Tag Archives: Myth

Writing …

except it’s afternoon !!!

Just arrived here as spent morning sorting out the Ogham post – it goes up here  tomorrow.  It was good fun getting the info together, if rather like herding kittens . there is just soooooo much that each tree relates to I feel I could write a damn encyclopaedia (sheesh! spelling … need coffffeeee!). I am putting the whole into a book – out next year at this rate.

I love trees. The lore they give you if you choose to journey with them is fantastic, and doing so is like an hour with your best friend, exchanging Q&A. Every time I go to write about them I found something new arrives and wants to be mentioned.

Writing’s like that … you set off with an idea and then the story wakes up and writes itself, you just have to stop it wandering off into indigestible and incomprehensible ramblings … again like herding kittens LOL. I’m having the same round-up scenes with the latest novel too. Having begun with a 14 yr old heroine, I’ve now got a 40 yr old hero, with fiddle, itinerant musician, with red hawk and now (since last Saturday) two ferrets as well … Yikes! And he’s going to fall in love with the heroine – who may grow to 16, sigh! – although nothing happens, which is probably very sad for them both but we’ll see.

Arrrrgghhh !!! back to the grind of writing … but I absolutely love it. except there’s a mountain and a half of work to do in the garden too. And I can’t wait for Paul to bring Fabrice’s french bread back from Fodders … Yummmmmmmmmmm !!!

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Lammas Bread

Lammas

A time of harvest & honour

The word Lammas comes from a word meaning “loaf mass” from the Anglo-Saxon “hlaf-masse” or loaf-mass. It is the first harvest festival of the year and many Celtic traditions bake a special loaf for this day. Here is a Scottish recipe.

Lammas Bread

Ingredients
  • 1 lb flour – a mix of flours tastes good
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cream or tartar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 pint milk
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
Method
  • Place the flour in a large bowl and add a pinch of salt, plus the cream of tartar and the baking soda.
  • Pour the milk into another bowl, and stir in the vinegar.
  • Then add the milk-vinegar to the flour mixture a little bit at a time to make your dough.
  • Knead this a bit and then shape into a fine, round lump.
  • Score a cross on the top of the loaf and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 for about 35 to 40 minutes.
  • If you would like a sweet bread add in honey raisins & dried fruit

Even if you’ve never made bread before have a go. You can vary the recipe with herbs from the garden – lavender and rosemary, together or separately make excellent flavourings; sage bread is savoury and delicious; onion bread is good with soups as well as cheese.

Lammas Bread Corn King

As a shaman, I always honour my food – the ingredients as well as the finished meal. This means sourcing them well, with concern for how they’ve been grown, prepared and marketed for all food comes from the Earth who is our mother. If we mistreat her body with chemicals, force her to bear more vegetables and/or animals than she naturally can, starve her of water, pound her skin with heavy machinery and take no notice of her seasons then we rape her as surely as any man does with an unwilling woman.

So I source my ingredients locally as far as possible, grow a lot myself, know how the animals are treated who give me my meat and milk. I even know how the bees who give me the honey are treated, and that they are local, feeding from local flowers and orchards, not being air-bussed into California from Australia !!! And the flour I use is grown here in my country, in Britain.

This sort of honouring is far more important than any prayers and rituals I may use as I’m cooking and/or eating. It’s the sort of honouring that respects the Earth and tries to listen to her, to work with her rather than forcing her into what may be convenient to me.

Sometimes I make a corn king shape for my Lammas loaf, remembering the song John Barleycorn, and eat the bread with a glass of ale from one of our local micro-breweries. Sage bread is especially good for this.

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Lammas: Corn King

Corn King by Charles Vess

The corn king, John Barleycorn for us here in Britain, is the god who sacrifices himself for the goddess, for the Land, for the good harvest to come next year. He appears in other traditions around the world, for instance as Adonis, Osiris or Tammuz.

This image is very lovely.

The Gaelic name for Lammas is Lughnassadh, celebrating the Irish sun god Lugh (pronounced Loo), and variant spellings are Lughnasadh, Lughnasad, Lughnassad, Lughnasa and Lunasa. In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu, which may have been funeral games in honour of Tailtiu who died of overwork clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture.

The Brythonic sun-god is Llew Llaw Gyffes. His name becomes Lugus with the Gauls. Llew’s totem is the eagle – a sun-bird – and all forms of his name refer to “light”. More modern forms are names like Luke, Luc in French, Lucifer which means light-bringer. I live near a river called the Lugg, this too is a form of a word for light. Llew is killed and reborn, wiser, see my here for his story.

In Celtic myth-lore the goddess often changes her guardian/spouse – see the stories of Culhwch and Olwen, Blodeuwedd, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, and many others. Sometimes the change of guardian goes from father to husband, as in Culhwch, where the prospective bridegroom must kill the father in order to obtain the daughter. It is an initiation ritual that proves the new guardian is up to the job while, at the same time, removing the old king from the scene. This is what is happening in the John Barleycorn song-story.

I also find these images of corn snakes very evocative. A friend of mine has one – a lady in that case, so a corn queen rather than king. They’re very beautiful. I’ve added a painting by Wendy Davies of twisted gold torcs … the snakes remind me of them.

The Ballad of John Barleycorn

This is the old version by Traffic

There were three men come out of the west their fortunes for to try

And these three men made a solemn vow John Barleycorn should die.

They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throw’d clods all on his head

And these three men made a solemn vow John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time till the rain from heaven did fall

And little Sir John he throw’d up his head and he so amazed them all.

They let him lie till the long midsummer, till he looked all pale and wan,

Then little Sir John grow’d a long, long beard and so became a man.

They hired the men with the scythe so sharp to cut him down at the knee,

They rolled him and tied him around by the waist, served him most barbarously.

They hired the men with sharp pitchforks and they pierced him to the heart.

But the loader he served him far worse than that for he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him around and around of the field till they came upon a barn,

And these three men made a solemn mow of poor John Barleycorn.

They hired the men with the crab tree sticks and they beat him skin from bone.

But the miller he served him far worse than that for he ground him between two stones.

There’s little Sir John in the nut brown bowl and brandy in the cask.

And little Sir John in the nut brown bowl proved the stronger man at last.

For the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox nor so loudly blow his horn,

And the tinker he can’t mend his kettles nor his pots without a little drop of John Barleycorn.

If you follow the verses through you’ll see how it begins with the ploughing, sowing and harrowing of the field, then goes on to sowing with the “seed of the king” – which really is meant to be taken both ways, as corn seed and semen. And the field too is meant as the earth, the soil, and the womb of the Earth, of Sovereignty.

In verse two, little Sir John raises up his head, the first green of the corn breaks the surface of the earth, we know that there is hope, there is return, the food is likely to grow this year and we will not starve. At the end of the verse little Sir John grows a beard, the tassel of the corn appears.

In the third verse, the harvest happens. The corn is cut, scythed, it is made into stooks and bound to the cart to be carried off to the barn.

In the fourth verse they wheel the cart around and around the field, partly to pick up all the stooks but also in a ritual walking of the field which has given them the grain they hoped for, an honouring of the Land. The corn is beaten with “crab tree sticks”, that’s branches of the crab-apple tree which is an ancient tree but also a good wood for threshing the corn. Threshing is the meaning of “beat him skin from bone”. And finally the miller grinds the corn between the great millstones.

In the last verse the ale is made, the corn is transformed and transmuted from a plant into a health-giving drink. Ale was (and is) good food as well as drink, there is much goodness for the body as well as the pleasures (and pitfalls!) of intoxication J. The reference to fox hunting is repellent nowadays and is probably a fairly late insertion, like the tinker. The original may well have referred to hunting, but for food animals not “the pleasure of killing”.

So, the song is about the growing of the corn, harvesting and making ale. It makes its references as if the corn is a person and, in ancient days, it would have been the king. Human sacrifice took place in all lands. Human life was, and still is to most humans, the most precious gift that could be given to the gods, the power of blood is known worldwide.

With its habitual de-paganising zeal, the Christian church recycled Lammas as the harvest festival. Traditionally on this day a new loaf of bread was offered at mass as the first-fruit of the harvest. In the good old days when bread was truly your harvest fruit – you tilled the land, planted the grain and watered to soil to make it grow – the making of the Lamas/Lughnasadh loaf was packed with mystical symbolism. The breadmaker and those who ate it were acutely aware of their relationship with Mother Earth – a relationship not of words but of conscious interaction. Quite different from buying a loaf in your local supermarket off the bakery shelf! These days bread-making is a mechanised process and you have had nothing to do with the planting, growing and harvesting of the grain.

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Lammas: Old Country Customs

Just like the Sun God whose heat nourished its growth, the grain which goes into bread must be cut down in its prime to be useful. Death is necessary for life to flourish, otherwise  life dies. In the past humankind the world over acknowledged this relationship between death and life – harvesting grain for bread and seeds for next year’s crop – through ceremonies and rituals.

Corn Dolly from Winterspells

The presiding figure was often female, the Corn Dolly, made from the last corn to be cut. In northern Europe she was known as the Corn Mother, in Scotland as the Carline, meaning Old Woman. On the island of Islay she was the Old Wife, the Cailleach, which is the title Ceridwen takes. After harvest Islay’s Cailleach was hung up on the wall until ploughing time for the next year’s crop. On the first day of ploughing the mistress of the house divided her among the men going to plough the field. They took the Old Wife in their pockets and fed her to the horses when they reached the field, thus ensuring a good harvest next year.

This picture is from Winterspells – very beautiful.

In Wales (north Pembrokeshire) a plaited tuft of the last corn was known as the Hag (wrach). The reapers would throw their sickles at the last patch of standing corn and the one who succeeded in cutting it down received a jug of home-brewed ale. Sometimes the lucky reaper would try to bring the Hag into the farmhouse without being seen. The inhabitants would be waiting with buckets and pans of water to drench him. If he managed to get the Hag in dry and undetected, the farmer had to pay him a small fine or sometimes a small cask of the best beer. Then the Hag would be hung up on a nail and kept until the following year.

Some harvest celebrations are rather curious, like the biblical Pesach (“hobbling”) ceremony performed at Beth-Hoglah in Canaan, where devotees danced in a spiral imitating the partridge’s way of hobbling. In ancient Greece male dancers hobbling and wearing wings performed an erotic partridge dance in honour of the Moon Goddess.

Other celebrations take life and death literally, like the Indians of Guayaquil in Ecuador who used to sacrifice human blood and men’s hearts when they sowed their fields (In one year they were said to sacrifice hundreds of children to make sure their crops flourished!) The Khond, a Dravidian race in Bengal, ritually sacrificed choice victims and distributed their flesh among every family in the tribe to bury it in their fields. Human sacrifice, whether real or symbolic, plays a key role in the harvest culture. Frequently the victim was a total stranger, chosen for sacrifice not out of any personal animosity towards him but merely because he happened to be passing by at the “right time”.

And, look up the rites of the Corn King and the Eleusinian Mysteries. If you fancy an excellent story that’s also telling the rites read Mary Renault’s “The King Must Die” and you’ll find the story of the Eleusinian mysteries about 1/3 through, after Theseus comes down from his trials on the Isthmus. Remember, the ancient Greeks were Celts too.

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Working with Stories

One of the things that myths give us, are stories that we can use to measure and make sense of our own lives. Relating personal experience to mythic archetypes it can be possible to find ways through hard times, answers to challenging questions, and ways of being. We can take the myths as role models, or as ‘what not to do’. Most of us will find times in our lives when we are out of inspiration, hope, or a sense of direction. In seeking mythic parallels, we can find answers to that, or at least the sense that others have faced challenges before and survived.

This is a notion I’ve been contemplating for a while, thinking about how pagan writers use myths to explore contemporary life – Emma Restall Orr uses the theme of Gawain and the Loathly Lady extensively to explore ideas of femininity in Kissing the Hag while Kevan Manwaring uses the Taliesin myth to explore his own bardic path in The Way of Awen. This is something any of us can do, at any time, for any reason. What prompted me to think of it was a suggestion from Ness on facebook (thanks Ness!) that I put my trials into the hands of a goddess for a while.

Crashed out for an hour this afternoon, I contemplated the stories of goddesses, and waited for inspiration. I remembered the story of Rhiannon- falsely accused of killing her child, and then made to bear people on her back like a horse, and tell her story to them. It would be fair to say that there are no close parallels between that and my own life, but it is story about endurance, staying true to yourself, and justice being done in the end.

Rhiannon endures with good grace. Her circumstances make me think of modern women accused of infanticide because their children have died from cot death. There were some high profile cases in the UK a few years ago. It’s the worst thing that could happen to a mother – to lose your child and then be blamed for it. Rhiannon is blamed. She has no way of defending herself and does not even know what has happened. She has no way of resolving things. All she can do, is endure with good grace, which she does, and tell her story.

There is a power in telling stories. In the end, the stolen child is recovered, Rhiannon’s good name is restored to her, and the real villain is punished. This is only possible because she has endured, she has survived and lived long enough to see things righted.

Normally I tend to favour active solutions to problems, rather than characters who wait for a rescuer, or for fate to return the balance. I don’t have a very trusting nature, and I feel safer when I’m doing something. But Rhiannon’s is a tale in which there is no scope for doing anything at all. There are no clues, nothing to go on. She’s not like Demeter, who is able to go and seek information about the missing Persephone. The child has gone, and there is no one who can tell Rhiannon how, aside from the mysterious thief. Rhiannon’s is a tale of powerlessness, and if any character had justification to despair, she would be the one. And yet, she gets through, somehow.

This is a story about not giving up, even when there is no visible reason for hope. That’s a very powerful message to turn to when there seems to be no way forward. It is also a tale about grace and a certain kind of quiet courage. Rhiannon does not dishonour herself in any way, despite what she is made to endure. She shoulders her burdens, literally, and she gets through. So may we all.

Oak Man 2

Bran is on the train from London and is in process of meeting Jenni. He’s a solitary soul but is opening up slightly with her.

She’s intrigued by his battered fiddle case and asks him what “itinerant” means.

He talks of travelling, moving around but it’s the word gypsy that hooks her, although he claims to have no gypsy blood …

Elen Sentier http://WWW.elensentier.co.uk

Wye’s Woman Workshops

Wye’s Woman …

Source of the Wye

I live by the river Wye, Afon Gwy, one of the mother rivers of Britain. she rises on one side of the Plynlimon mountain and flows down to join with her sister, Hafren, better known as the Severn. The Afon Hafren, the longest river in Great Britain and rises at around 2000ft on the other side of the mountain of Plynlimon and flows for 220 miles eventually joining with sea, and the Wye, at the Bristol Channel.

The Wye is the fifth longest river in Britain and forms much of the boundary between Wales and England … the Shadowlands, Twilight lands between the worlds where I live. Journeys have shown me I have deep links to this part of the Land, Clas Myrddyn, Merlin’s country that go back over 4000 years – it’s a humbling thought :-).

The Wye is a mighty river and in full spate can be quite overwhelming … as can all goddesses, especially Mother Goddesses. I love her dearly and she is asking for people to come and work with her … hence this page.

Wye’s Woman comes from her – I am her woman, as are many who work hereabouts. I sit at her banks and climb her hills, walk beside her. The workshops are about that. It’s a form of vision quest that’s very Celtic, we don’t just sit in one place but walk the Land, asking the Land to feed us with vision and inspiration, ideas and teachings. For the Celts, the goddess is in the Land itself as well as everywhere throughout the cosmos, not either/or but and/and, inclusive.

The workshops come out of my walking and working. I’ll take you to 8 places along the part of the Wye valley where I live, sacred places, used for thuosands of years by folk who know the Land and know the River – Earth and Water that supports us and enables us to live.

Exploring the Goddess

We’ll explore the goddess’ relationship with her Guardian, the god, how he serves her and cares for her … and we’ll learn our own relationship to her and our own way of serving and guarding her by connecting into her sacred places and listening to her. We’ll also celebrate her with ritual and bring her gifts.

The workshops are 1-day, Saturdays, close to the eight Celtic festivals of the year … Samhain, Midwinter, Imbolc, Spring, Beltane, Midsummer, Lammas and Autumn. Some of them will last through the night when we, or you individually, “sit-out” and will include Staff Singing, a method of inducing a receptive state for the Goddess to speak to us and for us to be able to hear her.

We will also be making spirit dolls and houses, dressing trees, making a group totem pole and other ritual talismans from the things around us in the Land where we work. The Goddess always gives what we need … the trick is learning to see it :-).

Cost £600 (£75/day)  if booked all together

or £85/day if you book individual days.

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 British Native Trees

  • Places we will work at include …
Arthur’s Stone
Yew Tree Cauldron
Vowchurch Alder Roots
Dinedor
Eaton Camp
Kilpeck Goddess
Mordiford Bridge over the River Lugg
Symonds Yat