• Tag Archives Celts
  • Moving forward by taking no action

    Imbolc                                                                   Valentine Moon

    This last week was a bust as far as Latin or the book.  It was spent in the emotional and rigorous task of restoration, order to books, objets d’art, the new furnace.  Hardly wasted effort, but the effect on forward progress was substantial.

    You may notice that I’ve added a quote by Lao-Tze over the weather.  In it he advises the way of wu wei, of non-action, or, better of going with the flow, following the path life offers rather than overburdening it with goals, timelines, projects.  It’s not a huge difference from the Dalai Lama’s notion that the world does not need more successful people.  This week I’ve allowed the pace of the week to set my pace.  The result has been less frustration, less impatience.

    When the way opens again for work with Latin and the novels, I will be ready to do that.

    Though.  There is that tiny, niggling fact that I have northern European roots, not Chinese. Wu wei to my Teutonic ancestors would not have made much sense.  Set the goal, plow ahead, damn the obstacles.  Blitzkrieg.  Dynamite. (Nobel) The onward rush of history, it’s progress through material reality.  These are not the thoughts or inventions of people who follow the Watercourse Way.

    Nor, for that matter, is the other ethnic blood in my veins, Celtic.  Hot-blooded, quick to laugh, quick to anger.  Impatient with oppression.  Creative and dreamy.  Living in this world and the other world.  In one case the rational tank rolls over barriers; in the other the emotional maelstrom cooks up revolution and poetry and love.

    Wu wei is a corrective, another way of being in the world.  And we need it.  It leavens our energetic attempts to mold the world with a willingness to listen to how the world might mold us.

    It’s for another time, but the long run application of Taoist and even Confucian principles have produced a moral and ethical sink in contemporary China.  They are not the whole way.  We need each other.


  • Beltane 2012

    Beltane                                                          Beltane Moon

    May Day.  Brings up cold war images for me.  If you’re of a certain age, you remember black and white television with Kruschev or Brezhnev in the reviewing stands as long flat bed trucks pulled even longer missiles, whole large squares of soldiers trooped after them, some tanks, armored personnel carriers, probably some air displays, too, but I don’t recall those personally.

    This was the worker’s holiday to celebrate the successful revolution, the now sad story of a mad man who killed millions and used a centralized state to justify it all, and those who came after him, company men with broad shoulders, craggy faces, phenomenal eyebrows and bad tailors.

    If, however, you’re of a certain ethnic heritage, or inclined to join us on certain holidays like May Day, I can conjure a different picture.  Fair maids dancing with ribbons, winding them around and around the tall May pole.  In other spots women and men jumping over bonfires to quicken their fertility.  Herds of cattle driven between two bonfires to cure them of disease.

    On a mythic plane the goddess as maiden takes the young greenman for her lover, offering their fertile energy to the fields, to the animals  and to the people.  Villagers take to the fields at night for bouts of lovemaking.

    A fair, running perhaps a week, finds persons contracting for field labor, trying out handfast marriages, and surplus goods being traded. This was a joyous time, the long winter lay in the past and the fields had seeds in them.  The air was warm, there was milk and meat.  A good time.

    A mood much different than the other great Celtic holiday, Samain, or Summer’s End, which marks the end of the growing season, the final harvests before the fallow and the cold time began.  In that holiday the dead got gifts of food and spirits in hopes that they would at least not do harm.  Those of the fey might cross the barrier between the worlds and snatch a child or even a grown man or woman, taking them back to the sidhe.

    These two, Beltane and Samain, were, in the oldest Celtic faith, the two holidays.  The beginning of summer, or the growing season, and summer’s end.

    In Beltane we have all the hope of fields newly planted, cattle quickened, perhaps wives or lovers pregnant, warmth ahead.  This is the holiday of hope, of futurity, of anticipated abundance.

    No missile laden trucks, no marching soldiers.  No, this was a festival for rural people celebrating the rhythm of their world, a highpoint in the year.

  • Looking Backwards

    Lughnasa                                                                        Full Honey Extraction Moon

    Over the last week plus I’ve watched the Starz Network version of the King Arthur legends, Camelot.  I get it streaming from Netflix.  Each time I watch this program I get a shot of creative juices, similar to the ones I got when I first read the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Those didn’t inspire me to write about the King Arthur material, an area that gets reworked a lot, but it did cause me to think about my own heritage, my ethnic heritage and what might be there as a resource for writing.

    At the time I chose to emphasize the Celtic aspects of my bloodline, Welsh in the instance of the Ellis line and Irish through the Correll’s, my father’s father’s mother’s family.  The Celts have a rich pool of legends, religious ideas and quasi-historical accounts.  Most have heard at least something about druids and faeries, both part of the Celtic past.  There are, too, holy wells, a Celtic pantheon and the series of holidays known as the Great Wheel which I celebrate.

    I’ve not done much with the German side of my heritage though it is, arguably, more substantial since the Zikes and the Spitlers, my mother’s and father’s mother’s families respectively are both German.  The Keatons, my mother’s father’s family, we think have an English connection though it’s proven difficult to track down.

    The legendary and religious aspects of the ancient Celts and Germans are what interest me, the more recent history not so much and by recent I mean from the Renaissance forward.

    Roman and Greek mythology and legend has also fascinated me since I was young and my Aunt Barbara gave me a copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology.  Through out my life at various points I’ve read such works as the Iliad, the Odyssey, Hesiod’s Theogony, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, amazed at the richness of these stories.

    As you know, if you read this blog with any regularity, that lead me to learn Latin, which I am doing, so I could translate Ovid’s great work, the Metamorphoses, for myself.  The distance between a translated text and its English version has interested me especially since seminary.  In seminary I studied both the Old and New Testaments extensively, learning in the process many techniques for analyzing ancient texts.  It was my favorite part of the seminary curriculum.

    When I observed yesterday to Greg, my Latin tutor, that the commentaries I’d found for the Metamorphose lacked a lot compared to commentaries for the Biblical material, he challenged me.  “Well,” he said, “You could write a commentary to it.”  I might just be able to do that.

    When I mentioned it to Kate, she said, “Oh, and finish your novels, too?”  And she’s right of course.  I have more than one creative iron in the fire, plus other matters related to art and the environment.

    Even so, the idea intrigues me.  A lot.  Now all I have to do is get very facile at translating.


  • Beltane 2011

    Beltane (May 1)                                                        Waning Bee Hiving Moon

    A bit about how I got interested in the auld religion, the ancient Celtic faery faith and from it, the Great Wheel.

    23 years ago I left the Presbyterian ministry and wandered off into a life I could never have anticipated.  The writing turn I took then led me to investigate my Celtic past, the heritage of my Welsh and Irish ancestors.  I learned about Richard Ellis, son of a Welsh captain in William of Orange’s army who was stationed in Dublin.  After his father’s death, his mother paid Richard’s fare to America, to Virginia, where he was to become heir to a relative’s land, a common practice at the turn of the century since children died so often.  This was 1707.

    Also a common practice at the turn of the century was a ship captain’s larceny, stealing Richard’s fare and selling him into indentured servitude in Massachusetts.   Richard went on to found the town of Asheville, Massachusetts and become a captain in the American Revolution.

    My own other Celtic ancestors, the Correls, were famine Irish, part of the boat loads forced out of Ireland by the failed potato crop, or an Gorta Mór it is known in Gaelic, the great hunger. (Incidentally, this was due to planting potatoes as a mono-culture, much like we plant corn, soybeans and wheat today.)  They came to this country in the mid 19th century.

    I did not go into the history of Wales at the turn of the 18th century, nor did I investigate the an gorta mor and its aftermath.  Instead, I went further back, into ancient Ireland and Wales; in fact I looked at all the Celtic lands, Isle of Mann, Scotland, Brittany and Galicia as well.  What fascinated me then, and still does now, was the auld religion, the Faery Faith, as represented in The Fairy Faith by W. Y. Evans-Wentz, more famous as the translator of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

    Not long after leaving the Presbyterian ministry I packed my bags for a week + at St. Denioll’s, a residential library in Hawarden, Wales.  While there I wandered northern Wales, visiting holy wells, castles and Welsh villages.  There was also an extensive collection of Celtic material at St. Denioll’s. Continue reading  Post ID 18646

  • Lughnasa: A First Fruits Festival and Beginning of the Harvest Cycle

    Lughnasa                                                       Waning Grandchildren Moon

    Turning round the star wheel we have come again to the first day of the month named after Augustus Caesar, First Citizen of Rome.  In Celtic lands this month was:  Welsh–Awst, Scots Gaelic–an Lunasdal and in Irish:  Lughnasadh.

    Though the coming of Autumn is not visible, the wind tells us it has come.   Fujiwara no Toshiyuki

    The Japanese word risshu means the first day of Autumn.  By solar equinox reckoning we are a good 8 weeks away from that day, yet Toshiyuki’s poem suggests another way to look for the fall of the year.  Are there signals in the air, in the plant world, among the animals?  Yes, there are. Lughnasa, a cross-quarter holiday in the Celtic calendar, marks the half-way point of the changes from the summer solstice to the fall equinox.

    The bees have put away honey all July and August is the month when their honey production wanes.  Many flowers and vegetables have already grown, flowered and fruited:  iris, daffodil, tulip, lily, dicentra, coral bells, hosta and phlox.  The long grasses have seeded as have many of the tall weeds, including the hemp that grows here in abundance.  There are stalks, brown stalks, in the garden, the signs of a more general senescence that will over take all the flowers and vegetables as August continues and becomes September.  Animal babies have begun to mature, witness the opossum pictured here a few weeks ago.

    The main signal of seasonal change though, for me, is the change in the angle of the sun light.  By August 20th, the sun’s angle of declination at its highest point in the sky, noon, will be 12 degrees less than the 69 degrees it achieved on June 20th, the summer solstice and the sun’s highest angle at our 45th degree of latitude.  This changed angle, subtle at first, becomes obvious as August moves on and creates the tone of seasonal change in advance of temperature and other meteorological signals. We now journey toward the sun’s lowest angle of declination here, 22 degrees, reached at the Winter Solstice on December 21st.

    In many webpages you will find confident reference to Lugh as the Celtic sun-god and to Lughnasa as his festival.  Maybe.  Celtic lore has a number of obstacles to clear understanding.  The most difficult obstacles lie in the sources of information that we have for ancient Celtic life.  Whatever written information, if any, the Celts left behind have been lost in the wake of the Roman invasions that began in 55 BC with the arrival of Julius Caesar.  As a result we always look at the Celts through the eyes of their conquerors.  Tacitus, for example, records the story of the Druids and their last stand across the Menai Straits in northwestern Wales.  It is Caesar’s accounts of the Gallic Wars (Celtic Wars) that gives us much of the scanty information we have about Celtic religious life.

    The next main source of information about the Celts comes from the Roman Catholic Church that overtook and weeded out both the ancient faery faith and the peculiar and attractive version of Christianity that evolved on its own before the Roman Church came.  This Celtic Christianity emphasized a close relationship with the natural world and retained practices resonant with the Celtic faery faith.

    Nowadays a different, but no less problematic type of interpretation occurs when the neo-pagan community takes up these holidays and puts into them the mythological narratives that appeal most to their sensibility.   They can do this, of course, and, in fact, they do, but it does not mean that the interpretation they place on the sacred days have much, if any, congruence with the practices and beliefs of the ancient Celts.

    Thus, the Celts and their ancient life exist behind by shrouds of interpretation motivated by ancient political exigency, motivated by medieval religious arrogance and now motivated by contemporary irrational adoration.

    Lugh, in other words, is a name put on a Celtic deity by the Romans, who tended to associate the gods of conquered tribes with gods of their own.  Lugh came to be equated with Hermes, Mercury to the Romans.  We have very little direct information about the Celtic pantheon, though there is some.

    What we do know for certain is that on and around August 1, for centuries, Celtic and English peoples celebrated the first fruits of the harvest on a day called Lughnasa.  Brian Friel’s wonderful play, Dancing at Lughnasa, gives an excellent account of the holiday as it was still practiced in the early part of the 20th century.  As the Burns poem below* attests, part of its celebration included going out into the fields of barley or wheat or rye or whatever, to practice human fertility rites.

    Like the rest of the Celtic holidays, Lughnasa involved a week of fairs and markets, a time of celebrations, gatherings of people from various rural areas.

    These holidays were and are significant in the daily lives of rural folks in the Celtic Countries and England.  The Lammas Meadows are an example.  Lugg Meadows in Herefordshire, England are the largest and best preserved of 20 Lammas Meadows in England today, some of which still follow the medieval land tenure system that created them in the first place.

    In this system the lord of the manor, who owned the fields, would rent the prime bottom land to those who could afford the rent.  Bottom land was the most valuable land in the middle ages because it often had a sandy or rocky bottom with layers of fertile silt on top, creating a well-drained and rich field for growing hay.  Hay was critical for it fed the many animals used in farming and in the other work of the manor through the winter.

    The fee-holders would mark their holdings with ‘dole stones’, the holding being irregular strips of the bottom land on which they purchased the right to harvest hay.  From Candlemas (the Catholic holiday laid over the Celtic celebration of Brigid, the triple Goddess, Imbolc) to Lammas (the Catholic holiday laid over the Celtic Lughnasa) the fee-holders and the Lord kept the Lammas Meadows ‘shut for hay.’  Over this time only the Lord and the fee-holders could enter the land.  On Lammas Day, however, the fields would open to the commoner–the person who used the common land–who could browse his animals in them until Candlemas, February 1st of the next year.

    The farmer making hay from the Lammas Meadows (see pic) has an interesting graphic about his concept of sustainability.  It involves a triple bottom line:  social, environmental and economic.   Here it is:

    from a fascinating website:  Wilson’s Almanac

    *It was on a Lammas night,
    When corn rigs are bonnie,
    Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
    I held away to Annie:
    The time flew by, wi tentless heed,
    Till ‘tween the late and early;
    Wi’ sma’ persuasion she agreed
    To see me thro’ the barley.

    The sky was blue, the wind was still,
    The moon was shining clearly;
    I set her down, wi’ right good will,
    Amang the rigs o’barley
    I ken’t her heart was a’ my ain;
    I lov’d her most sincerely;
    I kissed her owre and owre again,
    Among the rig o’ barley.

    I locked her in my fond embrace;
    Her heart was beating rarely:
    My blessings on that happy place,
    Amang the rigs o’barley.
    But by the moon and stars so bright,
    That shone that hour so clearly!
    She ay shall bless that happy night,
    Amang the rigs o’barley.

    I hae been blythe wi’ comrades dear;
    I hae been merry drinking;
    I hae been joyfu’ gath’rin gear;
    I hae been happy thinking:
    But a’ the pleasures e’er I saw,
    Tho three times doubl’d fairley
    That happy night was worth then a’.
    Among the rig’s o’ barley.


    Corn rigs, an’ barley rigs,
    An’ corn rigs are bonnie:
    I’ll ne’er forget that happy night,
    Among the rigs wi’ Annie.

    Robert Burns

  • Still Reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms

    Summer                                              Waning Strawberry Moon

    “if your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.”- Chinese Proverb

    Ever have days that just happen, disappear with little trace?  The last couple have been like that for me.  The ear, the fuzz from the infection and a slow take on things.  That’s the extent of it.

    I’m now in the last quarter of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  I’ve been at it since sometime early June, late May.  Now, I’ve been a little slow, I admit, but it is 2,340 pages long in print.  I’m reading it on the Kindle.  It carries a slow, but steady course in Chinese logic, especially as related to war and politics, Confucian and Taoist influences on Chinese culture in general and the courts and military in particular and a careful rendering of the demise of one of Empire, the Han.  The Han Empire, the Tang, the Song and the Ming have pride of place as golden ages of the Chinese people.

    (this is the entry way to the tomb of Cao Cao, the arch villain of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  Chinese archaeologists discovered it last year and opened it on Chinese television last month.  this stuff is still very relevant.)

    It’s interesting to consider that the Chinese have not one golden age, but four when culture flourished and the nation was at peace.  I don’t know the whole well enough to say for sure, but one of the long lasting appeals of this 14th century (Song dynasty) novel may be the dissolution of the first of those.

    My interest in China will never be more than that of a journeyman’s, perhaps no more than an  apprentice, but it fascinates me.  Part of that fascination is imagining what it would be like to live in a culture with that much depth, where a person in Shanghai today could read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and recognize not only names, but the culture of this ancient past.

    In one view those of in the United States can look only as far back as 1776, in another 1602.  If we stretch our gaze back further, we can cross into European history and follow it back into the world of ancient Rome and further back yet, ancient Greece, but there, for the most part, it stops.  Yes, you can argue the history of the Jews and the Egyptians are also our history and they are in terms of influences intellectual and artistic, but I don’t have a personal bond even with the ancient Greeks.

    The closest I can get in experience to that of the contemporary Chinese is to follow my Celtic line back into the mists of Celtic myth and legend.

    Anyhow, it’s been an interesting read and I’ll be sorry when I’m finished.  Not sorry enough, however, to pick up another Chinese classic for a few months.

  • Catching Up

    Summer’s Eve                                  Waxing Strawberry Moon

    More weeding along the fenceline.  It feels like I’ve beaten back both the weeds and revealed the now minimal amount of repair still required to bring the vegetable garden area back to where it began last fall.  I planted another round of beans, doing so at weekly intervals.  Took some photographs.  A full morning.

    Having put on sunscreen first today I don’t have that slightly queasy feel I got yesterday.  Us Celts have a delicate situation when it comes to sun.  We have fair skin and burn easily.  Might be why I’ve never liked the beach.

    Kate planted coleus and marigolds, did some weeding and put in some annual grasses.  All of this work is a little behind for us, but we’ve begun to catch up in the last few days.  I believe we’ll be on top of it by the end of the week.

    Greg, my Latin tutor, is in Portugal the next two weeks with his sweetheart, so the Latin will slow down.  We decided I needed to go back over the last two chapter’s sententia antiquae, ancient sentences, and work them carefully.  If I have time, I’ll go on to Chapter 20 which is, in fact, halfway through Wheelock’s 40 chapters.

  • No Title

    63  bar falls 29.57  3mph WNW dew-point 56  Summer, sunny and cool

    Last Quarter Flower Moon

    Mid-summer has come and gone.  This means that Lughnasa, a cross-quarter holiday lies only a few weeks ahead.  Lughnasa is a cross-quarter holiday; it comes between the Summer Solstice (mid-summer) and the Fall Equinox (Mabon).  The Celts divided their festival year first in halves, Beltane and Samhain, Summer and Winter, then in fourths, adding Lughnasa and Imbolc (Candlemas).  At some point they added in the solstice and equinox celebrations that were more common in the rest of Europe.  This created the current eight part Celtic year which begins at Samhain on October 31st and runs, successively, through Winter Solstice (Yule), Imbolc on February 1st, Spring Equinox (Ostra), Beltane on May 1st, Summer Solstice (Mid-Summer), Lughnasa on August 1st, and the Fall Equinox (Mabon).

    This means that New Years for Celts occurs on what the US celebrates as Halloween.  The creative part of me has found the Celtic year a perfect fit for my writing life.  I try to start writing projects on or around Samhain since the late fall, winter and early spring seasons are inside times in the northern latitudes, at least for those who don’t ski.

    Following the Celtic Year, or the Great Wheel of the Year, has proved faith and spirituality enough for me since late in the last millennium. We move in response to nature’s deep rhythms whether we acknowledge them or not, just consider the beating of your heart and the breath in your lungs right now.  Eating, sexuality, exercise and play are all intrinsic aspects of the body and DNA we have inherited from millions of years of evolution.  That evolution has focused on those functionalities necessary to survive in Earth’s specific environment:  its seasons, its other animals both predator and prey, its plants and mountains, rivers and streams, lakes and grasslands.

    We are not only animals, our mind gives us self-awareness, a precious and difficult gift.  We are, however, never less than animals and the self-awareness and agency we so cherish vanishes if we lose the vessel given to us by those millions of years of evolution.  This is why death is such a difficult barrier for us.  We flail around when confronted with the loss of our body’s elegant functionality.  Perhaps this body is a chrysalis and death the trigger for our imaginal cells to begin a process of subtle transformation so that we emerge after death a resurrected or transmigrated entity, as different from the earth bound us as the butterfly is from the caterpillar.

    Until that great drifting up morning however, we walk here, feet bound to alma mater and hearts beating without conscious help.