The Art Of Perception: Celtic Thought

20170612 THE ART OF PERCEPTION 1There is a particular time in the Spring at Ty Gwyn where I live, near Capel Curig, back home in Wales, when the sunrise on the lawn is just right to ‘play’ upon the dew on the grass and light it up like a carpet of deep gold. It’s almost as if the grass is ablaze, alight like an electric fire as the sunlight grazes of the dew. And then a few minutes later, it’s gone. When my grandchildren visit I encourage patience in them to look out for it, and it’s worth it, it truly is – well, at least I think so. I’m not too sure about them.

‘I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it’, says Shug Avery, one of the wise women in Alice Walker’s book, The Colour Purple.

Drygrange Bridge over the River Tweed in Scotland is a place where I have to stop and pay attention. The Scottish border is some 40km behind me, at that point, as I drive north, but for me Scotland starts at Drygrange Bridge. The scenary there opens up, vast and wild, and when driving north, there is the exquisite River Tweed below, and to the left an awesome valley and the beautiful Leaderfoot Viaduct. Whenever I can, I stop the car, and spend a few minutes gazing at the scenery in awe. Words are not needed here. Indeed, they would be useless in that moment. At that moment the invisible has become visible. Do you think there is a connection between journeying, new places and perception? The unfamiliar enthrals us?

Ofcourse, the art of paying attention requires an unhurried attitude, and that’s even more difficult in our fast-paced world, today. But, it’s worth cultivating. It requires a different timescale, and a commitment to deeper perception.

Find an awesome scene and just gaze at it. Fumble for the camera, draw an outline sketch or speak into a vioce recorder about it, and the moment has gone. It’s happened to me when I’ve reached for the camera and adjusted the settings. Missed it. And what’s more, I’ve relegated myself to that of a mere observer, when I should have just gazed and basked in the glory of the event, and so would have been part of it. I-thou became I-it, sadly. Distanced!

‘…seek, and you will find…’, Matthew 7.7b

Deep perception can be practiced. It’s an acknowledgement of the other, and a surrendering, too, of analytical thought. It is about entering into the moment not as one subservient, and not as master of the moment, but as co-participant.

Paying attention is reward in itself.

As regards paying attention, the author Barbara Brown Taylor writes: ‘From behind the veils of my dark [sunglass] lenses, I study the particular human beings sitting around me [ on the subway train]: the girl with the fussy baby, the guy with the house paint all over his jeans, the couple holding hands, the teenager keeping time with both knees while he listens to music so loud it leaks from his headphones. Every one of these people had come from somewhere and is going somewhere, the same way I am. While I am sitting here thinking I am at the centre of this subway scene and they are on the edges, they are sitting there at the centre of their own scenes with me on their edges’. From her book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

If a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual happening, then many events can rightly be regarded as a sacrament, in the widest sense of the word. What we see, the food we eat and savour – we do take our time and savour it, right? Ofcourse, we need reminding as the world’s pace closes in and we gobble our food, or eat on the way to work. I know there are occassions when that might be necessary, but do – and I’m reminding myself, too – do find the time to savour food, delight in scenary, works of art and music, and to slow down and appreciate those wonderful and yet mundane (as if anything is really mundane) moments that we might miss, otherwise, and pass them right by.

In paying attention the inivisble and spiritual realm is glimpsed in this realm, at least for those that look.

‘The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ Marcel Proust

Hiaku #9: Mundānus? Or, ‘The Man In The Window’

20170608 HAIKU 9 MUNDANUSAs you know I really like the traditional haiku – short poems consisting of three lines, and the lines containing firstly five syllables, then seven, then five.

Here’s some recent haiku penned by yours truly with you in mind, preceded by a brief introduction.

My late dad used to look forward to our thrice-weekly visit to a local café, and if he could, he would always choose a table by one of the large windows that overlooked a busy main road. Talking, supping coffee, reading on his kindle or gazing out of the café window and watching people, buses and cars going by, he loved the simple things in life, and lived life to the full. He referred to himself, jokingly, as the man in the…well, best to read the haiku, below.

Watching the world pass.
Enthralled by its pace. The ‘man
in the window’, laughs.

Whatever work we do, we provide something unique in the universe that only we can do in our own inimitable way. There are no sacred or mundane tasks. All are the same in the sight of the Universe, the Source of All. All are creative outpourings, albeit using the broadest, but no less true, definition of that word.

Artist. Mechanic.
Office worker. Musician.
Love ‘solidified’.

And, one of the most arduous tasks, that is greatly appreciated by me when I’m in Fulham (in London) – and liked by others, I’m sure – around autumn time, is the tough work of the ‘road sweepers’, who clear the pavement so diligently of fallen leaves – a ‘slide’ hazard, when wet, to the elderly etc.

Remembering Fall.
Great workers go unnoticed?
Until now. Much loved.

What we do, and that can be outworked in a myriad of ways, has an effect whether we see the result or not, or even whether we know it or not. Be encouraged. It is easy to fall into comparing our work with others, but our creative work, service work, Christian prayers, Light-worker energy-sending, Druid rituals, liturgy or time spent in listening to others etc, and/or appreciating wonders of nature around us,  are all equally magnificent, of worth and greatly valued. If it seems no one notices, rest assured that the Source of All notices, and blessings will come back to you, albeit in different ways, a thousand-fold.

Words of love, actions,
thoughts, ritual, liturgy.
All have great meaning.

And, my final haiku for today, a blessing to you for reading this, is below:

You are greatly loved.
The Source of All sings to you
and those whom you love.

Blessings, Tadhg

 

[Apologies for the misspelling of the word haiku. Ooops. To err is human.]

 

Celtic Lifestyle: EarthGrief: An Introduction

20170529 EARTHGRIEF AN INTRODUCTIONWhatever we attach ourselves to, will cause us give ourselves fully in love, and the more attached we do that, the more we will experience grief one day. I don’t want to sound negative or morbid, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t give ourselves to another – of course not. After all that’s part of what it is to be human and alive, and what it means essentially to live in the present.

But, grief is a fact of life.

In the book, ‘The Wild Edge Of Sorrow’, the author, Francis Weller writes about five ‘gates’ of grief. ‘Each of these doorways leads to the communal hall of grief, and each helps us to understand the many ways that loss touches our hearts and souls…’.

One of these ‘gates’ opens when we acknowledge the losses of the world around us.

As a Druidic-Christian, and knowing other Celtic Christians, Druid and pagan friends (and others), there is a painful realisation that the world is reeling in agony at the unlimited effect of rampant commercialism.

‘What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.’  Mahatma Gandhi

Which one of us hasn’t prayed a prayer or conducted a ritual for some part of the world’s geographical environment, diminishing rain-forest or endangered animals?

We are affected. Our psyche feels this devastation because the greater part of our psyche lies outside of our body: the body does not live in the psyche, rather, we live within the psyche. And, everything is connected because everything possesses a soul. This earth-connection is the anima mundi (the soul of the world). This devastation of the planet is known, by some, as EarthGrief.

‘A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.’ Franklin D. Roosevelt

It’s not that we witness, say the destruction of a forest, and feel sorrow at it as if from some distance, but in being connected we are hurt, too! If we don’t feel that hurt, then it may be a case of our perceived great separation from the planet – nature deficit disorder.

We are connected in essence; but we may perceive ourselves as separate. We are hurt because of it; but we may not be aware of that hurt. Because we’re unaware, EarthGrief continues.

‘I love to think that animals and humans, and plants, and fishes, and trees, and stars and the moon are all connected.’ Gloria Vanderbilt

It’s not a case of wanting to make you feel dreadful, of causing a sense of guilt, or of putting you (or myself) in a position where we throw our hands up in the air and forlornly cry out, ‘I can’t make a difference, can I?’.

Perhaps, initially, it’s a case of giving the term a name: EarthGrief.
And, then perhaps, it’s a case of acknowledging, in ritual, the sense of loss because of EarthGrief. There are a myriad of other things we can do, but those two make for a good start.

Francis Weller writes, ‘There is a ritual that my community does annually called Renewing The World…[It] lass three days, and we begin with a funeral to acknowledge all that is leaving this world. We build a pyre, and then together we name and place onto the fire what we have lost…The first time I did this ritual, I was planning on drumming and holding the space for others. I made an invocation to the Sacred…

Francis Weller goes on to describe the sense of grief that they all felt in that ritual and which, physically, pulled their bodies onto their knees, as many people sobbed.

It wasn’t a case of morbidity or an over-indulgence in grief, for griefs-sake on their part, but an admission of real connectivity, of  EarthGrief, and a growing awareness that it need not be this way. 

Chellis Glendinning says we are born ‘as stone age children’. We enter the world, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as people ‘designed for’ and connected to nature, and this state he calls the primal matrix. However, what was once a seamless flow into a connected world has become a perceived breach: we are still connected in essence, but we just don’t know it, and act accordingly.

‘O most honoured Greening Force,
You who roots in the Sun;
You who lights up, in shining serenity, within a wheel
that earthly excellence fails to comprehend.
You are enfolded
in the weaving of divine mysteries.
You redden like the dawn
and you burn: flame of the Sun.’ Hildegard of Bingen,

But, now we know. And, that’s a good start. Firstly, to give this plight a name, and secondly, to perform our own solo and/or collective Renewing Of The Earth ritual.

It’s a start!

Celtic Lifestyle: Time For Our Souls…

20170518 TIME FOR OUR SOULS CELTIC LIFE4STYLE

‘I know you’re a Type A personality, but right now you really need to slow down, or even stop for a while’, was a phrase I overheard recently. It wasn’t directed at me (as I think I probably qualify as being a Type B personality), but it was well-intended, and in hindsight it was probably exactly what that person needed to hear.

I know we all live in a busy society, but my encouragement to myself and yourself (so far as is possible and practical) is to slow down and find the opportunity to stop for a while. Ofcourse, this is not a reason to do this when we’re working in paid employment clients depend on us, or when it is otherwise inappropriate, but a ‘nudge’ to find time at other times, or even ‘gouge’ out time, then, to slow down and even stop for a while, may be beneficial to each of us.

‘Busy is the enemy of peace. Busy takes us away from our purpose…Busy means life’s joys and surprises can’t find a way into our lives because we’re moving too fast to see and experience them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to move so fast that I miss my life.’  [Lara Casey]

The ancient Celts, Druids, proto-church Christians and other ancient people lived life to a much different timescale to us, and we have many things to (re-)learn from them. Indeed, they even to a different time-measurement than us. Could it be that we really are missing out by being so busy all the time?

‘Faster is fatal, slower is safe.’ [Amit Kalantri]

A half-way decent fictional movie – I do like Robin Hood – was on tv recently, and  it was spoiled for me when one of the protagonists lined people up and gave them orders to see him, privately. Each one was told by him to report to him ‘ten minutes later’, that is ten minutes after the previous one! Would the Sheriff of Nottingham, some six hundred years ago, be using time in that way? I don’t think so. Time measurement may have been in hours, then, or even half hours, but probably not quarters of an hour or so many minutes. It’s only since the advent of clocks and wristwatches (and railway timetables, apparently) that we, as a society, have been obsessed with the measurement of time to the minute, to such a precise scale. And yet, in looking back it ‘feels’ like it may have always been this way. To the film’s script-writers it obviously seemed like a normal thing to do – to schedule visits to the Sheriff of Nottingham down to ten minutes – but it wasn’t always that way. Nor for our society.

‘Stop talking, stop thinking,
and there is nothing you will not understand.’ [Seng Ts’an]

There’s an interesting story, that goes like this: An archaeologist once hired some local  tribesmen to act as bearers  and paid the to lead him to an archaeological site deep in the mountains. After they had been moving for some time the tribesmen stopped, put down their cargo they were carrying, and insisted they would go no further. They sat down and waited. The archaeologist grew extremely  impatient, and then  became angry. But no matter how much he cajoled them, or even bribed the tribesmen with more money, they would not go any further. Then, some hours later, and without any prior announcement the local tribesmen changed their attitude, picked up the cargo and set off once more. When the bewildered archaeologist asked them why they had stopped earlier, and had refused to move for so long, the tribesmen answered in matter-of-fact manner, ‘We had been moving too fast, and had to wait for our souls to catch up.’

‘…life  always seems vacant and diminished when I accelerate beyond my capacity to feel what is before me.’ [Mark Nepo]

Could it be that we’re all too busy? It may not be the case for you, but it’s always worth periodically checking to ascertain if we’re moving to fast, and need to ‘wait for our souls to catch up’. A busy diary is not necessarily the mark of an efficient or important person, though our egos would like us to think that.

Here’s something you might like to consider: Take some time to think of four things that you must do today. Carefully, relinquish three tasks. And then give yourself fully to that one task.

I admit writing the abovementioned is a risk, and I do advocate using ‘sanctified common-sense’ in doing this exercise, as it may need to be adapted, or it may not be feasible to do it today, or because doing it will cause great offense or pain to others. That’s where we may need to adapt, but I’m sure you get the point. But, if not today, what about tomorrow?

What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
and stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
and watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.

[W H Davies]

Maybe it’s time to wait for our souls to catch up?

 

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Hawthorn Tree [13 May – 9 June]

20170511 CELTIC MONTH OF THE HAWTHORN TREE EPHEMERAWe’re coming to the end of the Celtic month of the Willow Tree, and Saturday, 13 May 2017 sees the start of the new month, the Celtic month of the Hawthorn Tree.

So, this is a great time to celebrate in some way – and don’t forget that the ancients started their day the evening before, from our perspective – so if you want, you can celebrate the event this coming Friday evening, but for me, this time, it’s Saturday evening.

Essential Data
Month: Hawthorn Tree
Dates: 13 May – 9 June
Common Name: Hawthorn
Celtic /Gaelic Name: Huathe (pronounced ‘oo-ah-huh’)
Scientific Name: Crataegus Monogyna.

About The Tree
The Hawthorn can be a shrub in a hedgerow, or grow into a  tree, with mature Hawthorn trees reaching a height of about 15m, and they are characterised by their dense, thorny habit. The bark is brown-gray in colour, and is knotted and fissured, and its twigs are slender and brown, and covered in thorns.

‘Poetry and imagination begin life.
A child will fall on its knees on the gravel walk
at the sight of a pink hawthorn in full flower,
when it is by itself, to praise God for it.’

Florence Nightingale

The flowers of Hawthorns trees are hermaphrodite, that is, that both male and female reproductive parts are contained within each flower. Flowers are highly scented, are white or occasionally pink in colour, and have five petals, and grow clusters.

hawthorn_flowers

Hawthorn tree flowers

Once pollinated by insects, flowers develop into deep red fruits known as ‘haws’.The Hawthorn is of great value to wildlife. It can support more than three hundred varieties of insects. It provides food for caterpillars of many moths, its flowers are eaten by dormice, and provide nectar and pollen for bees. It provides food for many migrating birds such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals.

The dense foliage also makes it a fantastic nesting shelter for many species of bird.

Health Benefits (Complementary)
The flowers, leaves and fruits of the Hawthorn are said to have properties that reduce blood pressure and stimulate the heart. They can act as a mild sedative, and can assist with relieving migraine, menopausal conditions, angina, and insomnia. Ofcourse, the aforementioned is from a traditional (and non-scientific) standpoint, and should you wish to try Hawthorn as complementary medicine do consult a qualified herbalist, and in all cases check with your (allopathic) health practitioner, first.

Oh! come to see me, when the soft warm May
bids all my boughs their gay embroidery
wear,
In my bright season’s transitory day,
While my young perfume loads the enamoured air.
Oh, come to see me, when the sky is blue,
And backs my spangles with an azure
ground.
While the thick ivy bosses clustering through,
See their dark tufts with silvery circlets
crowned.
Then be the Spring in all its pomp arrayed,
the lilac’s blossom, the laburnum’s blaze,
Nature hath reared beyond this Hawthorn glade
No fairer alter to her Maker’s praise.

George W.F. Howard

Folklore
Many consider it unlucky to bring it into the house, and others equate it with illness and even death. In Britain, for instance, in medieval times it was said that hawthorn blossom smelled like the Great Plague. Botanists, interestingly, have since found that the chemical trimethylamine in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. And, so it comes as no surprise that hawthorn flowers are associated with death.

But, for me, the Hawthorn is, and should be considered, a wonderful, holy tree (especially, but not only, when treated with respect). I do think the Hawthorn has received ‘bad press’ over the years.

In Ireland, for instance, Hawthorn trees have always been thought of as faery trees. And, so as not to attract the attention of the fae, unnecessarily, nor wishing to upset them, the Hawthorn was sometimes known simply as ‘gentle bushes’, or ‘May’.

Clouties_near_madron_well

Cloths tied to a tree near Madron Well in Cornwall

Hawthorns also often stand over holy wells, and these were viewed, traditionally, as  thresholds of the Otherworld, where pilgrims festoon them with ribbons, rags and other votive offerings. These wells were called Clootie wells and the strips of cloth or rags tied to branches were part of a healing ritual, or as a prayer-token on half of someone else.

Hawthorn, it is said, can be used for protection, love and marriage.

Britain’s most famous Hawthorn Tree is the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of the Virgin Mary, arrived at a hill overlooking Glastonbury Tor with two holy vessels containing the blood and sweat of Jesus. Joseph thrust his staff into the ground, where it sprouted and immediately grew into a Hawthorn tree, where ‘descendant’ trees still stand on that hill. These particular hawthorn blooms twice a year; in May and again about Christmastime. Traditionally, a sprig of one of these Glastonbury Hawthorns trees is sent to the Queen, who is said to decorate her breakfast table with it on Christmas morning.

And, there are legends that the crown of thorns worn by the Christ at his crucifixion was made of Hawthorn, which makes it both ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ depending how you interpret that Paschal event.

Celebration?
Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few ways to celebrate the upcoming new month.

Blessings of the Hawthorn, Tadhg

 

20170511 CELTIC MONTH OF THE HAWTHORN TREE EPHEMERA

Celtic Thought: Beltane Fire, Reflections.

20170427 BELTANE FIRE REFLECTIONS CELTIC THOUGHTBeltane (1 May) is almost here, that time of celebration as we usher in a new season: summer.

For many it probably doesn’t feel like summer, or even spring at the moment – it’s about the temperature of the inside of a fridge in London at the moment as temperatures have plummeted over the last few days. But, summer is on its way.

Beltane, then, marks the entry-point to summer, and summer (as with the southern compass point) is associated with fire. So, here some words on the seasonally-apt theme of fire.

‘Fire is the most tolerable third party.’ ‘Henry David Thoreau

Beltane, along with rituals of old to protect cattle, crops and people, was also a time of celebration involving a community bonfire. Think of Druids of old around a bonfire, ancient and latter-day Celts, or St Patrick and other Christians celebrating the coming of Light. Bonfires have long been associated with this time – though there is no reason why you can’t celebrate the event in a special way, if at home on that evening, with the lighting of a symbolic candle.

But, it’s a time of fire.

‘Beltane is a wonderful time for expressing who you truly are.’ Carole Carlton

There is an intimacy about fire. Figuratively, we might describe a couple deeply in love as burning with passion, with fire in their hearts for each other. For those burning with ambition (pun intended), we might describe them as having fire in their belly.

‘Desire is a bonfire that burns with greater fury, asking for more fuel… ‘ Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Fire is alive.

At school, albeit many, many years ago, I well remember learning about the seven processes that underpin all life.

Firstly, living things move to find food, and fire moves especially rapidly during forest fires, house fires to find and consume material for fuel.

Living things undergo respiration – they need oxygen. Fire ‘breathes in’ oxygen, and needs it to sustain its energy. Starve a fire of oxygen and it dies.

Exodus 19:18 ‘Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire…’ Exodus 19.18a, The Book

Sensitivity is another process of life as it detects changes in its surroundings. Fire also is sensitive to its surroundings, as it responds to the materials it encounters, favouring some and moving away from others eg wood and water, paper and metal etc).

Fire, like living cells, grows. The more fuel fire finds, the larger and more expansive the flames.

That naturally bring us onto nutrition. Living cells, animals, trees, plants etc need food to live, and fire is no different. Take away its fuel source and it dies.

Reproduction? Yes, just as life reproduces itself, so does fire. In many rituals one candle is initially lit, and from that many others are lit (with the former being diminished in any way). Fire can make umpteen copies of itself – forming ‘offspring’ of its own kind.

I smoor the hearth
as Mary smoors it.
The vigilance of Brighid and Mary
be upon the fire and upon the floor
and over the whole household.

{Celtic prayer)

And finally, something that is not spoken of in polite company is excretion.  Living things excrete. Explore a landscape after a fire, look into a hearth when a fire has died, or has been smoored, and ash is the result. Ash, the excretion left behind by the fire.

Fire is alive.

Fire is intimate. If you’re fortunate enough to have an open fire, a hearth in the living room, a wonderful and deep meditation is to just sit and gaze at it for an hour without artificial light.  As a child, and even today, I meditate in such a way whenever I can. I heartily recommend it. The fire draws you in. It invites you to cosy up, relax, douse all other thoughts and to look deeply into it. And then, a myriad of ‘liquid’ fire shapes erupt, dance about, grow, are diminished and then disappear, only to be replaced by other fantastical, yellow, orange and red ‘ignitic beings’ who dance in their place. Shapes appear, heat is felt, thoughts amble and time is ‘consumed’ in a pleasant and wonderful way. And then one looks around. The rest of the room looks darker, cooler if not colder and altogether different. It’s then, and only after the event, that you realise that such a deep mediation took you into that liminal realm, that altogether-other place, sacred space, and what some would call a ‘thin place, a caol áit (pronounced ‘kweel awtch’).

Communion. Connectedness. Caol áit. Candle?

Beltane is a time of the new season of summer, whose element is fire, and it is a time to celebrate in large ways and small, to light a bonfire or candle, but a time to draw aside, consider the intimacy of the fire-season and celebrate – to mark the occasion is some joyful, positive, pleasant and memorable way. Do something special this Beltane.

‘We are all born with a divine fire in us. Our efforts should be to give wings to this fire and fill the world with the glow of its goodness.’ Abdul Kalam

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Willow Tree [15 April-12 May]

20170414 CELTIC MONTH OF THE WILLOW TREE EPHEMERAFriday, 14 April is the last day of the Celtic month of the Alder Tree, and 15 April sees the start of the new month of the Willow Tree (though some like to start that day, in common with ancient cultures, at sunset on the evening of 14 April).

Essential Data
Month: Willow Tree
Dates: 15 April – 12 May
Common Name: Willow
Celic /Gaelic Name: Shellach
Scientific Name: Salix

The Gaelic words for willow are shellach, or suil, and its name features in Scottish place names such as Achnashellach in Ross-shire, Glensuileag in Inverness-shire and Corrieshalloch on Speyside. It is also called sallow (from Old English sealh, related to the Latin word “Salix“; Willow).

‘Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.’ Bruce

About The Tree
Willows, also called sallows, and osiers, and come from the genus Salix. Willows have abundant watery bark sap, and soft, usually pliant, tough wood, with slender branches, The roots are remarkable for their toughness, size, and tenacity to life.

The leaves are typically elongated, but may also be round to oval, frequently with serrated edges. Most species are deciduous or semi-evergreen.

Willows are dioecious, that is they have male and female flowers which appear as catkins on separate plants; the catkins are produced early in the spring, and often before the leaves.

Willows are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, such as the mourning cloak butterfly, and ants, such as wood ants, and it is common to find aphids coming to collect honeydew, as sometimes do wasps.

Willow is used to make charcoal (for drawing), willow stems are used to weave baskets and three-dimensional sculptures, such as animals and figures and are also used to create garden features. Willow is grown for biomass or biofuel, in energy forestry systems, and large-scale projects to support willow as an energy crop are already at commercial scale in Sweden.

Willow is one of the ‘Four Species’ used ritually during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. In Buddhism, a willow branch is one of the chief attributes of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. And, Christian churches in north-western Europe, Ukraine and Bulgaria often used willow branches as a substitute for palms in the ceremonies on Palm Sunday.

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our lyres. Psalm 137:1-2, The Book

Folklore
Because many willows grow close to water, legends, magic and folklore associated with the willow tree include many references to water. The moon, too, is often linked to the willow tree. Indeed, Culpeper says in his Complete Herbal book says, ‘The moon owns the willow’.

Hecate, for instance, the powerful Greek deity was goddess of the moon and of willow. Associated with water, her priestesses used willow in their water divination.

The willow muse, called Heliconian was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus also carried willow branches (wands?) into the Underworld, having received his gift by touching the Willows in a grove sacred to Persephone.

Willow groves have been used by many types of artisans to gain eloquence, inspiration, skills and the gift of prophecy.

There is a wonderful creation myth in Druidic mysteries. Two red snake eggs were hidden within the willow tree, and it was from these eggs that the Universe was hatched. One egg contained the Sun, the other the Earth.

Also, Hildegard, the Christian mystic spoke of creation and the universe as an egg, when she recounted her third vision, and wrote: ‘After this I saw a vast instrument, round and shadowed, in the shape of an egg, small at the top, large in the middle and narrowed at the bottom; outside it, surrounding its circumference, there was bright fire…’

Traditionally, in spring rituals, these red eggs were replaced by hens’ eggs, coloured scarlet for the Sun and eaten at Beltane. This act transferred later to the Christian celebration of Easter.

Interestingly, Greek Orthodox Christians, even today, dye hens eggs red on Holy Thursday to symbolise the Christ’s blood poured out to death on Good Friday, and that egg also symbolises the new life of Easter Sunday. There is also a game called tsougrisma and played in Greece, today, in which two people take one red egg each in their hand, and alternately try to break their opponent’s egg – the winner being the one whose egg doesn’t crack first.

All around my hat I will wear the green willow.
All around my hat for a twelve-month and a day.
And if anyone should ask me the reason why I’m wearing it
It’s all for my true love who’s far, far away.

Steeleye Span

Healing
The cunning folk used the willow tree, extensively, for healing. It is said (and, please do not try the aforementioned) that they made an infusion from the bitter bark of the willow tree as a remedy for colds, fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. They also chewed young willow twigs to relieve pain.

In the early nineteenth century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, and from this the world’s first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin.

Celebration
The willow is known by some for its wisdom-instilling and creativity-giving properties, and so, whatever you do to welcome in the new month, perhaps you could light a candle and meditate for a while and seek a creativity-boost, and/or read a few apt poems about the willow tree or trees in general, or visit an art gallery in person or online, for inspiration. Awen.

Wishing you, and those whom you love, a very blessed new month.

Tadhg’s Ephemera & More: The Growing Moon: 11 April 2017

20170410 THE GROWING MOON 11 APRIL 2017 EPHEMERAFull Moon
Spring is truly here, and this month’s full moon takes place on Tuesday, 11 April 2017, in the constellation of Scorpio, the latter being seen, traditionally, as a water element.

This full moon rises around sunset, and sets around sunrise. This is the only time in the month when the moon is in the night sky all night long. The rest of the month the moon spends some time, at least, moving across the daytime sky.

‘The moon was reigning over their world, glowing its full splendour to all those willing to look up.’ Irina Serban

To the ancient and latter day Celts and Druids, such as myself, this full moon is known as the Growing Moon. Others regard/regarded it as the Seed Moon, the Pink Moon, the Awakening Moon, or the Egg Moon. Whatever we call it, this is a wonderful time of the month, and a time to sit, gaze up and ponder at our Earth’s wonderful companion smiling down at us.

On This Day: 11 April
1814 Napoleon surrenders unconditionally, and is exiled to the island of Elba.
1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act.
2015 President Obama meets Raul Castro, the first meeting between USA and Cuban heads of state since the Cuban Revolution.

Further Ahead
On the evenings surrounding April 20, Mars, that red planet, traverses across the sky and will pass close to the Pleiades star cluster, the Seven Sisters. After the sky darkens, they should be visible as a faint group of seven stars to the naked eye, as several dozen stars within a binoculars’ field of view, and with a telescope you might see several hundred stars.

The name Pleiades comes from Ancient Greek, and is probably derived from plein (‘to sail’) because of that star cluster’s importance to the sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea. The name was later mythologised as the name of seven divine sisters, whose name was thought to be connected to their mother Pleione.

Also, look out for the annual Lyrids meteor shower which runs from 16 to 25 April, and which peaks before dawn on Saturday, 22 April.

‘The moon will guide you through the night with her brightness, but she will always dwell in the darkness, in order to be seen.’ Shannon L Alder

Soon, Earth Day
This year, Earth Day, occurs on Saturday, 22 April. Details of how you can get involved in a practical way can be viewed at the Earth Day website here.

And/or you can read their webpage and send out some positivity, good-energy, prayers and maybe hold an appropriate ritual, or meditate silently upon the Earth, extending love and peace to it and all its wildlife, and give gratitude.

‘And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair’. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Also, in doing this by yourself or with others, you might like to consider turning off all lights and unnecessary household equipment to stop or reduce your electricity usage for an hour (refrigerators/freezers etc exempt), and, perhaps, spend that time in darkness, or use a candle for light for your meditation, ritual etc.

May you have a blessed full moon celebration. Tadhg.

Celtic Mythological Beasts: Bestiary: Y Is For Ysgithyrwyn

20170329 Y IS FOR YSGITHRYWYN MYTHThere is a wonderful story from ancient times, full of pathos and meaning – the legend of the Ysgithyrwyn (pronounced ‘iss-gith-thigh-rin). It means ‘white tusk’.

It was common, once, to tell the story of the Ysgithyrwyn to children. The beast was a monstrous wild boar, with huge, gleaming white tusks, and a body, so it is said, to be the size of a cow. It was a  ferocious creature that roamed the wilds of north Wales, and some said it had magic powers, others said that capturing it would confer a wish, and others said that it was an just old boar that had a ‘charmed’ life. It was a beast, however, that one should not approach.

But, seeing it from afar was much safer, and the story I was told was such that if you saw it from a distance, then it would bring about a marriage between you and the one you were thinking of, your loved-one.

The reason for this is embedded in ancient myth, in that story from another time, beloved by Celts and Druids, and others of old.

The story, recorded in Arthurian legend, tells of a young warrior, Culhwch, who is madly in love with Olwen. The problem was that Olwen’s father, a giant of a king called  Ysbaddaden, would only allow the marriage if Culhwch succeeded in overcoming thirty-nine difficult tasks. A series of quests. The most difficult of these was the  killing Ysgithyrwyn, the wild boar, taking a tusk from it, and then fashioning it into a razor, and then for King Caw to shave the head of Ysbaddaden.

Culhwch succeeded all the tasks except the killing of the boar. After many attempts, Culhwch eventually exhausted the beast, succeeded in capturing the beast, and it was killed by Aedd. The tusk of the boar was fashioned into a razor, Ysbaddaden received his haircut and Culhwch was able to marry his beloved Olwen.

Even today, it is said that if you go out into the wilds of north Wales – not far from where I live – that on the night of the full moon, you might catch sight of the beast from a distance. If you do, you may be as fortunate as Culhwch. Legend says that if you spy the beast at this time – but don’t get too close – then the person you’re thinking of, and love, will indeed by the one that you will marry.

Ofcourse, it’s just an old tale, but you never really know about these old stories. The promise of marriage if you see the beast might just have some power still left in it, and that was exactly so for one couple known to me.

 

 

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Alder Tree [18 March – 14 April]

20170315 month of the alder tree EPHEMERASpring is in the air, and this Saturday, 18 March sees the start of the next Celtic tree month. It’s the start of the month of the Alder Tree.

Essential data
Month: Alder Tree
Dates: 18 March – 14 April
Common name: Alder, common alder, black alder, European alder
Celtic name: Fearn (pronounced: fair-un).
Scientific name: Alnus glutinosa
UK provenance: Alder is native to Britain and is also found throughout Europe as far as Siberia.

About the tree
The alder tree is noted for its important  relationship with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called Frankia alni. This bacterium is found in the root nodules. The bacterium absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. Alder, in turn, provides the bacterium with sugars, which it produces through photosynthesis. Symbiosis.

As a result of this mutually beneficial relationship, alder improves the fertility of the soil where it grows, and as a pioneer species, it helps provide additional nitrogen for the successional species which follow it.

I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

The alder tree is conical in shape, and mature trees can reach a height of around 20m and live for about 60 years. The bark is dark and fissured and is often covered in lichen. Twigs have a light brown spotted stem which turns red towards the top. Young twigs are sticky to touch.

The tree’s leaves are purple or grey leaf buds form on long stems and the 3–9cm long dark green leaves are racquet-shaped and leathery to the touch, with serrated edges. The leaf tip is never pointed and is often indented.

Flowers are on catkins which appear between February and April. Alder is monoecious, and so both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. Male catkins are yellow, whilst the female catkins are green and oval-shaped.

Usage
The Alder tree provides good wood for building materials. The sap, leaves and bark of the alder were all used to make dyes; green from the leaves, red from the sap and brown from the bark. The dyes were often used to tan leather. Wood of the alder is flexible and resistant to the rotting effects of water, and, so very good for building materials in a temperate climate.

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.

Robert Frost

The alder tree’s root system is often submerged in watery areas. In such places, the ancient Celts observed that the roots served as as intricate shelter system to fish, specifically trout and salmon.

Myth
The alder tree is generally seen near streams and riverbanks, and it’s for that reason that the ancient Druids called this tree ‘The Water King’.

The alder tree, and this month, is said to be associated with enthusiasm, courage, spiritual maturity, giving, risk-taking and adventurousness.

Although, primarily associated with the element of water, the alder tree gracefully crosses into the realm of air and fire, also. For instance, ancient legend indicates the wood of the young alder tree was traditionally used for crafting whistles, pan flutes and recorders. Note the air element, here. Within the realm of fire, the alder’s colouring transmutes into a fiery orange after it is cut, indicating to the Celts that the alder secretly harbours a sacred flame within. As if to prove this point, the wood makes a pristine grade of charcoal, and was perfect for steadily hot conditions utilized to forge fine Celtic weaponry.

In Irish mythology the first man was said to have been made from the alder tree. It is also considered a tree of the fairies, protected by the water fairy-folk but also representing fire and earth. Some believe faeries like to dance under these trees, especially, when they are flowering.

The trees along this city street,
Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made

Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,—
I know what sound is there.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Celebration
If you wish to celebrate, I’d recommend an evening celebration on Saturday evening, though ancient tribes (and some, today, still) would celebrate the evening before, reckoning that the new day started the evening before (from our point of view). So, you might want to celebrate Friday evening.

Celebration can take many forms. At home, it could be lighting a candle in honour of the alder tree and the One behind it; and/or gazing at a picture of an alder tree and then gently meditating, or recitation of a favourite tree-honouring poem. Outdoors, if you have an alder tree nearby, you might like to visit it, gaze at it, and dwell there for a few minutes, giving thanks for nature in general, trees especially, and the alder tree in particular. Whatever you do, my encouragement is to keep it simple, keep it tree-honouring, and take time just to think, meditate and ponder on the wondrous alder tree. And, enjoy it.