Posts Tagged ‘avalonian tradition’

Wishing everyone out there a blessed Lughnasadh! This first harvest celebration stems from the festival created by the Irish god Lugh to honor his foster mother, Tailtiu, who died from exhaustion after clearing a forest so the land could be used for agriculture.

When we live in a way that connects us to our food source, this myth works as solid metaphor for the hard work of putting up summer’s bounty to help get through the winter. Growing up, my family depended on our half-acre garden, apple tree, and blackberry brambles to provide us with much of our food supply. And as we spent most of July and early August canning and freezing vegetables and making jelly and applesauce, I can honestly say we were exhausted at this time of year.

But there is also a joy and sense of pride that comes from this work, much like the pride Lugh had in his foster mother. I remember looking at the rows of canned goods in the well house and feeling happy – and secure. Even though I no longer have to work long hours in a garden and kitchen to stay fed through winter, I still enjoy creating things from the harvest.

Homemade preserves are one way to stay connected with the harvest cycle.

So far this year, I’ve put up several batches of black raspberry jelly (courtesy of a juice from a friend), blackberry jelly (including a sage variety), grape jelly, strawberry margarita jam, and “Farmer’s Market Salsa” featuring fresh sweet corn cut from the cob. Not only do these homemade preserves taste much better than the store-bought variety, but making and sharing them helps me feel connected to my recent roots as well as to my ancestors who lived off the land.

So is there something you or your family always did (or still do) to enjoy the fresh fruits and veggies of the harvest? Do you continue these traditions and, if so, how does it make you feel?

‘Parting the Mists’ Turns One-Year Old!

This post also marks the one-year anniversary of this blog! While I didn’t meet my goals of posting twice a week and haven’t posted much in recent months, I look forward to reinvigorating this site.

On the horizon, I see a belated post for the Pagan Values project (which should have been posted in June, oh my) as well as posts digging into the following topics:

  • Examining the history and myths of places believed to be Avalon
  • Energy work, especially as related to healing
  • Creatures of Celtic myth and legend (think faery hounds, unicorns, etc.)
  • Books related to the tradition
  • How the Avalonian, Grail, and Arthurian trads are – or aren’t – connected

Speaking of future posts, is there anything special you’d like to see covered here?

Until next time, bright summer blessings!


(Photos courtesy of

© 2012 PJ Graham

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I sleep so sound all night, mother, that I shall never wake,

If you do not call me loud when the day begins to break:

But I must gather knots of flower, and buds and garlands gay,

For I’m to be the Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be the Queen o’ the May.

– From “The May Queen” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

A blessed Beltaine to all!

Also known as May Day (or the day after Walpurgis Night), May 1 is the day that the Flower Bride is crowned with a garland of spring flowers and takes part in the Sacred Marriage to celebrate this fertile season. Or as Guinevere sings in the musical Camelot:

It’s May! It’s May!

The month of ‘yes you may’

An illustration of a May Queen from William Hone’s “Hone’s Everyday Book” published in 1826.

And this is fitting for in the Arthurian legends the Flower Bride is Guinevere, though she is usually abducted on May 1 and must be rescued. However, in Celtic lore, there are many ladies or goddesses, such as Creiddyled and Bloudewedd, who fit this role.

Though Beltaine celebrates fertility, which of course requires both sexes, this day does seem to give a lot of attention to women. The Roman Catholic church even chose May to be Mary’s month, and many of their faithful celebrate May Day as a celebration of the mother of Jesus.

Though I’m more interested in Flower Brides of Celtic myth, a statue of Mary at the local Catholic Church, Our Lady of Lourdes, fascinates me. Different than most art that shows the demure mother with her head bowed and covered, “Our Lady of Pittsburg” by artist Linda Dabeau shows a Mary that is strong and forward looking – she looks as much like a goddess here as do many statues of Diana or Aphrodite. In fact, a good friend and I have often joked that we should go in the wee hours of Beltaine and dress the Mary statue with flower garlands. As yet, we haven’t done it – but you never know what the future holds!

A statue of Mary in southeast Kansas

Those interested in more Celtic history and British folk traditions regarding this time can check out sources such as Alexei Kondratiev’s excellent The Apple Branch and Mike Nichols’ The Witches’ Sabbats as well as web sites such as Waverly Fitzgerald’s The School of the Seasons or today’s post on The Wild Hunt blog.

But here I’d like to focus on the beauty and charm of the Beltaine season. Here are some things I’ve enjoyed over the years:

  • As a child, learning about May Day flower baskets in school and then making some to give to the neighbors.
  • The scent of honeysuckle and peonies.
  • Several years ago, being part of a group of adults leading a group of children in dancing the May pole when only one adult actually knew how to do it. It was good tangled fun and I can’t wait to try it again!
  • Waking early on a May morning to walk barefoot in the dew.
  • Just this past weekend, seeing that someone had made a garland of old fashioned roses for my great niece on her seventh birthday. Some classics never go out of style!

So what is your favorite part of the Beltaine season? Or the month of May?

Until next time, bright blessings!



© 2012 PJ Graham

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Note: I meant to post this a couple weeks ago, but was sidetracked. Though not the most timely post, I still wanted to comment on the situation.

The Holy Thorn before being vandalized in 2010.

On Palm Sunday (April 1), the good folks of Glastonbury tried to move forward from a terrible event – they planted a new Holy Thorn tree on top of Wearyall Hill. You might remember the story seen here last September about the vandalizing of the thorn tree in December 2010 and the subsequent efforts to save it.

However, the misdirected affection for the tree by people pouring honey and beer on it and removing leaves from it (presumably as souvenirs) has prevented it from making a recovery (take it from this gardener – the best uses for beer in the garden are to kill slugs and to speed up composting – not to help a tree recover from damage). According to the This is Somerset web site, a new shoot taken from a Devon nursery’s parent tree that was originally taken from Glastonbury was used to replace it.

Much to the shock and dismay of many, vandals have destroyed the new thorn tree as well. Though there are already plans to replace it and try to make it more secure, this is devastating news. Further, it is a pathetic act committed by selfish individuals.

In case you are unfamiliar with the story of the Glastonbury Holy Thorn, there is a body of mythology about Joseph of Arimathea coming to England after the death of Jesus, wearily climbing the hill where they landed (now Glastonbury’s Wearyall Hill), and planting his staff – which took root and became the thorn tree.

Some folks might wonder why I, as a Pagan, would be that concerned with the destruction of a clearly Christian symbol. Well, here’s a few basic answers to start with:

  • As a law-abiding citizen, I deplore the illegal destruction of property.
  • As a tree hugger, I deplore the destruction of one of Gaia’s trees.

But the main reason is that the Christian and Pagan elements at Glastonbury are interwoven. Joseph is credited not only with causing a thorn tree to grow but also with bringing the Holy Grail to the Isle. Further, the legends of the Grail family say they are descended from him. Yet there are Pagan associations with the Grail, particularly the idea of the Celtic Cauldron of Rebirth being the mythological predecessor of the Grail. And there are other Pagan colorings to the Grail stories.

The truth is, these two seemingly disparate religions share much when it comes to Glastonbury and its legends. And both Pagans and Christians travel to this place as a spiritual quest – walking together up the Tor and visiting the Chalice Well and Gardens. Much like the vesica piscis design that adorns the Chalice Well’s cover, these two religions are two entities that overlap. They cannot be completely separated – at least not at Glastonbury.

The Chalice Well cover featuring a vesica piscis design.

So I hope some of you join me in sending energy to heal the Holy Thorn as well as the hearts of those who feel the need to destroy something beautiful to so many people.

Bright blessings,



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Here’s just a quick note to point out some interesting things I’ve noticed online.

Mythic versus Historical Arthur

First up is the blog Badonicus: Late Roman and ‘Arthurian’ Britain, which is serving up a serious dose of King Arhur in a series that has thus far produced 10 posts and promises at least one more. The series is “King Arthur – Man, Myth, or Both?” and takes a researched look at the early sources for Arthur. It’s not light reading, and I haven’t made it all the way through myself, but thought I’d point it out for anyone interested.

Check out the first post in the series here and continue through the series if it tickles your fancy.

Pictish Stones

Next up is a blog I just stumbled upon called Last of the Druids: New Insights into Pictish Stones. Written by Iain Forbes, who is working on a book about the Picts, it takes a close look at the elaborately carved stones created by the Picts of Scotland. The stones are beautiful, and learning more about them is piquing my interest. Click here if your interest, too, is piqued.

Folk Magic in Gettysburg

I confess that this final one doesn’t really have much directly  to do with the Avalonian tradition or the Celts. But I’ve long been fascinated by folk magic, especially here in North America. Seeing how these folk traditions came over from Europe to the Americas and how they changed and sometimes blended with the traditions of various American Indian tribes and of the African diaspora is fascinating to me.

As such, an article from Pennsylvania caught my eye today. The Lebanon Daily News reports that contractors working on a historic dormitory, which also served as a makeshift hospital during the American Civil War, at the Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary have been finding perculiar things in the walls, attic, and floors of the building.

Among the letters to and from soldiers and bottles of sarsaparilla were several shoes, some of which date back to the 1830s. According to the story, these shoes had been cut and arranged in a way to suggest that they were used for folk magic. Those examining these shoes are still trying to determine whether they were used for good luck, to ward off evil, or something else, but I hope the News follows up on this story. Click here if you want to check it out and see a picture of one of the shoes.

Well, that’s all I have for today, though I should be posting again soon as there are  a couple time-sensitive things on the list.

Bright blessings!


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(This is the last of a series of posts focused on healing the self. The first three are here and here and here.)

Well, we’ve finally arrived at the last of the healing trifecta! Yes, we’re discussing spiritual or soul healing. Again, I’m no minister and have no pastoral counseling training. What follows are things I’ve learned over the years – either from personal experience or from those I know, especially my Hearth Sisters in the Daughters of the Sacred Grail.

Experience Beauty

These trees make a beautiful sight with the sunset in the background.

This seems so basic, but many of us run from one task to another without appreciating the beauty of our world. Watching a glowing sunset or clouds drift across a full moon, taking a walk in a woods, viewing an art exhibit, listening to gorgeous music, tasting fine chocolate (or whatever you prefer) are all ways of experiencing beauty.

Sometimes watching something ordinary and seeing it with an open mind and heart helps us appreciate the extraordinary gifts we have. Frankly, nothing takes my breath away more than watching my dog Zoe running in a field, free of inhibitions and full of joy. Whatever captures your fancy, having images and memories of experienced beauty is helpful when we face ugliness in the world or within ourselves.

Get Ecstatic

And I don’t mean just to get exited. I mean to stop worrying about what people think and experience an ecstatic state. This is a hard one for those of us raised in a more restrained culture where this might be considered immoral or a waste of time

Yet the ecstatic experience is really part of the human experience. Sadly, some people turn to drugs to achieve an ecstatic state, though modern versions of it include dance clubs and rock concerts. A drum and fire circle in a safe environment where people feel comfortable to drum, sing, and dance is a great way to cut loose and connect with that primal side.

This can help balance our lives and spirits by allowing us to feel the wild yin to our cultured side’s yang.


Walking a labyrinth is a meditative experience.

Well, you just knew this was going to be included, didn’t you? The ability to clear the mind and focus on one thing or nothing) can help you deal with stress and develop better focus. Whether you prefer the more traditional Buddhist style of meditation, guided imagery (what I call journey meditations), or another technique, being able to still your mind and body and calm the soul has tremendous value.

A physical method of meditation is walking a labyrinth. Walking the candlelight labyrinth at the Pagan Spirit Gathering a couple years ago was a tremendous experience of going within my soul. However, we can’t always set up a labyrinth in our yards or homes, but you can achieve some of the same goals using a finger labyrinth. There are labyrinth patterns to download here:

Trance Out

OK, trance has connections to both the ecstatic state and meditation. But it can be a great alternative to traditional meditation. It still helps you to disconnect and rest the conscious mind and tap into the subconscious.

Chanting, dance, breath work, hand drumming (or listening to) certain rhythms, or spinning wool with an old-fashioned drop spindle can well known ways to achieve a trance state. Yoga is another tool. Some people trance very easily by doing repetitive tasks such as crocheting or knitting. And don’t laugh, but I’m pretty sure I tranced once while snapping a wheelbarrow load of green beans!

Face the Shadow Self

You thought this was going to be a long section, didn’t you? Well, I’m just including it in the list because it is important, but I’m not going to delve into right now. Shadow work can be heavy stuff, so it will get a couple posts all to itself later.

Bright blessings!


(Photos courtesy of


© 2012 PJ Graham

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It looks like my one week off became a bit extended, didn’t it? Well, to those in the United States, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Today I’d like to discuss what is for me another major component of the Avalonian tradition: healing. As discussed here in August, this path is clearly a mystery tradition. But it is a mystery tradition that has always been focused on healing.

Many other Avalonian groups do focus on this. Jhenah Telyndru’s book Avalon Within is an indepth plan for self-healing and self-awareness. Many other books and groups also incorporate healing the self as preparation for the work of a priest or priestess. However, not much is talked about healing beyond that.

Going back to that August 9 post, let’s look again at the words of teacher and author Mara Freeman:

“The goal of the Mysteries is the conscious realization of the self as connected with all beings, visible and invisible, on the great Tree of Life, and ultimately with the Divine Source. From this realization comes the power to mediate spiritual energies into the physical world for healing, both personal and planetary.”

The stories of Arthur and Avalon make it clear that healing is an important aspect of the Isle. First, Arthur is taken to Avalon to be healed. It is up to the individual reader to determine whether the wounds being healed are physical or spiritual (though I lean toward the latter since Arthur is mortally wounded. Further, Morgan is described as skilled in healing arts. And a key quest to many of the Arthurian romances is the healing of the Wasteland by healing the wounds of the Fisher King.

Based on all of this, I believe there are three key categories of healing:

  • Healing the self
  • Healing others
  • Healing the Wasteland

I truly believe this is best done as a progression. Healing the self is key to having the strength of mind, body, and spirit to accomplish the other two. And healing other people in your community — whether helping them become physically fit, spiritually grounded, or aware and educated about important issues — makes the quest of healing the Wasteland much more attainable.

Healing is an extensive subject, so we will spending the next several weeks focusing on this progression of healing and a few techniques for doing each.

Bright blessings!



© 2011 PJ Graham

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Due to a trip for work (and preparing for it), there probably won’t be any posts this week. I might be able to on Friday or Sunday, but no promises. If not, I’ll be back next week with a couple posts focused on the Avalonian tradition as a path of healing.

Bright blessings!


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Many of you probably already know which herb the headline refers to – the wonderful and fragrant rosemary.

But you may be wondering why I’m still talking about Samhain. First, many modern Druids and Pagans do not consider November 1 to be the true date of Samhain and often honor it and (other holy days) on its astrological date, which is Nov. 7. Also, my hearth doesn’t typically approach the holy days as a single day, but more as a season. We see the holy day as simply the marker to adjust to the particular season. So I may delve into Samhain topics – from honoring the dead to introspection – throughout November.

Rosemary is easily my favorite herb. From baking and hair rinses to healing and purification, rosemary is incredibly versatile.

In folklore, rosemary is the herb of remembrance, as Shakespeare points out:

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love,
remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.

– from Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5

Sprigs of the evergreen perennial was often tossed into graves to say that the mourners would not forget the deceased. In ancient Greece, students would wear garlands of the herb while studying because they thought it would help them remember better. In recent years, studies about aromatherapy have indicated rosemary’s chemical properties do improve cognitive performance, which supports this bit of folklore (for more information, check out the studies links in the Sources section).

In regard to Samhain, remembrance is the herbal association that springs to mind. For many years, I have baked Remembrance Cookies, which are simply sugar cookies with fresh chopped rosemary added in and cut in the shape of men and women (like gingerbread man cookie cutters), as a part of celebrating Samhain. The idea is for all present to take a cookie and, while eating it, remember the loved ones they have lost as well as their ancestors. Of course, some of the cookies are left out for the spirits.

Rosemary image courtesy of

But rosemary also has a long history as a powerful cleansing and purification incense, much like sage and cedar. It can also be used for a purifying bath. This is likely connected to the belief that rosemary protects against evil spirits. Further lore connected to this is that rosemary has been placed over doors and porches to keep those with bad intentions from a home. It is interesting to note that it was supposed to attract elves and likely inspired its folk name, Elf Leaf

During the Dark Ages, the herb was burned to deter the black death. And in WWII hospitals in France, it was burned with juniper berries to kill germs.

This might sound like crazy talk in today’s world, but according to Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, studies have shown rosemary to have antibacterial properties. Also, the oil in the leaves and flowers is officially listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia.

Other healing properties, according to the lore, includes use as an astringent, diaphoretic, expectorant, and much more. It has been thought helpful for depression, headaches, and muscle spasms. As an ointment, it was thought to help rheumatism, sores, eczema, and wounds. These, however, have not been confirmed by research (to my knowledge).

It can even help your beauty regimen. A bath with rosemary can stimulate circulation (though take care if using essential oils – it is easy to put in too much), and a hair rinse of rosemary and water is great for brunettes.

Rosemary also has a long history connected to Christian myth. It is believed rosemary will not grow taller than six feet so not to grow taller than Jesus. According to legend, the plant’s flowers changed from white to blue when the Virgin Mary hung her cloak on a rosemary bush when she was escaping from Herod’s soldiers. Yet several spells for prophetic dreams using rosemary wands have a connection to Mary Magdalene instead.

It also has connections to women in general. A quirky bit of lore states that if rosemary grows vigorously in a garden, the woman of the house wears the pants:

Where Rosemary flourished, the woman ruled.

– Folk saying

Other magical associations are love, lust, mental powers, exorcism, sleep, and youth. Indeed, rosemary is part of various spells for engagement, fidelity, happy marriages, love, success, and empowerment. Simpler uses include placing it beneath a pillow to promote a good night’s sleep or beneath the bed it protects the sleeper from harm.

Frankly, I’m just touching on the considerable lore and information about this herb. If your interest is piqued, you can find much more information.

Easy to grow, this herb loves a sunny spot with somewhat alkaline soil (if your soil is acidic, add wood ashes or crushed eggshells to the soil). Seeds are difficult to start, so cuttings are the best choice when adding rosemary to your garden. However, it doesn’t like extremely cold weather, so it may not be hardy in northern climates. It can be grown in containers and brought in during the winter; however, take care not to overwater it – and it would appreciate misting.

If you’ve never considered rosemary in your garden before, I hope you give it a try. No other herb in my yard sees my garden snips more!

Latin name: Rosemarinus officinalis

Folknames: Dew of the Sea, Elf Leaf, Guardrobe, Compass Weed, Incensier, and others

Region: Native to the Mediterranean, Portugal, and northwestern Spain, though it is cultivated widely


Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

The Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells by Judicka Illes

Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic by Catherine Yronwode

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham


© 2011 PJ Graham

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“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!


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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 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

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!



© 2011 PJ Graham

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