii] However, while some of these concepts, like the association with Skye, did come about late within Gaelic culture, the others appear to have developed even later outside of the culture, primarily within the Pagan community.[iii]
What we do know about her is that she taught warriors, most notably Cú Chulainn, and had a gift of prophecy. And in this she is not alone, for Finn Mac Cumhail’s lesser-known foster-mother(s), especially Bodbmall, shared similar traits. Nagy stated, “…it would seem that Bodbmall, Búanann, and Scáthach are all multiforms of a supernatural martial foster-mother figure who appears in various contexts.”[iv]We have no stories for Búanann.  Scáthach is called Scáthaig Buanand in one version of the Táin Bó Cúalnge, which O’Rahilly translates as “Scáthach the victorious.”[v] The name, however, appears in the Sanas Cormaic (“Cormac’s Glossary”) described as “muimme nafiann”(“foster-mother of heroes”) and related to the role of Anann as mother of the Gods.[vi]Anann is one of the Daughters of Ernmais, the one usually identified as the Morrígan.[vii]
Many scholars do read these foster-mothers as supernatural beings, although seldom as actual Goddesses. [viii] Certainly, Scáthach’s distant and hard to reach land and Finn’s fosterers’ wilderness hide-outs as well as their powers both as a warriors, often seen as unnatural for women, and as seers indeed mark them as Otherwordly.[ix]  Scáthach’s title of “Búanann,” and the name’s connection with the Goddess Anann, may make Scáthach seem to be the Goddess.  Likewise, a possible etymological relationship between the names Bodbmall and Badb raises the question as to whether she is supposed to be this War Goddess.[x]

Read the rest (now on the website)


[i] There are a multitude of examples. Caitlin Matthews directly uses these words to describe her in several books, for example The Elements of the Celtic Tradition, Element Books, 1989, pg. 76.
[ii] I will not pick out one source for much of this, as where any of it came from originally is impossible to say. A quick online search brings up thousands of websites, often directly repeating each other with no further sourcing.
[iii] Isle of Skye part has shown up even in somewhat academic sources. (James MacKillop. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, pg. 410 for example)  How old a connection this was and when Scáthach became connected to the MacDonald fort Dun Scaith is difficult to determine. The earliest reference I found to that she was on Skye was in Macpherson’s “Ossian” inventions of the mid-18th century where he places her at the site and gives Cú Chulainn the Dun in another tale.(James Macpherson, The poems of Ossian, tr. by J. Macpherson. To which are prefixed dissertations on the era and poems of Ossian, Oxford University Press, 1805, pg. 149; Macpherson, Hugh MacCallum, John MacCallum, “Conlaoch,” An original collection of the poems of Ossian, Orann, Ulin, and other Bards, who flourished in the same age, Watt, 1816, pg. 153-158;  John Gregorson Campbell also includes this location in recounting Macpherson’s version of “Conlaoch” in The Fians: or Stories, Poems & Traditions of Fionn and His Warrior Band, Elibron Classics, 2005 (org. pub. Date 1891), pg. 6) Stokes determined that the similarity between the Gaelic term for the Isle of Skye (An t-Eilean Sgitheanach) and Scythia (Scithia) was all that caused this connection, which he notes as popular at the time. (Whitley Stokes, “The Training of Cúchulainn,” Revue Celtique 29, 1908, pg. 109 https://archive.org/details/revueceltiqu29pari).
[iv] Joseph Falaky Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition,Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, pg. 264, footnote 13 following from pg. 102.
[v] Cecile O’Rahilly, trans. Táin Bó Cúalnge from Book of Leinster Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1967, pg. 95, 231 Irish http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G301035/index.html English http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T301035/index.html
[vi] John O’Donovan, ed. and trans. (with notes and translations from Whitley Stokes) Sanas Cormaic Calcutta: O. T. Cutter for the Irish Archeological and Celtic Society, 1868, http://books.google.com/books?id=rX8NAAAAQAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s  pg. 17;
Whitley Stokes, ed., ‘Cormac’s Glossary’ in Three Irish Glossaries, London: Williams and Norgate, 1862 http://www.ucd.ie/tlh/text/ws.tig.001.text.html  pg. 6; see also Nagy Wisdom of the Outlaw, pg. 102;  Angelique Gulermovich Epstein, “War Goddess: The Morrígan and her Germano-Celtic Counterparts” dissertation, University of California in Los Angeles, 1998  ch. 2.
[vii] Epstein, “War Goddess,” ch.1; Kim Heijda, “War-goddesses, furies and scald crows: The use of the word badb in early Irish literature” thesis, University of Utrecht, Feb. 27, 2007 http://igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/student-theses/2007-0620-200703/UUindex.html pg. 34; Robert A. Stewart MacAlister, ed. and trans., Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland, Vol IV. Dublin: Irish Text Society, 1941 http://www.archive.org/details/leborgablare04macauoft pg. 103, 130-131, 160-161, 188-189, I also discuss Anann as the Morrígan in “Musings on the Irish War Goddesses,” Nicole Bonivusto, ed. By Blood, Bone and Blade: A Tribute to the Morrigan Asheville, North Carolina: Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2014, pg. 103.
[viii] Proinsias Mac Cana mentions Scáthach briefly under the heading of “Goddesses of War” on page 86 of Celtic Mythology, NY: Peter Bedrick Books, 1987,  yet refers to her as “supernatural” on page 102; Rosalind Clark. The Great Queens: Irish Goddesses from The Morrigan to Cathleen ni Houlihan, Savage, MD: Barnes and Nobel Books, 1991 pg. 28.
[ix] Miranda Green, Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers, New York: George Braziller, 1996, pg. 149; Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw,  pg.109-111.
[x] Epstein, “War Goddess,” ch 2.

 

Copyright © 2014 Saigh Kym Lambert

Books and Gratitude

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is the writing, sometimes it’s about finding the time. As I’m not working full time, I have the time, but couple that with living in a rural area with a library which seems unable to ever get anything on inter-library loan, it’s often getting research material. There are, of course, some great online resources which I use extensively, Corpus of Electronic Text (CELT), Celtic Digital Initiative, Archive.org and JSTOR (which now allows for some access to those of us far from university libraries for example. But books still under copyright tend to be a bit pricey.

Photo of books discussedSo taking Maya St.Clair’s, who blogs as Irish Thoughts and Musings, reviews books at Celtic Scholar’s Reviews and Opinions, is a cohort at Air n-Aithesc (and really does most of the work) and runs ÁRCHÚ -Anti-Racist Celts and Heathens Unite FB page, advice I put up both a “tip jar” (aka PayPal) and an Amazon.com wishlist link on the side bar here. You know, in case anyone who reads this blog and website or my other writing that I don’t get paid for wants to let me know they found value in it.

And then Maya promptly bought me a copy of The Gaelic Finn Tradition edited by Sharon J. Arbuthnot and Geraldine Parsons, which I felt was likely vital even before reading Maya’s  review in AnA.  I have only read a few of the essays, starting with McCone’s and Nagy’s, naturally, but feel it is, indeed very useful. It does make me wonder what happened to the proposed updating of Nagy’s Wisdom of the Outlaw and McCone’s upcoming book that he refers to, The Romulus Syndrome

John M.E. Machate of Trials of a Féinnid was kind enough to make a donation as well, which enabled me to finally get a copy of Phillip Bernhardt-House’s Werewolves, Magical Hounds and Dog-Headed Men in Celtic Literature: A Typological Study of Shape-Shifting which I felt was mandatory for Teh Project and wish I had had for “Going in Wolf-Shape” in the first AnA.  It should allow me to punch up a future AnA piece, however. For personal reason around this, I used the rest to make a small donation to a horse rescue.

Domi O’Brien of Grove of the Golden Leaves, DANA, who already keeps me well stocked in fiction which I will be passing on or donating for fundraising, gifted me in triplicate, which is in keeping. She gave me a Kindle (hence it’s not in the photo…and no, I haven’ succumbed to buying a device but instead have it  on my PC) of An Introduction to Early Irish Literature by Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin which I wanted to check out as a possible background reference and because I’m wanting to update my general reading list a bit, having realized that much of it dates back to my college days 20+ years ago and some was old then. Again, Maya’s review a couple of years ago made me interested. So, no not everything I might list will be specific to the topic of Teh Project.  I am finding it quite well puttogether, even if she considered Nemain one of the Morrígna, which simply is not borne out by the literature…related, yes, one of, no…one of the Badba, kind of…because it’s all tricky like that. She makes up for this in her section on the Fenian matter, by referencing the work Nagy and McCone have done relating these stories to canines and actual warbands, which is still rare to find.

Domi also gave me enough money to renew on of my  URLs which I had been debating whether I would or not (but many still link to it….I might not renew it next year so if you use cyberpict.net to link to my website, it’s now dunsgathan.net and the older one resolves into it) as well as buy Anne Dooley and Harry Roe’s Tales of the Elders of Ireland: A New Translation of Acallam na Senórach as the AnS is rather vital to my work and this is considered an excellent translation. I have yet to delve in, however.

So, thank you, Maya, John and Domi!  I hope you are going to appreciate the work you have helped move on. ~:) And, yes, I am working on it all.

I should also note that there have been many people who have helped me get articles that I could not otherwise get. I have not had a chance, however, to make sure they were all okay with me mentioning their names here…I will, however, at some point thank those who do agree publicly.

Biannual Publication Announcement – Air n-Aithesc 2

Yup we did it! With Maya St.Clair doing the bulk of the actual work.  We got issue two of Air n-Aithesc published!

AnA issue 2 cover
We have the art of Paul Borda, we have Maya examining what CRP methodology is, we have Irish witches discussed by Morgan Daimler, we have Ceffyl taking about developing a personal relationship with Deity, we have poetry by Finnchuill and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and we have book reviews by Maya, Finnchuill and Blackbird O’Connell.

And yes, I have an article entitled “Muimme naFiann: Foster-mother of Heroes” where I discuss the storys of Scáthach and Finn’s variously named foster-mothers…or rather where they come in in the heroes’ stories as they sadly have none of their own. This is, of course, always a part of this project I’m doing here.

You can order through the website or just go to Magcloud…you can, of course, still get our first issue if you have missed it.

Warrior path training and more website updates

Many…..MANY…years ago I put together ideas for a training program for a warrior group within a larger organization which shall remain unnamed. I knew a lot of my ideas wouldn’t work out, discussions of them didn’t go well.  I later took the ideas, put things back in I hadn’t bothered with for a group I helped start after leaving the large organization.   Nothing really came of it, no one there really wanted to bother with it either..other than me (this was stuff I was doing or wanted to do, after all).  I later took the ideas and replaced some of the cultural stuff with general liberal arts stuff and used to to develop a theoretical Sarah Connor Charm School program. At least it was theoretical until someone actually decided to do it and is going strong with it.

Bolstered by her enthusiasm, I pulled the outline out again and reworked it back for what I wanted to do for a Gaelic Pagan warrior path and added things that have come up since then and so forth. And I have now  put it up on a warrior training page on the website. It will likely be tweaked on occasion as I realize I left Outlaw warriors on the older page.

things out, should have left things out, want to word things differently, add links and what not.  I did take some of the material from the bottom of the warrior path page to the beginning of the new page and also reworked some of the historical material on the

Meanwhile, I’ve done some poking at Teh Project along with some other writing. The second issue of Air nAithesc is scheduled for next month with my article “Muimme naFiann: Foster-mother of the heroes” among other yummy stuff from others.  And I am continuing to get my own ass in gear training wise and need to get ready to head out for a run, in fact.

Website Updates

The past couple of weeks I have been working to fix things up around here. By here I mean the website this blog is a part of….you know this blog is for a website now right? Or rather part of my website, a section, but part of what I have been doing is working to make the Shadow of the Hooded Crow section a bit more prominent in the way it is presented on the index. There are still other sections for Gaelic Heathenry in general, where our old group section was, but I have now moved the warrior stuff I had there onto Hooded Crow.  And, of course, we still have our horse and dog sections. Homesteading has it’s own blog, but right now we’re not doing anything exciting enough there to post much. Right now I’m pretty focused on this
subject, really.

So, I had already moved info about workshops I am looking to give, which I may be doing privately soon, onto Hooded Crow, but now have moved my page about the warrior path, and expanded it a bit for some information on the Outlaw war bands. I might even split that up and do more on them, not sure yet.

I also finally put up a page about the War Goddesses the site is dedicated to.  Imagine that!  Of course, that’s sort of what I was doing when I ended up writing “Musings on the Irish War Goddesses”…you know, the one in By Blood, Bone and Blade (which is temporarily out of production, but should be available in a second edition soon). Being concise is not easy when talking about Them, but I tried.

I put one link to the main site here, but you can also go to the individual pages through the menu up top. I’m done sitting on my butt for awhile I have horses to see and dogs who want to go for a run. ~;) 

Publication Announcement – Air n-Aithesc (Our Message)

AnA Issue 1

As with many things, it starts with a bit of a bitch session.  After over a decade of only writing to self-publish online, I was looking for places to submit articles to. You know magazines or anthologies. Especially after the synchronicitic experience of having finished a long ass piece on the War Goddesses and finding out about an anthology for An Morrígan calling for submissions (which I should have announcement about soon).  Keltria Journal had some warrior path themes and I submitted a couple of pieces, the two issues became one so only one ran. Such themes and anthologies don’t happen much and, well, it’s what I write….which is why this blog is probably going to always be more active than Dùn Sgàthan Homestead blog. And most Pagan journals that are out there aren’t always looking for Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan, endnote heavy, pieces…and if they are they tend to be looking for CRP 101 stuff or other material about CRP rather than topical material using Reconstructionist methodology.

So, the whole “there needs to be a CR magazine and it needs to be peer reviewed” thing came up. And Maya St.Clair responded with, “yeah, so let’s do it.” (paaraphrase) And Air n-Aithesc (Our Message) was conceived. We asked a bunch of others we knew to join us, some of them even accepted. Another will soon be added to that list. We decided to do it for Imbolg and given the time frame to get members of the review committee to write for the first issue. And some of us did. Hey, I had one article left over too, so I submitted two. Other contributors from our committee were Maya with her column offering basic information for those new to CR “An Seomra Staidéir: The Study” and  review of Early Christian Ireland by Kathleen Hughes, Finnchuill with a piece on “Brigit’s Retinue in the Tuatha Dé Miscellany,” Morgan Daimler who wrote about “Celebrating Imbolc with the Family”, Ceffyl Aedui on “Finding Epona” (we are not a Gaelic only publication…even if it might lean heavily there) and Blackbird O’Connell with a review of the book Pot O’Gold by Kathleen Krull. 

My articles are “‘By Force in the Battlefield’: Finding the Irish Female Hero” and “Going into Wolf Shape.” The first is explained by the subtitle. The second is part of an ongoing exploration of the wolf warrior cults, which I sometimes touch upon here.  I am already working on future articles, all of which will follow such themes.

The first issue came out on Tuesday and can be ordered either as digital or hard copy (with free digital) right here.

We are already looking for submissions for the second issue which will be out for Lùnasdal. We are not doing themed issues, as we feel that is too limiting, so we are open to any topic of interest to CRPs and which use CR methodology. We hope to have a wide variety of paths represented as we go along (we were going to have a list of possible paths, but realized it was on one hand getting very long and on the other we’d leave someone out and…it seemed best to skip it). We sort of have two different “options,” articles which are research focused only or articles which discuss practice and experience using research to solidify things. These latter are most welcome, as this is the essence of CR methodology and we all feel there needs to be more that shows how we bring these elements into our actual practice. It is also, of course, often the hardest thing to write about for many of us.  All submissions will be reviewed by a quorum of the review committee. We also have a lovely pool of editors, some who are review committee members although not all (and not all of us on the review committee are editors) who will then work to prepare the accepted articles for publication. You can find submission info on our website.

We are also on the lookout for artwork, both for articles and we will feature an artist each. This issue our artist was Casey Bradley. If you are interested in submitting art, you can us through our website. Seriously, we need art work for articles too….don’t make Maya grab photos of me again (honest, I may be vain enough to post them here all the time, but it was not my idea to have them there…too many “women warrior” pieces are problematic and others were well out of our non-existent budget.

No, we are not paying at this time and do not know if that is in the future. What little we take off the top of the cost will go to upgrading our website and promotional efforts (if we, say, go to a festival with a bunch of copies we have to buy those outright ourselves to do it).  Payment does mean advertising to cover it, which can create several hassles which I remember from “back in the day” ….we are hesitant to begin that, but have not closed the door either. At this point it’s free digital copies and additions to your CV (if you include Pagan publications on your CV).

I hope you check this out, read this issue and, if you are so inclined, send us material.

Oh, you can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Dark Nights and Shadow Hounds

Cu and Orlaith
Cù and Òrlaith

This is another “administrative” post, I suppose, a filler to keep this active. Some may have noticed a slight name change here. There are many reasons for this choice. It does keep a certain theme which runs in other things I do, such as our home’s name. It also perhaps seems pretentious to claim we actually fly with Her/Them, instead we run in Their shadows, with the mad hounds. Which is another aspect which may not seem obvious to anyone but me…the canine theme in what I do seems to be coming through stronger as I go along. It’s, again, the focus of what I’ve been (or was) writing about. It is a subject which I often feel uncomfortable talking about because I do not relate to most of the wolfy identity stuff that is popular. I’m not Otherkin, I don’t identify by any of the “in the wrong body” stuff. And how that is different is often hard to explain. But it’s, in part, what I’ve been trying to work on.

And so, I’ve been working on an article centered around this find. It’s really only a part of the article, but it was a key prompt, if you will.   It was hard to deal with some of the ideas of dog sacrifice, even if kept in the past (to be clear I think it’s not something that should be brought back and there is no evidence of it in the Irish material, except for the ever unique Cú Chulainn’s killing of the hound he was named for which may echo this older, far away rite), as we had lost our male Greyhound, Cù Mór this summer. Yes, that often made it hard.

Orlaith standing in front of me
Òrlaith and I
just before last Lùnasdal ritual
Missing our Cù

Now our female Greyhound, our only Greyhound now, Òrlaith has bone cancer and will likely, indeed, die this winter. Due to her age, we’ve opted not to have the highly invasive surgery, the removal of her lower jaw and replacement with a prosthetic, and chemo. She’d likely have no chance of a full recovery to the point where she is completely out of pain and the effects of the chemo. We are trying, with the help of her new vets, multiple alternative treatments in hopes to slow it down. But we do not expect miracles. As long as she’s comfortable, happy and eating we’ll keep trying. All her remedies are disguised as treats so it also amounts to spoiling her.

This has made the writing even harder, although I poke at it slowly. After I post this I intend to  do more work on it. For the most part, right now, I am working on other aspects of possible initiation rites. But it also brings home my belief at what does make for the appropriate role of dogs and the death of dogs in how I practice. Caring for them, living with them, learning from them…and, when the time comes, giving them a meaningful send off.

Greyhounds are “primitive” in their social pack behavior. While I have always learned from the dogs in my life, I find this breed, so connected also with Gaelic culture, to have perhaps taught me the most on this aspect. The Border Collie crosses which are also part of our pack, have as well. Both breeds retain a lot of the wolf, but have modified it in different ways.  The Greyhounds are still pack hunters, the BCs use the same techniques to herd, stopping short of the kill. I watched the Greyhounds teach the BCs, Gleann and Sachairi, a bit more of the social aspects, and Òrlaith has definitely been the leader among the dogs. The boys, including Cù, have practically worshiped the ground she walks on. Meanwhile, she has taken her cues from us, the alphas. We learned from her, and Irony before her, how to be quiet, gentle alphas.

In these past few weeks, she may be thinking herself a bit above us as we spoil her as much as possible. This is an act of worship for me, an honoring of the canine spirit which is a part of me and a connection to something bigger.  When she goes we will bury her with the other hounds, Cù, Scolaighe, Bran and Irony, the Shadow Pack….both our living and our dead are called that, but the ones on the other side grow in number. Someday I will be buried among them, at least if my wishes are honored (and such a burial is still legal in NH), along with the bones of my first dog Gabe, who is to be reinterred with me. With us. At our ritual site.

There will be howling for her, both humans and dogs, as we always do. Our funeral rituals are simple, but they are important. The dogs mourn hard, like us they have not fully recovered from losing Cù. When we do ritual we share with those gone on as well. Dogs are always part of our rites, even when they are not at the center of them.

And so, I hope there will be an article finished soon and news about where it will end up. I needed a moment to share this. Because I realize I can’t even describe what a vital part of my path my pack has been and is. That I’d not understand my wolf if I didn’t learn from them. Perhaps others can do it other ways, but I would not be doing this without them.  I believe that they are central to my relationship with the War Goddesses, that being Their hound or wolf is far more key for my path than such human identity as “priest/ess.”  And all time spent with them is a sort of rite in itself.  And so I shall go to be with her.

[I] cast [my] lot with the Fianna: to have rivers, wastes and wilds, and woods, and precipices, and estuaries

Blue Heron in flight The title comes from a passage in Standish Hayes O’Grady’s translation of The Colloquy of the Ancients, “Verily the younger son elected to cast in his lot with the Fianna: to have rivers, wastes and wilds, and woods, and precipices, and estuaries.” (it is on pg. 69, The Irish “Rue do roga in mac ba só . beith ré Féind, ní himargó, foithri, fássaigi, feda . aibhne is alia is indbera.” can be found Whitley Stokes ed., Acallamh na Senórach I,  Irische Texte vol 4, part 1, 1900  pg. 71)

The passage tells of brothers dividing Ireland, the elder’s share were the houses, domestic herds, riches and civilized men. After the elder’s murder, the younger avenged him and took all of Ireland back, giving the leadership of the Fianna to Morna, eventually to pass to Finn MacCumhail, of course. It’s a phrase that struck a cord for me, the indication is that the younger son preferred the wilderness, for he chose it, and that this was seen as an equable division. For the wilderness always seems preferable to me and I have come to see it as the best place to cast my own lot, while so many have turned their backs on it.

I have lived in urban areas, but at one point even then I identified as the Outlaw, one of the wilderness, acting as an Outsider in a couple of Druid groves to which I never actually belonged. One became a very formal role. However, when this arrangement ceased to be, mostly due to my acting on behalf of the members as I should and becoming scapegoated by them (which too may be fitting for for that role), I made the mistake of trying to go Inside. As many others do, I became interested in trying to create some sort of community, broadly based with many roles. A focus on culture. It burned me out. It wasn’t my place.

It seems that for most Gaelic Polytheists there is a strong focus on the civilized culture of the Gaels and finding ways to recreate it or even who claim that they live in some form of Gaelic community (I’m referring to those who are here in the US). Some are very focused on recreating what they see as Pre-Christian society, although most of our information is actually well into the Christian period. They are trying to reconstruct the concept of the túath, often complete with the class system. Others look to the later and modern Gàidhealtachd/Gaeltacht. In both cases there is often a lot of, rather necessary, adaptations which I found I am not comfortable with.

I don’t live in the Gàidhealtachd, I do not live anywhere where it once existed; I simply live where some from those lands, with those languages, immigrated. And gave up their language and culture to assimilate because that was the option they saw best at the time.  I can’t pretend that I am truly part of a living culture nor can I create a childhood of “Gaelic traditions” despite having both Scottish and Irish ancestry (along with French). There is a generation between myself and my last Gàidhlig speaking ancestor, two generations between myself and my last Gaeilge speaking one. Like my father who was Québécois they saw assimilation into “America culture” very important for survival and the survival of their children, especially in light of the discrimination that they experienced first hand.  I might see this as sadly short-sighted, but I can’t pretend it wasn’t what happened.

 This is not to dismiss the importance of the cultures, then or now. We must learn about them to understand them. We must support the living cultures so that they can grow and continue, including keeping the languages going. But this is different than claiming we are living in them, unless we are actually living in the Gàidhealtachd, something which is not an option for most of us.

But would I fit in these cultures if I were born to them? Outside of what we must now accept are Victorian fantasies of multitudes of women warriors fighting as equal to the men, um, not so much.  I’ve already noted that accounts of female warriors in the literature are predominantly Outlaws, aside from Medb and her sisters and Macha Mongruadh, who were instead Queens. Not common, everyday, in the community soldiers.

The more I read and reread the writings of McCone, Nagy and Sharp as well as sections of the literture, the more I am convinced that these warbands constituted more than just a way-station for young men between fosterage and gaining inheritance and adult status.The the Fianna/díberga were fully a counterculture, albeit one of the wild, to the more civilized culture that they protected. And a very Pagan one possibly well into the Christian period. I believe we must try to understand this wild culture too, as much as the civilized one we know more of. We might never be able to know enough about it, but this is the situation we have with all Pagan Gaelic culture…we have no direct information from those living it, our “myths” are not actually myths but Christian literature. This, as I keep noting, why we “Reconstruct,” because we do have to.

Uprooted tree in our swampThis also brings to mind the popular debate about whether Gaelic Paganism is a nature religion or not. Many other cultural Reconstructionists are much clearer that they are not, as some are very urban religions often in conflict with nature. There does seem to be some of that in the more Gaelic ways which are more mainstream and focused on the culture. The romanticism that all of Celtic religion is based in nature, rather than a defense from nature, is, well, romantic. But the Outlaws were of nature, so I can keep that romanticism all I want. Even while actually living with it, understanding why there is often a hostility to it from those who didn’t and don’t have the luxury of seeing it from afar while in their safe houses or apartments, eating food they picked up from a grocery they traveled paved roads to go to and really being separate from that nature they claim to love. Of course, some of us get very romantic about hardship even as we’re in it….some of us cal ourselves homesteaders.

This is the land I belong to now, although my people are late comers. I don’t own it, it owns me. I can’t tame it, it wilds me. It feeds me, it homes me, it both protects and challenges me and I care for it as best I can. I am of the rivers, well brooks anyway, “wastes” and wilds and woods, although the closest precipices are a bit of a hike and I’m rather far from any estuaries. But lots of fresh water swamp. We share it with the deer, the coyotes, the fox, the bear, the stouts, the squirrels, the beaver and countless birds. This is my religion and if not culture then it is my community.

copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert

Rebuilding Her (Their) Cult(s)

Recently Morpheus Ravenna, of Coru Cathubodua,* wrote that she is Not Rebuilding Her Cult in response to others who called for reviving ancient Deity cults and one mentioning that she was doing so for an Morrígan. I’m carrying on the blog cycle, for my first reaction to the title was “Well, I am!”

But that’s not really accurate, either.  I have no desire to build a cult and lead it, if that’s what that sounds like. It’s more I feel She or They are trying to rebuild it, that They are seeking people out to follow Them in a manner that is related to the old cult I believed existed. I wouldn’t mind helping to incite Her cult back into existence, however,and  to offer evidence of it and ways it might happen today. Although, of course, I may not always like what others do with the information I share, I have learned it’s better to live with that than be control freak (although I might have rants on it, of course). And I’m finding certain pressures to reveal my work despite any concerns that I might have.

The difference in my thinking might be explained in her second paragraph and my own take on the issues she brings up there. One being a different take on what the fact that there was no continuation and no documentation from practitioners of what such a cult was like means for rebuilding. We don’t even know if there ever was a cult to the War Goddesses. But that’s an overall problem with Pagan Gaelic traditions, we have to work with what we got, which is a combination of archaeology, Christian literature and law and some Classical observations (which were fewer for Gaelic cultures), as well as some cross-Indo-European speculations. Which is, of course, where Reconstructionist methodology comes in, we wouldn’t need to reconstruct if this problem wasn’t substantial.

Coming from this methodology also leads to a different take on what such a rebuilt, or reconstructed, cult might look like, today. Despite some “definitions” I’ve seen given that often makes it sound like we intend to practice exactly as our ancestors did (something which is impossible if we can never actually know and need to reconstruct to begin with, as well as living under different laws), “Reconstruction” means that we are using research of the past to reconstruct what such things might look like today, in a culturally related fashion. Neither recreating out of cultural context nor trying to live in a past that is gone. This means that even when we have evidence, not all things will be revived. Just as modern Druids, even Reconstructionist ones, manage to practice without human sacrifice,except symbolically, I believe we can reconstruct the war band cults without actually taking heads. At least until the Revenant Cataclysm finally comes.

Panel from Gundestrup Cauldron, likely showing a warrior initiation
Panel from Gundestrup cauldron

likely showing a warrior initiation

I do believe that such a cult or cults very likely existed, and I am focused on the war bands as evidence of them. I follow Epstein’s speculation that Cú Chulainn** is a representation of what the Christian scribes interpreted it might have been like.(Epstein, Ch 3). Following her thoughts that there would be similarities to the berserkr (“bear coats”) and ulfheðnar (“wolf coats”) practices of the likely very cultic Germanic warbands, I also extrapolate that we find hints in the stories of the Fíanna, despite actual Goddess connection lacking (although perhaps some hints to it with the female teachers, one named Bodbmall who Epstein notes may connect to the name Badb and she and Nagy have related to Buannan (Nagy, Wisdom of the Outlaw, pg. 102, Epstein, Ch. 2). From there, of course, to the díberga and their relationship to fáelad (wolfing). I find them interesting in their “unsavory” Paganism and withhold bias against them for the general brigand traits the clerics also attributed to them.(see Sharpe for díberga/Fíanna and McCone and West for that and the wolf speculations) I have also been doing a good bit of writing in regards to the canine aspects and how Cú Chulainn actually fits as more of an Outlaw than a tribal warrior, but these are not yet published. (I will, of course, be letting you know in this blog when they are available somewhere)

Although I want to point out that I’m not trying to create conflict between Ravenna’s vision and my own, only to note how we might be viewing particular’s differently as well as may have different focuses on thie history. Regarding the points Morpheus makes in her post. With location I am, as long time readers have likely figured out, focused on the War Goddesses in Gaelic culture only.  I do however look for relevant similarities found not only in the other Celtic cultures, but, also Germanic ones as there do seem to be many correlations between the war band cults of these cultures, although the Germanic are often to male Deities.  I do agree that the title an Morrígan may well have been held by many regional Goddesses, although I follow Stokes, Epstein and others regarding the title “Morrígan” as more common and older than “Mórrígan” and therefore means “Phantom Queen” rather than “Great (or Big) Queen” which is a later folk etymology  (Stokes, pg. 128, Epstein Ch. 1 “etymologies,” I also go into this a good bit in some upcoming work) and may not bear relation to the “Great Queens” of Brythonic cultures which. Therefore my focus is with working within a Gaelic framework, although I would hope to network with those who might revive war band cults from other cultures. It does, however, lead to a certain flexibility and understanding that more than one actual cult is likely, should any start up again or not.

As for seasons, there is a preponderance of focus on Samain† in the tales an Morrígan is strongly featured in. However, this does seem to have been a time relating to Otherworldly and special events. While wars in the tales often start at this time, we also have later Fenian tales that note that warfare ceased from Samain to Beltene,. Other accounts, and archaeology, does seem to point that warfare and raiding did seem to quiet, if not cease, at Samain, but raiding started up around Imbolc.(Patterson pg. 123, 132-133) Given the link with the warbands and wolves, as well as this return to raiding, I also link Imbolc, or the period between Imbolc and Beltene, with specific work on Awakening the Wolf. Lugnasad, a time of festivals involving horse racing, has been linked specifically to the sister War Goddess Macha. Therefore there is no specific season for me in regard, there may just be difference in focus, devotions of a modern cult might turn inwards more during the winter months, and outward during the summer, in keeping with the tales or might alter depending on seasonal changes in location. Modernizing this doesn’t seem to be a large issue for me.

Incidental or temporal worship already seems carried over by many us anyway, again, within the bounds of legality. Taking omens, making offerings (even if subtly) for specific reasons in specific places is not a large issue. It would, undoubtedly, be an issue for those professional warriors upon battlefields, but this is where we adapt to the situations we are in. And, after all, incidental worship is about adapting.

It is devotional practice is what gets to the meat of it. That which was done, that which we can do now based on the evidence. It might also be where difference in seeing a rebuilding or a new tradition might come in. I already noted, that if in general CRs have had to forgo human sacrifice or adopt symbolic practices (many of which are later folk practices such as the Bealtuinn “sacrifice”) I think we can manage to refrain from piling actual heads. A few modern Gaels I know are quite into the symbolism all the same. Of course, “war spoils” and other related votive offerings can be easily retranslated to modern context of what we find symbolic.

But as I noted, I relate the cult to the Outlaw war bands, what may well have been a Pagan subculture of the early Christian culture. (see McCone, Sharpe, West) Therefore my focus is on the practices which we can interpret about these bands, even in the face of the rather negative reputations the díberga might have, especially in some saint tales. Devotion to me may not be that far off from the non-battle things these warriors offered. Their bodies, their effort into training and preparing. Whether one becomes a full, literally blooded, warrior or not, the training part is there for all of us who do walk the warrior path.

But, again, as I noted above, I also see this as ecstatic practice “shape-shifting” …for me it’s canine, for others I’ve talked to there may be corvid. This may be about out-of-body travel or about an embodied fugue state, strengthening the trained body. (I will eventually have an announcement on something on this). While I am often focused, especially in this blog, on the practical, I feel it’s important to have the ecstatic aspect as well, at least for those so inclined. (No one said every member of a cult would necessarily do the exact same things)

So for me rebuilding Her/Their Cult/s is about the devotional practices, often very embodied ones. And in a modern context. These things would vary by whether one is a professional soldier or a, well, amateur walking the warrior path, of course, as well as on ability and talents. But it would involved fitness, practical martial arts training (which may not always be traditionally Gaelic and could include firearms training), culturally traditional Gaelic martial arts training (which may not always be practical), ecstatic shape-shifting, Seership, poetry and other arts. Not all in the cult might be warriors, we have in the Fenian material druids who helped train Finn in the Sight, after all. But it would be the key focus. I also see an importance on preparedness for a variety of situations, as well….after all, many of us amateur path walkers seem to be preppers. For some of us, hunting, foraging and deep wilderness exploration might connect  us to the Outlaw role as well. Again, we must adapt for hunting seasons are almost the opposite now as they were in early Irish law. (Patterson)

There is, of course, what a cult provides, both members and community, as I believe that service is a key role. The war bands may not have been in the society, but they did serve it.  This is not necessarily focused on our “religious” or cultural communities, but should probably include or physical neighbors of all cultural and religious backgrounds. The professional, soldier, LEO or related, serves a broad community in obvious ways. Others might volunteer for CERT (Community Emergency Response Team),  help organize the local community to deal with disaster and long-term preparedness, teach martial arts and/or self-defense, become victims’ advocates, do volunteer escort in dangerous areas (working with a proper community organization and within their guidelines). And, of course, providing appropriate rituals for those who do worship our Gods when they have need of the War Goddesses.

Needs for members would vary for the professional warrior who has seen combat and is returning to her family, but also for the rape survivor who is moving from victim to hero in her own story. Rituals can be developed for such transitions based on literary references. Makings sure cult members are served by the cult, creating a support system for each other, is a part of the reason to have such a cult, after all. Because it is true, this is not an easy worship, not even for those of us just on the path who might never be blooded as full warriors. For those who are blooded, it is often traumatic so support within a cult would be vital. Ritual, counseling, intervention, just having the right people to connect with and help each other connect to the Goddess we serve. ETA: Perhaps even a good hurling team can be a part of that healing. How long a cult member might be in the cult may vary individually and by need as well. A soldier may find her/himself drawn to service of a War Goddess, but wish cleansing and to move away from the cult when returning to civilian life while others may be, as Nagy put it, “chronic Outlaws.”

I feel that cults based on what we know of the culture, kept in cultural perspective but adapted for the laws we live under, is fully possible using Reconstructionist methodology. I also believe it’s something They want and I hope to see more cultic development in my lifetime. In fact, I’m smelling things on the wind which I think might become very interesting.

*ETA: I now need to note that I in no way associated with this group. I had only ever read the blog and for awhile some  members where in my FB War Goddess group. As I am a devotee to Macha who has vowed to fight for Her horses and to end horse slaughter,  I no longer have even that amount of contact due to the group eating horse meat in a misguided and loathsome attempt to somehow honor Her. Doing this is as close to sacrilege as I could even imagine. Therefore do not read this mention of the post, done before I knew about this, to be any sort of recommendation. Please see another blog I write for Heathens and Pagans for the Horses

**This relationship seems problematic as most see conflict and rejection between Cú Chulainn and the Morrígan. However, looked at from from the warrior path apparent antagonism begins to make sense that She challenges and goads him, he comes back with the arrogance She expects and he rejects the easy victory as he is also expected to do. No one said serving a War Goddess was simple, straightforward or painless.

†I am using the older spellings here, rather than the Scottish Gaelic ones which are my preference as this is relating literature and history.

Angelique Gulermovich Epstein, “War Goddess: the Morrígan and her Germano-Celtic Counterparts” dissertation for UCLA, 1998

Kim McCone, “Varia II” Ériu 36, 1985

Kim McCone “Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, issue 12, 1986

Joseph Falaky Nagy. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985

Nerys Patterson. Cattle Lords & Clansmen: The Social Structure of Early Ireland, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1994

Richard Sharpe, “Laicus, Irish Láech and the Devil’s Men,” Ériu 30, 1979

Whitley Stokes, trans. “The Second Battle of Moytura” Revue Celtique 12

Máire West, “Aspects of díberg in the tale TogailBruidne Da Derga,”Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie (ZcP) , Volume 49-50, 1997

copyright © 2013 Saigh Kym Lambert

A wee update on my dedication prayer

In the year or so since I first published this about what you might call my offerings of sweat, the prayer has altered for me. I realized I had left out two of the banfennidi, Síona and Cámha, connected to the Fionn tales. I also became uncomfortable including Bec and Lithben who are known only for their conversion, both into Christianity and away from being warriors and causing the conversion of their fathers’ and their fathers’ kingdoms, to Christianity. (The Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore). I realize I have no problem with the fact that several are known primarily for dying, it is where many of our stories come from after all, at least the place names. I just realized I did feel uncomfortable including figures who really did exist in order to sell conversion. We’ll see if this changes again for me but this is what I use now.

I serve the War Goddesses
Badb and Macha and An Morrigan, whose name is Anann
Fea and Nemain, Bé Néit

I follow in the footsteps of the banfénnidi
Macha Mongruadh
Ness ingen Echach Sálbuidi
Medb ingen Echach Feidlig
Creidne
Scáthaig Buanand ingen Ardgeimme
Aifi ingen Ardgeimme
Étsine
Bréfne
 Símha ingen Chorrluirgnig
Bodbmall
Líath Lúachra
Luas Lurgann
Siona
Cámha
Truth in our Hearts, Strength in our Arms, Fulfillment in our Tongues

Copyright © 2012 Saigh Kym Lambert