Monday, December 15, 2014

Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Winter Solstice) and Hogmanay

Fàs is gnàths is toradh
growth, tradition, success 
Image copyright ©2014 Kathryn Price NicDhàna
On Hogmanay morn, we gather water from under the bridge, which became
"a dead and living ford" the first time we brought a deer carcass across,
and which has now witnessed the passage of several of our beloved dead. 
photo copyright ©2014 kpn

The winter snows have come, the nights are long and cold. We gather with our loved ones and hold each other close.

Yes, we've made more Gaol Naofa videos :)  Annie took point on these, and we have her lovely photos from Newgrange and other sacred sites in Ireland and Scotland. For those of Scottish heritage who may not have known why secular/calendar New Year's Eve is a big deal in our families of origin, we have the answer: Hogmanay.

Hogmanay is a time for saining the house and welcoming in the New Year. While the dour Celtic mindset supports the idea of beginning the year at the falling darkness of Samhain, there is something about the Winter Solstice sunrise that lights a spark in my heart: The longest night of the year is broken by the rising sun, shining down the long passage at Brú na Bóinne, bringing light to the ancestors and announcing that now the days will grow longer, bit by bit, until warmth and green return to the land.

As a people who see time as a circle, and spirit as eternal while only matter rises and falls, dies and is born again, I'm not particularly interested in the debates about which day is "The Celtic New Year." Arguments can be made for pretty much any point in the cycle, depending on one's work, where one lives, and which deities and spirits are most important to us. 

The phrase  "Fàs is gnàths is toradh (Growth, custom, and fertility)" is traditionally said by the head of the household as they bring a twig from a local fruit-bearing tree inside to the breakfast feast. It is customary to sain one another and entire house at this time, with water from "a dead and living ford" (a watercourse over which both the living and dead pass), and to fill the house with so much juniper smoke that everyone begins to cough. This means that all your smoke alarms will also be going off. I consider it part of the festivities. But any of the alarms that are hooked into a security system will need to be turned off. Trust me, your local firefighters will appreciate being spared the false alarm. If you forget and they show up anyway, you can consider it a bizarre variation on first-footing. Make sure to offer them abundant hospitality.

As everyone is coughing and the alarms are blaring, it is time to fling open the doors and windows and welcome in the brisk, cold air of New Year's morning. We do a brief welcome and prayer in Gaelic at each door and window we fling open, welcoming the household's guardian spirits and the qualities we hope for in the coming year. It is customary at this time for the hearthkeeper of the household to offer everyone a nip of whisky. As a sober household, we use strong, alder-roasted or hazelnut coffee and espresso chocolate.

Then everyone sits down to a big breakfast, which symbolizes the abundance we hope for in the coming year.

Good Hogmanay to our Gaol Naofa family and extended community!
Fàs is gnàths is toradh!

For an abundance of lore and more suggestions for celebrations, see Annie's collection of links to her articles and research. 


Tuesday, September 30, 2014


And we have... another video. This time on Samhain, with songs, poems, prayers and activities:

Annie did a good writeup about the videos, so I'll just send you her way. We also have some updates on the Gaol Naofa page.

 Blessed Samhain to you all!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

And... MORE videos

Annie and I have been busy. Thanks also to our Gaol Naofa community, who have shared their photos and music, posed for photos, made coffee, driven us to wifi spots while we stared at our laptops, given vital feedback and spotted typos. We're having fun doing these, and have more to come.

This batch includes Lúnasa /Taillte, The Prophecy of the Morrígan, and La Fheill Micheil. For more about the videos, see our blurb on the website, discussion in our various online communities, and our channel itself (notably the Festivals playlist).


Lúnasa  / Taillte

The Prophecy of the Morrígan

Là Fhèill Mìcheil (with customs for Autumn, Lugh, Manannán and Macha)

ETA: Annie goes into more background on the conditions of peace at Lúnasa, and the importance of this tradition in her post.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tillie Black Bear - honour and gratitude

Tillie Black Bear, healer and warrior woman, advocate for survivors of rape and domestic violence, without whom many of us would not be alive, has crossed over. She made a profound difference in my life, and in the life of so many survivors. I've posted about her before, and many of the "stopping the violence" resources I list in the sidebar would not exist without her. What I haven't spoken about as much publicly is the direct, personal impact she had on my life. She is one of the women who saved my life. Without her work, I would probably not be here.

Her compassion, her courageous stand for women and tradition in the face of patriarchal violence, her refusal to let anyone forget that violence against women is not traditional in tribal communities, and is never, ever acceptable, changed the lives of all she touched. And she touched so many.

Love and gratitude to you, Tillie. Peace and comfort to your loved ones. Know that you touched, healed, and saved so many lives. May others pick up the many burdens you shouldered and continue on in your name. Safe and sacred passage to you. I love you, will miss you, and honour you as an ancestor, because without you I would not be. Slàinte Mhath.

Photo of Tillie Black Bear, Sicangu Lakota, 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Gaelic Polytheist Videos - Lá Fhéile Bríde, Là na Caillich, Bealtaine, Áine agus Grian, & Manannán

We've been busy at Gaol Naofa! Along with all the usual activities of summer, we've made some more videos. Here are five more in the series, focusing on the seasonal and local festivals.

We had fun making these, and hope they can provide a brief intro to the subject for those less inclined to read a 90 page article or scholarly book. Additionally, we've dedicated our efforts to capturing the essence of each topic in visuals and music in a way bare words cannot. After all, the lore says we must drink from all five streams of knowledge, and engage all the senses in absorbing the sacred.

Images are mostly of the sacred sites and activities associated with each of the deities, spirits and festivals. Music is either an old, traditional song on the topic, or a contemporary version of traditional lyrics and tunes. Traditional prayers are included. Some of these images are old, archival photos, others were taken very recently by our members in the Celtic Nations and diaspora (in some cases photographed expressly for this series). Much gratitude to all our friends and relatives who went trekking with their cameras in tow!

Feel free to share!

Lá Fhéile Bríde — The Festival Day of Bríd
As the sun sets on the last day of January, the goddess Brigid walks the land, bringing the first stirrings of spring. Even if the ground is still covered in snow, the earth begins to stir from her long winter sleep.

Là na Caillich — The Day of the Hag
Spring is starting to happen around us, and the Clumsy Old Woman who Shapes the World is stirring up the last of the winter storms, and considering lying down for a bit of a nap. Sometimes when she does this, she accidentally creates a river or loch. Other times she drops stones she's carrying and, Ooops, another mountain range appears. She's had a lot on her mind, and wants to take a break. 

In the Celtic lands, the summer is here. When the hawthorn blooms, it's warm enough to move the flocks and the herds, and hold bonfires welcoming the light half of the year. Readers of this blog will recognize the song here. 

Midsummer — Áine agus Grian
The Celts do not have a "sun deity" in the way Classical mythology would frame it. Instead, our deities and spirits are multifaceted, with full personalities, like the people they watch over, like the ancestors some of them once were. (And still are, for many of us.) In the Gaelic areas, as in most Celtic cultures, the fire festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lúnasa are the major festivals. Activities and beliefs connected with the solstices and equinox tend to be based either on older, pre-Celtic remnants that survived in some form as local festivals, or on imports that came with the Norse and were syncretised with local beliefs and customs. Not all communities acknowledge these solar phenomena, at all, but those that do tend to associate them with beloved local spirits, often those of sovereignty.

Manannán — Paying the Rents at Midsummer

Mac Lir, son of the sea, patron of the Isle of Man, guiding spirit of Gaelic Polytheism. Well, one of them. But Manannán has shown an especial interest in the development of Celtic Reconstructionism, and I am happy to have this lovely video about him and his work, an homage and thank you for the guidance he's provided us over the decades.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summertime... and the Frauds are Frontin'

Midsummer is a sacred time in many cultures. The sun is at her strongest, the weather is lovely and folks are outside.

Yes, I said, "her." In the Gaelic languages, the sun is female.

Irish Goddesses associated with the sun are Áine and Grian. Áine's time is midsummer, her symbols include the bright red summer sun and the red mare. Her sister, Grian (whose name is also simply the name for the sun) looks to be associated with the pale, white sun of winter, and in my personal experience she has an association with a pale, light gold mare. In Ireland, the two sisters have sacred hills near one another, where people have torchlit processions and make offerings to honour them.

Here on Turtle Island (the North American continent), many Nations also hold this as a time for ceremony, and it is a favored time for interfaith gatherings, worldwide. Interfaith gatherings can vary widely. Those run by traditional people are best, in my opinion, but it is also important to make sure people are involved who understand the protocols of the various groups participating. It's unfortunately common for people from unfamiliar cultures to take advantage of those running interfaith gatherings, by misrepresenting themselves to folks they hope won't know too much about the cultures they claim to represent.

To this end, the crew at Gaol Naofa, with help from the CAORANN stalwarts, have put together some memes and leaflets to help navigate these issues. We have several formats of three basic documents, depending on what sort of social media you prefer, or if you want to print them out.

Introductory Leaflet about Gaol Naofa and Gaelic Polytheism

A Brief Guide to Spotting Offensive Celtic Ceremonies

A Brief Guide to Recognizing Authentic, Respectful, Celtic Traditions

If any of the content seems confusing, we go into more detail in the wordier versions on the pages above, as well as in our collection of articles

Enjoy the summer sun, ceremony season and reunions with family and friends. Slàinte Mhath!

Gaol Naofa - A Brief Guide to Spotting Offensive Celtic Ceremonies

Gaol Naofa - A Brief Guide to Recognizing Authentic, Respectful, Celtic Traditions

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Là na Caillich, 2014

The Day of the Hag copyright ©Kathryn Price NicDhàna for Gaol Naofa
  Day of The Hag 
photo montage copyright ©2014 Kathryn NicDhàna 
from images of the Romsey Sheela and the equinox illumination of Sliabh na Caillí, Éire

Whether as early as March 18, Sheelah's Day
in Ireland, or April 6, Là na Caillich by
the old calendar in the colder climes
of Scotland, or somewhere in between,
when the Equinox sunrise illuminates
the chamber at Sliabh na Caillí, this
is the time of year when the Hag
renews herself. And as she does so,
she brings life to the land.

She waves her branch to raise the winds,
to bring the last snow of the winter,
to turn the seasons of the year. 

Until Samhain when she ushers in the
winter again by washing her great plaid
in the whirlpool of Coire Bhreacain,
bringing the snow to cover the land.


We still have more in the works for the season, including an overhaul of the Sheela website with new content, and additional Gaol Naofa videos. But sending you all greetings today, since the 25th is the modern calendar date of Là na Caillich. Hope everyone's having a good Spring! Slàinte Mhath!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lá Fhéile Pádraig / "Saint" "Patrick's" Day, 2014

Tis the Season...

For those of us with Irish heritage in the diaspora, this is one of the most awkward and uncomfortable times of the year. While we are relieved at the lengthening days and warming weather, glad to have survived another harsh winter, we are also horrified at the debacle that is American and Canadian Saint Patrick's day.

As I write this, the riots have started. In one college town this weekend, thousands of students celebrated their idea of St. Patrick's day by drinking themselves sick, puking on their violent green t-shirts, assaulting one another and hurling bottles and rocks at the riot police that tried to stop them from harming other civilians. This behaviour is shameful, and as an Irish-American it makes me very sad and dismayed to see this happening yet again in the name of "Irish pride." Of course, I think only a minority of those rioters even have Irish heritage. And what heritage they have, they dishonour.

As I've written about before, to attend some of these awful festivities can put your safety in jeopardy. And the thing is, these drunken blowouts have nothing to do with being Irish.

In past years, we've done our best to avoid the whole thing, or to quietly educate via online discussion and memes.

This year, we've decided to get proactive.

We're pleased to present an article debunking some of the myths around St. Patrick's Day: Pagans, Polytheists, and St Patrick’s Day, as well as two videos on the topic.

Video one is a general introduction to the problems with the stereotypes, and video two is directed more specifically at the myths around Patrick himself, and the misinformation spread by both Pagans and Christians.

Our Gaol Naofa video channel has been in the works for a while now. Treasa made our first videos two years ago, then we stalled out a bit on getting more done. This year we've tried to use our anger and frustration around the whole St. Paddy's thing to motivate us to finish up some projects and counter the misinformation. Check out our playlists for other videos that should be of interest to Gaelic Polytheists, or anyone interested in Celtic Reconstructionism and Gaelic cultures in general. If you like what you see, feel free to subscribe, as more is in the works.

As we say in the videos, we welcome the spring, and celebrate the Hag who turns the seasons. She, and the Earth, are renewing themselves now, and we honour her.

We also honour our ancestors who worked so hard to survive oppression, famine and exile. The St. Paddy's parades in the diaspora initially began as cultural celebrations - a day for members of an oppressed ethnicity to gather together and celebrate their survival against the odds. It was only after our recent ancestors "became white" and rose to power in the police departments and mainstream politics that the marches became drunken bacchanals, with little to no connection to anything traditionally Irish.

We hope you enjoy these contributions, and find them useful in debunking the myths that surround this season. For more on our recent projects (such as our in-depth article, “Children and Family in Gaelic Polytheism”), see the Gaol Naofa site. Sláinte Mhaith.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

It's that time of the year again...

copyright © The Cailleachan Collective for Gaol Naofa

#StPatricksDay #CulturalCringe #IrishAmerican #Oirish #Irish #CulturalShame #StPats #StPaddys #StPatty[sic] #ItsNotMyFaultYouMadeYourselfIntoaRacistStereotype