Two Cent's in your Mail

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

~Learning about my Heritage~







When Carl and I were married, we chose to have an Irish Handfasting Ceremony instead of the "traditional" wedding vows that most couples use today. Some people did not understand what this meant, and others were absolutely fascinated by it when we told them what we planned on doing. Anytime I tell anyone how we got married, they are surprised, and interested by it, and ask so many questions. After explaining all of it, and the reasons why we did it, every single person's response has been so overwhelming, and just amazing. Most of the women cry, lol. The beautiful woman in Grand Cayman who registered us for our papers told us not only did she cry, and was she so touched by our vows, but she emailed our ceremony to her daughter. She said she "felt" our vows to the very core of her heart. She said that she knew our wedding was not just a ceremony, but it was a true marriage. When someone tells you that, it is truly an honor. I was crying right there in the Georgetown office, and it was so emotional, and we hadn't even said one vow yet. :-)

Below is just a small explanation of what an Irish Handfasting is, and the history of the ceremony. Why it began, how it began, and how it has sculptured and molded the ceremonies of modern times. Yes, Pagan ceremonies were the FIRST ceremonies. :-) Yes, they were spiritual, beautiful, and yes, they were a binding contract between a man and a woman, before churches, before religion, before all of the nonsense began. I am so proud to be Irish. So proud that my heritage is so strong, so rich in culture and history, with color, diversity, and blarney. :-) It's good to be Irish.



Handfasting is an old Irish ceremony of commitment. The ceremony formalized a relationship, whether an engagement, a trial marriage, a permanent marriage, or optimistically, a marriage over several lifetimes. This Celtic ceremony of unity, whatever the terms, represents the intention of two (and nowadays sometimes more) people to make their lives together and ideally to love and cherish one another.

The Celtic harvest festival, Lughnasa, celebrated on August 1, was greeted with great anticipation not only because it expressed gratitude for the harvest, but because by the end of it, many couples had formed, were handfasted, and went off for a year of marriage to renew their vows the following year---that “year-and-a-day”---or not, as the case may be.

Though handfasting goes back to the mists of ancient times in Ireland, as do the Brehon laws, when marriages were not always what today we think of as “traditional,” it was practiced even in Christian Ireland. There were not always priests around to perform the wedding ceremony, and love, like time, prefers to wait for no man. It was not even a requirement that the marriage be witnessed for it to be legally binding once the couple had performed the ceremony.

Under Brehon law, there was an understanding that marriages didn’t always work out, and incompatible couples needn’t stay together, but the care of children, division of property, and inheritances were serious matters, and provisions were made under these sophisticated laws.

Irish wedding ceremonies are rife with symbolism, and handfasting is no exception. In handfasting, the wrists of the couple are bound together with a ribbon or cord. Each partner holds the hands of the other---right hand to right hand, left hand to left---their wrists crossed. The ribbon is wound around the wrists over the top of one and under and around the other, thus creating the infinity symbol. It is said that this ritual is the origin of the term “tying the knot.” The vows are spoken and the celebration commenced.



In a Celtic ceremony, everything has meaning: the music, the flowers, the braids in the bride’s hair, the rings---now often Claddagh rings---and even the use of evergreen garland around the doorways.

Though some may think that the symbols used in these ancient rituals are somehow anti-religious, make no mistake; they may be hold-overs from pagan times, but they are valid representatives of the things we humans hold precious. They speak to the collective unconscious, to the inner person. Do you shake hands? Does a suitor ask for the hand of a woman in marriage? And when we marry, do we promise to love the other forever…and a day?


Aes Dana


The Aes Dana (pr. es da’ na) was the intellectual class of ancient Ireland, though they bore little resemblance to ivory tower intellectuals of our day. These were down-to-earth people who traveled freely among various clans practicing their disciplines. They were healers, poets, druids and brehons (interpreters of the law) who existed to serve the free people of Ireland. Their studies were exhaustive, taking as long as 12 years to complete before being initiated. Learning was accomplished by memorizing oral teachings, not reading books. The aes dana were blessed with ability and accomplishment - but only so they could be a blessing to others.

Wisdom of the Tuatha

The Tuatha de Danann (too’-ah de dan’ nan) were a conquering race of people who, during the 2nd millennium BC, were responsible for erecting the standing stones in Ireland. They were organized into a religious and warrior aristocracy and had great influence upon druidic religion as well as the political institutions of the Sons of Mile (the Gaels) who succeeded them. When the Tuatha were defeated by the Gaels, they were banished to the places beneath the earth, within burial mounds (like New Grange) and beneath the water. There the Tuatha was 'elevated' and assumed magical powers and became what some today call the leprechauns or the sidh (the others). This design shows intertwined spirals that appear and disappear in their travels much as the Tuatha did, transformed by circumstances from conquering humans to a defeated and banished race to otherworldly magical creatures. A rough trip, but think of the stories they could tell.


Places In Between

The ancient Irish race called Tuatha De Dannan, after being defeated in a grand and terrible battle, were exiled to live beneath the hills and under the water - in all the secret and hidden places the Emerald Isle held. Their descendants, known as the Sidhe, (pronounced shee) are to this day said to possess magical powers, to never age, and to be great lovers of music, beauty, and occasionally, an unwary mortal. Lovely or ugly beyond imagining, loyal and helpful or devotedly malign, the Sidhe creep out of the shadows and into our lives from time to time. Keep a weather eye at what might be coming to visit you from the Places In Between.

Tir nan Og

Tir nan Og (also spelled Tir na Nog) and Tir inna Beo (pr. teer ne nog and teer ne mo) – the land of the afterlife and the land of the living respectively, surround a Celtic tree of life image whose branches and roots (nine of each in three sets of three) are intertwined. The Celts saw threes as foundational in their understanding of their world.
Creation is divided into the stellar, solar and earth/lunar realms. Existence into the sky, earth and underworld. The triple goddess is seen as maiden, mother and crone.
Tir nan Og is pictured as a western island on which all those who have "gone across" are forever young and lovely and spend their time singing beautifully, feasting, loving and enjoying one another's company. Today there's many a pub that's taken the name Tir nan Og, in which youth and beauty are always present - at least after a pint or two.




Erin gra mo chroi

It’s Gaelic for Ireland of my heart. Before it was the lovely sad song of a young woman in New York, part of the Irish diaspora, longing for her island home, it was the heartfelt cry of hundreds of thousands of others driven from their homes by the cruelty of the British Empire as it usurped Irish land and Irish resources for her own insatiable appetite for gain and went so far as to outlaw our language and our faith – upon penalty of death.
Nearly a hundred years after establishment of the Republic of Ireland, we still long for Erin gra mo chroi, but with a new hope. The IRA remains unarmed and Sinn Finn is working hard toward reunification in 2016. Ireland, left to the Irish, could enjoy peace and freedom and once again, at long last, determine her own destiny.


Beltane Wreath

Beltane (pr. bel tan' ya) was the Celtic festival celebrating what we call spring. Sacrifices were made in hopes of a fertile and abundant growing season. Participants would adorn themselves in garlands of flowers and other plants and it was a time of wedding for couples who had expressed that intent in the seasons since last Beltane. Beltane, like Sanhaim is a ‘thin’ time – a time when the veil that separates the worldly from the other-worldly stretches and grows thin in special places. Sometimes so thin that it’s possible to slip from one side to the other unnoticed.
In this design a wreath of mistletoe-like vines and berries surround a five lobed knot. It did not escape the Celts that although there were surly four seasons, each was only part of a larger whole, hence the five lobes to the Beltane knot – one for each season and one for the whole.

Bru na Boinne – New Grange

Bru na Boinne – bend in the (river) Boyne - early in ancient Ireland a river sacred to the goddess Banbh (pr. Bive). This amazing construction is astronomically as complex and accurate as Stonehenge, yet much older. The enormous kerb stone at the entrance to the Mound is inscribed with a lunar calendar in a code that took centuries to rediscover. New Grange, Knowth and other sites of profound antiquity speak of the amazing role played by the people of the Celtic islands in the history of the world. To gaze upon these marvels instills simultaneously a deep sense of pride and humility at being a small branch issuing from the mighty roots of Ireland's beginnings.



Staff of Life

We don't live on the earth, we live with her, and she with us. This truth was a part of the daily lives of ancient Celts, and still is among those of us whose souls resonate with the continuing energy of creation pulsing all around us.

Anam Cara

In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. The old Irish term Anam Cara is translated as soul friend. When you have an Anam Cara, you are joined in an ancient and eternal way with the person who is a friend of your soul. There is a deep sense of belonging and recognition. You are understood as you are and you are at home. When you feel understood, you can release yourself into the trust and shelter of another persons soul and they can release themselves into you. This kind of soul love is the most real, substantial and powerful form of human presence because it is the place or threshold where human presence and divine presence move in and out of each other



Brigid’s Four Poles

The Celts were ever aware of the cycles and polar influences of life. The seasons (Spring thru Winter): Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain, and Imbolg; dawn through night and back to dawn; the realization of life, light, love and law and how awareness travels between them. Here, the traditional woven cross of St. Brigid demarks the boundaries between these cycles and influences. To be awake to life, to be able to recognize and name these forces is to take control of, if not the force, at least our response to it. Therein lies the root of wisdom.


Origins of Brighid:
In Irish mythological cycles, Brighid (or Brighit), whose name is derived from the Celtic brig or "exalted one", is the daughter of the Dagda, and therefore one of the Tuatha de Dannan. Her two sisters were also called Brighid, and were associated with healing and crafts. The three Brighids were typically treated as three aspects of a single deity, making her a classic Celtic triple goddess.
Patron and Protector:
Brighid was the patron of poets and bards, as well as healers and magicians. She was especially honored when it came to matters of prophecy and divination. She was honored with a sacred flame maintained by a group of priestesses, and her sanctuary at Kildare, Ireland, later became the home of the Christian variant of Brighid, St. Brigid of Kildare. Kildare is also the location of one of several sacred wells in the Celtic regions, many of which are connected to Brighid. Even today, it's not uncommon to see ribbons and other offerings tied to trees near a well as a petition to this healing goddess.
Celebrating Brighid:
There are a variety of ways to celebrate the many aspects of Brighid at Imbolc. If you're part of a group practice or a coven, why not try Honoring Brighid With a Group Ceremony? You can also incorporate prayers to Brighid into your rites and rituals for the season. Having trouble figuring out what direction you're headed? Ask Brighid for assistance and guidance with a Brighid's Crossroads Divination Ritual.
Brighid's Many Forms:
In Britain, Brighid's counterpart was Brigantia, a warlike figure of the Brigantes tribe near Yorkshire, England. She is similar to the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman Minerva. Later, as Christianity moved into the Celtic lands, St. Brigid was the daughter of a Pictish slave who was baptised by St. Patrick, and founded a community of nuns at Kildare.
In addition to her position as a goddess of magic, Brighid was known to watch over women in childbirth, and thus evolved into a goddess of hearth and home. Today, many Pagans and Wiccans honor her on February 2, which has become known as Imbolc or Candlemas.
Crafts to Honor Brighid:
In many Pagan traditions today, Brighid is celebrated with crafts that honor her role as the protector of the hearth. You can make a Brighid corn doll, as well as a Bride's Bed for her to sleep in. Perhaps the best known decoration is the Brighid's Cross, whose arms represent the place where a crossroads comes together, the space between light and dark.
Brighid and Imbolc:
Like many Pagan holidays, Imbolc has a Celtic connection, although it wasn’t celebrated in non-Gaelic Celtic societies. The early Celts celebrated a purification festival by honoring Brighid. In some parts of the Scottish Highlands, Brighid was viewed as a sister of Cailleach Bheur, a woman with mystical powers who was older than the land itself. In modern Wicca and Paganism, Brighid is sometimes viewed as the maiden aspect of the maiden/mother/crone cycle, although it might be more accurate for her to be the mother, given her connection with home and childbirth.

Celtic Pathways

Before the Cross was a Christian symbol it was used by many cultures to represent the intersection of a variety of paths and forces. Heaven and earth, deity and humanity, the natural and the supernatural. In each of the arms of the cross is a labyrinth-like structure representing ‘the journey’. These paths are defined alternately by solid and broken lines indicating that not all journeys are the same – though all move toward a center, an essence. The Celts were great believers in the journey and in the absolute importance of how one conducts one’s self on the journey. Let this motif remind you of the importance, not necessarily of arriving, but of intentionally and reverently proceeding upon your path.



The Four Evangels

The Celts are among the very few cultures to willingly accept and assimilate Christianity without at least a small war or two. Once the change was made, the Celts threw their creativity and imagination into preserving their new faith just as they had with earlier beliefs. Since it was the Gospel writers, the Four evangels, who originally published the good news, angels figure large in early Christian manuscripts coming from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. While the rest of Europe was crumbling in upon itself culturally and intellectually, the Celts kept the spark of intellect, imagination and joy alive on their tiny islands. Was there an angel or two, or even four watching over them? Who could say there wasn't?


St. Patrick and the Pagan Snakes of Ireland:
St. Patrick is known as a symbol of Ireland, particularly around every March. One of the reasons he’s so famous is because he supposedly drove the snakes out of Ireland, and was even credited with a miracle for this. What many people don’t realize is that the serpent was actually a metaphor for the early Pagan faiths of Ireland. It’s important to note that he did not physically drive the Pagans from Ireland, but instead St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle. He did such a good job of it that he began the conversion of the entire country to the new religious beliefs, thus paving the way for the elimination of the old systems. And while it’s true that snakes are hard to find in Ireland, this may well be due to the fact that it’s an island, and so snakes aren’t exactly migrating there in packs.
The real St. Patrick was believed by historians to have been born around 370 c.e., probably in Wales or Scotland. Most likely, his birth name was Maewyn, and he was probably the son of a Roman Briton named Calpurnius. As a teen, Maewyn was captured during a raid and sold to an Irish landowner as a slave. During his time in Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd, Maewyn began to have religious visions and dreams — including one in which showed him how to escape captivity. Once back in Britain, Maewyn moved on to France, where he studied in a monastery. Eventually, he returned to Ireland to “care and labour for the salvation of others”, according to The Confession of St. Patrick, and changed his name to Patrick, which means “father of the people.”
Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many places on March 17, typically with a parade (an oddly American invention) and lots of other festivities. However, some modern Pagans refuse to observe a day which honors the elimination of the old religion in favor of a new one. It’s not uncommon to see Pagans wearing some sort of snake symbol on St. Patrick’s Day, instead of those green “Kiss Me I’m Irish” badges. If you’re not sure about wearing a snake on your lapel, you can always jazz up your front door with a Spring Snake Wreath instead!






Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn-'King of the Cenél nEógain.

Muircheartach Mac Lochlainn (old spelling: Muirchertach Mac Lochlainn) was king of the Cenél nEógain, Tyrone and High King of Ireland from around 1156 until his death in 1166, He succeeded Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair who died in 1156.

Mac Lochlainn survived an attempt by Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair to unseat him in 1159. He failed, however, to overcome the resistance of the Cenél Conaill and the Ulaid. In 1166, to attempt to achieve a diplomatic settlement with his neighbours, Mac Lochlainn arranged a truce and took hostages from many of the families in Ulster. In return he had given a solemn oath to the Bishop of Armagh and many other notables for his good behaviour. In violation of the oath, he had Eochaid mac Con Ulad Mac Duinn Sléibe, King of Ulster, seized and blinded.

Mac Lochlainn's allies abandoned him almost at once, and he was reduced to a handful of followers. With sixteen of these closest associates, he was killed and his death attributed to the vengeance of Saint Patrick.

1 comment:

pennyzwyz said...

~This will be a work in progress, and parts added periodically, as I discover more~