Archive for the Storytelling Category

Laa Luanys – Lugh’s Fair Day

Posted in Folklore, History, Poetry, Storytelling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2012 by manxwytch

Laa Luanys (Laa Lunys) – August 1 (August 12th Old Calendar) is the Day of Lammas, which was moved to the first Sunday in August by the Bishop of Mann in an attempt to eradicate the lewd festivities of its original pagan festival of Lughnasadh, the Festival of the God Lugh, Foster Son of Manannan.[1]  Some interpret Laa Luanys as the ‘Day of Lugh’ substituting Luans or Lunys as Lug, Lleu, or Lugh.  Academics and historians of Religion know that Christianity ‘borrowed’ many religious days and festivals from various religions and cultures including the elder Celtic Calendral Cycles in an attempt to obtain converts and destroy the Old Faiths and practices.  For instance, St. Patrick replaced Lugh in Sunday Services.  On Ellan Vannin, Lugh’s festival, rife with apparent lewd behaviour on the mountains, seemed to be one of the most pernicious practices to destroy, with Christian priests complaining of its remnants even up until the late 18th century.

“The curates and wardens represent to the court that there is a superstitious custom, which is yearly continued and practiced in this and the neighbouring parishes by many young people (and some of riper age) going to the top of Snaefell Mountain upon the first Sunday in August, where (as they are informed) they behave themselves very rudely and indecently for the greater part of that day.”  Pg 70 Manx Calendar Customs

First Sunday after Old Lammas: This was Lhuany’s Day, the day of a festival dedicated to the god Lugh. An orgy was held at the top of Snaefell.” ( http://www.isleofman.com/heritage/epedia/arts/calendars/customscalendar.aspx)

Now, to be clear here, the above quotes are as biased toward Christianity as the Manxwytch Tales are toward the Old Faith; so take it all with a grain of salt.  However, it seemed to take many years for such an enjoyable tradition to die out… though I’ve heard the coals are still kept warm.  The last reports of such open activities on Snaefell[2] were said to have occurred in 1870.  More exclusive celebrations were whispered to have continued in homes, fields and keeils, away from the eyes of prudish priests and those who “spend more time on their knees in church than their backs in bed.”[3]

Various attempts were made by the Parish to end the “profane customs” practiced and handed down through generations of Manx families.  One of the most outright offensive attempts was when the church sent Ministers[4] up to the top of Snaefell and South Barrule to collect alms for the Church and to read aloud both the Nicene Creed and the story of Jephthah and his Daughter from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.  Briefly the story of Jephthah is that the Israelites were no longer worshiping God again and he got angry and gave them to the Ammonites.  Jephthah was born illegitimately and had only an un-named Daughter.  He becomes a leader and defeats the Ammonites and makes some kind of vow to God that whoever exits the door of his house upon his return will be sacrificed as a burnt offering to God on the altar.  And, since Jephthah’s wife is never mentioned, we can only assume that he might of known who would exit the door to greet him upon return home.  He bewails meeting his Daughter, but must keep his vow to God and sacrifice her.  She cries at the loss of her virginity (!?) (some scholars interpret this as that she mourns that she will never marry) and asks for a couple months leeway to prepare herself.  Then Jephthah carries out the deed and sacrifices her on the fiery altar, burning her to a crisp and all the women remember her for four days each year.   But pay close attention to the story and you might read how it fits what was going on at the top of Snaefell[5].  Worship of a god other than YHVH, sexual theme, sacrifice and mourning.  This all appears to fit quite well with the Day of Lugh.  Despite this dour story being read, I understand that the real killjoy was the demand for alms for the church.  Nothing kills a good ale drinking, laughing, singing, frolicking orgy than some Priest expecting cash!

There are many stories of Lugh in both Welsh and Irish mythology but I will emphasise the Manx legends as they are scantily discussed.  Lugh was the bright Solar Warrior God of the sun, corn and as mentioned earlier, Foster-Son to the great Wizard King Manannan.  Lugh was said to have spent his youth with Manannan on Ellan Vannin and it was here that he was trained in poetry, philosophy, music, smith craft, skill in battle, love and war, sailing, craftsmanship skills and cunning magic, all tutored by the Wizard King.  When his training was complete and Lugh was ready to fulfill his destiny as a warrior of epic renown, Manannan gave to Lugh his own great sword Fragarach, (the Answerer), whose power  forced anyone at whose throat it was held, to speak only the truth when questioned.[6]  Fragarach also bestowed command of the four winds to its owner and any piercing from its blade would deal a mortal wound that would never heal.  Manannan also gave Lugh flashing armour that could not be penetrated and a helmet that could not be broken.  For Lugh’s journey from the Isle, Manannan summoned from the depths of the underworld sea, a swift floating coracle called the Wave-Sweeper and lent to him his prized mare from his royal stables, the horse Aenbharr (Enbarr) whose hooves travelled as easily on water as on land.

Lugh

As a corn (grain) and solar Deity, it is little wonder that the word lugh in Manx Gaelic means mouse.  The mouse, as a totemic animal of Lugh makes obvious sense when one examines the Celtic Harvest Festival named after him, Lughnasadh.

As well, we can possibly see fragments of the relationship between the solar harvest god who dies and is reborn, Lugh’s magical spear and John Barlycorn, though this song is not particular to Mann, it was still sung in a few pubs… and may still be.

John Barleycorn: By Robert Burns

There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on’
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all.

The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong:
His head weel arm’d wi pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bendin joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.

His colour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.

They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
They ty’d him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore.
They hung him up before the storm,
And turn’d him o’er and o’er.

They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
They heav’d in John Barleycorn-
There, let him sink or swim!

They laid him upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They toss’d him to and fro.

They wasted o’er a scorching flame
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller us’d him worst of all,
For he crush’d him between two atones.

And they hae taen his very hero blood
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise.

‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy:
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!

As has been noted, the pilgrimage to mountaintops was important on Mann to celebrate Lugh, light, the corn and the first harvest.  But this was only one of two pilgrimages on Laa Luanys, the second of which was to the Holy Wells.  For some reason, perhaps related to Manannan, it was important to visit the known healing wells, in particular Maughold[7], Laxey[8], and St. Patrick’s[9] though there were many others, these three appear prominent.  It was said that the curative powers of the wells were more accessible at this time and offerings were made to the Genius Loci of the well and its particular power.  This was often done by the exchange of a pin or a silver coin for its curative spirit.  During the offering, a prayer was made invoking the healing property to cure whatever the ailment was.  Once accomplished, the well was often circled three times and then dressed in ribbons, and flowers.[10]

There is so much that could be told of Lughnasadh, Lugh and his Harvest Festival but I will leave that for another time.  What we can see, is that on a tellurian level, the celebration took place both in the heights and in the deeps.  The very same locations  where the spiritual celebration of this Great Sabbat is held for all witches.

If you are really interested in reading further I suggest obtaining a copy of Marie Mac Neill’s book, written in 1962, titled ‘The festival of Lughnasa: a study of the survival of the Celtic festival of the beginning of harvest‘ and published by Oxford University Press.

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FOOTNOTES


[1] There was for many years a harvest fair that continued in the Parish of Santon.  Further there was a Laxey Fair, a Maughold Fair and a Fair at Ballasalla.  Take note of this as you will see, it is important because these were also places of prominent healing wells.

[2] Snaefell is the Isle of Mann’s tallest mountain and therefore those who celebrated Laa Lunys on its summit were as close to the sun as possible.  On a clear day you can see all seven kingdoms – meaning Ellan Vannin, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, the kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of the Sea.  From here, it was easy to give thanks for the harvest and all that could be seen.  Nowadays it’s tough to find a day without rain!  The jaunt up the summit is made easier by the electric train which takes you easily to the top where there’s a good cafe house / tourist shop.  As well, there is almost always someone flying off the peak in a chute.  I prefer to climb the way my Elder taught me, which is by an old footpath straight up from the Mountain Road.  It’s far more fulfilling for the spirit.  Besides this, he was climbing that mountain until well over the age of 75 and I feel that his pilgrimages added to his longevity, happiness and wellbeing.  I can only pray to reach his age and vigour!

[3] Perhaps you recognized it.  An altered quote taken from the classic movie The Wickerman in the extended version.  Apropos for this blog entry I would think.

[4] Ministers Parick Beg and William Giek in the mid 1800s.

[5] Also, there was said to be people who climbed South Barrule and other mountains on Mann but Snaefell seems to be the most prominent at this time.

[6] Magical items that force people to speak the truth are particularly emphasised in Manx folklore.  More on this in another post.

[7] A legendary witches’ haunt.

[8] At the foot of Snaefell, as it is at the beginning of the electric tram.

[9] Obviously re-named from an older Celtic Deity.  Possibly Lugh, as we know the Church replaced Lugh with Patrick during the festival.

[10] It is believed that as the bouquets fade, so too does the disease.

Homecoming.

Posted in Storytelling with tags , , on July 12, 2012 by manxwytch

Following on the heels of leavetaking, with something akin to giving birth inbetween.

There are two kinds of witches: those who move into a new place and set up their computers first, and those who set up bookshelves. I am one of the latter.

Moving from one place into another is much like a birth – a radical transition marking the beginning of a new life, physically demanding, mentally and emotionally draining. Both involve the moving of large objects through small openings, often painfully. And then there is a reordering in which the crisis-chaos is resolved and a new kind of order restored. Like leavetaking, it happens on a physical and an energetic level, and it is the energy of chaos that can be disturbing. The ordering of physical objects in to appropriate and functional places both directs and grounds the chaos energy.

Throughout this labour, the elder trees a few hundred metres from the house have been in bloom, and I made a point just before the full moon to visit them and introduce myself to the Genii of the trees. I took a few token inflorescences, to let them know there is someone new in the neighborhood, someone who both knows and appreciates their virtues. I’ll get to the other plants in the area as I get a chance, but the Elder Mothers needed to be acknowledged as soon as I set foot in the new place.

Organizing books onto shelves is mentally and physically challenging, forcing reflection upon what is deemed essential and important, and what must be let go, considering the painfully finite nature of bookshelves and space in which to put them. It is also like renewing old friendships as each book is taken in hand and appreciated, some long unread but still familiar. A reckoning is made as to the importance and place of each in the new space, and in the new life. Even more significant is when individual collections merge to form a new one, new books never before read, new categories, new interests and new priorities.

Work spaces will be next, with many projects, ethereal and physical to be completed.

Like a birth, pacing is crucial. To exhaust oneself before the completion of the transition is to invite disaster. So tonight I take a breather from the books and write a blog entry instead.

Leavetaking

Posted in Musings, Storytelling with tags , , , on June 9, 2012 by manxwytch

I’m facing a significant move in my immediate future, one that will return me to my childhood land and to my friends and loved ones there. For several years we’ve been apart, thanks mainly to an inauspicious, but temporary, relocation for work. Despite my best efforts, my time here has bonded me to this place, at least to a very small part of this place – a 21 foot diameter circle with an old forked elm tree at its centre – to be precise. Here I have worked magic and prayer, bane and boon, glimpsed beyond the veil, trod the wheel, worked the old rites, frozen my ass off in winter and been eaten alive by bloodsucking insects during most of the rest of the year.

The elm tree has been my ritual companion, its forked branches holding candle lanterns and smouldering incenses, corn dollies and herbs according to the seasons and receiving offerings for three turnings of the year. It grows close enough to my house here to beckon me frequently, but far enough away that I have never been disturbed there. The place of working has accumulated patterns of stones as well as spirits in my time here.

It is a personal life philosophy of mine to try to leave every situation in better shape than I found it.

To bid farewell to the Genius, I went to the elm tree bearing offerings: bowls for salt and water that I have used here, tied up with cords of deerskin and wool that I wove in the course of my solitary workings and buried among the roots of the tree. I offered a libation of twenty year old single malt, so that the bowls would not be offered empty. I trod the triple circle for the last time in this place.  At other places, I have painstakingly gathered up my energies or their residues I had left, winding them carefully back to their source. But this year the elm is having a hard time, with large branches dying off since the buds unfolded in the spring, so I left what I had to offer in place as I walked away from the old and into my new life to come.

The Moddey Dhoo

Posted in Folklore, Storytelling with tags , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by manxwytch

The Black Dog of Mann

Somewhere between folk tale and legend, the Moddey Dhoo  haunts the lore of Ellan Vannin from ancient times.  Black Dogs have a special place in many Celtic and European legends as both guardians of the sacred and profane; theurgic messengers from the Otherworld.  Different localities have given them different names, many are known as Ghost Dogs and their apparitions are often harbingers of death and doom to the person that encounters them.

Peel Castle is a beautiful red stoned ruined castle on a wee island off of the main town of Peel.  This island is now called St. Patrick’s Isle, but it was once a holy isle of the ancient pagan peoples of Ellan Vanin, the Druids, cunning folk and of course the early Vikings.  We all know that the  Christians appropriated all the sacred sites that they could in their thirst for dominion and power and they renamed everything under the names of their Saints, hoping that time would at some point wash away all memory of the Old Religions.  In many places, it did… but not on Mann…

Now the Old Moddey Dhoo as I’ve said, was a guardian of the sacred isle.  He watched over the graves of the pagan ancestors and protected their bones and sanctity.  When the Christians came, and took over everything, bringing with them their hierarchy and military institutions, their greed and their disrespect for the land, sea and sky… well, you can imagine, he was plenty worked!

And when in the 16oos Peel Castle became the garrison of the damned Earl of Derby’s soldiers, well the Moddey Dhoo just about had enough of them and their drinking and farting and carrying on!  So he kept a close eye on them to keep them in line and in their quarters.  He would wander into the guard room, and lay his big Moddey Head down by the fire, just as sun set to the west.  Every soldier knew he was no man’s dog.  He was that kind of otherworldly guest which makes the hair on your arms stand on end and your back prickle.  So every last one of them stayed sober around the Dhoo and not one uttered a curse word for fear of him.  Some even thought he was the Christian Devil, but we know better.

Each night, a pair of soldiers had to lock the great gates of the castle, venture through a dark passageway in a church which, as you know, was built on an ancient holy site, and leave the keys in the Captain’s Quarters.  And every time the soldiers went to leave the room, the Moddey Dhoo would rise from the hearth fire to follow and keep the fellows in line.  So scared were the soldiers to head out that they would roll dice to see who were the unlucky fellows of the eve to do the job.  No one walked alone with the Moddey Dhoo!

He prowled behind the key carriers, panting mist and smoke.  His seemed to grow larger in the dark and he made a sound like a low rumbling growl.  Some nights he just stood there baring his ivory teeth and scowling with his eyes the size of saucer plates ablaze.

And he would return with the soldiers to the guards room, lay down by the fire, and disappear at dawn without a trace!

Goodness he was a good guard dog, that black phantom!

And as it is with the world of men, they get familiar even with the uncanny after a time.  A miracle of childhood is only a sunrise in middle age.  Likewise, some men began to question their instinctual fear of the Moddey Dhoo and they started to think that he might just be a big ugly dog.  Well, you know, some people can talk themselves into any belief despite the natural wonders around them!

One soldier in particular had a real problem with the Moddey Dhoo and thought he would do best to show off that he was braver than the rest of them.  Now he was a most foul man, and it wasn’t just his smell, it was his very air and the Moddey Dhoo had been keeping one coal glowing eye on him at all times.  After calling on John Barleycorn for ample courage, this man began to boast that he wasn’t afraid of no Black Dog.

“Come on” he challenged “let’s see if you’re really a Devil or just a wee ugly pup.”

Well, what I can I say, the ancient immortal phantom just looked up and grinned like a Hell Hound.  And this drunken wanker picked up the keys and dared the Moddey Dhoo to follow him!  Some of the wiser soldiers tried to stop him but he was a big brute, drunk and was alreadypissed down at the gate.  The Moddy Dhoo just looked at the soldiers, got up from the hearth fire, sauntered out the door and prevented every last one of them from following with a haunting glare.  This set a few soldiers to all get down on their hands and knees for the foolish fellow and mutter prayers and weepings while others waited in quite fear for the outcome.  Either way, not another soldier left the guard room that night.

And there was silence.

Then from the dark came the shrieking.  The horrid screaming of the braggart guard.  A most agonizing sound in the dark to be certain.  Still not one soldier ventured out of the safety of the guard’s quarters.  They paled in fear, frozen in a grip of terror and stared wide eyed at one another.

Then, the door to the guard room swung open and standing there, was a man who was man no more.  The braggart soldier!  A man whose face twitched and contorted in dread for he had encountered the wrath of the otherworldly guardian, the Moddey Dhoo.  They helped him to sit down safelyin the room but he shook so uncontrollably that his tongue wagged out of his mouth and he was unable to speak.  He was nothing but a shivering, drooling, madman!  None of the soldiers ever learned what happened to him that night when he challenged the Ancient Guardian of Peel, and like all fools with Immortals,  he died three days later.

The  fearful fellow and the Moddey Dhoo are briefly mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in The Lay of the Last Minstrel

“For he was speechless, ghastly, wan
Like him of whom the Story ran
Who spoke the spectre hound in Mann.”

Some say, the Moddey Dhoo showed him the contents of his own soul.  Whatever the black dog did, he didn’t need to do it again.  The passageway in Peel Castle was walled up and no one was to ever venture in.

Some say that the Moddey Dhoo no longer haunts Peel Castle, but I can tell you it’s a lie.  The Moddey Dhoo is still there and I know many persons who have both seen and encountered him.

Those stories I’ll perhaps tell another day.

But this was the story as it was told to me by a Wytch of Mann.  If you want the boring old regular version of the story, you can go here.  It’ s neither as true nor as good as the Manx Wytch-Tales.

March Moons and the Vernal Equinox

Posted in Folklore, Storytelling with tags , , on March 19, 2012 by manxwytch

The vernal equinox is when day and night are in perfect balance because the maiden Earth has turned her centre, toward the Sun.  This is the beginning of spring and is celebrated as a time not only of balance but of renewal and the rebirth of light, blossoms, green leaves, sweet scents and warm days to come.  Light conquers darkness as the days grow long.

It was an old belief that the March Moon had particular importance in the Isle of Mann.  It was told to me that the Moon Herself is Queen of Ellan Vannin as one of Mann’s earlier names was Mona’s Isle, the Isle of the Moon in Old English.  Mona is a feminine noun in Manx Gaelic and used as a girls name.  It was first recorded as Mona by Julias Caesar in 54 CE.  We don’t know if he was informed of the name or if he decided to name the Isle himself.

Either way, the moon and the sea have always been good company.

Ta eayst jesarn ‘sy Vayrnt dy-liooar ayns shiaght bleeantyn.

“A Saturday’s moon in March is enough in seven years.”

(Folklore of the Isle of Mann.  A.W.Moore, 1891)

The Door of Enchantment

Posted in Storytelling with tags on August 28, 2011 by manxwytch

Here’s the door.  Come in and sit for a spell.  Have a cup of tea.  Careful though, you might not want to taste the food on that plate.  It belongs to the Fae.  If you eat it, you’ll never return to the world of men.

I’ve created a little space on the web to weave myself.  A place to share stories and thoughts.  Pictures and memories.

A place where I can come out of the broom closet, laugh a little, sweep away the cobwebs and open the doors of enchantment for you.

Welcome to my home on the web.

Failt ort

Manxwytch