Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gestures, Poses, Postures & Signs

A topic came up about Gestures, Postures, Poses, and Signs related to Ritual and Deity in a FB conversation. I was inspired to use various cultures, mystery schools, and time periods of common gestures. Some of these are well known and you may even use them, others remain universal and have no definitive explanation and are up to the individual to attach meaning. Have fun as this is merely an experiment in how we attach meaning to such things. Forgive the low quality of the photos and poor lighting. Did I just take 37 selfies for this? >.< head desk! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Best Dressed Druids

Exploring Ritual Garb

     A topic that is often not talked about is that of Ritual Garb. Within the Pagan community you'll come across everything from painted naked people, robes based on fantasy costumes or early Christian influence, and even utili-kilts and renn-wear; all mish-moshed together. Also least we forget the hippie or even gothic influence within the mainstream of Pagan Fashion. One might ask themselves, "what do I wear, does it matter, and why wear anything?" Certainly it does not matter what you wear. The Gods could care less about what you have on. Though lets examine a few themes and get to the nitty gritty of this style issue.
     Time and place will often dictate what you may choose to wear or not wear. You wouldn't invite a new guest to your circle and have everyone disrobe in front of them, nor would you want to show up in full Scottish highland great kilt when everyone has t-shirts and shorts on. Season, weather, established group dynamic, and type of festival may also play a large role in attire. So within the context of the Celtic traditions, what shall we find?

     Within modern Druidry and I use the term loosely here. There is a certain accepted image many think of when they hear the word Druid. I wanted to address this, dispel popular accepted fashions, explain them, and offer suggestion of a more cultural and colorful way of donning Druidic or even Celtic garb for that matter. When I say Druid, you automatically are drawn to recall what you remember seeing or think you may know. This image is no doubt a figure in a long white hooded robe, carrying a golden sickle and wandering about Stonehenge. Is there any validity to this image? Let us look at where this well known idea comes from in our modern Druidic history.  

     One of the older Classical references we have about the style of the Druids comes from Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus AD 23 – August 25, AD 79) in his work, Naturalis Historia 'Natural Histories'. It is from this source material we learn that the Druids wore white robes, used golden sickles to harvest the mistletoe from the Oak tree on the 6th night of the moon, sacrificed a white bull, etc. The problem here is not merely in translation of language used, but also in who Pliny the Elder was as an outsider to the Celtic culture. This Roman was also very well known to be overly obsessed in anything dealing with magic or the esoteric. So, was this image dreamt up? It is very likely that much of his work in Celtic imagery is exaggerated and embellished, more over a conglomeration of other foreign cultures; and not from actual 1st person experience. Pliny's word (candida veste) which so many have taken to be 'Robes' is a mistranslation for the word "White Vestments". Looking at the Latin; Vestimentum: garments, clothes, clothing, robe, apperal, vest. Vestis: garments, clothes, clothing, vest, dress, carpet. Vestitus: clothing, dress, apperal, clothes, garments, vest. 

The actual reference in Latin is as follows: 
Sacrifico epulisque rite sub arbore comparatis, duos admovent candidi coloris tauros, quorum cornua tum primum vinciantur. Saceddos candida veste cultus arborem scandit, falce aurea demetit, candido id excipitur sago...etc.

Sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring thither two white bulls, whose horns are then for the first bound up. Saceddos in a white garment ascends the tree and mistletoe with a golden sickle, and it is received in a cloak of white.

     Veste means clothing! This was possibly & most likely a white or an 'off-white', natural flax linen, or wool long piece of clothing. It could have been a tunic but then he would have used the word Tunica which means; tunic, coat, think skin, shirt, ordinary sleeved garments. So we are left with a white garment, Not a monk like habit style robe we might be inclined to think of. It could it have simply been a Cloak/Brat? Also note there is no mention of hoods. We know gold does not hold an edge well, for anyone that has ever really had to cut mistletoe would tell you; the thick woody parts are a trial to test your patients. This golden sickle was no doubt a small reaping hook of bronze, and there are many mainland bog artifacts to support that the tools of the time period were not crescent moon shaped sickles of todays new-age fashion. 

     Also is it possible that Pliny confused the Germanic traditions for the Celtic, we do know his major body of work History of the German Wars has been lost to us, so it is hard to say. Oddly in other works like Nat. His., XXIV, 103 Pliny mentions white clothing (candida veste) again, this time he mentions them as a  Tunic/Tunicam. So why is it that the popular focus is always on the first account and not this secondary short write up that mentions the Tunic? Could be be like Pliny and be overly enthused by all things esoteric. It is based on Poor scholarship, mistranslation, or possibly because people like dressing as transvestites as our wise comedian Eddie Izzard would suggest in this vid clip.

     Another problem with this White robed image, is that it stems from the Romantic Celtic Revival period during the 1700's in Britain. A country well known for oppressing its Celtic neighbors at that time. They did well in not adopting their neighbors styles of fashion within their new founded public practice of a 'Stone Circle Druidry'. Let us examine a well known image from the Romantic Druidic Revival Era that has helped to shape and infect our collective unconscious. In 1724 William Stukeley produced his engraving, "A British Druid", which was then used as the frontispiece of the work titled: 'Stonehenge: a temple restored to the British Druids', published in 1740. Though this wasnt the original front cover to be used, nor the title we know today. Stukeley's projected work titled: The History of the Temples of the Ancient Celts (July 1723) displays no Druidic type figures, just men in the forest near a cave, with walking sticks examining what appears to be a small stone circle.

    Yet in his revised sketch of his title page there are Druids. (estimated between 1723-1733) This revision and its title was then to be re-titled, The History of the Religion and Temples of the Druids. 

     So what happened, why the change? During this period when many aristorcatic gentlemen were fraternizing over fantasy about so called Celtic things, there was also a new movement of Druidic activities happening publicly, and in private. A man we may know from our Druidic history named John Toland introduced William Stukeley to the already ongoing Aristocratic Gentleman's club of a Druidic Movement happening in the UK at that time. They were both Freemasons, and belonged to a few other philanthropic organizations with the social upper class elite of their communities. Being of this social status allowed for a type of freedom from the hard work of the common man who struggled on a daily basis. These gentleman generally kept the same social circles for many reasons, as some of us do today. After all, people do judge you by your company as my Grandmother would say. Stukeley's image no doubt fueled the Romantic Druid Antiquity movement in its growing imaginations of a mascot for a publicly safe Druidic figure; influencing what they thought Druids really looked like. Did these gentleman have any solid awareness of the subject? More on this later. After all, why is there a need to classify and title this image as a "British Druid", did the neighboring Druids dress differently? Before we move onto where this image came from, let us look at what this picture is trying to tell/sell us. Take in a good look and let us address a few topics.

      We see an old man with a well groomed beard in healthy shape, not overweight and much definition to his leg muscles, probably from a life of walking. He wears sandals that look (in my opinion) very Roman. He is placed under the Oak tree which we eventually learn is a Druidic tree venerated by the British, Welsh, Gallic traditions. He walks with a water bladder slung over his shoulder (or coin purse?) and a Bronze Age axe attached to his belt with no handle. His walking stick (in his Right hand) is straight and at the top there appears to be a line or a notch for something to be attached; Perhaps the axe itself? His posture is to me very posed, and unnatural. I feel this way due to his eyes being turned down in reflection of something contemplative, and his left hand over his chest is also what I feel an unnatural position. Could his fingers be forming an 'M' for a reason? I ask the reader to mimic the finger posture seen in this sketch and take note in how unnatural it feels! From this I suggest it could be a certain type of identification to those initiates of the Order. Speculative at best, but again, unnatural even for a pose. This hand gesture is seen in many sketches and paintings from various time periods which adds to the mystery. 

     We see from this image that he wears a hooded tunic and a cloak over top. Not the long flowing monk like robes, why? Because from this image we can gather he is a traveling man. He is out in the wilds, shown by the forest in the back ground, and the subtle image of Silbury hill & possibly Avebury behind it. He is between these images, showing a balance of private/secret tradition, with what is hidden in the forest; and yet an open air, 'in public' view with use of the Avebury stone circle and what appears to be Silburry Hill (to possibly suggest, elevation). This could also be the old and the new symbolism of the Druid tradition from the their perspective in the 1700's. The Gentleman of this time period also tried to tie the Druids to the ancient Neolithic sites like Stonehenge and Avebury; as many then thought the Druids to be the actual builders or architects. We see at the bottom of this depiction the artists title and date is done on a carved stone. An ashlar perhaps? Why would Stukeley bother to depict his "words" artistically on the image of a carved stone, under tree in the middle of nowhere? Does this also seem a bit, unnatural? What is this suggesting? I feel the artist was creatively leading us somewhere, for those of us who may be clever enough to put the subtle symbolism together, we could possibly gain some insight into why he did it this way. What do we know of the Rev. William Stukeley? There are Biographies both long and in depth about his personal life, but what most of them will not mention in depth is his esoteric involvement, and the circles he was apart of. In 1717 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, in the following year he founded what is still presently called The Society of Antiquaries. After 1719 in his completion of a medical degree from Cambridge he became a Freemason. In 1722 he entered The Roman Knights and took on the name Chyndonax of which he also used Druidically. He was good friends with Sir Isaac Newton (a well know Deist of his day) and took over the Druid Order that John Toland was running after his death in 1722. (More on Toland in notes)

     Stukeley could have easily just put his signature and date tucked away in the bottom corner like many artists do, but he didnt in this piece. Looking at his previous works there is nothing special about his title and signature on them. This engraving was done with what seems a deeper purpose and symbolic intent. Earlier I used quotes when I said his "words". I did this to show importance, as there was a saying used long ago even in Stukeley's time; The ancients drew it upon the earth. What does this mean? The ancestors left us records 'in stone' just like this artist has done with his image. It is up to us to read the stones they left us, to make sense of our history. Perhaps he was suggesting that through the image of the stone, and the ancient site of Avebury, that the Druids of old were like Masons themselves; both Operative and Speculative in their craft as a combined function to their communities in ancient times. Maybe the Druids during his time were like The Freemasons as well? Perhaps that is why Many Freemasons became Druids, and many Druids became Freemasons; One can only speculate. Though it is not uncommon for many Gentleman to have belonged to more than one organization, even by todays standards you see Druids that are Freemasons who join The Scotish Rite, Grotto and Shrine and even the Rosicrucians. 

     Did Stukeley get this image of a British Druid from anywhere we might know? The answer is yes, as in most cases there is always a something that comes before a work that is well known which inspired it. Let us glimpse at those images and judge for ourselves if Rev. Stukeley was contributing anything original in his artistic depiction.  

In the above: Aylett Sammes who was known for his works trying to connect the Phoenicians to the Welsh language compiled a work titled, Britannia Antiqua Illustrara was published in 1676 & bears a Druid of a striking resemblance to Stukeleys published Druid of 1740. That would make Stukeley's Druid many years after Sammes. Examine and compare the Image for posture and style to that of Stukeley's. We see that Sammes Druid is in the wild, yet is holding a book. No book exists in Stukeleys image, yet look at the hands on the book. Also to mention, is the Druid carrying a water bladder,or a coin purse? We notice from this image that the Druid has a longer beard than Stukeley's, and wears no sandals, a more wild unkempt image. We see with use of the book, an emphasis placed on education, reading, writing, history, lore, & teaching. All these things that are apart of a Druids function within his community. Still though, look at the abounding similarities. Yet after all this, if we dig through the layers of time in the bog we find that even his work and iconography was inspired by the Conrad Celtes organization and the Jani Anglorum of John Selden in 1610. The influence of these representations of Druids continued until the 19th century and the Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands (1815) of Samuel Rush Meyrick and Charles Hamilton Smith.

Below: We also have another very similar image to bring up and that is from the work entitled, Mona Antiqua Restaurata, by Rev. Henry Rowlands in 1723 around the same time as Stukeley was working on his original image for his book that had no Druid influence yet.

     Again we see the same type of image, posture, & style. In this later addition, yet still published prior to Stukeley's work; We see sandals added, and the hand holding the oak leaves of which will be added as the oak tree which Stukeley's Druid rests underneath. Yet with this Druid we see he is examining a snake (adder?) next to his right foot; which causes his posture to be as it is? Is this a connection to Druids and snakes? He stands in front of a few rural style houses, connecting him not to the wilds but to a community? Interesting to note that Rev Henry Rowlands an Anglesey Vicar was also good friends with Mr. John Toland. Can we then see how through at least Rowlands to Toland that Rev. Stukeley arrived at his British Druid image, I think so. 

Below: Yet still another image of an unknown artist that is often credited to Aylett Sammes in his 1676 work.

We see the use of the staff, pouch, book & leaves, with houses in the background. I could find no artist for this piece, and found it poorly classified as the work of Mr. Sammes dated 1676 on the internet. This above work does not appear in Sammes work like the other above plate with use of no village and no leaves. It appears to be a combination of many of the well known images, much like we tend to think of Merlin in our folklore, a mish-mash a many historical people.  

What is common about all these images? 
     From them we are to gather a Druid is an old man, through the imagery of the long white beard. Maybe this is to symbolize wisdom, knowledge, experience? We see that in all of the images the use of a walking stick/staff is in the right hand. The walking stick is generally the same length in all the images and in the same position. It is straight and not bent, crooked, or twisted. Perhaps used as a method of measurement? In many of the histories of the Gael we learn of certain sticks made from Aspen used only by one individual for measuring out graves. It is suggested that these sticks were taboo to other members of society and always were of the same length. We see from all of these images that a water bladder, coin purse, or even a crane bag (magic bag) is used. The Druid is outside in all these, & not indoors. He is away from the houses not next to them,  and often near ancient sites. There is a connection to the Oak, to books, education, study, self reflection. We see in all of these the Druid wears a knee length tunic although wearing a hooded cloak. No pants are worn in any of these images, and the use of sandals seems infrequent. We can clearly see that Stukeley's British Druid was not his own invention, and we must then ask where this image comes from? No one really knows. Antiquity would suggest that at least some of the image is correct and not to fully dismiss it as fantasy. It is practical for a Druid to be wearing such garb in a way. Long billowing robes get caught up in the woods, and larger sleeves are dangerous near a fire. Even the cloak here doesn't drag on the ground. It is my opinion that this image must come from some what of a real Druidic type figure. The earliest image of this style is from the early 1600's as far as I can recover through research. One must ask if this could possibly be a surviving image of someone once seen during this time period or a passed down story from before? We do know that in Ireland and in Scotland during this time Hedge Schools were still in common practice with the Ollamh (Dr. of Poetry) presiding over this older Druidic type of education. This image could then be of one of these individuals, but who is to say. 

     What is very interesting is that through these images, we don't see any of the well known Celtic styles that display fabrics we know the Celts to have worn ie. checks, plaids, tartan, or tweed-like woven weaves like the herringbone. We don't see certain feathered cloak styles, like the Irish Tuigen. What we see is a public safe image; by that I mean something somewhat Christian in style, perhaps even early Céili Dé/Culdee? Could this be a safe fashion statement for a priest-craft to exist openly, unsure? We do know some of the romantic celtic revivalists were also reverends, vicars, and they also considered themselves as Druids. Though this style alludes to something that if seen publicly by a crowd of spectators they would unconsciously just be accept a white robed image with clergy even if it did seem rather peculiar. After all we can not have a bunch of savage looking painted people running a muck in fur and feathers now can we? This is Great Britain after all, and God save the Queen; I kid!

      These early romantic revivalists looked to many outside sources like the Middle East, Egypt, and even India for some form of early roots within their Druidic quest for a Celtic identification. Sadly instead of going through their neighbors manuscripts to get the real McCoy (pun intended). So today we see modern Druids still stuck in this white robed garb of the 1700's. Is there anything wrong in this? I would say Yes and No. It defines them as modern Druids, in so far as what they do, believe, and bonds them together under a common image of unity as a group. Nothing wrong with that in anyway; after all their Druidry allows such freedom of expression that they can chose to wear something different if they wish. I personally feel the 'wrong' in Druids wearing all white, is not necessarily anyones fault. More times than not students of this Druid-craft are not throughly educated, or otherwise do not have the resources or exposure to know any differently. After all how many manuscripts still exist in Old Irish about such things that are still left untranslated!  A wise man once told me; "You cant be mad at the monkey because it doesn't know how to play cards with you." I guess that is why I am writing this, because I know what it is like to be that man. It would make me happy to see more modern Druids adopt a Celtic flare if you will in how they dress to express their path. Honestly I would rather see modern fashions of kilts, tattoos, torcs, and brightly colored tribal people any day celebrating a modern Celtic (not purely Druidic) cultural celebration. At least it's better than looking like a Hebrew Princess Leia stereotype wandering about Neolithic stone circles. It is nice that many groups are slowing growing towards this more colorful expression in our time, and celebrating them on the farm, and in the fields with their families and neighbors. 

We can not get away from the White, so it seems:
 Why does this color always come to be relied upon for our Druidic garb? Honestly I think it does have a universal function that most likely traces its roots to some sacred Indo-European tradition. White being a pure & holy, the color of new fabric, un-dyed, clean, etc. This fabric with comparison to even our doctors hospital garb has a sort of cleanliness to it, after all if its dirty, it looks dirty. Though I think here is where we insert time and place in our understanding of apparel. Did the Druids wear long white robes all the time? I personally think they did not. I feel they may have worn a longer length possibly below the knee or ankle length, fitted sleeved tunic (with no hood for the Gaelic tradition to show off the frequent tonsure) of a natural off-white color for certain social-religious affairs. Perhaps when acting as Brehon (Judge) or even something to do with justice they wore white with their outfit.  Also to note, I do not think they wore just off-white tunics by themselves, such as in the above image of Stukeleys Druid. No doubt these Druids were within the Celtic culture, they had leather, fur, feathers, checks, stripes, variegated & speckled-tweed looking complex woven textiles; of which we have samples found at Hallstatt. Why would they not be 'well dressed' if they were after all the most educated of their people which allowed them to look a certain way that defined their social status. We have mention that in Irelands tradition, only slaves wore one color. Why would the educated, artistic class wear just white? They wouldn't have, so why do we still continue to today? Is it that symbolically this white so many wear represents the combination of all colors? I have no idea. Honestly I don't concern myself too much with answering that because I don't dress that way. 

Ward get out of my Robes!
Get it... wardrobes? Hardy har-har.
   Do we not dress differently for work, then when we play. Weddings and formal events require us to wear certain outfits, and even then some choose to display a more creative expression within the cultural accepted norms. The ascot/cravat, waistcoat-vest, morning coat vs. a standard tuxedo. Sure you might see a popular model or musician wearing an out of this world outfit at an event, but even then it is still seen as acceptable. It is not like that artist is wearing freshly slain bull hides, covered in mud with no other clothing on within our culture. For instance, when we go to court, when we go to a sporting event, when we dig in our gardens; we dress for the occasion. Druids as a people within a culture just like ourselves, no doubt adopted a style for practicality within the cultural accepted norms of their time. I do not see a Druid in long white robes working on the farm, or wandering around the woods, the image just doesn't fit. They wore their work clothing, their everyday clothing, which made them look like who they were; Celtic people! Perhaps there was an everyday 'casual style' that also showed the community of their social-political class without use of religious garb? We know beards, tonsures, torcs, the use of gold, amount of colors displayed, and things like this were reserved for only certain members of nobility in that society. It isn't hard to imagine there could have been other things similar to this that allowed for a Druidic identity to be known from just appearance within the culture besides a reputation alone. I would think that due to season, weather, and even what they are doing within the community influenced their appearance. Would a Druid working as Judge settling tribal disputes wear what he wore to battle, or even for feasting with the High King? Doubtful. Each outfit would reflect what office they were holding socially or privately. More so, the Druids personal style would reflect this to those present, allowing the individual to creatively express themselves through their desired outfit. We should be doing the same thing in our time as we 'dress to express' during our celebrations if we choose to wear garb. 

   So why are we not adopting a more Celtic inspired style within our Druid wardrobes if we are learning that these 'white robes' are not fully traditional? For some it appears to be a respect for a preexisting 'in place tradition'; and for others to be known as a Druid through the accepted well known image. We have publicly accepted Druid Orders that have been with us for 200 years, and we have their members and Chiefs still wearing these styles, so why not? In reflecting again on time and place, this could also bring up the subject of when do we wear garb? Also too, what it means to wear it? If one is involved in the Military, they have a uniform, both functional and even for dress. The Martial Arts has its Gee, and when we celebrate graduation we wear a cap and gown. 

     Personally I come from the angle of Iron Age Celtic re-enactment & living history background. It is not uncommon for folks like myself who try through history to depict the Celts accurately to also be Pagans. Why not wear the same attire when we celebrate our festivals since we know that we already have it, and its respectful in style & taste. The point is, is that these outfits are NOT costumes for those wearing them as they are not only celebrating their faith but the CULTURE of that Faith. When we don special outfits for ceremonies, we are not playing dress up, we are not acting out fantasy or role playing, we are not re-enactors. We are like Bag Pipers in a Marching band, or Step Dancers at a feis; we are wearing a historical & cultural outfit that displays a time period, social class, and our dedication to honoring the ancestral traditions we celebrate. When we wear ceremonial garb, we are setting a mood of sorts. By doing this we know we will be changing our focus from the mundane to the sacred. We do this symbolically in our daily lives when we light a candle, it shows something different is taking place. By allowing ourselves to wear something special that we only wear at special times; the changing of clothing is a small ritual in itself. This mindset does influence our state of consciousness, preparing us for the work we do. Does a Judge not put on their robes before entering the court room, or even a Justice of the Peace holding a wedding? For those Brothers out there reading this, could you imagine attending Lodge and not wearing your Apron? This is the same for those within the Druid tradition. Though, some feel they always have to wear garb for their work, while others feel clothes are clothes and it matters not. Again some may choose a more liberal expression and are comfortable being skyclad (naked). Time and place can dictate your choice of garb, as well as to some extent personal choice. You may live in the deep south where wearing the stereotypical 'white robes' might be a very bad idea! This is where donning a historical outfit would make much more sense if there is a desire to wear garb as a group. 

    Do you need to be in garb? Absolutely not. If you are working publicly with a large group and wish to stand out, do so by all means. Remember, what you wear is not what you know, or what you celebrate from your heart. Do you think the Ancient Ones care what you have on? Also, a good point to consider; did the Druids dress up for celebrations, we know they did wear different outfits for different social functions. We know the Celts dressed to impress if they could when neighboring tribes came to visit, when going to war, and possibly for giant communal celebrations. The Druids then possibly wore something impressive for rituals, but not outside of their cultural norms ie. not all white, like a Greek or Roman or even Hebrew High Priest. It would be lovely to see more people express through dress how they feel about their cultural path instead of treating the Druid image as a mandatory stale 1700's uniform. More and more we do see creative, sometimes even fantasy based outfits being displayed; and that is fine by all means for those on that path. Wear what you will, my only suggestion through this write up is tying our Celtic roots of the Druid tradition into what and how we dress presently as an option. 

Taking the Modern Approach:
   If we look at the weapons, tools, and outfits the warrior class was using and wearing during the Iron Age and apply that to our current armed forces today we can easily see the upgrades from swords to guns, modern armor vs chain mail, helmets, etc. Here is a picture that shows such evolution. If you very closely, you'll notice how some of them still wear torcs, and have La Tene style tattoos. This collage was created by my friend Breandán.

     The Druid in ancient times was the most respected of the community because of their dedication to education. They were advisors to chieftains, and were well dressed by the standards of their time. Would we today not wear formal attire, a tux, an expensive custom fit Italian suit? Do we as modern Druids not seek to be educators, lecture and have a class room of sorts for sharing our traditions and culture. Would you show up as a honored guest speaker at formal event in a Robe to represent your Celtic Culture and Faith? No, you would dress your best. You might even don a formal Bonnie Prince Charlie Jacket, a Kilt, sporran, decked out with all the bells and whistles. Time and place is my point. 

     Picture before you, the image of an old man with a long white well groomed beard. His long hair with a few braids has beads woven into them. Faded blue spiral tattoos are upon his tree like wrinkled face. He wears a short sleeve tunic the color of the late summers golden wheat. Layered under this is a well fitted long sleeve tunic the color of spring born fresh green birch leaves. A tablet woven belt of wool with the colors of many earth tones is tied upon his waist, its pattern zig zags creating movement to the eye. The golden torc of responsibility is around his neck that shows everyone in his community his dedication to truth, and responsibility to higher education. A golden brooch holds a cloak of speckled white, grey, and dark forest green that drapes over his shoulder and behind him. His ears have gold clasps and he wears many bracelets of wood, bone, and horn. The pants he wears are a variegated weave of greens, grays and browns with tiny flecks of red, almost like a grandfathers tweed. In the deep forest he stands at the stream bed. Looking up into a clearing in the sky, his arms raised above him, he shakes a branch that he carries with tiny bells; as he calls out in a language you do not understand. His voice is deep, hallow, and vibrates through the forest. All is still, there is no breeze, no sound of bird or leaf. He looks at you and smiles. As if everything is in slow motion, and as time slipped away for that brief moment you were apart of something. Within that moment you were comforted at peace and felt the light of the universe flow through nature and into you. He places a carved wooden object in a earthenware bowl that is painted with many flowing patterns of spirals. He does this as he sings a song washing and blessing the item as he caresses it. He pulls this object from the bowl and passes it over a small fire he has burning at the waters edge three times in a clockwise motion. As he places this object into the water to float down stream, he sings yet another song watching it very carefully in the small currents. He watches this item flow until out of sight, and then heads back to the spot where he was working. From a leather pouch he has hanging from a tree, he pulls out his offering. He leaves some salt, bread, fruit, and fills a small bowl with mead. He sits is under this gnarled, thick rooted tree that hangs overhead. It provides the greatest of shade where he quietly says a few words as he touches its massive trunk. He again looks up to the sky for a moment, looks to the water, and down to the earth and closes his eyes. He smiles, and takes a deep breath with a great sigh of being reassured, and you automatically know that whatever just happened, goodness was apart of it. 

     You were just apart of a Druid ritual of sorts, you saw within your minds eye the images of what once was, and is still being celebrated by many of us today. Yet there were no white robes, no stone circles, or any of that which we commonly associate with Druids. Yet we still identify this as Druidic, Why? Was it the imagery...hard to say. Was it through the old mans actions? Unsure. It was nature, and it was the old man himself who archetypically represents education, wisdom, and someone who has earned respect because of education and responsibility, NOT as some would suggest, authority. Perhaps the collective characteristics of this short essay will allow you to gain perspective of this Celtic tradition. I would only hope. 

To summarize things, what can we say about donning Druidic/Celtic garb?

Some options to consider:
. If you are going to do it at all, do it right. Know about time and place.
. Consider the styles of the Iron Age for your attire. Look at how the Celtic re-enactors dress. 
. Kilts are considered acceptable as they display a cultural link to our ancestors traditions.
. Feel free to grow your mustache or a beard.
. Wear a torc or a triskele pendant at least. 
. All people could keep longer hair and even wear braids.
. If you choose not to wear garb, thats fine. Consider other options like a Celtic t-shirt or tattoos. 
. Ask yourself, "What can I wear that displays my Culture?" The rest should fall into place. 
~ And remember wearing garb is wearing a cultural outfit, it is NOT a costume or playing dress up. If you want to wear 'robes' keep it historical! 

If pictures are worth a thousand words, then by all means let me stop typing and share a few. 

Performing the O'Ceallaigh Wedding. Wearing a White short sleeve tunic made of linen. Open style wool tunic/over coat that  has a variegated color patteren that is speckled of dark brown and light/faded blue with tiny specks of green. The belt is my standard thick heavy wool tablet woven style. The pants ( Braccae) are wool and contain brown, green, faded yellow, and a little blue. I have hair-on ghille shoes on my feet. My staff has some Ogham on it near to my hands amoung other designs. I am also wearing my Lunula (breast plate) that I only wear performing wedding services & yes I am aware that Ogham came much later and that Lunula were worn in the Bronze Age. Notice the Celtic tonsure and the tattoo on my head. 

Irish Draoithe (Druids) Notice no hoods, no long robes!


John Aubrey: (12 March 1626 – 7 June 1697)  Lead the Mount Haemus Grove. John Toland met him in 1694
A well known member of that Grove was: *Elias Ashmole. 

Elias Ashmole: (23 May 1617 – 18 May 1692) He became a Freemason on 16 October 1646. 
From his diary we read: On 10 March that year he wrote: "About 5 H: P.M. I received a Sumons to appeare at a Lodge to held the next day, at Masons Hall London." The following day, 11 March 1682, he wrote: "Accordingly, I went ... I was the Senior Fellow among them (it being 35 yeares since I was admitted) ... We all dyned at the halfe Moone Taverne in Cheapeside, at a Noble Dinner prepaired at the charge of the New-accepted Masons." Ashmole's notes are one of the earliest references to Freemasonry known in England, but apart from these entries in his autobiographical notes, there are no further details about Ashmole's involvement with the Freemasons. 

Mount Haemus Grove- Its roots come from with the Pheryllt or Welsh metalworkers/alchemists (not to be confused with the book title of the same name by Iolo Morganwyg). Cor Emrys was the name of the "Grove" they used during 1066 and before. It met both on Penmaen ridge of Snowdon (Eryr) and in the south Snowdon range at Dinas Affaraon. Not far from Dinas Emrys is a place called Cell-y-Dewiniaid - "The Grove of the Magicians" The Organization appears to have gone underground, lost, and possibly somewhat died out until Haymo of Faversham passed it to Philip Brydodd. In 1245 many people gathered to agree on a common program.

~ A further study should be undertaken to gain insight into the origins of the Pheryllt with connection to alchemy starting with the spelling using an F or FF in the spelling. 

John Toland: (30 November 1670 – 11 March 1722)  One of the founders responsible who formed a Mother Grove: An Tigh Geatha Gairdearchas, Combined Groves from at least 10 centers of education at Apple Tree Tavern in 1717 
He was Druid Chief from 1717-1722  Much of his success came from his predecessor and already well established Druid John Aubrey

William Stukeley: (7 November 1687 – 3 March 1765) Druid Chief from 1722-1765 Freemason and Druid On the 6th of June 1721 
His diary reads: June 6, 1721 says "I was made a Freemason at the Salutation Tav., Tavistock Street, with Mr. Collins, Capt. Rowe, who made the famous diving Engine." He was involved with John Toland in both Freemasonry and in British Druidry. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

A look at this thing people call Druidry.

I think preserving a culture, defending it, and not allowing it to be polluted by romantic or foreign otherwise fantasy is a just and noble cause. I see all faiths as being beautiful paths up the same mountain, or colors of the rainbow. It is a very difficult position, because many so called fundamentalists are not tolerant. They are self serving, close minded, and unwelcoming to goodness and divinity in any universal sense. Which at the very core or roots of all faiths share an unspoken unity and an agreed principle. 

     I often times have had it with the vast majority to Neo Druids and their wishy washy hippy attitude, they have no respect for culture or tradition. Yet they are the first to rip off, or steal from the traditionalist to try and use something ancient to fit their needs. I ask where would their tradition be without its roots, roots that many of us are still keeping alive without foreign influence. They invent things, and give it gaelic names to make it seem like they are something else, and for the most part they are pretending to be something they are not educated in.

     What these Neo-Druids do is no more connected to the practices of Wiccans with their Eastern mysticism, Judeo-Christian-derived symbology, ripped-off Masonic-based rituals (courtesy of Gardner), Thelemic ideology, etc. None of which is Celtic in the least, despite the trappings and poorly-pronounced and vastly misunderstood nomenclature they apply. They can claim whatever they want, they have a right to speak as much as I do, but I reserve the right to dismiss them as fools. The Draoithe are a part of a larger overall culture, not alone, solitary wizards running around playing "Celtic High Priest" at Neolithic stone circles with empty trappings derived in the 18th century. It does not earn them any respect from the real tradition-bearers.

     There are very clear-cut elements that define traditional Gaelic (and, to a lesser extent, other Celtic) culture(s)- a social structure defined by the Féinechais (Laws of the Freemen, aka Brehon Law) that have been the core of our cultural structure since time immemorial, the existence of the various loose castes- féine (freemen), laochra (warriors), aos dana (poets, seers, draoithe, craftsmen, etc.) and the ríochais (airí, or lords, and the chieftains and/or kings). Religiously, there is also a great deal of pre-existing core defining elements- veneration of the Gods, namely the Túatha de Dannan for the Gaelic tribes, the Ancestors, the triune realms of Sea, Land, and Sky (represented within Gaelic faiths as Tír Tairngire, Mide, and Tír na nÓg respectively), the veneration of spirits, the personal responsibility of the individual to maintain their relationship with the Gods and Ancestors, etc. 

     From an outside perspective it may all be a big mish-mash, but the differences are less like those between Judaism and Christianity, and more like the differences between Christianity and Vedic-influenced Hinduism. In other words, VASTLY different, so much as to be incompatible.

     A tradition and culture exist because of things that define them. Those from outside of a culture or tradition that wish to embrace a free-form way of life are welcome to do so, but when they threaten the existence of my culture and way of life by trying to corrupt it, then I have a SERIOUS problem. If one wishes to hold to a self-indulgent do-what-thou-wilt way of life, feel free, just don't call yourself something you are not.  

     If people try and pervert our way of life by trying to promote their Neo-Druidic faith as something Gaelic or Celtic, and then they are crossing the line into corrupting what I and our people hold dear. I will not only have a problem with that, I will fight to my last breath to protect our way of life. If they don't agree with it, they can go found their own organization and call it something modern without the trappings of our cultural labels; stop pissing in our well. These are the issues I have with many--- but not all.

     (Rhetorically) Do you present what you believe and practice a traditional Gaelic or Celtic culture and faith, ie The Way of "druidism", etc.? If not, then you're not guilty of what many of the neo-druid groups are. If you are, then we have a problem. It would be as if someone living a communist lifestyle claimed they were democratic, apples and oranges. ALL Celtic cultures- and the faiths that are an intrinsic part of them- are focused on the túath, the tribal body, and the extended family clan. Even solitary folks of our faiths and culture still recognize this to be a truth. Far too many folks out there have presented wholly non-Celtic agenda-laden socio-political drivel wrapped in Celtic terminology and claimed it to be the traditional Celtic faith, eschewing the very things that are the centerpoint of traditional Celtic cultures- honouring the tribe, the Gods, the Ancestors, and holding to the customs and laws of our people, albeit with a good foundation in the living native languages of our people.  

     Cultural theft is still theft, as any Amerindian who has had to deal with plastic shaman can tell you. If you aren't following the culture, but pray to the Gods, and call it your own personal practice, that's fine, again it's a different matter. As for how it affects me personally, it erodes all that I hold dear, causes confusion and misinformation to be spread out there that has created biases and prejudices that I have had to personally fight against (namely people associating things- Celtic with hippies, new-age mysticism, self-aggrandizing and self-indulgent behaviour, a lack of a moral compass, complete lack of personal integrity, etc. due to ten frillion neopagan Wiccan-types out there who want to glom onto to the name, but don't have the drive, ambition, dedication or work ethic to actually become what they claim to be), and I find it offensive in the extreme. This whole new-age mentality of "I can do what I want, and call it whatever I want, and you can't say a damned thing about it" is, pardon my language, bullshit. I CAN and WILL say something about it, and I will educate as many people as I can to the fallacy that has been spread, to shine the light of truth on the lies spread by unscrupulous cult-leaders and authors, and do my best to smack an apathetic Gaelic populace awake to what is being done- both within the Homelands and without- to our culture. I am a Sinsearaí, I honour the Túatha de Dannan and my Ancestors, I honour my family and clan, I honour the ways of our people, and I will be dead before I back down from that.

     Also to add to that- this is not a game. This is not some book or social club. This is our CULTURE, this is our FAITH, the very things we have fought to reclaim from the dustbin of history where empires and usurping foreign faiths have tried to put it, to the deaths of millions. The English under Cromwell annihalated two thirds of our entire PEOPLE, not to mention how many millions more died in the starvation of the many famines Ireland endured under foreign occupation. It was during that time that the last vestiges of our native culture, language, customs, etc. were stamped out, forced into obscurity in the most rural parts of Ireland or carried abroad by those sold into slavery or who managed to flee. 

     Christianity is a foreign faith that pushed women back from the near-equal status they had enjoyed- at a time when the so-called "civilized" societies treated them like chattel- to become near-property, stripping them of their right to rule, to lead, to fight, to stand before the túath as bandraoi or ríghan. It took power from our people and put it in the hands of priests, took the chieftains and kings who were chosen by the people and relegated them to seconds-in-command to an unelected clergy of a foreign faith with foreign ideologies and ethics. It broke the Pact between the Tribes of Miled and the Túatha de Dannan that had stood for a thousand years and more, and led to the eventual loss of sovereignty as invader after invader plundered our homeland. Not even the Romans set foot on our soil in conquest, but once the pact was broken and the old faith forgotten in all but the most rustic of regions, in came the Northmen, then the Normans, then the English, and now, the European Union. This is the price of forgetting our oaths and our ways. Those of us who seek to redress this have an uphill battle against a sea of misinformation, perversions of history and outright deceitful propaganda espoused by everyone from the Church to the neopagans today, all of whom have their own agendas, none of which are for the benefit of OUR people, only their own ends. This is why it is so offensive to see people further eroding a culture and faith that has already had numerous efforts to extinguish it.

     People often focus on the Druids, and some corrupt version of Gael Pagan tradition instead of seeing the ratio or break down of CULTURE, where faith is/should be everywhere within the culture. It seems all too often the only focus is on spirituality and not the rest of the cultures many layers and subtle sub-layers of then and now. They are and should be overlapped and interwoven. Ask any modern Druid what they know of the old laws, the lore like the Táin Bó Cúailnge and you will find not much. Ask any harper to tell a traditional story while he plays his cruit using the 3 strains, they can't. Ask any Irish dancer about the earliest dances and what rituals they were about, they do not have the answer. Yet some of us know these things, and are trying to keep them safe from being lost. We wish to share them, and try as we might with groups like Neopagans, they piss on their roots of tradition, and we become defensive. So where does that leave us? Looking like war mongers, defensive, when all we really want is to share our culture in its Gaelic form, and not have what we have worked and died for perverted for romantic self indulgent title seekers. 

(Taken from a Conversation I had with a friend) 


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Imbolc is a holiday many celebrate in early February but what is it all about? 

For those that are not apart of the ancestral culture or aware of its customs this is a very brief overview of what this festival is all about. Lets begin with the etymology of name Imbolc. In modern Irish the name of the feast i-mbolg, meaning 'in the belly' is aptly named for a time when Winter is pregnant with Summer. Thought to be derived from the root m(b)lig meaning 'milk' which actually means something more akin to 'lactation'. Alternatively there is also another common name this festival is known by which is Oímelc (modern Oímealg) which stems from the Old Celtic word Ouimelko, 'ewes milk'. 

  This feast was said to be celebrated when the milk first began to flow in the ewes. This is about a month or so before the lambing season begins. This would place the date somewhere near the 1st of February with a window of two weeks before to two weeks after depending on the season and geographical location.

   In Old Irish it's Brigit, modern Irish Bríd, modern Scotts Gaelic: Brìghde or Brìd, anglicized as Bridget. Lets then leave behind Saint Brighid here as it is conjecture to weather or not her existence actually happened since so much of her life is based on the Goddess that predates her by thousands of years. Our focus is who Brigit the Goddess is since we are talking about Imbolc and not Lá Fhéile Bríde (The feast day of Brighid) 

So what's in a name?
  It has been suggested that the name Brigit goes back to Brigantia or Briganti from the insular Celtic tradition. Possibly from Brigindu mentioned in Gallic lore. Her names stems from Brig meaning height, like in brigâ which is applied to in hills and mountains. From Brigantia it could translate to something closely to, "she who raises herself on high, who is exalted." Though the roots of Brigâ are much more complex than just height. In Irish Brí, Scots Gaelic Brigh, Manx Bree all have wide range of meanings such as; 'power, force, meaning, invigorating essence', along with 'hill'. In the Brythonic languages like Welsh we see that Bre means hill but Bri could also mean, 'fame, value, respect'. No doubt the upwelling force that is both raised up and that which imparts strength. It's the Brigantia/Brigindu from Gallic lore that develops linguistically into Brigit of the Medieval Irish Period. 

In Irish Mythology Brigit is the daughter of the Dagda champion of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Some say she was the link between the Dannan and the Fomorian before the Lugh lore happens. Besides many of her characteristics being tied to the land, her bigger role is mostly seen as tied to the welfare of the Tribe. It is hard not to see her in triple form as banfhile (female poet) the one who brings inspiration to the poets and bards, she is a patroness of the forge and consort to the smiths, she is said to be associated with the weapons of the forge that the warriors carry. Brigit is also the healer, the herbalist and associated with cleansing the home and hearth. This element of fire related to her character is seen throughout in all of the previous mentioned functions. From the forge, to hearth, to the sun; Brigit and fire can not be separated. Her fire is the inspirational life giving force. With the fire of fertility within the earth and that of its quickening of solar light it is no wonder why so many still use candles to honor her. 

In nature
Brigit is associated with the White Cow, from her mother Bó fhionn goddess of the river Boyne. Although many consider the dandelion-caisearbhán in Irish, bearnan bride Scots Gaelic to be her flower it is was most likely coltsfoot (adhann) with its similar appearance, medical properties, and its blooming date much closer to the actual Imbolc festival itself. Brigit is said to have a messenger bird, the oystercatcher called bridean, brid-eun - Bríd-bird in Scotland &  giolla Bríde (Bríd's servant) in Connacht. Some also see her associated with the Adder. Given her Formorian connection (more on this adder lore later).

Traditional Surviving Customs
     There are common themes which Imbolc addresses. There is the re-awakening of the land and its fertility with the new agricultural cycle beginning. The creative force of the tribe and land merged into one. It is when forces of creativity of Tribe and Land merge that we take part in such customs. Many invite the spirit of this Goddess into their homes, & at their hearths welcoming her to bless them with protection. Often times a corn dolly or even a woman of the family would play the role of Brigit. Blessing the Clan with fire and water is very common as well as making the Cros-Bríde (Bridget's cross) though sometimes it is called crosóg (little cross) or Bogha Bríde (Bridget's bow) Most of the ones we see today are made from either plaited rushes or straw, but it isn't uncommon to see them made from sedge, cord, or vines. The well known four armed cross in its swastika shape was 1st found to be used in Ulster but today it's the most well known of the crosses. There are trefoil type designs that symbolize Birigt's threefold nature, as well as very intricate woven crosses like a sun wheel that are also used. The symbol shows movement, cyclical change, that light returns again and offers hope like that of the symbolism of the Snowdrop flower. Lets not forget it is both the symbolism os fire and water used in this festival, as in the medieval Irish we have the word imb-fholc which means "to wash oneself". 
     The less known cloak or mantle of Brigit (Brat Bríde) was traditionally just this, a cloak or mantle usually like a large blanket made of wool. It was hung at or out the window during the evening and over night of the feast and was said to absorb the powers of Brigit herself to benefit the family in their future times of illness or protection. Many today use a cloth, a ribbon or even a special reserved lap/couch blanket in place as their Brat Bríde. This was something you did every Imbolc and some suggest that it took seven years to gain its full powers of healing and protection. 
    One Imbolc tradition in Ireland is that when a young girl of the family goes out to cut and gathers the rushes and returns to the home and stands at the threshold of the house saying, "Be on your knees and open your eyes and let the blessed Bríd in." Téigi ar bhur nglúine, agus osclaigi bhur súile, agus ligigi Bríd bheannaithe isteach. The family would respond with sayings like, "Three times welcome, noble lady. - (Sé do bheatha , 'sé do bheatha, 'sé do bheatha, a  bhean uasail.) Or " O Brigit Come in, you are a hundred times welcome." - (O Bríde, tar isteach, ta céad fáilte romhat.) Afterwards the young girl would enter the house with the rushes and either bring them to the feasting table and lay them upon or under it or to the hearth of the home. It would not be uncommon for her to bless he food or drink that might be out at the feasting table. After the feasting the family would make the crosses and the Draoi would bless them so that they could be hung from doors for protection. There are places in Ireland where the family would come together and make a special loaf of bread shaped like a Brigits cross and lay it upon a a bed of rushes. After the bread was consumed at the feast the rushes were used to make the family crosses. Sometimes each loaf of bread had a small cross under it, or even bread crumbs were sprinkled over it. 

The well known corn dolly or straw doll called Brídeóg was often dressed in children's clothes and carried around the village by the children who went from house to house singing songs, reciting special prayers and giving families Brigits blessing at this time of year. Sometimes they would also hand over a Brigits cross to the house hold in thanks for their generosity of payment of either coin or food. In some communities a young girl was to take on the position of Brigit and wear a crown of rushes and a veil carrying a shield and wearing a Brigits cross as she lead a procession through the streets. In certain places the Brídeóg was put to bed with a wand by her side and over night would rise and leave a mark on the ashes of the fireplace. If a mark was seen it was an omen of good luck for the family. Some places in Scotland used no doll but prepared a bed for Brigit and invoked her at the threshold of the house saying, "Brighd, Brighd, come in: your bed is ready - (A Bhrighd, a Bhrighd, thig a steach: tha do leabaidh air a charadh)

There is also the custom of Brigit's belt/girdle (Crios Bríde) in which a larger hoop of braided straw was constructed. Four Brigit's crosses hung from it to mark the quarters. In Connacht, mainly in Connemara and the Aran Island where this tradition seems to have survived best the women were said to carry the Brídeóg (straw doll) where the men carried the Crios Bríde (Brigit's belt) Visiting house to house people were welcome to step through the hoop for encouraged blessings of health. Something like this was commonly sung:

Crios Bríde mo chrios,
Crios na gceithre gcros.
Eirigh suas, a bhean an tighe
Agus gaibh trí h-uaire amach.
An té rachas tré mo chrios,
Go mba seacht bhfearr
a bheidh sé bliain ó inniu.

My girdle is Bríd's girdle,
The girdle with the four crosses.
Rise up, women of the house
And go out three times.
May whoever goes through my 
girdle be seven times better a year
from today.

It was standard that men would pass through the belt/girdle sideways beginning with their right foot. Women on the other hand passed trough by brining it down upon them over their heads before they stepped out of it with their right foot. This went on and on sometimes with the individual going through the hoop usually three times. We can see how this is like birth, how it reenacts the passageway and how we are invoking birth and spring during Imbolc. 

In Scotland we find the connection to Brigit and the Adder. Just as we may be familiar with the watered down Groundhog custom where it sees its shadow or not prognosticating winter, so to a much earlier custom survives at this time of year. If the adder was seen and left is hole than you knew spring was soon upon you but if it came out and went back in you were indeed due for another month of unfavorable weather conditions. 

Moch maduinn Bhride
Thig an nimhir as an toll.
Cha bhean mise ris an nimhir
Cha bhean an nimhir rium.

On Brede's morn the serpent
will come out of the hole
I will not harm the serpent,
nor will the serpent harm me.

~ Carmina Gadelica

Interesting to note in other versions of this the Adder or serpent is called Rioghan (Queen) Ireland lack of snakes gave way to using the hedgehog (gráinneog) for this divinatory rite. There is so much more that could be said about Birigit, the forge and the blessings of the Smiths tools but for the sake of length I will leave this out. Just know that the Tribes Smith is payed special attention and blessings during this time for it is they who provide our tool through a magical process of creation with in their forge through Brigits help and inspiration. I hope you have gained an insight into some of the traditions of Imbolc and understand it in a way that you might have before. I can only hope you have the means of actually celebrating it with a group having read this. There is no better way to understand something than to go through it, be apart of it and allow it to shape you. 

How to make a Brigit's Cross