Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland — The Invasion of the Partholans

The Partholans were among the first to truly occupy Ireland. They were led by a man named Partholan, who brought them to Iver Scene, which is now known as the Kenmare River. He brought with him his sons, their wives, and approximately a thousand followers. It is difficult to determine when, exactly, this might have occured.

Where Did the Partholans Come From?

It is unclear as to where the Partholans might have come from. Legend has it that they came into Ireland from the west. Some myths suggest that Partholan himself once dwelled in the Irish Fairyland, the Land of the Living. Some claim that he murdered his father, Sera, and his father’s wife. He was then expelled from the Land of the Living, and had to seek out another home.

He brought with him his wife Dealgnaid, who later became Queen to his King. In fact, he brought with him a virtually equal number of men and women, supposedly at the urging of Dealgnaid. The plan was, presumably, to found their own civilization on the shores of Ireland.

The Partholans and the Fomorians

The Fomorians make an appearance at several points during the five waves of invasion in the Mythological Cycle. They could be said to be the nightmares of most of the Irish settlers from most of the waves of invasion. They seemed to be violent, cruel, and misshapen people who represent the powers of evil to the early Irish people.

The Partholans had to fight these ‘demons’ for control of Ireland. Finally, after much hardship and many battles, the Partholans drove the Fomorians out to the northern seas. The Fomorians would return to harass and later even challenge later rulers of Ireland. Whether these people ever existed is a matter of much debate.

What Happened to the Partholans?

After their many battles with the Fomorians, the Partholans gathered together on Senmag (roughly translated as the Old Plain) for the purpose of burying their dead. However, this meant that every last one of them had contact with each other, and this spread a pestilence or plague through all of them. All the followers of Partholan died, leaving Ireland open for reoccupation, this time by the Neimheahdians.

The Partholans were the first true settlers of Ireland, followed by the Neimheahdians. Though little is known about them, their culture, and even their origins, they still form an important part of Irish mythology.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland — The Five Waves of Invasion

Most of the myths and legends of the ancient Faery Faith of Ireland come from the Mythological Cycle. From this cycle arise the Tuatha De Danann, who gave birth to the Irish Pantheon of gods and goddesses. More importantly, the Mythology Cycle contains the five waves of Irish invasion.

There are many conflicting stories regarding the waves of invasion. Since the Mythological Cycle was passed on orally, and never written down by the Irish themselves, it is difficult to ascertain the truth regarding this time. The tales of the five waves were eventually written down, in approximately 1100 C.E., but this was more than one thousand years after the events had occurred.

In addition, the tales were recorded by monks. By the time any attempt was made to reconstruct what had really happened, and what was really believed by the ancient people of Ireland, too much time had passed, and too many facts had been altered.

The five waves are full of tales of wizardry and magic. Modern mythology barely hints at most of the stories that are to be had from this time, and each wave is a curious mix of historical fact and speculation.

The Partholan Wave of Invasion

The Partholan Wave was named after the leader of this group of invaders. This man, Partholan, was said to have bled his homeland after having killed both his mother and his father. He settled his people in the area surrounding Dublin. However, they remained in Ireland for only thirty or forty years before they were all eventually killed by the plague.

The Neimheahd Wave of Invasion

Also named after the leader of this group, the Neimheahd Wave apparently came from Scythia. They were harassed by pirates out of Africa, who descended upon the Neimheahd people and attempted to subdue them. Eventually, after their leader, Neimheahd, was killed, the people abandoned Ireland. They scattered into three groups, two of which would become the ancestors of the next wave of invaders.

The Fir Bolg Wave of Invasion

The Fir Bolg Wave arrived 217 years after the Neimheahdians left. They were said to be escaped slaves from Greece, and they introduced agriculture to Ireland. They also brought with them the rule of law and social institutions, and established the first real monarchical government in Ireland.

The Fir Bolg were defeated by the Tuatha De Danann at the First Battle of Mag Tuired. They did eventually return to Ireland as a subordinate people at the beginning of the Common Era.

The Tuatha De Danann Wave of Invasion

All the other waves of invasion arrived in Ireland by ship, but the Tuatha De Danann Wave were said to have arrived on dark clouds thought the air. They were thought to have alighted on a mountaintop. They were said to be people of magick, a race who were proficient in every art.

These mystical people ruled Ireland for many years. Though they were challenged by their enemies, the Fomorians, the interlopers were never allowed to settle in Ireland. The Tuatha De Danann reigned in Ireland until the coming of the Milesians.

The Milesian Wave of Invasion

The Milesians were Celtic people, and the Celts had long established themselves in Central Europe. The Milesian Wave put an end to the supreme reign of the Tuatha De Danann. When the Milesians first attempted to land in Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann conjured up a storm against them. It seemed as if they would never land safely in Ireland.

Eventually, and in scattered groups, they made their way to land. When they did, the battles between the Milesians and the Tuatha De Danann were fierce. Many were lost on both sides. In the end, the two groups decided that the Tuatha De Danann would rule the spirit land, while the Milesian would reign over the physical realm. Peaceful coexistence was the final result.

The five waves of invasion are full of powerful myths and inspiring symbolism. They give a glimpse into the ancient Irish ethics of war, and are the basis for the Irish Faery Faith that would later arise.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland — The Fiana

The fiana were roving war bands that served the kings of Ireland in approximately the 3rd century C.E. around the time of the Fenian Cycle. The fiana were soldiers in times of war, but served as national police during times of peace; they were poets and romantics at all times. When they weren’t protecting the realm from its enemies, they prevented robberies, collected tributes and fines, and generally handled anything that might adversely affect Ireland.

There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that tales of the fiana were a part of popular tradition in Ireland through the 11th century. Their stories of honor, law, and loyalty were considered to be essential to the welfare of the community. Even after this time, they were studied in fairy tales as the ideal warriors.

How Did Candidates Enter the Fiana?

It was not easy for anyone to join the fiana. The tests were incredibly difficult and varied, and few people could meet these requirements today. Some of these legendary tests included:
  • All candidates had to master the twelve books of Irish poetry before he could be considered.
  • Standing in a trench the depth of his knee, the candidate must protect himself with only a shield and staff from nine warriors, who will be casting javelins at him.
  • With only a head start of a single tree, the candidate must escape from his pursuers in a thick wood, and must remain unwounded.
  • During this flight, he must be so quick and agile that not even a single braid of his hair is loosened by a hanging branch, and he must break no withered branch upon the ground.
  • The candidate, during his flight, must bound over branches the height of his forehead and crawl under branches the height of his knee. He must do this with all speed, and without leaving a trembling branch behind.
  • In facing the greatest odds, he must stand firm, and his weapon must not shake in his hand.
Whether these requirements were true, or whether time has exaggerated them, we may never know. Regardless, the legendary fiana were certainly well qualified and well trained.

What Were the Duties of the Fiana?

For the most part, the fiana served their king. They carried out the tasks set before them by their leader, and they did so as a well formed and cohesive group. There were also four restrictions, sometimes called geasas that were placed upon each candidate once they passed all the tests of the fiana. These were:
  • He shall marry his wife for her manners and her virtues, not for any wealth she might possess.
  • He shall be gentle with all women, no matter her station.
  • He shall never keep for himself that which another needs.
  • He shall stand and fight against all odds, as far as nine to one.
These were considered the most basic principles of the fiana. They were to life their lives in honor and love, and to never waver from their purpose.

The life of a fiana might have seemed difficult to some, but it had its rewards. They were a close nit family of brothers, and they faced adventure and danger together, and so they enjoyed the rewards of such a life as one single entity.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland — The Historical Cycle

Traditionally, there are four cycles that make up Irish historical mythology. These cycles are the very basis of the Irish Faery Faith, and are the origin of the Irish Pantheon of gods and goddesses. The four Irish mythological cycles are:
  • The Mythological Cycle;
  • The Ulster Cycle;
  • The Fenian Cycle;
  • The Historical Cycle.
The Timeline of the Historical Cycle

Tales from the Historical Cycle are ascribed dates ranging from the 3rd century all the way to the 8th century. Most of these dates revolve around various high-kings of Ireland, and occasionally on some provincial kings. Many of the dates regarding the Irish kings of this cycle can be measured against known historical events. This makes the Historical Cycle the easiest of the four cycles to accurately date.

What is the Historical Cycle of Ireland?

The Historical Cycle is one of kingship and kings. In fact, most of the surviving tales from the Historical Cycle feature the three most influential kings of the Historical Cycle. These three kings are:
  • Conaire Mor to Conn of the Hundred Battles;
  • Niall of the Nine Hostages;
  • Domnall, son of Aed.
Niall of the Nine Hostages is particularly significant. He was the greatest king in Ireland between Cormac mac Airt and the arrival of St. Patrick. His reign was truly inspiring to all warriors of the time. He ruled Ireland with strength, and carried the name and fear of Ireland into all nearby nations. He founded the longest, most important, and most powerful of all Irish dynasties. His descendants ruled Ireland, almost without interruption, for almost six hundred years.

This cycle, sometimes known as the Cycle of Kings, is less than all other cycles. It is less magical than the Mythological Cycle. Less heroic than the Ulster Cycle. Less romantic than the Fenian Cycle. Instead, the tales of the Historical Cycle are about kings, kingship, dynasties, and succession. They also abound with stories of the royal houses and the many royals of all Ireland during this time.

The most distinctive features of this cycle and its legends are kingship and the nature of the bond between a king and his country. The characters of this cycle are loyal and committed, and would lay down their lives for their king or their country.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland — The Fenian Cycle

There are four cycles that make up traditional Irish mythology. These cycles describe the development of the Celtic Pantheon of gods and goddesses. The four Irish mythological cycles are:
  • The Mythological Cycle;
  • The Ulster Cycle;
  • The Fenian Cycle;
  • The Historical Cycle.
The Timeline of the Fenian Cycle

The Fenian Cycle is full of legends based upon the fiana (war bands) and their leader, Finn mac Cumaill. Sometimes, this cycle is referred to as the Ossianic Cycle, because of the rather romantic poems attributed to Finn’s son, Ossian.

Finn and his fiana served Cormac mac Airt, who was one of the greatest poets of all the ancient kings of Ireland. Cormac died in 267 C.E. It can be safely said, then, that the Fenian Cycle began around 200 C.E., and continued towards the end of the century.

What is the Fenian Cycle of Ireland?

The Fenian Cycle is full of tales of heroism, romance, and kingship. The central king of this cycle, Cormac mac Airt was arguably the greatest king that Ireland ever knew. When he resigned his High-Kingship, he ended one of the most blessed times that Ireland had ever experienced. There are three literary works which are attributed to him by some sources. These are:
  • Teagasc an Riogh (Instructions of a King);
  • The Book of Acaill (Book of the Principles of Criminal Law);
  • The Psaltair of Tara, which is no longer in existence, but is referenced in many other works.
These items, more than any other literary works of the time, show that Ireland did have a literary culture all its own, contrary to the beliefs of the early Roman Catholic Church, which stated that the Irish were uneducated. More than that, they give insight into the Fenian Cycle and its heroes.

The tales of the Fenian Cycle are similar to those in the Ulster Cycle. They both focus on the heroic characters of the times, but there are some vital differences. For one, the fiana were foot soldiers, where the Ulster heroes were almost always mounted or in their chariots.

The second difference is perhaps more subtle, but also more important. The heroes of the Ulster Cycle were almost infamous in their need to individuate themselves from the group. Their rivalries were the stuff of legend, and they rarely cooperated with each other. In contrast, the fiana, the primary heroes of the Fenian Cycle, shared their experiences. They lived for the camaraderie that comes from being a member of a unique group. They lived with an intense pleasure that the Ulster heroes had been lacking.

The Fenian tales were also heavy on romance and poetry, almost like the Arthurian legends of lower Britain. The cycle’s greatest tale of heroism, The Pursuit of Diarmaid And Grainne, is also its most romantic. The finest collection of Fenian tales, The Agallam na Seanorach (the Colloquy of the Ancients), is an account of the fiana’s greatest achievements. It is also among the most poetic of texts from that era.

The most distinctive features of this cycle and its legends are human warmth and feeling. The central group of characters of the Fenian Cycle are sometimes wizards, sometimes heroes, but they are always passionate about their cause.