Secret Ireland

Discover Ireland's forgotten history, hear reawakened stories and myths from yesteryear and stand on top of mountains that are carved into the Irish consciousness.

The Death Goddesses of Samhain and Winter.

(C.) David Halpin.

Summer feels very far away now, and looking back on my photos of warm evenings and blue sky, there is an impulse to wish for these times to extend themselves and allow us to experience the call of birds skimming over long, summer grasses, or the lazy drone of a bee returning as dusk slowly descends.

Is it always like this, the desire to drag against the natural cycle, or is there more trepidation in the world today because of current events, I wonder?

As we move ever towards Samhain, this time represents a moment of both death and rebirth and the start of a new cycle in many ancient traditions. This contradiction can sometimes cause confusion.

It can seem strange to people living today that our ancestors saw life this way; death and birth being so intertwined.

All across the world, though, in our deepest wisdom traditions, this duality is one of the most important aspects in the understanding of life itself.

Without an end there cannot be a new cycle of rebirth.

This is also why some people fear the winter goddess in all of her forms. She shows us that we can never escape our own fate. She comes to bring us face to face with the consequences of the life we have lived.

For those who cling to this mortal existence, the winter goddess is an ominous figure stalking the edges of their life, but someone who cannot be evaded.

From the Cailleach to Baba Yaga, from Ragana to Giltine, these goddesses clear the way for the new, and by doing so, remind us of our own eventual end.

Giltine is a Baltic death goddess who wraps herself in a white cloak and whose appearance is marked by the sound of a whip cracking three times.

Giltine sometimes travels with her two sisters and once she has called your name there is no escape.

Her symbol is the owl, itself often considered a messenger from the Otherworld, and although fearsome, Giltine’s work is necessary in order for the world to bring forth new life from the bones of the old.

In some interpretations of Irish legends, the sound of an owl calling three times is a sign of impending death and it is often a precursor to the arrival of the Cailleach herself, so there is an interesting link to Giltine in that aspect.

Another point to note is that the owl in Celtic tradition is almost always female.

(Marija Gimbutas argues in The Living Goddesses that the owl goddess is portrayed inside Newgrange. P69. Ch. The Tomb and the Womb.)

One of Giltine’s sisters is Laima, a goddess of pregnancy and birth, so we can see the link to seasonal cycles in Giltine’s dominance in the world before Laima arrives in the springtime.

Another European goddess associated with winter, death (and also the dark moon) is Ragana. However, Ragana is also a goddess of regeneration so once more we find that same awareness of the need to cull before new life can be created.

Ragana’s name comes from the verb regeti, which means “to divine” or “to prophesise”.

Related to Ragana is the fairy goddess, Lauma, who again can also appear with her sister deities. In this case there is some interesting Gnostic crossover, I feel.

You see, just like Sophia in many Gnostic creation tales, Lauma descended into the human world in order to try and alleviate suffering but by doing so she now has to share our fate. (There are interesting parallels to Aradia and Diana here too!)

However, there are other aspects of Lauma which are not so sympathetic, especially if you are a man!

Lauma and her sisters can use their sexual appeal to entice, exhaust, destroy and even tickle men to death! Marija Gimbutas writes in her book, The Living Goddess, that “Lauma’s physical appearance vividly reflects her Palaeolithic origins. She has bird feet and a bird body combined with a woman’s breasts. Her sexual superiority and manifestations in threes and in groups clearly stem from the pre-Indo-European social order.”

This death aspect of the triple goddess is found in just about every ancient European tradition including the Norns, Moirai, the Parcae, the Erinves, and, of course, the Morrígna in Celtic mythology.

The Slavic goddess of winter and death, Morana or Marzanna, as she is sometimes better known, is more often associated with rituals celebrating her leaving as opposed to her arrival these days.

You might notice similarities reminding us of the interplay between the Cailleach and Brighid here in Ireland. Just like Imbolc, the Slavic people celebrated the coming of springtime and the arrival of the goddess of new life and birth, Kostroma.

Morana is also said to be part of a sisterhood as well as being associated with the spirit known as the ‘night hag’, who would appear at the stage between dreams and wakefulness, sitting on the chest of the person encountering her. Some say the root of her name is ‘mora’ which is related to the root of the English term ‘nightmare.’

The Norse goddess, Skadi, is considered a giantess or ‘devourer’ and as such is linked to both winter and death and was said to reside where the snow and ice never melted and where darkness lingered.

Of course, even outside of Europe we can find death goddesses associated with winter. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead traditions following Samhain go back to the ancient Aztec rituals dedicated to the Goddess Mitctecacihuatl, the lady of the dead.

In ancient Egypt, Nephthys was the goddess who symbolised death as opposed to her sister, Isis, who symbolised birth.

In Japan, the goddess Izanami was also a ruler of both death and creation.

All of these goddesses have their own individual myths, rituals and folklore, as well as origin tales.

Some have alternative versions of their names depending on location but the common motifs and attributes demonstrate how ancient people saw death as being not only the end of life, but the instigator of new beginnings.

Perhaps this explains why Samhain was understood as both a necessary aspect of the yearly cycle as well as a time to celebrate and reflect upon.
Death and regeneration were inseparable and the goddess, although taking us from the earthly world, also accompanied us to the next.
What became of us in the Otherworld was dependent on how we had conducted our lives in this one so perhaps this is why she was anticipated with such trepidation.
(C.) David Halpin.
Image: Baba Yaga by She Who Is.
Facebook Page: She Who Is

Samhain(Halloween And The Ghosts Of Things To Come.

(C.) David Halpin

I recently finished Andrew Micheal Hurley’s excellent folklore novel, Starve Acre.

Without spoilers, the protagonist discovers the bones of a dead hare and digs them up. After he brings them home to examine them he begins to notice that they seem to be reattaching themselves and re-growing muscles, sinews and fur.

I won’t say too much more about the actual novel but I thought it was interesting when compared to other folklore accounts of the dead coming back to life, or at least re-entering the mortal world, particularly at this time of the year.

I have previously written about the saying ‘thinning of the veil’ and how some people think it’s a bad phrase, and an inaccurate description of how we move from the human world to the Otherworld, and vice-versa.

I don’t mind it myself, and although we cannot be sure about many things regarding the original cross-quarter observations and rituals thousands of years ago, if you have trust in the longevity of oral tradition, the concept of thinness or liminality is not unfair.

I’ll write more about this in my next post.

For the characters in the novel, though, something placed in the earth somehow receives the ability to return to life and this, too, is very much an idea associated with Samhain, of course, but also of all of life in general.

What sometimes separates fairy folklore and that of superstition from the cycle of nature and regeneration is the belief that the same thing returns from the Otherworld as opposed to something new.

And, many times, there is a dark reason for this.

Sometimes it is to avenge a wrong-doing. Other times it is a curse that must be fulfilled.

And, at other times, especially with fairy changelings and kidnappings, there are reasons that we do not understand and cannot explain.

In this Irish ghost story a man discovers a horse on his land.

He abuses the horse and works it to exhaustion and boasts about how much he can make the horse do.

Returning to the field after his dinner the man notices that the horse has gone.

When he goes home he finds all of his family dead and an old man standing in the room. The old man is actually the horse who had been buried in the field and had returned to life in the form of an animal.

The ‘horse man’ killed the mans family in revenge for having been beaten and worked so hard and then kills his abuser.

There are some fascinating themes and subtexts to this tale, not least the idea that the horse-man came from the earth or the underworld and could shape-change.

In Irish lore, of course, many view beneath the earth as the realm of the good folk, both literally and symbolically.

At Samhain we often think of the earth as barren and empty.

Life and nature struggle to eek out an existence with food being scarce and many animals hidden away in burrows and caves.

But this is the essence of the secret of this time of the year: death and starvation may represent the surface, but beneath the earth new life is already starting to grow.

When later peoples came to Ireland they seem to have associated this dark time with the Otherworld and ancestors.

They also acknowledged the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another.

Because we are so used to the Gregorian calendar we often forget this, but it is worth remembering, particularly as nights get shorter and we have the opportunity to allow deeper thoughts and plans to find root.

(C.) David Halpin.

Image: Jeremy Enecio.


Fairy Punishments and Ancestral Disconnection.

One of the more recurrent punishments suffered by those who offend the good folk is that of sight being afflicted, or even going so far as physical damage to the eyes.

A story from my own locale tells of a man named Malone who tried to flatten one of the nearby fairy hills, Rathvilly Moat, only to have eye poked out.

Malone arrived at the hill to make sure that the workers were destroying the mound as he had instructed, but the workers were purposefully delaying because they did not want a curse to fall upon them for offending the fairies believed to reside within the mound.

Malone, tried to take over the job himself, and began to dig into the moat.

He then saw that a hole appeared in the earth near where he was digging and he proceeded to push his cane down inside it.

When he lay down to peer inside, his cane was then thrust upwards, instantly blinding him in one eye.

The full account has been preserved in the folklore archives here:

There is also another tale of a man who decided to search for the hidden entrance into the mound, as legend speaks of a great treasure inside the moat, and so the man spent the day digging around the thorn-bushes and growth which surround it. Although he dug and dug, he could not find the entrance and decided to finally give up and go home. As he was leaving he noticed a huge amount of crows surrounding the mound and cawing loudly.

When he arrived back at his house he began to bleed from his eyes until the next morning.

Needless to say, he did not go looking for a secret entrance into the moat again!

In Wentz’s Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries there are stories which echo this phenomenon of fairies taking the sight of humans who disrespect them.

(It must be said, though, that often the disrespect is not intended, and the fairies are sometimes portrayed as being quite cruel with the level of their punishments.)

One famous example describes how a midwife is taken by the fairies to assist in the birth of a fairy child.

Quite why the fairies need human help has been argued about by scholars for a long time.

One theory put forward is that these are changeling children: half-fairy, half-human and so the physiological differences require human help.

In this account, then, the human midwife is returned to the human world following the fairy birth. Before leaving she notices some of the other women rubbing water on their eyes from a basin and so she does the same.

Months later she spots the fairies wandering around a local market. No other human seems to notice them. When she approaches the fairies and tells them that she remembers them from the birth they ask her which eye she can see them with.

They then blow onto her eye and blind her permanently.

In some versions the fairies are even more cruel and take away the woman’s sight in both eyes.

Now, let me reiterate, there are many variations of this story. Here are a few more:…/fairy-midwife-magic…/

Also, here is an excellent paper on the phenomenon of fairy ointment and the deeper esoteric and metaphysical connotations by Neil Rushton.…/visioning-the…/

When we examine the motif of an eye or sight being sacrificed for secret wisdom or initiation we find ourselves in deep, mythological and spiritual waters.In Ireland, St. Brigid was said to have plucked out her own eye in order to demonstrate her intention to give her life to God.

And, of course, Odin deliberately sacrificed an eye in order to drink from the waters of Mimir’s well at the bottom of the world tree, Yggdrasil, thus giving him access to all of Mimir’s wisdom.

The eye is symbolic of perception in a mystical and esoteric sense. The idea of giving up everyday sight for a different type of seeing is describing the willingness to embark upon an inner journey and a rejection of the mundane world.

The English philosopher and writer, Gary Osborn, redrew attention to the symbolism of the inner eye which was alluded to in many, ancient esoteric texts. Osborn wrote of a third eye, spiritual triad constituted of the pineal and pituitary glands, as well as thalamus, which is the real revelation here.

Osborn goes against the grain in that he argues the importance of the pineal is an “occult blind”.

Backing Osborn up on this is recent research demonstrating that the area of the thalamus is often over-active in those who report mystic episodes and paranormal experiences involving supernatural entities.

Which brings us back to fairies…

The idea that certain people can see both the human world and, at times, the fairy Otherworld, is intimately connected to those who accept the role of seer, witch, shaman in Asian cultures, and witchdoctors and medicine people.

As we have explored before, sometimes this role is determined by a sickness or accident befalling the person, whereas on other occasions the spirits/ ancestors and those called fairies will seek the individual out themselves.

So, might some of the incidents which seem to be punishments actually be the misunderstanding of the fairy purpose, or even a persons fear of taking up the role the fairies have decided that they must fulfil?

I have written about this idea before and it is one which is worth reiterating.

Professor Éva Pócs, in her paper, Small Gods, Small Demons: remnants of an Archaic Fairy Cult in Central and South-Eastern Europe’ writes, “One common motif is a serious illness that the selected individual needs to undergo, as well as punishment by the fairies of any reluctant candidates.”

So, as we can see, it is well known in ancient cultures that the fairies will punish those who refuse to take up their role as healer or communicator between worlds.

My own sense is that often this is not always understood by the failed practitioner: sometimes a person may inadvertently say no to the fairy request, simply because they do not have the understanding or inner sight to comprehend what is being asked.

In these cases, then, might some of what we understand as fairy punishments be, in fact, the consequences of this disconnect?

Ireland has a long tradition of ‘fairy darts’, ‘elf-shot’ and wounding encounters with the Other Crowd.

When this occurs, a person is pierced with these seemingly supernatural objects.

In terms of medicine men and the bean feasa, this was deemed to bestow an ability to heal the sick, see future events and deal with ancestral spirits.

However, from Medieval times in Ireland, a Christianised, negative connotation took over when a person reported such encounters: they had succumb to demons and fallen angels, instead!

Someone known to have had such an experience was cursed, from a religious point of view, even though local people, themselves, still had no hesitation in asking for advice and spells from such individuals.

This transition from being instinctively named a healer to that of an outcast or ‘cursed’ witch often depended upon the leniency and influence of the local priest and doctor.

Writing in Aboriginal Men of High Degree, A.P. Elkin describes an Australian Aboriginal account of a medicine man taken by ‘spirits’ into the sky world where an operation is performed on him by having quartz crystals inserted into his side. He could henceforth visit the sky and establish communication with the sky spirits and even be summoned by them.

The Aboriginal tribes of The Southern Murray region reflect the same beliefs as other Australian indigenous people which they say have been passed down in oral form for over 60’000 years.

Aboriginal cave art depicting these encounters with the sky-serpent spirits have been dated to at least 40’000 BCE.

At a deeper time-depth, are the paintings of the San people of Botswana and what is today South Africa. Many of these depict the figure of the ‘wounded man’, a medicine man who has travelled to the spirit world and is cut open by the spirits in order to have magic stones placed inside his body.

The earliest San paintings are currently dated to 70’000 BCE but according to archaeologist, Chris Henshilwood, some may be revised further to 100’000 BCE.

The Wounded Man motif is one which can be applied to higher deities such as Odin, who visit the spirit world and are pierced by a supernatural object, or lose a body part, as we have already mentioned, in order to gain Otherworldly wisdom.

This tradition even appears subtly in the context of Jesus, the sun god, being pierced in his side before he enters the ‘kingdom’.

In San tradition, a healer may have all of their inner organs removed and replaced before being healed and put back together, or they may simply have a magic stone fired into them in the form of an arrow or dart.

As mentioned, in more recent Irish folklore, being struck by a fairy dart is considered exclusively hostile and the illness which these arrows bring are maladies to be vanquished.

What is being overlooked here is that these “shamanic” sicknesses are an essential aspect of the initiation process, and a medicine man or woman usually cannot become a fully reintegrated healer without going through these time-observed processes.

In fact, it is often argued by tribal elders that to attempt to avoid one’s fate as a spirit healer can bring about premature death or madness.

This is echoed in the research of Professor Pócs and European fairy lore, as I have already mentioned

This is very interesting within an Irish context, as many who found themselves struck by fairy darts were inhibited from following through on the traditional pathway because of church advice and witchcraft protocol.

As a result, the madness that these wounds were said to bring may in fact be consequences of an unfinished ritual as opposed to being the primary symptom of the elf-shot or fairy-dart.

So, am I arguing that fairies do not punish or take retribution on humans? No, of course not. The accounts of Malone at the start of this piece as well as many of the fairy midwife tales more than prove this is not the case.

However, I think it is beyond doubt that we must leave room for some of the fairy punishments being the result of an individual not fulfilling a destiny asked of them by the fairies or ancestral spirits.
Unfortunately, I also think that some cases are the result of ignorance and innocence: human time and fairy time may bring about a disconnect whereby fairies themselves may be unaware of just how much of an impact cultural changes have on tradition and ancestral connection.
A complex subject, to be sure, but, hopefully, one that is worth contemplating.
(C.) David Halpin.
Image: Brooke Shaden.

Writing in Aboriginal Men of High Degree, A.P. Elkin describes an Australian Aboriginal account of a medicine man taken by ‘spirits’ into the sky world where an operation is performed on him by having quartz crystals inserted into his side. He could henceforth visit the sky and establish communication with the sky spirits and even be summoned by them.
The Aboriginal tribes of The Southern Murray region reflect the same beliefs as other Australian indigenous people which they say have been passed down in oral form for over 60’000 years.
Aboriginal cave art depicting these encounters with the sky-serpent spirits have been dated to at least 40’000 BCE.
At a deeper time-depth, are the paintings of the San people of Botswana and what is today South Africa. Many of these depict the figure of the ‘wounded man’, a medicine man who has travelled to the spirit world and is cut open by the spirits in order to have magic stones placed inside his body.
The earliest San paintings are currently dated to 70’000 BCE but according to archaeologist, Chris Henshilwood, some may be revised further to 100’000 BCE.
The Wounded Man motif is one which can be applied to higher deities such as Odin, who visit the spirit world and are pierced by a supernatural object, or lose a body part, as we have already mentioned, in order to gain Otherworldly wisdom.
This tradition even appears subtly in the context of Jesus, the sun god, being pierced in his side before he enters the ‘kingdom’.
In San tradition, a healer may have all of their inner organs removed and replaced before being healed and
(C.) David Halpin.
Image: Brooke Shaden.
Page: Brooke Shaden Photography
#fairies #fairy #shaman #witch #witchcraft #pagan #paganism #esoteric #fae #ancestors #animism #fortean #wicklow #archaeology #druid #heathen #seer #goddess #holywell #megalithic #folklore #celt #norsemythology #odin #celticmythology #irish #irishfolklore


Do The Fairy Mounds Open At Samhain According to Folklore?

(C.) David Halpin

Recently, there has been an argument put forward that Irish folklore does not record that fairies, the dead, and those taken to the Otherworld can return more easily at Samhain and this point of the yearly cycle.

Some who posit this opinion have said that until the Duchas archives were recorded in the late 1930’s, Irish people did not think of this time as particularly liminal or dangerous in terms of the good folk.

(We know that Irish Medieval writing specifically links this time to fairies and monsters but let’s look at further examples which continue this idea.)

One reason for this, it is argued, is the fact that the phrase ‘thinning of the veil’ is quite recent.

This is actually true, as far as literal wording is concerned. However, Irish folklore does indeed record that the concealing ‘mist’ between the fairy world and the human world is lifted which allows the beings and creatures of the fairy realm to enter our own world.

Considering the fact that the first people living in Ireland neither spoke English or Irish, as we know it today, for me, getting hung up on what seems to be fairly similar descriptions and explanations takes away from the overall point.

To be honest, there really doesn’t even seem to be a consensus as to what this description means in the first place, with some researchers strongly in favour of it being a dividing dimensional marker between worlds, and others advocating for a more psychological or consciousness-based explanation.

There are also those who do not think the terms ‘veil’ or ‘mist’ are helpful, full stop, as there is, in their view, no separation between the fairy realm and that of the human world in the first place.

Looking at the examples of those who have encountered the good people, a person could make a strong argument for any of the above theories.

In this following account from Irish folklore there is a definite physicality to the way the fairies separate those who have trespassed onto their territory.

Not only do they draw down a thick mist to make the humans lose their bearings, but a stone wall appears out of nowhere so there is no way back until the good people have left.

“There is a field in this locality known as Knockparson where the fairies are said to dwell. On several occasions people went there after nightfall to gather mushrooms.

When they entered the field a great thick mist seemed to fall everywhere. When they tried to get out of the field they found it surrounded by a great stone wall. The persons inside in the field had to remain there until morning. As soon as daybreak came the mist suddenly cleared and people could get away.”

But what about the point that before people knew about the Duchas archives they wouldn’t have associated Samhain with fairies entering our world and that this is a 20th century add-on?

Well, it doesn’t take much effort to find that this is simply not true.

I would encourage everyone to explore the vast free and public online book collections of Irish folklore, but here is an example from a published work from 1870, roughly 70 years, or a lifetime, before the Duchas collections.

Whether you call this time Halloween or Samhain, or something else entirely, folklore and traditions around the world associate this time with spirits, fairies, and the dead.
“It is considered that on All-Hallows Eve, hobgoblins, evil spirits, and fairies, hold high revel, and that they are travelling abroad in great numbers.
The dark and sullen Phooka is then particularly mischievous, and many mortals are abducted to fairy land.

Those persons taken away to the raths are often seen at this time by their living friends, and usually accompanying a fairy cavalcade.

If you meet the fairies, it is said, on All-Hallows Eve and throw the dust taken from under your feet at them, they will be obliged to surrender any captive human being belonging to their company.

Although this evening was kept a merry one in farmsteads, yet those who assembled together wished to go and return in company with others; for in numbers a tolerable guarantee, they thought, was obtained from malign influence and practices of the evil spirits.”

From: Irish Folk Lore: Traditions and Superstitions of the Country, with Humorous Tales. Published 1870 by John O’ Hanlon.

So, considering the fact that this excerpt comes from a book published in 1870 but probably researched and gathered a few years earlier than that we can safely say that there was indeed a belief in the fairies moving from the mounds/ raths at Samhain at this time and before.

It’s also worth remembering that the euphemism of a veil is as much to do with perception as it is to do with boundaries. The concept of a veil hiding something profound is an ancient one. One explanation is that it refers to archaic Goddess mysteries and, indeed, looking at the overlap between fairy-type beings and their queens this makes quite a bit of sense.

In European tradition Diana is a good example of this.

Later 19th century occultists would use the veil as a metaphor in their rites and initiations.

The context was the same: the veil represented the separation between worlds and only when it was lifted could a person realise the full depth and transcendence of the higher consciousness realms.

Another example is A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland by P. W. Joyce.

This is a edited compilation of earlier writings from the 1880’s published in 1906.

Again, a lifetime before Duchas.

The section to note begins, “On Samhain Eve, the night before the 1st of November, or, as it is now called, All Hallows Night, or Halloween, all the fairy hills were thrown wide open; for the Fe-fiada (Concealing mist) was taken off.

While they remained open that night, any mortals who were bold enough to venture near might get a peep into them. No sooner was the Fe-fiada lifted off than the inmates issued forth, and roamed where they pleased all over the country; so that people usually kept within doors, naturally enough afraid to go forth.

From the cave of Cruachan or Croghan in Connaught issued probably the most terrific of all those spectre hosts; for immediately that darkness had closed in on Samain Eve, a crowd of horrible goblins rushed out…”

What is really important here is the description confirming that when the concealing fairy mist vanishes, this allows the beings of the Otherworld to enter ours from the mounds and raths. It’s probably a bulls-eye in terms of contradicting the claims that there was no supernatural connotation to the mounds opening at Samhain.

The theory that the veil may occupy the same time and space but remain unseen is also something which Irish folklore tells us in its own way.

We are warned that the good people may be standing next to us or passing by and we will not know it. This may refer to their human-like characteristics making them indistinguishable from us as well as potentially hinting at some dimensional blind-spot existing parallel to our own world.

Sometimes the veil seems strangely specific in terms of location, seeming to open and close like invisible windows to another dimension.

Andrew Lang, in his introduction to The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk (1691) recounts an anecdote about a woman who declared that a number of the gentle people (Sleagh Maith) “occasionally frequented her house; that they often conversed with her, one of them putting its hands on her eyes during the time, which hands she had, to be about the size of those of a child of four or five years of age.” The family were “worn down” with these visits, and from the mention of touches of hands.

Even the most ardent argument for fairy encounters being insubstantial and merely altered psychological states becomes difficult to sustain when there are multiple witnesses.

The fairy mist, then, takes on properties which allow it, and those who dwell within and as a part of it, to live outside of time as human beings currently understand it.

In fact, this has always been a gift of fairies in the first place.

Although altered states, or the ‘veil’, may well act as a gateway for these encounters, the overwhelming folkloric record of every culture describes something affecting and physical emanating from beyond it.

Ultimately, the description of a veil may continue to have many meanings for those invested in deep fairy exploration but as a phenomenon it is much more interesting than its current controversy and will also continue to beg even more questions.

(C.) David Halpin.

Image: Rachel Lefaye.

Astronomical Samhain And The Pleiades: A Path to the Ancestral Dead.

(C.) David Halpin Circle Stories
The astronomical cross-quarter will occur here in the Northern Hemisphere on Tuesday, November 7th.
For many, this is the time of ‘true’ Samhain, as marked by our ancient ancestors over 5’000 years ago.

For others, Samhain is a period of time which encompasses the whole month of November.

It is worth keeping in mind, though, the astronomical cross-quarter was marked before the term, and later associations of, Samhain.

We do not know for certain just why this time was so important to our ancestors, or how they ritualised it. (There are lots of theories and assumptions by passionate advocates, but it’s really important to remember this.)
When we look to other parts of Europe and the world we do find common observances relating to spirits, ancestors, and remembering the dead.

For ancient Ireland in general, star lore is conspicuous by its relative absence.

There are some theories that the Celtic stories of Gods, Goddesses and cycles are astro-theological references to constellations and stars but there hasn’t been much deep research into this as of yet. However, in recent years some writers and researchers have discovered parallels between other ancient world mythologies and stellar observations.

David Mathisen’s book, The Undying Stars, is a great introduction to this topic.

Because many Irish megalithic monuments and sites are pre-Celtic, the deities and ancestors they *may* have been originally dedicated to, and built for, would obviously be different to the Gods and Goddesses we are familiar with from Irish mythology.

(That is, providing we accept that they were indeed built for such purposes.)

Another interesting note is that Walter Evans-Wentz writes in his work, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, about the similarities of aspects of Asian star lore which seem to have parallels to Irish folklore. According to the pre-Buddhist beliefs of the people of Siam (Now Thailand), the stars and constellations are the dwelling places of the Thevadas, who are spirits or gods very similar to the Tuatha De Danann.

Back in April I wrote about how both Bealtaine and Samhain were both associated with the Pleiades.

November is often called the month of the Pleiades because in this month the stars in this cluster are visible from dusk until dawn.

The month of November and Samhain may have been a time when the midnight culmination of the Pleiades and the cross-quarter day were celebrated as simultaneous occurrences in ancient times.

Today, in 2023, the dates of Samhain and the Pleiades culmination are 2/3 weeks out of sync and the culmination occurs around late November.

The reason for this changing date is due to the perceived movement of the stars and the precession of the equinoxes.

You can read more detail here:…/halloween-derived-from-ancient…/

The Pleiades features in many folklore anecdotes and myths relating to the dead and passing to and from the spirit world.
In some traditions this middle place, veil, or Otherworld is the realm between the human world and the abode of the gods. It is a place where imagination, archetypes and the spirits all reside. You can understand why, for many, there is an overlap between fairies and the dead in this context.
Either way, November is a month dedicated to deceased loved ones, ancient ancestors and spirits in many cultures and traditions.

It’s fascinating to note the different opinions within Irish fairy folklore and magic regarding whether November is a good time or bad time to encounter the good people.

For some, as this is a liminal time when the ancestors are close then surely it must be a good time.

Others, though, feel that more contemporary traditions serve as evidence that this is a period of the year when we should stay away from places associated with fairies completely.

The custom of drawing ones own blood as a sacrifice on St. Martins Day, November 11th, may be a remnant of much more ancient warding and protective practices.

Obviously, since the newer Christian overlay, many have forgotten why this may have been done. We do, though, have recorded accounts in the folklore archives of this day being specifically associated with protection against damaging spirits and influences.

The Pleiades are also very much part of ritual observances at this time of the year.

There are also examples of pre-Celtic Irish traditions of recording the movement of the Pleiades.

In the book, Harvesting the Stars: A Pagan Temple at Lismullin, Co. Meath, by Aidan O’Connell, the author examines the recent discovery and documentation of a Pleiades alignment in the Gabhra Valley, beneath the Hill of Tara, Co. Meath.

As well as this, the Dowth megalith named ‘Stone of the Seven Suns’ by Martin Brennan has been suggested to portray the Pleiades by Anthony Murphy of Mythical Ireland and the researcher Richard Moore. Anthony has also drawn attention to the Dowth legend relating to the king, Bresail Bó-Dibad (lacking in cattle), at the time of a great cattle famine in ancient times which left one bull and seven cows remaining in Ireland. This would seem to be a reference to Taurus and the seven ‘sisters’ of the Pleiades.

The Pleiades were frequently called The Stróilín here in Ireland and people often timed their journeys by the position of these stars.

Interestingly, as well as being known as the seven sisters, the Pleiades also have a possible link to swans as the whooper swans arrive at Newgrange at this time of the year, as one example, and there is also an old tale of Orion chasing the seven sisters of the Pleiades across the sky before they turn into swans or doves.
Of course, a more obvious connection is how the Pleiades as a cluster resembles a long-necked bird in flight.
(C.) David Halpin.
Image: Reimund Bertrams.

The Gate of Hell Roscommon?

Halloween ,500 years ago, Rathcroghan, Roscommon. We are standing on an immense ceremonial mound, beneath a star-crowded night sky. This earthen structure is an open-air temple, studded with blood-painted altars and carved wooden platforms.
An avenue of torches, their flames flickering noisily in the wind, form a pathway toward the hilltop where an eerie light glows amid the sounds of chanting under the yellow full moon. We climb to reach a circle of standing stones surrounding a huge stone altar before an immense bonfire.
We join the crowd of local farmers and tradesmen, shaking with awe and fear, wide eyes focused on the menacing flames and the intimidating hooded figures taking their positions at the altar. They are Druids in fabulously embroidered cloaks, they encircle the central sanctuary. The bonfire seems to surge like a beast awakening to their presence. The night air reeks of burning flesh and the howls and blood of sacrificial animals.
The Druid’s dark hoods fringe their long-bearded faces whilst they chant hypnotically. From the darkness shaven-headed acolytes appear, armed with spears and ceremonial scythes, their faces and naked bodies painted with white chalk to mimic skeletons.
They begin to chant and dance and the firelight itself dances across their ecstatic faces and illuminates the sweaty tense grimaces of our congregation. There is a very tangible sense that within this sacred circle the veil between normal life and the ethereal Otherworld is lifted.
This land and sky are charged with supernatural power, forces that were already old when the first feral stone age farmers stumbled across the landbridge. Rathcroghan is the seat of the Kingdom of Connacht. A noble dynasty of warrior-poets, pagan priests, artisans, and farmers. A magical cavern nearby called Òennagcat, (the cave of cats) is an important gateway to the Underworld.
It is also the legendary birthplace of the magnificent warrior Queen Medb.
Suddenly the chanting stops.
Then the tense atmosphere is pierced by the long mournful call of a ram’s horn bugle. Now the slow mesmerising drumming of animal skins penetrates the crowd like a unifying heartbeat. To the ordinary people, who may have traveled for days to witness this rite, this night would be the culmination of days of feasting, family reunions, and catching up with local news. It was also a great opportunity to trade, including match-making and sports.
Now hoping for blessings and protection the crowd put on their disguises. They mimic wild animals, monsters, and the dead, to chase away danger and sickness and increase the land’s fertility. Adorned with horned animal skulls and pelts, faces and bare chests painted with protective symbols, this pantomime army of demons makes for a fearsome sight beneath the milky moonlight.
This night, which corresponds to the 31st of October, is the Celtic New Year festival of Samhain. Thousands of years later we call this mysterious magical day Halloween!
The dark and powerful denizens of the Otherworld will not be satisfied with the sacrifices of animals and wooden idols. They demand that most worthy and potent gift, a human life. The more handsome, beautiful, or otherwise exceptional specimen the better.
Another eerie note blows from the horn. The crowd mumbles and parts to make way for two burly warriors wearing bull skulls, and wielding impressive iron-tipped spears. Between them, they escort two young people in white hooded cloaks. The masses bow their heads as the two pale figures are led up the wooden steps to the spiral-carved stone altar.
The head Druid, raises his arms to the sky, golden scythe glinting in one hand, wooden cup in the other.
A chilling hush falls upon the audience. Slow drumming seems to possess the two youths as they are led by the acolytes before the altar. With a gasp from the crowd, their hoods are lowered to show a boy and girl of approximately twelve years old.
Although they shiver in the incense Impregnated night air, their blank intoxicated faces show no signs of fear. The chief druid, arms still aloft, walks out from behind the altar. The children kneel before him, their fair heads bowed as if in prayer. Two horse skull-masked druids break formation from the circle as the beat of the drumming speeds up.
The masked druids pull ornate daggers from their robes, the sharpened blades flash in the firelight. In the blink of an eye, the chief drops his arms to his side. The drumming stops. In a smooth fluid motion, the armed druids pull back the children’s heads by their hair and their weapons do their fatal work.
The dark sacrifice is over. The collective guts of the crowd relax and cheer. As the blood is collected and smeared on the druids’ faces and the altar, everyone is ecstatic that their farms will be fertile and their households prosperous and their dead loved ones in the Otherworld are appeased for another year.
Before we sneak off in our time machine take a moment to look at the two crimson-stained bodies being flung gently into the bonfire’s jaws. It is chilling to think the DNA in this spilled blood that seeps from the sacrificed and drips from the ceremonial knife is the same blood which runs through our modern Irish veins. Let’s be grateful now we only have sweets, fireworks, plastic masks, and bonfires to worry about at Halloween…

Dublin pubs and the original holy water they drank?

the history of dublins pubs
(c) a Rob Buchnana- DUBLINTIMEMACHINE:
Sometimes things which look modern and ordinary are actually ancient. Saint Winifred’s well on Eustace Street in Temple Bar is one such fascinating feature. This overlooked diamond amid the cigarette butt and vomit-smeared cobblestones tells a tale for those with eyes and ears for history. This humble hole, fringed with a little stone wall, lies outside what is currently The Norseman pub. It was buried for centuries before its rediscovery during roadworks in the mid-1990s.

A pint of porter wasn’t the original holy water?

Wells, and holy wells specifically, have a deep and timeless importance to the Irish. Water sources named after saints, like the Welsh Winifred, represent life and hope, both physically and spiritually. They are places where communities came together to draw water and worship. Dublin and North Wales were linked by prosperous trade routes since the 11th century, which may account for the naming. The location would imply its lifegiving liquid is drawn from the subterranean River Poddle or perhaps a shelf of groundwater.

The  deep history of the Norseman pub

It’s amazing this centuries-old feature was lost for so long, considering how this little street corner has seen frequent changes in modern times. Highly debatable official records claim a tavern on the site since 1696. But from the 20th century at least, the nearby pub started as The Wooden Man, then became The Norseman, then J.J.O’Neill’s, Monk’s, Farrington’s, and now once again is called The Norseman.

A historical site becomes a vomit strewn tourist trap

As the criminally expensive pubs came and went the secret freshwater feature was rediscovered, partially restored, and seemingly forgotten once again. The only liquids unneglected in that neighbourhood being of the alcoholic and extortionately overpriced variety. Sadly, in keeping with the general drunken, disrespectful littering in this tourist trap part of town, the medieval miracle is treated like a rubbish bin.
Next time you stagger past, hopefully en-route to a pub whose prices dont require remortgaging your gaff, spare a thought for Saint Winifred and her waters which quenched our ancestors’ thirst, body and soul.

Louth history? Things to do in Omeath?

(c) @ ireland and pegs cottage
The picturesque village of Omeath in County Louth is surprisingly rich in history and legend, even for Ireland! It nestles at the foot of the Cooley Mountains, looking out over Carlingford Lough to the Mourne Mountains, and is divided into ten townlands.
There’s Ardaghy where you’ll find the homestead of famous blind poet Seamus MacCuarta, also a turf bog road where you’ll see a Mass Rock, a legacy of penal times when priests were forbidden to say Mass but did so daily under penalty of death from this rock.

Omeath secrets

In summer months jarveys (drivers of jaunting cars) transport pilgrims to The Calvary to pray at the Shrine of St Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases. Also at The Calvary is the historic Way of the Cross, the beautiful Lourdes Grotto, the image of the Divine Mercy and the Fr. Gentili Crypt and Gardens. At the fields of Bavan you’ll see where the first recorded Gaelic football match was hosted in 1750, and at Cornamucklagh you’ll find Flagstaff View, a fabulous vantage point over Carlingford Lough, the Mountains of Mourne and the Newry Canal as it meanders into Newry.

History of Omeath

Corrakit is where you’ll find the Grave of the Long Woman. Knocknagoran is at the heart of Omeath and here you’ll find coast guard cottages and a hotel built in 1840 to accommodate tourists and smugglers from Belfast to socialise and trade at the crossroads each Sunday.
Lislea holds the secrets of the last Gaelic speakers of the area. Their homesteads can still be visited here and stories heard of the flight of the Fadgies (Fruit and Fish Peddlers) from Omeath to Belfast, taking with them the Gaelic tongue that can still be heard in Belfast today.
Tullagh is a memory to the hard times of yesteryear with its Famine Bridge and Clermont Pass, a road cut out of the side of the mountain with voluntary labour during the Second World War, or ‘The Emergency’ as WWII was known in Ireland. Also in Tullagh there’s a field where shamrock never grows.

Dublins most haunted castles?


Drimnagh Castle

👻 Drimnagh Castle was built approx.1216 by Sir Hugh de Bernival. It is the only remaining castle in Ireland with a flooded Norman moat. The reputedly haunted location boasts a 15th-century great hall and a 16th-century tower. The castle stayed in the same family for centuries till it was sold to a dairy farmer in the 1900s when its first restoration was attempted. It stayed in his family till it was sold to the Christian Brothers in 1953 who built a school on the land. It fell into ruin again and risked demolition in the 1970s till it was partially taken over by An Caisleán GAA who restored the coach house. In 1986 artist Peter Pearson and a local committee got FÁS to restore it and the adjoining 17th-century garden to its former glory. The venue, which was featured in The Tudors, can be hired as a wedding and party venue. Ghosts are not included in the bill!

Puck Castle

👻 Mysterious Puck’s Castle is an easily overlooked, overgrown ruin in a cow field in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown. What it lacks in size it makes up for in mythology. “Púca” as Gaeilge means a spirit and this name was anglicised to Puck, denoting the possible haunted history of the little citadel. Built around the early 16th century, legend says it was constructed using cursed materials stolen from a nearby ancient magical ringfort called “Bearna Dhearg”. To defend “The Pale” it was not unusual then to cannibalize sacred Celtic sites for stone, no matter how severe the curses were. A more recent, and sadly verified, story occurred in 1867. An English girl who lived locally, called Jane Eleanor Sherrard, vanished whilst picking wildflowers near the castle, never to be seen again. In this case, it seems some monsters are sadly all too human!

Dunsoghly Castle

 Tinsel Castle in Finglas is located on private land near the end of a runway, at Dublin airport. The four-storey medieval tower house was built in 1450 and its 500-year-old roof is the last surviving original wooden roof on an Irish castle. The same family lived there for centuries until it was abandoned in the 1870s. It contains a haunted chapel dating from 1573, defensive slits in its towers, and a barrel-vaulted ground floor. Saint Oliver Plunkett reported staying there. Dunsoglhy Castle was featured in Braveheart, standing in for Edinburgh Castle home of Robert the Bruce.

Malahide Castle

800 years of continuous occupation, births deaths, and battles means Malahide Castle is haunted by several spirits, the most famous of which is Puck. He was the creepy Court jester who lived in the turret room. He was notorious for falling in love with female visitors but sadly his affections were never returned. He took his own life but his diminutive apparition is seen about the castle but mainly near Pucks Door in the main hall. There is also the Lady in White, a female spirit who haunts the corridors and gardens.

The lucky stone of Dublin? Vist Saint Audoen’s Church

Holy magic stones don’t just reside on Father Ted’s Craggy Island. We’ve got one here in Dublin! There has been a place of worship on the site of Old St. Audoen’s church since medieval times.
That even more ancient chapel was for St. Columba. Audoen’s is the oldest surviving medieval church in Dublin with parts of it dating from about 1190 CE. The 17th-century tower contains six bells. Three of these are the oldest in Ireland and date from 1423 CE.
And with centuries of history comes more than a few mysteries. A 9th-century grave marker called ‘The Lucky Stone’ (an chloch ádh) was practically worshipped by the citizens of The Liberties. The granite slab is engraved with a Greek cross within a double circle. Believers claimed touching or kissing it cured illness and brought good luck.
In 1309 the Lord Mayor, John Le Decer, took the sacred stone from its resting place and reinstalled it up the road in the Cornmarket. He had just built a marble cistern there. It was the first public water fountain in the city and merchants and peasants alike felt the magic rock might enhance the popularity and health effects of Le Decer’s project.
But yet again this rolling stone gathered no moss. It vanished one night from the Cornmarket, only to reappear in Glasnevin Cemetery. It must’ve gotten bored again because its next new home was the historic Whitefriar Street Church. In 1826 it was stolen, possibly by visitors to the city, and was lost for years. The thieves who returned it claimed the object was cursed and became heavier the further from Dublin it was taken.
In the 1840s the Lucky Stone was discovered by a night watchman on a building site in Kilmainham. He claimed it began to glow in the dark and then gradually change into a human shape! When news began to spread, and members of the public began to flock to the site, workers began to tell tales of the stone speaking and screaming and moving of its own accord.
In 1888 the Rev. Dr. Alexander Leeper finally brought it home to Old St. Audoen’s. This time, to hamper any future escape bids, the Lucky Stone was held safely behind iron bars. Leeper was the Rector of the ancient church from 1859-94 and his ghost is said to patrol St. Audoen’s at night to protect the precious stone.
The site has played a role in Irish political life too. Oliver Bond of the United Irishman was elected Churchwarden of the church in 1787. James Napper Tandy, another United Irishman had strong ties to the place. He was born nearby in number 5 Cornmarket and baptised there in 1739. He was also a Churchwarden.
While nobody knows the true origin of the Lucky Stone, the church itself has a definite French Anglo-Norman connection that’s clear in the name. Audoen is the Gaelic spelling of “Ouen”. This ancient place is named after the 7th-century Bishop of R’Ouen, France, who is also the patron saint of Normandy.