Maybe We Should Stone Our Leaders

We stood on the high mound and looked across the river at the solitary tall stone in the middle of the field. Jack pointed out the remnants of a bridge that would have provided passage over the water from the mound to this ancient inaugural stone of the O’Briens. The Lia Failstone in this photo is the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, near the Hill of Tara. A gift to the Irish people by the Tuatha Dé, when the rightful High King of Ireland put his feet on it the stone was said to roar in joy. Confirmation of his rightful sovereignty. And every tribe had their roaring inauguration stone.

I turned my gaze from the O’Brien stone and scanned the landscape. It wasn’t hard to imagine the vast clan gathering, camps and campfires scattered over the slopes of the surrounding gentle hills. They would be gathered for the banais ríghi, the wedding feast of kingship. Being king was a sacred trust with both the people and the land. This ceremony was a symbolic marriage between the mortal king and the Goddess of Sovereignty, the personification of Ireland herself. The king not only had to be acceptable to both the land and the people to become king, he had to stay acceptable or be deposed. It was an onerous job. The list of qualities and qualifications was long and daunting. He had to be physically unblemished and be possessed of the noble qualities of hospitality, reputation, dignity, exemplary deeds, righteousness, brilliance, generosity, geniality, honor, companionship, courtesy, bravery, affection, beauty, prudence, discernment, excellence and eminence – just to name a few. Taken together these comprised the Justice of the King. This from an ancient text…

It is clear to those who consider well, how profitable to the world is the justice of a king, for it is the peace of peoples, the security of country, the safety of the common folk, the defence of the tribe, the cure of illness, the joy of men, the clemency of the weather, the calm of the seas, the fruitfulness of the earth, the consolation of the poor, the inheritance of children, for the king himself, the hope of future bliss.

As Jack and I sat on the mound in the warm summer sun our conversation turned to the state of Irish politics and the upcoming US presidential election. Perhaps it is time to learn something from these old Stone of Destiny traditions. …how profitable to the world is the justice of a king… Perhaps it’s time to stone our leaders.

If You Don’t Own It, You Don’t Deserve To Own It.

As Murt Mac Garraidhe wrote in his book, Strangers at Home, the early Irish considered the Christian idea of man having dominion over the beasts of the earth, the fishes of the sea, and the birds of the air, an arrogant lunacy. So too was the Christian assertion that animals had no souls. Any notion of dominion over a soulless Earth was even more ludicrous. For Éire, the land we know today as Ireland, has both soul and sovereignty.
Lough MacNeanMurt’s words echo those of Chief Sealth in his famous letter to President Pierce as his people were being forced off their ancestral land. How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. For this land is sacred to us. Owning the land was unthinkable. However for both Chief Sealth’s people and the Irish, this sacred world view would prove fatal.

When the English arrived in Ireland they were surprised and ultimately pleased to find a culture of scattered tribes living in a reciprocal and balanced relationship with a wild, untamed land. Murt sums it well. The new invaders found Éire an inhospitable wilderness and tended to regard the Gaeil as primitive savages who failed to ‘progress’ as others had and who knew nothing of agriculture. To them, the Gaeil were throwbacks to a past that had long since disappeared in much of northern Europe: they were like some wandering nomadic tribe that had escaped from the books of the Old Testament, and were obviously not meant to be in possession of such a fine land. 

Basically, if the Irish didn’t consider themselves owners of the land they didn’t deserve to own it. If they weren’t exploiting the landscape and its resources they didn’t deserve the landscape and its resources. The English were happy to take the land off their hands. And they did, by slaughter, starvation and deportation. As Murt wrote, their commercially oriented society, and the ways in which they exploited the landscape and its resources to support themselves, were to have a profound effect on the ecology of Éire, the legacy of which we are living today. I would argue not only the ecology but also the spirit and soul of Éire and her people.

Boulder. How Irish Of You.

Finally, after years of resistance, my nephew and nieces surmounted every obstacle and convinced my sister to get a dog. They are thrilled and, as you might imagine, none more Aliadosmitten than my sister. She works from home. Now with Aliado curled up at her feet.

She called yesterday to catch me up on their adventures as new dog owners and then corrected herself. Not dog owners, but dog guardians. Ah, only in Boulder. Apparently this Colorado city is now changing out all signage and registration paperwork to expunge the notion that anyone actually owns their adopted four leggeds. Dog guardians, not dog owners, are now requested to scoop the poop in public places.

As amazing as this may sound, they actually have a ways to go to match the early Irish on this issue. For these ancestors, all life was sacred with a divine energy present in the people, the land, and the animals. With respect to animals this was no casual notion. Early Irish law viewed all creatures as people insofar as they were legally responsible for their own actions. Dogs, cats, cows, bees and chickens were among those held to strict codes of conduct. Household animals had their duties, responsibilities, and restrictions and the law demonstrated great ingenuity in grading the level of their trespasses. The three hen-trespasses in a house, snatching away, wasting and spilling. Hens guilty of these trespasses had their feet tied together, or rag boots put on.

Just a thought, Aliado. From ownership to guardianship, where is this headed?

Death By Chocolate

My beloved husband will wonder what this has to do with Ireland or the Irish as is the focus of this blog. Truthfully, not much. Although I could contrive a connection or invoke the Irish proclivity for social justice. But I won’t.

A clerk at the grocery store today asked me how many trick-or-treaters we got this year. getty_rm_photo_halloween_witch_with_candy None. In the 37 years we have lived here, we have only once had small costumed visitors. I told the clerk it was due to our remote location and long drive way. True. But the larger truth is I am glad of it. For I cannot participate in this annual candy ritual. Set aside for a moment the issues of corn starch and obesity. The real reason is that while our children clamor for the candy and especially the all-prized chocolate this comes at a horrific price. The tragic irony is that while our children are dying for chocolate other children are dying because of chocolate.

A Tulane University study found that between 2007 and 2008 nearly 820,000 children in the Ivory Coast and over 997,000 children in Ghana were enslaved in the cocoa industry. Slave traders target young boys between the ages of 6 and 16. These children are kidnapped or coco1purchased from their parents, generally with false promises of food and education. But they are in fact sold to cocoa farms where they are forced to work long hours without pay, starved, beaten, locked up at night, bound, tortured and, in many cases, killed.

Who, you might ask, would buy chocolate from these farmers? Hershey, Nestle, and Mars who account for 35% of the global chocolate production. And there are others. Yes, the supply chain can be difficult to trace. But choosing not to look too closely or just look the other way comes at an unconscionable price.

It gives death by chocolate a whole new meaning.

Happy New Year! Did You Carve Your Turnip?

Halloween. Before the Church and candy companies got ahold of it, this holiday was a celebration of a very different nature and a very different name, Samhain. Pronounced sow-in, Samhain roughly translates from the old Irish as ‘summer’s end’ and was a celebration of the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker half thus marking a new year. For our Irish ancestors the new year, the new day which began at sundown, and new life all began in a womb of darkness.

This is also a time when the veils and borders between this world and the Otherworld IrishTurnipare thin, allowing spirits to roam freely between the worlds. While Irish family ancestors were honored and invited home, other less friendly spirits were to be avoided. For some this warding off included dressing in frightening costumes. For many it included carving heads as the head was believed to be where the soul resides and was thus considered the most powerful part of the body. This was the real reason the Irish collected heads during battle….but that’s another story altogether. Candles were placed in these carvings and these carvings were placed in windows so the light of the soul would keep the family safe. This photo is of an actual preserved Irish turnip carving. But I understand that if you haven’t got a turnip, a mangelwurzel will do.