Sunday, 27 October 2013

Some Irish Superstitions – Part 2

“Come out of your Celtic Twilight kids.”
- Suffocate, Noel Brazil

Much as I love the music and lyrics of Noel Brazil, particularly when sung by Christy Moore, I don't really want to come out of the Celtic Twilight.... at least not yet. There is something too compelling and fascinating about Irish superstitions - as long as you either take a magical view of them or don't take them too seriously.

More often than not, superstitions are seen as quaint, misguided and limiting beliefs cobbled together by our rather unintelligent ancestors who simply didn't know any better. Most people think they are rather stupid and without relevance to our modern world, but I'm not so sure. I don't hold a linear view of evolution.

N.B This blog follows on from my earlier posting on Irish superstitions gathered in the 1970s by my aunt. You can find the earlier post here:-

I hope you enjoy this additional cornucopia of Irish superstitions. Here goes:-

“When visiting a new home or entering a home for the first time in a New Year you should take a lump of coal, a loaf of bread and a container of salt.”

This is really just an example of sympathetic magic – suggestive that the home owner will never be cold, never hunger and will always experience a life full of savour. I've known a number of people from a range of ages in both city and country who have continued this old tradition into the 21st Century. While it’s a bit of fun for all involved, it also has a smidgeon of practicality to it. We all need toast to soak up the alcohol the morning after a heavy New Year's Eve party ...

“If a door to your house opens of itself, you must say “I command you to get out!” and clap your hands together three times.”

This ensures that any banshee who has entered  your house without permission will depart and leave you and your household alone. It is also a great way to get some quizzical looks from guests and family members. From a magical perspective, this can be seen as an assertion of control over a situation you are unsure of. The impact of a clap, a knock or a knell made with intent is a powerful thing. The number three could be seen as the Trinity or the Triple Goddess.

Now on to life's sharp things.

“If a pair of scissors or two knives fall on the floor between two people they will soon have an argument.”

One can't help but think of the symbolism exemplified in one of the more esoteric interpretations of the suit of Swords in this superstition. It may of course also signify the ensuing arguments - “that just missed my little toe you clumsy butterfingers” or “now look what you've done, there's a huge hole in the new oak flooring.”

On a similar theme:-

“If you ever give a present of scissors or a penknife, you should also give a coin alongside your gift.”

I've heard a range of views on this ranging from the coin being to pay for the first sharpening of said blade, to it being payment to keep the sharp bits well away from the giver! The argument also goes that this way you can avoid any potential conflict and bad feelings that may arise from “giving a friend a sharp thing” and all that signifies …. at least for the passing of one lunar month from the date the gift is given.

I once sat in Marshall's Coffee shop in central Belfast overhearing two young teenage girls ranting about one of their boyfriends who had allegedly kissed another girl at a party. She still loved him but wanted him to suffer. The wronged girl finally determined that she was going to “...f**king have it out with him and make the wee b**tard pay.” She went to the cafe counter, took two knives and carefully placed then on the table, one crossed on top of the other, and then stormed off out into the streets. I pity the poor fellow when she arrived and hoped the illicit kiss was worth it. I suspect there is an old superstition in her behaviour with the two crossed knives too but have never been able to find reference to it. There was certainly a primitive power in what she did.

“If you give a purse or a wallet as a gift you should always include a coin or note in it.”

The reason given to me for this is to ensure that the person receiving your present always remains cash wealthy.  Again, we are back to the sympathetic magic bit of the “Golden Bough” kind.

There are some great superstitions for the young romantically inclined to be found in Ireland too. Some of my favourites on this theme are as follows:

“If you wish to know the name of your future beloved, you should carefully pare an apple, ensuring the rind doesn't break. Then with your eyes tightly closed you must twirl the rind gently but purposefully three times in your right hand, dropping it to the floor. The rind will make the shape of the initial(s) of your beloved.”

“If you wish to know whether or not you are suited to your lover in the longer term, you should make an equation of your own name over the name of the lover. Then you should cross out the similar letters appearing in both names. When all the similar letters are crossed out, then those letters left should be asked, “She/he loves me, she/he loves me not?” until you have your answer.”

“If you want to know whether or not your lover really cares for you, you should carefully peel an orange, cutting it from the centre with your thumb nail. If the two ends subsequently join perfectly on completion, then they care deeply for you and will remain true.”

And, last but not least, one of my all time favourites:

“Leaving shoes on the surface of a table inside your house will bring you bad luck.”

I suspect the rationale behind this is that things should never be placed outside their day-to-day use or natural scheme of things. It is certainly not in the natural order for you to wear shoes upon a least that's what my mother always shouted at me. There are also a host of other superstitions along this “natural order” line. These include not putting up an umbrella inside your house, not wearing a hat indoors, never mending or sewing clothes while you or another are wearing them. I suspect this latter one was a precursor of modern day infection control measures. Dear knows where the shoes have been, and, if you are then going to then eat off the table.....yuck. As for that large needle.....ouch......Clearly, the Irish were years ahead of European Health and Safety legislation, or, maybe they knew something we don't.


“I have tried to keep an open mind, and it is not the ordinary things of life that could close it, but the strange things, the extraordinary things, the things that make one doubt if they be mad or sane.”

- Dracula by Bram Stoker

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A Neoplatonist Prayer

"Begin thy work, first having prayed the Gods
To accomplish it."

- The Golden Verses of the Pythagoreans

I was delighted to be signposted to this beautiful and inspirational prayer a couple of years ago by an American colleague and ex-member of Charles Fielding’s Dallas Group. Despite having explored the Western Esoteric Tradition and much of Neo-Platonism through a 27-year period, this great piece had passed me by until a time when I needed an extra boost and some encouragement on the Path. I come back to it for meditation, prayer and general sustenance from time to time. I hope you enjoy it.

“I pray to all the gods and goddesses to guide my mind in this work that I have undertaken—to kindle in me a shining light of truth and enlarge my understanding for the genuine science of being; to open the gates of my soul to receive the inspired guidance of Plato; and, in anchoring my thought in the full splendour of reality, to hold me back from too much conceit of wisdom and from the paths of error by keeping me in intellectual converse with those realities from which alone the eye of the soul is refreshed and nourished.

I ask from the intelligible gods fullness of wisdom, from the intellectual gods the power to rise aloft, from the super-celestial gods guiding the universe an activity free and unconcerned with material inquiries, from the gods to whom the cosmos is assigned a winged life, from the angelic choruses a true revelation of the divine, from the good daemons an abundant filling of divine inspiration, and from the heroes a generous, solemn, and lofty disposition. So may all the orders of divine beings help to prepare me fully to share in this most illuminating and mystical vision that Plato reveals to us. So may all the higher powers be propitious to us and be ready with their gifts to illuminate us with the light that comes from them and leads us upwards.”

-          From the start of Proclus’ commentary on Plato's Parmenides

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Lydney Park – a hidden gem from Gloucestershire's Roman past

Growing up in the North of Ireland in the 60’s and 70’s, I had a fair mix of school teachers. Some were great, others were average, and one or two of them were an embarrassment to their profession. One of my best teachers taught History and English, and something he said one day stuck with me. He told us that while Ireland had had its share of Viking marauders, Welsh raiders, Norman colonisers and English occupiers, the Romans were “the biggest non-event in Irish history.” The biggest non-event in Irish history – the Romans! In my young mind that was a truly fabulous statement. I relished the concept. 

In holidays across the Irish Sea in England and Europe with my parents, and later as an adult, I have always loved to come across the Roman remains and artifacts I never experienced in Ireland. From Hadrian’s Wall, to the remains in Wroxeter, Glevum and Corinium to the Temple of Mithras in the City of London, they have all caught and inspired my imagination. Despite their accursed straight roads and dodgy imperialism, the Romans really were a creatively consolidating bunch of folk.

Shortly after my student days and early career, when I moved out of London to live in the Gloucestershire area, I was delighted to be surrounded by fascinating sites like Chedworth Roman Villa, Woodchester and Great Witcombe. The Romans in Gloucestershire certainly weren’t a non-event!  Hidden away and unknown by many-- though perhaps best of all-- was Lydney Park, high above the sweeping banks of the dark river Severn.  

Lydney Park has remained unheard of by the masses perhaps because it is located slightly more off the beaten track. Its private ownership by the Viscount Bledisloe has helped to maintain its seclusion. The family only opens it for a few days each year between April and June. Blink and you’ve missed it! The male and female figures (pictured below) who appear to act as sentinels to the gardens have curious energies about them if you care to spend a little time with them.  

Lydney Park makes for an impressive day out, even if you just visit the grand old house, museum, tea-rooms and beautiful gardens. In addition to the human history to the place, they have also cultivated one of the greatest collections of rhododendrons, alongside bursting azaleas, acers and magnolias. The private and secluded valley with its statues, lakes and follies just sets the place apart from many other gardens. With its cultivated nature and joyous beauty, it is a place that exemplifies the best of humananity's relationship with nature.

However, the most interesting element of a day trip to Lydney Park is the Roman connection. Parking on the grass at the bottom of the verdant valley described above, you leave civilization behind and climb a gently meandering path up through ancient trees and bushes until you are high above the Severn Vale, with occasional sights of the river and the Cotswold Scarp beyond. At the top of the climb you will find the exceptional remains of Roman civilization. 

Here on Camp Hill, known locally as Dwarf Hill, you will find the lasting legacy of a Roman settlement as old as AD49. There is some evidence to suggest that the Ancient Britons had previously occupied the site as a hill fort as early as 100BC. When the site was unearthed a vast hoard of pottery, metal work and jewelry was uncovered. In close proximity were the remains of timber sheds from about 200 to 300AD associated with iron mining.

Looking around you will see the walls and remains of a south-east facing temple (pictured above) with its courtyard temenos, dormitories and guest-house built snuggly around it.  Over to the left you can spy the remains of a reasonably sized bathing suite (pictured below). Using one’s imagination, helped with imagery from the restoration of the Roman baths at Chedworth or even Aquae Sulis, it’s pretty easy to drift off into a reverie of a forgotten time of ages past.

The area is a great place to sit and meditate if you want to reconnect with the tradition of the Romans in Britain. 

The temple is alleged to be dedicated to the local god Nodens. The writer JRR Tolkien suggested that Nodens, supposedly of the ancient tribe of Silures, was a derivative of an Irish Celtic or Germanic deity from much earlier. The ascertainment is that he was a variant of Nuada of the Silver Hand in Irish mythology or Lludd Llaw Erient in the Welsh.  Another theory put forward by lesser mortals than Tolkien is that Nodens was a local healing deity. I guess we will never really know, but my intuition tells me this is closer to the truth than Tolkien. Certainly, a great deal of religious artifacts and votive offerings, some of which are suggestive of healing, have been found at the site. These include model dogs, a bronze greyhound, bracelets, pins and some writing tablets referring to healing. The amount of dog related artifacts is interesting given the wide association of dogs with healing across many cultures past and present. 
I will leave you with the words found on a mosaic in the temple:

“To the god Nodens,  Titus Flavius Senilis, officer in charge of the supply depot of the fleet, laid this pavement out of money offerings; the work being in charge of Victorinus, interpreter on the Governor’s staff.”

Regrettably the mosaic was destroyed at some time in the 1800s. 

If you’ve missed a trip this year, put a reminder in your diary to visit this hidden gem in 2014! Check out the opening dates on their website here:

The Springtime of Dion Fortune

There she is staring out at you...or maybe that should be "in to you"! Whether writing as Violet Firth, Violet M Steele...