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As part of my ongoing Druidic Bardic Course I receive every month my selection of ‘Gwersi’ or teachings to learn.
I’ll be focusing on these teachings and the whole Druidic tradition a lot more in future blog posts as I seek to explore our own various Shamanic traditions which Britain and Ireland are rich in.
For now though and ahead of this weekend I would like to explore the Celtic/Druidic festival of Lughnasadh.
As one of the eight major points in the ancient calendar of these lands - Lughnasadh marks the time of the beginning of the harvest period.
It is a time of joy and reaping the rewards and harvest of all the hard work that you put in earlier in the year. This can be understood in many ways. Both on a physical level as it was in the old days when the people tilled the land, sowed their seeds and then carefully tended to the crops that if all went well would help see them through the long, cold and dark Winter months, but also on a metaphysical level as the intentions that we set earlier in the year at Imbolc (and the dawning of Spring) start to hopefully come to fruition.
Through this celebration we can understand the importance of careful planning and preparation, and why its still important to sow these seeds for ourselves and others, even though we may no longer work the land in the way our ancestors did.
Lughnasdh (loo-nus-uh) means ‘the commemoration of Lugh’ and through exploring who Lugh was, we can as with all of the quarter fire festivals understand more about the world of our ancestors and in doing so - more about our own world today.
Sometimes the event is called Lammas which can refer to the day this celebration takes place which is August 1st and is of course this coming Saturday.
Lugh appears in various forms in many cultures - but normally as a god of fire and light. In the Irish legends he was the leader of the mythical Tuatha De Danann - one of the four waves of invaders that swept over Irelands ancient shores and are recorded in the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book Of The Taking Of Ireland) or sometimes know as ‘The Book Of Invasions’.
This is an interesting and rich collection of stories and myths from the creation of all to the medieval period, but I am getting somewhat ahead of myself and this will all be a blog for another occasion.
For now back to Lugh and in the story of the Tuatha De Danann’s victory over the Fomorians (another one of the mythical invaders) - Lugh spares the life of Bres - one of the captured enemy leaders, and in return is given knowledge on ploughing, sowing and reaping. In this story we can perhaps see the creation of ‘the harvest myth in which the secret of agricultural prosperity is wrested form a powerful and reluctant god by Lugh’.
An interesting story in itself - perhaps myth - perhaps a vague recollection of a long ago era when Giants, Gods & Demi-Gods may have roamed the Earth and the use of magic and manipulation of the elementals was much more common place.
Its easy to dismiss these stories as just that, but those of us who work in a shamanic way and have experienced other realms and other beings, can understand that these people may well have existed here in an age far different from the one we find ourselves in today.
At this time of year the Sun’s warmth and strength should have matured the crops (although given this years patchy Summer - that seems less a likely outcome here in the mountains of Wales!) and enable the first real fruits of the harvest to appear. Lughnasadh in another way celebrates the co-creation between Sun & Earth - masculine & feminine - and indeed Imbolc which sits opposite Lughnasdh in the Celtic calendar is often seen as a more feminine celebration as we slowly re-merge from the dark of Winter, whilst Lughnasadh is normally viewed as a more masculine festival as the days start to grow shorter and Autumn heralds the slow descent into the depths of Winter.
By following these festivals throughout the year not only do we get a much greater appreciation of how our ancestors were much more deeply connected to the land and their immediate surroundings, but also how we can view these occasions on a more shamanic and esoteric level. The unending cyclical nature of our existence and how our own lives mirror the seasons is an important teaching in itself and one worthy of deeper exploration.
This Friday though is also an important and powerful day in itself and quite the aperitif, as it is not only a full moon but a blue one at that. Something that only occurs once every 3 years or so and happens when there are two full moons in one calendar month.
We will be marking the occasion by getting up early on Friday to go and pick one of our favourite shamanic and magical plants - Mugwort or Artemisia Vulgaris. It is said that its properties are much more powerful when picked before sunrise, and even more so on a full moon! So we are following our intuitions and making the most of this powerful blue moon in order to collect fresh and wild Mugwort from an area near our house where it grows. From this we intend to make a tincture, and also hopefully once the Sun comes up and pokes its head out from behind the clouds, we want to make a flower essence from the buds which are now in full bloom.
Because of this special blue moon we are also contemplating making a special full moon essence overnight with the addition of one of our own moon stones to create a powerful dreaming essence.
The weekend will be marked with a special ceremony honouring all of the above and working with our native teacher plants in order to connect more deeply with the land and this special time of the year.
What will you be doing this weekend to celebrate this powerful full moon and harvest time?
With thanks to OBOD’s guide to Lughnasadh and Maire MacNeills book ‘The Festival of Lughnasadh’
With the upcoming event The Shamanic Lands fast approaching and as the organiser of that it seems appropriate to take some time out to establish what we mean by The Shamanic Lands and where we believe they are or indeed what they are.
Shamanism has seen another explosion of interest in recent years as a new wave of energy sweeps through the collective psyche. Michael Harner’s seminal book ‘The Way Of The Shaman” broke new ground when it was first released and brought together many re-occurring ideas that he had seen in different forms of Shamanism the world over. This gave rise to the first wave of neo-shamanism or post-indigenous shamanism that swept through the West and inspired many a person to go out and seek the ancient knowledge of indigenous cultures from as far flung a destination as Mongolia right down to South America, and taking in animistic based cultures such as the First Nations people of North America and the Original people of Australia.
The seeking of ancient knowledge over these last 20-30 years has brought about the sharing of much wisdom and practices from these peoples and has enriched our own experience of the sacred in the West.
This has been a beautiful experience for all concerned and indeed has affected the collective consciousness in many ways. However as a young seeker on the path it has also given rise to an idea within myself namely ‘Why is it that so many people feel compelled to travel to exotic far off lands in search of a mystical and profound experience when we have the same energy and magic in our own environment?”
Maybe I have answered my own question right there. It is seemingly in human nature to want to explore the unknown and to travel and flood the senses with the new and exciting. As a seasoned traveller myself, and a person who spent 15 years living abroad in the Middle East, India and the Mediterranean, I can certainly attest to the appeal of those experiences.
And yet much as I loved all of that I always felt that there was something missing, that lack of the familiar– be it the language barrier, the foreign religions and their ways, or just simply the lack of a recognisable season change. More importantly though I now realise that I missed the connection to my own roots, to my own ancestry, to the land of my ancestors and to the inhabitants of those lands – the plants, the trees and animals.
In this new blog series I intend to share with you my recent journey of the last year, after myself and my wife moved back to the UK to Wales or Cymru and how this has helped shape and clarify a new energy that we feel is at work not just within ourselves but many people we meet.
To begin with though and to give some wider context to this journey I would like to focus on something incredible that I have perceived happening since we returned to these ancient and ancestral homelands.
It is my belief that we are now experiencing a new wave of shamanism reaching out and landing on these shores. These ancient shores that encircle the magical lands of Eiru, Kernow, Alba, Breton and of course Albion. The so-called Celtic lands.
But where is the new wave of shamanism coming from and why is it coming now? These are the important questions we need to ask ourselves. The last 10 years but perhaps even more significantly the last 2-3 years has seen an explosion in interest in the psycho-active plants of central and south America. Ayahuasca has literally thrust itself into the psyche of the western mind, and as such has had a very powerful effect on those that have experienced its complicated depths and witnessed its incredible capacity to heal and re-ignite our own innate senses of love and creativity.
It is recognised by many Curenderos, Vegatilismos and medicine men of the Americas as being a plant that opens people up to the possibilities of other members of the plant and fungi world. It is in many ways a gateway teacher that for those that hear the calling to go deeper into that world and explore the magic and infinite qualities of nature itself. Through eliciting a deeper understanding of plants, trees, mushrooms and the very essence of what binds all of these beings together we can find right outside of our own front doors an almost hidden and often ignored world in our gardens, parks, meadows, hedges, mountains and valleys.
As this wave of plant medicine has broken over these shores and indeed those of other western cultures as well, it has brought with it many friends such as Grandfather Peyote,– the Deer Medicine of the Huichole people, the oldest known psychedelic tribe on the planet and Huachuma or San Pedro another sacred cactus medicine. We have also been introduced in more recent times to the magic of Cacao as used extensively and ceremonially by the ancient Mayans and also to the wondrous sacred root of the Bwiti people of Gabon, namely Iboga.
All of these plants have helped to not only heal many people but seemingly have also triggered in many of us myself included - a deep and yearning desire to learn about the sacred plants of our own lands. We often hear at our own events and ceremonies people talking about the use of our own sacred teacher plant, the psilocybin mushroom and why there is no obvious cultural usage of this fungi in the same way that we see in other plant based shamanic cultures of the world. It is a question I have asked myself many times and in many ways has fuelled this journey of discovery that I now found myself on.
Ayahuasca itself I feel though is also on its own voyage of discovery. It has now decided to leave its own homeland deep in the Amazonian jungle and reach out to us in the West – but why? Is it simply exploring this amazing world we call Earth and which is our home in the same way that we humans do? Taking itself to new and far off lands in an attempt to evolve itself through having its own new and unique experiences. Quite possibly. However, it seems to me that this plant has arrived with a much greater mission in mind as well.
Along with many of the other entheogenic teacher plants like Peyote & Iboga its very existence is threatened on this planet by the actions of humans but more particularly those of the Western capitalist culture that have adopted a position of arrogance and greed in its consumerist outlook. The progressive felling of trees in the Amazon for rubber and other commodities or the mining in the Wirikuta or the over exploitation and smuggling out of Gabon of Iboga for sale on the black market or for sale to pharma companies have now meant that all of these plants, these beings are facing the very real possibility of extinction. These plants represent the material form of much higher forms of consciousness that we in the West are now only begging to comprehend but that indigenous peoples have known about for millennia.
So, these old and wise multidimensional beings are reaching out to the very people that are threatening their existence and offering us peace and a chance for a new way of doing things. This is the nature of plants, to give of themselves freely to humans despite the incredible atrocities we have committed against them and the lands on which they grow.
Corporate greed has reached a new level in the West and is now bringing this world to the edge of catastrophe and disaster. A situation that desperately needs to be averted, if we as a species are to prevail.
Through opening us up to the wider potential of plants and nature in general, Ayahuasca seemingly intends to reconnect us in the West back to our hearts, and the deeper consciousness that resides in us all. A reconnection - which if made forcefully and powerfully enough, has the potential I believe, to change us from this course we are currently on. A path of greed and destruction that we have been on since the rise of organised dogma and religion through the disguise of the Christian Church.
In his book ‘The Real Middle Earth – Magic & Mystery in the Dark Ages’ Brian Bates, shamanic researcher and author of the excellent ‘Way of the Wyrd’ points out just how deep the Churches fear of plants goes;
“In ancient Europe the church authorities preached and legislated against the practice of using plants in a magical way for it seemed to draw on an Otherwordly power that was outside the churches jurisdiction; “Let no one enchant herbs!” said St Eligius, in AD 640. His plea fell on death ears. For the practice of magical medicine seemed to thrive. But certainly the Christian concern about the enchantment of healing plants being somehow a threat to their missionary activity was well founded. For in pre-Christian times a person’s health was considered to be, literally, a blessing.
We can see now in this statement from St Eligius the deep-rooted fear that the church had of the natural world, and how it had the potential to undermine their own agenda. As the strength of the church grew in Europe so the power of plants diminished in the minds of the masses to the point that we now found ourselves at, where Governments the world over consistently pass new laws that seek to further abuse nature and its resources, and in doing so seek to gain ever increasing wealth and power.
It is due to the rise of the modern Christian Church and the cultures that invaded these lands of Britain and Ireland that through their chosen messengers such as the Romans & the Normans that we were set on a path that decreed that those people who understood and worked with the deeper healing and magical qualities of all plants were heretics or worse,– Witches! People that needed to be rooted out and burned at the stake as a lesson to all who questioned Gods will as translated to us through the medium of the all knowing, all powerful Christian dogma. Thankfully that energy seems to be abating somewhat in the world and we can now see the beginnings of the healing process that needs to happen around this.
But it has left deep and lasting scars. One of them is our almost complete disconnect from nature and the plants. It is this disconnect that has helped fuel the Western Capitalist Consumer model or the Death Economy as John Perkins calls it.
Fast-forwarding 1500 years and to bring this 1st part of my journey to a close it is at this place I now find myself. At the beginning of a new journey. Seeking the ancient knowledge of these lands and of its plants I began looking into our own ancient cultures to see what I could find that in any way resembled those of other indigenous cultures where plants and herb lore are very much at the centre of their lives rather than sidelined and relegated to a position of ‘alternative’ medicine.
As we know the West is generally consumed by a lust for manufactured products. Food that is barely fit to be called that, filled as it is with low quality synthetic products, or hybridized versions of plants that are produced for mass consumption but with their nutritional and healing qualities all but removed. Another example of our complete disregard for the almost forgotten link to our own past and heritage.
For what I have found in these early days of my own exploration is that this knowledge is still there in our culture, almost hidden as it is in pathways and practices often derided by those in the mainstream or those in positions of power.
The ability to go outside one's door and find medicine in our gardens and woods which can heal us is of course a threat to these people, for it would surely undermine many of the principles on which our ‘modern’ society is built, with its evangelical but corrupted Christian foundation. We devolve responsibility outside of our selves, even our own health, which we place almost without question in the hands of doctors and professionals. Many of whom (quite possibly unknowingly) operate at the behest of the corporate pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest to keep us sick and dependant on them. The last thing their business model needs is a population that has woken up to the fact that many of their illnesses and woes can be cured by themselves either through the use of traditional herbal medicine or indeed using the deeper knowledge and possibilities of self transformation that shamanism brings.
By looking to the ways of the ancestors, the path of the Druids, the Celtic and pre-Celtic shamans and the Wiccans and Pagans we can see the scattered remnants of that almost forgotten knowledge, and yet there still remains the guardians and wisdom keepers of that knowledge and of these lands from whom we can relearn, reignite and re-establish those old ways. Or as the Shuar put it ‘To dream into being a new world” This is my dream and increasingly I hear it to be the dream of others too. A dream that places the land, the plants, the trees at its core and will allow us to reconnect fully with ourselves and our ancestors and in doing so help fuel the global healing that is needed if we are to survive the coming age, fraught as it is with right wing political agendas and global corruption. We as a race need to go through a deep healing process and as has always been the case, the plants and mushrooms are taking us by the hand and showing us the way.
They have been here long before us and can survive without as, but without them we are finished. Everyday, we breathe tree medicine into our lungs and that medicine sustains us and keeps us alive.
For now I want to leave you with the thought of how reaching out from these ancient and magical isles to our global shamanic brothers and sisters, the medicine men and women of our North, Central & South America can help us reignite a revival of our own lost shamanic heritage. By utilising the practices and knowledge of those cultures while letting go of the foreign cultural imprints that come with them we can perhaps see a way to use that wisdom to reconnect us to that past and find a way to amplify the Druidic, Celtic, Norse & Anglo-Saxon shamanic vestiges we have in order that each of us can become our own shamans, with our own connections to the mysteries of our lands and our direct ancestors and the plants and fungi that inhabit them.
In doing so I see a pathway to a new type of shamanism in these lands. A shamanic form that embraces the ideas of other lands but that can help rebuild our own shamanic culture. One that connects us to our own cosmology, our own ascended masters and guides such as the Tuatha De Dannan or the Shining Ones of Erin and of course to our plants and trees. Perhaps in this we will find a deeper connection within ourselves by finding a new way to relate to the land and the peoples by which we are surrounded, and through this we will find the strength to change the system and society in which we currently live that places so little emphasis on the sacred.
So, I invite you to join me on this journey as we delve ever deeper into the ancient ways to find the knowledge that can be brought forwards into this moment for personal and collective transformation.
is a 2-day shamanic ceremony held in London in that explores the ideas of this blog and future posts. By reuniting the ancient shamanic ways of these lands with those of our global brothers and sisters we have the potential to embrace this new energy being brought to our shores and transform it into something deeply personal. It can connect us back to ourselves by drawing on the strength and energy of the land around us, the plants and beings that live in the land that our ancestors so clearly felt a deep connection to. This event will draw together shamans and medicine people from all over the UK and the rest of the world to send out a powerful intention that this reconnection can be honoured in order to bring about change in our world at this moment in time and in our own evolution.
Long ago and far away in space-time ice covered the Earth. It would feel strange to us now, we who live in a warm time when snow only comes for a few weeks in winter, if at all.
In northerly climes like Scandinavia, parts of Russia, Canada and America, snow may come for several months over the winter but we have to go up into the Arctic to find snow all year round, and those lands are shrinking every year now because of global warming and climate change. We watch wonderful programmes like Frozen Planet but we can not imagine living there. If we really stretch the imagination, our mind tells us that such an existence would be terrible, frightening, cold and miserable.
We admire the explorers and scientists who go there for many months at a time but we do not believe the frozen wastes to be places to live, to make great art and philosophy; we consider them to be too bitterly cold to event think. Our ancestors didn’t share these feelings as this beautiful carving shows.
This sculpture, known as the Swimming Reindeer, was created at least 13,000 years ago, that’s 3,000 years before the end of the last Ice Age. It’s carved from the tip of a mammoth tusk and shows a male and female reindeer with their heads raised and their legs extended. The depiction is remarkable in it’s naturalism; it conveys movement and displays the hunter’s knowledge of anatomy. It was discovered in 1866 as two separate pieces and acquired by the British museum in 1887.
Our ancestors were not savages as was the perceived academic wisdom until quite recently; they were people of amazing culture who must, from the intricacy of such art as the Swimming Reindeer, have had spiritual depth.
Before farming, the land was owned by none; it was known to be for all, all life belonged to the Earth, including all animal, plant and mineral life as well as humans. The concept of ‘ownership’ began with farming. Hunting and gathering was the ancestral way of life for humans for most of the six million years of our evolution from apes.
Reindeer have been around for a long time and were native to our land long ago and they are now coming back through the wild herds in the Cairngorms. The earliest fossil deer were found in Europe and date from about 34 million years ago. The exquisite Lascaux cave painting is of an Irish Elk, who first appears about 400,000 years ago, that’s in the time of archaic Homo sapien ancestors. The Lascaux painting is quite stunning and shows how very well our ancestors knew deer. It was painted on the wall of a cave, far underground and hidden from everyday sight. To see it you made a journey into the womb of the Earth, in darkness, then with the flame lights lit, you would stand in presence of the Deer Spirit, Elen.
Elen of the Ways is the ancestral antlered goddess of Britain. Elen was the goddess who led us, through the reindeer herds, to safe living in both summer and winter. The beasts of the goddess still know the old paths that carry the energies of the land; these pathways are the threads that hold the balance and cycles of nature. Learning Elen’s ways will help you learn about all the life we share on this beautiful planet. Everything changes and only so does everything remain. Elen’s ways lead us back to knowing this and to living it. The art of letting go, of not knowing best, of being full of expectancy but without expectation….this is walking the deer trods.
Excerpts from Elen Of The Ways by Elen Sentier.
Elen will be sharing the deeper wisdom of Elen Of The Ways with us at The Shamanic Lands in June.