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Runes
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Talismans
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Celtic culture

05
Sep - 19

The poetics of sorcery

This post contains an excerpt from the chapter on poetic and verbal enchantment in my work in progress, the Celtic Sorcery book. The full draft chapter was shared with patrons – I’ll be continuing to post excerpts from the work in progress here. It’s in rough unedited form, so reader beware.


The Irish poetics that is so richly represented in the medieval literature arises from a deep ritual tradition that is threaded throughout the Celtic cultures, as well as the rest of the Indo-European family. These poetics are equally central when it comes to magic and sorcery in the Celtic context. We find a profound relationship between Irish rosc poetry, as well as other metrical forms, and the Celtic curse texts of Gaul and Britain, as expressions of a distinctly Celtic poetic magic.

Those curse texts of Gaul and Britain represent an interesting fusion of Celtic with Mediterranean practices. As a literate form of magic built upon inscribing magical formula on metal tablets, the magical technology was adopted into Celtic cultural practices through contact with Greek and Roman customs. However, in the language of the texts, an indigenous Celtic poetics emerges that is recognizable to us from the study of Irish poetry. In the words of Bernard Mees, “the reason why the Celtic curses which are metrical seem more removed from the [classical Latin curse tradition] is because there was an indigenous Celtic tradition that curses, as spells, were things that were usually sung.”

This relationship between poetry and magic is also encapsulated in the term bricht and its cognates in different Celtic languages. In Irish, the word bricht means “charm, spell”, but also refers to a specific type of poetic meter, or the poem or spoken charm itself. Bernard Mees sees in this double meaning “evidence for a key Celtic relationship between magic and metrical form.” The importance of this dual concept of poetry as spell is also represented in the phrase brichtu ban, “spells of women”, preserved in multiple medieval Irish texts – most famously in the context of the protection charm called the Lorica of St. Patrick, invoking protection against “the spells of women and smiths and druids.” Its importance is also signaled by its preservation across time and distinct cultures, as a precisely cognate phrase bnanom brictom is invoked in a Gaulish magical tablet from the 1st c CE, deposited several hundred years earlier in a tomb in France. This phrase seems to have persisted as a way to describe a class of poetic sorcery especially associated with women.

The poet and seer Fedelm is introduced to us in the Táin Bó Cúailnge; she identifies herself as banfili, “poetess”, and appears in wealthy clothing, armed, and standing in a chariot from which position she chants poetry. She is clearly identified as a person with Otherworldly status or powers, having “three pupils in each of her eyes.” Her name is traces from the proto-Celtic root *uid– “to know”, with a connotation of knowledge gained by visionary sight. Her name is cognate to the Gaulish Uidlua, attested as a title for a female enchanter in a Gaulish curse-text. Fedelm is also identified, by Medb, as a banfaíth, the term for a female practitioner of the art of prophecy, and cognate to the Gaulish vates, diviners and sacrificers. Fedelm seems to represent an Irish reflex of a very ancient role or archetype, the high-status female seer and enchantress whose poetry reveals Otherworldly knowledge and power.


For access to the full draft chapter on poetics in Celtic sorcery (around 3,000 words), you can join as a supporter on Patreon.

What do you think about spiritwork in sorcery? Leave a comment or join the conversation in our Discord community.

01
Feb - 19

Writing again: Celtic Sorcery project

After a nice long hiatus, I’m getting back into a writing practice again. This blog has been dormant, in part because I just needed a break after finishing my book a few years ago, and in part because my available time and resources were focused more on visual art than writing.

I’m into a new writing project now, and as I’ll be posting some material from it here on this blog, I thought I’d update readers on what I’m up to.

These days, outside my tattoo practice which continues to be the cornerstone of my work, I’m focusing my work through Patreon. Over on Patreon, I have a couple different patron-funded projects, with the primary one being the writing of a book on Celtic Sorcery.

This book is based on material I’ve developed for teaching classes on magic and sorcery, spirit-work and polytheism, rooted in Celtic spiritual traditions and scholarship. I’ve been teaching this material as workshops for a few years now arising out of my own practice that blends elements from different Celtic cultural sources. I noticed that every time I teach one of the classes in the series, people always ask, “Okay, is there a book I can buy with this material in it?” So yes, there’s going to be a book.

Here’s a summary of my focus for this work: The Celtic cultures of Ireland, Britain, and Gaul provide us with rich and ancient wells of magical lore – blessing and purification rites; protective charms and spells; fate-binding and foredestination; curses and battle sorceries, Gods and spirits who are connected to these practices, and a whole lot more. I draw on folk tradition, archaeological study, early literature, and my own extensive personal experience, to explore these traditions of magic and sorcery in depth, while seeking insight through them into Celtic worldviews and cosmologies.

Because I’m a hungry self-employed artist, I need to do this as a patron-funded project. So as the book is in development, the draft chapters are being published as patron-only content over on Patreon. I also get into researching ways to extract ritual & magic from old traditions, experimenting with novel divination tools and spirit-work methods, and other explorations, and patrons will be able to participate along with me in those projects too.

Where this blog comes in is that as draft chapters are posted for patrons, I’ll share shorter excerpts here and hope to open conversations about this rich area of study and begin building a community of practitioners. Toward that end, I’ve also created a Discord community space where folks who are interested in this topic can join us for discussion: https://discord.gg/UC3wYqm.

Look for Celtic Sorcery writings to begin showing up here later this month. And a blessed Imbolc/Brigid’s Day to you all!

28
Dec - 12

Helvetios

My friends have asked me to write about my epic moment with Eluveitie, so here we go.

Eluveitie, for those who aren’t familiar, is a Celtic folk metal band out of Switzerland. But here’s the thing about them: they aren’t just a metal band, they are a Celtophilic cultural phenomenon. The music fuses traditional Celtic folk instruments (uillean pipes, fiddles, flutes, hurdy-gurdy, bodhran) with powerful metal grooves. Songs are written in a mix of ancient Gaulish and English – some of them including actual ancient Gaulish magickal, religious, and poetic texts set to their own music.

Naturally, as you can probably guess, I’m a mad fangirl. Epic folk metal music in the ancient Celtic mother tongue? Seriously, it doesn’t get more bad-ass than that.

During their recent North American tour, they ran a contest to give one winner at each city the chance to meet the band and get a music lesson from a bandmember on the instrument of their choice. Amazingly, even though I don’t play an instrument, I was selected for the Oakland show. In my contest entry, I wrote, “Would love to talk to songwriters about the Gaulish poetry used in your songs, as well as the history behind the Helvetios album.”

So on November 30th, I walked backstage before the show with Chrigel Glanzmann, the lead singer and lyric-writer, along with my stepdaughter and Brennos, a fellow Coru priest. Chrigel was courteous and kindly with my million questions about his songwriting, resources for Gaulish language and history, ancient Celtic magickal and religious practice, the Gallic wars, and cultural survival.

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Meeting with Chrigel before the show

We spoke of the destruction of Gaul following Roman subjugation. The massive bloodshed – which I’ve written of here before: the Celtic homeland was depopulated to a third of its original population size by Caesar’s sword. We spoke of the cultural loss that followed. Many of my questions related to ancient Celtic cult practice, the nature of Gaulish religion and magickal practice. He looked at me bemused when I told him I was attempting to revive aspects of Gaulish religious practice. “But it’s not possible… the religion was not documented before it was destroyed,” he said (in paraphrase – the interview was a month ago). “There is very little that we know.” I warranted that I did in fact have little to go on, but was doing my best. I sensed that it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to him to meet with a fan as devoted to Gaulish culture and language as myself. At the end of the interview, he said, “I’m glad people are trying to bring back the language and the culture.”

For Chrigel and the band, this is not just a metal music project, but a celebration of their own ancestral heritage. He and several bandmembers hail from Switzerland, from the Alpine plateau and foothill territory that was once the tribal lands of the Helvetii, a powerful Celtic tribe. He spoke eloquently in his accented English about the Helvetii and other Celtic tribes as the ancestors of the Swiss people, for whom the country in its native tongue is named: Confœderatio Helvetica. That although the Gaulish language died 1500 years ago, he feels a dedication to keeping it alive in music, as a poetic language and a vehicle for the memory of a people. He spoke of cultural survival — that although the Celtic roots of Swiss culture have been obscured by more recent Germanic influences from the early modern period, the Celtic bones remain within the culture.

He cited some fascinating examples of this from Swiss folk culture – much of what was recorded in the medieval and Enlightenment period as local charms and superstitions were in fact the remnant of ancient Celtic religio-magickal practice, translated through the centuries in the underlayers of folk culture beneath Roman and Christian overculture. The most fascinating example he gave was alpsäge, ‘alp-blessing’. This was a practice of the Gaulish tribal religion whereby magickal incantations were sung from high places in the mountainous Alpine landscape, for blessing and protection of cattle and other important tribal resources. The incantations were sung from heights in order to carry across distances and to generate echoes from the mountains, which were understood as the voice of the land spirits responding in support of the incantation. Beautiful, no? This practice has translated into modern times as…. you guessed it, yodeling. Chrigel speculated that before yodeling lost its soul, when it was practiced as a form of magickal incantation, it must have sounded quite different and more melodic.

After the interview, I felt a mixture of sadness and joy. The conversation reminded me of how much was lost following the ethnocide in Gaul. How little remains to us of the mother culture and mother tongue of the Celtic peoples. And yet…

Come the night, when the crowd roared and Eluveitie took the stage. When the mad, fierce, raging joy poured out of the musicians and swept through the crowd, churning the sea of people into a frenzy of violent celebration in the mosh pit. When the impassioned, screaming songs were sung out in the ancient language. Songs full of raw, deep emotion, telling the story of the Gallic wars and the nation that was, with joy, with pride, with rage, with anguish, with heart, the sounds of Celtic instruments swelling on a thunderous tide of metal. Songs of all that was lost, yet I could not help feeling how alive we were, how full of pride, how the flame of the Celtic spirit blazed in us in answer to the power in that music. Come the night, I felt the lost nation of Gaul singing through her descendants on the stage, echoing back from the ecstatic crowd. Everything lost is found again.

I don’t have video from our show, but here’s Eluveitie playing “Helvetios” and “Luxtos” live in Switzerland, March 2012.

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