aliisaacstoryteller

To listen to the way people talk, you’d think abortion and birth control were a modern phenomenon. Not so. As  John M. Riddle, J. Worth Estes and Josiah C. Russell say in their paper, ‘Birth Control in the Ancient World’, it’s been going on ‘ever since Eve’. And believe it or not, it was big business.

Silphion, known in later times by its Latin name, Sylphium, was grown in the seventh century BC  by Greek colonists who founded the city of Cyrene in what we know today as Libya. Sylphium was a member of the genus Ferula, commonly known as the giant fennel.


abortion and contraceptives in ancient ireland www.aliisaacstoryteller.com


It was so effective as a contraceptive and abortive agent, that it was featured on coins, in plays (Aristophanes in The Knights), in poetry (the Roman poet, Catallus), and in medical and botanical literature (Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, and Greek botanist Theophrastus). Read More

In October 2015, I had a very strange experience at Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward. As I walked the site, I became increasingly dizzy and developed a powerful headache. Half an hour after driving away from the site, the headache had gone and I felt fine.


Tlachtga, Hill of Ward. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com. #ancient sites #ireland

Google Earth view of Tlachtga, showing all that remains of its quadrivallate ditch and embankment system


I don’t believe I’m very receptive to picking up the energies and vibes of a place. I’m often in the presence of people who are, and it irritates me immensely that I don’t feel the power they are feeling when we stand together on an ancient site.

I was deeply affected by what I felt that day at Tlachtga, however. Here is what I wrote about it at the time: Read More

According to legend, there were five great roads which led to the Hill of Tara. One of them runs between the north and south campuses of my university at Maynooth, and I’ve been crossing it almost every day for the last two years. Of course, it looks a bit different today; it’s tarmacked for a start, cars drive along it instead of carts, and it has rather a lot of traffic lights. You can read more about the five great roads in my post, The Ancient Origins of the Irish Road, but since then I’ve learned a whole lot more about them which I’d like to share.

It has always been believed that the Hill of Tara was the royal residence of the High Kings of Ireland; after all, we have inherited a vast wealth of early Medieval literature which tells us so. However, since the 1980s, a new school of thought began to emerge which interpreted these medieval tales as a reflection of the times they were written rather than the Iron Age which they claim to portray.


Mound of hostages, black and white images, people standing on top of it.

Mound of hostages at Tara. (c) Ali Isaac


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Following my recent posts on Macha and the site of Emain Macha, it occurred to me that I have referenced, but never really elaborated, on the concept or function of the sovereignty goddess in Irish myth.

To be honest, she’s quite a hard character to pin down. She is thought to represent the land, and sovereignty over the land. A would-be king was expected to unite with her in order to legitimise his right to the kingship. Feasting would be involved, and sex. Another important feature was the offering of an alcoholic drink by the goddess to the king.

According to Muireann ní Bhrolcháin, the sovereignty could manifest in three ways, and an element of transformation was always involved;

  1. She appears to the king as an ugly old hag, who becomes young and beautiful when he completes the challenge she sets him, usually sex or a full-on kiss, at least.
  2. She appears as a woman who loses her mind and then regains it.
  3. She appears as a woman who loses her status, but regains it.

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Returning to the raison d’etre of this blog, and to Incredible Irish Women in particular (most apt in light of recent happenings in this country), I’d like to introduce you to MACHA.

There are several women by the name of Macha in Irish mythology, and with the exception of King Nuada’s wife, they are all associated with the ancient ceremonial site of Emain Macha, also known today as Navan Fort (even though it is nowhere near Navan).

Emain Macha (Listen here for pronunciation) is a site much like the Hill of Tara, and shares many of its characteristics, but I’ll tell you more about that next week. According to legend, it was once the site of the provincial palace belonging to King Conchobar of Ulster, and thus associated with the tales of the Táin and the Ulster Cycle. However, archaeology has shown that, contrary to popular belief, Emain Macha was never a site of habitation, just like Tara and Cruachan and Dun Ailine.

What has this to do with Macha? Read More

You may remember these two young ladies:


Incredible Irish Women. The Mysterious Deaths of Eithne and Fidelma


And you may remember also the block I had when it came to writing the next post in my Incredible Irish Women series, and how I was given to believe that I had ‘unfinished business’ to complete before I could move onto my next subject.

I decided to go to the site where Eithne and Fedelma had been baptised by Patrick, and where they were said to have to have immediately ascended to heaven afterwards. Let’s just say it was not at all what I expected. Read More

You may have noticed there was no blog post from me last week. I try really hard to keep the blog updated as often as I can, but sometimes things happen which change that, and this was one of those times.

I had been planning to introduce you to a particular lady from Ireland’s history, and indeed, the post is actually half written. I thought it would be an easy post to write, because I already know something about her. However, so many obstacles popped up during the writing of it, that I gave up; I felt it wasn’t meant for me to write, or at least not yet.

It wasn’t writer’s block, but that all my research seemed to contradict itself, no matter what angle I approached it from. I was frustrated and puzzled.

I was driving home from uni on Thursday, wondering about this, when the following thought came into my head: “You have unfinished business.” Those were the exact words, and here’s where you might think me slightly mad… Read More

Eithne and Fidelma were sisters who lived in the time of St Patrick. Their story is incredible, although it may be argued that the two young women themselves were not. They were pagan princesses, daughters of Laoghaire, High King of Ireland in 432AD, when Patrick is said to have lit his paschal fire in defiance of the King, pagan custom and ritual.

When Patrick first approached the King, the sisters, known as Eithne the Fair, and Fidelma the Red, were not at court. Following tradition, they were fostered out at Cruachan, also known as Rath Croghan, in the province of Connacht, made famous as the royal residence of Queen Medb.

There, the two girls were in the process of being educated by two Druids, Maol and Caplait, who were said to be the wisest men in all of Ireland at that time. Clearly, then, they were being trained as Druids, an education which is believed to have spanned over twenty years. Read More

Today I visited the shrine of Saint Dympna in a tiny little place called Lavey in Co. Cavan. Although Dympma is quite a well-known seventh century saint in Ireland, her association with Lavey is a relatively unknown local tradition.

Dympna is one of Ireland’s tragic heroines. According to legend, she was just fifteen years old when she came to her untimely end at the hands of her very own father. Her life may have been short, but she inspired the birth of something wonderful which still goes on to this day.


 

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Back in Lavey this afternoon, I came to where I thought the shrine was located, but which appeared to be a farm-house and dead end. I knocked on the door, and explained that I was looking for Dympna’s shrine, and the man who answered said, “I’ll just get my coat and take you down there. Have you a bottle for the holy water?”

When I gaped at him blankly, he went inside and fetched a small, bright orange, plastic Ribena bottle, surely the most humble receptacle that has ever collected holy water. Ever. Read More

Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh
(pronunciation Ah-vleen fwee vosh-ah gheev)

Happy New Year to you all, and thank you for supporting Aliisaacstoryteller last year! I hope 2018 will be good to you. I can’t believe we’re already two weeks in… time sure flies.

Why the long silence, Ali?

Well, let’s just say the Christmas break did not go completely to plan. Two days before the big day itself I was flying around trying to make sure everything was ready, and I managed to injure my eye, which meant I could barely see, and was in agony. I couldn’t drive, do the food shopping, and certainly couldn’t see to read, write or blog. It certainly put a damper on the festivities for me.

After Christmas, Carys and I caught the Aussie flu. I was very ill, and in fact, I’m still not fully recovered, but life has to go on; I have my family to take care of, and I had to study for my exams… that was the last thing I felt like! Only one more exam to go next week, and then I have some time off until semester two starts at the end of January.

Of course I learned something from all this; as usual, I was trying to do too much, thinking ahead and not concentrating on the here and now; also, I need to take better care of myself, for my sanity as well as my health. I’m probably not the only one… am I right???


Happy New Year from Aliisaacstoryteller

Top Posts of 2017

Thank you for visiting aliisaacstoryteller last year. I write for fun about a subject I love, and I’m so happy that so many of you enjoy it, and feel the same. Thank you also for all the emails; I love getting to know you, and appreciate you taking the time and trouble to get in touch. I try to answer each one, but sometimes I get a bit snowed under, as aliisaacstoryteller is just a one-woman-band, so if you didn’t get a reply from me, I apologize sincerely.

These are the posts you liked most in 2017: Read More

Today I met up with Treasa and a bunch of lovely ladies for a visit to Cruachan and Oweynagat. To say I was nervous is a bit of an understatement; not because I was meeting up with a group of people I didn’t know (daunting enough for someone like me), but because a) I’ve never been caving, and never wanted to, and b) you know, it’s a space which belongs to the Morrigan, and she’s definitely scary, in a wonderful and terrifying kind of way. But, Treasa invited me, and I trust her, and if you love Irish myth and ancient sites, you can’t not go. I’d avoided it long enough.

When I got up this morning and saw the sun was shining, I knew it was a day for facing fears.

We met for lunch first in the Percy French Hotel in Strokestown. I’m glad we did this, as it broke the ice, and was really fun, and also, it meant I could follow in my car behind someone who knows where they’re going, and hopefully not get lost. 😁

First we went to the main mound at Cruachan. It’s huge! And what a view! I could hear one of our group drumming as I walked up to the top. The beat carried to me faintly on the breeze, seeming to enter my bloodstream, so that I almost didn’t know if it was my pulse or my heartbeat stirring. It kind of felt magical, and right. Read More

There is a deep-rooted fear in many cultures that Friday 13th is a very unlucky day, yet no one knows where this superstition has come from, or why it is so widespread.It is certainly true that some pretty rotten things have happened in the past on this day, which have earned it such a terrible reputation.

For example, on Friday 13th October 1307, hundreds of Knights Templar were rounded up and put to death in France.In the Bible, Judas was the thirteenth person present at the Last Supper. Jesus was crucified the very next day, which was a Friday.


Black cat resting against dark background, disappearing into the shadows

Innocent pet, or witches familiar? It wasn’t just the woman who was roasted alive.


In numerology, the number 12 is considered to be a number of ‘completeness’; there are 12 months in  year, 12 hours in a day followed by 12 hours of night, there are 12 signs of the zodiac, etc.In comparison, the number 13 is seen as irregular, imbalanced. Read More