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)