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Happy New Year! October 1997

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October 1997 E-Zine Issue

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

by Treasa

"Samain" (Sa’wen) (October 31st) marks the Celtic new year. This is not as strange as it may at first sound, since the growing season really begins with the winter sowing of crops and the planting of new life into dormant fields. It also marks the end of Summer—the "darkening of the light"—and the time to commune with one’s ancestors.

This same idea has been incorporated into the Christian festival of "All Souls," which is a direct legacy of the ancient festival of Samain. Samain has also been called "Ancestor Night" or the "Feast of the Dead." It was thought that the gates to the Otherworld were open at this time, allowing the dead to visit the living.

Storytelling would also begin during these long, dark winter nights in Ireland. Instead of television, or computers providing entertainment and company, the family and clan would fulfill those same very human needs.

Spirituality and the mystical side of human nature were taken for granted since there was no such thing then as the "separation of church vs. state," or "science versus the arts" or "the intellect versus the emotions" or even of "man versus woman." Back then there seemed to be more of an acceptance of life’s dualities as well as the duality of human nature and the cosmos itself.

"As above, so below," the druids taught, promoting the idea of the balance between this world and the next.

As Scott Cunningham, Wiccan scholar and author of over thirty published books on metaphysics tells us in his book, "Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner", followers of Wicca also valued such harmony and balance. Elaborating on this Wiccan concept of "oneness, he tells us,

"Unlike some religions, Wicca doesn’t view Deity as distant. The Goddess and God are both within ourselves and manifest in all nature. This is the universality: there is nothing that ISN’T of the gods."

Although it’s quite possible that it's one of those religions Scott had in mind when he mentions viewing, "the Deity as distant" even traditional Roman Catholic dogma teaches that "God is everywhere."

Jesus himself tells us in the New Testament,

"The kingdom of God will not come if you watch for it. Nor will anyone be able to say, "It is here" or "It is there." For the kingdom of God is within you."

Samain was the one of the most important of all the Irish Festivals since it united the spiritual matters of the "otherworld" with the more mundane and practical events of our "everyday world." Perhaps there may be a message here for us in today’s modern world to learn? Certainly the concept of the "separation of church and state" not only seems to leave a hunger in our human psyches for some sort of "spirituality," but also the amounts of energy wasted on foolish law suits over whether someone may put a Christmas scene of Jesus’ birth on some obscure square of lawn and the arguments over whether or not our children may say a prayer—or even indulge in a "moment of silence" instead are, to me, a waste of time and energy.

The Irish Celts seemed to understand the wisdom of uniting both the spiritual with the secular. That is why Samain was so important a festival for the Irish. Besides the spiritual aspect of this celebration, it was also the time of the assembly of Ireland’s national Parliament. Each year, clans from all over the country would meet to celebrate the Fair at "Tara," the headquarters of the High King. In this way, making money and making magic, in no way collided with one another. (Please refer to "Exceptional Laws" subheading below to see just how much more "human" the ancient Celt appears to be that we, his "modern" cousins.)

 

CELTIC SHAMANISM

Tara was originally constructed around 1000 BC, but reached its heyday under King Cormac in the third century AD. Built on three hills in County Meath, Ireland, its name is a form of the compound word: "Tea-Mur" which means "the burial place of Tea" in Gaelic. Tea was the daughter of King Milesius of Spain, and the wife of Eremon—one of the Milesians who came to Ireland from Spain around the time of Solomon (1000 BC) (for more information, please see "Newgrange" E-Zine article, August 1997 Issue, in the Mystical Minds E-Zine Archives.

It was said that "all roads led to Tara" because the five major highways, which originated in various parts of Ireland, all met in Tara. Ollam Fodla, the 21st Milesian King, first gave Tara historic fame by founding the triennial Parliament there, seven or eight centuries before Christ.

One thousand years later, King Cormac renovated Tara, constructing many new buildings as well as redecorating the old ones. (I can almost hear Cormac’s wife complaining, "I’m sick of looking at that old stone sofa, Cormac. It’s been here since the place was first built 1300 years ago!)

Among the new buildings Cormac erected were the Great Banqueting Hall known as "Mi Cuarta," the House of a Thousand Soldiers, houses for each of the Provincial Kings which were set aside for their exclusive use whenever they visited the palace.

There was also the "Grianan" (Gaelic for "Sun-House"), which was a special retreat sacred to the women, and located in a sunny area in accordance with its name, as well as the "Stronghold of the Hostages," and the "Star of the Bards" – a meeting house for poets, historians, doctors and judges.

 

COLORFUL PARTICIPANTS

Ireland’s big "New Year’s Bash" or "Feis" (Gaelic for "festival") would last three days before Samain and three days afterwards. (Those ancient Celts really knew how to "party!") Participants would be arrayed colorfully, as evidenced by the following poem, written by an anonymous poet of the time,

"Splendidly does Cormac come into this great assembly; the equal of his form has not appeared, excepting Conair More, son of Eidersgeal; or Concobar, the son of Cathbad; or Aengus, the son of the Dagdha.

Beautiful was the appearance of Cormac in that assembly. Flowing, slightly curling, golden hair, upon him. A red buckler with stars and animals of gold and fastenings of silver, upon him. A crimson cloak in wide descending folds upon him, fastened at his breast by a golden brooch set with precious stones. A neck-torc of gold around his neck. A white shirt, with a full collar, and intertwined with red gold thread, upon him. A girdle of gold inlaid with precious stones around him. Two wonderful shoes inlaid with precious stones around him. Two spears with golden sockets in his hand, and with many rivulets of red bronze. And he was, besides, himself symmetrical and beautiful of form, without blemish or reproach."

The Fair at Tara to celebrate Samain was also a time for the chiefs, the judges, the scholars and other leaders to hold assemblies and "compare notes." Representatives from all parts of Ireland would gather to discuss national affairs with the High King always presiding over each assembly.

  EXCEPTIONAL LAWS

These important gatherings were regarded of such national importance that special and exceptional laws were instituted to insure propriety. On these occasions, the "king’s peace" was proclaimed for all.

During Samain, all fugitives from justice walked freely in public. At the fair, going to it, and returning from it, no debtor could be molested, arrested, or detained for his debt.

On the eve of a fair, all personal ornaments, rings, bracelets, or brooches, that had been pawned to relieve financial distress, or impounded for overdue debts, must, for the time of the gathering, be released to their owners. Everyone appeared at the fair in their richest finery, looking their best. The creditor who refused to release any such objects would be heavily fined for the mental suffering he’d caused those who were forced to bear the disgrace of appearing without adornment at the festival.

In order to ensure the peace of these gatherings where friend and foe would mingle, another law decreed that any person who broke the peace, royal or commoner alike, would be executed. Naturally, the time of the Fair was always the time of a universal truce as well—with very few exceptions.

  BANQUET ETTIQUETTE

Tara was famous for its enormous banquet hall, called "Mi-Cuarta," (for those of you who speak Spanish. This seems to provide yet another confirmation that the conquering Milesians were indeed of Spanish origin since "mi cuarta" is a Spanish phrase meaning "my room"). It seems only fitting the Irish should have christened their banquet hall, "my room," considering their love of dining. It appears that, even in those ancient times, the Irish dearly loved a "good feed." This designation would also seem to indicate that Tara’s banquet hall was one of the most important rooms in the High King’s court. Even in modern times, the kitchen is usually the hub of most of the family’s activity, as well as being centrally located, and one of the largest rooms in the "typical Irish home."

In "Mi Cuarta," each participant sat under his own shield, which hung upon the wall above the place reserved for its owner. The upper end of the banquet hall was reserved for the Ollams (Doctors), the Brehons (Judges), the File’s (Vision-Poets), the Seanachies (Poet-Historians), the Bards (Musicians), and other professors of the arts and sciences. The warrior nobles of different territories occupied one side of the hall, the captains of armies, the other side.

The Ard-Righ of Ireland (High King) sat mid-way in the hall, facing West, the King of Ulster sat at his right hand, the King of Munster at his left, the King of Leinster faced him, and the King of Connaught sat behind him.

When the banquet was spread, or when a session of the Feis was to begin, the same ritual was always followed: The Hall was first cleared of all but three, a genealogist, a marshal and a trumpeter. At the word from the marshal, the trumpeter sounded his horn, in response to which came the shield-bearers of the chiefs and nobles, gathering at the open door.

The marshal took the shield of each. Under the genealogist’s direction, the marshal would hang each shield in its proper place above the owner’s seat. Then there would sound the second blow of the trumpet which brought the shield bearers of the captains. Again their shields would be hung in their proper places.

The third blast of the trumpet summoned the shield bearers of captains who would assemble for the same procedure. With another blast of the trumpet, the shield bearers of the warriors would file in and the same procedure was followed. In this way, all confusion and rivalry was avoided.

  LAWS AND HISTORY

The annual Festivals served three main functions for the Irish: Firstly, they provided a means for the people to learn their laws, their rights, the past history of their country and the heroic deeds of their ancestors. Secondly the Irish could relax and enjoy themselves with music, poetry, fun, and athletic contests during them. And thirdly, the festivals provided excellent markets for buying, selling and exchanging of goods, as the following ancient poem illustrates:

They had three different markets there—
A market for food, a market for live cattle,
The great market of the foreign Greeks
In which are gold and noble raiment.

It should also be added that most Festivals provided an opportunity for the young people to meet and marry, often healing the rifts between feuding clans.

The great Feis of Samain in Tara is a perfect example of the kinds of customs to which I am referring. It was here that the ancient laws of Ireland were recited and confirmed, new laws enacted, disputes settled, grievances adjusted and wrongs righted. And, as was customary at such assemblies, the ancient history of the land was recited by the High King’s seanachie (Gaelic for "Poet-Historian"), who would be watched by his many critical peers. Every chief had his own seanachie, who having studied for a minimum of twelve years under masters, was well-versed in the history of Ireland in general, as well as the history of his own principality, in particular. For more easy memorization, and to guard against incorrect repetition, all Irish histories and chronicles were, in these early ages, cast in verse.

At all assemblies, major or minor, the seanachie was constantly asked to recite passages of history so that all the people, commoner and noble alike, became quite familiar with the great achievements of Ireland, in general, and their own clan, in particular. This familiarity with their personal history resulted in an obvious pride of race, clan and family. And, as any psychologist will tell you, familiarity with, and pride in, one’s achievements is a prime component of the Twentieth Century "holy grail" so many of us seem to be seeking today—that elusive, quality commonly termed "self-esteem."

In this way, you might say that their history provided the Irish people with a sense of "self-esteem." Familiarity with their past served as a kind of anchor, a way to ground oneself, feeling at home with "mother earth." From the safety of such a vantage point, the individual might then be able to look ahead, "down the road apiece" as the Irish say, towards that "undiscovered country," the "future," in hopes of catching a glimpse of one’s destination.

Treasa can be contacted directly by e-mail at: tarot1@cox.net

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