Star Light, Star Bright: Celtic/Druidic Astronomy For All

20181130 STAR LIGHT STAR BRIGHT

I have always been interested in looking up and the night sky, and pondering. Don’t you find it fascinating and both humbling to look up at the vast numbers of stars in the night sky and see a ‘sea’ that goes on (seemingly) for ever? What is out there? Why does it exist? How is it that we can comprehend it (albeit in part)? What is our purpose? From the time of being a wee lad, I’ve looked up and wondered.

‘Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust,’ said Lawrence Krauss.

Look up!

It was a cold 1st December evening, and I was about seven years old (and so this is a recollection of some years ago). My dad had encouraged me, a budding amateur astronomer even at that tender age, by buying me a telescope the Christmas before, and I treasured it.

And, peering out of the window of my grandmother’s cottage on a freezing, cloudless, clear December evening I couldn’t wait to go outdoors and gaze at the night sky once more.

And, once outside, between them, my grandmother and dad, on that night like many others, would point out the constellations, significant stars and the planets, and I was in awe. They knew so much. They shared so much. And, both of them would turn the event into something that was educational, challenging and fun.

‘Look up there, dear Tadhg, what do you see?’, my grandmother said pointing to the north-eastern horizon. I can remember laughing and saying, ‘I can see ten bright stars and they look like the letter ‘H’, like rugby goal posts’. I was always encouraged to use my imagination.

‘Exactly,’ my dad said, ‘but to some people, to the ancient Greeks, that constellation looked like to men fighting. It’s called Gemini which means ‘twins’. And. as I looked they did look like two ‘stick’ men side by side’, fighting.

Ofcourse, others such as ancient Druids used their imagination and saw something slightly different’, my grandmother said.

She went on to explain that when those ancients looked up at those stats they saw Gwyn and Gwyrthur, the sons of Greidawl who seek the hand of the lady in red, Creudyladd. I looked, and they did look like characters that the ancient Celts talked of.

Look up! Be encouraged to look up at the night sky. If you’re in the northern hemisphere then the constellation Gemini (or Gwyn and Gwyrthur) rise above the north-east horizon at dusk, climbing high in the south-eastern sky ay midnight, during this time of the year.

Interesting isn’t it, that regardless of our faith background and ‘tribe’ we are comfortable with Greek myth, from an astronomical point of view when naming constellations, and yet to many, local and ancient myth seem unfamiliar and odd, and perhaps to a minority to be resisted.

‘Now check that one, son’, my dad asked me as he pointed to another constellation. I knew the constellation he was pointing to. It was Orion. ‘Use your imagination’, he said. And I did. I remember laughing and saying it looked like a butterfly, or a bow tie (not that I had many occasions to wear a bow tie on many occasions as a wee lad – but there were one of two weddings where I did), but I knew it was Orion the Hunter. My dad continued, ‘..and to the ancient Celts and Druids that constellation is Herne the Hunter’.

Many years later I was to find out, born to Euryale, a Gorgon, and Poseidon/Neptune, the god of the sea in the Graeco-Roman tradition.

Did you know, that the earliest depiction of the constellation of Orion is prehistoric? On a mammoth ivory carving found in the Ach valley in West Germany there is the outline of the constellation dating back about thirty-five thousand years ago.

‘The heavens declare the glory of God..’ Psalm 19.1a, The Book

Did you know that Herne is, allegedly, a resident spectre and keeper of Windsor Forest in Berkshire, England, whose most notable feature is that he has antlers. It is said he often appears riding on horseback, accompanied by other wild huntsman.

Look up! If you’re interested in seeing the Constellation Orion (or Herne the hunter), at this time of the year, it will rise above the southern horizon at about 8pm (London time) and climb higher in the south-eastern sky as the night passes. You can’t miss that constellation’s brightest star (infact it’s the brightest star in the night sky), Sirius, which is four hundred and sixty-three light years away. So, light leaving there in AD1555 would only now just be reaching your eyes as you look at it.

It was getting even colder, and I think my grandmother and dad were eager to get me indoors and in the warm, but (even then) my interest was piqued and I could be quite persuasive, and I persuaded them to explore just one more constellation.

This time I pointed out a group of stars unknown to me. My dad explained that that constellation was Perseus. He said that he was one of the great heroes of classical mythology, the son of Jupiter and Danae, and was best known for his killing of the Gorgon Medusa. My grandmother explained, ‘Or, to the Welsh, Perseus was really the hero Llew Llaw Gyffes, who was the child of Arianrhod. He was killed but, at the moment of his death, his soul transformed into an eagle, and he still appears in the night sky for all to see’.

It was now freezing cold, and so we all headed back home, to listen to some more stories by my grandmother at the hearth.

Look up! Persus or Llew Llaw Gyffes can be seen in high in the night sky, now, in the east.

My love for the night sky still persists, and I would encourage you to pause and look up at the night sky…and be in awe. There is great wonderment there, myth, ‘magic’ and great understanding. If we only’ stop and stare’, as the late Welsh poet W H Davies penned. ‘Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.’ Sarah Williams.

 

Ephemera: Full Moon: The Dark Moon, Meaning & More

20181120 EPHEMERA FULL MOON DARK MOON 23 NOVEMBER 2018

’The moon looks upon many night flowers; the night flowers see but one moon.’ Jean Ingelow

I love full moons. I know many like the energy and vibrancy of the new moon, but for me it’s the full moon in its radiant glory and power, that charming smile that gazes down upon us all, and the brilliant energy that beams in the darkened sky, that makes me pause in wonderment.

And, the next full moon in November takes place in the early hours of Friday, 23 November 2018 (at 5.39am using UK times), though it will appear full the evening before and later that day.

It will be in the constellation of Taurus, and a couple of days later it will be sitting only 1.5 degrees from Aldebaran, that bright reddish star that marks one eye in the triangular face of Taurus the bull.

To some Celts and Druids (and that includes me) this was, and is known as the Dark Moon. To others it is known as the Tree Moon, the Beaver Moon and the Hunter’s Moon. In medieval England it was known as the Snow Moon.

‘And the sun and the moon sometimes argue over who will tuck me in at night. If you think I am having more fun than anyone on this planet, you are absolutely correct.’ Hafiz

The Moon has, in some quarters, had bad press over the years, and infact even from ancient times myths and ‘magic’ have abounded about the moon and its relevancy and effects upon humankind. Here’s four interesting ‘facts’:

One: The Roman goddess of the moon was Luna, and it’s from her name that we get the terms lunacy and lunatic, an ancient belief that the moon was responsible for causing madness – something which we carry over into our modern day language.

It was also thought that sleeping in the light of a full moon could make a women pregnant, and the full moon was when werewolves turned from their human form into their lycanthrope stage, and the latter, ofcourse, is a well-loved theme of Hollywood.

’When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained… Psalm 8:3. The Book

If all of this makes you fearful of the full moon, then the term you need to know is: selenophobia.

Two: There is evidence, as we know, that the moon was very important to the ancient Celts and Druids. The Welsh goddess Arianrhod is viewed by many as being a lunar deity. It is thought that her name means ‘silver wheel’ – an obvious reference to the moon as it speeds wonderfully across the sky. Cerridwen is another possible Welsh deity with lunar connections. Her name means, ‘bent white one’ and this, too, is likely to be a reference to the crescent moon as it hangs in the sky.

’The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.’ Ming-Dao Deng

Three: The Earth’s oceans are massive, and yet the moon exerts a twice-daily gravitational surge on them: even over the size of relatively smaller bodies of water such as the Great Lakes of the USA, this tidal effect can be measured in inches. Scale that down even further to human size and the effect is minuscule, but theories abound that, for example, the Moon’s gravitational influence on the water in our brains can cause us to be affected by the moon in some way. Unlikely, but you never know!

’We are going to the moon that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself.’ Anais Nin

Four: Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon where the brain tries to make recognisable shapes where none exist – the face we see looking at us from the moon could be said to be an example. Just a ‘trick’ of the mind, pareidolia, or maybe something more?

Talmudic tradition says that the image of Jacob is engraved on the moon, and ancient Chinese tradition says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chango’e has been living on the Moon for 4,000 years. It is said she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband and consumed a double dose of it. She is also accompanied by a small group of ‘moon rabbits’ that live on the Moon, an image that human mind has perceived through the centuries, in the face of the Moon.

‘When the storm is over and night falls and the moon is out in all its glory and all you’re left with is the rhythm of the sea, of the waves, you know what God intended for the human race, you know what paradise is.’ Harold Pinter

Celebration: So, this full moon – as the Circle of the Year moves ever onwards, as seasons change– whatever our belief, it’s time to give thanks to the ‘silvery face’ that smiles down upon each one of us, regardless of our circumstances, and time to give thanks to the One who is behind it and sustains it for our benefit.

Why not Light a candle this full moon and spend a few minutes meditating upon it, or walk in the moonlight (and perhaps see your moon-shadow) and bask in its light, or raise a glass of wine (or fruit juice) in its honour, or say a silent prayer to the Moon-Maker.

O Divine Presence
Bless to me the lustre of your signs and wonders,
traces of our final home in land and sea and sky.
As you have made the mark of heaven in a human face,
may I see your imprint of your family likeness in every living* thing
that your blessing may radiate
each day and each night,
until heaven and earth are one.

(The Celtic Wheel Of The Year. Tess Ward)

* [My preference, being an animist, is to say ‘every created thing’]

Do pause in your busy schedule and just gaze upward to the moon (or where it may be, if cloudy). My encouragement would be to do something, however simple, however brief, to celebrate this most wonderful full moon, and be thankful.

Blessings to you and yours at this time of the Dark Moon, Tadhg

 

[Many thanks to Pennie Ley for the use of the moon ‘header’ photo above. Copyrighted]

All About Ivy: There’s More To It Than Meets The Eye

20181117 ALL ABOUT IVY MEANING MYTH AND MAGIC

Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o’er ruins old!

(Charles Dickens)

Much misunderstood, and the subject of myth and magic in the winter season, Winter Solstice and at Christmastime, Ivy is a wonderful ‘climber’ that has a story of mystery to tell from over a millennia ago. Ivy can be viewed from a botanical point of view, as a friend of nature, and as a plant of myth and magic. And, each is fascinating and spell-binding. So…

Botanical view
Ivy grows well throughout the UK and is native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa, and can be found in many habitats including woodland, scrub, wasteland and on isolated trees. It quite likes shaded areas, and can live in all but the most dry, waterlogged or acidic soils.

Common name(s): Ivy, common ivy, Atlantic ivy, English ivy, British ivy, European ivy
Scientific name: Hedera helix
Family: Araliaceae

It is an evergreen plant so its easily identifiable leaves can be seen all the year. It flowers in September to November, and fruits ripen in November to January.

But, there’s more to Ivy than meets the eye
Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings,
And a staunch old heart has he.
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings,
To his friend the huge Oak Tree!

(Charles Dickens)

It is a woody climber which can grow to a height of 30metres. It has two different forms – juvenile and mature. It climbs trees, walls and building, using specialised and adapted hairs which help it ‘stick’ to surfaces as it climbs.

There are many views as to whether ivy climbing on brickwork damages the brick. It seems its doesn’t crack or damage brick but exploits any cracks and damage that were  already there – but if you have ivy on your house etc it’s best to take professional advice.

As creeping ivy clings to wood or stone, And hides the ruin that it feeds upon, So sophistry, cleaves close to, and protects Sin’s rotten trunk, concealing its defects.

(William Cowper)

But, it is not a parasitic plant, and has a separate root system in the soil and so absorbs its own nutrients and water as needed.

But, there’s more.

Friend of nature
Some may be inclined to pull ivy off a tree fearing that it will harm the tree (though in individual cases it may need to be trimmed back), but Ivy growing on trees does no harm to the tree, and, indeed, it provides an abundant supply of food for insects and birds.

Ivy is the wild lady of the greenwood; she gathers us all together, entwinning and embracing.

(Danu Forest)

Nectar, pollen and berries of ivy are bountiful during autumn and winter when food is scarce. And it provides shelter for insects (especially hoverflies, wasps and bees), birds, bats and other small mammals.  It is also an important food plant for some butterfly and moth larvae. It’s a wonderful plant.

But, there’s even more.

Myth & More
As an evergreen plant ivy (along with holly – and we looked at holly recently: please see here) was seen as an especially powerful symbol during winter, and it was brought into the house to keep negativity and evil spirits at bay.

In ancient Rome wearing a wreath of ivy leaves around ones head was supposed to prevent one from getting drunk –  unlikely, I would think  – and the Roman god Bacchus, the god of intoxication, was usually depicted wearing a wreath of ivy and grapevines.

However, Ivy was also seen as a symbol of intellectual prowess, then, and wreaths were used to crown the winners of poetry contests.

That headlong ivy!
Not a leaf will grow,
But thinking of a wreath,
Large leaves, smooth leaves.
Serrated like my vines, and half as green.
I like such ivy, bold to leap a height,
Twas strong to climb! as good to grow on graves,
As twist about a thyrsus , pretty too,
(And that’s not ill) when twisted round a comb.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

In ancient Greece wreaths were also given to winning athletes, and they were also seen as emblems of fidelity, and priests would present a wreath of ivy to newly married couples. Even today it is still often the custom for bridal bouquets to contain a sprig of ivy. Ah, sometimes the old ways and wonderful traditions live on, even unbeknownst to many.

English ivy also has a tendency to travel along the ground – and who hasn’t tripped in the matted roots system as it spreads over the ground. Sometimes, if its growth is unchecked it can travel from one plant to another, binding the plants together, and this binding ability sometimes has a deeply symbolic meaning.

But, like ivy, we grow where there is room for us.

(Miranda July)

Some early versions of the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde, refer to the ability of ivy to bind.

Here’s the story: Tristan, a Cornish knight went to Ireland to ‘claim’ Isolde, an Irish princess, as a bride for King Mark. During the arduous journey back to Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde drank a love potion made from ivy and fell madly in love. [But, please don’t emulate them in making or drinking any Ivy concoction as it’s poisonous, and so this story is for historical and mythological study purposes only). For them Ivy ‘binded’ them together.

In some other versions, Tristan and Isolde do die and are buried in separate graves by King Mark so that even in death they cannot be together. However, in that story, an ivy vine grew out of each grave towards the other one. The ivy vines, then, met and entwined around each others body, forming a loving and eternal connection. And, even when the King Mark cuts the vines they regrow and reconnect. Wonderful story.

For ancient Celts, Druids and medieval Christians, Ivy represented peace, perhaps because of its ability to bind different plants or even different kinds of plants together. And it is for that reason I would advocate you buying and bringing in some Ivy into your house, especially at the darkest part of the year when we celebrate the Winter solstice and/or Christmas.

It’s also for the reason of peace and fidelity that many Celts and Druids of old, and today (including me when conducting a handfasting or marriage ceremony) wear holly wreaths at some events – do see an earlier article where I did just that, which included the line: ‘‘You’ve got grass on your head, mister’.

Also, during the winter solstice, in years gone by, there was a tradition of a nominated boy wearing a holly wreath, and a girl wearing n ivy crown to symbolise the different sexes, the ‘battle’ between sun and moon, between dark and the barrenness of winter and light and the green fecund world, the endless turning of the circle. Yes, the ivy is a wonderful plant full of mystery and magic, and surely has a place in our homes this yuletide.

For the stateliest building man can raise,
Is the Ivy’s food at last.
Creeping on, where time has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

(Charles Dickens)

The Work Of Re-Membering In An Age Of Forgetfulness

20181112THE WORK OF RE-MEMBERING

There are many stories that I can recall and will tell over the months ahead, as I have been doing, tales from my childhood of some meaning, stories told to me by my grandmother, stories that you might like to hear, but there are some stories I cannot tell.

Will you remember me
like the circled stones,
like the secret hills,
where you walk alone,
where the wind can speak ,
my other names,
like the air you breathe.
Will you remember me?

Roseanne Cash (Singer, and eldest daughter of the late, great, country musician Johnny Cash)

It’s not that I want to keep them to myself, but those are the stories where I only have a partial recollection. If I told them it would be like telling a joke to a friend but forgetting the punchline. Then, the reason for telling that joke, or for me telling that story to you will fail miserably because of insufficient data.

‘Apathy takes root when I refuse to remember that which I can ill-afford to forget.’ Craig D Lounsbrough

My memory, then, for those stories is faulty. I can only think of bits and pieces. Fragmentary. I cannot remember them in total.

The opposite to remember or re-member isn’t to forget, it is to ‘dis-member’. Those fragmentary pieces of story-data mean the story is dis-membered, and it’s in pieces, and cannot fulfil what it was originally designed to do.

Yes, the opposite to re-member is dis-member.

To dwell initially on the word ‘dismember’ is an interesting place to start. We all have an inkling of a dismembered relationship: the relationship that, in many ways, is in tatters between humankind and nature, between nation states, within nation states, between family and friends, and even within our own psyche. It is, some would say, sadly, ‘the human condition’. This is not to be overly negative, but it is what it is to be human (and being human is good), and it isn’t always the over-riding way things are.

‘I remember you-ooh
You’re the one who made my dreams come true,
A few kisses ago.

Frank Ifield (released in 1963, and I can remember it!)

If we forget our stewardship to nature, nature will be torn apart (or dismembered). If we forget our duty to one another we will disrespect others (and see them as ‘less’ than us). And, if we forget who we are, we will have a low opinion of ourselves and trouble may ensue as regards what we think, say about, and do to ourselves. Doesn’t much of advertising dwell on this today – you’re better if you buy our product, ‘this is the best a man can get’ etc. All examples of dis-membering.

But, the opposite to dis-member is to re-member.

To re-member, is to ‘repair’ that which is torn apart, broken, or dismembered. It is a putting back together again, to make whole. Remembering needs to take place, and taken to heart.

About two weeks ago I was in a wooded area of Plymouth attending a wonderful Samhain ritual. It was a time of remembering. In an age where many have forgotten about those that have ‘gone ahead’, our ancestors; when many have forgotten about the bounty of nature and the changing seasons; and when many have forgotten about That Which Is Bigger Than Us, a group of passionate and caring people, held a ceremony to re-member! Effectively they stood in a fragmented society, and in liminal space, a ‘thin place’, lived up to their calling of the work of re-membering that which was dis-membered.

‘The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living’. Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today (11 November 2018) is Rembrance Day in the UK and in Commonwealth nations, when many remember the time of the end of the Great War and all those that gave their lives in that, and subsequent conflicts. Some know it as Armistice Day. This article isn’t about those who sacrificed their lives in the defence of freedom, laudable though it is, and it is interesting to note that at his speech today the French President warned of the rise in nationalism and its dire consequences if we don’t remember, as a self-declared nationalist, who had forgotten the horrors of nationalism sat within earshot. If we don’t re-member the past, we will dis-member the present.

‘Man is a messenger who forgot the message’. Abraham Joshua Heschel

Today, we re-membered.

This evening, I was at a small church, that had a deeply-moving communion service. At one point Scripture was recited. It was that part I especially like – the anamnesis, a kind of -reliving the moment as if transported ‘there’ – when the words, ‘Remember this…’ were spoken. Though we are many, we are essentially one, though seemingly dis-membered, in that act of receiving bread and wine together, and taking it to heart, in a deeply spiritual and effective way, we were re-membered. Re-joined. Made whole.

A couple of years back I had a ‘stall’ at the London area Festival Of Mind, Body and Spirit, and so too the year before, when I had met Samantha who was visiting and was/is a very spiritual author, and a good one at that. I saw her last year and as she came up to the ‘stall’, I greeted her by name. ‘Hello, Samantha, it’s really is good to see you again’, I said. ‘Ah, you remembered me!’, she said and smiled.

Re-membering is required, and when we do remember people great things happen. Friendships start. Parts of a relationship are put back together. The member parts become one!

If we forget about nature, we dismember it, and one of the consequences of that is global warming. If we re-member nature, good things can and do take place. If we forget about people we effectively dis-member them or any relationship we had. But, if we re-member people then the potential is there for a thriving relationship. If we forget about ourselves and who we really are, then we dis-member ourselves and don’t function as we should. But if we re-member who we are – remember our Source-given status and calling – then we function as we should.

‘For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost’. Frederick Buechner

One of the reasons I am a self-declared Christo-Druid or is it a Druidic-Christian is that both ‘camps’ remember, or, when they take it to heart, they re-member’.

In any religion or belief system it is easy to operate at the surface-level, and doesn’t the world like that? It might be Winter Solstice or Christmas Day, but if I only go for the ‘externals’ then I miss the true meaning of it. Much better to go for the externals (so I’m not against giving gifts) and take to heart the deep and real meaning, or re-member it. Not just remember it, but re-member it: put the whole thing together as one and not just consider the parts of the festival I might like.

And, it is for that reason that I like it when people join small groups, groves, thriving churches and other groups, and are passionate about what they believe, because in a fragmented society they will  have a positive effect, because they are doing the valuable work of re-membering. That’s their calling, its our calling, isn’t it?

‘Remember your connection with the cosmos. Remember your connection with the infinity and that remembrance will give you the freedom.’  Amit Ray,

Ephemera: Harvest Full Moon: 24 October 2018: Meaning, Myth & More

20181017 EPHEMERA FULL MOON 24 OCTOBER 2018

There’s a full moon comping up.

We live in a remarkable universe. The solar system we inhabit sits on the outer spiral arm of the Milk Way galaxy, and the sun is an even-tempered star. We are on a planet that is within the ‘goldilocks zone’, that is, not too close to the sun to bake, and not too far away to freeze and make known life impossible. Ancient Celts, Christians, Druids, Pagans and others of old could only look up and gaze in wonder.

And yet the wisdom they possessed can teach us so much.

The planet tilts throughout the year, just enough to distribute temperature and ensure seasons; and we have a moon that, in astronomical terms, is very large compared to the planet (and because of that, some call it a companion planet, or a binary planetary system), and which harmonises with the Earth and ensures tides and weather systems. A wonderful stellar symbiosis.

It’s that moon, or rather the impending full moon on 24 October 2018 that we look at.

We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea, and you don’t believe in miracles?’ Unknown

The next full moon is on 24 October, and is known by some as the Hunter’s moon, or the Blood moon. To many Celts, Druids and others, myself included, it is known as the Harvest moon. It rises above the horizon (from a UK viewpoint) at about 6.20pm in the east on that evening, and climbs to its highest point at about midnight (and will be south-south-east by then).

This awesome Harvest moon will appear on the cusp of the constellation of Aries the Ram, and close to it (but maybe too small to be seen unless you’re using a telescope) is the planet Uranus which is about nineteen astronomical units away from us – one astronomical unit is the distance from the Earth to the Sun – so it is nineteen times further away from us that we are from the Sun. Amazing.

‘The white light of the moon is infinitely gentle with the dark. It insists on no awakening or disturbance of colour except for the occasional illumination of the breaking wave…the rhythm of the tides…the red rhythm of the blood’. John O’Donohue

There is an ancient story about Arianrhod (pronounced ah-ree-ahn-rhohd), which is Welsh for ‘silver wheel’ or ‘silver disc’ and Arianrhod was, to those ancient Welsh tribes, a goddess, the personification of the moon.

One of many stories about Arianrhod, and perhaps not a noble one, forms part of the Mabinogion, a collection of ancient Welsh myths, some dating as far back as the Iron Age.

This story tells of the goddess Arianrhod, daughter of a goddess, and niece to the Math the King of Gwynedd. She is forced to step over a magician’s rod to prove her virginity, and as she does so, she immediately gives birth to two sons; one called Dylan, the other who is eventually named Lleu.

Arianrhod is enraged at the humiliating virginity test that she had to endure and directs the anger she has for the men-folk towards one of her sons.

She places three curses over Lleu during his life: He shall have no name except the one she gives him. He shall bear no weapons except ones she gives him. He shall have no wife of the race that is now on the earth.

Her brother cleverly manages to trick her each time, dispelling all of her curses placed upon Lleu. Arianrhod then retreats to her castle Caer Arianrhod, and was later drowned when the sea reclaimed the land.

The sunken ruins of the island on which she is said to have lived, Caer Arianrhod, can be found off the coast of Dinas Dinelle, in North Wales. On a low spring tide this ancient relic can sometimes be viewed from the shore.

Many of you will know that I am an amateur astronomer, and so the moon especially is dear to me. But, I think I’m also a romantic and like to look beyond ‘the veil’, and about a year ago I wrote the following poem about Arianrhod.

Arianrhod in all her splendour, moves by an invisible hand
and wanders companionless, like a silver wheel in the sky. She ascends.
This full moon’s lucid beam dominates the now darkened canopy, and
there, in her smiling face, we find sweet, unbridled understanding.
She befriends.

Her ‘lesser light’ moves across the sky above the city, grey.
Oh, robed in splendour, her surge of silver-light fills every window pane
and skips across rooftops, trees, streams, fairy fires, and silent railway,
and falls unbeknown on those who sleep now, and refreshment regain.
A blessing.

Arianrhod, spill your beauty on a thousand Earthly races,
on happy flowers that bloom in a myriad of hues,
on laughing, smiling, sad and all up-looked faces,
who, in wilding spaces, drink your wine of sweet, bless’d fallen dew.
A gracious infilling.

And paled now is her light,
as onward she moves lower in the sky. For the sun, opportune.
But, for now, dear Arianrhod reigns with love. She is mistress of the night.
A timely witness sent by the Truth who is beyond the Moon.
A glorious remembrance.

So, this full moon my suggestion is for us to pause and gaze in awe at the moon, to revel in the thought that without it life on Earth would be very different and the planet might not have been inhabitable, and to ponder upon the One Who Flung Stars Into Space and give thanks. For me, as is my custom I will do the aforementioned, and ‘toast’ the moon and show gratitude to the One Behind It All with a sip (or three) of some really nice wine (and maybe pour some out as a libation).

Those ancient Celts, Christians, Druids, Pagans and others can teach us so much, and perhaps at this full moon we can pause and appreciate nature in its fullness, and be connected to those that have gone before us. Wisdom.

 

[The moon and star facts and header photo above are cited/used only because of my astronomical interest, a sky-map to locate the moon and planets relative to the constellations and using astronomical, scientific symbolism.]

There Were Giants…: A Timeless Myth To Ponder Upon

20181008 THERE WERE GIANTS

Those who are acquainted with ancient myth will know that it was common for people to regard the original inhabitants of their lands as giants. In these Isles stories of giants in Celtic and Druidic accounts abound in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and, yes, in England, too.

The memory of early struggles for land or survival is preserved in mythology and the heroes of old, those who were wise and possessed long-lost knowledge became giants in the popular mind, so some have said. They probably were large and powerful men and women, and their physical strength and stature became exaggerated as their deeds passed into legend, at least that is the theory from our modern perspective. But, suppose there were really giants?

‘There were giants on the earth in those days…’, Genesis 6:4a, The Book

If giants existed what does it tell us about our place in the universe, our status, or the creative act of the Source of All? Did they exist in the physical realm or in the imaginal And, does that matter? Both are real, aren’t they?

At the very least, it must make us pause, think and wonder.

My grandmother was a great person for story-telling and that, it seems, has passed to me. On one occasion, after careful research I uncovered a local story, a myth, that related to an inner city borough in London. Yes, even in the heart of a bustling city like modern-day London the stories and myth of old echo, still. Hardly heard under the cacophony of sound of cars and lorries, tv and radio, there is a still small voice of the Ancient Story-teller still telling stories to those willing to listen.

The story or myth, uncovered, and which I told to my children some years ago, went like this:

There was a time when two giant sisters lived nearby this house in London. On this side of the River Thames there lived a huge, tall and powerful woman, and her giant sister lived on the other side of the river.

As time went by they decided that they would do something that many people, in future years would remember them by.

Penhill giant is a giant found in English folklore and legends. The giant lived in a fortress on Penhill in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. There are general legends and tales about the giant which claim the giant ate flocks of sheep and terrorized maidens in the local area.

The two giants decided to build two churches, and by this people would remember them: one church would be built on this side of the River Thames, and one on the other side of the river. The challenge that they had, was that, to cut the bricks for the building, they only had one hammer between them. A giant hammer, ofcourse.

The work was laborious and slow, as they had to throw the hammer across the wide river whenever one of them wanted to fashion a brick. This was relatively easy for them, even though the river at that point is wide, because they were giants!

And so, over the years they would call out to each other, when they wanted the use of that one hammer.

The giant sister on this side of the river would shout out, ‘Full home’ when she needed the hammer, and the giant sister on the other side of the river would shout, ‘Put nigh’ when she needed the hammer.

At last the two sisters completed the two church buildings on either side of the River Thames, nearby. They were proud of their achievements, and rightly so.

‘Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron.’ Job 40:15-18, The Book

Sadly, the names of the giant sisters is lost to us, and even the story of the two giant sisters is known only to a few (and perhaps, a few more people if you’ve read as far as this).

What is remembered, is the call that they made to each other when they wanted that one hammer. Yes, on this side of the river the shout was ‘Full home’, from which the borough (it is said in myth) got its name, Fulham. Whilst the borough on the other side of the river (and now connected by a wonder bridge) is called Putney, from that giant’s ancient cry of ‘put nigh’. And so, the story ends.

Ofcourse, it is an old story, a myth, and many would dispute it, but doesn’t it make you wonder? Stories of giants abound in these Isles (and, indeed, around the world), and now here’s a story of giants of old, right here in London.

Yes, if giants existed in former days, what does it tell us about our place in the universe, what about our status, and what about the creative act of the Source of All? At the very least, it must make us pause, think and wonder. Surely?

The two giants, guardians of London were called Gog and Magog. Myth has it that they were the last two survivors of the sons of the thirty-three infamous daughters of Diocletian, who were captured and kept chained to the gates of a palace on the site of Guildhall.

However they got there, we do know that by the reign of Henry V they were carved effigies, huge giants guarding the gates of Guildhall. In 1554 these effigies appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show and were pulled along on carts. And, modern effigies of Gog and Magog, guardian giants of London still feature in the annual Lord Mayor’s Show  each November. See here.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

 

Tales From The Heart(h): The Fae. Mystery & Meaning

20180930 THE FAE MYSTERY & MEANING TALES FROM THE HEARTH

We all love stories. The Ancients, ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans and others also loved to tell stories and parables, and within them, and sometimes they can be the simplest of stories, we can find unspoken secrets and deep truths that benefit and enrich us. Buried treasure awaits the discerning reader.

My grandmother loved to tell me stories. One day, and I must have been about five of six years old, after a long day of playing with friends in the Welsh countryside, after the evening meal, I sat close to the hearth, nestled against her rocking-chair and got comfortable, ready for another story of hers that would transport me who knows where.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world…’. Albert Einstein.

She said: There was once a young man who lived by himself in a cottage. It had a thatched roof, a big grandfather clock in the hall, a huge hearth, and in the garden there were so many roses near the house and so many trees at the far end of the garden. Just like this house.

I wondered. Could this be the very house in the story? My childhood imagination ran riot.

She continued. One night, on a night just like this one, the young man heard a noise outside the kitchen door. It was a well-known fact that for country-folk the usual entrance to a house was through the kitchen door and not the front door. The young man opened the kitchen door.

He couldn’t see anyone in the dark, and called out, ‘Who’s there?’. Was he startled?

Oh yes. From the ground, yes the ground a melodic voice replied, ‘It is room that we need to dress our children.’ The young man opened the door fully, and in walked a dozen fae (fairies), incredibly small – about five inches high – and each carried a tiny baby in their arms.

They began to search for an earthen pitcher with water and settled by the hearth with its roaring fire; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing their infants and adorning themselves. Just before dawn they went away, leaving some money for the young man on the hearth as a reward for his kindness.

After this the young man used to keep the hearth burning all night long, left a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread on the table, each day. He knew he should remove everything made of iron before going to bed, and he knew that these visitations were a secret between him and the fae.

I wondered: would there be any money on the hearth tomorrow morning?

‘To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.’ Oscar Wild

My grandmother said, the fae would often visit the young man’s cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth. It happened so often that he was able to give up working, and he lived quite comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Fair Folk.

Some years later he took a lovely young lady from the village to be his wife. Once she had married him she became concerned that the money he seemed to have in abundance was from foul means. But he refused to tell her, and, ofcourse, this made her more inquisitive.

‘I’m worried that you don’t get it honestly,’ she said to him. The young man tried to convince her that there was nothing dishonest about his means of livelihood. She gave him no peace. ‘If I tell you, they’ll never come back and I’ll never get any more money’, he said.

‘Ah,’ she said, ‘then it’s the fairies.’ He admitted that it was the fae, and being somewhat annoyed at revealing the fact, he promptly took himself off the pub for a pint of the finest beer and a smoke of tobacco.

When he returned home that evening, he tended the fire, put out a vessel of water and left bread on the table, but the next morning the water and bread was still there. And, there was no money.

His wife was sitting in the garden, and called to him as she had spied the fae leaving, but by the time he arrived they had gone – never to be seen again.

Sometimes, my grandmother said to me that it shows that hospitality is important, the good deeds are rewarded, and that it is best to keep a secret (unless it is a harmful one).

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ The Book, Hebrews 13:2

Ofcourse, to many people the fae are just make-belief stories. But, perhaps they live on in the just-as-real imaginal realm, and perhaps cross-over into this realm when someone truly believes in them. Or, perhaps the real meaning is in the story about the fae. A moral? What do you think?

Interestingly, in a few day’s time one (or more) of the Cottingley fairy photographs is to be auctioned.

About five photographs were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. And the photographs showed the girls in the company of the fae. Sir Arthus Conan Doyle and others were convinced the photographs were real and used the photographs at various public events. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, others believed that they had been faked.

I wonder? Fake photographs or not?

‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table. Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’ Diane Ackerman

Many years later the girls, now much older, admitted the photographs were fake, and were cut-outs propped-up with hatpins. However, there’s a twist, as one of the women then changed her mind and said that at least one of the photographs were real evidence of fairy visitation. You can read more about that here.

There is an ancient belief in the fae, especially in Wales and Ireland, but also elsewhere. The ancients Celts and Druids believed in them (or similar) though descriptions and their names may have changed. But, it seems to me that many people believed in the fae because of the Cottingley photographs and many more wanted to believe. There is a real spiritual hunger and a desire to look behind what we think is real to see the realm beyond. Real or not, the photographs point to a longing for them to be real. I do believe my grandmother believed fervently in the fae. And, what of the meaning behind the story of the fae? Wise men and women, sages throughout the years have told stories and parables to illustrate a truth. It makes you wonder. Doesn’t it?

Could it also be that the photograph(s) about to be auctioned in the UK are part of the same (or similar)  story  that my grandmother told, or just a co-incidence?

‘Never stop wandering into wonder.’ Suzy Kassem

I wonder.

 

Rivers: Nature And Supernature. The Power & The Myth

20180908 RIVERS NATURE AND SUPERNATURE

Where is a body of water things happen. It’s not just that humankind sometimes uses oceans and rivers to (artificially) mark out territory at a superficial level, and things happen because of that. But, it’s deeper. There’s more.

As you know I’m in Hay On Wye, just inside the country of Wales, and chuckled to myself last evening as I walked the twenty minutes to the shop. To get there I crossed over a bridge over the small but vibrant Dulas Brook. It’s a wonderful Brook.

’It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.’ Nicholas Sparks

Momentarily I stood there and looked down, and pondered the fact that half of me was in England, and half in Wales. I know, sometimes my inner child runs rampant – but, what not?

I was in no particular rush,  and so sat down beside the brook, away from the road, and enjoyed the solitude. 

Water, bodies of water, rivers and lakes have played an important part over the years in the belief system of many religions and faith groups. 

Millions of Hindus, with ashes over their bodies, plunge into the River Ganges in the hope that their sins will be washed away. The ancient Hebrews believed  that the Pool of Bethesda would heal them when it’s waters rippled declaring the presence of an invisible angel. And, many Christians bathe in the River Jordan for a blessing. The latter, ofcourse, use blessed or holy water in christenings and on other occasions when it is ‘flicked’ at the congregation. And, who can forget the old story, and one of my favourites, of dear Brigit turning bath water into beer!

’he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the [blind] man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.’ John 9: 6b-7, The Book

Cleopatra, it is said knew of the healing properties of the water of the Dead Sea, and many today bathe in it, (or buy its water for home use) in the hope it will heal them (and indeed some say it may have some beneficial effect for skin ailments etc  because of its high salt content). But, there’s more.

Ah, water.

As I sat there and gazed into the Dulas Brook and with the sun setting, I wondered of the number of ancient Celts, Christians, Druids, Pagans and others that have done the same. Wales is that kind of place. It is a land of mystery and magic, where ancient voices can be heard in the wind and the energy of bygone ritual flows through the earth. Water, it seems, invited, and the Giver of Water moves through this land.

The ancients believe water could heal. And, at Buxton in Derbyshire is the ‘well’ that was flowing before the Romans invaded England, and which was used by Druids and others for healing. It was originally called Aqua Arnemetiae meaning. ‘the waters of the goddess who lived in the sacred grove. Know it is known as St Anne’s well.

Healing?

The ancient Celts and Druids told of stories where the Otherworld is reached by going under the waters, such as pools, lakes, or the sea, or by crossing the western sea. In Irish Immrama tales, a beautiful young Otherworldly woman would oftenapproach the hero and invite him to go away with her, as she sings to him of this happy land. He follows her, and they journey over the sea together and are seen no more.

A gateway?

Could Dulas Brook be a gateway to Annwn, the OtherWorld in Welsh mythology, that place of eternal youth and where disease was unknown?

The ancient Celts and Druids (and others) also believed that around water, such as lakes, rivers and brooks, elementals inhabited the area. Many still believe this today, and stories abound of good and not-so-good events around, or involving, water.

The spirits of watery places were honoured as givers of life. Sequana, it is said, seems to have embodied the River Seine at its spring source, the goddesses Boann and Sionnan give their names to the rivers Boyne and Shannon, and the ancient name for the River Marne was Matrona ‘Great Mother’.

Could there be a correlation between the River Lugg, just a few miles away, and Lugh? In the past I’ve dismissed it, but now I’m seriously considering the link.

It makes you think.

And, as I sat there gazing into the Dulas Brook I could see how water and the human imagination could ‘connect’ and deep thoughts take place. Ofcourse, many might dismiss such thoughts,  but what if imagination, like water, houses mysteries that defy rational explanation? What if we are surrounded my the miracle and magic that is water, but are oblivious to the fact?

Just a body of water? I would venture that when we gaze upon a lake, river or ocean there is much more than the eye can see. 

’Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ Albert Einstein

 

 

At Mam Tor: Earth-Healing Ritual And More

Today, the weather was overcast and cloudy, and quite cool because of a northerly wind. It rained intermittently. Suitably attired with anorak, waterproof over-trousers and hiking boots, and water I headed to the hills. There was work to be done, and ‘adventure’ like the feel on the skin of an approaching storm was in the air.

‘Today expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday.’ Sarah Ban Breathnac

Today was the day when I was to undertake my first simple Earth Healing ritual which would involve saying a simple prayer of dedication as I buried a small Rainforest Jasper stone.  

Rainbow Jasper, some say is a ‘helpful stone to connect with Mother Earth and the energy of the natural world, and may be used in earth healing rituals.’ And, it can ‘aid you to make a stronger connection to the great forests and green areas of the planet, as Rainforest Jasper encourages you to have a deeper, more heart based love for the earth.’ Whatever your views on that stone are, at the very least it can,  and does act as a focal point for our concern and prayer  for peace and harmony on, and in the Earth.

Having travelled some ten miles, I stopped momentarily at the foot of the large hill – to me a mountain. How fitting that this Earth Healing ceremony and Rainforest Jasper should be buried at the top of this large hill (517m  or 1,696 ft in height), rightly called Mam Tor or The Mother Hill. Healing, Rainbow Jasper, Earth-Healing, connectedness at high places, the Feminine aspect of the Divine, it all fitted together. This was to be the place.

‘Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.’ Francis of Assisi

I advanced up the side of Mam Tor and was soon at the peak. A few people came and went, and as I sat on a boulder watching them and waiting for a lull in their coming and going, I prayed.

Reaching down I buried the small rock of Rainforest Jasper (about the size of my thumbnail) and simultaneously prayed under my breath, ‘I bury this stone, Rainforest Jasper, for this land: for a deeper connection and harmony with nature and with plants, trees and animals, and with Mother Earth herself. The vibration of happiness and joy for life will flow outwards, throughout all life and carry strong energy for change and positivity to local communities. May all, everything, in this locality, be blessed by That Which Is Bigger Than Us.’

I stood up, silent for several minutes looking at the awesome scenery. Here, some three thousand years ago (and verified by recent archeological finds) Celts lived at the top of Mam Tor. There and in this area are glimpses of Druid activity. And, not for the first time did another Druid stand at the peak of Mam Tor. The wind picked up and it was if I could hear the voices of the Ancients, those Celts who had lived here, Druids who had performed their rituals and others calling out in affirmation.

‘I heard your voice in the wind today
and I turned to see your face;
The warmth of the wind caressed me
as I stood silently in place.’ Author unknown

And so, I slowly picked my way down Mam Tor. Although requiring more effort to ascend Mam Tor it took longer to get down as I gingerly placed feet in foot holds and steps, so as not to tumble. I was in no rush, either. The scenery is wonderful and the whole area radiates with the ‘magic’ of the ages and liminality. Truly, this is a place where many caol áit (a Celtic/Gaelic word, pronounced ‘kweel awtch’ and which means ‘thin places’) exist. [See here for more information about thin places].

I then drove toward where I was lodging,feeling that my adventure for the day was complete. I felt as though what needed to have been done, the Earth Healing ritual, had been accomplished. And, yet those Welsh words that my grandmother would often use when I was a child rang in my ears, ‘Mae mwy’, ‘there is more’.

I drove for about twenty miles, about a days journey for our ancestors, and so still in the area of Mam Tor, and decided to stop and have lunch at a local pub at Birchover. 

The Source of All does have a sense of humour. The local public house (pub) was called ‘The Druid Inn’. And perhaps, not for the first time did another Druid imbibe in that establishment (or area). Though I hasten to add it was primarily the food that had led me to stop there, and any drink was non-alcoholic as I was driving. Nevertheless, the ‘co-incidence’ of the pub’s name hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Birchover, so I found out as I tucked into a steak and ale pie, is situated near a number of features of geologic and historic interest: there are numerous tunnels, several prehistoric and ancient carvings in caves, and a number of stone circles on nearby Stanton Moor.  Such stone circles and carvings was evidence, in many locals’ minds of ancient Druid ritual in the area.

Whoever you go in this part of the world there is mystery, but there’s more. It is everywhere, if we have eyes to see.

‘The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.’ Anais Nin

Truly, we are surrounded by mystery. We all live in the twenty-first century of technology and mechanical time, the hustle and bustle of busy jobs, and dualism that makes little room for meditation and deep spirituality, but take a moment to scratch beneath the surface and the legacy of the Ancients,  Celts of old and Druid’s appear in all its wonderment.

Underneath the carcophany of modern daily life The Source still speaks. The spirituality that we all crave is there, and it is just a heartbeat away. There is no separation, except that we we think. ‘Truly, I am with you, even to the end of the age’, said the Human One.  And it is so. Mysterious, and true. Mysterious, and comforting. (Just) Breathtakingly Mysterious. The Mystery.

 

And The Moon Steps Lower…: Ephemera: 26 August 2018 Full Moon

20180822 EPHEMERA AND THE MOON STEPS LOWER 26 AUGUST 2018

Yes, it’s nearly the time of the next full Moon. Infact, this Sunday, 26 August 2018 sees the next full moon, rising above the horizon (from a UK perspective) at about 8.22pm and reaching its highest point in the sky early on Sunday morning (at about 2am). Looking south, it will be in the constellation of Aquarius, the Water Bearer.

And the moon steps lower,
quietly changing
her luminous masks, brushing
everything as she passes
with her slow hands
and soft lips…

(Harvest Moon by Mary Oliver)

This full Moon swings to the south of the antisolar point, and so it is south of the Earth’s shadow, so there is no eclipse (partial or total) of the full moon. In fact, all the full Moons for the rest of 2018 dip south of the antisolar point and ‘beneath’ the Earth’s shadow. For the technically-minded this full Moon (month/cycle) is designated as Lunation number 1183 (that is, 1183 new Moons since Professor Ernest W Brown started counting new Moons, beginning with the new Moon of 17 January 1923).

‘She used to tell me that a full Moon was when mysterious things happen and wishes come true’. Shannon A Thompson.

To ancient cultures, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, Druid and others the Moon was significant in their calendar, farming, rituals, daily life etc.

To some, this full moon is known as the Fruit Moon, the Women’s Moon, the Sturgeon Moon, the Corn Moon, and to some, especially (ancient and latter-day) Celts, to myself and others, it is the Dispute Moon. The reason for it to be called the Dispute Moon is many and varied, and may simply be so because, as autumn and winter approaches, one’s survival centred on the good-will of others, and the upcoming months wasn’t a time when disputes should be continued. Survival might have depended on keeping ‘short accounts’ and getting along with one’s neighbours.

‘Sometimes the night can be your best therapist. For the Moon is free, and always there to listen’. A Y Greyson

Ah, the Moon. There is an ancient Celtic story that Cerridwen, the Welsh muse or goddess of inspiration, mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen, is a personification of the Moon. True, there are stories of Cerridwen in daily life, living near lake Bala (and having stayed at Bala I can highly recommend that area of Wales) and giving birth to a son and a daughter, Sadly, it is said that her son, Morfan (also called Afagddu) was ugly and so she compensated by making him wise by using magic. But, these things never run to plan.

There is also a view that, alternately, or perhaps as well as having an earthy life, Cerridwen was the Moon personified. Her name, from Welsh to English can be interpreted (depending on how you divide her name) as being ‘fair’ and ‘loved’, or ‘crooked white one’. The latter, I hold dear, as it does sum up the bright crescent moon hanging in the sky, appearing stooped or crooked. And, doesn’t the Moon inspire? Dear Cerridwen.

As you gaze up at the full Moon, do pause and meditate and make this full Moon (and/or new Moons) an important part of your life, and, say a word or a prayer, raise a toast or offer a libation to the One who inspires us all. The Moon-maker. The One Behind It All. The inspirer.

‘What was most significant about the lunar voyage was not that men set foot on the moon, but that they set eye on the Earth’. Norman Cousins

No information about the moon would be complete without the amazing announcement, in the last day or so, of finding water at the polar regions of the Moon.

Back in 2008/9 India’s first Moon probe, Chandrayaan 1, with a Moon mapping instrument on board from NASA, orbited the Moon for about a year, and returned valuable data. That data, in a new study led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University, was reviewed and showed a distinctive ‘signature’ which, they say, can only be water ice.

That find may not herald life on the Moon, but it may make mankind’s future exploration of the Moon and of space, our journey to the stars, easier. An amazing find.

‘The Moon is our local port opening to the universe; in the future, it’s through that port we will sail our ships to the coastless oceans’. Mehmet Murat Ildan