Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The legend of the Snowdrop.

Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, a place where the sun shone every day, where they were warm and happy and had everything they could possibly wish for or want.  Unfortunately for them it was winter when they landed on earth, heavy rain, cold winds and dark grey skies. Eve spent every moment shivering, something she had never experienced before, she never needed to wear clothes, she didn’t even know what clothes were.  It was so cold that she felt as if her blood was beginning to freeze, and then the snow began to fall.  

At first the snow looked so pretty but that soon wore off, the blizzards made her eyes sting, her face hurt, her fingers were going numb and her body began to freeze.  Eve fell into a deep despair, would this cold never end, would she ever feel the warmth of the sun upon her face, would she ever feel warm again? She fell to her knees and began to cry. 

God hadn’t abandoned Adam and Eve completely, he had sent an angel to watch over them Upon seeing Eve kneeling in the snow in a state of deep despair sobbing her eyes out the angel asked her why she was so sad.  Eve told the angel that she despaired of ever feeling warm again, she had given up hope of ever seeing the sun, of ever being happy.  

The angel reached down and picked up a snowflake, gently she breathed on it and let it fall back to the frozen ground.  Every time she did this the snowflake turned into a small flower as white as the snow upon which it fell until Eve was surrounded by a carpet of small pure white flowers. 

“Why have you done this for me?” asked Eve,

The angel replied “To show you that winter will end, the flowers will bloom again and the sun will shine. This gift I give you is the gift of Hope”.

The flowers that the angel made became known as Snowdrop and they give us hope of a new spring, a new beginning, and new life.

So never give up for the sun will shine again tomorrow.

Keep smiling.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love you forever.

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

The baby grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was two years old, and he ran all around the house. He pulled all the books off the shelves. He pulled all the food out of the refrigerator and he took his mother's watch and flushed it down the toilet. Sometimes his mother would say, "This child is driving me MAD!"

At night time, when that two-year-old was quiet, she opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor, looked up over the side of his bed; and if he was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. While she rocked him she sang:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

The little boy grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was nine years old.  He never wanted to come in for dinner, he never wanted to take a bath, and when grandma visited he always said bad words. Sometimes his mother wanted to sell him to the zoo!

But at night time, when he was asleep, the mother quietly opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor and looked up over the side of the bed. If he was really asleep, she picked up that nine-year-old boy and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

The boy grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was a teenager. He had strange friends and he wore strange clothes and he listened to strange music. Sometimes the mother felt like she was in a zoo!

But at night time, when that teenager was asleep, the mother opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor and looked up over the side of the bed. If he was really asleep she picked up that great big boy and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. While she rocked him she sang:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

That teenager grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was a grown-up man. He left home and got a house across town. But sometimes on dark nights the mother got into her car and drove across town. If all the lights in her son's house were out, she opened his bedroom window, crawled across the floor, and looked up over the side of his bed. If that great big man was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

Well, that mother, she got older. She got older and older and older. One day she called up her son and said, "You'd better come see me because I'm very old and sick." So her son came to see her. When he came in the door she tried to sing the song. She sang:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always...

But she couldn't finish because she was too old and sick. The son went to his mother. He picked her up and rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And he sang this song:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my Mother you'll be.

When the son came home that night, he stood for a long time at the top of the stairs. Then he went into the room where his very new baby daughter was sleeping. He picked her up in his arms and very slowly rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while he rocked her he sang:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

From book by Robert Munsch. I recommend his books. http://www.robertmunsch.com

This shows that love can be displayed in many different ways. Here it is the mother's love for a child.

Keep Smiling and Happy Valentine's Day.


Timeless Love.

Once upon a time, long, long ago. When the world was full of wonder.

All the feelings and emotions in the world lived on a small Island: Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge and all the others, including Love.  One day the elders gathered them all together and told them that the Island was going to sink and so they must all build boats and leave.  All obeyed, all that is except for Love. Love wanted to wait until the last possible moment.

When the Island had almost sunk into the sea, Love decided to ask for help.  Richness was passing in a boat so love called out to him,

“Richness, can you take me with you?”

“Sorry Love, I cannot. There is a lot of gold and silver in my boat and there is no place here for you” answered Richness.

Love next asked Vanity who was sailing by in her boat.  However, Vanity was also unwilling to help her
“I cannot help you, Love, You are all wet and might damage my pretty paintwork” said Vanity.

Next to pass by was Sadness. Love called out to Sadness,

“Sadness, take me with you”

“I cannot help you, I am so sad that I just want to be by myself” replied Sadness.
Happiness, loneliness, fear, anger, all passed by each unwilling to help. Each had their own problems.

Suddenly there was a voice,

“Come, Love, I will take you”

It was one of the elders. An overjoyed Love jumped into the boat. She was so happy that she completely forgot to ask where they were going.  Eventually they all arrived at dry land. The elder went on her way leaving Love to decide on where she wished to go.
Love, realising how much she owed to the elder asked Knowledge, one of the other elders,

“Who was that elder who helped me”?

“It was Time” answered Knowledge,

“Time?” thought Love. “Why would Time help me?”

Knowledge saw the look of puzzlement upon Love’s face smiled and said,

“Time helped you because only Time is capable of understanding how valuable Love is”

Ever since then that is the way it has been and now the story is yours.

Keep smiling and Happy Valentine's Day.


Heuston Station.

A Valentine’s story.

Séan O’Loughlin stood in Heuston Station near Eason newsagents. He was watching the throngs of commuters as they hurried to and fro going about their daily business. He was waiting, but waiting for what or who, the answer to that lies back about three months ago.

Séan had decided that something was missing in his life; he’d tried all the normal channels, work, nightclubs, and bars. In fact all the social activities where you might hope to meet someone to share your life with but to no avail.  You see Séan was looking for a soul mate; in short Séan was looking for love. One of his friends had suggested dating sites but Séan had tried that before with varying results. Another friend suggested the internet as there were chat rooms where you could meet people and get to know them before making any sort of commitment. Séan decided to give it a go.

He made contact with a woman called Mary O’Neill, she seemed to be someone he could chat to and they began to build a relationship. He sent her a photograph of himself and asked if she would send him one of hers, she refused.  She said that if he really cared for her then looks didn’t matter, its’s inside that really counts. She even refused to use a video link. As their relationship developed they found they had a lot in common, they thought alike and Séan realised that he was falling in love with her through her words even though they had never met.

After three months of writing to each other they decided to meet. They arranged to meet at 6-00pm near the newsagents in Heuston station on Valentine’s Day.  She wrote “You will be able to recognise me as I will be carrying a red rose, I will have your photograph with me”.  The six o clock train arrived and Séan stood waiting in anticipation, butterflies seemed to be going mad in his stomach. Finally he saw a group of people making their way along the platform.  He saw a young blond haired woman with green eyes walking towards him, she wore a coat of the most amazing blue and his heart missed a beat. He smiled at her and was just about to introduce himself when he noticed that she was not carrying a rose.  However, right behind her was a woman who looked to be in her late forties with a tuft of greying hair peeping out from under a worn hat. She was rather overweight and her plump ankles were squeezed into a pair of well worn shoes.  She had brown eyes that seemed to twinkle with a warm smile and a kindly expression. She had in her hand a red rose.

Séan quickly looked towards the woman in the blue coat; she was headed towards the Galway Hooker. He hesitated wanting to rush after her but knowing that he couldn’t. He thought of all those hours writing to each other, the words that meant so much to him.  He remembered how he waited each evening by his laptop waiting for her to log on and he realised that looks were not important, Mary’s words came back to him “Its what’s inside that really counts”.  He realised that although she may not look as beautiful as the woman in the blue coat her beauty lay in her words, her friendship and companionship were the things that had raised his spirits and touched his soul. His sense of disappointment vanished and he turned towards the woman on the platform,

“Hello” he said, “I’m Séan, I’m so happy to meet you after all this time, may I take you to lunch?”

“Hello” replied the woman, “I really don’t know what’s going on but the lady in the blue coat gave me this rose. She said that if you introduced yourself then I was to tell you she would meet you in the bar over there, you know, the Galway Hooker?”

“Yes” said Séan, “I know it, but what’s going on?”

The woman replied, “She said it was some sort of test”

Séan nodded, now he understood. Smiling he thanked the woman and headed over to the Galway Hooker.  

He had passed the test, would you?

The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive.  (Arsène Houssaye, 28th March 1815 – 26th February 1896)

Adapted from a true story concerning Lieutenant John Blanchard a WWII soldier.

Keep smiling and Happy Valentine's Day.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What is paganism?

Someone asked me “What is Paganism, what does it mean?”

Well now, that’s rather a broad question and it may be open to very different interpretations but here goes.

Paganism is an umbrella term that encompasses many different strands and includes polytheistic belief which is based upon a belief in multiple deities.  These are usually a pantheon of gods and goddesses and have their own spiritual beliefs and rituals. A great number of pagans may construct their various systems of belief and ritual from records and folklore and may be called Neo-Pagan or New-Pagan. Wicca and Druidism may be considered within this group.

There are also indigenous pagans and they base their beliefs upon a system or philosophies that has been practiced and passed from one generation to the next and is native to a place or region. Shintoism in Japan for example.  These practices usually involve beliefs that define a people of a particular area and tradition that makes them a distinct community. These practices and rituals may also be attached to particular sacred places or gods and goddesses and for that reason they may not transfer from one place to another (aboriginal peoples).

Pagans may be trained in particular traditions although this is not true of all pagans. Some may follow their own path or inspiration. Paganism has no written dogma and so you are free to pursue your own vision of what you perceive the creator to be (or not) and experience a very personal journey upon your chosen path. However, paganism is earth based spirituality and is based upon a belief in nature; it believes that all things are sacred to the creator whatever you conceive him or her to be.  All have a spirit or essence be it plant or animal, mountain or stream.

Paganism is in many ways the way of your ancestors, of all humanity.  It is representative of a wide variety of traditions that have a great reverence for nature and although it does not have a written doctrine it is still classed as a religion.  However, it does have some common characteristics with other forms of religious practice as it believes in a divine presence in nature and the natural order of life.  To say that paganism is a religion is open to a great deal of argument, for instance who can really define what religion means?  I know there is a dictionary definition for the word but I’m not a dictionary.

The dictionary definition would have you believe that religion can be defined as a belief in a supernatural power or powers regarded as creating or governing the universe. Buddhism or the Tao to mention just two may find they have an issue with that, and then again who can really define what supernatural really is?  Buddha may have been considered a spiritual leader but how do you define spiritual?  As a druid I cannot be defined by a label, pagan for me has no real meaning if it is used to separate me from me.  As a druid I and others like me (although not all), practice a way of life. I say practice because that is what we do, we practice.  In other words we continue to learn, to grow and to continue that growth until the day we are taken to the Summerland’s to await rebirth.

Pagans should neither define themselves as different nor accept that label being thrust upon them.  Rather than refer to paganism as a religion society should really ask why people’s rights are not protected. I refer to the right of all people to choose their belief and to act upon that choice.  Their choice of symbols should be respected and not denigrated by associating them with the Christian cult of Satanism (Devil worship).  Pagans should be accorded their rights under the laws of the land. They should be entitled to their own rituals such as Hand fastening and given recognition under the marriage laws. Pagans should be allowed spiritual advisors in institutions such as prisons and hospitals and before you say they are it is not the case in all.  I was an inpatient in hospital and never once saw a sign for pagans only for Christians or those of the other recognised churches (Jewish, Muslim).  The same can be said of university/college.  After all isn’t paganism practiced by billions of people the world over and is truly the traditional belief system of all (that which has gone before).

As a druid I would never bless a tank or missile before it is put into action. I would never wear a military uniform adorned with a religious symbol and bless the troops before they go into battle. I would not use my belief as a weapon in order to act as a ‘suicide bomber’ or throw acid in the face of young girls, shoot or stone them.  I am not judging those who may carry out these practices but I sometimes wonder why pagans are considered as people who would 'sacrifice young babies' (tongue in cheek) or 'devil worshipers' while perpetrators of such atrocities are welcomed into the U.N. However, that’s an argument for another day. I do not judge but I will not pretend either.

It is unfortunately part of the human make up to destroy that which is good. Not all humans are guilty of this but there are a great number in their ranks.  It is so easy to abdicate responsibility and blame it all on someone else, “Its gods will”, “by the grace of god”, “god wants you to kill the non-believer”. George Bernard Shaw said it best when he said “Beware of the man whose god is in the skies”; people should not be judged on what they believe but from how they act.

Has that answered the question “What is paganism?” I don’t know, I’m only one person and there are so many different interpretations.  If it does then I thank you, if not, then I thank you and wish you good fortune on your continuing journey.  May your creator bless you, whatever you conceive her or him to be?

Keep smiling.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine’s day traditions.
Another day of celebration introduced into Ireland through Christianity.

The flower called snowdrop first appears in February and is considered a symbol of hope.  According to legend, the snowdrop became the symbol of hope when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.  When Eve was about to give up hope that the cold winters would never end, an angel appeared.  She transformed the snowflakes into flowers, so proving that the winters do eventually give way to spring.
Valentine’s day was traditionally the day when birds picked their mate and for this reason it became known as ‘the birds wedding day’. In some countries it is known as the first day of spring and the day that workers return to the fields.

February along with January first appeared on the Roman calendar when the calendar was extended from ten months to twelve. The word February comes from Februa-which means cleansing or purification, and reflects the rituals carried out at spring.

The tradition of Valentine’s day is thought to have originated from pagan customs in Ancient Rome. Festivals of purification and fertility were celebrated between the 13th and 18th February. These festivals were dedicated to peace, love, and household goods and involved animal sacrifices to mark a young man’s rite of passage. February 14th was known as Lupercalia...a day dedicated to Juno-Lupa, the She-Wolf.  Vestal virgins would make a sacrifice of a goat and smear the blood onto the foreheads of youths of noble birth.
The youths, clad only in a goat skin thong would then lead revellers known as Luperci on a procession through the fields using a strip of goatskin called a Februa to whip the crops to ensure fertility. Women would be gently lashed using the goatskin strip in order to make them fertile, even those known to be barren.  This act was known as Februatio.  Both Februatio and Februa come from the Latin meaning “to purify”, the naming of the month of February is thought to have its origin from the same source.

One of the festivals celebrated at this time was dedicated to Juno Februata, the Roman goddess of women and marriage. During this time the names of willing young women were placed into a box and drawn by the young, unmarried men. The man and women were matched for a year, which began in March and it was not unusual for the pair to remain together after the year had ended.

With the advent of Christianity these pagan practices couldn’t be allowed to continue so the clergy attempted to stop them. It wasn’t going to be that easy so as we have seen with many other pagan celebrations and festivals the church decided if you can’t beat them. Join them.  The church simply created its own holiday around the same date and selected a saint that was remembered for his devotion to love.  

In AD 496 Pope Gelasius banned the pagan festival of Lupercalia but he kept the Juno Februata lottery. He replaced the drawing of unmarried girls names with those of saint’s. He then ordered that both the young men and girls draw a name from the box.  During the year that followed they were expected to emulate the life of the saint whose name they had drawn.

This may have satisfied the church but the young Roman males still needed to meet nice young Roman females so they simply thought up another custom. They began to offer handwritten greetings of affection on February 14th.
Of course this is only one suggestion for the origin of Valentine’s day, there are others.

      During the medieval era of chivalry, the names of English maidens and bachelors were put into boxes and drawn out in pairs. Each couple exchanged gifts and the girl became the man's sweetheart for a year. He wore her name on his sleeve and was bound by duty to attend and protect her (the accepted origin of the phrase, "to wear one's heart on one's sleeve"). This old custom of drawing names was considered a good omen for love and often foretold a wedding. In 1537, King Henry VIII declared, by Royal Charter, that all England would celebrate February 14 as "Saint Valentine's Day" and with the passage of time, February 14 became the traditional date for exchanging love messages and simple gifts (such as flowers or candy), with Saint Valentine becoming the accepted Patron Saint of Lovers.

      Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. He believed that the reason was that roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Claudius had also ordered all Romans to worship the state religion’s idols, and he had made it a crime punishable by death to associate with Christians. However, Valentinus was dedicated to the ideals of Christ, and not even the threat of death could keep him from practicing his beliefs. Valentine and Saint Marius aided the Christian martyrs and secretly married couples, and for this kind deed Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, in either 269 or 270.

Historical archives make mention of at least three different individuals (and perhaps as many as seven) credited with the name of Saint Valentine (or Valentinus).  There may not be any definitive written accounts of which Valentine is the one celebrated by people today, in actuality there may even have been different cults in various places. They may even have celebrated the same person but over the years they have become mixed up with each other as so often happens with stories written down and then re-told.

There is an Irish connection. In 1836, Pope Gregory XVI sent a gift to the Carmelite church in Dublin.  The gift was a relic of a Christian martyr, a small gold casket containing the remains of one Saint Valentine. Every year the casket is carried in solemn procession to the high altar for a special mass dedicated to young people and all those in love.  However, as with all things there is now a dispute between the church in Dublin (Carmelite) and another church in Glasgow (Franciscan), which also claims to have the original remains.  To make matters worse, a similar claim has now been made by the Basillica at Terni, at Terni, in Italy.

To confuse things even more, there has now been speculation in recent times that the name Valentine was originally “Galantine” signifying “Gallant”.  It has been suggested that the Medieval French peasants prounounced the letter ‘G’ as a ‘V’.  Why do the French always get the blame???

All I can say is whether pagan or Christian, we can all celebrate the true meaning of love by giving each other the gift of understanding, togetherness, and laughter.  A box of chocolates and a bottle of wine wouldn’t go amiss though.

Keep smiling,


Saturday, February 9, 2013

This is not Irish folklore but I found it rather interesting so I thought I'd share it with you. Hope you like it.

The Devil’s Footprints.

One of the strangest things ever to happen in England took place on the night of the 8th February 1855.  During the night, heavy snowfall blanketed the countryside and small villages of Southern and Eastern Devon., around the Exe Estuary.  In their houses, people huddled beneath their bedclothes on a night of intense cold.  Slowly the first light of dawn came to reveal a frozen landscape-and the footprints.

To the astonishment of all, when people left their houses they found thousands of mystery footsteps.  These were in the shape of a cloven hoof, but they moved in single file.  More astonishingly was the fact that they covered a distance of over a hundred miles and went through fields, gardens, towns, and even over rooftops, they even entered and exited various drain pipes as small as four inches in diameter.  The footprints measured around four inches long and three inches across and were between eight and sixteen inches apart. They were in single file
At first people were intrigued, but then they became frightened.  The news spread rapidly over the country and many people believed the footprints belonged to the devil. There were reported sightings of a “devil like figure” in the area and search parties were sent out but to no avail.

The London newspapers published the story and experts came to study the footprints, before the snow melted. Nobody could offer an explanation for the mystery, although various theories ranging from an escaped kangaroo to hopping mice and some of these were printed in The Illustrated London News, March 1855. 

Some false rumours concerning the sighting were spread by the clergy hoping to address the concerns of their parishioners regarding the visit from the devil. It has even been suggested that the local clergy started the devil rumour in the first place saying that the devil was roaming the countryside looking for sinners. Great way to fill the church on a Sunday.

Could the tracks have been made by a badger as it places its back feet in the same tracks left by its front. This could account for people mistaking the tracks as those belonging to a biped. Or did the dark lord really walk the Devon night?  I suppose we’ll never know. I’ll leave you to decide.

Keep smiling.


The Pentagram/Pentacle.

Someone asked me “What is the pentagram, what does it mean?” So I will attempt to explain my understanding of it. 

To begin with I would advise you to forget all the Hollywood hype about good and evil associated with the symbol. The pentagram has to be one of the most misunderstood symbols in history, right up there with the swastika.  It has been used as a symbol by many of the world’s religions, Jews, Christian, and Pagan as a symbol of light and love. It actually dates back thousands of years to ancient Mesopotamia and is also found in ancient cultures including China, Egypt, Greece, and the Mayans to name just a few.

Today modern or neo-pagans such as Wiccans use the pentagram to represent some aspects of their belief, as they see it as representing spiritual life and knowledge.  The five points of the pentagram symbolise the four directions of north, east, south, and west, the fifth point represents sanctity of the spirit.  When put together it is a symbol of unity, wholeness, and knowledge.  The five points also represent the five elements, earth, fire, air, water, and spirit.

The symbol is said to have been the symbol of the goddess Kore whose sacred fruit is the apple and when you cut an apple in two you will find the pentagram enclosed within.  It is known as the Star of Knowledge. Kore was worshipped by the Coptic or Gnostic Christians, her festival was held yearly on January 6th and was adopted by the Christian church and renamed the Feast of Epiphany (Twelve Night).

It was also one of the Seven Seals mentioned in the Old Testament, an amulet that was said to represent the seven secret names of the Christian god. It was inscribed on King Solomon’s ring and it has been suggested that it also represented the five books of Pentateuch (The Torah).

In Ireland some suggest that the Celts believed that the pentagram was the symbol of the Morrigan, It was said that the five points represented the five great roads, the five provinces, and the five paths of law. I take this with a rather generous pinch of salt.

It was during the three hundred years of witch burning when the Christian church burned alive or hung thousands of innocent people accused of witchcraft, heresy, or devil worship that the pentagram took on a darker meaning.  It was then regarded as the sign of the goats head or the devil in the guise of Baphomet. A symbol of Light and Love was twisted by a group of bigoted evil men into a symbol of darkness and hate and they called it the Witches Foot.

The pentagram is used today within pagan or occult circles as a symbol of protection and power but it is not only pagan groups who use it.  Heavy metal rock groups use it, albeit for their own reasons (promotion); however that only shows how things evolve.  The five pointed star or endless knot as it is sometimes referred to, is also used as a symbol of power, authority, and bravery in many other areas.  Police badges in many countries use the pentagram, military vehicles, flags of various countries, and medals presented for acts of bravery, courage, and honour.
It is used by many companies on their logos, advertising, and graphic design. The pentagram is universal, not exclusive to any one group, nation, or religion. It simply represents what the wearer or user wants it to represent. Not good, not evil.  As for the inverted pentagram representing witchcraft and by association Satanism, well forgive me while I yawn......As I said right at the beginning of this post forget all the rubbish you have heard, read, or seen emanating from Hollywood and other rather dubious sources.  

Satanism has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with witchcraft, Wicca, or paganism.  Satanism is a branch of Christianity no matter how much some would like to deny it, and the inverted pentagram?, you will find it upon many Christian churches, why not have a look; you may be surprised at what you find.

I hope that I have made things a little clearer for those of you who may be interested.  If I have made any errors then I apologise and as I’ve said before “I always appreciate feedback”.

We have come a long way since the Spanish inquisition of 1480 and the European witch burnings and hangings of c1450-1750. May the wheel keep turning.

Keep smiling.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Crossroads in Irish folklore.

Crossroads have played a very important role in the folklore of many cultures. They were often used as burial places for unbaptised children, murderers, executed criminals, and suicides.  It was believed that the crossroads would confound or confuse restless spirits and stop them from returning to haunt the living. It was because this ground was unconsecrated and was seen as separate from the everyday world. Such outcasts were not intended for the forgiveness of heaven and so they were buried in a place that would condemn their spirits to wander for eternity. It was suggested that this was because the crossroads form a Christian cross but this does not hold true as the belief in the power of crossroads predates Christianity and you will find similar superstitions regarding crossroads in many cultures which are not Christian.

May be it was for this reason that crossroads have become associated with ghostly legends, magic, and paranormal activities.  They have long been of interest to those who gather information on the paranormal as events of this nature are said to occur on ancient highways and byways especially where they cross.  Whether or not these events are real or imagined does not matter as there are stories in every culture concerning devils, demons and deals done with the devil so I would suggest that there may just be a grain of truth in their origins.  There was once a tradition of putting wooden crosses on bushes by the roadside where the roads met at a crossroads and if a funeral procession passed by then the pall bearers would place the coffin down for a few minutes.  Crowing hens, regarded as unlucky, were abandoned at the crossroads. If you had warts these could be cured by rubbing them with a stone and leaving it at the crossroads, if someone picked up the stone then they took over your warts.  There are stories concerning deals done with the devil, in modern times Robert Johnson the famous blues musician claimed to have met the devil at the crossroads and signed over his soul to play the blues and gain mastery over the guitar. He died at the age of 27 and became one of those poor unfortunates that have become known as members of the 27 club. I have written a post about the 27 club if you wish to know more.

In Ireland the sweeping of crossroads was carried out, this was a practice associated with witches who would meet at crossroads to carry out certain rituals.  Traditionally the crossroads was looked upon as a no-man’s land belonging to no one. A place that was thought of as being neither here nor there, a place beyond the real world where normal rules did not apply.  It was here that people could make contact with the spirit world and shrines, crosses and standing stones are a common feature of crossroads throughout Europe.  At Samhain spirits were thought to gather and walk in procession to visit the homes of their relatives and that if you were to stand at the crossroads at midnight you would see them passing.  Some legends even suggest that if you were to listen carefully you would hear the names of those about to die on the wind as it blew across the feet of the corpses on the way to the house of the one whose name was heard.

Gibbets were often placed at crossroads. A gibbet is an instrument of public execution; it is in this instance, a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display in order to deter others from following their way of life.  At one time live gibbeting took place; the condemned were placed in a cage like structure that hung from the arm of the gibbet. They were left to die of thirst.  This type of execution seemed to be reserved for those convicted of treason, murder, highwaymen, pirates and sheep stealers.  It may be of interest to know that Oliver Cromwell was gibbeted after his death, when monarchists disinterred his body during the restoration of the British monarchy.  The practice of burying suicides and criminals at crossroads was repealed by an Act of Parliament in 1823.  It has been suggested that this was at the request of George IV who had been delayed by a crowd gathered for a burial at the crossroads of Hobart Place and Grosvenor Place. The spectators were watching the burial of a suicide called Abel Griffiths, by this time suicide was regarded with greater sympathy and although frowned upon by the church the populace now didn’t consider it to be self-murder. However, following abolition suicides could only be buried in graveyards between 9-00pm and midnight and no ceremonies were allowed.

There is a sad story concerning a crossroads on the Icknield Way near the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk border in England I mention this only because Ireland was under British rule and so their laws were imposed upon us and this story is now part of the folklore of crossroads.  There is a neatly tended patch of ground where flowers are planted and looked after.  It is known locally as The Boy’s Grave.  Folklore tells us that a young shepherd boy believed he had lost one of his master’s sheep, afraid of being accused of its theft and hanged or transported and the shame that may bring to his family he hanged himself. When the sheep were counted it was found that none were missing. Having taken his own life he was buried at the crossroads, people tend to his grave to this day.  His name is not known nor is his death mentioned in local records.  However, through archaeology and historical research the burial of criminals and suicides at rural crossroads illustrates the practice and there is now a great deal of evidence to support the theory.
A more pleasant feature of Irish country life was the custom of holding dances at the crossroads. People dance on specially erected timber platforms and enjoy the open air, scenery, meeting friends and making new ones and enjoying the music provided. It was during the 16th and 17th centuries that crossroads dancing became popular. However, the clergy condemned it so the Gaelic League introduced the first Ceilli in 1697 and this let dancers dance indoors under supervision.  Interestingly the Ceilli was not held in Ireland but in London.  Traditional Irish culture continued in secret until the 1700s. It was a time in Irish history when dancing was prohibited by the English so the Irish would meet on country roads, particularly where they crossed.  They would bring food, drink, and musical instruments and keeping an eye out for approaching soldiers they danced their country dances. It was around 1750 that attitudes began to become less strict and this allowed Irish dance to flourish.  There used to be a tradition where dance was taught by the Dance Master, a Dance Master would travel around the country staying in villages in order to
teach dance steps. To have a Dance Master staying in your village was a cause of immense pride and boasting by the community
However, we cannot blame the British for the Public Dance Hall Act of 1935.  This little piece of legislation enacted by the Irish Dáil had a severe and detrimental effect on the traditional music, dance, and storytelling of rural Ireland.  Before this legislation Irish culture was an important part of rural Ireland and centred on house dancing and dancing at the crossroads.  It was here that our art flourished, but along came the pressure to regulate.  This came from a number of different sources, most notable among them was the Catholic Church. They had been campaigning for years claiming that house dancing led to sin and corruption, here now was a chance for the government to bring in legislation and tax the profits of regulated dance halls.  It now meant that all dance halls had to be licensed for public dances, however, house dances could not be regulated and so they were exempt. The view of the Gardaí and the clergy was that such dances should be illegal this led to a great number of local people being prosecuted and the dancing in houses and at crossroads began to die out, and with them went our traditional way of life.  Even farmers stopped holding harvest dances as a way of thanking their farmhands for all their hard work gathering in the crops.

The house dances and crossroads dances were not the target of the legislation.  Nevertheless, the clergy and Gardaí continued to apply the act as if it did outlaw these activities, and although they were not the only factors in the demise of the country dances, they were at any rate the only agents of change who consciously and deliberately set out to do away with our traditions.  The Act was not to blame, but its agents, encouraged and assisted by the clergy, certainly were.

It is good to see that today the house dances and dancing at the crossroads are being revived. We no longer look for approaching soldiers, only motor cars. 

Incidentally the phrase “Comely maidens dancing at the crossroads” was never in fact uttered by DeVelera as some would have you believe.  

Here I will leave you at the crossroads and if you wish to learn more about the history of the crossroads there are many good sources to consult.

I went down to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, “Have mercy now,
Save poor Bob, if you please”.
Crossroad Blues by Robert Johnson (1911-1938)

Friday, February 1, 2013

An Old Lady’s Poem.

When an old lady died in the geriatric ward of a small hospital near Dundee, Scotland, it was felt that she had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through her meagre possessions, its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital. One nurse took her copy to Ireland.


What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise, 
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply

Who seems not to notice the things that you do, 
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe....
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will, 
with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill..

Then open your eyes, nurse; you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still, 
as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten...with a father! And mother, 
Brothers and sisters, who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet, 
dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty--my heart gives a leap, 
remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, I have young of my own, 
who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast, 
bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone, 
but my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more, babies play around my knee, 
again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead; 
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own 
and I think of the years and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman....and nature is cruel; 
its joke to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart, 
and there is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells, 
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain, 
and I'm loving and living life over again.

I think of the years....all too few, gone too fast, 
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see
...Not a crabby old woman; look closer...see ME!!