Monday, January 30, 2012

The Airts: Elemental Quarters of the Spiral Castle

The Airts of Traditional Craft correspond to different elemental quarters than those found in Wiccan and Ceremonial traditions.  The Airts are based on old "Celtic" lore.

The North – Air

Values: Intellect, Thoughts, Inspiration, Communication, Flight, Divination
Colors: White, sky blue, black, silver
Symbols: Circle, bird, bell, flute, chimes, clouds, Sylphs, the Angel
Tools: Keek stone, flail, knives
Weapons: Staff/Spear
Musical Instruments: Reed instruments
Times: Imbolc, Midnight, Winter, Old Age
Places: Sky, mountaintop, treetop, bluffs, summit of a mound
Zodiac: Aquarius, Gemini, Libra
Sense: Scent
Power: To Know
Process: Chanting, Visualization, Reading, Speaking, Praying, Singing, Fragrance, Charms

The East – Fire

Values: Passion, Power, Will, Energy, Courage, Strength, Light
Colors: Red, orange, amber
Symbols: Triangle, lightning, flame, candle, Salamanders, the Lion
Tools: The lamp, wand, staff
Weapons: Sword
Musical Instruments: String Instruments
Times: Beltane, Dawn, Spring, Youth
Places: Volcanoes, ovens, hearths, bonfires, deserts
Zodiac: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
Sense: Sight
Power: To Will
Process: Dancing, Burning, Candle-magic, Solar magic, Mirrors

The South – Earth

Values: Growth, Experience, Authority, Money, Physicality, Security, Nourishment
Colors: Black, brown, russet, green
Symbols: Square, cornucopia, scythe, salt, stone, Gnomes, the Bull
Tools: The casting bowl, pentacles, horns
Weapons: Shield
Musical Instruments: Drums
Times: Lammas, Noon, Summer, Coming of Age
Places: Caves, forests, fields, gardens, canyons
Zodiac: Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo
Sense: Touch
Power: To Keep Silent
Process: Burying, Grounding, Binding, Eating, Totemic magic, Wortcunning, Clay figures, Dirts

The West – Water

Values: Emotions, Intuition, Cleansing, Mystery, Sacrifice
Colors: Grey, turquoise, blue, indigo
Symbols: Crescent, shell, boat, anchor, cup, Undines, the Eagle
Tools: The chalice or quaiche, cauldron
Weapons: Helm
Musical Instruments: Chimes
Times: Samhain, Twilight, Autumn, Adulthood
Places: Oceans, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, wells, beaches, baths
Zodiac: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Sense: Taste
Power: To Dare
Process: Bathing, Healing, Drinking, Baptism, Charged Waters, Blood magic

A Charm of the Airts

Black spirits, white,
Red spirits, gray,
Come ye, come ye
Come what may.

Around and round,
Throughout, about.
The good stay in.
The ill keep out.

Faces of the Black Goddess

Kolyo, Cailleach Bheur, The Morrigan, (Morrigan, Badb, Macha, Nemain), Beira, Clíodhna, Nyx, Noctiluca, Bean nighe, Cleena, Mongfind, Hel, Hecate, Kali, Fata, Nicnevin, Gyre-Carling, Beira, The Moirae (Klotho, Lachesis, & Atropos), The Norns (Urdr, Verdandi, Skuld)

Station of the Wheel
North, Imbolc, February, Gate of Air, Storm Moon

Cat, Willow, Owl

Spear, Staff, Wand, Athame (Black Handled Knife), Scourge

Kolyo (meaning the "coverer" and "hidden") is Great Mother of All - Ubiquitous, Omnipresent, Immortal and Eternal. In Indo-European Paganism, it is She who drives the Divine Drama and gives birth to the Gods and Goddesses. The Supreme Spinning Goddess, She is the First Timeless Source who regenerates All. A Being and Power older than Time itself, Kolyo spins the threads of Fate.

The word cailleach (in modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic, 'old woman') comes from the Old Irish caillech ('veiled one'), from Old Irish caille ('veil'), most likely an early loan from Latin pallium ('cloak'). The word is found as a component in terms like the Gaelic cailleach-dhubh ('nun') and cailleach-oidhche ('owl'), as well as the Irish cailleach feasa ('wise woman', 'fortune-teller') and cailleach phiseogach ('sorceress', 'charm-worker'). Related words include the Gaelic caileag ('young woman', 'girl') and the Lowland Scots carline/carlin ('old woman', 'witch'). A more obscure word that is sometimes interpreted as 'hag' is the Irish síle, which has led some to speculate on a connection between the Cailleach and the stonecarvings of Sheela na Gigs.

The name may also be related to the Hindu goddess, Kali, who shares many similar characteristics

The Morrígan ("phantom queen") or Mórrígan ("great queen") (also known as Morrígu, Morríghan, Mor-Ríoghain, sometimes given in the plural as Morrígna) is a figure from Irish mythology who appears to have once been a goddess, although she is not explicitly referred to as such in the texts.

The Morrigan is a goddess of battle, strife, and fertility . She sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above the warriors, and in the Ulster cycle she also takes the form of an eel, a wolf, and a cow. She is generally considered a war deity comparable with the Germanic Valkyries, although her association with cattle also suggests a role connected with fertility, wealth, and the land. She is often depicted as a triple goddess, but also as a goddess with five or nine aspects. The most common combination of three is the Badb, Macha and Nemain, but other accounts name Fea, Anann, and others.

Clíodhna (Clídna, Clíodna, Clíona, but sometimes Cleena in English) is a Queen of the Banshees of the Tuatha Dé Danann. In Irish literature, Cleena of Carrigcleena is the potent banshee that rules as queen over the sheoques (fairy women of the hills) of South Munster, or Desmond. She is the principal goddess of this country. It is said the wails of the banshee can be heard echoing the valleys and glens at night, scaring those who hear as the wail of a banshee is potent and instills fear in good people.

In Irish mythology, Nemain (or Nemhain, Nemon or Neman) is the fairy spirit of the frenzied havoc of war, and possibly an aspect of the Morrígan.

Friday, January 27, 2012


(im-bulk or em-bowlk)
Also: Candlemas, Oiemalg, Bride's Day, Oimelc, Brigid's Day, Brigantia

Brigid Crosses

Imbolc, celebrated at the peak of winter around early February, is one of the four main fire festivals native to Celtic culture. The other festivals, commonly referred to in Neopaganism as the "Greater Sabbats" are Beltane, at the peak of spring, Lammas, at the peak of summer, and Samhain at the peak of autumn. Imbolc is usually celebrated on February 2nd and the night prior to it, although some celebrate the festival on its alternate date, astrologically determined by the sun's reaching 15-degrees Aquarius.

Origins of Imbolc

The earliest recorded instance of Imbolc comes from the Irish epic poem "Tochmare Emire", a part of the Ulster Cycle, where Cu Chulainn is attempting to woo Emer. Challenging the hound of Chulain to go without sleep for a year, Emer names the major calendar days, including:

    "Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring's beginning."

The origins of Imbolc appear to be much older than the Ulster Cycle, however, as ancient inhabitants of Ireland built a number of Megalithic and Neolithic sites aligned with the sun on this day. Loughcrew burial mounds and the Mound of the Hostages in Tara, Ireland are two examples of these monuments. Here, the inner chamber of the passage tombs are perfectly aligned with the rising sun of both Imbolc and Samhain, so that the rising Imbolc sun shines down the long passageway and illuminates the inner chamber of the tomb.

Loughcrew Burial Mound


Many neopagan texts state that Imbolc translates to "in the belly" or "in the mother" to signify the stirring and quickening of new life in the Goddess, but this is an incorrect translation. Although its linguistic origins are lost to time, Imbolc is thought to translate more accurately to "sheep's milk", or “in milk”. It is related to the Irish Celtic word folcaim, meaning “to wash”, and it is thought that Imbolc's Indo-European root word was related to both lactation and purification.


Purification is a reoccuring theme of this festival, and the fires associated with it. Saining, the process of ritually purifing something by exposing it to open flame, was common during this time, but in the form of small interior lighting, rather than the magnificent bonfires that were lept during Beltane.

Prehaps related to these purification aspects of the festival, or even the associations with a seed placed in the earth waiting to sprout soon after this time, Imbolc has become a traditional time for many neopagans to take oaths, or, in some traditions, undergo initiations.

Another aspect of the sacred fire highlighted during Imbolc is light. Imbolc takes place at the peak of winter, midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The days at this point in the year are growing noticably longer, and the return of this light, along with the promise of the spring it brings, is celebrated at Imbolc. This reverance for light was transferred to the lighting of candles when the church transformed Imbolc into Candlemass. Even today it is tradition in some parts of Ireland to light every lamp or candle in the house on the eve of February 2nd.

In addition to Candlemass, the Church called February 2nd the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth. Since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn't be purified until February 2nd. Mary was supposed to have gone to the Temple at Jerusalem to make the traditional offering to purify herself. As she entered the temple, an old man named Simeon recognized the baby as the Messiah, and a "light to lighten the Gentiles." Thus the themes of light and purification were kept alive on Imbolc long after its Pagan origins faded.

The Goddess Brigid

Imbolc is also known as Brigid's Day and is associated with the Anglo-Celtic goddess Brigid, who was anciently honored throughout areas that now include Britain, Ireland, and Northern France. She was widespread and known by many name variations including:

Brighid by Hrana Janto
    Brighid (Modern Irish)
    Bríd (Reformed Irish)
    Bridget (Anglicanized)
    Brìghde/Brìde (Scotland)
    Ffraid (Wales)
    Berecyntia (Gaul)
    Brigandu (Gaul)
    Brigantia (Great Britain)
    Brigantis (Great Britain)
    Brigindo (Switzerland)
    Brigida (The Netherlands)


The goddess Brigid, presided over the hearth and the forge, over the inspiration and skill of sacred art and craft, and over the world of crops, livestock, and nature. In the Scottish Highlands every morning the fire was kindled with an invocation to Bride:

    "I will build the hearth
    As Mary would build it.
    The encompassment of Bride and of Mary
    Guarding the hearth, guarding the floor,
    Guarding the household all."

The 10th-century Cormac’s Glossary states that Brigid was the daughter of the Dagda, the “Great God” of the Tuatha de Danaan. It states Brigid to be a...

    “woman of wisdom... a goddess whom poets adored, because her protection was very great and very famous."

Since poetry was interwoven with aspects of divination Brigid was also seen as the inspiration behind divination and prophecy, marking Imbolc as a festival associated with prophecy.

Brigid the Bright One is said to have had two sisters: Brigid the Physician and Brigid the Smith, but it is generally thought that all three were aspects of a single triple goddess.

St. Brigit

The early Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon, so they opted to canonized her instead. She would become Saint Brigit, patroness of poetry, and healing. The church's explanation to the Irish peasants was that Brigit was actually an early Christian missionary, and that the miracles she performed misled the common people into believing that she was a goddess.

In some of the many legends about St. Brigit, there is a belief that she was the foster-mother of Jesus, Jesus having spent some part of his boyhood in Britain and Ireland, or that she was the mid-wife at his birth.

John Duncan's famous paining of Saint Bride
depicts two angels carrying her across the sea to nurse Jesus.

At her shrine in Kildare, a group of 19 priestesses kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor. In the twelfth century, Gerald of Wales wrote that when he visited the convent that there used to be twenty nuns keeping watch over the flame during Brigid's lifetime; but since her death, nineteen took turns, one each night, in guarding the fire. When the twentieth night came, the nineteenth nun put the logs beside the fire and said: “Brigid, guard your fire. This is your night.” In the morning, the wood was found burned and the fire still alight.

Brigid is honored on Imbolc, again by the kindling of sacred fires, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration.

Welcoming Brigid

On Brigid’s Eve, it was common during the eighteenth century to weave 'bride crosses' from wheat stalks, rushes, or straw, and place the weaving in a windowsill or from the rafters to give welcome to Brigid, who is said to walk the earth on this night. Ribbons were once tied to trees outside on Imbolc Eve so that they might be blessed by her wandering spirit to become powerful healing charms.

Corn Dollies
Welcoming Brigid was a common theme for Imbolc Eve, and even into the ninteenth century women on the Isle of Manx could be found weaving corn dollies into roughly human shapes, and dressing them in white lace and linen. These were then decorated with flowers, shells, ribbons, and crystals, with an especially bright bauble attached to the area over the doll's heart to signify the star over the stable in Bethlehem that led Bride to the Christ child.

These symbolic goddess figures would then be placed in a 'bed', usually a basket or small box, alongside a peeled and beribboned wand of birch or willow. The bed of Bride was then set near the hearth. One of the women would then open the door and call out softly, "Bride's bed is ready.", to which the remaining women inside would answer, "Let Bride come in, Bride is welcome." Together all would then chant "Bride, Bride, come in." The next day, divinations were made in the patterns of the ashes of the hearth. To see a "footprint" of Bride in the ashes was especially fortunate.

Groundhog's Day

Today February 2nd is a time of weather prognostication, and the old Scottish tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to Groundhog Day. Alexander Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica preserves the rhyme:

    Thig an nathair as an toll
    La donn Bride,
    Ged robh tri traighean dh’ an t-sneachd
    Air leachd an lair.

    "The serpent will come from the hole
    On the brown Day of Bride,
    Though there should be three feet of snow
    On the flat surface of the ground."

In addition to the promise of spring, and prognostication, other neopagan themes common to Imbolc include the transformation of the Goddess from Crone to Maiden (the Maiden is usually symbolized by wearing a crown of candles), the nursing of the young sun God, the completion of 12 labors by the sun God, the and the peak of the Holly King's power. These differ according to various traditions.

The Spiral Castle Tradition

In our tradition Imbolc is the time we honor the Black Goddess at her peak.  We see the Black Goddess as the Bean Nighe, the Morrigan, the Cailleach, and the weaver, spinner, and cutter of Fate's thread.

The Spiral Castle is turned to face the North Gate, place of Air, Winter has a strong hold on the earth in our area of the country, and the Lady of Fate, Battle, and Life in Death holds sway.  The Wheel is about to turn to the light half of the year, and there is rejoicing for that hope, along with mourning for the things we have lost in the darkness.
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.
~ Adapted from Ancient Gaelic


Colors: white, red, brown, pink, lavender, silver, and light yellow
Herbs: Gardenia, Rose, Basil, Violets, White flowers, Blackberry, Myrrh, Angelica, Bay, Wisteria, Crocus
Foods: Sunflower seeds, poppy seed cakes, breads, dairy products, peppers, wine, tea
Taboos: Harvesting of any kind, including picking flowers is not allowed on this day

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January Totems: Blackbird

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. January's totems are Wolf, Blackthorn, and Blackbird.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Wolf (Faol) – guardianship, ritual, loyalty, free spirit, intuition, shadow
Blackthorn (Straif) – blasting magic, guardians, boundaries, no choice
Blackbird (Dru Dhubh) – territoriality, omens, enchantment, gateways


The Blackbird notoriously sings at twilight and dawn -- the liminal times -- making it a guardian of the gateways and between-places.  This makes it an ideal totem of January, the time when one year ends and another begins.

Rhiannon's birds were said to be blackbirds, as they are enchanted birds of the otherworld.  They were said to "wake the dead and lull the living to sleep", another nod to their liminal singing, and a hint that the blackbird is capable of the shamanic work of dreamwalking and spirit communication.

The blackbird, or ousel, is the first animal Culhwch asks regarding the whereabouts of Mabon, as it was the oldest animal that Culhwch knew of.  Again, the blackbird stands as the gateway to the animals that remain in the quest: stag, owl, eagle, and salmon. 

The blackbird in Culhwch's tale, here named the Blackbird of Cilgwri, answers that he is so old that he found a smith's anvil when he first came to Cilgwri, but that time was so long ago that the anvil has long since worn away from his pecking at it.  The blackbird is  especially sacred to blacksmiths.  In Irish ghobadhu means both blackbird and blacksmith.  The blackbird has the unique habit of bashing snail shells and nuts on stones, much as a smith would use an anvil.  For these reasons, and his coal-black feathers, the blackbird is sacred to smith gods, such as Tubal Cain.

Blackbirds are territorial, and seeing two together is considered a sign of good luck.  It is also good luck to have a blackbird build its nest on your roof, or anywhere near your home.

In North America the red-winged blackbird is perhaps the most iconic of blackbirds.  One Native American legend states that the blackbird tried to warn the people of a village that a man had set the marsh on fire.  The man angrily threw stones at the bird, wounding its wings and staining them blood red.  Thus, the blackbird is a bringer of omens, and of self-sacrifice.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Totems: Blackthorn

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. January's totems are Wolf, Blackthorn, and Blackbird.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Wolf (Faol) – guardianship, ritual, loyalty, free spirit, intuition, shadow
Blackthorn (Straif) – blasting magic, guardians, boundaries, no choice
Blackbird (Dru Dhubh) – territoriality, omens, enchantment, gateways


The Blackthorn is a tree of winter.  The fruits of the tree, known as sloes, ripen and sweeten only after the first frost.  Sloe gin is made from these fruits.  A cold spring is traditionally known as a blackthorn winter, as the blackthorn often bears its white blossoms while winter's chill still hangs in the air.

The blackthorn has vicious thorns that can cause painful infections, and forms dense thickets when left to spread on its own.  It has tough dark black bark, hence its name.

Blackthorn's Gaelic name "straif" has connections with the English word strife.  Its thorns as sometimes used in witchcraft as "pins" to pierce wax poppets.  Some legends attest that the witches mark was made upon the flesh of a witch with a blackthorn thorn.

Blackthorn's wood is used in the creation of the Irish cudgel or shillelagh, which is an old traditional tool of the male leader of a coven.  Blackthorn staves and wands are used in blasting/cursing magic.

Charm of the Thorn
As a storm of tangl'd Briars
I cast forth the spines of torment:
Byt weave of thorns I bar the Way!
Ye Strength of the Nail of the Cross,
All spirits foul be fix'd upon Thee.
Let Ghost and Flesh twain be punctur'd
And Darkness fall -- for thou Art bound!
~Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadow by Daniel A. Schulke

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January Totems: Wolf

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. January's totems are Wolf, Blackthorn, and Blackbird.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Wolf (Faol) – guardianship, ritual, loyalty, free spirit, intuition, shadow
Blackthorn (Straif) – blasting magic, guardians, boundaries, no choice
Blackbird (Dru Dhubh) – territoriality, omens, enchantment, gateways


The Wolf is associated with intuition, learning, the Shadow, faithfulness, and inner strength. The Wolf allows you to go beyond “normal” barriers to learn and grow. Wolf reminds us of the inner power and strength that come when we are alone, and it teaches us to know our deepest selves. Sadly, the Wolf is highly misunderstood and has often been shown as an adversary to humans in movies and stories.

This animal embodies many qualities of the hound, but with a wildness not to be found in the domesticated dog. It is valued for its affinities with humans. Wolves are highly social, friendly and intelligent. Several stories in various cultures depict wolves adopting human and divine infants to rear, and Wolves are often adopted as godmothers and godfathers.

The Celts would cross-breed hounds with wolves for a powerful battle dog. In the area of fighting, it is important to know that the Wolf does not fight unnecessarily. In fact, it will avoid fights if it can. Like a true Warrior, it does not have to demonstrate dominance, but can when called upon.

The Morrigan takes the form of a She-wolf and attacks Cu-Chulainn for spurning her amorous advances, and one of Cerridwen’s gifts as Henwen was a wolf-cub. The Wolf is an ally of the Horned One on Gundestrap cauldron. (And in many images, there is a powerful connection between the Wolf and the Raven.)

In magic and medicine, people have believed that a Wolf’s hide provided protection from epilepsy, and the teeth were considered lucky – rubbed on teething baby’s gums and worn as charms and amulets.

In the Americas, the Wolf is seen as the spirit of free and unspoiled wilderness. There are several types of Wolves in this part of the World – the Red Wolf, the Mexican Wolf, the Timber Wolf (or Gray Wolf), and the Arctic Wolf. In size, they are smaller than people imagine (about like a good-sized German Shepherd).

Wolves are very ritualistic and carefully defined rules. They have sacred territories and a hierarchical structure (alpha male and alpha female – a “pecking order”).

They implement complex communication using body language and facial expressions, which can help us conveying our moods and understanding others. They also have very complex verbal communication. Their howls have a variety of meanings, including conveying location, social uses, and for fun.

The Wolf can teach us the balance between authority and democracy. (True freedom requires discipline.) They are very loyal to each other, and within the pack the alpha male and female often mate for life. The whole pack is tolerant and careful of pups. Wolves can “adopt” if something happens to parents, and they will sometimes baby-sit.

Some of the other skills the Wolf can teach include choosing battles. (As predators, they only pick the old, young and sick.) They have great strength and stamina, being able to travel long distances to hunt. They don’t waste anything, which is seen in their gorging on prey. And they are very loyal, making quick and firm emotional attachments.
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