Tag Archives: ogham

Ogham – M-Muin: Blackberry

M: Muin: Blackberry

  • 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 Journey

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 ???

Blackberry & Apple Pie Recipe

Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 350g self-raising flour
  • 175g butter
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 80 ml water

For the filling

To serve

  • Devonshire clotted cream

Method

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.

Enjoy 🙂

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather taleneted cat …
writer shaman artist gardener
Wye’s Woman Celtic Shaman Training
Contact Me WordpressFacebookFlickrTwitterLinkedinYoutubeStumbleUponWordpressGoogleAmazon

Ogham – Q: Quert: Apple

Quert - Apple

  • 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.

Arthur's Stone at Moonrise - a barrow used for initiation

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

White Sow - suckling her piglings

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

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.

Fairy Horse ...

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.

Apple Pentacle

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.

writer artist gardener shaman
Wye’s Woman Rainbow Warrior
__________________________________________

Contact Me WordpressFacebookYoutubeMySpaceTwitterAmazonLinkedinFlickrStumbleUpon
Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Wye’s Woman at Madley Pool

Ogham – Coll: Hazel

  • The Moon-month for Coll runs from 5 Aug – 1 Sep
  • Traditionally, hazel works with Mercury and Venus,  a form of the Mabon and the Modron, the Wise Child and the Mother
  • The feast of Lughnasa/Lughnasadh (1 August) and the harvest celebration falls in the month of Coll/Hazel and is named after Lug meaning the Shining One
  • Hazel is the tree of wisdom
  • “I went out to the hazelwood, Because a fire was in my head,” W. B. Yeats

Yeats was a man of the Fae and knew his wisdom, but wisdom is also “fire in the head”. Fire in the head is that inspiration of wisdom which sets light to one’s current mores and reduces them to ashes … they then rise again, like the phoenix, to be reborn as new, useful mores for us to live by until the next inspiration. The fire is necessary in order that we don’t get stuck in a box!

What is Wisdom?

Wisdom is not a simple thing to conceive of; it includes knowing, insight, perception, astuteness, acumen, penetration.

  • Knowing is about knowing-in-your-bones, it has nothing to do with belief and often you cannot say cogently what it is you know … but you know that you know it.
  • Insight is about the deep perception required to know something, and about how that perception often comes from some unknown source. It can be sudden or, sometimes, creep up on you so that you’re not aware it has changed you until the process is over.
  • Perception is the ability to see what is truly there, not what your expectations and habits want to see. This skill requires a high level of personal honesty and the ability to know when you’re kidding yourself J.
  • Astuteness too is about seeing what is there, seeing the truth unclouded by preconceptions. It’s about being smart rather than gullible and naïve.
  • Acumen is about being shrewd and having good judgement, yet again seeing what is there, seeing reality.
  • Penetration is about discernment, more good judgement, seeing deeply within something or someone, beyond motives and agendas.

These are qualities the hazel nut carries and gives to us … but they will burn out all the old beliefs and concepts.

And how do we get them?

In the Gaelic tradition the Salmon of Wisdom lives in the Well of Segais surrounded by the 9 hazel trees, he feeds on the hazel nuts that fall into the pool. In many ancient stories the hero, to save someone from some disaster, must go the Well at the World’s End – which is the Well of Segais – to catch the magic nut before the Salmon of Wisdom eats it. Sometimes the hero exchanges the nut for wisdom from the Salmon, at others the nut itself contains what he needs for the rescue. We have to go to the Well. We have to sit and watch, wait attentively for the moment when the nut falls and the salmon comes to claim it. Then we challenge.

Finding that moment is rather like riding the wave in surfing. You have to know in your bones just the moment when you can stand on the board, when the wave will carry you all the way home. And you cannot know that moment without wisdom … a Catch 22 situation, as is so much of shamanic work.

The hazel is also associated with the caduceus staff, the wand of the healer.

In Greek and Roman traditions, Hermes carries a staff or rod, the caduceus. It’s made up of two intertwined snakes on a hazel rod and is still a symbol of healing arts, although the original hazel leaves are generally transposed into the wings of Hermes. He was also the messenger of the gods.

The caduceus is another way of symbolising the skeleton of the universe, the Universe Tree. The central hazel staff is the vertical axis that carries energy between Earth and Sun. This thread, between the heart of the Earth and the heart of the Sun, is the spindle that carries the two poles of energy, from one to the other and back, that enables our planet to function … and our Sun to function too. Everything in our current universe depends on duality, the concept of I/Thou which is the concept of boundaries. Without boundaries we don’t know self from not-self, from other, and make a mass of assumptions that result in ghastly mistakes … including messing up the planet.

  • The hazel rod at the centre of the caduceus staff carries all this. And this is wisdom … knowing I from Thou and respecting the difference by asking rather than telling or working on assumptions.

The two snakes that twine up the staff hold the energy of the poles, of duality, too. They are the pairs of opposites that are truly two sides of one coin, the one mirrors the other. They are also the horizontal axis of the Universe Tree.

The horizontal axis carries the energy of “that which moves”, to quote the Dineh people of the Navajo. We use the same phrase in the Celtic tradition and you’ll find it all over the world, a common variation is “that which lives and moves and has our being”. Modern Buddhist teaching tells us to “kill out desire” … I don’t yet know what they mean by this or if it is as simple as just the words. If it is then I certainly disagree with them completely! What is desire? It is that which moves us! If that ceases to be then we lose all drive to grow and change, to learn to work with the goddess, to learn to listen to her, help her. In fact, we may become so heavenly we’re no earthly use !!!

In many traditions, snakes are carriers of wisdom, long associated with wisdom, reincarnation, and cunning. For the Celts this is so, Nadredd, the adder, is a wise snake and one to call on. She carries on her back the twisting double-spiral of Life that we now know in the physical as DNA. The pair of caduceus snakes show this too, the double-helix twining round the central pole.

As the UK’s only venomous reptile, there is a wealth of British folklore associated with this elusive creature. The Druids believed that one of the strongest mystical charms was the Adder-stone or glain neidyr. This was a small glass-like stone with a hole, which was believed to be made by the snakes on Midsummer’s eve. The charm is supposedly a cure for a wide range of ailments and could even cure the bite of an Adder. The Druids in Wales as were known Nadredd and in the Fold of the Bards, Taliesin says “I am a wiseman, I am a serpent”. In the Scottish Highlands, the adder symbolized the Cailleach’s power.

If you meet a snake on a shamanic journey you’ll need to prepare to shed something in favour of something greater and better .. the course of wisdom. The catkins remind of golden snakes.

The wings were likely the leaves of the hazel but calling up the image of wings. As well as burning out old patterns wisdom also enables us to fly, our spirit can fly between worlds, seeing new threads of connection, realising them for us.

The leaves are astringent, diaphoretic and febrifuge in herbal terms.

Astringent is harsh, severe, biting; a substance that tends to shrink or constrict body tissues, usually locally after topical medicinal application. The word “astringent” derives from Latin adstringere, meaning “to bind fast”. Two common examples are calamine lotion and witch hazel.

Diaphoretic is to make you perspire, like in sweat lodges. Sweating is an important means of cleaning out the system using the skin, it occurs in fevers as the body’s way of moving things out.

Febrifuge is a medication that reduces fever.

So the three properties – binding together, making you sweat and then reducing fever pass you through a change-process. This will often feel like flying to the physical senses and the emotions, the mind often sees it this way too. The spirit is cleaned and bound back together with the body so that it can work in new, wider, deeper, more expanded ways.

Old Ways and Customs
  • Hazel wands were one of the trees used for making Ogham sets when the wood of each tree was not used. The lore stories tell us they were wrapped in a craneskin bag and carried by druid shamans, in honour of the crane who brought the tree alphabet from Egypt.
  • Salmon, wisdom and hazel are all connected into the mystic Salmon of Wisdom, who each year travels his long journey to catch the falling Hazelnuts of Knowledge at the Well at the World’s End before returning “the ways of the round rolling world”.  In the stories, Fionn, who is studying under a master druid, burns himself while preparing a salmon one day. Licking his burnt thumb, he takes in a drop of the magic juice and so gains the gift of prophecy.
  • Bardic inspiration is associated with hazel, and Scotland’s other name, Caledonia, derives from Caldun (fort of the hazel), as does cnocach (wisdom) which comes from the more common word for hazelnut, cno.
  • And in the Mabingion, it is the magic salmon (who is even older than the oldest animal in the land, the Eagle of Gwernabwy), who directs Arthur and his companions upstream to find Mabon ap Modron, the Son of the Great Mother.
  • In the north of England, the hazel-tree guardian was called “Melsh Dick” and in Yorkshire “Chum-milk Peg”. Ancient protectors of the unripe nuts. A milk peg is a milk tooth, the tooth of childhood.
  • In 19th century Devon, an old woman traditionally greeted a new bride with a gift of hazels for fertility in the same wary that rice or confetti is used today. ln English villages country-dwellers associate a prolific show of hazel catkins with the advent of lots of babies, and late as the 1950s, the saying, “Plenty of catkins, plenty of prams” was heard taken quite seriously.
  • Hazel was also used widely throughout the centuries for protection against evil. Finn bore a hazelwood shield that made him invincible in battle.
  • No harm could penetrate a hurdle fence of hazel around a house or a breastband of the wood on a horse.
  • A shipmaster wearing a cap into which hazel had been woven was guaranteed to weather any storm.
  • Cattle driven through Beltaine and Midsummer bonfires had their backs singed with hazel rods for protection against disease and the evil eye , and the scorched rods were used to drive them the rest of the year.
  • In the East of England, cottagers gathered hazels to ward off the bolts of the Thunder-god.
  • When evil became synonymous with witchcraft in the public mind, hazel was widely used for protection against Witches. The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) recommends a hazel wand cut “upon the Sabbath daie before rising” to use as a charm against witches and thieves. The 17th century writer Thomas Pennant in his “Tours of Wales” described how in Merionethshire, corpses were buried with hazel-rods to avert the power of witchcraft.
  • Hazel protected against disease and was a potent magical remedy.
  • ln Ireland, a hazel-nut in a pocket worded off rheumatism or lumbago which was thought to be caused by “elfshot,”
  • A double-nut prevented toothache.

 

Contact Me WordpressFacebookFlickrTwitterLinkedinYoutubeStumbleUponWordpressGoogleAmazon

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 !!!

Contact Me WordpressFacebookFlickrTwitterLinkedinYoutubeStumbleUponWordpressGoogleAmazon

Ogham – Tinne: Holly

Tinne
400 yr old Holly at Greencombe, Porlock

T – Tinne: Holly

The Moon-month for Tinne runs from 8 Jul – 4 Aug

The holly tree at Greencombe, Porlock, Exmoor, is anciet and very magical. I’ve sat within his multi-stemmed grove and dreamed several times.

Holly is the tree of the Tánaiste – the twin and often the killer of the king.

What is a Tánaiste?

This is from wiki and may surprise you J …

The Tánaiste (Irish pronunciation: [ˈtɑːnəʃtʲə]; plural: Tánaistí [ˈtɑːnəʃtʲiː]), or, more formally, An Tánaiste[2], is the deputy prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach (prime minister) nominates a member of the government to the position of Tánaiste. The current Tánaiste is Mary Coughlan, TD. TánaisteIrish word for the heir of the chief ( was originally the taoiseach) or king (rí), under the Gaelic system of tanistry. Before independence, the British Viceroy was sometimes referred to in the Irish language as An Tánaiste-Ri, literally ‘the deputy king’.

The office was created in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, replacing the previous office of Vice-President of the Executive Council that had existed under the Free State constitution. The Tánaiste acts in the place of the Taoiseach during his or her temporary absence, and, until a successor has been appointed, in the event of the Taoiseach’s death or permanent incapacitation.

Holly berries

However, the role of Tánaiste is far older than 1937.  Two of the most famous holders of the office are Gawain who was Arthur’s Tánaiste and Gronw who was Tánaiste to Llew Llaw Gyffes. In the latter case Gronw is called to kill Llew in order to open him from being a personality-oriented brat so that he can become king, it is part of Blodeuwedd’s training of him. Blodeuwedd is the Queen of the Night and Lady of Dreams who agreed to inhabit the body made for her from nine flowers by Math and Gwydion in order to find a wife for Llew.

This is a complex story that has been much dumbed-down by Victorian and later writers who have made Blodeuwedd to be a soulless, heartless trollop who cheats on her man. Such is not at all the case. Blodeuwedd is a powerful goddess and initiator, a king-maker, one who draws us from the illusion of form into the reality of essence. Her totem, the owl, is the wise bird of legend, one who can see in the dark and the barn owl – with the heart-shaped face assigned to Blodeuwedd – is able to fly silently and to pinpoint the smallest sound with her incredible hearing. Ponder on the symbology of all that for a goddess … and for what she can see and draw out of you.

Back to the Tánaiste … the wiki piece above says the Tánaiste was the deputy-king, and indeed that was so, but what does it mean and how is it relevant to us?

second-in-command, assistant, agent, representative, helper, supporter, envoy, emissary, ambassador, negotiator, mediator … these are some of the offerings for the word deputy from the Thesaurus. All are relevant and pondering on them will give you more of an idea of what it is to be Tánaiste. Both Gawain and Gronw are these to their respective kings.

I recently gave you the story of Ragnall’s Wedding where Gawain takes on the job of marrying Ragnall in her hag-form in order to get the answer to the questions “What do women most desire?”, and so save Arthur’s life. It’s a wonderful story and shows what all beings, creatures, people want … the ability to choose. Gawain is vital to this as are his qualities of perception and generosity, and his willingness to ask, to hand over decisions to another when appropriate.

Gronw usually suffers badly at the hands of story-tellers, becoming the cuckolder, the stealer of another man’s wife, the nasty piece of work. He’s none of these things. Without him, Llew would continue in his hunting and pleasuring and never take the slightest care of the Land … and for the Celts, the Land is the Goddess who is our whole care and duty. You can see Llew, until Gronw speared him, was a complete waste of space as far as being guardian to the goddess was concerned!

Robert Graves gives the line for Tinne, in the Song of Amergin as …

I am a Spear: that roars for blood

This is the spear that Gronw makes, with Blodeuwedd’s help, in order to drink the blood and pierce the ego of Llew, so drawing him into his totem, the eagle, and forcing him into aloneness in the wilderness of the eagle-mountain, Mother Snowdon, to find himself as king. Without Gronw spearing him he would have been useless.

Often, the Tánaiste is also the “twin”, and his twin’s executioner as Gronw is in the this story. There are many Celtic stories of  twins, usually a dark one and a light one … the ubiquitous two sides of one coin that permeates the whole of the Celtic tradition.

These two heads are the same … if you turn one upside-down you get the other. They were inscribed on coins from the Celtic period.

The relationship of Tánaiste to king is like this, they are two sides of one coin.

Holly

There is much lore about holly in the British tradition and it is a magnificent tree if allowed to grow to its full height, often 50ft.

Holly King by Christopher Bell

In Celtic grammarye the Holly King is the Green Knight of “Gawain and the Green Knight”. Gawain is Arthur’s Tánaiste who, as we’ve seen, takes the king’s place in dangerous adventures. You’ll remember the story of the Green Knight coming to Arthur’s hall at Yule, carrying a holly bush as his totem, and demanding to be beheaded? Gawain complies and so incurs the duty to find the Green Knight again and allow himself to be beheaded in his turn.

I’ll do the story later.

Holly is also sacred to Llew and one of the Celtic symbols for this tree is the Flaming Spear … after Gronw’s spear that transmuted him from boy into king.

Holly is the first moon of the dark half of the year – i.e. after the midsummer solstice when the days begin to get shorter again. This is significant of the mythos of the Oak King, slain by his twin, Tánaiste, the Holly King. The Holly King then rules until the midwinter solstice when he, in his turn, is slain by his Tánaiste, the Oak King. Oak and Holly are again two sides of the same coin, the end of one cycle being the beginning of the next.

The old yuletide carol – much older than Christmas – says, “of all the Trees that are in the Wood, the Holly bears the Crown” … a good thought to finish on.

 

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
My Blog
___________________________________________
Contact Me WordpressFacebookYoutubeMySpaceTwitterAmazonLinkedinFlickr
Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Coughing up bones …

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
My Blog
___________________________________________
Contact Me WordpressFacebookYoutubeMySpaceTwitterAmazonLinkedinFlickr
Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Great Tit saga

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
___________________________________________
Contact Me WordpressFacebookYoutubeMySpaceTwitterAmazonLinkedinFlickr
Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Great Tit saga