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 …
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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Great Tit saga

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