Saturday, October 31, 2020

Samhain from The Way of the Seabhean


In the ancient Irish calendar, the year begins at Samhain. It is the time when the veil is thinnest between us and the ancestors, which is why the Christian Church used it as the day of the dead, All Souls’ Day.

Traditionally, the year ended on 30th October and the new year began on the 1st November. The 31st October was a day of no year. It belonged to the ancestors. Samhain was the most important time of the year in Ireland, because people believed that our ancestors walk with us. Many of our ancestors died in the Great Famine and were never buried, so when we walk on the earth, we walk on their bones.

In the old tradition, when a person dies, a bee often comes and carries their souls to Tír na nÓg, the land of the forever young. Their spirit becomes part of the energy of the earth herself. So the air that we breathe, the colour of the flowers and the songs of the birds, all carry the energy of our ancestors. They are around us all the time.

On Samhain (Hallowe’en) people took out items (pieces of cloth, clay pipes, combs or jewellery) that had belonged to their ancestors. These mementoes helped them to connect and commune with them. They called on their ancestors for help.

People battened down doors and windows, getting ready for winter. They brought the cattle indoors, to survive the winter and to keep the people warm in the bothán (cottage). Farm work slowed down, so they had time to visit each other and share stories of those who had passed on. In sharing the stories of the year – who had died, married or been born – and the stories of their people, they allowed themselves to release what they were holding.

Samhain carried people into the winter months when days were short and nights were long. It was a time for integrating all that had gone on in the working months, for contemplation and for finding inner balance.

Colcannon was the food of Samhain – potato, cabbage and onion mashed together with cream and butter. Barm-brack is a traditional fruit cake containing raisins, soaked overnight in tea. The tradition was to add a farthing coin, a piece of cloth and a ring into the cake. Children waited anxiously to see if they would receive the farthing which meant they would be rich when they grew up, the piece of cloth which meant that they would be poor, or the ring which meant that they would marry. They often ate the cloth rather than admit that they had got it!

The deity who presides over Samhain is Tlachtga, a Munster goddess and daughter of Mog Ruith (Mog of the Wheel), the greatest magician this land has ever known. It is said that people were afraid to say his name aloud for fear of invoking him. They lived on Valentia Island, in County Kerry.

Tlachtga holds the presence of Samhain and is the keeper of the gate between the worlds. She teaches us the importance of releasing, of embracing death, before we can move on. Death does not often mean physical death, it means releasing.

On the Wheel of the year, when we stand in the place of Tlachtga, we are invited to explore our way of being with her. Once we develop a relationship with Tlachtga, we no longer need to be afraid of death. We are being called to go deep within ourselves, to move into her space and when we allow ourselves to go into that place, she comes to our aid.

We do not have to sit in the place of death, because death is always with us. Death shows itself to us in every line of our faces and every fold of our bodies. Awareness of our mortality is not a burden that we carry, rather, it is what makes us value life and live it to the full.

Standing in the place of Tlachtga, we recognise that there are things that we carry, right now, that are heavy for us. It could be the death of a relationship, the end of a job, or some process we are going through within ourselves. We have to let go of those burdens first before we can move on. It is only by releasing that we attract the new.

The Way of the Seabhean, An Irish Shamanic Path by Amantha Murphy (Irish shaman, healer and seer) with Orla O'Connell (scribe) will be published for Brigid's Day, February 1st 2021 by Womancraft Publishing.

The Way of the Seabhean is now available for Pre-order from Womancraft here!

Read Orla O'Connell's Samhain piece on the Trasna Blog 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Autumn Equinox from The Way of the Seabhean

The autumn equinox, September 21st, is the second day in the year when day and night are in equal balance. This day reminds us that, in the Wheel of the year, our days of sun will get shorter and shorter. The leaves are turning gold, red and brown and beginning to drop down on to the earth. It is a time when we become aware of turning slowly inwards, moving into a place of rest and reflection.

Macha is the goddess/archetype who holds the autumn equinox. She is an ancient horse goddess and shapeshifter. In our stories of Ireland every mythic people who came to Ireland had a Macha with them. So we know that Macha was a title, rather than an individual person.

There are two stories of Macha, one in which she died because silence was not kept, another in which she fought for what was hers and won! These two stories represent different parts of ourselves.

The autumn equinox, the place of Macha, is the point on the wheel where we have the indwelling cave, the place of our becoming or undoing. From early childhood, each one of us creates a cave within us. Our cave holds those aspects of ourselves that we do not like, or of which we are ashamed. It can hold experiences that were too difficult for us to cope with, maybe because of our age, or because of the circumstances at that time of our lives. We are taught, verbally and non-verbally, that some parts of our nature are not acceptable to our family or to society, so we hide those aspects of ourselves.

If we do not go into that cave and acknowledge or incorporate those parts of ourselves, they will always take from us. Life will never feed us because we are using so much creative energy to guard that cave, rather than drawing and attracting what we need in life.

Standing in the place of Macha, we are called to look at what we hold. We are asked to look at the programmes that were given to us when we were growing up and to revisit those aspects of ourselves that felt shameful or fearful to us. Can we go in there and recognise all that is? If we bring that into the light, there is nothing there to pull from us, to make us fearful or to take energy from us.

Macha is there to help us to go into our cave, to open to our power, to fight for our selves and to fight for what is right. Macha teaches us that we can do that by standing in our power.

Excerpts from The Way of the Seabhean, An Irish Shamanic Path, by Amantha Murphy (Irish shaman, healer and seer) with Orla O'Connell (scribe). The Way of the Seabhean will be published by Womancraft Publishing for Brigid's Day (February 1st) 2021.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Summer Solstice from The Way of the Seabhean

Foxgloves and Dandelions 

In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice, 21st of June, is the longest day of light in the year. Áine is the goddess of the summer solstice. She is also the fairy queen. It is a time when we celebrate the regenerative, life-giving sun.

People called on Áine to bring the life force to their fields, to themselves and to their stock. In between the flowering at Bealtaine and the harvest at Lughnasa, the fruit grows through the summer. Áine’s fire impregnates the germ of life into the fruit that will become our harvest. She brings fire and inspiration and awakens the life force within us too.

At this time, the oak becomes the king of the forest, taking over from the holly of winter. Throughout Ireland, great bonfires were lit on the eve of the summer solstice and blessings were sent to the crops. People gathered to sing, eat, drink and make merry. Often, as the fire began to die down, they jumped over it for good luck. Old crops and destructive weeds were burnt to signify, to the Sun Goddess and Sun God, a way of clearing these from the fields, making way for new growth. Wheels made of dry wood were set on fire to roll down the hill, symbolising the sun which, after this night, would begin its slow descent into darkness again.

At the summer solstice, the veil is thinnest between our world and the fairy realms. We can get in touch with the fairy folk or nature spirits, more than at any other time. There is magic in the air.

There was a time when parents would not allow their young children to go outside on the summer solstice. They kept them in the house with the door locked because they were frightened that the fairy folk would take them and leave a fairy changeling in their place. If their child became wilful, they would think they had a changeling. What happened to that lovely, docile child? The fairies must have taken him or her. So, they hid their children at the solstice. In some areas they used dandelions or foxgloves to keep the fairies away. The summer solstice is also the place of Aengus, the Tuath Dé god of love.

On the pre-Celtic wheel, the place of Áine is a time of activity and energy. We can build our energy, work with it and allow ourselves to move into that place of betwixt and between. It tells us not to be too intense and caught up in logic. There is more to life than we can see.

When we stand in the place of Áine, we awaken to that life force and recognise that magic is all around us. We open ourselves to that magical energy, recognising that we are part of that magic and we need it in our lives. The world also needs magic.

Excerpts from The Way of the Seabhean by Amantha Murphy, shaman, healer and seer, scribed by Órfhlaith Ní Chonaill. The Way of the Seabhean will be published by Womancraft Publishing for Brigid's Day (February 1st) 2021.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Bealtaine (May Day) from The Way of the Seabhean

Bealtaine , 1st May, is the first day of summer. The goddess who presides over Bealtaine is Medb, a great earth goddess, the keeper of the land. For millennia, in Ireland, there was the tradition of the Beanfeis (the sacred marriage). A chieftain was chosen for his wisdom, kindness and fairness to the people. He lay with the priestess of Medb on Bealtaine Eve and from their union came the fertility of the land and of the people. The priestess personified the Goddess Medb. She was the land. The chieftain was making love to, and giving his sperm to, the land. Then he was head chieftain for that year. This rite of passage went on until about 300-400 AD, when Christianity came to Ireland.

Bealtaine takes us out of the darkness, celebrating the light and the communion of the people with the land. Traditionally, at the time of Bealtaine, great fires were held. The main Bealtaine fire was at the centre of Ireland, at Uisneach, which holds the essence of feminine energy, the triple energy of the maiden, mother and crone.

Bealtaine was the time of coming together for merrymaking, lovemaking and great festivities. The tribes came from the four directions and climbed the steep hill, where the celebrations began after sunset on Bealtaine eve. Couples came together at Bealtaine and the children conceived at that time were born at Imbolc and were considered sacred.

At Uisneach there is a stone called the Cat Stone with a hole underneath it. When deals were done at Bealtaine, they placed a long, tubular, musical instrument under the Cat Stone. They created sound under the stone, until the hill resounded with the energy. That deal had to be honoured and kept on pain of death, because the earth herself had heard and accepted it.

As the Bealtaine fires died down, people ran their cattle through them to cleanse them of any impurities, so they would be healthy and fertile for the summer months. Tribespeople and couples jumped over the fires. People also put clouties (pieces of material) on a hawthorn bush for good luck.

Medb is powerful, passionate and wild. In today’s world, the name Medb means wanton and hussy, because it is said that the later Medb, warrior queen of Connacht, could have thirty-two men in a night and still be found wanting.

Standing in the place of Medb, it is a time to explore and awaken our passion, whether that is sexual passion, or passion for anything else that we love to do. We have a right to pleasure. When we allow our passion to flow, we are truly alive.

Bealtaine is also the place of the sacred marriage, the union of one to another (as in the chieftain and the land) and also the union within ourselves. It is where we can balance our feminine and our masculine. We can open both sides of our nature and, by honouring each, we can come to the place of sacred marriage within ourselves. 

Excerpts from The Way of the Seabhean by Amantha Murphy, shaman, healer and seer and Órfhlaith Ní Chonaill, scribe. This book will be published by Womancraft Publishing for Brigid's Day 2021.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

RIP Phil Coffaro “The Token Yank of Strandhill”

It was with great sadness that I discovered the obituary of Phil Coffaro. Phil lived among us in Strandhill for a number of years and always referred to himself as “The token Yank of Strandhill”. A kind, gentle and humorous man, he lived in an apartment above Shells Café and was well known and liked around the village and in the Venue. An ardent sports fan, his first love was baseball, which he played in his youth; he also followed rugby and soccer, especially his favourite team – Chelsea. His other great passion was writing and he was part of my Creative Writing workshop in Dolly’s Cottage.

He was a small, round-faced man with a moustache and a baseball cap and I always remember him with a bundle of writing under his arm. You’d see him out and about the village, sometimes hobbling along, when the sea air played havoc with his arthritis. He left us for Meza Arizona, where the climate agreed with him better. But he loved Strandhill and came back and visited - members of the writers’ group met him for a pizza in Bella Vista one time. He talked of another visit.

We corresponded annually at Christmas and he was always mad for news of the village and the other writers.  When I didn’t receive a letter from him last year, I thought nothing of it but, a couple of weeks ago, the Christmas letter I sent him was returned unopened. I checked on Twitter and his account was closed. Then I found his obituary. Phil died unexpectedly in Arizona on July 31st 2018 aged 63. He was a great guy. The world is poorer for his loss.

For those of us who knew him, here is a recording of Phil reading his wonderful short story A Native American in London. This was recorded in Dolly’s Cottage for the Dolly Mixtures (Voices from Dolly’s Cottage) anthology in 2005.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Imbolc from The Way of the Seabhean

Brigid painting by Helen O'Sullivan

Imbolc is the first day of spring and the patroness is Brigid, a triple goddess who had three roles in one. She was a keeper of the flame. Fire, for Brigid, was the heart fire as well as the hearth. She was also the midwife and healer.

Brigid’s third role was patroness of the arts. Originally the arts were the ability to scry and to see (in the sense of being a seer). It was the cultivation of the third or inner eye, to see beyond and within. Later, the definition of the arts changed and the visionary and journeying elements were lost.

In the 5th Century AD, the first woman in Ireland to be professed as a nun in the Christian tradition was given the name Brigid. This was done to attract people into the new religion and to draw people’s awareness and attention away from the earlier, pagan tradition. Brigid really was a bridge between the ancient and the new, between the Goddess Brigid and herself, the Christian saint. She encompassed both.

St. Mel, the bishop who presided over her profession as a nun, also read over her the form for ordaining a bishop. This may not have been a mistake, because when he realised what had happened, he said: “What God has done no man can undo”. People’s homage to Brigid was so strong that, up until the 1920’s, women often prayed to Brigid rather than Mary. She was called Mary of the Gaels.

Many of our Imbolc traditions had to do with Brigid as keeper of the fire, the hearth, the home. Fire kept the tribe together. Even up until the 1960s, when a house was built, the oldest woman of the family, (either the man’s or the woman’s), took hot turf from her fire, put it in her apron and carried it into the couple’s new hearth where they built their fire around it. Then they kept that fire going; the fire continued down through the family.

When I was young, I remember the ritual when the old women cleaned out the fire. Then they called on Brigid to keep the fire burning. When women spring cleaned their houses, they often walked around the house three times calling on Brigid to bless and protect the house. Brigid was also called upon in her role of midwife and healer. If a child was being born or someone was dying, they summoned her.

Imbolc was a time when people began to venture out of their homes and brave the weather after the winter. The cattle were brought out for short times of the day. It was a time when the waters and the wells were blessed. It is still a traditional belief that, if the weather is fine on Brigid’s day, we will have a good summer.

Brigid’s crosses are hung over the doorway so that, when people come in, they are blessed by Brigid. If the intention they carry is not of light, it is released.

In Beaufort, in Kerry, the Biddies make beautiful, straw hats for Brigid’s Eve. They knock on doors, dance and sing and people bring them in and give them drink and food to carry forth. Opening the door at Imbolc is a ritual, allowing Brigid to enter. The maiden brings laughter, light and delight.

Brigid holds this space, the place of birth and beginnings. This is the time when the seed is put into the ground and begins to grow. Standing in this place tells us that we have been through a time of darkness and through the void. Empowered by that experience, we have come to the place of beginning again.

This is the place of new things coming into our lives. We need to be open to that. Brigid midwifes things into being. She is the one we call on when we want to give birth to physical children or creations of the mind.

When we stand in the place of Brigid, we are called to allow ourselves to move and change and to wear many hats. How do we wear those hats? How do we dance our dance?

Excerpts from The Way of The Seabhean, the forthcoming book from Amantha Murphy (Seabhean, healer and seer) and Órfhlaith Ni Chonaill (Scribe)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Winter Solstice from The Way of the Seabhean

The Winter Solstice (grianstad an gheimhridh – literal translation winter sun-stop) is the day of mid-winter. It is the longest night and shortest day of the year. After this night and day, we begin to move forward towards Imbolc. It is a time for our deepest communion within ourselves.

The winter solstice is one of eight festivals on the ancient (Pre-Celtic) Wheel of the Year. It is the place of the Cailleach, the old woman, hag or crone. 

Traditionally, people could not travel far around this time and so, they learnt patience as they lived in close quarters with their families. Communities congregated, to feel the safety of being together and they called upon the sun to return.

Many people kept their cattle in the cottage or rath with them and the warmth of the animals kept the people warm. Evergreens were bought in to decorate the house: holly, ivy and the mystical mistletoe. Some believed that evergreens were a place for nature spirits to rest. People prepared a feast, knowing how much would still be needed for the coming months. Food was shared with others so that those in need were taken care of. At this time, poitin, the illegal whiskey, was often ready for its first tasting. A log was decorated in honour of the Cailleach and burned, making way now for Brigit. A candle was lit and put by the window so passers-by would know they were welcome at this time. The candle also signified the returning of the light.

In Irish mythology, the souls passed over in Samhain and moved on to Tír na nÓg, the land of the forever young, to await rebirth. Their spirits became part of this earth and kept Ireland green and fertile. On the Wheel, the winter solstice is the place where the souls reside, waiting for rebirth at Imbolc. This is the place of the void, the place of the uncreated, a place of energy waiting to take form.

Often, we are frightened of being in the void, but the void is actually the place of women. We think somewhere is empty because we do not see what is there. Space is filled with energy. When we allow ourselves to sit in the void, we really embrace our power as women. We embrace all the creative magic and energy that we hold within us. Things need to be a bit foggy at first. By allowing ourselves to be in the fog and giving gratitude for the lack of clarity, the fog brings us more than we had anticipated or expected. We can put power, energy and magic into it, so that, when it clears, it will be magic.

(Excerpts from The Way of the Seabhean, a book by Amantha Murphy & Órfhlaith Ni Chonaill)