Most people have heard of Ariadne, Dionysus, and maybe the Minotaur, but there’s more to the Minoan pantheon than just those three. Here’s a quick rundown of the gods and goddesses we relate to in Modern Minoan Paganism.
Please note that, although Theseus is well known from the Greek version of the story of Ariadne, the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, he’s not a part of the Minoan pantheon. He’s a Greek culture hero (the Minoans weren’t Greek) whose purpose was to show the Minoans in a negative light. Many cultures have created this kind of propaganda via mythology. The Greeks aren’t alone by any means, and for all we know, the Minoans might have done it, too, though we can’t yet read their writings to be sure. Find out more about the origin and nature of the Theseus myth here.
Here’s the Minoan pantheon as we currently experience it within Modern Minoan Paganism. Some people focus on just one or two deities and some like a big party. 🙂 Whatever works for you is just fine.
Rhea – Mother Earth; her body is the island of Crete itself; her womb is the cave on Mt. Dikte (or maybe it’s the one on Mt. Ida – in fact, Ida may have been one of Rhea’s names). She’s the Land portion of the Land/Sea/Sky triplicity.
Ourania – Great Cosmic Mother-of-All, embodied in the starry night sky. She’s the third member of the Land/Sea/Sky triplicity.
Ariadne – Rhea’s daughter, Queen Bee, Lady of the Labyrinth. She figures prominently in the story behind the Minoan precursor to the Eleusinian Mysteries. You can find a lovely version of that tale in Charlene Spretnak’s book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece.
Dionysus – shamanic god of wine and other intoxicants that allow communication with the Underworld. All types of fermentation and hallucinogens are sacred to him, as are ecstatic states.
Zagreus – “The Dismembered One.” Shamanic bull-god who may be an aspect of Dionysus.
Ananke/Arachne – goddess of fate and destiny; possibly an aspect or “job title” of Ariadne.
The Melissae – ancestral bee spirits; Ariadne is their Queen
The Horned Ones – three pairs of animal deities that may go back as far as Neolithic Crete.
Britomartis/Diktynna – deer goddess, connected with Mt. Dikte, later also associated with the sea thanks to some linguistic confusion
Minelathos – the sacred stag, consort to Britomartis
Amalthea – goat-goddess associated with Dionysus and the Minocapros; sometimes described as Rhea’s sister or twin
Minocapros – the sacred goat, associated with Dionysus, consort to Amalthea
Europa – the great Moon-Cow whose milk spurted to create the Milky Way; generally considered to be a doublet (pair or twin) of Pasiphae
Minotauros – the sacred moon-bull, consort to Europa; also associated with the Labyrinth (but I promise, he’s not a monster)
Aega – goddess of the Aegean Sea
Helice – willow goddess; sister or twin of Rhea
Eileithyia – divine midwife; you can still visit her sacred cave near the north coast of Crete
Minos – triple Moon god, judge and protector of souls in the afterlife, healer
Daedalus – smith god; the Minoans were a Bronze Age culture so he would have overseen the smithing of bronze, silver, and gold, but not iron.
Asterion – name meaning ‘starry one’ and applied to several related figures in Minoan mythology: Minos’ father or foster-father (if he’s the father – and the Hellenic Zeus isn’t – then Asterion may be another name for Dionysus); the Minotaur (Karl Kerenyi supported this view); Europa’s consort (but apparently not the same as the Minotaur). It’s not clear whether any or all of these were originally the same figure in the Minoan pantheon.
So there you have it: plenty of choices. Obviously, there’s way more to these deities than just the few sentences I’ve offered here. So if any of these gods and goddesses call to you, it’s worth your time to answer that call. Sure, you can do some research, but what’s equally important is connecting with them directly yourself. Invite them into your sacred space, your rituals, your life. You’ll be the richer for it.
There are people from all religions who have spiritual experiences and feel they have come into contact with their god, goddess, or another spiritual presence they find significant. Generally speaking, being a serious upholder of the given faith is deemed a good way of inviting that kind of experience. So, what is a Druid to do? How do we go about our lives in order to make contact with divinity?
For us, it’s a very different scenario. There’s no book of rules, no straightforward way of demonstrating power of faith or devotion that you can easily tap into. We talk a great deal about having nothing to mediate between us and the divine, but in practice what that also means is that we are entirely on our own.
What are we seeking, when we quest after direct knowledge of deity? Reassurance? Something to take us out of the realms of faith and into knowing and certainty, perhaps. We might seek validation, proof that we are heading the right way, doing the right things. We might just want the ego boost. While all of these things may be natural, they are about us, and not about relationship. If there is any rule at all for Druids in this context, it should probably be, to seek connection for its own sake and not for anything else. Don’t even assume it will mean insight and wisdom. It might just bring chaos, confusion and uncertainty. Are we looking for some clear moment, the booming voice from the Heavans? Or are we actually seeking to know and understand? Religious experience is not like the movies. There is seldom much certainty, but moments of beauty, wonder, awe and numinousness can enrich our lives and give us a sense of having encountered something other. Seek relationship for the beauty of it. That is enough.
The things that shape relationships between humans are just as valid when it comes to thinking about relationship with deity. What do we share? If we understand deity as manifest in nature, then when we are out, interacting with and relating to nature, we are also experiencing relationship with the divine. Watching it on the telly doesn’t count. If we are drawn to more human gods, the named figures of historical pantheons, then we might think about what they represent – and where we are exploring their focus, and the energy they embody, we are making relationship with them, or at the very least with concepts that exist externally to us.
To seek deity in the way I’ve described above, does not call for belief. It doesn’t need validation in the form of something obvious returning to you. It is experiencing sacredness in action, allowing perception to include that element of deity, and being open to that which moves us. It’s spending time with a river and the land, or writing poetry and recognising the sacred within that. As with all other kinds of relationship, the more you share, do and give, the deeper it becomes. No burning bushes actually required.
In my teens I thought about deity very much in terms of anthropomorphic personifications. Gods looked like people and could be talked to very much like people. On the whole that seems to be a normal sort of reaction to the idea of gods and goddesses. Our pagan ancestors had largely humanoid god figures, many of whom lived lives that make sense in human terms. The Greek myths read a bit like some kind of divine soap opera at times.
In terms of finding human ways of relating to non-human things, conceptualising them in our own image makes a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean they are like us, nor that we are made in their image though. Whatever gods are, most of them are not human, and never were. There are of course ancestor gods, deities of tribe who very much were and are human, and are now something else – how many ancient pagan gods originated that way I don’t know, but some of them must have.
Gods of sun, moon, sea, sky and earth are ways of humanising very non-human things. It’s a lot easier to relate to Thor, Zeus or Taranus than it is to the might and randomness of a thunderstorm. In the humanising lies some kind of hope, I think, that these forces can be made sense of and placated.
The deities who come to us through stories, garbed in myth and decked out in recognisably human form, it is easy to relate to as such. But what about the sense of deity and sacredness we may find for ourselves in the world? I’ve had a fair few experiences that have filled me with awe and a sense of beauty and otherness. Moments of wonder that inspire a sense of the divine. There are no god or goddess names to call up in response to the golden light of a setting sun turning fields and river into something magical. There’s no deity that I know of presiding over darkness amongst the beech trees, or the bright, crisp vibrancy of an autumnal morning. There are no names to humanise these moments, only me, and the experience.
I’ve lain on the verge of sleep in many places, aware of the land beneath me, conscious of being held by it. Where I’m currently living, there’s such a rich, almost peaty darkness to that sense of land. I feel it keenly as an awareness separate from my own, but it has no name, and I cannot ascribe human form to it. Nor would I try and speak to it – there is nothing I can do but exist alongside it, conscious of the presence and energy. It makes for a wholly different kind of relationship from the ones with Gods who have names and can be addressed with words.
While these senses of deity make for radically different experiences, I don’t think there’s a qualitative difference, or that either sort of encounter is more ‘real’. The named, humanised deities seem to me much more connected with human concerns, the nameless beings of earth and sky are much wilder and far less interested. They are. We are. Sometimes there are moments of connection.
I’d be very interested in hearing about how you perceive and experience deity. Please do post comments.
Ivy is evergreen. It grows spirally, as the spiral of life grows, and represents the ever-flowing life-force that courses through the Earth. It is often the tree of chthonic (underworld) gods like Dionysios. For the Celts this is Bran.
Bran is one of the father-figure gods and a giant. It is told that when he lay down over a river, an army could march across him. He is also king of the underworld, and watches over the treasures of Don. These treasures are the animals, plants, insects, birds and the fabric of life itself of the Earth, for Don is one of the names of The Mother. So Bran is a king in the Celtic sense in that he was guardian to and of the goddess. He is also the God of Bards.
One of his names is Bron or Brons, the Fisher King of the Parsifal story. Arthurian scholar, Loomis, says …
“It can hardly be accidental that so many significant features of bron should lead us back to Welsh tradition. If we accept the hypothesis of an exclusively Christian origin for this character, we must also be prepared to admit that he is irrelevant and unnecessary. As Nitze has observed, Joseph and Petrus would have sufficed for the purposes of the story. If on the other hand Bron = Bran, then the inconsistencies in the stories can be explained as purely Christian developments.”
It seems that again Christianity homogenized one of the Celtic gods. Most conquering peoples do this to some extent, some are reasonably gentle about it as the Romans were in integrating their gods with ours. Others are brutal as were the Christians.
Bran is associated with the Apple Isle, Avalon, and one of the places his head is said to be buried is there. There are many candidates for Avalon in the real world and, as I’ve said before, chasing down which is the “right” one is a fool’s game. I have personal reasons for favouring the island of Lundy off the North Devon coast as it’s where I was born and grew up. It is said there are towers, usually invisible, on the island and that in one of these Bran’s head his buried. The towers are also associated with Arianrhod, and with Elen of the Ways, my personal patron.
The old name for Lundy was ‘Ynys Wair’ – Gwair’s Island.Gwair is a Celtic – Sun God. The 19th century Celtic scholar, Professor Rhys, was among the first to connect the imprisonment of Gwair on Lundy, with the Greek myth of the binding of Chronus on a western isle. What is this myth of the god imprisoned on a western isle?
So … the sun is captured and imprisoned in the west, the place of sunset. The Celts had less fear of the dark than of the sun who was said to burn the land and called the “son of Scorch”. Pwyll fights him for Arawn as part of their agreement.
The taking and keeping of the sun is part of Bran’s ritual each midwinter. He is the Ivy god who fights with the Holly god – as sung in the Christmas carols – and who is overcome. It is an alchemical battle between death and resurrection.
The battle is also told of in the tales and songs of the Robin and the Wren. Tradition was that the wren is killed on the 26th December – the first day after Sun-Return, the day the sun begins moving again after the midwinter solstice or standstill, when there begins to be more light than dark each day for the next six months up until midsummer. In ancient times Sun-Return was a very special feast, not because our ancestors were stupid and thought the sun would never come back but because they were wise and knew to work with and celebrate the goddess in the seasons.
Graves likens this time to the autumn feast of Dionysios, called the mysterion. As well as wine the celebrants would have taken the faery toadstool, amanita muscaria, the red toadstool with the white spots in all the faery paintings. It’s quite possible this was done in Celtic lands too. The journey given by the toadstool is deep, passionate and violent, it strips to the core, tearing us apart. And note we call it a “toad stool”, place of the toad, the alchemical creature whose poison can be made into a medicine, rather than a mushroom. The feast is called the mysterion … feast of the mysteries, the lore, the grammarye, the reality of Life.
As part of this ritual ivy-ale, a highly intoxicating drink, would be drunk. It was still brewed at Trinity College, Oxford, up to the 1960s and maybe still is. The ivy bush was an old sign of a wine, as opposed to beer, tavern in England. There are still many pubs called “The Ivy Bush”.
In British folklore, Ivy is a bringer of good fortune, particularly to women. Allowing it to creep up the walls of your home protects all who live there from baneful magic and curses. It also appears in love-divination, it was said that a girl carrying Ivy in her pockets would soon see the young man who was meant to be her husband. Medicinally, an Ivy tonic can be brewed to keep away diseases such as whooping cough and respiratory ailments — it was even believed to keep away the plague.
The Fisher King
Bran, like Dionysios, is a chthonic god, a lord of the underworld, the place of shadows, dreams and a light that does not burn or scorch. And Bran is associated with Ivy as well as with the Alder which are the branches he carries in his crown to the Battle of the Trees. Where then we had Bran as the god-essence behind the alder tree no we have Bran as the essence of the Fisher King, the wounded king of the Wasteland,
This, from Wiki, gives a good idea of it all …
The Fisher King appears first in Chrétien de Troyes‘ Perceval, but the character’s roots lie in Celtic mythology in the figure of Bran the Blessed in the Mabinogion. Bran had a cauldron that could resurrect the dead that he gave to the king of Ireland as a wedding gift when the king married Bran’s sister, Branwen. Later, when Branwen is insulted, Bran wages war on the Irish and is wounded in the foot or leg, the cauldron is destroyed. He asks his followers to sever his head and take it back to Britain, and his head continues talking and keeps them company on their trip. This story has analogues in two other important Welsh texts: the Mabinogion tale Culhwch and Olwen, in which King Arthur‘s men must travel to Ireland to retrieve a magical cauldron, and the obscure poem The Spoils of Annwn, which speaks of a similar mystical cauldron sought by Arthur in the otherworldly land of Annwn.
The purpose of the fishing has got very lost over the hundreds of years. Going back into the Celtic original we can link it to the Salmon of Wisdom. To catch this Elder Beast and ask it for advice was a known way to help with ill-fortune and the Fisher King would do this. Indeed, it would be one of kingly duties both to ensure the nine hazel trees surrounding the Well of Segais flourish and so provide nuts to feed the Salmon. Also to go to the Well and call the Salmon, ask it to come and answer questions. In Celtic terms the gaining of wisdom is often about “eating”. To digest and absorb, right into ones bones so to speak, is considered good learning. Just to process it through the head, the brain, was and is still considered worthless and ineffectual. So the Fisher King would catch and cook and eat the Salmon. And, every time, the Salmon would renew itself, come again into form so that it can provide the wisdom-food for the next supplicant.
As you work with ivy don’t go eating it, it’s very poisonous! But do sit with it, try to absorb its wisdom within you. Don’t try to make sense of it just flow, with it, allow it to wrap around you, embrace you, as ivy does the tree. And don’t be afraid, although ivy is a parasitic plant it never kills its host – that would be stupid and wasteful as it would lose its means of support. Ivy gives as well as receives and will teach you how to do this too.
As a resurrection plant, ivy will take you through each little death that happens in your life and help you enable yourself to rise again. You will be a larger and more inclusive being for the experience.
The shield-maker’s tree. Tree of old age. Elders, wizards, cunning men.
I am the shield to every head
A major characteristic of the tree, Poplar, is that she is always moving. The slightest whisper of wind set her to rustling, we have two outside out bedroom window and the whisper to each other all the time. To dance, to always be moving, is a way of defence, of shielding, and a way of being invisible. Dancing gods are known all over the world – Shiva, Krishna from the east are quite well known, for instance. This is another form of shielding to consider.
The Latin name of the aspen is Populus tremula, the trembling poplar. Though other poplars have a similar habit of shimmering in the breeze, the aspen’s distinctive canopy of round leaves with serrated edges and pale undersides, mounted on long, laterally flattened stalks gives the tree the unique appearance of shimmering or quivering in the wind. They also make a distinctive rustling, whispering sound “. . . as if they were spattered by rain.” (R. Mabey, Flora Britannica 1996).
Many traditions associate the wind with the voice of Spirit. The moving, rustling whispering of the polar can give you this if you sit still with it and listen. The shadows the ever-moving leaves cast on the ground gives a flickering landscape to stand in, it is like standing between the worlds … at the interface where all worlds meet. The movement of the shadows can be your journey-horse, transporting you to otherworld if you allow it.
Aspen crowns have been found in ancient burial mounds. It may be that this ability to transport is part of ther reason for this, transporting the spirit across the threshold from Thisworld to Otherworld.
The word “aspen” comes from the Greek Aspis meaning shield. The Celts used this light wood for making their shields, combining the physical wood with the spirit properties of the tree to ward off enemies. It is called the “shield tree”.
The Scottish Gaelic name is critheann (pronounced cree-an), the Gaelic verb for tremble is crith. As with Thomas the Rhymer, an aspen leaf placed under the tongue would make the bearer more eloquent, traditionally a gift of the Faerie Queen. Highland folk taboos say the wood must not be used for fishing or agricultural implements, or in house construction, which makes the poplar a faerie tree on a par with the rowan. Unfortunately, Christianity had a go at trees, along with all things Faerie, making them evil. In this case the shimmering aspen tree was said to tremble in shame because its the wood made the crucifixion cross was made. Other Christian tales give the same accusation to holly and oak. All these trees came to suffer fear and loathing because of this.
The Bach Flower Remedies aspen is used to treat fears and apprehensions.
All of these ideas suggest forms of “shielding”. So what is shielding, what is a shield?
This is much more than just a piece of wood between you and your foe’s sword. Perhaps one of the most important concepts here is that of boundary. In order to effect any of the suggested actions there must be a boundary, a distinction between self and not-self. If you do not know what is you and what is not-you, what is your flesh and what is the wooden shield, or the enemy’s sword, then you haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of escaping being cut down in battle.
So, the goddess’ watch-words for this season, and this vowel-sound, is about knowing self. To know yourself, and to know otherness as the other side of that coin, is to provide a shield for your head.
The poplar, the aspen, trembles and whispers, hearing and speaking with spirit constantly, keeping the channels open, and knowing itself for what it is, where its roots live, and where its branches reach,
Elders, wizards, cunning men
Elder = senior, leader, organizer, guide
The thesaurus offers us these as some possible interpretations of the concept of elder. Some folk think that they can call themselves elders, even that they may get a certificate that calls them such … this is all pie in the sky. You can indeed come to know yourself to be an elder but by that time you won’t have the slightest inclination to talk about it. You know far too well that, although you know a great deal and have much experience there is a great ocean of knowing and wisdom out there – as Isaac Newton (alchemist) put it – that makes your knowing only the size of a tiny pebble on the beach.
Elders are known to their people, or some of them at least. Again, the elder has the supreme confidence of self-knowing that means they do not mind if the whole world is against them. What are the advantages of this?
If no-one and nothing can undermine you then you are not blackmail-able. You cannot be cowed into agreeing with someone/thing when you know it is wrong, you cannot condone wrong actions, you cannot collude. Do you see the advantages of this?
What if no-one could force you to do something that you knew was wrong, they had no hold over you, there was no peer pressure, no need in you to be a part of the group, no fear of being ostracised? Is this not what governments fear? A population that they cannot cow? A population that will say, ‘Oh come off it! Show us your rabbit!’?
Come to that … how much do you fear being left out, being ostracised, excluded? Mmm … more difficult to admit to ??? Then sit under poplar, watch the shadows flicker through the many realities, allow poplar to transport you to worlds where you can be true to yourself. Then … learn how to carry this knowing back across the worlds so that you can BE it here, in Thisworld.
Wizard = wyze-ard, wise one, one who has absorbed wisdom.
The wizard has done this. No, not just the Harry Potter version although he does make a fairly serious attempt to do this. But the real wizards have done this, go and look up the stories about some of them, the most famous British one is, of course, Merlin. Read about him with open eyes. Remember he is only half mortal. Realise that many storytellers dumb down the tales to fit them to the ears of their audience and so collect more pennies in their hat and more kudos for their tellings. Consider too if the storytellers really had much concept of the magnitude of Otherworld … many don’t but try to reduce it all to human-size.
To absorb wisdom is hard work … like eating and surviving the poisoned apples as Merlin does in the Caledon forest. It also means getting a very real picture of yourself and you place in the scheme of things. In general human perceptions seem to go wide of the mark, either to large … we were all Cleopatra or Napoleon in our past lives rather than the slave who emptied the chamber pot! Or too small in that we believe we can’t do anything and are continually saying we must wait until the time is right, the moon in the right quarter, etc … waiting for the eternal “round tooit” and, as we all know, these are in extremely short supply!
The wizard does not wait but gets on with it, gets on with the next job. The Zen adage to eat your rice, then wash your bowl is a good example of this. The tenet of how to gain wisdom is known worldwide but it has little Hollywood appeal so most people don’t go there. Steiner said (rightly) that good spirituality is eminently practical and was always exhorting his followers with, “The deeds, gentlemen, the deeds!’. Deeds, doing and not doing them, and knowing when is appropriate – as the elder does – is wisdom.
Again, in order to be any of these you must know yourself. You cannot work magic if you are muddled as to what you are working it on, where you are working it, what it will effect. Well, you can … but it will end up like Mickey Mouse and the Mops in the film Fantasia! And you will need a skilful, adept wizard to rescue you before you drown!
In the British language the name Cunningham comes from “cunning man”. This picture of a cunning woman from the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft shows such a person. The link, to Wiki, gives a good outline of them. I favour historian Emma Wilby’s description to the (perhaps) better known Ronald Hutton’s – he too often, for me, explains away and also tends to denigrate those who don’t follow his own spiritual path. Emma Wilby identified what she believed were a number of shamanic elements to the magic of many cunning folk. For more about her work look here.
The cunning folk of Britain worked with familiar spirits – the witch trials testify to this where cats were hanged and burned alive along with their mistresses. The natural world was no enemy but a friend and ally … a shield for the head. Nowadays people tend to fear the world, nature, that which is not human – see daft TV programmes called such things as “Dangerous Planet”! There is a specially human sort of arrogance that believes the world is out to get them – as though we were that important, instead of the most junior in age as well as intelligence of all the animal species that in habit Mother Earth.
The ways of nature were and are still open to the cunning folk. It is part of the ability to “work with” rather than the need to control, to defeat, to overcome … all words much more often used in modern society. Again there is that stupid arrogance that we might be able to overcome the planet. Oh yes, we can make her life hell, make her creatures extinct, but in the end we will die and she will recover … possibly having decided not to make the mistake of letting humans aboard her again.
The cunning folk are skilled in many ways but perhaps most in their ability to discern what action is appropriate for the time and place where they are at that moment. They are resourceful and ingenious in being able to change that mode of being, acting, as soon as they perceive that it is no longer appropriate. They are creative and inventive in the ways they find to change, again suiting means to need. They are adroit in being at the right time and place and dextrous in how they handle situations, people and spirits. They have ability. All this comes from that initial knowing of self … which may take a long, long time to learn.
Poplar as AllyPoplar is an ally, a great ally. Allies are those who help and befriend us. Like the cunning folk, you too can discover this and poplar will help.
The Moon-month for Muin, Blackberry, runs from 2 Sep – 29 Sep
Blackberry is the tree of joy, exhilaration and dark wisdom.
Many Ogham users work with the vine for this month. Although the vine is part of British Bronze Age art it is not a native. I prefer to use our native Blackberry.
In Celtic countries there is a taboo against eating blackberries after the 29th September … in Devon they say the devil has got into them, in Brittany they say the fairies will get you if you do. They do taste different after that date but – so far – neither devils nor fairies have swept me off.
Blackberry is a hedge plant, its fruit is very good, nourishing, and also makes an excellent wine. It fruits at this time of year along with some apples, as you probably already know the two together make an excellent pie – see recipe at the end.
If you make the wine then the first of it can be ready in time for a celebration of the coming darkness after the autumn equinox on 21st September after which there is more darkness than light each day until the spring equinox in March.
I find working with the idea of blackberry-and-apple pie brings me to the need for both light and darkness. The apple is Apollo’s fruit, the sun god, god of light. The blackberry is Dionysios’ fruit, along with the vine, the fruit of darkness and discovering wisdom within. Wine is also the fruit of madness – the madness of the gods in the case of Dionysian revels which, again, celebrated the death of the god and his giving of life, through his death, to the Land. As the time of blackberry is also the harvest time this is another part of the ongoing harvest festival and John Barleycorn.
Cooking isn’t often thought of as a spiritual exercise … unfortunately! … but it is one, or should be. You don’t have to go off into trance to journey, in fact, as you become proficient at it, you find yourself able to “walk between worlds”, to be here and there at the same time without needing to be sectioned under anyone’s mental health acts. Preparing food, changing plant and animal substance into a form that our bodies can digest and so receive the energy from is deep magic. What happens in cooking is serious magic … but we do it everyday, on auto-pilot, and don’t think about it at all, it’s just “what you do”.
The whole process of making blackberry and apple pie can be a journey.
First collect the blackberries. This likely requires a walk in the country, going out into the wilder places – wilder, at least, than one’s own garden usually is – and seeing the fruit as it grows for itself, for the goddess, for the land. While you’re out collecting you may well see various wildlife also feasting on the berries and in the hedges where it grows. Seeing, watching, wildlife, being quiet and still, not disturbing, not shouting, being invisible almost, unthreatening to the beasties and insects, that is a whole journey in itself.
Give time to your picking, harvesting. Harvest more than just the fruits, harvest the experience, the delight in watching Life work as it has for millions and millions of years with no hassle from ourselves. Watch how easily and beautifully it all interacts. You will come home with more than just super fruit for the pie.
Look at the dark purple juice on your fingers, taste it, smell it. See how it changes your skin. Don’t think of it as “dirty”, thank the goddess for the juice, for the colouring. See the darkness …
Collect the apples. If you have the chance to go to an orchard, or have your own trees, pick the apples fresh. The scent as you do so is intoxicating – never mind Chanel !!!
Remember about apples … Merlin’s wisdom-fruit from the tree of knowing and reincarnation. Look back over the blog for Quert.
The whole process is one of journeying but it doesn’t have to be serious and solemn. Mindful, looking, watching, listening … all techniques of reaching out beyond yourself, losing preoccupation with yourself, all this is drinking the Black Cup of Forgetfulness that is also the cup of wisdom of the Celtic tradition.
Black Cup of Forgetfulness
Blackberries give the dark wisdom. This comes out of the ancestral knowing of the Earth herself, out of our own ancestors both physical and spiritual, and out of the “dark matter” of the Universe.
I find it fascinating that science is now talking of Dark Matter as the evidence of “missing mass” in the orbital velocities of galaxies in clusters. You can read more about dark matter at the link, it’s complex but has to do with gravity, which has to do with mass. We’d all wiz off into space without gravity! The earth couldn’t spin round the sun and give us day and night, light and dark, warmth and cold, all the things that make life possible, without gravity.
For many, the whole concept seems enormous, too big to contemplate, too far removed from “self”. Wisdom is like this. It needs that we relinquish the importance of the little-self, ego, allowing it to float in the sea of being that is all-that-is, that-which-moves, creation. It’s often a big jump to reach a place where you can contemplate your non-existence without terror eating you up. However, once you dare to do this the change in the whole way you and Life work together is fundamental, and it fills you with joy. Yes, really, the terror dissolves into joy. Your physical existence as the little personality you are in this incarnation ceases to constantly thrust its way to the fore. You are able to see yourself, feel, sense, as part of the whole. It’s spiritual growing up.
The Black Cup of Forgetfulness is about this. Blackberry is a pleasant way of beginning your journey to know this place, way of being.
Now … after all that heavy stuff, how’s about making the blackberry and apple pie, then sitting down to eat it with a large dollop of cream ???
1. For the pastry: put the flour in a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Then stir in the sugar, followed by the water. Mix until the ingredients come together to form a ball of dough. Wrap this in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6.
3. For the filling: put the apples in an ovenproof dish with the water and sugar. Bake them for 30–40 minutes until they are tender. Remove the dish from the oven and leave it to cool (the apples could also be cooked in a microwave oven). If they have given off a lot of juice, strain some of it into a bowl and set aside.
4. Turn down the oven to 170C/gas 3.
5. Put the blackberries in a saucepan with a dash of water and cook over a low heat until they have softened but still hold their shape. Tip the berries into a sieve and catch any juices in the bowl with the apple juice.
6. Combine the apples with the berries and moisten with just enough juice to give a syrupy consistency. Don’t discard any extra berry juices – save them for serving with ice cream.
7. Take the pastry dough out of the fridge and roll out two-thirds, on a lightly floured surface. Use this to line a pie dish and spoon in the fruit filling; put a pie funnel into the middle. Roll out the remaining pastry dough into a piece large enough to cover the pie dish. Dampen the edges of the dish and cover it with the dough, letting the top of the funnel poke through. Brush the top with beaten egg and dust it with caster sugar; use any pastry trimmings to make leaves and balls to decorate the pie. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked and golden, then serve with Devonshire clotted cream.
The Moon-month for Quert runs from 5 Aug – 1 Sep… it shares the month with Coll, hazel, as the wild apple and nut harvests coincide.
Apple is the tree of knowing and reincarnation. This is the wild apple, crab-apple. Merlin’s tree that he shares with the Pigling, one of Ceridwen’s children with whom he runs wild deep in the forest of Caledon, eating the apples of knowing.
Merlin, Pigs & Apples
In the Celtic mythos one the most famous connections with the apple is Merlin in his “mad” phase in the Caledonian Forest with his companion pig and Ceridwen.
The main reason usually quoted for Merlin’s madness is the slaughter at the battle of Arfderydd. The Yr Afallennau has Merlin sleeping under apple trees with a pigling that has come to him and coming into his prophetic self. For us, nowadays, maybe many need some “down to earth” reason for madness that can be “dealt with” through psychobabble, however this was not the case in the old days, nor is it now amongst those who walk the old ways.
Madness is a form of changing. How it works out, if the person is still able to function in the everyday world, if they live even, is another matter. The shaman knows this. The old ways – now sometimes called sensory deprivation – when one went voluntarily into a long barrow to be shut in for three days and nights worked to produce the seer, the spirit-keeper, the awenydd. Another way was to go out into the wilds, the mountains, a lonely seashore, the forest, and sit-with the goddess and the gods, with Nature, with the spirits. In America this is known as vision questing. If you’ve ever tried it you’ll know what a scary process it is – to be alone, with nothing but the bare necessities of life.
You are alone firstly with your self and your Self – your personality and your soul. Have you tried this? No distractions, no iPod, phone, radio, TV, no other people around, no-one to help, no-one to comfort you. Only your self and your Self for company.
The old ones said you come out of such an experience dead, mad or enlightened, often going through some form of death and madness in order to grow through into the enlightenment. Not everyone made it. the dead were deeply honoured, it was known their spirits had gone into Otherworld and would return again, once refreshed, to try again. The mad were deeply honoured too. It was known that even if their sayings seemed garbled and unclear they would have wisdom hiding in there somewhere, waiting to be found. Those who made it all the way through became as Merlin to their people, the great ones becoming seers known in many lands and for many ages.
It still happens today. If you are willing to sit out in the lap of the Land, with no company … willing to listen to your Elders, the animals, trees, birds, insects, plants, wind, sky, earth and water … then you will find wisdom. If you are able to hold onto the experience then you will be of use to the people, and to the Land and Otherworld itself as well as Thisworld.
This is what Merlin did – battles or no battles. It was a test of initiation, of growing into the seer, the awenydd, the spirit-keeper.
The apple holds all of this for you.
Ceridwen & Pigs
One of Ceridwen’s totem shapes is that of White Sow. The pigling that Merlin lives with in the Caledonian Forest is one of her children. The pig, like the horse, was integral to the Celtic tradition, customarily it was thought to be the inexhaustible beast that could and would forever feed the people. Recent diggings at Stonehenge have shown that pig-feasts were an integral part of the celebrations there.
Many of the heroes, such as Culhwch, were swineherds – keeping the pigs was a priestly duty. The heroes were also often hidden through their job, kept safe and produced when the time was right for them to come into their inheritance.
Ceridwen fostered them, kept them as her piglings, nurtured them. In a sense she does this with Merlin in Caledon.
Ceridwen’s pig-form is very much a part of Thisworld, of manifestation, rather than of the Upperworld of ideas or the Lowerworld of ancestral wisdom, about making things manifest here and now. Merlin, as awenydd, needed this, needed to be able to help the everyday world of which he was a part – despite his half-fairy parentage. As a half-blood (unlike Harry Potterites!) he was acclaimed, known for one who very directly had a foot in each camp, and so was very valuable. Ceridwen was able to help him walk between worlds. His journey to do so was difficult and dangerous, involving him in losing his everyday mind to replace it with a wiser form that could see Otherworld and Thisworld side by side and work in both. The Lady of the Cauldron fostered him and tested him and provoked him while he made this journey. She did not make it safe … she made it possible.
Avalon, from the Welsh word derived from Old Welsh abal “apple” or aball “apple tree” (Middle Welsh aval, avall; Modern Welsh afal, afall), though an Old Cornish or Old Breton origin is also possible – they too being Brythonic languages.
The Isle of Avalon features in the Arthurian mythos and is famous for its beautiful apples. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 1136 account Historia Regum Britanniae (“The History of the Kings of Britain”) as the place where King Arthur’s sword Caliburn (Excalibur) was forged and later where Arthur is taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. As an “Isle of the Blessed” Avalon has parallels elsewhere in Indo-European mythology, such as Tír na nÓg and the Greek Hesperides, also noted for its apples. It is associated with Morgan le Fay, one of whose titles is “apple woman” and who is goddess of the crossroads, the ways between Thisworld and Otherworld, between life and death.
Trying to locate Avalon as a geographic entity, in what we call the real world, is about as useful as attempting to herd kittens and with a similar lack of results and consequent frustration! There is no point. The concept of Avalon can be located on a physical reference point … anywhere, but that doesn’t help the Seeker to find the apples of wisdom to which s/he aspires. The apple isle is the place of initiation and discovery for the person who is searching for such. The various histories – all written by people, each with their own prejudices and axes to grind – are largely reiterations of the writing of those before them. They remind me of the old adage … “Big fleas have smaller fleas upon their backs to bite ‘me. Little fleas have lesser fleas … and so ad infinitum!”
It is similar to many teachings, they give you “techniques” but nothing of the real thing. They wash out so much colour and fire in order to make the techniques safe one might as well be playing charades. Reality is not safe. Like the apple that Snow white is given it has a red face and a green face, one is poisonous and will transport you across the divide of change, of death, sometimes physical, sometimes the death of old ways and beliefs, throwing you into turmoil, forcing you to change, to grow.
This is what the apple does in stories all around the world. It gives wisdom … but wisdom is not safe, it’s wild and huge and free. It will set you on its back as the Kelpie does, and run away with you …
From Wiki – Its hide was supposed to be black (though in some stories it was white), and will appear to be a lost pony, but can be identified by its constantly dripping mane. Its skin is like that of a seal, smooth, but is as cold as death when touched. The horse’s appearance is strong, powerful, and breathtaking. Water horses are also known to transform into beautiful women in order to lure men into their traps.
The apple is the fruit of wisdom … all wisdom seekers would do well to work with this tree, and its fruit.
Spirit-Keeping – Awenydd
Awen is a Welsh word for poetic inspiration. It is historically used to describe the divine inspiration of bards in the Welsh poetic tradition. Someone who is inspired, as a poet or a soothsayer, is awenydd.
The apple is the fruit of Apollo, the Greek god of the arts and poetry – poets are keepers of farsight, wisdom, song, and many other things, wisdom, awenydd, spirit-keepers. Cut an apple in half, crosswise, as opposed to from stem to base, and you will see the five seeds make the pentacle-pattern of many initiation-cults.
To be spirit-keeper is to hold the gateway to spirit for the people and, even more so, for the Land. This involves learning to know, and be befriended by, the Spirit of Place where you live and work. This can be as small as your village or as great as your land, your country. In either case this includes all that live and moves and has its being therein … not just humans but all the other kingdoms of Nature including rocks, soil and mineral, atoms, bacteria, molecules from the most infinitesimal to the hugest.
The pentacle at the centre of the apple signifies the four element and spirit, encompassing all things, seen and unseen.
Ponder on all the above and watch it change the way you relate to all Life.