Thursday, January 31, 2013

Brigid Goddess.

February 1st is a special day on the ancient Irish calendar. It's known as La Fheile Bride, Brigid's Day. This day is a celebration of the ancient Irish goddess Brigid, and marks the start of the spring festival called Imbolc.

Brigid was the Goddess of Fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry - which are considered the flame of knowledge. As a healing goddess, she governs childbirth and the birthing time. That Brigid was highly regarded as a healing goddess as can be seen from the numerous healing wells dedicated to her all over Ireland. As a goddess of poetry, she governs not only the inspiration and writing of poetry, but also divination and prophecy. As a goddess of smithcraft, she governs the forge's fire. It is for these reasons that she is considered the "Bright Goddess" and is associated with the element of fire.

Here in Ireland, during Imbolc, the land was ploughed to receive the new seed with spade and horse-drawn plough; calves and lambs were born, and fishermen waited impatiently for the end of the winter storms and rough seas to launch their boats again. Foods traditionally eaten during Imbolc are lamb stew, poppy seed bread, honey cakes and baked custard. Imbolc is seen as a time of hope and renewal - as the land comes alive again with the passing of winter. Sometimes imagery is used. Just as at New Year's Eve when we often see the image of old, bearded Father Time representing the old, outgoing year replaced with a young baby which celebrates the year just born, at Imbolc, we have similar imagery; an old crone represents the outgoing year, and turns things over to a young maiden. Fertility, of course, plays a part here. The frozen earth is incapable of growing things, just as the old crone has grown incapable of producing offspring. This barrenness is replaced by the warm return of Spring, making the earth once again fertile, symbolized by the fertile young maiden.

Traditionally, at this time, a number of customs are followed. The home is cleaned (Spring cleaning) in preparation of a visit from Brigid, especially the fireplace. A birch branch should be used to symbolically sweep the floor, as this has strong links with her.

In days gone by the man, or men, of the house would make a Brideog. This was a doll shaped object made from long pieces of straw or rushes which was dressed in white doll clothing or merely wrapped in a white cloth in the manner of a dress. The "doll" would then be decorated with bits of seashells and flowers. This object symbolised a "little Brigid" which was then brought from house to house carried by a young lady of the household. Entertainment was then provided for the houses you visited in the form of songs and jokes. Upon arriving home, a feast was then had with the Brideog leaning against one of the legs of the dining table. Boxty pancakes, apple cake, dumplings and colcannon (Potatoes, cabbage and onion mixed with milk.) were normally on the menu. Any extra straw / reeds would be saved and used for the manufacture of Brigid’s crosses.

It is believed Brigid travels around the countryside on the eve of her festival, blessing both the people and their livestock. To show that her visit was welcome, families would place a cake or pieces of bread and butter on the windowsill. In some parts of Ireland, the bread would be an oatmeal loaf in the shape of a cross which was specially baked for the occasion.

It is in this way that the winter is ushered out and the spring welcomed, as the storms subside, the gorse begins to flower, the snowdrops and daffodils begin to break the surface and the days begin to lengthen once again.

The Irish goddess Brigid is unusual among deities because she is found in several different religions. References to her are found in ancient Paganism, Neo-Paganism, Christianity and Voodoo.

Both Neo -Pagans and Pagans of old worshiped Brigid as a Celtic Pagan triple goddess. The term triple Goddess refers to the belief that some deities have three distinct aspects covering the maiden, mother and crone phases of life. Brigid has power over childbirth, motherhood, smith craft, peace, unity, poetry, inspiration, healing, hearth and home among others.

Brigid also appears in Voodoo as Maman Brigette. Scholars believe that worship of Brigid came to the Caribbean islands along with Irish people who had been kidnapped, enslaved and forced to the islands to work. Maman Brigette is said to drink hot peppers and reportedly has a very dirty mouth using obscenities frequently. Voodoo dogma holds that Maman Brigette will protect graves if the gravestone is marked with a cross.

Brigid, the Celtic goddess of fire (the forge and the hearth), poetry, healing, childbirth, and unity, is celebrated in many European countries. Born at the exact moment of daybreak, Brigid rose into the sky with the sun, rays of fire beaming from her head. She was the daughter of Dagda, the great 'father-god' of Ireland.

In Druid mythology, the infant goddess was fed with milk from a sacred cow from the Otherworld. Brigid owned an apple orchard in the Otherworld and her bees would bring their magical nectar back to earth. It is said that wherever she walked, small flowers and shamrocks would appear. As a sun goddess her gifts are light (knowledge), inspiration, and the vital and healing energy of the sun.

Legend holds that Brigid began the Irish tradition of keening (crying,wailing, and singing) over the body of a deceased person at a wake. As outlined in the following story.

Brigid became the wife of Bres, an Irish king. Together they produced three sons, each of them became a famous warrior. Brigid and her husband came from two warring tribes and hoped their marriage would end the enmity between their kin.

Unfortunately, it did not. However, as it turns out, the battlefield death of their son Ruadan assured Brigid's role as a goddess of peace and unity.
A major battle between the two families was about to begin.

Brigid's eldest son, using the knowledge of metalsmithing that he had learned from his mother, struck the first blow, killing the smith of the opposing army. But as the warrior fell to the ground, he managed one last blow before he died and Ruandan was also killed.

Brigid's grief was enormous--for the continual hatred between the two sides of her family and for the death of her son. Her lamentations were so loud they were heard throughout Ireland and so heart-rending that both sides left the battle and forged a peace. The goddess Brigid is said to have originated the practice of "keening".
She is also credited with the invention of whistling, which she used to summon her friends to her side.

Eventually the love and respect for the goddess Brigid brought unity to the Celts who were spread throughout Europe. Regardless of their differences, they all agreed upon her goodness and compassion.

One of the most popular tales of the goddess Brigid involved two lepers who appeared at her sacred well at Kildare and asked to be healed. She told them that they were to bathe each other until the skin healed. After the first one was healed, he felt only revulsion for the other and would not touch him to bathe him. Angered, Brigid caused his leprosy to return. Then she gently placed her mantle (cloak) around the other leper who was immediately healed.

Ireland is full of springs and wells named after the goddess Brigid. Symbolically, water is seen as a portal to the Otherworld and as a source of wisdom and healing. There is a saying that Brigid rewards any offering to her, so offerings of coins were often tossed into her wells, the forerunner of the modern custom of throwing a penny into a fountain while you make a wish.

At her most famous shrine Brigid taught humans how to gather and use herbs for their healing properties, how to care for their livestock, and how to forge iron into tools. As a goddess of childbirth and protector of all children, she is the patroness of midwifery. This shrine, near Kildare, was located near an ancient Oak that was considered to be sacred by the Druids, so sacred in fact that no one was allowed to bring a weapon there.

The shrine is believed to have been an ancient college of priestesses who were committed to thirty years of service, after which they were free to leave and marry. During their first ten years they received training, the next ten were spent tending the sacred wells, groves and hills of the goddess Brigid, and the last decade was spent in teaching others.

Nineteen priestesses were assigned to tend the perpetual flame of the sacred fire of Brigid. Each was assigned to keep the flames alive for one day. On the twentieth day, the goddess Brigid herself kept the fire burning brightly.

The goddess Brigid was also revered as the Irish goddess of poetry and song. Known for her hospitality to poets, musicians, and scholars, she is known as the Irish muse of poetry.

The goddess Brigid lends us her creativity and inspiration, but also reminds us to keep our traditions alive and whole. These are gifts that can sustain us through any circumstance.

Her fire is the spark of life.

Two little stories for Imbolc.

There was a time when the ground around a monastery was regarded as holy ground.  It was considered a safe place and no one was allowed to enter it with weapons or remove anyone against their will. It wasn’t just humans who knew about this, the animals seemed to know about it as well.  The following stories concern the monastery at Kildare (Cill dara), the church of the oak, and St. Brigid.

Brigid and the Boar.

One day a group of hunters were chasing a wild boar and just before they managed to trap it the boar staggered onto the grounds of the monastery.  The hunters stopped outside the gates and waited for the nuns to chase the boar back out to them so they could kill it. However, Brigid saw the state of the poor thing and decided that the boar had claimed the right to sanctuary just as if it was human and so it deserved to be given a place of safety in which to rest.  She sent a message out to the hunters telling them of her decision, they of course demanded to be given their boar as it was an animal and didn’t deserved the same rights as humans.  Brigid replied that as far as she was concerned all living creatures deserved the same rights and so that was an end to the matter.

The hunters were extremely angry but could do nothing, so disappointed they rode away. As for the boar, well it had its wounds cleansed and was given food and drink.  It soon got over its ordeal and Brigid led it to her own herd of pigs on the monastery farm.  At once the boar cheered up as it saw all the female pigs smiling and winking at him; he became very tame and settled into the herd.  He lived there very happily and as far as I know he might still be there and if he isn’t he’ll be somewhere else.

Brigid and the Fox.

Brigid had a wonderful way with animals. One day a friend of the monastery workmen came to her with a sad tale that the friend had accidentally killed the king of Leinster's pet fox, thinking that it was a wild animal. The man was arrested. His wife and children begged the king to spare his life to no avail. The workman asked Brigid to intercede.

Although Brigid loved animals, she thought it was wrong that a man's life should be demanded in return for the fox's, so she ordered her horse and cart to be made ready and she set out for the court. The way lay through a wood, where the road was a mere track and the horse had to walk. Brigid prayed for the right words to speak to the angry king to save the life of the woodsman.

Suddenly she saw a little fox peeping shyly at her around a tree and she had an idea. She told her driver to stop and called the animal to her. Immediately it sprang into the cart beside her and nestled happily in the folds of her cloak. Brigid stroked its head and spoke to it gently. The little fox licked her hand and looked at her with its big brown eyes.

When she reached the king's castle, the fox trotted after her. She found the king still in a mighty rage. "Nothing," he told her angrily, "nothing in the world could make up to me for the loss of my beloved pet. Death is too good for that idiot who killed him. He must die as a warning to others. Let him die."

The king stormed on, "It is no use asking for mercy. That little fox was my companion, and my friend. That idiot brutally killed him for no reason. What harm did I do to that man? Do you have any idea how much I loved that little fox, I cared for him from the first day he was born?"

The king's furious eyes met Brigid's loving ones. Yes, indeed, she could well understand it. She was truly sorry for his loss for she loved all animals and especially tame little foxes. Look here . . . she beckoned forward her new pet from the woods that had been crouching behind her.

The king forgot his anger in this new interest. He and his household looked on delightedly while Brigid proceeded to put the fox through all kinds of clever tricks. It obeyed her voice and tried so hard to please her that the onlookers were delighted.  Soon she was surrounded by laughing faces.

The king told her what his own little fox used to do. "See, it used to jump through this hoop, even at this height." Well, so could Brigid's .When the king's fox wanted a titbit, it used to stand on its hind legs with its fore paws joined as though it were praying, and so could Brigid's. Could anything be more amusing? When his mood had completely changed, Brigid offered her fox to the king in exchange for the prisoner's life. Now the king agreed and he even promised Brigid that never again would he inflict any kind of punishment on that idiot workman, whose misdeed he would soon forget.

Brigid was very happy when the prisoner was restored to his wife and children and she went back home to the monastery. However, the little fox missed her and became restless and unhappy. It didn’t care when Brigid led him into the castle, but without her the castle was a prison. After a while the king left on business and no one else bothered much about the new pet. The fox waited for its chance and when it found an open door, it made good its escape back to the woods.

Presently the king returned and there was commotion when the pet was missed. The whole household was sent flying out to search for it. When they failed to find the fox, the king's hounds were sent to help in the search, their keen noses snuffing over the ground for the fox's scent. Then the king summoned out his whole army, both horsemen and footmen, to follow the hounds in every direction. It was all no use. When night fell, they all returned wearily to their king with news of failure. Brigid's little pet fox was never found again.

So if you are walking through the woods one day and see a little fox with big brown eyes say “hello”. You never know it might be related to Brigid’s fox.

Image = Scene of the blessing of St. Brigid of Kildare.
Artist = Lorenzo Lotto.  Completion Date: 1524, Italy.  Fresco in the Oratory Suardi in Trescore,

Mythology of the Dark men.

There is an urban myth that has become very popular and seems to have taken on a life of its own.  Created for an internet competition by Victor Spurge in 2009 I refer of course to The Slender Man.  An evil entity that feeds upon children, it is described as being a creature of the shadows, unnaturally tall and thin.  It is said to have no face, its arms are capable of stretching to inhuman lengths so as to ensnare any child that crossed its path.

  The Slender Man was reportedly seen just before the disappearance of a child or children and favours woodland areas.  He will however, roam the streets on nights that are shrouded in fog or mist.  It is said that adults cannot see him, children can and often do see him in dreams or nightmares, particularly just before they go missing.  Once seen, The Slender Man will always be with you, just out of view, you will see him as a shadow or shape out of the corner of your eye yet when you look there is nothing there only a deep feeling of unease.

Was the Slender Man created by using bits and pieces of folklore from around Europe and the U.S.A.?  It is possible that the myth was inspired by figures such as Death or the Grim Reaper and that it has now taken on a life of its own in the imagination and fears of those who have become believers. There are a number of different myths that are associated with these dark figures. 

The Grey Man is a figure from Scotland’s folklore. Sightings have been made over hundreds of years by walkers who have seen a spectre like figure.  He is said to haunt the second highest peak in Scotland, Ben Mac dhui, in the Cairngorms.  The Grey Man has been described by those who have seen it as a huge ape like figure.  He has been seen by such eminent mountaineers as Professor Norman Collie in 1891, although he was well known to be a practical joker so this could have been a publicity stunt.  Henry Kellas was reported as spotting The Grey Man at the turn of the twentieth century but this was never verified.  Peter Densham heard his footsteps following him on the Cairngorms in 1945.  Alexander Tewnion another mountaineer and naturalist reported that in 1943 he was attacked on the mountain by a strange shape, he fired his revolver at it three times but it had no effect. Tewnion turned and fled.

A similar entity has been reported around Lough Dhu in Antrim. An account in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology in 1858 tells of two men who saw him standing on a pillar in the middle of the Bush River.  Although they tried to talk to him they were ignored and eventually overcome with a deep sense of fear they ran home.

The Fear Dubh.
This is a rare legend from Scotland concerning an entity that is said to haunt the dark footpaths and forests at night.  Was it created to scare children in order to stop them roaming at night and getting lost?

The Faceless One.
Now this one dates to the 18th century in Wales.  It was created by ‘caring’ parents in order to stop them from being naughty, and to keep them away from the forests.  It was said that children often disappeared at night and were found the following days mutilated almost beyond recognition.  The parents even had a rhyme to go with it.

Hush, thy childe, do not stray from the path,
Or The Faceless One shall steal you away to Fairieland.
He preys on sinful and defiant souls,
And lurks within the woods.
He has hands of ebony branches,
And a touch as soft as silk.
Fear The Faceless One thy childe,
For he shall take you to a dark place.
And what shall become of thou?
No one knows, so be good, thy little one-
Alas! He is here to take thou away!'

Now isn’t that a lovely little bedtime lullaby. No wonder children suffered from the night terrors.

The Nucklavee.
This is a creature that is feared in the folklore of Orkney.  The word means Devil of the Sea and he was a creature of pure evil whose sole purpose was to plague the islanders.  Although its home was the sea the Nucklavee had no problem roaming dry land but it had a terror of fresh water, particularly rainwater.  It was while he was on land that he was seen riding a horse as monstrous as himself.

Over time Storytellers have merged the two monsters together so that the horse and rider have become one and this is now the Nucklavee true shape.  He is said to have a head shaped like that of a man but “Ten times bigger”, a wide mouth and a pig’s snout, he also has only one eye that burns with a red flame.  His body is not only hairless but also skinless, its body a mass of raw flesh, you can see its thick black blood coursing through his veins. Again his arms are long and ape-like.

The Fetch.
Also known as: doppelgänger

According to Irish folklore, a fetch is a supernatural double of a living person. They are generally regarded as a very bad omen: anybody who sees a fetch that has taken on their appearance is doomed to die, and soon. However, some folklorists claim that if a fetch first appears in the morning rather than the afternoon or evening, it’s actually a sign that whoever the fetch has imitated has a long life ahead of them.

The Sack Man.
Also known as: the Bag Man; the Bugbear
In Latin and Eastern European folklore, the Sack Man is a skinny, foul-tempered and unspeakably ugly old man who scoops up children from off the street, bundles them into his sack, then takes them back to his filthy hovel and devours them.

The Fír Gorta.
In Ireland the Fír Gorta or Man of Hunger.  He was a tall thin man dressed in black raggedy clothes. He travelled from place to place, village to village, town to town during times of famine.  It was said that when he knocked on your door you would welcomed him as you would a stranger and offer him a little food and drink even though food was extremely hard to come by during the famine.  For this reason many would hide behind closed doors, some would deny him any food or drink, some would even chase him from the door.
It was said that for these people there would be no hope and that they had sealed their fate, death by starvation.  For those who spared a small piece of potato or a drop of milk, even if that was all the family had, or those who genuinely had nothing except the offer of a welcome hand, the Fír Gorta would thank them for their generosity, politely refuse their offers and take his leave of them.  However, before he left he would say “Because of your generosity and your honest welcome today you will be truly blessed.  Neither you nor your family will ever die of the hunger, tell no others of what has passed her but from this day forth your pot will never be empty, your jug will never run dry
It was said that in the morning the mother of the house went to the pot and found within it a great big potato, more than enough to feed the whole family and a jug that was brimming over with fresh creamy milk.  It would be the same each morning and they survived the famine.

If like me you are interested in folklore you will find a whole host of dark slender men who wander the night looking for lost souls, children, and victims.  From the Sandman to the Candy man, to the Scare Crow and the Sack Man you will find similar spectral beings recorded in the folklore of all societies.  Old stories told by the ancients around camp fires right up to the present day with the television or silver screen replacing the fire. Dr Who and the Silence, Steven Spielberg’s IT, Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm’s Fairytales, to W.B. Yates.  All the myths and legends are there for you.  Hopefully we can continue to add to this rich tapestry and the urban myth will take its place with things that go bump in the night.

Friday, January 25, 2013

                                                             The Man With No Luck.

Once upon a time, long, long ago.  A time when all animals and plants spoke the same language and everyone understood everyone else.

There lived a man who was very sad, but why was he sad? Well, he believed he had no luck.  Whenever he dropped his toast it landed butter side down, whenever he went for a walk it rained and he got soaking wet, but as soon as he got back home, the sun came out.  He had no friends, no wife, and no money. In fact he thought he must be the most unlucky man that ever was.

One day, he got up out of bed and decided that the only thing to do was to go and ask god why he had no luck. God lived at the edge of the world and it would take the man a few days to get there (in them days it never took you that long to get anywhere).  He packed a few sandwiches and a drink for the journey into a bag and set off.  

He hadn’t travelled far when he heard a loud groaning noise coming from behind a bush, “who or what is that?” thought the man.  He went over to have a look and there behind the bush was a big old wolf.

“Hello, why are you groaning?” asked the man,

“I don’t feel well, I’ve had an awful pain in my stomach for the past week” replied the wolf, “But where are you going with a big bag on your back?” asked the wolf,

“Oh, I’m off to see god and I’m going to ask him or her why I have no luck” replied the man, “Anyway I can’t stand here talking to you all day so goodbye”,

“Wait” said the wolf, “When you see god will you ask a question for me?”,

“Certainly, what is it?” said the man,

“Ask god why I have such an awful pain in my stomach” said the wolf.

The man carried on his journey.  The sun was shining and it was very hot and soon the man felt tired and thirsty so seeing a lovely tree he decided to sit under its branches in the shade and have a little drink and a bit of a rest. As he sat with his back to the tree he heard groaning.

“Where is that coming from”, thought the man,

He looked to the left, nothing.  He looked to the right, nothing. He heard groaning again, it seemed to come from above, he looked up and do you know where the groaning was coming from? It came from the tree.

“What is wrong, why are you groaning?” the man asked the tree.

“It’s my roots” replied the tree, “I have terrible pains in them, but where are you going with a big bag on your back?”,

“Oh, I’m off to the edge of the world to see god and to ask him or her why I have no luck” said the man, “Anyway I can’t sit here talking to you all day so goodbye”,

“Wait”, said the tree, “When you see god will you ask a question for me?”,

“Certainly”, said the man, “What should I ask”,

“Ask god why I have such awful pain in my roots” said the tree.

The man carried on his journey and soon he heard another sound but this time it was the sound of crying.  He looked around and across the fields he saw a lovely little cottage.  He walked over to see where the crying was coming from.  Stood leaning over the half door (for in them days all cottages had half doors so you could let the light in but keep the chickens out), was the most beautiful young woman the man had ever seen.

“Hello” said the man, “Why are you crying”,

“I am sad, for I am lonely and have no company” said the woman, “Who are you? I’ve never seen such a handsome man as you before, where are you going with such a big bag on your back?”,

“Oh, I’m off to the edge of the world to see god and to ask him or her why I have no luck” said the man, “Anyway I can’t stand here talking to you all day so goodbye”,

“Wait” said the young woman, “When you see god will you ask a question for me?”,

“Certainly” said the man, “What is it?”

“Ask god why I am so sad and lonely” replied the woman.

Soon the man reached the edge of the world.  He looked over the edge and jumped back, it was very deep and very scary.  He couldn’t see god anywhere so he shouted out,

“GOD, Oh GOD, Where are you?”,

God suddenly appeared out of nowhere,

“What’s all the shouting for” said god, “Who are you and what do you want”,

“Hello god, sorry to disturb you” said the man (he had been reared properly so he was very polite), “I have a question to ask you, and I hope you will give me the answer” said the man,

“Well if you ask your question and I might” said god,

“Why do I have no luck?” said the man,

“Oh that’s easy” said god, “You do have luck, you just have to open your eyes and look for it instead of always complaining”,

“Fair enough” said the man, “Thank you and now I’m off home, goodbye god”.

The man had only gone a few meters when he remembered the other questions he had to ask. He went back to god and asked the three questions and received three answers. One for the young woman, one for the tree, and one for the wolf. Happily he set off back home.

Soon he came upon the cottage with the beautiful young woman still standing at the half door, still crying.  He walked over to her.

“Hello, I’m back from the edge of the world” said the man,

“Did you ask god my question and did he or she give you an answer?” asked the young woman,

“Yes, god said the reason why you are so sad and lonely is because you need to marry. Then you’ll have company, love, and friendship” said the man,

“Well, I’m young, beautiful, modest, and I have my own house. I have loads of land, sheep and cattle, and I’m a fantastic cook. Oh and by the way did I mention that I’m very modest? So how about you and me getting married?” said the woman.

“Oh I can’t marry you; I’m going to look for my luck” said the man, “Goodbye”,

Next, he came to the tree.

“Hello, I’m back from the edge of the world” said the man,

“Did you ask my question, and get my answer?” said the tree, with a groan,

“Yes, god said the reason you have a pain in your roots is because there is a huge treasure chest buried under your trunk and your roots have become trapped.  God said that if you dig it up then you’ll have no more pain” said the man,

“Well, I have no hands so I can’t dig it up but if you dig it up for me you may keep all the treasure for yourself” said the tree,

“Oh I can’t do that” said the man, “I haven’t got the time, and I’m off to find my luck. Goodbye”.

He walked a little further and there he saw the bush and behind the bush lay the wolf, still groaning.

“Hello” said the man, “I’m back from the edge of the world”

“Did you ask my question and get my answer? asked the wolf,

“Certainly did” said the man, “God said the reason why you have such terrible pains in your stomach is because you are starving with the hunger. He said you should eat the first fool that crosses you’re.........”

That’s the end of his story and the end of this story.

So you see, no matter how bad it seems it could always be worse.

Keep smiling.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Miser's Coffin.

Once upon a time, just outside a small town in the west of Ireland:

There lived a family called Murphy.

Dermot Murphy was a big, strong man but he was known by the locals as ‘the poor mouth’ because of his miserly ways. However his wife Mary was a small, pretty woman who was always willing to help anyone, as was his daughter Brigit.

The land they lived on was poor, boggy and not much use for anything. The Murphy’s cottage was by the side of the road, at the bottom end of the garden there grew a small oak tree.  The cottage was small with a kitchen, living room and two small bedrooms. Their water was supplied by a well in the garden and they had no electricity as Dermot believed it to be the work of the devil.  The real reason was he didn’t want to pay the bill.

Dermot Murphy was a mean looking man; he was cruel and refused to part with a single penny for anything unless it benefited himself.  So mean in fact that when his poor wife Mary died he refused to buy her a decent coffin or even to pay for a burial plot in the local cemetery. He bought the cheapest wooden box he could find then buried her in a shallow grave at the bottom of the garden near the oak tree   His daughter Brigit was extremely upset at the way her poor mother was treated, and although she cried and begged her father to give her a decent burial it was to no avail.

Dermot wasn’t poor; in fact he had a great deal of gold coins that he kept in a leather purse that he hid behind a loose stone inside the fireplace.  Every night when his daughter went to bed he would take out the purse and count his money by candlelight.  If he heard his daughter stirring he would quickly hide the purse under his jacket and tell her to go to sleep and stop trying to spy on him.  When he was satisfied that his money was all there he would put it back behind the stone in the fireplace.

One night, about a year after her mother’s death, Dermot was sat counting his money as normal.  Brigit came into the room, she said that she wasn’t feeling very well and she asked her father to get the doctor.

Of course the first thing her father thought of was the cost,

“Arragh, don’t be worrying, it’s only a bit of a pain, go on back to bed, you’ll be fine in the morning”

Brigit was in no state to argue, she was pale and clammy.  She did as her father told her and went back to her bed.  A short while later her father heard her groaning and she came back into the room again.  This time she looked dreadful and once more begged him to get the doctor.

“Will ye go back to bed and don’t be spying on me” he said.

Once more she did as she was told, he heard her groaning for a while, and then there was silence.
Later that night Dermot was happy his money was all correct, he put it back into its hiding place and was just about to go to his bed when he thought he’d look in on his daughter.  He found her half in and half out of her little bed. She was very quiet; he felt her felt cold, very cold.  It suddenly dawned on him, she was dead.

Dermot was very upset as this would be costly but then he had an idea, he would bury her next to her mother.  That way he’d save money and they could keep each other company. After the burial, Dermot was once again sat counting his money when a fierce storm began.  It was as bad as the Night of the big wind in 87.  The following morning the local townspeople were sorting out the damage to their properties.  They didn’t notice that Dermot didn’t visit the local pub to get his few ounces of tobacco and a pint.  However, when no one saw him for a few days, the locals began to wonder where he’d got to.  They decided to pay him a visit.

When they arrived at Murphy’s cottage they noticed that there was some damage caused by the storm.  At the bottom of the garden they saw that the little oak tree had been uprooted and that in the middle of the garden there was a coffin.  As they went through the gate and approached the cottage one of the locals shouted out and pointed.  Halfway in and halfway out of the front door was another coffin. They looked through the window and there they saw Dermot Murphy.  He was sat upright in his chair, he was as stiff as a board, his eyes frozen, staring horribly, and his mouth wide open as if screaming in terror.  One hand raised, as if trying to protect himself, the other seemed to be pointing at the coffin which was half open.

In the coffin lay Brigit, peaceful in death, her hands joined together as if in prayer.  It was the normal custom to bury the corpse with the hands holding a set of rosary beads.  However, the locals saw that instead of holding a rosary, Brigit was clutching a leather purse.  When they prised the purse out of her hands they found it to be full of gold coins.  They counted it out and found that there was just enough money to buy new oak coffins, one for Brigit and one for her mother Mary and to pay for a decent pair of plots in the local cemetery. 

Unfortunately, there was not enough money left to bury Dermot.  However, the locals managed to use the wood salvaged from the cheap coffins Murphy had buried his wife and daughter in.  They buried him at the end of the garden, where the oak tree used to be.

There has to be a moral there..somewhere,

Keep smiling.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Wild Hunt.

You have read about the Dullahan who takes your life when your time comes.  You have read about the Dearg Due who will drain you of blood if she gets the chance.  Now you will read of the terror of The Wild Hunt, that which takes your soul.

On these cold winter evenings it seems an easy thing to sit by the fire with the lights out.  Shapes and shadows flicker in the darkness, and it is within these shadows that you will find The Sluagh who forms part of The Wild Hunt. They have haunted Irish folklore for as long as people have looked into the flames and allowed their imagination to take hold.  Even Death itself must defer to The Sluagh in an unholy race for the immortal souls of the living.  However, once Christianity arrived in Ireland The Sluagh was transformed into dead sinners that were once human and humans became their prey.

It has been suggested that one of the ways of dissuading the Sluagh is to sacrifice another in your place.  However, if you are willing to do that then I think you are destined to join them at some point in the future.  There are accounts of the Wild Hunt throughout Europe and they were once thought to be a prelude to war, famine, and disease. The foundations of the Wild Hunt spread back thousands of years, far back into the mist of time.  It was once believed that local heroes both of history and legend would be called to join the hunt when their time came, and it was they who would become the ghostly leaders of the pack.  The origins of the hunt embody memories of war, myth, worship and superstition.  You will find reference to it in literature and folklore that refers to the dead travelling together or where heroes of old rise up to fight the foreign invader.

In Irish folklore we can read of Fionn Mac Cumhailln who is said to sleep in a cave surrounded by the Fianna, ready to rise up again to return to defend the Irish people. Even today we see the tradition of the dead rising up in plays that take place at certain times of the year here in Ireland.  The plays, which have their origins in the ancient past, have come down to us today in the form of Mummers.  They form part of a modern take on the Wild Hunt which can also be seen  portrayed in many fantasy films such as The Lord Of The Rings/The Hobbit where the dead rise up to help in the fight.

My hide unto the Huntsman
So freely I would give,
My body to the hounds,
For I'd rather die than live:
So shoot him, whip him, strip him,
To the Huntsman let him go;
For he's neither fit to ride upon,
Nor in any team to draw.
Poor old horse! You must die!
Traditional song sung by the Mummers.

It is not surprising that stories of the Wild Hunt are prevalent in countries that have a history of being invaded or who frequently invade others.  Therefore, French, German, British, Anglo-Saxon and Germanic peoples all have strong ties to the folklore of the Hunt.  Although the Wild Hunt may be met at any time of the year, especially those times associated with the dead it is most prevalent during the long, dark nights of winter.  In some cultures Yule was a time when the dead were said to walk among the living, it was a time to honour your ancestors and food was left out for them and an extra place would be set at the table. It was believed that in this way a good harvest would result the following year. In Norway peasants would leave a sheaf of corn in the fields to feed the Huntsman’s horses and up until quite recently the young men of Norway enacted the Wild Hunt at Winter Solstice. Their task would be to punish those who violated the rural traditions.  If the riders were given food and drink, however, they usually left quiet happy and you were assured of prosperity.

There have been tales of the Wild Hunt appearing during the twentieth century.  A folklore scholar, WY Evans-Wentz while travelling through Ireland, Scotland, The Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany from 1908-1910 recorded firsthand accounts of peoples experiences with the Faerie folk. He wrote of them in his book The Faerie Faith in Celtic Countries.  He gave a description of a child in Barra Scotland apparently taken by the Hunt, whose lifeless body was found at the back of the house with the palms of his hand in the holes of the wall the next morning.  It was believed that the child’s lifeless body was dropped from a great height once the soul of the child had been taken by the Sluagh.  The fact that the body was returned by the Hunt would suggest that a more human hand was at work.  May be the child was murdered and left there under cover of darkness.  Sometimes the Hunt or the Sluagh were used as a convenient scapegoat.  Many disappearances of minor criminals or the less desirable (vagrants) may have also been attributed to these paranormal forces rather than the more earthly elimination processes that may have benefited the local communities.

                              The Hounds of Hell.
The calkins clinkered to a spark
The hunter called the pack;
The sheep-dogs' fells all bristled stark
                        And all their lips went back.
                        "Lord God," the shepherds said, "They come,
                         And see what hounds he has;
                         All dripping bluish fire and dumb,
                         And nosing to the grass.

                        "And trotting scatheless through the gorse,
                          And bristling in the fell:
  Lord, it is death upon the horse,
                          And they're the hounds of hell!"
                                                  John Masefieldfrom

Horses and dogs attend every version of the Hunt.  They are usually black, white, or gey.  They often have fire issuing from their mouths and nostrils, fiery eyes and may be missing limbs or have extra limbs.  Sometimes they may have no heads, the horses of the death coach are an example of this.  In some instances the missing of a head is a clear sign of Otherworldliness (the Dullhan).  In Irish mythology the black dog is called Cu sidhe or Coinn lotair, the faerie hound, a large fearsome creature.

"When the winter winds blow and the Yule fires are lit, it is best to stay indoors, safely shut away from the dark paths and the wild heaths. Those who wander out by themselves during the Yule-nights may hear a sudden rustling through the tops of the trees - a rustling that might be the wind, though the rest of the wood is still.
"But then the barking of dogs fills the air, and the host of wild souls sweeps down, fire flashing from the eyes of the black hounds and the hooves of the black horses"

Kveldulf Hagen Gundarsson (Mountain Thunder)

So remember if you want to avoid upsetting those of the Wild Hunt then respect the dead, acknowledge the sacrifices of your ancestors, and rejoice in the telling of the tale.