Celticsprite’s Blog

Áine: The Irish Sun and Moon Goddess
July 19, 2012, 12:01 am
Filed under: Celtic Celebrations, Celtic Goddess, Celtic Symbolism

Áine (Irish for “brightness, glow, joy, radiance; splendour, glory, fame”) (Irish pronunciation: [ˈaːnʲə] ) is an Irish goddess of summer, wealth and sovereignty.)She is associated with midsummer and the sun and the moon, and is sometimes represented by a red mare, which lead us to associate her with the belief in the Goddess Epona and Rigantona, regarding her Moon Goddess aspect She is the Mother Goddess associated to fertily and is the Maiden aspect of a Triple Goddess.
Her solar associations, refer to her mainly with the morning light and the dawn of the year, quite evident in traditional beliefs, that depicts her as the wife or daughter of of the sea god Manannán mac Lir.,  noticing that at each and every dawn “she rises up from bed” (the Sea).
She is the daughter of Egobail, the sister of Aillen and/or Fennen, and is claimed as an ancestor by multiple Irish families. As the goddess of love and fertility, she had command over crops and animals and is also associated with agriculture. 
About seven miles from Áine’s hill, Cnoc Áine (Knockainy) in County Limerick, is the hill of the goddess Grian, Cnoc Gréine. Grian (literally, “sun”) is believed to be either the sister of Áine, In County Limerick, this pre-Christian belief on the Goddess was transmogrified ad she is now remembered as Queen of the fairies. It is said that she even sometimes took animal form, as a red mare, in order to walk among her people.
Many stories sprung up around the belief that Aine often turned herself into a fairy in order to mate with mortal men. This was oftentimes done by enchantment rather than by mutual consent. Spellbound by the goddess, these men were said to do whatever she commanded.
In any case, Aine was quite popular with the Irish people. In fact, her fame spread so far that it eventually reached the Western Isles of Scotland.  During summer time people lit torches of hay upon her hill of Cnoc Aine, carried them around the hill in a counterclockwise direction, and conveyed them home, bearing them aloft through their fields, while they waved the blessed fire over livestock and crops. 
Another of Áine’s manifestations, or possibly “Macha in disguise”.Due to Áine’s connection with midsummer rites, involving fire and the blessing of the land, recorded as recently as 1879. it is possible that Áine and Grian may share a dual-goddess, seasonal function (such as seen in the Gaelic myths of the Cailleach and Brighid) with the two sisters representing the “two suns” of the year: Áine representing the light half of the year and the bright summer sun (an ghrian mhór), and Grian the dark half of the year and the pale winter sun (an ghrian bheag).
She is also associated with sites such as Toberanna (Irish: Tobar Áine), County Tyrone; Dunany (Irish: Dun Áine), County Louth; Lissan (Irish: Lios Áine), County Londonderry; and Cnoc Áinenear Teelin, County Donegal.
In early tales she is associated with the semi-mythological King of Munster, Ailill Aulom, who is said to have “ravished” her, an affair ending in Áine biting off his ear – hence “Aulom”, meaning “one-eared”. By maiming him this way, Áine rendered him unfit to be King, thereby taking away the power of sovereignty.The descendants of Aulom, the Eóganachta, claim Áine as an ancestor.
In other tales Áine is the wife of Gearoid Iarla. Rather than having a consensual marriage, he rapes her (thought to be based on the story of Ailill Aulom), and she exacts her revenge by either changing him into a goose, killing him, or both. Thus the FitzGeralds also claim an association with Áine; despite the French-Norman origins of the clan, the FitzGeralds would become known for being “More Irish than the Irish themselves.”
Áine is sometimes mistakenly equated with Danu as her name bears a superficial resemblance to Anu. “Aynia”, reputedly the most powerful fairy in Ulster, may be a variant of the same figure.
Lough Gur is strongly associated with fertility. According to local legend, every seven years the lake decreases revealing a wonderful tree of Another World that has the power to rejuvenate the whole earth.
She was worshiped at the Summer Solstice, Not surprisingly, Aine is also linked with the fertility of the land. Because of her associations with fire and water, she was also associated with healing. It was believed that she regulated the vital spark of life’s fire, which, like the sun’s daily traversal of the sky, circulated through the body every 24 hours. If bloodletting occurred on her sacred days, which were the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday prior to Lughnasadh, it was thought the sacred life spark would flow from the body and the patient would die.
Aine is therefore associated with both the life-giving sun itself, and the sun’s power in the human body, through which the spark was thought to travel by means of the blood. These folkloric remains point to the fact that in days past there must have been a full, rich tradition of healing in which Aine – as the spark of life, the sun-spark within the blood – played a significant part. 

Merry Ostara ! – A Cellebration of the Spring Goddess
March 21, 2012, 7:26 pm
Filed under: Celtic Celebrations, Celtic Goddess, Celtic Symbolism, Druidry

Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts.
The vernal equiñox often called Ostara, is celebrated in the Northern hemisphere around March 21 and in the Southern hemisphere around September 23, depending upon the specific timing of the equinox. 
Ostara, also known as – Oestara, Eostra, Eostre was the pagan goddess of fertility and Spring, and the Christian festival of Easter derives its name from her.
The name Ostara may be related to the word for “east”. It has been connected to the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre by Jacob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie.In terms of Wiccan ditheism, this festival is characterized by the rejoining of the Mother Goddess and her lover-consort-son, who spent the winter months in death.[12] Other variations include the young God regaining strength in his youth after being born at Yule, and the Goddess returning to her Maiden aspect.

Spring Equinox is a festival of new growth, renewal, a re-balancing of energies and the return of longer days. It is also known as the day of equilibrium. Now is a good time to consider the balance of our lives – work, play and relationships.

Spring Meditations and Healing
It is a time where the light is equal to the darkness and from here on out the days grow longer.  The earth awakens… new life emerges, sap rises, buds shoot and spring flowers are celebrated as gifts from nature. Spring returns and rejuvenates our own life force. It is a time of balance, so one of the great uses for this meditation is that of finding polarity and solving problems. Spring returns and rejuvenates our own life force,  a time when male and female energies were balanced.
In ancient times many festivals were held to celebrate the Spring Goddesses who were associated with flowering, growth and fertility of the land. Among the Wiccan sabbats, it is preceded by Imbolc and followed by Beltane.This sabbat represents a time for rebirth in nature and in our own lives. 
There ane many different ways to celebrate the Spring Goddess. You can do a ritual in her honor, plant seeds of beautiful spring flowers, or try to start a new in your own life. Another symbol for rebirth is the labyrinth, you can make one of these, and walk it to symbolize finding your center. A labyrinth can also symbolize the cycles of life and nature, since your life never goes in one direction, so to the labyrinth will take you on a journey to help you find your center.
Home altars might feature spring flowers, seeds, jasmine or flowery incense, and the gemstone of jasper. 
The Easter Moon and the Goddess Symbols

Easter is calculated by the moon, and occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox.

This is the time when the young Sun God now celebrates a sacred marriage with the young Maiden Goddess. We celebrate the return of the spring goddess from her long season of dormant sleep.
The egg symbolized Eostre’s wholeness and fertility – the female hormone oestrogen is named after her – and is offered at this equinox as a symbol of fertility and new life. The golden yolk represents the Sun God, its white shell is seen as the White Goddess.
The hare was regarded as the sacred animal of the lunar goddess, because of its fertility and activity at this time. Chinese people symbolized the moon as a hare with a lantern. Witches were once believed to shape-shift into hares. Now rabbits have become one of the symbols of Easter – they are these days more prolific and common than the graceful hare.
Eggs are considered by followers of Christianity as a symbol of “resurrection”: while being dormant it contains a new life sealed within it.
he Easter Bunngilipollasy or Easter Rabbit or (sometimes Spring Bunny in the U.S) is a character depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs.
Alsace tradition of an Easter Hare bringing Easter Eggs introduced into the American cultural fabric by German settlers in Pennsylvania.

The association of eggs  with this and other Vernal festivals as symbols of rebirth and fertility for so long is unknown, and may date to the beginning of human civilization. Ancient Romans and Greeks used eggs as symbols of fertility, rebirth, and abundance- eggs were solar symbols, and figured in the festivals of numerous resurrected gods.

Another symbol of the Goddess at Ostara is the snake, which emerges from winter hibernation to bask in the Spring sunshine. Due to the shedding of its skin the snake was a symbol of new life. Curiously ancient Druids carried a venerated talisman: The Serpent’s Egg. 
Snakes, because they shed and are thus “reborn”, were associated with the moon, which periodically ‘died’ and was reborn through the process of its phases. Since snake eggs are oval and white, it may have symbolized the moon itself in either its waxing or waning gibbous stage. Hence the time to collect the eggs for druidic ritual purposes or for talismans would be during a gibbous moon. Thus not only was the serpent’s egg the egg of the female lunar snake, but it contained within it a new baby snake – a New Moon – ready to be reborn.

Related Sources:

Samhain Goddesses: Nicneven and the Cailleach
November 21, 2011, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Celtic Celebrations, Celtic Symbolism, Thomas The Rhymer
The night of Samhain, in Irish, Oíche Samhna and Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Samhna, is one of the of the most important festivals of the Celtic calendar, and falls on October 31, symbolizing  the final harvest… time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies to survive the winter.
Due to it’s meaning of endless birth, life, death, and rebirth, the time of the solstice is often associated with deity and other legendary figures. 
The Cailleach
In Irish and Scottish mythology, the Cailleach (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkalʲəx], Irish plural cailleacha [ˈkalʲəxə], Scottish Gaelic plural cailleachan /kaʎəxən/), also known as the Cailleach Bheur, is a divine hag, a creatrix, and possibly an ancestral deity or deified ancestor. The word simply means ‘old woman’ in modern Scottish Gaelic,[2] and has been applied to numerous mythological figures in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man
In Scotland where she is also known as “Queen of Winter”, she is credited with making numerous mountains and large hills, which are said to have been formed when she was striding across the land and accidentally dropped rocks from her apron. In other cases she is said to have built the mountains intentionally, to serve as her stepping stones. She carries a hammer for shaping the hills and valleys, and is said to be the mother of all the goddesses and gods.
The Cailleach displays several traits befitting the personification of Winter: she herds deer,  she fights Spring, and her staff freezes the ground.
In partnership with the Tripple Goddess Brigit or Brighid (exalted one) , the Cailleach is seen as a seasonal deity or spirit, ruling the winter months between the Celtic Festivals of Samhain and Beltaine …  while Brighid rules the summer months between Beltaine and Samhain. 
It is interesting to quote that Brighid also retains “creative” qualities : She is the goddess of all things perceived to be of relatively high dimensions such as high-rising flames, highlands, hill-forts and upland areas; and of activities and states conceived as psychologically lofty and elevated, such as wisdom, excellence, perfection, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship (especially blacksmithing), healing ability, druidic knowledge and skill in warfare.
Some interpretations have the Cailleach and Brighid  as two faces of the same goddess, while others describe the Cailleach as turning to stone on Beltaine and reverting back to humanoid form on Samhain in time to rule over the winter months.
Depending on local climate, the transfer of power between the winter goddess and the summer goddess is celebrated any time between Là Fhèill Brìghde (February 1) at the earliest, Latha na Cailliche (March 25), or Bealltainn (May 1) at the latest, and the local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde.
Là Fhèill Brìghde is also the day the Cailleach gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on February 1 is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood to keep herself warm in the coming months. As a result, people are generally relieved if February 1 is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep, will soon run out of firewood, and therefore winter is almost over.
On the Isle of Man, where She is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to have been seen on St. Bride’s day in the form of a gigantic bird, carrying sticks in her beak.
In Scotland, the Cailleachan (lit. ‘old women’) were also known as The Storm Hags, and seen as personifications of the elemental powers of nature, especially in a destructive aspect. They were said to be particularly active in raising the windstorms of spring, during the period known as A’ Chailleach.
Nicnevin or Nicneven Scottish Samhain Goddess(whose name is from a Scottish Gaelic surname meaning “daughter of the little saint”)
In the Borders the name for this archetype was Gyre-Carling whose name had variants such as Gyre-Carlin, Gy-Carling, Gay-Carlin amongst others. Gyre is possibly a cognate of the Norse word geri and thus having the meaning of “greedy” or it may be from the Norse gýgr meaning “ogress”; carling or carline is a Scots and Northern English word meaning “old woman” which is from, or related to, the Norse word kerling (of the same meaning).

Even so, the elder Nicneven or Gyre-Carling retained the habit of night riding with an “eldritch” entourage mounted on unlikely and supernatural steeds. In Fife, the Gyre-Carling was associated with spinning and knitting, like Habetrot; here it was believed to be unlucky to leave a piece of knitting unfinished at the New Year, lest the Gyre-Carling should steal it.

Ben Nevis is sacred to both Nicneven and the Cailleach. The tale of Nicevenn riding out with her host on Samhain is reminiscent of the tale of the Cailleach riding out from Ben Nevis with eight sister hags at Summer’s End to hammer the frost into the ground. While Nicevenn lives on in folklore, only a shred of her mythology has survived.

When the lore of Gaelic Scotland comingled with the the Norse, Danish and Anglo-Saxon lore of Lowland Scotland, Northern England and the Orkneys, Nicevenn became known as the Elfin Queen of Elphame, the subterranean Scottish fairyland, or Otherworld. She also appears in Christian confessions and several traditional supernatural ballads, including Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin, in which she is variously depicted as attractive and demonic. She is so pristine to Rhymer’s eyes, the bard mistakes her for the Virgin Mary.

Other Christian confessions depict Nicevenn as the darker, more threatening Scottish fairy queen Nicneven, “daughter of the little saint,” a reference that may be based on women who were put to death for being witches before they were given to the Queen of Fairy.  In the ballad of Tam Lin, the Elphen Queen is also a much darker figure, who captures mortal men and entertains them in her fairy mound, then uses them to pay a “teind to Hell.”

In the Borders of Scotland, Nicneven is referred to as the Gyre-Carling, which may mean “old female ogress” in Scots Gaelic and Norse. 

In later folkloric tales, Nicnevenn is cunning in charms and joins ranks with European witches in her ability to sail the seas in a sieve.

An old tale still told by the Galloway Scots preserves Nicevenn’s prowess as an ancient Celtic goddess. One Samhain, during night ride at the head of the hunt, the ocean highcaps snare some of her fey company’s low-flying mounts. Furious, the Huntress strikes out with her slachdan and magically transforms the local geography. 

The Galloway story reminds us of the connection between Nicevenn the Huntress and the Cailleach, Hag of Winter. Both goddesses are elemental powers who grow stronger as the days grow shorter; and they both ride forth from Ben Nevis on Samhain eve, carrying a slachdan, a wand of power with which they can shape the land at will.

Related Sources:
Donald MacKenzie, Scottish Folk Lore and Folk Life. (Blackie, London, 1935)
Images: http://wiccancountess08.deviantart.com

Merry Samhain! – The Beginning of the Darker Half Of The Year & Summer’s End
November 1, 2011, 6:07 pm
Filed under: Celtic Celebrations, Halloween

Samhain (ˈsɑːwɪn/, /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/, or /ˈsaʊn/) is a Gaelic harvest festival held on October 31–November 1. Linked also to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and popularised as the “Celtic New Year” from the late 19th century, following Sir John Rhys and Sir James Frazer.

As you may  have noticed on previous posts, the Celtic year was not at first regulated by the solstices and equinoxes, but by some method connected with agriculture or with the seasons. Later, the year was a lunar one, and there is some evidence of attempts at synchronising solar and lunar time. But time was mainly measured by the moon, while in all calculations night preceded day. 

Thus oidhche Samhain was the night preceding Samhain (November 1st), not the following night. The usage survives in our “sennight” and “fortnight.” In early times the year had two, possibly three divisions, marking periods in pastoral or agricultural life, but it was afterwards divided into four periods, while the year began with the winter division, opening at Samhain.

The date of Samhain was associated by the Catholic Church with All Saints’ Day (and later All Souls’ Day) from at least the 8th century, and both the secular Gaelic and the Catholic liturgical festival have influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween.

It was only in 835 that Louis the Pious formally installed the festival on 1 November. In this, Louis merely made official the custom of celebrating the festival on 1 November which had been spread to the continent by the Anglo-Saxon mission, suggesting that the association of All Saints with 1 November is originally due to an Insular tradition,while the earliest references to the Irish festival of Samhain are found in sources of Irish mythology compiled in the 10th century and later.

The Celtic festivals being primarily connected with agricultural and pastoral life, we find in their ritual survivals traces not only of a religious but of a magical view of things, of acts designed to assist the powers of life and growth. The proof of this will be found in a detailed examination of the surviving customs connected with them.

The Samhain Festival, beginning the Celtic year, was an important social and religious occasion. The powers of blight were beginning their ascendancy, yet the future triumph of the powers of growth was not forgotten. Probably Samhain had gathered up into itself other feasts occurring earlier or later.

Thus it bears traces of being a harvest festival, the ritual of the earlier harvest feast being transferred to the winter feast, as the Celts found themselves in lands where harvest is not gathered before late autumn. The harvest rites may, however, have been associated with threshing rather than ingathering. Samhain also contains in its ritual some of the old pastoral cults, while as a New Year feast its ritual is in great part that of all festivals of beginnings.

We had considered also it’s conception as a Fire Festival. New fire was brought into each house at Samhain from the sacred bonfire,  itself probably kindled from the need-fire by the friction of pieces of wood. This preserved its purity, the purity necessary to a festival of beginnings.  The putting away of the old fires was probably connected with various rites for the expulsion of evils, which usually occur among many peoples at the New Year festival. By that process of dislocation which scattered the Samhain ritual over a wider period and gave some of it to Christmas, the kindling of the Yule log may have been originally connected with this festival.
Samhain, is also a festival of the dead, whose ghosts were fed at this time. A  time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinest, a time when the spirits of loved ones can return and so a special place is set at the table for any who so wish to join the feast. Traditionaly a candle to guide the spirits of loved ones home is lit in the window and also deters any unwanted spirits and is the origins of the pumpkin or jack-o-lantern.

It is a time when witches celebrate the wild hunt and the Horned God gathers the lost souls who linger or are unwary. The Godess takes on her role as the Crone or Wise One and so we look for wisdom and guidence.

Later belief regarded the sacrifice, if sacrifice there was, as offered to the powers of evil–the black sow, unless this animal is a reminiscence of the corn-spirit in its harmful aspect. Earlier powers, whether of growth or of blight, came to be associated with Samhain as demoniac beings–the “malignant bird flocks” which blighted crops and killed animals, the Scottish devilish Samhanach which steals children, and Mongfind the banshee, to whom “women and the rabble” make petitions on Samhain eve.  Witches, evil-intentioned fairies, and the dead are believed to be  particularly active these day.

Though the sacrificial victim had come to be regarded as an offering to the powers of blight, he may once have represented a divinity of growth or, in earlier times, the corn-spirit. Such a victim was slain at harvest, and harvest is often late in northern Celtic regions, while the slaying was sometimes connected not with the harvest field, but with the later threshing. This would bring it near the Samhain festival.

Divination and forecasting the fate of the inquirer for the coming year also took place. Sometimes these were connected with the bonfire, stones placed in it showing by their appearance the fortune or misfortune awaiting their owners. 
Other rites, connected with the Calends of January as a result of dislocation, point also in this direction. In Gaul and Germany riotous processions took place with men dressed in the heads and skins of animals.  As the people ate the flesh of the slain animals sacramentally, so they clothed themselves in the skins to promote further contact with their divinity. Similar customs have been found in other Celtic districts, and these animal disguises can hardly be separated from the sacramental slaughter at Samhain.
Samhain may thus be regarded as, in origin, an old pastoral and agricultural festival, which in time came to be looked upon as affording assistance to the powers of growth in their conflict with the powers of blight. 
Perhaps some myth describing this combat may lurk behind the story of the battle of Mag-tured fought on Samhain between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians. While the powers of blight are triumphant in winter, the Tuatha Dea are represented as the victors, though they suffer loss and death. Perhaps this enshrines the belief in the continual triumph of life and growth over blight and decay, or it may arise from the fact that Samhain was both a time of rejoicing for the ingathered harvest, and of wailing for the coming supremacy of winter and the reign of the powers of blight.

Related Source:
“The Religion of the Ancient Celts” By J. A. MacCulloch – [1911]
(All rights reserved)

Hallowe’en Traditions in Northern Scotland
October 31, 2011, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Celtic Celebrations, Halloween