Friday, January 29, 2010

Cros Bhríde

Cros Bhríde from Paula Geraghty on Vimeo.

In an old schoolhouse in north Donegal people gather to grant St Brigid permission to cross the threshold. She carries an armful of freshly cut rushes with a white cloth tied around them. They are laid on a long set of tables, and slowly men, women and children go up gather some rushes up to make the traditional St Brigid's crosses. There are a number of cross styles.

This all takes place on the eve of Lá Fhéile Bríde or St Brigid's Day, which falls on February 1st each year.

This was originally a pagan custom, which was Christianised. Imbolc was it's old pagan name and marked the the beginning of Spring.

This is a localised tradition. Here, in the old schoolhouse, all ages of the community gather to chat, make crosses, passing on skills and a culture that has deep roots. Children run around, dipping their hands in the tin of chocolates, allowed to stay up late. A huge pot of spuds is boiled, mashed with an old wooden potato ponder with scallions and salt added, maybe a drop of milk and when it's served on the plate a well is made for the great dollop of butter. Yum, yum.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh Mandy agus Donnelly, agus gach duine eile a raibh ann. Bhí an oíche an galánta ar fad.

Running time 15 minutes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Book Review: Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch

Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch by Lora O‘Brien. © 2005 New Page Books. ISBN 1-56414-759-2. Paperback. New Age. 221 pages. $14.99 US. Read in August 2008. Source: purchase from a local pagan shop. (my review is x-posted here)

The author is very adamant in the first chapter on how this is not Wicca, but yet I barely see any differences. Witchcraft does not have High Priests and Priestess for one thing — that's a Wiccan trait — there's eight sabbats mentioned as well as initiation, "using" Celtic deities (rather than forming relationships. She lists beside each deity "modern uses," which I find horribly disrespectful), rites of passage, three levels (degrees), Lord and Lady, elementals, speaks of using sage smudge sticks and Tibetan bells for house cleansing (you think someone so adamant in cultural preservation would at least use juniper traditionally used by the Gaels to clear a house, not the Native American sage) ... to me it just looks like Irish Wicca. I truly can not see a difference.

On the upside, however, it is very delightful to see so much of the Irish language used within the book (along with easy-to-understand pronunciations). It was also fantastic to see her advocate learning Irish if you are going to call your spiritual path "Irish". And I loved that the author tackled the Witta issue as well as the Druid "bed sheet brigade" (page 203), I applaud her for both.

Other key points: she sticks to the four insular Celtic festivals within her Cycles chapter (she mentions the Solstice and Equinoxes as well, but only goes into full detail on the four fire festivals, unfortunately though there are some Wiccan bits and bobs thrown into these details) and she gives some fantastic book recommendations in the back.

I did find it hilarious how in the Website Recommendations she mentions Conradh Draoithe na h-Eireann, a group whom talk about some very odd things (like Atlantean land-healing and Masons ... what this has to do with Irish Druids, I have no idea), but I wouldn't trust a site with that on it. Nor would I trust a book which recommended the website.

Back to the shortcomings, there is one major thing that bothered me. On pages 85-86, the author states: "These are the ones who tie torn-up pieces of flowery umbrellas to a hawthorn tree outside the caves—just to leave an 'offering' of anything. Bring your rubbish home next time, folks". Tying bits of cloth to trees (called clooties) is an old and traditional Irish custom which locals still keep, so I have no idea why the author is so adamant that they should be removed and clearly through her choice of words, this was aimed at foreigners and tourists. Her statement is very condescending.

Now I completely understand her not wanting candle wax, crystals, bonfires, rubbish, and bits of plastic (page 125), but again she mentions not tying things to trees. Cloth and any food left as offerings are biodegradable (and non-synthetic) and are fine to leave, I don’t understand her disdain for them (well maybe food as that could attract animals, but I see nothing wrong with clooties tied to branches or coins hammered into trees -- both are things which locals do). She even goes on to say that she removes other people’s offerings (page 126)!

This book does have its drawbacks, but reading this review will help you spot them more easily. Overall, Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch is a decent piece of material for those interested in modern Witchcraft through an Irish lens. I’d recommend it to Wiccans looking for a more Irish/Celtic flavored path, but not really to anyone else.