Mogh Ruith, the Blind Magician

Mogh Ruith the Blind Magician http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Without a doubt, one of the most interesting and mysterious figures from Irish mythology is the One known as Mogh Ruith. He’s right up there with Manannán, as far as I’m concerned. His name is said to mean ‘slave of the wheel’, curious in itself, and he was a blind Munster Druid who lived on Valentia Island  in Co Kerry, which is now part of the celebrated Wild Atlantic Way.

Mogh Ruith was the father of tragic Goddess, Tlachtga, who left her name in the landscape of Ireland  at a place anglicised as the Hill of Ward, sacred to the festival of Samhain.

He is perhaps most famous for his flying machine, roth rámach, meaning ‘the oared wheel’, or ‘rowing wheel’ (could be a helicopter, don’t you think?), in which night appeared as bright as day. For this reason, it is believed that he must have been a sun god. I don’t know about you, but that sounds too easy to me. Perhaps it was a space ship… remember, the Tuatha de Danann were said to have descended from great storm clouds in the sky.

However, blaming aliens for something we don’t understand is also too easy. It’s just as likely that in the long history of the existence of our planet, there must have been advanced civilizations elsewhere on Earth. Unless, of course, you believe that life only came into being 6000 years ago, as some poor children are now being brainwashed taught. But that’s a discussion for another time.

If ancient civilizations could build pyramids, and incredible temples that we still can’t explain, never mind replicate, today, why not flying machines?

Interestingly, there is much talk of flying machines in Sanscrit and Hindu texts; here, they are known as Vimana, in which the Gods are transported by flying wheeled chariots, sometimes pulled by animals. There are descriptions of wheels, spokes, and the colour gold.

It is intriguing that in the name of Mogh Ruith’s flying vehicle, roth rámach, we can see a reference to the Hindu deity, Rama. This could be coincidence, of course, but many people seem to see a connection between the Irish myths and Sanskrit. Personally, I am open to this.

After all, despite the recent preference for separatism, and white elitism, we all share a common Proto-Indo-European heritage… and yes, that includes you, White America, who are descended from a right cocked-up cocktail of us Europeans and native Americans, in spite of what you might think.

But back to the man in question. Mogh Ruith pops up at various intervals in Ireland’s pre-history, according to Medieval sources. The ancient text,  Lebor Gabála Érenn, claims he died some time during the 10th century BC; the Annals of the Four Masters date him to around 1651–1621 BC. According to Christian lore, he is the man who executed John the Baptist.

According to legend, he became blind when he lost an eye in the Alps, how, I don’t know. The other was destroyed when he tried to stop the course of the sun for two days.  Again, I don’t know why he tried to do this, but it seems feasible… we know today that looking directly at the sun can cause damage to the eyes.

Was he a historical figure? No evidence survives, but for an abundance of fascinating stories. In my view, stories are a way of keeping someone, or something alive. If not the personage himself, then certainly something he stood for, whether fictional or real.

Mogh Ruith and his daughter, Tlachtga, were said to have been students of Simon Magus, also known as Simon the Sorcerer. He was supposed to have helped them build their flying machine. Simon was a Samaritan and religious figure mentioned in the Bible, who lived c. 1st century AD, and who converted to Christianity.

He received a lot of attention, not particularly positive, from ancient writers, such as Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius, who regarded him as ‘the source of all heresies‘, and in fact,  the sin of simony (paying for position and influence in the church) is said to be named after him.

In addition to this less than glowing reputation, his three sons were said to have raped and impregnated Mogh Ruith’s daughter, Tlachtga. She fled from them to the Hill of Ward, where she gave birth to her three sons, Doirb, Cuma, and Muach, before dying from her injuries and a very hard labour.

So far, it’s not looking good for Mogh Ruith. Perhaps it’s time to have a quick gander at some of the stories about him.

Cormac mac Airt is one of Irish mythology’s most well known and best loved High Kings. He lived during the 3rd century AD. So loved was he, that the Christians tried to claim him as a convert, even though he lived well before the accepted age of Christianity in Ireland.

Cormac was contemporary with the legends of Fionn mac Cumhall. Fionn and his Fianna carried out much of the defence of the realm on Cormac’s behalf, and thus the High King rewarded him with the gift of marriage to two of his daughters, Aoife, and when she died only a year later, the young Grainne. Well, we all know how that went!

Anyhoo. In The Siege of Knocklong,  recorded in the Book of Lismore, dated 1480 AD, which was discovered hidden in the walls of Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford in 1814 (ooooh… isn’t that a fab story?)the King of Munster and Cormac go to war because Cormac has demanded too high a price of tribute.

Over the period of a year, Cormac lays siege to Fiacha Moilleathan, King of Munster, and they engage in five battles. Finally, Cormac resorts to magical means; he calls in his Druids, who dry up all the rivers and wells in the region. The Munster men are almost defeated, until King Fiacha employs Mogh Ruith. But the services of Mogh Ruith do not come cheap. This is what he demands…

A hundred bright white cows in milk, a hundred well-fattened pigs; a hundred strong working oxen; a hundred racehorses; fifty soft white cloaks; after the project is over, the daughter of the first lord of the East or the most prominent after him, to bear me children the first place in the files of Munster’s army for my successor who shall have in perpetuity the rank of a provincial king…; that the King of Munster should choose his counsellor from among my descendants;… that I am given the territory of my choice in Munster.

quote from Shee-Eire

He then restores all the water in the province so that man and beast may drink. With his breath, he blows up storms, and turns Cormac’s Druids to stone. He raises fire, and stone and sand storms, and eventually wins the day for the Munster men. He then chooses the territory Fir Maige Féne, which comes from the Irish for ‘men of the monastery of the plain’, later known as Fermoy, for his own.

There is an Iron Age hill fort at Fermoy, one of only three in northern Co Cork, called Carntierna, which means ‘Tigernac’s cairn’. It is named after legendary Munster King, Tigernac Tetbannach, who was said to have reigned during the time of Conchobar mac Nessa. A great cairn crowns the hill’s summit, supposedly the king’s burial-place. Perhaps this king and his people could have been Mogh Ruith’s descendants.


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The #Halloween Legacy of Ireland’s Witches

It’s a popular enduring image of Halloween. How many little girls will be donning black, and a wide-brimmed pointy hat, painting their faces green, and gluing rice crispies to their noses to represent warts tonight? And when all those little girls are lying asleep in bed, faces scrubbed clean, how many older little girls will be sallying forth on the high street, brooms in hand, adorned with green face paint and the addition of mini skirts and high heels in a not-quite-so-traditional version of the Halloween witch?

Most people today don’t believe in witches, although among the pagan community there are groups who call themselves witches; they practice a nature based faith called Wicca. However, it seems more than likely that witches and witchcraft were a lie originally invented by Christianity to control powerful, knowledgeable women, and have people scurrying to the church for protection. That the notion of the witch struck such fear into people’s hearts that they were willing to collude in accusing any woman of the crime if it meant saving their own skins.

The punishment for women accused as witches was barbaric: burning, or drowning were common as anti-witchcraft fervour swept Europe, usually after torture and humiliation in order to extract a confession. In Ireland, however, common law dictated that women accused of witchcraft should be hung, although this did not happen in all cases.

black-hoursIf you want to know more about the persecution of witches, you should read this book. The Black Hours by Alison Williams is a no-holds-barred, powerful account of a real event based on real people. The research is meticulous, and the writing flawless and engaging. I found it very disturbing to read, and it stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

The first woman in Ireland to be officially denounced as a witch was Dame Alice Kyteler in the thirteenth century. By all accounts, she was quite a character, and did not at all fit into the social norms for women at that time. With hindsight, it’s perhaps not surprising that she was singled out for retribution.

The daughter of wealthy Norman immigrants who came to Kilkenny in Ireland in the mid thirteenth century, Alice met and married William Outlawe, a local banker, and bore him a son, also named William. When her husband died suddenly a few years later, leaving her all his wealth, she quickly remarried.

Her second husband, Adam de Blund of Cullen, also died suddenly and unexpectedly within a few years of their wedding, leaving her the full extent of his fortune. Not one long for grieving, Alice married Richard de Valle, and it wasn’t long before he too died suddenly.

Alice was by now an extremely wealthy woman in her own right. She ran a very popular inn, staffed with a bevvy of beautiful young women. This was seen as questionable at the time, and many people were jealous of her wealth and popularity. She married local landowner, Sir John de Poer, but he became ill shortly after. Just before he died, he amended his will, making Alice and her son, William, his sole heirs.

Sir John’s family were outraged that Alice had cheated them out of their inheritance. They accused Alice of witchcraft and sorcery, claiming she bewitched him to rewrite his will. The families of her previous husbands jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to win a slice of her fortune for themselves.

The Bishop of Ossary, Richard de Ledrede, was a zealous man obsessed with church law and morality. When the families of the dead husbands brought their complaint to him, he vowed to eradicate witchcraft from Ireland. In addition to poison and sorcery, he accused Alice of denying the Christian faith, sacrificing animals to demons at crossroads, holding secret gatherings in churches at night to carry out black magic rituals, sleeping with a familiar, Robin Artison, a demon of Satan, and the murder of four husbands… quite a list, huh?

Richard tried to have her arrested, but instead, he himself was thrown in jail by  Sir Arnold le Poer, Seneschal of Kilkenny, who was related to Alice through her husband, Sir John. On his release seventeen days later, the Bishop wrote to the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Utlagh (Outlawe) demanding Alice’s arrest, but the Chancellor, who was also related to Alice through her first husband, William, ordered Richard to drop the case. Ledrede, however, was on a mission to stamp out witchcraft in Ireland, and had no intention of backing down.

Alice fled the country, supposedly to London, and was never heard of again. Meanwhile, the Bishop rounded up all her less fortunate friends and servants and had them tried for witchcraft and heresy.

Alice’s son, William, confessed and repented; he was forced to attend three masses a day, and give aid to the poor. Alice’s maid, Petronella de Meath, was tortured until she confessed and implicated her  absent mistress, Dame Alice. She was then publicly flogged and carted around the city streets as an example to the city folk.

Finally, on the 3rd of November 1324, poor Petronella was burned at the stake. As if she hadn’t already suffered enough. Compare this to the punishment William, a man, received. Um… yeah, no comparison at all, really, is it?

Petronella was the first woman to be burned at the stake in Ireland for witchcraft and heresy, but she wasn’t the last.

In 1710,  on Islandmagee, on the east coast of Antrim, eighteen-year-old Mary Dunbar accused eight local women of witchcraft and causing her to be demonically possessed. This was the last recorded witch trial in Ireland. As with Alice, these women did not fit into accepted notions of female behaviour; they drank, smoked and were old and hag-like, some of them were actually disabled. The women weren’t burned, so far as we know; records show that they were jailed for a year, and pilloried four times, as it was a first offence. What happened after that is not known, as  the public records office holding many Church of Ireland records was burned down during the Irish Civil War between 1922-1923.

Poor Bridget Cleary is often cited as the last witch burned in Ireland, but this is not true. She was murdered by her deranged husband in 1895, who claimed that when she became ill, she had been abducted by fairies, and a changeling left in her place. So he set her alight and burned her to death.  Hmmm… nice guy. Bridget had never at any point been accused of witchcraft. Michael Cleary was found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned for only fifteen years, after which he emigrated to Canada.

Incidentally, Alice’s inn is still going strong to this very day… it’s now known by the name of Kyteler’s Inn, and is reputed to be frequented by Alice’s ghost.

To get the full Alice Kyteler story, you can download a FREE copy of A contemporary narrative of the proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler : prosecuted for sorcery in 1324, by Richard de Ledrede, bishop of Ossory


Want to know more about Halloween and Samhain? You might find something of interest here…

Samhain | The Original Halloween

For our ancient ancestors, the day began not with the arrival of dawn, but with the fall of dusk. Therefore, Samhain (pronounced sau-win, and believed to derive from the Old Irish sam, meaning ‘summer’, and fuin, meaning ‘end’) began on the evening of 31st October, and continued until dusk on November 1st. Similarly, their New Year began with the arrival of the dark season, Winter, not halfway through it, as ours does today. Some say this equates with a belief that life is born into the light from the darkness of the womb.


 

om

Tlachtga | Goddess of Earth and Fire

At Tlachtga, I felt a great sense of peace. I know you will say it’s because it all happened so long ago, in fact, probably never happened at all, because these are just ancient stories. But I think forgiveness washes a place clean, floods it with peacefulness and makes it wholesome again.

It didn’t even feel like a hill, but as I walked out onto the summit, I was amazed at the wide open 360* panorama which unfolded around me. From here, other famous ancient sites can be seen, if you know where to look, such as Tara (19kms), Loughcrew, Slane (23kms) and Teltown (12kms).


Magh Slecht, Site of Human Sacrifice or Holy Massacre?

The legend of Crom Cruach is a sinister one. The ancient texts of the Metrical Dindshenchas claim that the people of Ireland worshipped the God at Samhain, by offering up their firstborn child in return for a plentiful harvest in the coming year. The children were killed by smashing their heads on the stone idol representing Crom Cruach, and sprinkling their blood around the base. This stone idol has been identified as the Killycluggin Stone.


An Irish Ghost Story for Halloween | Sabina of Ross Castle

My father was not known for his kindliness; the Black Baron, they called him, and with good reason. He couldn’t abide lawlessness, demanded obedience, and ruled with an iron hand.

That grim, grey castle was not the place for a young girl to grow up in. For the most part, I was left alone, save for my poor governess. I was always tricking her with false errands, that I might escape her sharp eyes and those unforgiving walls.


 

Samhain Legends | Donn, Lord of the Dead

As far as we can tell, the ancient Irish people  never had a God of the Dead. The Otherworld was said to be the domain of Manannán, God of the Sea, but the myths and legends do not tell of him being a God of the Dead. However, there is someone, a mere mortal, who has come to be associated with this role.


Aillen of the Sidhe sprays fire from his mouth upon the roof of Tara.A Samhain Story | Fionn mac Cumhall and the Sidhe-Prince of Flame

“Tomorrow is the eve of Samhain,” whispered the Filidh, the High King’s Royal Bard. The crowd stilled, straining to hear through the smoky atmosphere of the King’s hall.

It was the night before Halloween. As always, the High King had invited all his favourite nobles to celebrate the festival at Tara. They crowded his hall, feasting at his table. The air was thick with smoke from the hearth fires, the scent of candles, the aroma of roasting meat, chatter, music and song. Now, when bellies were full and hunger sated, folk sat back and turned to their cups. It was time for the storyteller to weave his magic.


A Witches LamentA Poem for Samhain | A Witches Lament

They hide the truth,
these gaudy costumes,
the carved lanterns,
the trick or treat…


A Samhain Poem | The Princess on the Hill

She lies upon the hill, ragged and torn,
Borne of the night her three sons bold.
Told a story heartless and cruel,
Fuel for revenge of an act most foul…


warrior-2A Samhain Story| Lugh, Master of All Arts

Lugh hammered loudly on the palace gates, his men gathered about him. They had been travelling many days, and darkness would soon be falling. They had no intention of spending yet another night sleeping on the hard ground with just their cloaks to warm them.

“Be off with you!” someone shouted down to them from the shadows atop of the palisade wall. “The gates to the King’s palace are closed for the night. We are accepting no visitors this Samhain Eve.”


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Halloween or Samhain?

girl vampire in retro dress, in a black cloak, in the forestI recently watched a video on Youtube where the expert in the film kept pronouncing Samhain as it looks… Sam-hain. An easy mistake to make, you might think, and I would agree. But not if you profess yourself to be something of an expert on the subject. Then you have a duty to get it right. He should have known better.

If you don’t already know, it’s pronounced like this… sau-win. Don’t you think it sounds so much better?

I’ve written about Halloween and Samhain so many times, but don’t worry, I’m not going to repeat myself again. But for all my new followers, here are links to the existing posts, which you probably haven’t as yet read. On the big day itself, I will have something new and spooktacular for you, I promise.

Enjoy the season, and Happy Half-Term, if you’re off! 😜


Samhain | The Original Halloween

For our ancient ancestors, the day began not with the arrival of dawn, but with the fall of dusk. Therefore, Samhain (pronounced sau-win, and believed to derive from the Old Irish sam, meaning ‘summer’, and fuin, meaning ‘end’) began on the evening of 31st October, and continued until dusk on November 1st. Similarly, their New Year began with the arrival of the dark season, Winter, not halfway through it, as ours does today. Some say this equates with a belief that life is born into the light from the darkness of the womb.


om

Tlachtga | Goddess of Earth and Fire

At Tlachtga, I felt a great sense of peace. I know you will say it’s because it all happened so long ago, in fact, probably never happened at all, because these are just ancient stories. But I think forgiveness washes a place clean, floods it with peacefulness and makes it wholesome again.

It didn’t even feel like a hill, but as I walked out onto the summit, I was amazed at the wide open 360* panorama which unfolded around me. From here, other famous ancient sites can be seen, if you know where to look, such as Tara (19kms), Loughcrew, Slane (23kms) and Teltown (12kms).


An Irish Ghost Story for Halloween | Sabina of Ross Castle

My father was not known for his kindliness; the Black Baron, they called him, and with good reason. He couldn’t abide lawlessness, demanded obedience, and ruled with an iron hand.

That grim, grey castle was not the place for a young girl to grow up in. For the most part, I was left alone, save for my poor governess. I was always tricking her with false errands, that I might escape her sharp eyes and those unforgiving walls.


Human Skull with silver Crown

Samhain Legends | Donn, Lord of the Dead

As far as we can tell, the ancient Irish people  never had a God of the Dead. The Otherworld was said to be the domain of Manannán, God of the Sea, but the myths and legends do not tell of him being a God of the Dead. However, there is someone, a mere mortal, who has come to be associated with this role.


Aillen of the Sidhe sprays fire from his mouth upon the roof of Tara.A Samhain Story | Fionn mac Cumhall and the Sidhe-Prince of Flame

“Tomorrow is the eve of Samhain,” whispered the Filidh, the High King’s Royal Bard. The crowd stilled, straining to hear through the smoky atmosphere of the King’s hall.

It was the night before Halloween. As always, the High King had invited all his favourite nobles to celebrate the festival at Tara. They crowded his hall, feasting at his table. The air was thick with smoke from the hearth fires, the scent of candles, the aroma of roasting meat, chatter, music and song. Now, when bellies were full and hunger sated, folk sat back and turned to their cups. It was time for the storyteller to weave his magic.


A Witches LamentA Poem for Samhain | A Witches Lament

They hide the truth,

these gaudy costumes,

the carved lanterns,

the trick or treat…


A Samhain Poem | The Princess on the Hill

She lies upon the hill, ragged and torn,

Borne of the night her three sons bold.

Told a story heartless and cruel,

Fuel for revenge of an act most foul…


warrior-2A Samhain Story| Lugh, Master of All Arts

Lugh hammered loudly on the palace gates, his men gathered about him. They had been travelling many days, and darkness would soon be falling. They had no intention of spending yet another night sleeping on the hard ground with just their cloaks to warm them.

“Be off with you!” someone shouted down to them from the shadows atop of the palisade wall. “The gates to the King’s palace are closed for the night. We are accepting no visitors this Samhain Eve.”


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COMING SOON: Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places, an exclusive free gift for all newsletter subscribers, featuring all the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based. WANT ONE? It’s FREE, and coming to a newsletter near you soon! All you have to do is sign up to my Marvellous Myths newsletter.

Or try one of these…


The Fairy Folk of Ireland

What kind of image does that expression, ‘the fairy folk’ conjure up when you hear it? Something a bit like this…

Maybe you see something a little more ‘Tinkerbell’, a sweet pretty little thing with gossamer wings, so tiny it could fit in the palm of your hand?

That’s the traditional view, but let me tell you, Ireland’s fairies are a whole other kettle of fish. Oh, and by the way, don’t ever refer to them with the ‘F’-word, as I have done here… they are not over-fond of the term, and may do you a mischief you may come to regret!

In Ireland, these magical beings are known as ‘the Sidhe’ (prounounced Shee), also the Aos Sí, and Daoine Sídhe, and in Scottish lore, the Sith, although it’s still pronounced the same. They are named after the mounds which dot the Irish landscape, and which are said to lead to their homes below the ground. In folklore, they are often referred to as ‘the Fair Folk’ (hence fairy), or the ‘little people’, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Well. You know what I mean.

They are not tiny. They never were. In fact, they were larger than the indigenous people of Ireland. Think of the elves from Lord of the Rings: beautiful, terrible, tall, slim, powerful, magical… well, where do you think Tolkien got his ideas from? He borrowed from many mythologies to create his masterpiece, and he wasn’t the only one… Star Wars, anybody?

According to the Lebor Gebala Erenn, an ancient medieval text describing Ireland’s history as its Christian scribes understood it, the Danann were a supernatural race of people who invaded Ireland and defeated the Fir Bolg people, who ruled at the time. You can read more about them in my posts, Who were the Tuatha de Danann Really? and The Tuatha de Danann Come to Ireland.

In the Book of the Dun Cow and the Book of Leinster, the Tuatha de Danann are described as ‘gods and not-gods’. This is interesting because it seems to imply that whilst they possessed many of the powers one would expect of a deity, they were god-like, rather than actual gods.

I’d just like to point out here, that although it is popularly believed that the Danann constitute a pantheon of Celtic/ Irish pagan gods, the ancient texts such as Lebor Gabála Érenn and Cath Maige Tuireadh name them not as Gods but as Kings.

Now whilst this could simply be a case of demotion by monks who believed there could only be one true God, we must also consider the fact that perhaps these really are the tales of remembered chieftains, warriors and heroes of times gone by. My personal opinion is that the antiquarians of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries interpreted their archaeological findings, and the ancient texts, using the only model they had: their education in the Greek and Roman classics.

Now, back to the ‘not gods’. An example would be the question of immortality. The Danann were long-lived, but they did not live forever. They could be killed by injury, as in battle, or sickness, like any mortal, but not by old age, as they did not seem to age at all. This can be very confusing, if you think of immortality in its absolute sense, ie life everlasting.

High Kings held the crown for extraordinarily long terms. The Dagda, for example, was said to have reigned for 80 years. He eventually wasted away from a sickness caused by a wound he had received in battle from a poisoned sword.

Lugh of the Long Hand, another Danann High King, was murdered in a revenge attack, yet still popped up several centuries later to father Cuchulainn on mortal woman, Dechtire. Some years later, when Cuchulainn was grievously wounded, he returned to tend his son’s wounds for three days, and nursed him back to health. Not something a ghost could do, methinks.

In the end, the Danann were defeated and tricked out of Ireland by a race of mortal man known as the Milesians, or Sons of Mil. The Danann were forced to retreat to that half of Ireland which lay below ground, whilst the Milesions took ownership of the surface. You can read this story in my post, The Retreat of the Tuatha de Danann. From then on, the Danann and their descendants became known as ‘the Sidhe’.

According to the Book of Leinster, the Danann then took revenge on the sons of Mil by destroying their wheat and souring their milk. This apparently forced a treaty in which the Milesians were to supply the Danann with milk and butter, and no doubt other goods they no longer had access to.

The Sidhe did not disappear altogether, however; there are many stories in which they interacted with humans, although not always favourably. But as time passed, inevitably a distance grew between men and the Sidhe, and with it, distrust.

The Christians, when they came, severed any final loyalties and friendships that remained, by claiming them as devils, demons, evil spirits, and the like. This fostered fear, resentment and the rise of superstitions; gifts/ bribes would be left out in order to placate ‘the Good Folk’, for example, and fairy forts, mounds and certain trees thought of as the Sidhe’s property would not be harmed, for fear of earning their wrath.

Apart from their long lives, and apparent eternal youth, the Sidhe possessed other powers humans could not explain. They could shape-shift; the Morrigan was famous for transforming into a crow and flying across the battlefield, crying harsh encouragement to her men, and striking fear into the hearts of the enemy.

When her amorous advances were spurned by Cuchulainn, she shifted into a red-eared heifer and tried to knock him over whilst he was engaged in combat with another warrior; then she turned into an eel, wrapping herself around his legs, before finally becoming a grey wolf which lunged for his sword arm. Unperturbed, Cuchulainn managed to keep his enemy at bay whilst, of course, he defeated her every attack; he broke the cow’s leg, trampled the eel underfoot, and poked out the wolf’s eye, and went on to kill his opponent shortly after. What a hero! 😍

They also had strange, inexplicable magic. What we might call technology. Nuada was fitted with a bionic arm an arm of silver when his limb was cut off in battle; he also carried a light sabre sword of light. They arrived in spaceships dark thunder clouds in the sky and lighted on the mountain Sliab an Iarainn. Lugh had a flame-thrower burning spear. They had a sound system to rival any current band a talking rock which announced the rightful king in a roar which could be heard across the land.

Ok. It’s a bit disrespectful calling the Lia Fail a talking rock. Sorry. But you get the picture. Oh, and the Dagda had a bottomless cauldron from which everyone went satisfied, ie he fed them till they were full… any ideas on what that particular piece of technology could be?

Visitors from the Otherworld crop up often in the old stories. They often took mortal lovers. Niamh of the Golden Hair appeared on a white horse to Oisin, son of Fionn mac Cumhall, to confess her love for him, and took him back with her. Ciabhan, Prince of Desmond,  risked his life in a little fisherman’s curragh on the stormy high seas, chasing after Cliodhna, having spent a few hours of passion with her on the beach. And Cuchulainn actually had an affair with Fand, the wife of Manannán, the sea-God… the audacity of that man!

Interactions between man and Sidhe were not always so benign. As a boy, Fionn mac Cumhall was the only warrior capable of slaying the fire-fairy, Aillen mac Midhna, who for many years had been laying waste to the Hill of Tara with fire every Samhain festival.

Often, the Sidhe would fight amongst themselves, and sometimes, humans would be caught in the crossfire. This happened on one occasion to Fionn, when he and five members of his Fianna were hosted overnight by the Sidhe after getting lost whilst out hunting. The next morning, they awake to find they are expected to fight on behalf of their hosts against the massive Sidhe army led by Bodb Derg lined up outside the mound. Of course, being particularly honourable humans, they don’t hesitate to jump into the fight.

And that’s your lot. I could go on, but it’s nearly midnight already, and I have uni in the morning… doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? 😜


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Flower Power in Irish Mythology

The fields and hedgerows are awash with the blaze of wildflowers right now. Sadly, I don’t think many people see them, as we are always in such a hurry to get from A to B; we are focused on the destination, not the journey.

One fellow you can’t possibly miss at the moment, though, is this…

It’s called Rosebay WillowherbIt grows taller than me, up to a height of 2m, in great swathes of vibrant eye-popping purple, and it’s everywhere! Roadsides, embankments, railway sidings, bogland, woodland, building sites, and anywhere the ground has been recently disturbed. It brightens up all the abandoned, un-loved forgotten places, and I just love it!

In ancient times, it was the first plant which grew on the hillsides after the gorse had been burnt back, which is why it was named Lus na Tine in Irish, meaning ‘fireweed’. This has become its popular name. Medicinally, its root was powdered and thought to stop internal bleeding, whilst an infusion brewed of its leaves was used to treat asthma.

Despite its proliferation, however, I could find no mention of it in Ireland’s myths, even though it is a native plant. Hopefully, someone out there with more knowledge will enlighten us in the comments.

Other wild flowers I am loving right now, and which are prolifically and delightfully in full bloom are MontbretiaFealeastram Dearg in Irish, and Fuschia, Fiúise or Deora dé in Irish, although neither of these are native to Ireland.

Montbretia in Co Kerry

In Irish mythology, Cuchulainn suffered from alternating bouts of malaise and rage. It was quite possibly drug induced, perhaps through use of Amanita, but according to the stories, he was treated by being bathed in infusions of Meadowsweet.

Meadowsweet

Its Irish name is Airgead Luachra, which I believe is translated as ‘Cuchulainn’s Belt’… perhaps he always carried it with him in a little pouch attached to his belt in case of emergency; this was how physicians of the time carried their medicines.

Interestingly, it is from this plant that aspirin is derived; meadowsweet contains salicylic acid, which is a disinfectant, pain-killer and anti-inflammatory. Right now, the hedges are a-froth with its downy creamy flowers, and insects love its heady sweet scent.

In Irish, the Bluebell is known as Coinnle Corra. Of course, these delicate spring-blossoming wild flowers are long gone, but they have their place in Irish mythology: on her wedding night to Fionn mac Cumhall, Grainne was said to have mixed bluebell with tormentil and secreted it into the wedding guests’ wine, thus sending them all to sleep so she could elope with her beloved Diarmuid.

Although it was traditionally used to stop bleeding, and also as a diuretic, I can’t find any reference to it as an anaesthetic. Apparently, in ancient times, the bluebell’s sticky sap was used as a glue to bind books, and to stick feathers to the ends of arrows.

Tormentil is a little yellow flower which looks similar to a buttercup, and which commonly grows all over Ireland between May and September. It was used for pain relief and to treat digestive problems.

In Irish, its name is Néalfartach; neal meaning ‘depression/ gloom’, and fartach meaning ‘hurt/ injury’. In Co Cork, however, it was known as Lus an Chodlata, meaning ‘herb for sleep’, suggesting that it may well have been used for promoting sleep.

According to mythology, the warrior Nera disappeared into the Otherworld at Samhain, the beginning of winter, yet returned bearing summer flowers: wild garlic, golden fern and primroses, Sabhaircín in Irish.

This is a strange and convoluted story in which Nera receives a violent vision from the Sidhe showing the awful fate of his people if they don’t destroy the Hill of Cruachan. He warns Queen Medb and convinces her that he speaks the truth by giving her the summer flowers he brought back from Tir na Nog.

Honeysuckle, known as Féithleann in Irish, is associated with the tragic love story of Baile and Aillinn. These two lovers both died unnecessarily from grief, believing the other already dead. An apple tree grew from Aillinn’s grave mound, and a yew from Baile’s. These were eventually cut down, and tablets made from them, engraved with their stories. When these tablets were brought to King Cormac’s house in Tara, they sprang together and cleaved to each other as tightly as honeysuckle around a branch and could not be parted.

Finally, the foxglove, known as Lus Mór in Irish, meaning the ‘great herb’, is used to describe the beautiful blush of the pure cheeks of Étain, Deirdre, and warrior Conall Cernach.


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The Ancient Babylonians Invented New Year’s Resolutions!

Happy New Year! www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Happy New Year!
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Seeing in the New Year seems to be one of our best loved and most popular public holidays, marked with breath-taking firework displays as the stroke of midnight enters different time zones around the world.

It seems the most natural thing in the world to usher in the New Year with festivity and merriment. Yet I always wondered why the evening prior was considered more important than the actual day itself. Considering that our ancient ancestors began their day at sunset, it seemed a distinctly pagan thing to do, and so naturally, I wondered about its origins.

It seems the earliest people to celebrate new year were the Mesopotamians of Babylon, in what is now known as Iraq, around 2000BC, only it wasn’t in January, but in mid-March at the time of the vernal equinox (when day and night are of equal length; vernal denotes Spring.).

It certainly makes more sense to me, that the beginning of the New Year should start at Spring.

The Babylonians celebrated with a religious festival called Akitu which lasted eleven days. Atiku also commemorated the victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat.

They are also credited with establishing the custom of making  new year resolutions; apparently, they made promises to their gods, such as repaying their debts and returning borrowed tools, in order to earn the gods’ favour in the coming year.

In contrast, the Egyptians began their new year around mid July, when the Nile was prone to flooding, which ensured the fertility of the land, and the star Sirius was rising after its seventy day absence. They called their festival Wepet Renpet, which means “the opening of the year”.

They weren’t the only ones; the Phoenicians and Persians began their new year at the autumn equinox, while the Greeks celebrated at the winter solstice. The first day of the Chinese new year began on the second moon after the winter solstice.

This all sounds very confusing; how is it that we have now come to celebrate the New Year in the middle of winter at the beginning of January?

Well originally, there never even used to be a month of January… or February, for that matter! The early Roman calender, which according to mythology, was created by Romulus, Rome’s founder, in the C8th BC, only had ten months and 304 days, and began with March.

The evidence for this can be seen in some of the names of our months; for example, September, which is our 9th month, comes from the Latin septem, meaning 7; October derives from octo, which is 8;  novem is 9, and decem is 10.

Around 700 BC, Numa Pontilius, second King of Rome added the months of January and February to the calender.

The first month, January, was named after the god of gates, doors and beginnings, Janus. He was said to have had two faces, one which looked forward into the future, and one which looked back into the past. He was thus the perfect deity to dedicate the first day of the New Year to, and so it was that the celebration switched to the first day of the new calender.

Romans would celebrate by making offerings to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the new year. Well wishes and gifts including items such as figs and honey would be exchanged. According to the poet Ovid, most Romans would work for part of the day, as idleness was seen as a bad omen for the rest of the year.

However,  as time passed, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to take matters into his own hands. He invented his own Julian calender, in which he added 90 days to the original, thus realigning the calender with the sun.

Celebrating the new year was seen as pagan and un-Christian across medieval Europe, so much so that in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII abandoned the traditional Julian calendar. By the Julian reckoning, the solar year comprised 365.25 days, and the introduction of a leap day every four years was intended to keep the calendar and the seasons aligned.

Now here’s the science part; the solar year is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds = 365.2422 days), and this miscalculation caused the Julian calendar to slip behind the seasons about one day per century.

Pope Gregory corrected this by advancing the calendar 10 days. The change was made the day after October 4, 1582, and the following day was established as October 15, 1582.

Weird, huh? Everyone got ten days older overnight! Especially as the actual difference by then was fourteen days and not ten. But he was the Pope, and I guess he had his reasons; something to do with the meeting of the Council of Nicaea, which took place over a thousand years earlier.

Most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar at once, but not all. The British Empire, for example, still celebrated the new year in March until 1752 AD.

Those who consider themselves ‘true’ Christians do not, apparently, celebrate New Year, because it is not ordered by God in the bible. They blame early Roman Christian leaders for being unable to stamp out the mid-winter festival of Saturnalia, and simply adopting and adapting it into Christian doctrine as the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and the twelve days of Christmas. Interestingly, nine months ahead of December 25th, Jesus’s birthday brings us to round about the Spring equinox in March, the new year celebration which was adopted as the Christian date of the Immaculate Conception; March 25th is called the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and celebrates the the Archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she was about to become the mother of Jesus.

In Ireland, of course, the New Year was not celebrated by our ancient ancestors in March, or in January, but at the end of October, and was known as Samhain. This festival was taken over by the Church, and over time blended with All Souls Day and All Saints Day to become what we know and love today as Halloween. You can read more about Samhain in my post, Samhain, the Original Halloween.

Around the world

Ethiopia New Year is called Enkutatash and is celebrated on September 11. Ethiopia uses its own ancient calendar based on the Julian calendar. The new year begins at the end of the summer rainy season.

China New Year is celebrated on the first day of the lunar calendar and is corrected for the solar every three years, (please don’t ask me, I cannot explain!) falling between January 20 and February 20. It is celebrated with food, families, lucky money in red envelopes, lion and dragon dances, drums, and fireworks.

Wales In the Gwaun Valley, Pembrokeshire, the new year is known as Hen Galan, and is celebrated on January 13, based on the Julian calendar. The Calennig, gifts of small copper coins were given to children.

Arabia New Year in Islam is called Ras as-Sanah al-Hijriyah. It moves from year to year because the Islamic calendar is lunar based. The first day of the year is observed on the first day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar.

Israel Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is celebrated by Jews in Israel and throughout the world. The date is not set according to the Gregorian calendar, but falls during September or October, and is celebrated by religious services and special meals.

India In Hinduism, different regions celebrate new year at different times. In Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Nepal, Orissa, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, the new year is celebrated when the Sun enters Aries on the Hindu calendar, normally April 14 or April 15. Elsewhere, the Vikram Samvat calendar is followed, when new year’s day is on the first day of the Chaitra month,  which is the first month of the Hindu calendar, first fortnight and first day. Falling around the Spring equinox, it is celebrated by paying respect to elders in the family and seeking their blessings, and exchanging good wishes for a healthy and prosperous year ahead.

Scotland The Scots are famous for celebrating Hogmanay on New Years Eve, which was anciently celebrated by the lighting of huge bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down hill and tossing torches. Animal hide was wrapped around sticks and lit; the smoke produced was thought to be very effective in warding off evil spirits. This smoking stick was known as a Hogmanay.

Friday FREAKY Flash with Ed Mooney, Geoff le Pard and Jane Dougherty

Friday FREAKY Flash http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Last week, it being the season that’s in it, I called for ghost stories. This was your prompt…

Give me your greatest, gruesomest, gory, ghoulish ghost story. have you got what it takes to frighten the life out of me?

Well, the short answer is yes, without a doubt! First up I am so delighted to welcome lovely blogger friend, awesome photographer and Ruinhunter, Ed Mooney, to the challenge…

The Hunter

Many years ago we lived under the sun. The land and sea provided us with everything we needed to live. Times were simple back then, but people were happy and life was good.

Then the darkness came, and with it, a cursed evil, like a pestilence that plagued the race of man. No one was safe, neither man, woman or child could escape it. Even the Sun and the Stars went into hiding.

It started with just a few, but as their thirst grew, so did their attacks. Farms, villages and eventually whole towns were over run and decimated. The lucky ones were drained and died. But as time went on, mankind began to defend itself and fight back. This was no war, it was a battle for survival. Then they began to turn their victims whom joined the ranks of the unholy walking dead.

As the enemy grew, the leaders of man made a pact with the vile creatures, and a truce was made, but at what cos. People were herded like cattle to the slaughter, sold out by their fellow man. The attacks continued but this time by the humans.

I never knew my family, for most of my life, all I have known is the hunt. It is all I know, and I am good at it. It does not matter to me, be they an Evil one or a human conspirator, when I find them, they will die…

Some may call it a curse! This was a path chosen for me, a lonely life. But it is my cross to bear and I shall bear it gladly. Who else can take a stand against this evil? Why should it not be me?

Ed Mooney, Ruinhunter. The man behind the camera. www.edmooney.wordpress.com
Ed Mooney, Ruinhunter. The man behind the camera. http://www.edmooney.wordpress.com

Creepy story, huh? I think Ed has the beginnings of a novel here. Thanks, Ed… I hope this is the first of many stories you will share with us. You can find Ed and his beautiful images of ancient Ireland, along with their legends, on his blog, Ed Mooney Photography.

Next up, it’s the effervescent, energetic, prolific Geoff le Pard, who is no stranger to this challenge or this blog. Last week’s story was macabre enough, but wait till you read this one…

A Question of Position

I’m very rational. Of course I can be startled, surprised and I’ll be the first to admit there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.
But ghosts? Spirits from beyond? Give me a break. Sure weird stuff happens but it’s only weird because we haven’t worked out how. There’ll be some modification of Newtonian physics, some subtle exception that explains it.
And then there’s the man at Victoria station, who, I’m about to meet.
It started on Monday. The station was chaos. They’re doing these rebuilding works. It was while I watched the indicator board, hoping my train would show as being on time. That is when I saw him.
I was in my favoured spot, near to the farthest left hand gate. The works have meant I’ve not been able to claim my spot but, happily, today I could. The works have moved.
I was staring up at the board when I saw him. For a moment I was sure he was hanging, and I must have gasped because the chap next to me asked if I was ok. He’s stood next to me for ever and that was a first. Name’s Gerald apparently.
I started to explain, but when we looked the man has gone, replaced by a workman in a hiviz jacket. I thought I must have been mistaken.
The next day, and the next I saw the man. Just glimpses. By the Maccy Ds. Going into the gents. It’s odd – it’s like he wants to look at me but is forcing himself not to.
Thursday, he was on the platform – no one else was there. He must be an employee, though the heavy blue coat looks like one of those old pictures.
I asked Gerald if he’d seen this fella but he said no. He made a joke about it, accused me of seeing a ghost.
When we reached the station on Friday, all sorts were going off. They’d cordoned the spot where I stand. Apparently they’d found a body. Seems like he had been buried there for decades and the ticket bloke said he’d heard he’d been buried deliberately.
We were all moved around, because three platforms were out of use. I saw him, as I knew I would, by my spot. I knew Gerald hadn’t seen the man even though he was there plain as anything. That’s when the man turned. He looked deformed, one side of his face damaged.
Even though the station was its usual noisy self I heard him say, ‘You!’
Like he knew me.
The weekend, I was anxious. The papers said he’d been buried alive. They did a mock up, in the uniform he was wearing. They said his face has been smashed. Like the man I saw.
I knew I’d see him on Monday. I knew we’d speak. I was responsible somehow. Maybe standing on top of him upset him. Or maybe there’s no logic to how ghosts choose those they seek to haunt.

Spooky story, well, I did ask for it! Thanks Geoff. Geoff has recently published his new book, My Father and Other Liars. You can read an excerpt from it here, when he stopped by my blog a couple of weeks ago. His first book is called Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle,  and you can buy them both here. You can catch up with Geoff on his blog.

And so we come to our final story from the very talented wordsmith, Jane Dougherty, who has another eerie, spooktacular tale for us today which she claims to be absolutely TRUE!

Dolly Mixtures

I noticed them up ahead, the young man in a dark-coloured hoodie, and a tiny tot dressed up like a dolly mixture. The tot was weaving unsteadily between the trees, chasing starling chicks. Light flickered between the tree trunks. Light but no sound. The man sat down on the steps by the side of the path and beckoned to the child. She sat down next to him, quiet and obedient, as he got out his tobacco and ciggie papers.

Tiny tots have an unsettling habit of running towards big dogs, shrieking with pleasure and their arms outstretched to give the cuddly thing a huge hug. Their parents generally follow at top speed, also shrieking, in terror. If you want to freak out a nervous dog, there is no better tactic. Not wanting any accidents, I bent down to clip the lead back on the dog’s collar. When I straightened up, the man in the hoodie was rolling up his cigarette, but the child was nowhere to be seen.

There was no reason for me to be curious, no reason to walk the ten yards to where the man was sitting with his back to me, head bent over his fingers as they flicked over and over. No reason, but a strong, morbid compulsion. I looked down the steps where he was sitting, up and down the cycle track beyond. A cold, damp sensation crept along the bare skin of my arms. There was nobody there. No child with her hair tied in a little blonde fountain on top of her head, no pink tee shirt and shorts, no pink sandles. Nothing. In front and behind the view was barred with the trunks of ornamental trees, tidy and neat, of the strip of parkland. To the right, behind a wall too high for a child to climb, lay the overgrown bank of the river.

I turned, a question ready on my tongue, but the hoodie was bent over his roll up, his face in darkness.

He’ll think I’m mad. Or a child abductor.

The dog whined and tugged on his lead. I walked away, troubled. At the end of the path I turned. He was still there, hunched over his cigarette. Alone.

Three days later, returning from our walk on the same path by the river, the dog slunk back to me, head down, whimpering unhappily. Voices came from the park benches ahead, irritated, loud. A young couple having words. She looked tired. Her hair was wild; a tiny baby in her arms was crying. He sat on the edge of the bench rolling a cigarette. The hood of his jacket obscured his face. A few yards away a tot dressed like a dolly mixture was chasing the pigeons.

A cold damp sensation crept over my skin, like water rising around the refuse trapped in the mud of the river bank.

Hmmm… I can feel a cold damp sensation creeping over my skin just reading that! Thanks, Jane. Jane is the author of The Green Woman Trilogy, and Grá mo Chroí, Love of My Heart, Love Stories from Irish Myth (which is FREE on Smashwords, btw!), which she co-wrote with yours truly, as well as numerous poems and short stories published in various fine magazines and anthologies. You can check them out on her blog, and buy them on Amazon.

Thanks everyone for being such good fun and sharing your fabulous stories with us. For this week’s Friday Fantastic Flash writing challenge, I want you to write about a building which has significance for you…

Friday Fantastic Flash Writing Challenge http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Tell me about a building which is important to you; are its walls ancient and crumbling, or modern shining glass and cold steel? Does it mean home to you, or prison? What happened here? Why do you care?

You can submit here, I will include links to your blog and books. Entries must be under 500 words, but please remember that I write YA, so there may be young people on this site… please keep it family friendly. Please send to me by next Thursday 5th November @ 12:00pm. I really hope you will join me and take part in the craic!