A Word. Or Two.

February 26, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom

Nomenclature. There are two words I’m using, and may reluctantly continue to use as they are so embedded in our collective consciousness, that are wholly inadequate and inappropriate for meaningful exploration and understanding.

Faery. There are many spellings but they all have their etymological roots in faie, a woman skilled in magic. But the meaning has devolved through history to become a trivializing expression for all manner of unseen entities. Shakespeare was apparently the first to give them wings and that image is now pervasive. Mythical and magical, these figures are now generally considered capricious and even dangerous. 

This transformation was no arbitrary accident. As author David Sivier writes, the metamorphosis from nature spirits to quaint sprites was the artistic counterpart of the taming of the wild, natural world by industry and human rationality. What was once common, familiar, and accepted in ancient cultures around the world became unnatural and in this shift we became even more estranged from the natural world. Which brings me to the second unfortunate word.

Otherworld. This word is really bothersome because it suggests that what is unseen is not part of this world. It posits that what we cannot see, hear, taste, touch or scientifically prove and verify is not real and therefore not part of our world. Unseen entities and energies are dubiously regarded and relegated to another world. An otherworld. Increasingly, those who report otherworldly encounters are regarded with suspicion. I would argue that this is even true for those who profess a belief in an unseen god. While it’s one thing to share a collective, in most cases biblical, story of a god and angelic beings, it’s quite something else when someone reports a personal encounter. Such experiences are often considered in the rarified realm of miracles and even Holy Rome demands proof.

Early and ancient cultures around the world held no such differentiation. It was all part of this world, all part of the here and now. It was all part of the great mystery and fabric of life and in the living of it no proof was needed. People didn’t believe it, they knew it. Although threads of this knowing have become increasingly tattered over time they are still there. They are woven through the folk tales and traditions of Ireland. They are woven in the spiritual traditions of many other cultures and countries. In Australia and China the threads are still vibrant.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

Otherworld Wanderings

February 25, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom


The faery folk presence was not limited to Hawthorn trees. According to Irish lore and legend they were ubiquitous in the landscape with an affinity for faery forts, hills, springs, pools and lakes, caves, rocky places, forests, and small valleys. Which seems to encompass most of Ireland, frankly. Basically they were everywhere. And they were by no means place bound. 

Folklore accounts are filled with their movement, generally traveling from place to place along pathways of straight lines between locations. Folklore accounts are also filled with warnings of what happens should humans interfere with these pathways, especially making the grave mistake of building on top of one of these faery paths. Writer and folklorist Lady Augusta Gregory found locals using the phrases in the way, in a contrary place, and in a path when talking about houses that had unlucky reputations. It was clear to her that the phrase referred to the obstruction of faery paths. Here is just one story reported by author Paul Devereux.

Dermot McManus recorded several such instances personally known to him in western Ireland. One case he cited involved a fellow called Michael O’Hagan whose children were being taken ill and dying for no reason that the doctor could identify. O’Hagan sought advice from the local wise-woman. She came to his house, and immediately saw that an extension the man had built to the dwelling “obtruded into a straight line between two neighbouring fairy forts”. The extension was demolished and it was said that the man’s remaining children grew up healthy.

Again, this is just one story. Irish folklore is filled with them. W.B. Yeats, Augusta Gregory, Lady Wilde and other antiquarians collected hundreds of similar accounts. Their writings are both easily found and fascinating.

Yet in all of these faery stories there is another level of encounter to consider. For within these tales of the wanderings of otherworld entities, there is the movement of otherworld energies. 

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

Bad Move, Car Guy

February 24, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom


We may never know who cut down the faery tree in Clare. But we do know who cut down the faery tree during construction of the DeLorean plant. It was DeLorean himself as was reported by Irish Central.

The car manufacturer DeLorean failed to heed the protestations of local workmen when rather spectacularly Chairman John DeLorean himself bulldozed a lone hawthorn tree to facilitate the building of his ill-fated luxury car plant at Dunmarry, near Belfast.

It was a brief and turbulent history for the DeLorean Motor Company, ending in receivership and bankruptcy. Yes. DeLorean was involved in drug trafficking. But local wisdom attributed the demise to the destruction of the sacred tree. He was warned. Don’t mess with the faeries. 

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

Away. Come Away!

February 23, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom


The host is riding from Knocknarea
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, “Away, come away.”
William Butler Yeats
From The Hosting Of The Sidhe

There is a large rectangle of white stone on the steep slopes of Ben Bulben. It is said to be a door that opens each night when the faery host rides through air to gather on Knocknarea. They would pass directly over my favorite B&B in Sligo. Legend is filled with stories about the faery realm taking the occasional human with them on such adventures and this was a concern for Linda who was among those on pilgrimage one year. Her bedroom faced Ben Bulben and one night she put a small sign in the window. She’s in room #3. That was my bedroom. When I arrived at breakfast the next morning I’m not sure if she was delighted or disappointed to see me.

We laughed about it. But in local folklore such a concern was no laughing matter. W.B. Yeats collected many stories of faery encounters. This is one he published in 1902 in his book
The Celtic Twilight.

A little girl who was in service in the village of Grange, close under the seaward slopes of Ben Bulben, suddenly disappeared one night about three years ago. There was at once great excitement in the neighbourhood, because it was rumored that the faeries had taken her. A villager was said to have long struggled to hold her from them, but at last they prevailed, and he found nothing in his hands but a broomstick. The local constable was applied to, and he at once instituted a house-to-house search, and at the same time advised the people to burn all the bucalauns (ragweed) on the field she vanished from, because bucalauns are sacred to the faeries. They spent the whole night burning them, the constable repeating spells all the while. In the morning the little girl was found, the story goes, wandering in the field. She said the faeries had taken her away a great distance, riding on a faery horse.

There are loads of these stories. But what I find remarkable about this one is the constable. He clearly didn’t question the veracity of the nature of the girl’s disappearance and knew exactly what to do. I doubt there were spells included in any police training manual so his knowledge would have come from popular wisdom and the fact that familiarity with otherworld energies and beings was a vibrant thread woven in the fabric of life and belief for the Irish people of the time.

And from the reactions to the N18 Clare faery tree nearly one hundred years after this story was published, it seems that thread is still there.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

The Billion Dollar Bush

February 21, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom


Okay. It wasn’t a billion dollars. It was millions. And it wasn’t a bush as much as a bushy tree as you can see from the photo. But beyond my alliterative indulgence, the rest of this story is true. Hard to believe, but true.

It was 1999. In County Clare, Ireland, construction was underway for the N18 motorway when local folklorist Eddie Lenihan discovered the plans included the destruction of a fairy tree. He raised the alarm, warning that the destruction of the fairy thorn bush could result in misfortune and in some cases death for those traveling the proposed new road. According to Lenihan, the bush is a marker in a fairy path and was the rendezvous point for Kerry fairies on their way to do battle with the Connacht fairies. Under the bush, he claimed, the Kerry fairies would regroup and consult on what might be the best tactics in battle. He said their white blood has been seen on a number of occasions on the surrounding grass. Lenihan warned of terrible consequences if the fairy bush was destroyed. “It is sacred ground.”

It is a fairy story, but not a fairy tale. With a cost of millions and significant construction delays, the motorway was reengineered and constructed to go around the tree. Years later someone took a chain saw and cut down the tree. Generally there was no regret over the actions and costs to protect the tree. There was only the acknowledgement that a person who cuts down a fairy tree will have bad luck and never another good night’s sleep.

It’s easy to point a finger at Irish superstition and many did just that as this story made international headlines. But that is not what happened here. This was not an issue of irrational, groundless, or unfounded belief, as is the definition of superstition – a definition embraced by the Catholic Church and applied liberally to traditions of Ireland’s mythic and otherworld heritage. This belief is grounded in the Brehon Laws. The tenant of honor and value for every person extended to the natural world. And the laws were very specific with regard to trees. Yes, there was a hierarchical structure in which some trees were considered more valuable than others. Oak trees were at the top of this structure. But all trees were valued and there were specific requirements for restorative justice should trees be harmed or damaged. Penalties for stripping the bark from an oak to use in the process of softening leather is just one example. All trees were valued and protected, fairy or not.

The story of the fairy tree along the N18 didn’t raise eyebrows among the Irish as it did for those in other cultures. It was accepted as a logical and rightful consequence of their civil code heritage.

Within the current trajectory of environmental devastation, our world would be better off with a similar heritage. Even a billion dollar price tag could become a nominal cost for restorative environmental justice.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

The Genius In It

February 19, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom


 Genius: an attendant spirit
of a person or place.

With respect
And reverence.
John O’Donohue

John’s writings hold the weight of genius. It is the genius of the man. It is the genius of his deep connection to Ireland’s landscapes and heritage. It is a genius that shines a great wisdom through his words.

Respect and reverence. These words echo the belief embedded in Ireland’s ancient civil codes and practices that every person has value and is to be respected and honored. It is the fundamental tenent of the Brehon Laws. Laurence Ginnell wrote about the Brehon Laws in 1894.

This is a great collection, not of statutes, proclamations, or commands of any sort, but of laws already known and observed from tIme immemorial, originating in the customs of times beyond the reach of history. … They were not written by in a foreign tongue. No foreign mind conceived them. No foreign hand enforced them. They were made by those who, one would think, ought to make them: the Irish. They were made for the benefit of those for whose benefit they ought to be made: the Irish. … The laws having been made by the nation itself were, of course, designed to promote and secure its wellbeing and happiness, and were therefore broadly just and generally found favourable to every good purpose. 

Respect and reverence. An ethic rooted in Ireland’s heritage. An ethic sorely lacking in our nation today. May we one day, and soon would be good, embrace the genius of it.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

On Blessing A Stranger

February 16, 2021

With respect
And reverence

That the unknown
Between us
Might flower
Into discovery
And lead us
The familiar
Blind with the weed
Of weariness
And the old walls
Of habit

John O’Donohue,
On Meeting a Stranger

I’ve never met him and never assumed I would. He lives a coast away. Yet he is no stranger. We’ve been following each others blogs for a while now and how could I name him stranger when I read his profound poetic writing. A window to his beautiful soul.

So why was I surprised that his post today landed so hard, so heart hard? I suppose there is affirmation in this of how we can truly connect with each other in these times of pandemic paralyzation when our threads of connection are electronic in nature. Yet I was surprised by how his writing today touched me so deeply. “The results are not good,” he writes of a recent blood test, “another organ is in trouble.” And he asks us to pray for him and writes, “but love has different kinds, hasn’t it? We have ways to regard each other, respecting who we are. What’s going well, what’s not.”

And so, dear man who is not a stranger, I send you my regard. I send you my prayers, including a prayer that we will be reading each others words for a long while to come. Borrowing again from the words of John O’Donohue, may a slow wind work these words, and all words of love you receive, around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.

Blessings, my friend. Blessings.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

Wake Me Up When It’s Over

February 15, 2021

The snow was deeper than she is tall. And cold. She was horrified. She ventured out only once, briefly, and then returned. Resigned to use the dreaded kitty litter box instead of the forest. Resigned to drink tap water out of a bowl inside instead of the rain water in her beloved concrete bunny dish in the garden. And while the snow is melting and her life will soon return to normal, Annie seems inclined to sleep through this. 

I get it. I feel like I’ve been sleepwalking through these past months, a kind of pandemic paralysis. Yes. I’ve been busy with workshops and circles and gatherings all now on zoom. Yes. I’ve been distracted by the horrific political landscape in our nation. Yes. I’ve been busy rescheduling the journeys to Ireland which at this point rather feels like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But underneath all of that I realize I’ve not fully accepted that there will be a new normal and that normal is now.

It’s hard to settle into these new rhythms. It’s tempting to just say wake me up when it’s over. But it, whatever ‘it’ is, is not going to be over. The invitation and the challenge is to stand rooted in the knowing of who I am as spiritual woman and embrace new ways of manifesting that in the world. In harmony with the seasons and cycles of the Earth, it’s time to embrace the energy of Spring. It’s time for new growth. It’s time to wake up.

But maybe….just one more nap?

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

Dancing At The Crossroads

February 9, 2021

The Light of Ancient Wisdom

It seems I’m accumulating vouchers. I booked flights last October to be in Ireland for the month of March. Several women friends planned to join me for part of that time and it was to be a grand adventure of visiting sacred sites from our HazelWood cottage base. Now that booking is yet another voucher. Yes, I could take a refund. But the voucher is good for five years and comes with a discount on future bookings. I refuse to give up. 

I’m hoping for May. We’ve shifted the Sacred Ireland journeys from May/June to September/October. But that is all looking less and less likely as time passes and the pandemic continues to rage rampant. I’m of course paying close attention to what’s unfolding in Ireland. The conditions are similar but the reaction is so very different and so reflective of the Irish people and culture.

In the States we embrace a ‘me’ culture. It’s all about me. A sad distortion of our ethos of rugged individualism. In Ireland they embrace a ‘we’ culture. It’s not all about ‘me’, it’s about community. This is an ethos that enabled the Irish people to survive times of famine, devastation, and subjugation. It’s an ethos that that moved them to dance at the crossroads when dance and music were outlawed by the English – music and dance were essential to community and still are. It’s an ethos embedded in the heritage  and culture of the Irish people. It’s an ethos that was reflected last week in The Irish Times.

In his column, Fintan O’Toole writes that adlibbing and improvising as the State did at the start of the pandemic is no longer acceptable. He urges the State to listen to the common sense of the public. “This is a classic case of all the attention going to the rule-breakers. The vast majority of us are not yobs. We’re responsible citizens. We’ve been sending a very clear message. We’ll take even more pain – so long as it works.”

Another writer, Kathy Sheridan, examines why the Irish public hasn’t turned to violent protest in response to the pandemic. The Irish have willingly and generously complied with the rules, for the most part. “Communal solidarity and co-operation has helped the country weather the Covid storm,” she writes.

Communal solidarity and cooperation. It’s how the Irish are weathering this storm. It’s how they weathered past storms. Right now with the lockdown restrictions and 5km travel limit the Irish people aren’t dancing anywhere together. But they will. They will accept whatever it takes so they can again gather to play music, to sing and dance, to raise a pint, and to be in community. For it’s all about community. 

Community. Common-unity. It’s not just about surviving the dark times. It’s about thriving. It’s about dancing at the crossroads, whether literal or metaphoric, together.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com

Shifting The Shape Of Things

February 8, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom

I’ve called him storyteller. Which is wholly inadequate. I’ve called him wisdomkeeper which is only slightly better. For he doesn’t just collect and share mythological stories of Ireland’s ancient past, he embodies them. Myth talker. Myth walker.

There is no time spent with Marty Mulligan when he doesn’t launch into a myth or two. They just pour out of him. Our zoom chat yesterday was no exception. The purpose of our chat was to plan a series of Hearthside gatherings where he will share many of the myths and their relevance to what’s happening in our nation. Marty has long characterized this time as a battle between the forces of dark and light, of the Formorians and the Tuatha Dé. Indeed I’ve written about this myself in prior blog posts. The Fomorians are a supernatural race, hideous and monstrous beings, bent on destruction and subjugation. A very grim bunch. The Tuatha Dé are light beings, the shining ones, the people of peace, the magical crowd. 

Simply stated, these two tribes battled and the light won. However Marty would suggest they are back with us wearing red hats and spouting conspiracy theories. I know, enemy consciousness. Not a great place to be, although tempting. It was in this part of our conversation on mythic relevance that a story slipped out.

Although resigned to the necessity of battle, the Tuatha Dé were more inclined to use weapons of magic and illusion than weapons of steel. In legends it is told that they created thick mists so the dark forces became confused and lost on the battlefield. They are also known to have shape shifted. In one of the battles a son of Balor, king of the Fomorians, was about to kill one of magical crowd when the latter shape shifted into a good intention and planted himself in the brain of Balor’s son. Much to Balor’s dismay and fury, his son no longer had the will to kill.

Shape shifting is part of ancient mystic wisdom traditions around the world. It is alchemy and craft long ago lost to us. Although there are still some who hold this magic, generally we don’t even believe in it any more. So no, we don’t know how to raise a thick mist or change from human to hawk or hare. But we do know how to shape ideas and intentions. 

What if we could, like that being of light, shift ideas and intentions? What if we could slip into the minds of others and plant good intentions? What if? Why not? Because we can. It is the alchemy we hold to shift the shape of things in our people and our nation. 

Judith – judith@stonefires.com