Archive for October, 2011

“I know of the leafy paths that the witches take,

Who come with their crowns of pearl and their spindles of wool,

And their secret smile, out of the depths of the lake;

I know where a dim moon drifts, where the Danaan kind

Wind and unwind their dances when the light grows cool

On the island lawns, their feet where the pale foam gleams.

No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind;

The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams.”

 

– from “The Withering of the Boughs” by William Butler Yeats

This quote from Yeats just seems fitting for today.

I’d like to wish everyone blessings on this Halloween night leading into the sacred day of Samhain, the Celtic New Year and time to honor the beloved dead. Of course, I’ve had my Altar to the Beloved Dead up for a couple weeks. While some folks might find it morbid, I find joy and wisdom in honoring those who have been important to me in this life as well as my ancestors from long ago.

I very much take a Day of the Dead approach to my altar. There are pictures or mementos of loved ones, things they would have liked – change and candy for Grandmom; catnip mouse for my old cat Sylvia, and so forth – and elements of the season and final harvest such as mums and gourds. It’s not an overly complicated altar, but the warm memories and life lessons make it larger than life.

Tonight I plan to light the candles on the altar again, make a small batch of Remembrance Cookies (with rosemary for remembrance) to share with the ancestors, and enjoy handing out candy to the few children in the neighborhood. And in a few days, I will join my spiritual sisters in a sacred celebration of the season.

However you celebrate the season, I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween and Samhain!

Thistle

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After the recent posts about Barinthus, a psychopomp, and with the Samhain season upon us, I’ve been thinking of the beloved wise women from my life. I decided to go ahead and share this essay I wrote several years ago about my first Crone. May we all remember the wise ones. 

* * *

She may have been the vision of the hag to some people, with white hair, wrinkles, and calves and ankles overflowing with varicose veins cutting rivers through parchment skin. Brandishing a walker more like a battering ram than a crutch only helped complete the image – though her hearing aide dog added a touch of whimsy to the picture.

However other people saw her, she forever banished my Halloween hag notion of the Crone.

Given the unassuming name of Bernice at birth, my elderly friend took it upon herself to be anything but unassuming (little did I know at the time that her name meant “victory bringer”). Bound by failing legs and eyes, she honed her already sharp mind to remain independent. Our friendship grew out of unlikely soil. As the sister of my then husband’s step-grandmother, she and I were on the side of family gatherings – made more definitive by our interest in minds and hearts rather than sports, movies, church, and redecorating.

TeacupWe spent those family afternoons sitting at the corner of a kitchen table pouring out tea and thoughts on literature, psychology, education, and history.

I learned of life as a woman in the 1930s and 40s, when Bernice was young. How helping her father study to become an electrician led to her being the only woman working in the electrical department of an aircraft plant during World War II. Later earning education degrees, she found herself drawn to troubled students and became one of those to help usher in special education. Facing parents who refused to accept their child as needing a different approach and the normal issues of school districts everywhere, my friend worked to shed light on the needs of others.

A listener as well as a talker, she learned of my struggles with my blue collar roots and trying to find a spiritual home. She listened to the words of poets who wrote water for thirsty souls. And how nature spoke without need for words.

After divorcing her great nephew, our friendship went beyond keeping each other company at family gatherings. Visiting as our schedules allowed, our friendship continued.

Bernice taught me many lessons. That ends are often beginnings. To try to have compassion for others because you might not understand their motives as well as you think. That it’s OK to feel sorry for yourself – but only for a short time. She offered wisdom every time I had the wisdom to seek it.

She was the all-around Crone: unflinching and honest while caring and supportive.

A year or so after my divorce, her health took a turn for the worse. In a matter of weeks, she went from being the vibrant and wise woman I knew to a thin ghost of my friend lying still and unresponsive in a hospital bed.

Hearing of her condition, I knew I had to go to her. Though the chances of having to awkwardly deal with my exhusband’s family were high, I wove my way through the hospital corridors to her room. She was alone, save for a roommate behind a curtain. Having arrived, I realized I didn’t know what to do. With a conscious person, you can offer hope and humor – but what do you offer a woman when you don’t know if she can tell you’re there?

Sighing, I pulled a chair next to the bed and laid my hand over hers. Looking at her wan face, I felt sadness steal over my heart. I closed my eyes and tried to remember all her stories, her vivaciousness, and the lessons she had taught me

And it hit me that I was being selfish.

Bernice had lived a full life. The husband she deeply loved awaited her on the other side. Whatever she hadn’t had to time to share with the world in this lifetime, I knew she would share in the next. Who was I to be sad at this step of her journey?

So, I began talking to her – all the normal stuff about my dog and how Bernice would like a book I had just read. Stuffing away my discomfort, I stroked her hand and told her whatever she wanted to do was OK. If she wanted to stay here, she could. If she wanted to go on to meet her Dan, she should go. We in this life would be OK with her memory to hold instead of her hand, and Dan could wait a little while longer too. The choice was hers.

Now teary but smiling, I told her how much I had learned from her and thanked her for sharing her time and patience with me.

A day later, my exhusband called to tell me she had passed.

I don’t know what other people told her during their hospital visits: whether to hang on and to fight for this life or to let go and move to her next home. I don’t know if she could hear me. I don’t know if my words would have made a difference.

What I do know is this: my friendship with Bernice taught me the Crone isn’t who I thought she was. It taught me to respect and love the Crone. And that a bit of the Crone is within me, too.

Sunset

*  *  *

I still keep Bernice’s memory strong in my mind. Her picture sits on my small altar to the dead all year – and it is moved to the bigger altar that I set up in October. I honor her alongside the other Crone from my life, Miss Sandy.

Most of us have had special wise women help us through tough times or to teach us life lessons. If you’d like to share a note about yours, please feel free to do so.

Bright blessings,

Thistle

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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Working with deities or spirits can be a rewarding experience. Throughout the world, mythologies illustrate that the gods are often all too willing to tell us what to do to celebrate and honor them. But to work with Barinthus, the Bargeman of Avalon, one has to investigate the possibilities.

As discussed here last week, there’s not a lot written about him. We have what Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about him. We can glean some information by looking at those he may be connected to, such as Manannan mac Lir or St. Barrind. We know he is an excellent seaman and navigator – he knows the stars and constellations and the tides. He’s a psychopomp, ferrying souls to the Otherworld. These offer us some good clues.

First on most people’s minds when trying to connect with a spirit is an offering. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Items from the sea, such as seashells, coral, and driftwood, could be good items for connecting with this watery spirit.
  • Burn a “watery” incense blend as an offering
  • Food items connected to the sea (vegans might choose seaweed)
  • Apples – given his role as a psycho pomp, he’d probably have an appreciation for the fruit that represents eternal life. Plus, he’s the Bargeman of Avalon, which is connected to apples.

You could even create a small altar to him – one beside a pond or yard water feature would be most excellent.

While offerings are a classic way to connect, I often prefer something more active­ that also helps me understand the spirit better or to see the world from his or her perspective. For Barinthus, here’s a few suggestions:

  • How’s your elemental balance? If your water element is weak, you might work on strengthening it through water meditations, spending time near (or in) water, add more water foods from the elemental diet, and so forth. Even if you prefer to acknowledge the three Celtic Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky instead of the four Elements, this one still works for Sea. Gotta’ love a two-for-one special.
  • Take up stargazing. Barinthus can read the night sky, so learning to do so yourself is a good way to connect with him. Pick up a star chart or a cell phone ap that helps you learn the different constellations. Then, go outside and look at the night sky and try to learn how the wheel of stars changes throughout the year.
  • Use the power of your mind to meet Barinthus. Yes, you read correctly. While recorded meditations are wonderful, learning to take yourself on a guided mediation is a smart addition to your spiritual toolbox. See your spirit self approaching a shore and calling for the barge to Avalon. See the barge arrive, Barinthus guiding it. See yourself get in, travel to the Isle, ask him questions – you get the idea. Create the journey that will allow you to meet him while furthering your spiritual development.
  • Unleash your creative side to honor the Bargeman. Write poetry or a chant about him, draw or paint him as you see him, and so forth. Even if you don’t consider yourself artistic, the effort of trying is important and you might unlock something wonderful from your subconscious.
  • This last one is probably the most difficult and is certainly not for most people: learn to help with what’s called modern psychopomp work. At the most basic level, this is helping the dying prepare for the end. Some even try to help clear the confusion of souls that are “stuck” between planes so they can move on. Some do this through occupations such as hospice workers or spiritual counselors while others do this as a part of shamanism or energy work. Again, this is not for everyone. To learn more, visit http://www.psychopomps.org/index.html

Of course, many of these suggestions would work for any spirit with a couple of tweaks. Be creative and don’t limit yourself!

Just as an extra, I’m adding a call to Barinthus that I wrote last fall for a ritual that incorporated some Avalonian characters. I’ve used it for my own personal practice, so I thought I’d share it in case any of you have found your interest piqued by the Bargeman.

Barinthus, Bargeman of Avalon,

By the magnetism of the Earth,

The Realm of Land guides you.

By the changing currents and tides,

The Realm of Sea guides you.

By the bright stars above us,

The Realm of Sky guides you.

Barinthus, Great Navigator,

We beseech you, deliver us to the Isle.

© 2010 PJ Graham

You’ve probably noticed the use of the Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky, which is something I believe has tremendous power for those following a Celtic path.

Also, most of the lines focus on his navigational abilities, which can also be used by us for spiritual navigation. Consider reaching out to him when in need of guidance. Really, it’s OK – he doesn’t bite.

Until next time, bright blessings!

Thistle

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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In autumn, an Avalonian girl’s fancy lightly turns to  . . . Barinthus.

OK, I have a confession: I have a thing for Barinthus, a kind of mythical crush. The bargeman of Avalon, mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Vita Merlini (The Life of Merlin), seems more interesting to me because he’s so mysterious and, well, quiet.

And let’s face it, Avalon isn’t known for being a stronghold of masculinity. I suspect part my interest in Barinthus is due to seeking a male-female balance on the Avalonian path.

OK, back at the ranch:

Many people have never heard of Barinthus. For those unsure of who I’m talking about, Barinthus is the man (some consider him of the fairie folk or a god) who guides the barge that carries King Arthur to Avalon in Geoffrey’s story. We’ve looked at this part of the Vita Merlini before, but let’s refresh our memories:

“Thither after the battle of Camlan we took the wounded Arthur, guided by Barinthus to whom the waters and the stars of heaven were well known. With him steering the ship we arrived there with the prince, and Morgen received is with fitting honour, and in her chamber she placed the king on a golden bed and with her own hand she uncovered his honourable wound and gazed at it for a long time. At length she said that health could be restored to him if he stayed with her for a long time and made use of her healing art. Rejoicing, therefore, we entrusted the king to her and returning spread our sails to the favouring winds.”

Not much to go on, really. The folks at the Celtnet Nemeton web site suggest that Barinthus might be a Cymric (Welsh) god as his name could be based on the Cymric word baran, which means fury or wrath.

The site also puts forward the idea that perhaps the bargeman is based on St. Barrind, who inspired the legendary journey of St. Brendan to a Promised Land of Saints with his own similar journey. This land may well be a Christianized version of the Isle of the Blest of Celtic myths.

While these may or may not be true, others see a connection between Barinthus and the Irish sea god, Manannan mac Lir. As you might remember from an earlier post, Manannan was listed as a ruler of two different Irish Otherworlds: Emhain Ablach and Mag Mell. Manannan rides horses made of ocean waves – Barinthus rides a barge on the ocean waves. Manannan has cloak of mist and Barinthus is connected to an island hidden from the world by mist.

CharonPsycheStanhope2

Charon and Psyche by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope in 1883 – Charon and Barinthus share some traits

Some people – myself included – view this “great Navigator” as a psychopomp, or a spirit that takes the souls of the dead to the Otherworld (another trait shared by the bargeman and Manannan). Like Charon, the ferryman of classical mythology, Barinthus takes the dead across the waters to the next realm. Considering that Avalon itself can be considered the Celtic Otherworld of Annwn, one could easily draw that conclusion – even based on this little bit of text.

Frankly, I’m not aware of too many other writers that include the bargeman in medieval or modern writings. However, author and teacher Mara Freeman includes the bargeman in The Avalon Meditations CD (available at: http://www.chalicecentre.net/Celtic_%20Spirit_%20Recordings.htm).

Given that there is so little written about Barinthus and yet being fascinated by him, I have on occasion turned to self-guided imagery to free my mind to make connections about him. My impressions have been that he appears surly but is actually quite helpful when approached with sincerity and without pride.

Early on in these exercises, he did little more than dump me off on the shore and point to a distant spot on the Isle. But by continuing my focus on this spirit, he has guided me to several answers I needed to unblock and further my spiritual path. And I have discovered, much as you might expect of one connected with water, that he has much more passion and emotion than he first appears.

Is Barinthus totally new to you and, if so, what do you think of this spirit? So would you include him in the psychopomp category? Or have you found modern stories that include him? I’d be excited to see the bargeman return in newer stories!

Next time, we will look at ways to work with this lesser known figure.

Until then, bright blessings!

Thistle

Addition: Don’t miss the following post on the Bargeman!

Sources:

Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vita Merliniwww.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/vm/vmeng.htm

Celtnet Nemeton – http://www.celtnet.org.uk/gods_b/barinthus.html

Illes, Judicka, Encyclopedia of Spirits.

Jones Celtic Library – http://www.maryjones.us/jce/manannan.html

The Temple of Manannan – http://www.manannan.net/library/godofthecelts.html

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last posted here. Sorry the break, but I have to say early autumn is always a hectic time of year for me.

But now that yard work, festivals, and other outdoor events are winding down, it’s time to get back at it. So, here’s is the long-awaited conclusion of the Avalon and the Celtic Otherworld series:

Annwn

Well, we’ve finally arrived at the Welsh version of the Otherworld. I say “finally” because many Avalonians would have started here and not gone much farther.

It is generally known that Wales is the area of Great Britain where the traditional Celtic views and customs held on the longest without much intervention from the Romans and other invading cultures. As such, the theory is that their myths and customs would be the truest to the ancient Celts compared to other cultures of the Isles. (I have my own thoughts on this, but this is not the post to get into it.)

Annwn can also be spelled Annwfn, though people often – incorrectly – add a y after the w or f. The Welsh language can be difficult for people to remember, so you may have seen even more spellings.

This Otherworld seems to fit best with our concept of Avalon. It is not a place just for gods and heroes, but for all. In Encyclopedia of Spirits, author Judicka Illes refers to it as “a realm of death, a dwelling place and way station for those who have completed their earthly incarnation, but it is not the Otherword.”

She goes on to mention that it is typically seen as a pleasant place ruled by a king named Arawn. Arawn is the leading figure of Wild Hunt, when he rides out to collect the souls of the departed at the start of winter.

Accompanying Arawn on this night is his special dogs, often thought of as fairy dogs, the Hounds of Annwn. They sport bright white coats with red ears, which solidifies the fairy connection. The hounds have three tasks: foretell or announce a death, retrieve or escort souls to Annwn, and to reveal corpses. Some researchers believe these fairy dogs may have been later reinterpreted by Christians as Hell Hounds.

This Otherworld is associated with hills and islands, which could be a possible connection to the ancient burial mounds of the Celts. At some point, Arawn becomes linked specifically with the Tor in Glastonbury, England, from where he rides out from it at Samhain.

The Glastonbury Tor – Did the Wild Hunt start here?

In the tenth century poem “The Spoils of Annwn” (Preiddeu Annwfn), Arthur travels to Annwn on a quest for a cauldron. In this poem, various placenames are used in regard to Annwn: Mound Fortress, Four-Peaked Fortress, and Glass Fortress – though it’s not clear that the author intended these to be the same places in Annwn. However, “Mound Fortress” could easily describe the Tor, a large hill featuring a winding labyrinth path to the top.

Some people believe that the modern day Glastonbury, England, was Annwn (and by extension, Avalon). Jhenah Telyndru, whose focus is heavily on the Welsh aspect of the Avalonian tradition, builds a case for Glastonbury as Avalon/Annwn. Introducing the poem The Spoils of Annwn, she says in her book Avalon Within:

“It is an evocative and symbolic piece detailing the voyage of Arthur into the Otherworld. The strong association of Avalon with Annwn is reinforced by several elements of this poem. It is not difficult to see the Tor, with its labyrinthine terracing, as the revolving fortress Taliesin describes.”

Another entry point for Annwn is Lundy Island.

In later years, Arawn seems to have morphed into another character: Gwyn ap Nudd, who also was known for leading the Wild Hunt. Both names appear in medieval stories.

Honestly, I could write pages more about Annwn based on the information that is out there. But this post covers the basics without muddying the waters too much.

In Conclusion

OK, we have now reviewed many mythic Otherworlds of the Celts, but does that help us determine if they were the inspiration of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Avalon? (See early posts in this series.)

Honestly, some of the material we’ve looked at might have been available to Geoffrey when he was writing The History of the Kings of Britain or The Life of Merlin, but much of it was written later. Of course, there is a strong oral tradition among the Celts, but determining what stories the bards would have told in the times and places that might have directly or indirectly affected Geoffrey is definitely beyond my current research ability!

Also, the concept of Avalon was further developed by later writers who could have been influenced by these and other stories.

While our investigation might be inconclusive, I hope everyone enjoyed learning more about the Celtic perspective of the Otherworld.

Blessings!

Thistle

Addition: Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Sources:

Rees, Alwyn, and Brinely Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Illes, Judicka, Encyclopedia of Spirits.

Telyndru, Jhenah, Avalon Within. MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2011.

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/annwn.html

http://www.maryjones.us/jce/annwfn.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annwn

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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