Ogham Story – Ragnall’s Wedding

See before you the Wheel of the Year. In ancient times, as high summer holds sway there ensues a great turning seasons. And sometimes it falls out that a hero takes part in this struggle – so earning the title Champion of the Goddess. Come with us now as we re-enact this timeless magic, in the name of the Goddess Sovereignty, whose presence fills the land, in every hill and dale, in every tree and bush, in every river and stream, season on season, year in, year out, throughout all time. Lady, we ask your blessing.

Who is this who comes upon the scene? He looks a fair young lord but his brow shows lines of worry beyond his seeming years. He calls out to the forest. Listen now, he’s speaking to us.

“I am Arthur, King of Kings,” called the young man, looking up into the high branches. “I am Lord of this Land and this morning I did wake to the call of the hunt, I heard the horn call me from my slumbers and I came out into the forest.” He stopped as he caught sight of the white hart just walking delicately into the glade. “And there she stands, the Antlered One, the Lady of the Ways.”

The hart saw him immediately and turned to flee. Quick as thought, the young man had an arrow to his bow and loosed it. It sped straight to her heart and now she lay dead at his feet. He took his hunting knife and began immediately to skin her.

“I will take her skin to cover me,” he whispered to himself “and her flesh to feed my hounds.”

The leaves on the great oak tree under which he knelt began to quiver and a huge creature emerged. It had the shape of a man but was made entirely of leaves and branches. His antlers shimmered as the last golden rays of the sun caught them.

“Who harries here?” He cried, in a voice like a great bell, “Here in the Lands of Summer?”  He towered over the king, shaking his club.

“I do.” Arthur jumped to his feet, standing ready to defend himself. “I, Arthur, who am called the King, who was born on mid-winter’s eve to herald the return of the Sun. And who are you to challenge me to my hunt?”

The Green Man tossed up his club and all the leaves in his beard rustled and shook.

“Ha!” He cried. “I am Gromer Somer Jour, the Lord of the Summer Day. This is the Summer Country, my lands, and it is my hart that you have killed. And I will be avenged!” and straight way he aims a blow at Arthur’s head.

Arthur just managed to get out of the way and tried to bring his knife down on the Green Man’s arm but it was broken against the ancient oak. He took another blow and another and fell back against the bole of a tree.

“The day is mine. Your life is forfeit!” and the Green Man loomed over him ready to smash him to a pulp. Vainly Arthur put up an arm and cried out

“Is there no way out of this?”

“Ahhhh! He would save his life would he!” said Gromer Somer Jour to himself. “Then you shall answer me a question. Tell me, King,” he turned contemptuously to Arthur. “what is it that women most desire? Think carefully before you answer! Your life is forfeit should you get it wrong.”

Arthur was puzzled. he had no idea. “What can I say to this?” He muttered to himself. “What is the answer? No! – Wait! It may be he will give me time.”

And he looked up into the mass of green leaves to find his gaze caught by the bright golden eyes. “Oh Lord of the Summer Day,” he said “I have no answer for you now but will you give me time?”

Gromer Somer Jour pulled back, turning slightly away. He leaned on his club.

“Time?! Aye, I’ll give you time!” And the Lord of the Summer Day sniggered into his beard, he had no opinion of this bumptious young king. Then he turned back to Arthur, a cruel smile on his face.

“One chance only I’ll allow you to save your life. One year hence you must return alone to this same place and I shall know by your face if you have the answer I seek.”

Arthur ducked and hid his face, turning away. “A difficult task!” he said to himself, but he knew there was nothing he could do, his fate had been sealed when he killed the hart, maybe even when he woke to the call of the hunt that morning. He turned back to Gromer Somer Jour.

“I accept!” he said with as much strength as he could muster. “One year from now I will meet you here again and I will bring you your answer.”

The Lord of the Summer Day stepped back, allowing Arthur to rise. He picked up the body of the beautiful hart and carried it off with him over his shoulders. Arthur bowed to his retreating back and then turned to go off in the opposite direction. As he was making his way slowly back to his castle a strange figure came out of the bushes beside him riding a beautiful white steed. The horse was bravely harnessed but the creature aboard it, although clad in silks, was like nothing on earth.

“God’s teeth! What’s this?!” Arthur’s breath hissed and he stood at bay despite the beauty of the palfrey.

“By what right do you wander in the Lands of Summer?” The creature addressed him.

“In the name of the Lady of this Land. I am the son of the Kingfisher, the Winter King.” He answered as bravely as he could. He had never seen the like of this in his life before.

“Ahhhh!” she sighed the word out long and hissing like a snake. “Then you are Arthur! And I know your quest. I am Ragnall, the owl who passes across the face of the moon and causes all who see me to shiver. I am mistress of the beasts. I hold within me all creatures and give them succour. Any man who harms a beast, harms me! Any man who harms a plant, a flower or a tree, harms me!”

Arthur followed her speech, watching the passage of her hand across the sky and shivered. He could help himself, he ducked and held up a hand as she pointed her long green finger nail at him with her final words. He peered up into her face.

“You are awful!” He whispered. “I see in your face the face of every beast in the world. Your eyes are owl’s eyes; your nose, a cat’s nose; your ears, lion’s ears; your teeth are wolf’s teeth; your hands are bear’s claws and your feet are the hooves of goats. Your legs are like tree roots; your body is gnarled like the trunk of Yggdrasil and your arms are knotted branches. Your breasts are great hills and mountains and your belly and hips are big enough to birth the world!”

As he finished she slithered down from her horse and crouched before him, her knees bent as though she was about to drop a calf. She cackled.

“Aye! I am hideous in my diversity.” And she pawed at him with a clawed hand. “Men shun me. Women despise me. I am fearful to all eyes. And yet,” she drooled, “I know the answer you seek.”

Arthur was disgusted, he turned away. But he has heard her words. “She does?” He questioned himself. “She might!” and hope sprang in his heart.

The dreadful creature followed him and tried to rub her face against the silk cloth of his hunting tunic. He dared not move.

“And I know that you will fail” her hands tugged at him “unless I give you the one right answer that the Lord of the Summer Day requires.”

Arthur shuddered at her nearness and the smell of her but he dared not risk alienating her. She could have the answer the needed He leaned against the tree and whispered to it “But would she give it me?” He made up his mind and turned.

“Would you give me this answer or my life is forfeit to the Lord of Summer?”

“But what would you give me for that answer. Every answer has its price!” She was as quick as he.

“And that’s the truth!” he muttered to himself. “What is the price of this answer? And can I afford to pay it? But it is my life and my life is the land …” He made a decision.

“What is the cost of this answer? What will you ask of me in return?”

“Why …!” She turned about, almost as if she would be coy with him. “I am hideous, awful as you say! But I would have me a husband. I wish a consort for all time, to live with me and love me here in the Summer Lands.”

Arthur was aghast! “I cannot marry you!” He cried in terror. “I am husbanding already to my Flower Bride, my Gwenhifar, my White Owl!”

“Aye! I know this!” and she laughed at his horror. “I would’t have him anyway!” she muttered to herself, but loud enough for him to hear. “I would have the youngling, the tannaiste, the stand in for the king!”

“Ye gods!” The exclamation escaped him and he tried to catch it back with a hand over his mouth. “My Hawk of May, who stands in my stead!” And then he turned to Ragnall again. “Gawain? You would have Gawain?”

“Aye!” She chuckled, yellow saliva frothing about her rotting gums. “I would have Gawain. Gawain of the red hair, who has the heat and fire of summer flowing through his veins.”

Arthur was appalled. “My brave knight!” he whispered. “Must he wed this creature? How can I ask this of him? How can I not? It is my life that is at stake and my life is the land.” And he turned back again to Ragnall. “Lady, I cannot speak for him but I will ask him, and I will do all in my power to bring your wish to fruit.”

“That is enough” she said to him “At this time.”

And she mounted again onto the gay palfrey and turned back into the deep forest.

And so Arthur returned to court. He told Gawain all that had befallen him, his killing of the hart, the appearance of the Lord of the Summer Day, the hideous hag and her demands to marry Gawain.

“I did not know what to do” he cried to Gawain. “Gromer Somer Jour will hunt me down and find me, I must return to him in any case as a man of honour. How can we discover what it is that women most desire? This hag may indeed have the answer for there is something very strange about her and the way she knew what the Summer Lord had asked me.”

“Whatever, Lord. I am your tannaiste. I am here to stand as your champion and in your stead. And in any case you know I am a free spirit, I love adventure. There will be some way through this mess if we can but find it. I will marry this Dame Ragnall, to say your life, to save the land. But, let us first see if we cannot discover for ourselves what it is that women most desire.”.

And so the king and the knight spent the coming year journeying. They asked every woman in every land what it was that they most desired and wrote all the answers in two great books. But none of these seemed sure to them so, at the end of that time, Arthur returned to Ragnall.

“Lady,” he said. “Gawain accepts to be your husband. Now! You keep your part of the bargain.”

Ragnall leaned down from her palfrey and took his collar in her hand, drawing him closer so that she could whisper in his ear.

Arthur almost choked at being so close to her, her breath was foul as sulphur, and the answer to seemed very strange to him. He managed to thank her with what courtesy he could muster and continued on his way through the forest to meet with Gromer Somer Jour. He kept repeating the answer over and over to himself, so he would remember it. But he resolved to try first with the books, so strange he found what she had said to him. He would keep Ragnall’s answer up his sleeve as a last resort.

Arriving again at the clearing he found the Lord of the Summer Lands already there, waiting for him.

“Greetings, Gromer Somer Jour, Lord of the Summer Day.” he called out as bravely as he could.

“Greetings, Arthur” and the leaves around his mouth shook as he spoke.

“A year has passed since we met and I am here now keeping my part of the bargain.” Arthur reached up to hand over to the rough, oak bark covered hand. “Here are two books full of what women told us they most desire.”

Gromer Somer Jour took the books and leafed through them, never saying a word. As he came to the end he threw them down contemptuously and raised his club.

“There’s no answer here!” He snarled triumphantly. “Forfeit your life!”

“Wait!” Cried Arthur. “I have one answer more! And he whispered what Ragnall had told him into the leaf covered ear. Gromer Somer Jour leaped back as though he had been burned.

“Hell’s teeth!” He shouted. “Only one person could have told you that! My sister, curse her!

“Sister?!” Arthur was aghast.

“But it is indeed the answer that I seek.” Gromer Somer Jour quietened down although he was obviously still much aggrieved. “The Lord of the Summer Day is a man of honour” he said. “I will keep my bargain. You shall have your life!”

He bowed to Arthur and went back into the deep forest. Arthur began to make his way homeward again. He had not gone far when there was Ragnall by his side again. She cackled softly as she saw him flinch.

“Greetings, Arthur. Remember me?”

“How could I forget!” He muttered. then he pulled himself together. “Greetings, Dame Ragnall, I remember you!”

“But do you remember our bargain? I have kept my part. Now! You keep yours!” And she grabbed him by the sleeve. Arthur put his hand on hers, covering it, despite his feeling of loathing.

“I too am a king,” he said “and a man of honour! I will keep my bargain.” and he took Ragnall’s hand in his and led her off towards the castle.

Gawain & Ragnall's Wedding

When they arrived there was much horror and consternation. Gawain was there to meet him and immediately took Ragnall on his own arm. All the young women of the court, and many that were not so young, hung on his other side. In whispers they tried to persuade him not to go through with this dreadful seeming marriage. What harm could it do now, they said. Arthur had given Gromer Somer Jour his answer and been granted his life. What need to marry the witch now?

Gawain looked at them, not knowing what to say. He understood that they meant him well but he could not understand how they could ask him to break his word.

“My friends!” he said. “Why do you weep, all of you? Why do you beg me not to wed this Loathly Lady? Can you not see there must be some enchantment at work here? The events are too strange for us not to see the hands of the gods.”

But it seemed they could not. Even Guinevere, the queen, was speaking to Ragnall, asking her to relent, to give Gawain back to them or, at least, to have a quiet and retired wedding. This made Ragnall very angry.

“What’s this you say Queen Guinevere?” She leaned close to the beautiful young woman. “You wish this wedding to be quiet? Out of sight of the court? Ah, no, Lady! You shall not compound my wounding so! I will be seen! I will be Bride!” she turned to Gawain. “Let our wedding be in full sight of all the court. I wish a grand nuptial and a great feast!”

Gawain at once took her hand and kissed the filthy green claws. “Lady,” he said, smiling at her “your wish is my command!

After the wedding, at the banquet, Ragnall slurped and burped and gobbled her way through plateful after plateful of food as though she had been starved. Gawain was horrified but pitied her too. He let none of his distress show as he thought to himself “Poor soul! What curse is upon her that she must needs eat like this? And yet my heart senses beauty and goodness within her.”

He turned to his new wife and said, very gently “Wife! Come wife! Let us to bed. Let us retire to our wedding chamber.”

Wonderingly, Ragnall took a last bite of meat and gulp of wine and then allowed her husband to take her hand and lead her out of the hall and up the stairs. When they arrived in the room Gawain sent all the serving men and girls out, telling them he could manage very well, thank you, without their help. They scuttled off, grateful no doubt to be as far away from the disgusting creature as they could be. As well, he thought, they would have more time to comment to each other on how he would perform in bed. He was disgusted at the thought of the ribald mirth that would be heard in the kitchen that night.

He turned to Ragnall who was waiting, almost defiantly, beside the bed. she turned her back to him.

“Husband!” she said. “Will you be as courteous to me in bed as you are in open court?” Then she turned back to him again. “I know that if I were beautiful I would have no need to ask this question. But I would ask one favour, just one little favour. Give me a kiss, just one little kiss!

Gawain stepped forward, narrowing the gap between them, until he stood very close to her.

“Lady” and he took her in his arms “I’ll do more than kiss you!” and he made to lay her down upon the bed.

She stopped him, pushing him away, but gently.

“Now that we are one” she said softly, her voice very different from before, “it is only right that you should see me as I can be!”

… and before his eyes she transformed into the fairest woman in all the world.

“The Lord and Lady bless us!” Gawain cried out and stumbled back a pace. “My love has grown! She stands now in full flower!” He passed a hand before his eyes. As he looked at her again he saw she was still this new beautiful creature. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” He said to her. “And thus my heart knew you to be. In god’s name, who are you?”

“Sir,” and she curtsied to him, smiling under her long lashes, “I am your wife.”

“How can this be?” He asked.

“Dear Gawain,” and she rested a delicate white hand on his arm, “know that I was under an enchantment until I could find a man willing to wed with me with no thought for the loathsome form which I have had to wear. And you, my friend, are that man.” Gawain reached towards her again, wishing to hold and kiss her, but she put him off. “Nay! There is yet one more choice for you to make, husband, if the spell is to be truly broken.”

“What choice, dear wife?”

“For the rest of your life, will you have me fair my night and foul by day? Or, will you have me foul by night and fair and fair by day? The choice is yours.”

He sat down on the bed. “What do I say?” he thought. “Either way it is a pickle! Fair by day will spare her the world’s loathing but I must bear the brunt of her foulness by night. If, on the other hand, her fairness by night is for our sole delight, then she must bear the brunt of the world’s loathing by day. What can I say? How can I make this choice for her?” He stood up and went to her, taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face him again.

“Lady,” he said, looking deep into her eyes, “the choice must be yours!”

He felt her quiver under his hands, it almost seemed a golden light shone out of her skin. Her eyes were filled laughter.

“You have done it, husband!” she cried. “Now I see I chose aright. The spell is truly broken and I am able to be fair or foul as I choose, when I choose! I choose to be fair with you. For you have give me what every woman – indeed, husband, every man as well – desires most, the right to choose for myself who and what I am to be. And in this choice lies Sovereignty!”

And she took him in her arms and pulled him to her. ” And so to Bed,” she whispered,  “enough’s been said, the Sun and Moon are royally wed!

Exuent omnes!

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
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Ogham – Ura: Heather

View from Dunkery Beacon to Minehead

Ura is another of the five vowels of the ogham tree alphabet, representing our letter U. It’s time is the Midsummer – the third of the five goddess’ festivals, the third vowel. It is the time of Consummation and its metal is Copper.

As I said when talking about Onn at the spring equinox, the vowels are important to language because, in most modern western languages, you cannot make a word without them. The spiritual significance of the vowels is recognised by the five festivals of the goddess through the year. They’re not quite the same as the four moon-fests of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadgh although of the other four do occur at the same time. This one, Ura, falls on the sun-fest of Midsummer, the time the sun reaches his zenith and begins to fade … there being less and less light from Midsummer until Midwinter, when the sun turns again. If you read the Ogham piece on Duir, the oak, you’ll get more on the significance of the goddess at Midsummer and her relationship with the god. As I’ve said before, the Celtic is a winding, twisting, complex tradition that spirals its way through Life working with riddles and puns as often as not, never having only one way of saying things. The relationship of the goddess and the god is no exception.

The watchwords for Heather, Ura, are, “I am the queen of every hive”. They are very significant. The goddess is Queen and it is she who rules, she who chooses the king by testing him to see if he is up for the job. And midsummer is a time when bees swarm, when the queen leaves the hive and the bees all follow her, when she flies high, dances and calls, and so the male bees who keep up get to mate with her and a new brood, a new hive, is formed. The word is spread, the bees are spread, honey is made at new places.

In nature it is most often the male who has to impress the females with his prowess, show that his genes are the best, that he is the one who should father the young of the females. Sometimes this happens in finding just one mate as with swans and grebes and other birds who have only one mate and share the feeding of the brood. For herd animals the male seeks to impress all the females and so spread his genes within the herd. Then there are the complex relations of the wolf-pack, truly ruled by the Lord and Lady, the alpha male and female, and supported by the rest of the pack. For creatures like bees there is one queen who is the mother of the young and the males vie for her. But in all the goddess representative, be she Mrs. Robin, a female of the deer herd, alpha female wolf or queen bee, she chooses.

The story of Gawain and Ragnall, Ragnall’s Wedding, gives you the idea here. Briefly, the story goes as follows …

One high midsummer, Arthur is out hunting and comes upon a white hart. He kills it, shoots it with an arrow, and is about to take it off home when the tree he is under comes to life. The tree-man is very angry and tells Arthur his mane is Gromer Somer Jour  – which means Lord of the Summer Day. He asks what forfeit Arthur will give for such an insult and demands that Arthur answer his riddle-question within a year and a day or forfeit his life. Arthur agrees.

The riddle question is, “What do women most desire?”

Arthur goes to his friend and Tánaiste, Gawain, and asks for his help. Together they hunt high and low but none of the answers they get seem right. Then, one day close to the end of the time set, Arthur comes upon this woman in the forest. She is twisted and bent, weird and strange, and she asks him who he is. He tells her and she says …

Arthur meets Ragnall

“Ahhhh!” she sighed the word out long and hissing like a snake. “Then you are Arthur! And I know your quest. I am Ragnall, the owl who passes across the face of the moon and causes all who see me to shiver. I am mistress of the beasts. I hold within me all creatures and give them succour. Any man who harms a beast, harms me! Any man who harms a plant, a flower or a tree, harms me!”

Arthur followed her speech, watching the passage of her hand across the sky and shivered. He could help himself, he ducked and held up a hand as she pointed her long green finger nail at him with her final words. He peered up into her face.

“You are awful!” He whispered. “I see in your face the face of every beast in the world. Your eyes are owl’s eyes; your nose, a cat’s nose; your ears, lion’s ears; your teeth are wolf’s teeth; your hands are bear’s claws and your feet are the hooves of goats. Your legs are like tree roots; your body is gnarled like the trunk of Yggdrasil and your arms are knotted branches. Your breasts are great hills and mountains and your belly and hips are big enough to birth the world!” ( From Ragnall’s Wedding by Elen Sentier)

But she has the answer to the question he must answer to save his life. And this answer has a price! As he cannot marry her, being already married to Gwenhwyfar, she asks that Gawain marry her in his stead. Arthur takes her back to the castle and Gawain agrees to marry her. The deed is done and Gawain takes the hag to bed.

“Husband!” she said. “Will you be as courteous to me in bed as you are in open court?” Then she turned back to him again. “I know that if I were beautiful I would have no need to ask this question. But I would ask one favour, just one little favour. Give me a kiss, just one little kiss!

Gawain stepped forward, narrowing the gap between them, until he stood very close to her.

“Lady” and he took her in his arms “I’ll do more than kiss you!” and he made to lay her down upon the bed.

She stopped him, pushing him away, but gently.

“Now that we are one” she said softly, her voice very different from before, “it is only right that you should see me as I can be!”

… and before his eyes she transformed into the fairest woman in all the world.

“The Lord and Lady bless us!” Gawain cried out and stumbled back a pace. “My love has grown! She stands now in full flower!” He passed a hand before his eyes. As he looked at her again he saw she was still this new beautiful creature. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” He said to her. “And thus my heart knew you to be. In god’s name, who are you?”

“Sir,” and she curtsied to him, smiling under her long lashes, “I am your wife.”

“How can this be?” He asked.

“Dear Gawain,” and she rested a delicate white hand on his arm, “know that I was under an enchantment until I could find a man willing to wed with me with no thought for the loathsome form which I have had to wear. And you, my friend, are that man.” Gawain reached towards her again, wishing to hold and kiss her, but she put him off. “Nay! There is yet one more choice for you to make, husband, if the spell is to be truly broken.”

“What choice, dear wife?”

“For the rest of your life, will you have me fair my night and foul by day? Or, will you have me foul by night and fair and fair by day? The choice is yours.”

He sat down on the bed. “What do I say?” he thought. “Either way it is a pickle! Fair by day will spare her the world’s loathing but I must bear the brunt of her foulness by night. If, on the other hand, her fairness by night is for our sole delight, then she must bear the brunt of the world’s loathing by day. What can I say? How can I make this choice for her?” He stood up and went to her, taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face him again.

“Lady,” he said, looking deep into her eyes, “the choice must be yours!”

He felt her quiver under his hands, it almost seemed a golden light shone out of her skin. Her eyes were filled laughter.

“You have done it, husband!” she cried. “Now I see I chose aright. The spell is truly broken and I am able to be fair or foul as I choose, when I choose! I choose to be fair with you. For you have give me what every woman – indeed, husband, every man as well – desires most, the right to choose for myself who and what I am to be. And in this choice lies Sovereignty!”

And she took him in her arms and pulled him to her. ” And so to Bed,” she whispered,  “enough’s been said, the Sun and Moon are royally wed! ( From Ragnall’s Wedding by Elen Sentier)

What do all people, indeed all creatures, want? The ability to choose. And how often do we take that from them? Usually kidding ourselves we do it in their best interests, because we know best? Umm !!! Jung had a dictum he gave to all his students, it was, “Never know best and never know first”. Well worth attempting to live up to in one’s life. A simple phrase … but nobody said it was easy!

As Ragnall says, “And in this choice lies Sovereignty”.

Sovereignty is one of the titles we give the goddess in the Celtic tradition. The thesaurus gives us the following for the word …

autonomy, independence, self-sufficiency, self-rule

Its opposite is subjugation.

Sheila-na-Gig at Kilpeck

This picture is of the famous sheila-na-gig at Kikpeck, near where I live. She Holds her vulva open to allow all of creation to go out of her into the world … and to re-enter her when their time comes. She is the Lady, strange, vulgar-seeming to our modern eyes maybe, unattractive. But she is Sovereignty.

Its worth pondering on all these words, considering how much we actually do them in our lives … and how much we kid ourselves that we do them. Collusion with our own desire of who we would like to see ourselves as is one of the major problems for every human being! All shamanic traditions, all the followers of the Old Ways teach this. The words, “Man, know thyself!” were written over the door of one of the major Greek schools of Philosophy … they’re still true for all of us.

Just a note to end with … the phrase above uses the word “man” and this can cause hackles to rise amongst the followers of the goddess. Let those hackles lie down again :-). The word “man” comes from the Sanskrit word “manas” which means “thinker” … not person with dangly-bits at the bottom! We are all potential thinkers – if we make the effort – whatever gender or orientation we wear in our current incarnation. The word “human” comes from a combination of two words “hu” and “man”; the first part “hu” means “god” and the second, as we now know, means “thinker”, so the word human means “god-thinker”. How many of aspire to being this, to being god-thinkers, to being as knowing as the gods? Maybe if more of us did the Earth would not be in such a mess and we would give choice to all creatures in the universe … however weird they look and even if they don’t look like us!

Note: I’m posting my version of this story later today.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
My Blog
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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Great Tit saga

Ancient Calendar: June 21, 2010

HAPPY SUMMER SOLSTICE EVERYONE!!!!!

Today is known as many things—past & present–the Druid’s Alban Hefin (meaning light of the shore), Midsummer, and even the Anglo-Saxon festival called Litha—which is also the longest day of the year.

To some Pagan circles, the Oak King ends his reign handing over his power to the Holly King which will then rule for the next six months.

Alban Hefin will signify winter and summer meeting.

Great articles of interest:

Ogham Story – Ragnall’s Wedding

Ogham – Ura: Heather

Celebrating the Pagan Summer Solstice

Celebrating the Solstice

C.H. SCARLETT
~Casey~
www.chscarlett.net

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Happiness and Sessions

Back to the ‘how to live a good life’ theme. I spent the weekend at Alcester folk festival, which was lovely. My preference at such festivals is to find people to play with – which I duly did. It’s one of the best cures for stress and melancholy (for me) and I got to thinking about why. So, while the ‘sessions’ element may not be applicable to everyone, there might be some theory here that works in other contexts.

A good session involves a bunch of capable musicians who do not usually play together and are not wholly familiar with each other’s repertoires. You need a good mix of singers (ideally with guitars or other solid, underpinning instruments) and a selection of other things to wrap around that – perhaps a double bass, a squeezebox or a fiddle, an extra guitar perhaps or some percussionists. For best effect, small is good – half a dozen or so participants so that everyone can hear each other and one person singing won’t be drowned out.

People take it in turns to lead a song, and everyone else piles in. It’s absolutely in the moment and frequently not everyone will know the song, which is part of what make it exciting. Everyone has to pay close attention to everyone else, improvise, respond. And when it works it is the most incredible rush. I had the pleasure of doing ‘Lady Eleanor’ on Saturday – a lovely couple leading it and doing vocals, Gerry McNiece jamming in with a guitar, Katrina (who plays with him) on mandolin and me (I do not habitually play with any of them) on fiddle. And we sounded like we’d rehearsed that one. It was a real lift the hairs on your arms kind of experience. Music, when it’s like that, is pure magic.

So here are the things I think underpin something like that. It’s undertaken passionately and wholeheartedly by those involved. That creates intensity and a certain kind of energy. Not everyone know what they’re going to do, or what others might do, so it’s always fresh and surprising, even with a familiar song, always new. It takes serious focus on all the other plays and total immersion in the music. Out of that profound sharing, comes something beautiful and unpredictable. Picking up the druid hat for a moment, I can see some definite parallels with unscripted ritual.

Creating something beautiful is always going to lift spirits. That is, I think, very much the nature both of creativity and beauty. Sharing in an intense and open way with other people is another thing that is good for the soul. The incredible degree of concentration involved is also important. In a session, co-operating with other musicians on material that isn’t familiar to everyone, takes every last drop of attention. There is no room to think about anything else. No space to worry, mope or nurse melancholy thoughts. There is only now, this note, this chord, and the shape of the next one already forming, and trying to follow what half a dozen other people might be posted to do. It is total escape from self, and in hard times, that is a very special kind of freedom. Letting go for a while makes it easier to come back with some kind of perspective and the calmness from which to deal with things.

Any total immersion activity has the scope to offer that. Different people will lose themselves in different things. I think where the immersion is in something social, encouraging you to reach out to others, that has added advantages for people who are heart sick and weary. It’s a very healing experience. You don’t have to talk to anyone, or explain. All I need to be in a session, is a musical instrument. “Can I join you” is about all it takes, and just that little bit of nerve to step up and ask. It’s both deeply personal in all the good ways, and entirely impersonal in some very productive ways.