“An atmosphere of magic and mystery surrounds the Tuatha Dé…We read that they first came to Ireland in obscure clouds, landing on a mountain the west of the country, and that they caused an eclipse of the sun that lasted for three days.” Dáithí Ó hÓgáin
The Tuatha Dé Dannan, Ireland’s indigenous spiritual ancestors, arrived on airships through the mists and clouds on Beltaine. The literature is clear and consistent about this. They arrived between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago, the literature is wildly inconsistent about this.
Could Benbulben be the ‘mountain in the west of the country’? Spend any time in this area and it seems likely. Very likely.
The demonization of Earth based spirituality was and is not specific to Ireland but rather a global phenomenon, the consequences powerfully articulated by shaman and author, Tom Cowan. “The dispiritedness of the Fisher King gradually swept across the medieval world as Christianity dissociated spirit from nature, thus causing the greatest soul loss in human history.”
Perhaps the greater tragedy is faith organizations evolving to believe more in their own power than the power they espouse.
While this influence in Ireland was tragic, it was not absolute. Beneath the Catholic veneer the old knowing still survives and indeed even thrives – in farmers who will not disturb the standing stones and stone circles in their fields, in construction crews that will not cut down a faery tree, in healers who send healing energy through the Earth to ailing cows hundreds of miles away. The ancient wisdom ways are not lost. They live in the people and especially the land. Touching this great mystery is why I travel to Ireland.
Nowhere is the mystery more potent and powerful than in the landscape of Benbulben. So let’s resume an exploration of that place…
There is much to explore about the world of faery and a brief insight might be helpful at the beginning.
When the early Catholic monks arrived in Ireland they were preaching St. John’s teachings of the divine in all things. These teachings easily found alignment with the Irish people who, with a strong shamanic heritage, believed in sacred energy flowing through all things. And the two happily coexisted for several hundred years, until Rome decided Catholic teachings would reflect St. Peter’s teachings of finding divinity only through the church.
This created a problem of how to shift and transform the entrenched Irish belief system in the spirit realms – human, plant, Earth, and animal. They had to create a story that would allow for the demonization of the sacred. This was tricky business.
In 1887 Lady Wilde wrote about the solution in her book, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions of Ireland. “The Sidhe, or spirit race, called also the Feadh-Ree, or fairies, are supposed to have been once angels in heaven, who were cast out by Divine command as a punishment for their inordinate pride.”
Fallen angels. Brilliant, really. At once acknowledging a divine nature but creating the story of demonization. Now, with demonic nature, these otherworld spirit energies of the Earth, plants, animals, and human ancestors are no longer to be trusted or considered allies. Yes, they might occasionally provide benefit but watch out, they will turn on you. And this capricious if not malevolent nature is now firmly embedded in Irish faery folklore. For Irish spirituality this solution was both effective and tragic.
“Believe in them, of course not! But they’re there just the same!”
This sentiment echoes through the writing about the faery folk in Ireland, and is a very insightful reflection on Irish relationships with the otherworld. The word ‘faery’ or feadh-ree is said to be a modification of ‘Peri’, a Persian word for a race midway between angel and man, invisible though ever present. A spirit race encompassing many entities of the spirit realms, the otherworld.
William Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is widely credited as the first to characterize faeries as small winged creatures. And the image stuck, now ubiquitous through the world of Disney. However for the Irish this is not the world of faery. There is more, much more…
Following the Benbulben thread as promised. In his book, The Celtic Twilight, W.B. Yeats wrote the following:
Drumcliff and Rosses were, are, and ever shall be, please Heaven! places of unearthly resort. I have lived near by them and in them, time after time, and have gathered thus many a crumb of faery lore. Drumcliff is a wide green valley, lying at the foot of Ben Bulben, the mountain in whose side the square white door swings open at nightfall to loose the faery riders on the world.
In fact there is a white square on the cliffs of Benbulben which, on a clear day, can be seen from our B&B located in Rosses Point. Legend says the faery host nightly ride, The Riding of the Sídhe, passes directly over our lodging. One woman who was with me in Ireland spent much of one day in the B&B garden contemplating this white square and decided a prudent move would be to put a note on the window in her room, which faced Benbulben, indicating that if they were looking for anyone to ride with them I was in room #3.
They didn’t fetch me that evening. But encounters in that landscape abound.
Rummaging through our collection of children’s books I rediscovered a book of 100 poems for children written by Irish poets, published in Ireland almost ten years ago. A remarkable collection. The illustrations are delightful, the language as enchanting and playful as one might expect. Perhaps less expected, the poetry takes on some extraordinary, if not provocative, subject matter including the exploitation of child labor, head lice, moving an elder to a nursing home…and among the many more uplifting pieces this engaging reflection of Ireland’s shamanic heritage. Enjoy! Continue reading →
In long ago Ireland the homes were small. There were no spare bedrooms. Guests and travelers of all rank were offered lodging in a large house built expressly for hospitality. It was considered a privilege to be designated as the innkeeper and strong codes applied. One must be ready to receive guests at all times with a fire in the hearth, food for the table, and a lantern lit outside to guide travelers to the door. Breaking with any of these, or several other, codes would result in losing the innkeeper designation.
Placing a lighted candle in the window on Christmas eve is a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travel looking for shelter, an Irish tradition still practiced today. During the Penal Times, when practicing the Catholic religion was punishable by death, a window candle also indicated a safe place for priests to conduct mass.
Guiding lights. On this Christmas eve may the light we hold within us guide our way to peace and love. For ourselves, our families and all people of the world.
If you look closely at the SoulFire header photo of Benbulben you might make out a few very small white specks. Those are sheep. And, as Irish sheep seem to be part goat, they are the only ones who climb the face of Benbulben to the rock cliffs. The two thousand plus people who will ascend the mountain in May will take a more gentle approach up through the landscape in the right of this photo, one I took last summer from our Sligo area B&B. Still, any climb is considered treacherous as the mountain is limestone and riddled with deep holes hidden by a cover of heather. Clouds can descend suddenly obscuring all visibility. Anyone making the climb is strongly advised to take a compass and survival gear…and a friend.
Spend time with Benbulben and you can get lost in the mists, weather having nothing to do with it. A mystical place. There are stories to share…and I will.
Benbulben, the mountain in the above header photo, is an amazing power spot in Ireland, holding potent energy of Ireland’s spiritual ancestors, the Tuatha Dé Danann. That Benbulben speaks will not be news to anyone who has traveled to Ireland with me.