30th April – Beltane Eve. The Celtic tradition always celebrates on the eve of the day, going down into the darkness to be reborn again at the dawning of the day.

Hay Bluff - Dragon's Back in the mist

This feast – goddess feast – is about burgeoning, sensuality, courting, testing, the betrothal of the goddess and the god after she has tested him. In Britain we celebrate with Morris Dancing, dancing in the sunrise on a local sacred hill. I’ll be there, with friends, circa 0530 tomorrow morning at Arthur’s Stone, a wonderful place with fantastic views of the Cat’s back and the Dragon’s Back of Hay Bluff to the west. The sun, of course, comes up opposite and gradually lights the hills as the dancing progresses.

On my personal blog yesterday, I wrote …

Faery fiddler ???

Our word personality comes from the Greek word persona which was the mask Greek actors wore and of which they said it was “the mask through which the gods spoke”. For gods read our own souls. The personality’s job is also to guard the soul. One example of this that has come down to us through folklore is the Morris Men and Morris Dancing. Morris is likely derived from “Mary’s Men”. The name Mary comes from various words going back to Sanskrit meaning sea and has always been one of the words/names/concepts for the goddess, the flowing waters that give life, and indeed the sea was the soup of the beginning of Life on Earth. The Morris dances have much in common with various unarmed combat exercises and were likely practiced through dance both as ritual to the goddess and, later, as a way of continuing the old ways after the Christian invasions. So the personality is the Guardian of the soul as the king is the guardian of the queen.

Dancing the surise

This celebration of the goddess by her Guardians on the top of one of her hills on May Morning is ancient. Probably most folk have at least heard of Morris Dancing but to connect and realise this is one of the old traditions of Britain, and a shamanic one at that, doesn’t usually come to people’s minds. We hide our old lore so very well … right out in the open where anyone can trip over it, in consequence most people don’t see it at all :-).

Greeting the sunrise

There’s usually some singing as well as the dancing and that reminds me – last year they asked me to learn the Obby Oss song and sing it for them so I must get on that when I’ve done this! And the Hal an Toe too! This is about the Padstow Obby Oss – note, the Old Oss is in the Celtic colours of red/white/black. The Padstow celebrations are very special and the Oss (dragon) is quite fantastic. If you get a chance to go, do so. You have to book a B&B 2 yrs in advance though !!!

Since last year, I’ve got a pair of new knees. I’ve not been able to dance the Morris for years and years, I hope to give it a gentle go tomorrow morning. To dance for the goddess again would be so good.

Maggi dancing Morris 2009

These are some pix of us from last year. I’ll try to get some more tomorrow and put them up on a free-for-all day afterwards.

That’s NOT me out of costume … hope to be this year.

Loreena McKennitt’s  Mummers’ Dance is fantastic get-in-the-mood stuff.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
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ST/Z/SS – Straith: Blackthorn

The Moon-month for Straith runs from 15 Apr – 12 May (shares with Saille)

Blackthorn is the tree of retribution.

Blodeuwedd, Queen of the Night and Lady of Dreams.

Blodeuwedd’s tale is very deep. She is by no means the dippy faithless-wife character usually portrayed but a shapeshifting goddess and one of the many faces of Sovereignty, the goddess who is the Earth. Sovereignty is how the Celts think of the Lady, the spirit, the planetary energy, that which lives and moves and holds our being. This concept is similar to how the Dineh people of New Mexico, the Navajo, speak of it; they say Dammas, that which moves.

Blodeuwedd by Glyn Morgan

Blodeuwedd constellates a part of this for the Celtic tradition. Her story is of the shapeshifter. She is asked by Gwydion, the Master Enchanter of Britain, to inspirit and help his wastrel son, Llew Llaw Gyffes, to become a worthy Guardian and king for the Land of Gwynedd. She agrees but asks him to make a form to embody her for her work in Middleworld. Gwydion does this by taking nine flowers and making a body to house her spirit … The Hanes Blodeuwedd gives it as follows (from Robert Graves’ The White Goddess)

Not of father, nor of mother Was my blood, my body. I was spellbound by Gwydion, Prime enchanter of the Britons, When he formed me from nine blossoms, Nine buds of various kinds: From primrose of the mountain, Broom, meadow-sweet and cockle, Together intertwined, From bean in its shade-bearing A white spectral army Of earth, and earthly kind, From blossoms of the nettle, Oak, thorn and bashful chestnut – Nine powers of nine flowers, Nine powers in me combined, Nine buds of plant and tree. Long and white are my fingers As the ninth wave of the sea.

The flowers Gwydion uses are … Primrose, broom, meadow-sweet, cockle, bean, nettle, oak, thorn chestnut. He makes a body for the goddess to in-form so that she can work effectively in Middleworld and initiate Llew into the mysteries of kingship.

Indian Eagle Owl

The tale is deep and poignant. Often Llew appears “cute” and clever – his name means Lion of the Clever Hand – as Gwydion tricks his way through life. But when it comes to marrying the goddess, being king, all he cares about is pleasure and hunting. That is no use to the goddess at all! So she tests and tries him. he has a special geas (fate) that he can only be killed in a certain manner, Blodeuwedd teases him into telling her what it is. She then gets together with Llew’s Tánaiste – his alter ego who takes on some of the work of being king – to ensure he goes through the initiation of death. he does, and shapeshifts into his totem bird, the eagle, flies off to an ancient oak tree at the base of the mother-mountain of Wales, Snowdon, which bears his totem’s name of Eyre, Eagle. Gwydion hunts for him and is helped to find him by his “aunt” Ceridwen in her totem animal of a great sow who is eating the dead flesh that falls from Llew as he sits in the oak tree. Gwydion calls him down and calls him back from his totem into his man-shape again. They go home and Llew is now able to take up the kingship. Blodeuwedd, her job done, returns to her totem form as Queen of the Night, the owl, and the story ends. Ive used the picture of an Eagle Owl as this combines the totems of both Llew and Blodeuwedd.

Owl Woman by Elen Sentier

Again, the Victorian storytellers make Blodeuwedd into a flighty, brainless, faithless female, seemingly unable to comprehend the underlying story-lore. However, this is gradually changing again now and Celtic shamans are showing her and all the faces of the goddess as they are rather than as is more comfortable for most men to see them … subjective. It is important not to fall into the trap of reducing the faces of the goddess to something that fits into you comfort-zone-box :-). One of her major purposes for us – as it was for Llew – is to test and try us to our limits, to get us out of our boxes so that we can awaken and grow.

In France the Blackthorn is called “La mere du bois”, the Mother of the Wood. I feel this has a lot of connection to Blodeuwedd in her Queen of the Night and owl-totem aspect. She is Lady of the Wildwood. This pic is the cover of my novel Owl Woman – not the blodeuwedd story but the image gives another idea of her.

Blackthorn is another witch tree, the “black rod” that enhances cursings. Its thorn causes deep and poisonous wounds. This runs with the usual concept of retribution.

  • Retribution – reprisal, reckoning, justice, comeback, settling of scores

Sit-with these words, see what comes to you, note the images you get and take them into your journey.

Witches are often accused (and sometimes rightly) of cursing people for vengeance. After pondering the words above how does this appear to you now? Are there times when such action could be appropriate? Do scores need to be settled? What happens if they’re not … do they stretch on and on into forever, tangling everyone in their sticky web? In current times everyone gets very “love-n-light” which can, and often is, a way of ducking conflict and not dealing with issues nor standing up for principles. Not a good thing!

Its ogham name, Straith, engendered the word strife. Straith helps us to learn about this part of life, how to do it successfully – which may sometimes be rough – and not to run and hide wanting a peaceful life. Strife is important. People are nowadays often content (especially in the west) with competition being a “good thing” but if you call it strife then it suddenly changes character. We are told “healthy competition” is good but strife is bad.

  • Strife – conflict, contention, fighting, rivalry
    Competition – rivalry, struggle, antagonism, opposition, contest, fight

Hmm! A quick jaunt through the thesaurus for both words shows an awful lot of similarity between the two, despite that one is currently PC and the other not :-).

Remembering what I said about how creatures choose their mates and guardians – in Uath, hawthorn – is worth thinking about here. The goddess tests her guardian, and us. She is certainly not all “love-n-light”! She uses the thorn trees, white and black, to test us through desire and through strife … which also a form of desire.

But she also requires “exchange”. The concept of retribution is about exchange. Exchange is about trade, barter, bargain. The word “retribution”  come from the idea of re-tribute; tribute is about honour, acknowledgement and respect; it’s also about payment, fees, tax and duty. When you put “re” in front of a word it signifies further iteration of the act/thing, do something over – e.g. re-issue, repeat, re-do. So re-tribute is about giving back the tribute that has gone astray.

This is possibly a different concept to what you may be used to, but it’s very much what the Celtic tradition is about.

Blackthorn hedge

The tradition is about “exchange”, we give, we take, both. Taking is also about enabling and allowing others to give to you, to tribute you. Giving is about returning that gift of tribute to those who have given to you. This exchange, for the Celtic shaman, can be between human and human, human and creature, human and plant, human and the planet, and it can be across worlds between the everyday world we live in and Otherworld. Wherever we make exchange is a place for retribution, for re-tributing.

As a tree, blackthorn usually blooms when cold, harsh north-east winds blow and such weather is called a “blackthorn winter”. It’s fruits are the sloe-plum, used to make excellent sloe-gin, a deep rose-pink liqueur with a wonderful sweet taste.

Blackthorn Sloes

In craft, blackthorn is used to “right wrongs”, another form of re-tribution. In this form Arawn, lord of Annwfn, the Underworld, has strong connections with Straith, blackthorn. One of Arawn’s jobs/titles is “writer of wrongs”. The witch can use this connection if s/he wishes and many do. Arawn is a face of the “Lord”, the witch uses the powers carried by the Lord to effect right-ings. The Lord’s energies, the masculine, is about centrifugal energy, outgoing energy that interacts with the world around it. This energy is a form of networking; networking across worlds. The Lady’s energies, the feminine, are centripetal and about containment, nurturing.

Blackthorn tests us, as does the Whitethorn, May or Hawthorn, but differently. Blackthorn comes first in its flowering. The darkness of the teacher, pain, before the delights of the other teacher, pleasure. We need both.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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H – Uath: Hawthorn

H: Uath: Hawthorn

The Moon-month for Uath runs from 13 May – 9 Jun

The two thorn trees this month, the white and the black. Two aspects of the goddess and of the triple cord – the red, white and black cord that symbolises the 3 worlds and all Life within them, the Celtic Triskele (triplicity). These are also the 3 Cups we spoke of in Fearn, discussing Bran.

Uath: Hawthorn

Hawthorn is the tree testing, through sensuality.

Olwen of the White Track is the testing goddess of this tree. She is so-called because where she treads white petals are found in her foot tracks.

In old Brythonic mythology Hawthorn appears as Yspaddaden Penkawr, the giant, father of Olwen of the White Track. He requires Culhwch to perform the 39 tests before he can marry Olwen – this ensuring his successor is capable of caring for the Land, for the goddess Sovereignty, of whom Olwen is one of the faces.

An underlying part of Celtic lore is that the goddess chooses her Guardian, her king. We see this concept further exemplified in nature in good natural history programmes too. For instance among the antelopes of Africa and the deer of Britain the males fight to find who is supreme amongst them while the females stand around watching, watching for which male is strongest, has the best blood, will be the best protector, father the strongest offspring, have the most evolved genes. The same happens amongst birds, often it is the male who has the flashier plumage, must sing best, have the best feeding territory, dance best in his leck, build the most perfect bower. The feminine chooses, the goddess chooses.

It is only in quite recent times that the male has subjugated the female amongst humankind, in Britain really only since the Norman conquest. Before that, the relationship of god to goddess, queen to king was far better understood. Neither one nor the other was superior, each had/has different jobs and is content to do them. Some of this content – for the shaman and those who are waking up – comes from the knowing of reincarnation. If you know you have been both genders, all orientations, all classes, races, cultures, and that you will be again, then the worry of “missing out” is a non-sequitur. This lifetime you chose to be as you are so you enjoy it.

What is a test?

  • test – examine, investigate, check, assess, put to the test.

Sit-with these words, see what comes to you, note the images you get and take them into your journey.

Olwen, despite the way the Victorian storytellers reduced her somewhat, is the queen. She is not subject to her father Yspaddaden but uses him as her Tester. The story goes that Yspaddaden will die if Olwen marries and so he wants to keep her virgin. This is true in the sense of the king coming to the end of his term of office, often a 7-year or 100 lunations term. The old king always holds the games that will discover the new king, his successor. The Eleusinian rites are perhaps the best known version of these but they also come in the British folksongs John Barelycorn, the Fith Fath song and the Twa Magicians – see my blog. The latter two also show how the goddess tests her potential guardian-mate, not allowing him to have her until he has proved his worth.

This relates to each of us individually. Within us, the queen/goddess is our soul while the king/god is our personality. The testing that Hawthorn brings us is the soul’s testing of the personality once it “comes a-courting” in the merry month of May. This “comes a-courting” aspect is about the awakening of the personality to the fact that it isn’t the only thing in the universe but was actually brought into being by the soul.

When we awaken spiritually we are often very keen – red setter puppyish – to be about the business and get it together with the soul, with the whole of Otherworld overnight! The aspect of the Lover, fresh and new in his passion, serenading the soul at dawn, Romeo below Juliet’s balcony, smitten :-). It’s necessary to have this much drive and OTT-ness to get us going. That hormone-drive of puberty reflects again in the initial drive of the personality seeking the soul and keeps us going until we’re fairly committed in our search and not likely to give up because the path is hard or we we’d rather go and play than get on with the work. This is the big purpose of “desire”, it’s the driver, the engine that gets us going, powers us up, makes us do something. All of us only really do things because we want to .. and want is the expression of desire. The spiritual quest is particularly so. It’s unlikely to pay our mortgage and bills so we’re not blackmailed by that, we have to want it or we won’t do it.

But the path is hard and the two thorn trees provide the tests to see how much we’ve learned, what we know, how we’re doing. The May Tree, hawthorn, Uath, does this through desire, lust, love, wanting, yearning.

In Rome, both the goddesses Cardea and Flora presided over the Hawthorn month. Cardea is the hymen, gatekeeper, grandmother aspect who guards the maidenhead; Flora is the orgiastic testing-maiden aspect who celebrates the maidenhead.

In the older, Celtic tradition Cerdiwen is Cardea in her Hag/Crone form; Gwenhwyfar is Flora, the Spring Maiden in her Flower-Bride form. I find the Cretan Snake Goddess comes to mind too.

In Celtic story, Gwenhwyfar runs away with the Summer King. Arthur, the Winter King, follows and battles with his rival, the Hawk of May (Gwalchmai) who is also Arthur’s Tánaiste Gawain. They finish with the riddle that Gwenhwyfar shall remain with the Summer King while the leaves are on the trees but return to Arthur when they fall. Gwenhwyfar blesses the yew, the holly and the ivy who hold their leaves all through the year. A complex riddle to see what is intended here for, in the story, Gwenhwyfar does return to Arthur in a way but never as before. Arthur slacked in his guardianship and began to take Gwenhwyfar fro granted … as we have taken the Earth for granted, Gwenhwyfar is a face of the Earth. She won’t have us back on the old terms after we’ve let her down.

It is indeed a time of testing.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Fferyllt – British Druid-Alchemy

Fferyllt – British Druid Alchemy

Yesterday I wrote this article on my own blog about Fferyllt Druid Alchemy – you may like to go and read it. I’m also doing a workshop on it 11-13 June. There are links in the article if you’d like to come.