We were nearing the end of our pilgrimage and she was distressed. A deeply religious and spiritual woman, Mel had not been able to feel the energies in the many sacred sites we had visited. As we walked to the Dysert O’Dea church she again mentioned that she was so envious of others who had touched the mystery and was sadly resigned to returning to the States without that experience.
As we entered the church I took her hand and guided her to the center to stand on the energy line and face the windows that looked out to the Celtic Cross in the adjacent field. I gave her a hug and stepped back.
Taking a deep breath and grounding with the Earth, she stood there for only a few moments before turning to me. Her face was filled with joy, her eyes were filled with tears. “I feel it! I feel it! It’s so amazing and powerful.”
Energy lines, ley lines, are considered with great skepticism by many including a few of my Irish friends and colleagues, something I will explore more in future posts. But the ancient people knew they were real. And they still exude a powerful and palpable presence.
Birds, cats, and a man with a Fu Manchu mustache. The carved faces over the door of this church near Corofin in County Clare tell an intriguing story. If only we could read it.
Yet the stone heads are only one aspect of the mystery that surrounds this site. While the story of the heads remains elusive, we do know that there are influences of gnostics, Egyptian Coptic Christians, and Desert Fathers & Mothers present here. Even the name of this place, Dysert O’Dea or Díseart Uí Dheá in Irish, is an indication of that influence. Díseart, being the word for hermitage, begs a question of whether it would be more accurate to name those early gnostic hermits Díseart Fathers & Mothers.
Beyond the stone faces and the name, there’s the building’s orientation. It’s sited on an energy line that runs through the center of the church, a line so powerful that a large Celtic Cross was placed on that line in a nearby field long after the church was built. And while the other mystic influences seem today decorative remnants of another time, this energy line is still potent and powerful. And yes, there is a story.
Finally. The cottage was ready to rent. New doors and windows, fresh paint, new beds and bedding, furnishings and finishing touches in place. So when I was there in September I put the word out through my networks as personal recommendation is the only way I want to find people to stay at the cottage. The first two women were lovely but not in a position to contribute the small amount I am asking to cover utilities. Then I had lunch with Sara Jane, a friend who lives in Gort.
She asked if I ever work with Feng Shui. No. I know scant little about it beyond the basic definition of being an ancient Chinese philosophy that works with the flow of energy to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. It is the power of nature and the energy of the large magnetic field of the universe.
No. I had never worked with Feng Shui. Undaunted, Sara Jane suggested I go to the southeast corner of the cottage, as that is the direction of abundance, and do ceremony. Right. But I thought I’d give it a go.
Now, I’ve named all the bedrooms in the cottage after wise women ancestors. There’s the Biddy Early bedroom which always raises eyebrows and the question of who would want to stay in a bedroom named after Ireland’s most famous witch. There’s the St. Gobnait bedroom to honor her mysticism. And there’s the Augusta Gregory bedroom in honor of Lady Gregory, the author who lived in nearby Coole Park and opened her home to writers, visionaries, progressive philosophers, and even mystics of her time.
The Augusta Gregory bedroom is in the southeast corner of the cottage. I lit a candle and went in to talk with her. I told her that, like her, I want to welcome the same kinds of people to HazelWood cottage. I also mentioned that unlike her I didn’t have the means to host people without compensation. And I asked if she could help me out.
The next day Sara Jane emailed me. A friend of hers, a woman who writes and illustrates children’s books, was interested in staying at the cottage for a month. And she had the ability to contribute financially. In fact when Mary and I spoke and the issue of payment came up she argued that what I was asking was half of what she was willing to pay.
Was it Feng Shui and the power of the Dragon? Was it Lady Gregory? I don’t know. But it was a reminder of how the animating life force energy present in all things is honored by many cultures and spiritual traditions. If it was Feng Shui it was amazing to dance with the Dragon even briefly. There is a lifetime of learning and understanding in the Feng Shui tradition. It’s intriguing. But I will stay with the Irish tradition, my heritage. I am beginning to understand it’s a journey I started lifetimes ago. It’s a journey I will continue.
Filled with Aboriginal stories, legends, myths, and fables, the books have been on my shelves for more than two decades. And I thought they were wonderful. But then another book arrived, this one with the writings of Australian Aboriginal leaders and elders. And in these writings they criticized the cultural misinterpretation and even appropriation of Western white authors, naming specifically the man who authored the books I thought were wonderful.
These authors are attempting to carry out an impossible task. It is a futile exercise to attempt to capture a living tradition and cut it off from its life-force. In other words, to try and take s story form the land from which it was born … demonstrates an ignorance of exactly what a traditional Aboriginal story is, what it is connected to and what it cannot be disconnected from. I would argue that it is imperative for Western writers and readers of Aboriginal stories to be aware of the interpretative strategies they bring to the stories. Such a takeover of the stores by the West is analogous to ‘taking over’ the land.Christine Morris
Engaging with entities and energies in realms beyond the currently pervasive human perspective is fundamental to both Aboriginal and Irish spiritual traditions. I offer these words from the leaders and elders.
The Aboriginal view of the world is so very different to the Western view. We see land as an extension of our physical, spiritual, and emotional form, and as the essence of our life-force, to the point that all of life and creation are revered and valued.Dr. Anne Pattel-Gray
We Australian Aborigines make no distinction between the religious and the secular, between the natural and the supernatural. Our religion can be seen as a particular view of the universe and sets of relationships with it; relationships which include people, gods, Spirit, magical power, totems, the land, features of the landscape, living creatures, trees, plants and all physical objects.Relationships with people and the Ancestral Spirits are universally the most important, for at the centre of life is the community of (people) and Spirits, all of whom are alive.Djiniyini Condarra
The Dreaming was the creation period when the Ancestors created the land and all upon it. … Animals, the topography and humans were all one and the one emanated from the land. At the end of the creation period the Creators either became part of the land or some other part of the cosmos. So to my people, the Creator Beings are in the land. Their Spirit is ever-present in the land and can be called upon at any time.Christine Morris
There is a spirit, a force, that animates all life. Only when we accept this do we see humans as part of rather than separate from the web of life. Only when we acknowledge this can we begin to understand how our ancestors engaged with these life force energies and why, for the Irish, it was not an issue of avoiding the movements and migrations of the faeries. It was about attending the flow of life energies. All life energies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.