Thursday, December 31, 2009

Full Moon Superstitions Ireland

There is a few myths and superstitions regarding the full moon in Ireland. One of the most unusual is that Irish people did not see a mans face or a crab on the moon, but they saw a Hare, a Hare carrying an egg. To see the hare turn your head to the left and use your imagination to see the two ears at the top.
It was considered lucky to see the full moon over your right shoulder and it was bad luck to see it over your left. It is also considered lucky to get a haircut on a full moon, better luck still to get it cut in the light of the full moon. But the worst luck of all was the for light of the full moon to land on your face as you slept, as you would not see the year out,
Another superstition was for people to go outside an look at the full moon reflected through a mirror, if you stared long and hard enough then you would see someone that will be connected with your future.
The Celtic Goddess of the moon was Rhiannon she was a beautiful woman who rode a white horse through the sky's.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Itchy noses, ears, elbows and itchy palms, Irish superstitions

There is an a lot of strange superstitions in Ireland, one is itchy noses, if your nose gets itchy it is a sure sign that  you are going to have an argument with someone. If you don't want to argue with someone, to counteract the itchy nose you have to gently punch them and then shake hands with them.
If you get a burning itch on your right earlobe then someone is saying something nasty about you. If your left earlobe is itchy then someone is saying something nice about you. If you want to shut the person that is being nasty to you behind your back then lick your thumb and for finger and rub your earlobe with them, it will make them bite their tongue. 
If you Elbow gets itchy then you will be sleeping in a different bed.
Lastly itchy Palms, if your right hand is itchy then you are going have to pay out money that day, alas there is nothing to counteract this. If you left palm is itchy then you are going to get some money, but you will only get this money if spit in your palm.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Moving house superstition.

There is a tradition in the west of Ireland of moving house only on a Friday, it is considered very unlucky to move into a house on any other day. I know of situations where someone who has bought a house, and only gets the keys on a Saturday will wait until the next Friday to move. Obviously Friday the 13th is not a good day to move in either.
Also it if you are building a new house you are only supposed to break ground on a Friday and in the foundation of the building of the building some money must be buried to make sure that the owners will never run out of money.
I moved house last weekend and even though I am not a superstitious person I followed tradition and moved in on a Friday. The picture is not my home but was part of the apartments I lived before my move. These were old horse stables that were restored and turned into apartments, none of the stonework was altered and the front doors to the apartments were about 1.6m or 5.5 feet, which meant that you would bang your head if you were not careful.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Banshee, the harbinger of death

The Banshee from the  Irish, Bean (woman, pronounced ban) Sidhe (faerie,),  is  an ancient spirit who is said to foretell the death of certain Irish families, the O'Neills, O'Briens, O'Connors, O'Gradys and the Kavanaghs, through intermarriage the list of families has been greatly extended over the centuries. She can take many forms from that of a beautiful woman to a withered old hag and can be seen wearing a cloak or rotted funereal clothing. She is sometimes compared to the Morrigan the Goddess of death and war, as she can sometimes be seen washing the blood from the the armour of those about to die.

Mostly she is not seen but rather heard, her keening warning a family that someone is about to die. This keening takes different forms, from beautiful faerie singing to a piercing mournful wailing that is carried on the wind. In different parts of the country the Banshee can appear in different locations from a bridge or the cover of a wooded area. In my part of Galway I was told that the Banshee appears on a bridge when someone from the village is about to die. Before the death of someone of greatness, it has been writen that several Banshees often gather together.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Púca or Pooka / Puka / Phouka

The Púca are one of the most feared and mischievous of all the faeries in Ireland. It is a changeling who appears in many guises, the most comman a sleek black horse with amber eyes. With this form it can cover huge areas of land as it charges through the countryside in the dark of night breaking fences scattering and scaring farm animals and trampling crops. It can also take the form of a huge Eagle, a giant hairy Bogeyman or a large hairy goat. Sometimes it takes the form of like that of some of the smaller faeries, from all accounts similar to a deformed hobbit like creature. In any of these forms the Púca can speak with humans, think Mr Ed the talking horse...but evil.
If there are any late night travelers on the road the Púca picks them up as it thunders down the road and and throws them into drains and into bogs. Just by looking at Chickens he can stop them laying eggs and stop cows from giving milk. It has the power of speech and will often call to peoples houses before it starts its nightly runs to demand company, if denied he will destroy all your property. Sometimes they are not evil a Púca will sometimes come to the aid of people and other times have come to their aid to warn them of something that might befall them.
The only time that a mortal has been able to ride one of them and tame it was the the High King of Ireland Brian Boru. He got the Púca to agree never to attack a mortal, unless they were drunk and on evil business. This did not last for many years and they still roam the land.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Féar Gortha or Hungry Grass and Fear Gurtha or Hungry man.

Féar Gortha (fear gur-tha) or Hungry Grass origans can be traced back to the Irish famine, its a  patch of cursed grass that make a person hungry once they cross it. Oral traditions say that these patches of ground were created when a famine victim died on that spot. but it was only the victims that did not recieve absolution before they died, then faeries then plant the hungry grass on this spot.
It is not just that it makes you hungry as you step on it, but if you did not get something to eat immediately you could drop dead on the spot and it doesn't make a difference if you had just eaten a meal.
Then there is the Fear Gurtha (far Gur tha) the Hungry man, he travels the road with the disguise of a tramp with rags for clothing begging for alms. If you were kind and gave him alms then you will be lucky for the rest of your life. On the otherhand if you ignored him, you were guaranteed to suffer some disaster and would spend the rest of your life in poverty and hunger. There is a tradition when eating outside in certain parts of the country of sprinkling crumbs on the grass after eating, to show the faeries that you are not a mean person.
So when a sign says Keep of the Grass, there might be a reason in Ireland.

Dullahan, the Faerie Headless horseman

The Dullahan is one of the most terrifying of Irish faerie creatures, a headless cloaked man riding his large black steed at night, using a human spine as a whip to urge his horse along the road. He holds his slightly rotten glowing head in his hand and can see clearly at night through its black eyes with supernatural eyesight. He was once the fertility God Crom Dubh, who demanded human sacrifice of his followers. With the coming of Christianity people stopped worshipping Crom Dubh, but he still has a demand for souls every year so he rides out at night along country roads usually in the months of Autumn and November. Sometimes he rides out at night in a funeral carriage with wheel spokes made from human thigh bones and lanterns made of skulls. The carriage is driven by a team of six black steeds that move so fast that they cause sparks to fly from their feet as the charge along and cause bushes and trees to catch fire.
Unlike the Banshee he is not particular what family you are from and he as rides out to claim a victim , the grinning skull can be heard calling out the name of his victim as he races along the road. When he gets to the house of the victim he stops at the front door and he roars out the name and the person dies on the spot. There is no protection from the Dullahan, if you see him as he thunders along the road he throws blood at people or maybe blind them in one eye, the only thing that he is afraid of is gold.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Changelings, faeries stealing infants and baby Killers

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild 
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

For anyone that has seen the start of the film 300, one thing sticks in the mind of most people is the beginning, where the helpless naked baby is being inspected, while the narrator tells us of the Spartans strife for perfection and we then see all the skeletal remains of the dead babies who never made it. Most people talked about how cruel this was and how it was a tough if not an evil race of people that could do such a thing, yet in Europe a lot worse things happened to infants.
Ireland like many in many places in Europe had a terrible fear of Faeries or bad spirits stealing  new born babies from cribs at night time and leaving a changeling in its place. There were two reasons for theft of babies, first was to bring new blood to prevent too much inbreeding in the faerie population. The second was probably the more common reason was that faeries had great difficulty with childbirth and faerie babies often died or were deformed, these were either replacements for the faeries or used as servants in the otherworld.
When a mortal child was born in Ireland it was dangerous to compliment it too much or this could put it in the faeries power, if a child was praised a blessing had to be said afterwards to counteract any power that the faeries might have. Also precautions like a mans suit left at the foot of the bed and a cross at the top of the bed would prevent a child being taken. If a child was taken it was replaced by one of three things, first a sickly deformed faerie child, second a senile or older faerie or finally a piece of wood.
Unlike human babies, faerie babies would only eat solids and they had a huge appetite, eating you out of house and home yet its hunger was not satiated, worse still the baby never put on weight. Changeling brought discontent into the house, they cried all the time with a wail that was piercing and nonstop .  These babies were physically deformed or not as mentally quick as other babies and generally do lot live for many years. Sometimes an inanimate object was placed in the crib, usually a piece of wood that had a magic spell put on it, this only lasted weeks. Senile faeries that were left in the place of infants also disrupted the household and lived out the remainder of their lives in relative comfort being pampered by their human carers (faeries were the ones to invent nursing homes) .

To test if a baby was a faerie there were a few things that you could do, each more gruesome than the next. A baby would be thrown onto the fire, if the baby was not a faerie he would be saved by god, if it was a faerie it would reveal its age and escape up the chimney. The picture on the left is of Fourknocks pasage grave county Meath, there is a strong oral history in the area of babies being burned in here in the past, because they were changelings.
Another way was to put the child into boiling water with the same results expected as the fire, with the faerie escaping up the chimney. Some infants were left in a manure pit overnight, if they survived the morning they were not faeries! One of the ones that I thought was the cruelest and was common in Ireland was foxglove poisoning which left the infant with severe stomach pains and took some for it to die. Leaving the worst till last, what I thought was the cruelest thing that could happen to an infant was a red hot poker up the anus, similar to the fire if the child was a faerie its insides would boil on the inside and the faerie spirit would disappear up the chimney, if not a faerie the child was spared.
It is obviously a form of Eugenics killing of a sickly or handicapped child that would take up a lot of time of the family, this practice was more common in the rural regions, were where everyone was needed to work the farm.  There are other cases of older people and animals being taken by the faeries, these will  follow again.
Credit for some of this information comes from a colleague Sean, thanks.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fomorians the third wave of Mythological people to Ireland

Pictured is the Fomorian Stronghold of Tory Island, It is on the left with the two peaks in the front the Islands of Innisboffin and Innisdooey.
The Fomorians were a giant ugly misshapen demonic race of semi divine beings that seemed to represent all that was evil and bad in Mythological Ireland. Their origin is from the sea from Scandinavia, with mentions in some ancient texts of them living in Norway. Their Viking origan is probably why they are represented as evil, as they were also described as a type of pirate, especially with all the Viking attacks on the people of Ireland. There were two exceptions however Elathan who was a moon God and his son Bres who became King of a later invasion the Tuatha de Danann, both of these were supposed to be beautiful examples of man.
Their first King Cichol of the withered foot had his stronghold on an Island off the most northerly west coast off Ireland on Tory Island. Until the arrival of the Partholanians they lived of fish as there was little to hunt, but they benefited from the arrival of the farmers and land shapers and ventured onto the main land. They still used Tory as their strongholds from here they fought their battles and where they retreated after loosing their battle with the Partholanians. After the disease had wiped out the Partholanians they controlled Ireland and used the plough and oxen and lived off the land until the next arrivals, where  extracted taxes and were in power until the Tuatha Dé Danann defeated them in Battle. There will be more stories of their battles etc later

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween tradtions, their history rooted in Ireland

Did you know that a lot of the American traditions for Halloween like the carved pumpkin, dressing in costume and calling door to door, were taken from Irish traditions. It died out here, but isnow again returning again due to American influences on TV, the funny thing is that people don't realise that their history.
Halloween was a Celtic festival called Samhain or the feast of the dead, though there is traditions in other cultures celebrating the end of the harvest.
On this night in Celt's believed that the dead walked around amongst the living, to avoid detection Irish people dressed up in costumes of the spirits and faeries so that they would not be carried away to the otherworld. If they were detected they also had the backup of taking the dust from their shoes and throwing it at the spirits. There was a tradition of leaving out gifts of food for the fairies, during Samhain people dressed up called around to neighbours house and got those gifts.
The Jack'o'Lantern has its roots here too, Jack was by all accounts a wicked miserly evil man who was destined for hell. One night he had stolen from his neighbours and making his escape met the Devil on the road. The devil was there to collect his soul, but Jack being cunning managed to trap the devil with a cross so that the Devil lost his power. In order to gain freedom the devil said that Jack would never go to hell and when he died he was not sent to hell, yet he was too evil to go to heaven. The Devil laughed at him and threw an Ember of coal from the fires of hell at him to give him light. Jack placed this into a hollowed out turnip and now wanders the roads of Ireland.
Other stories that have a celtic origin are the headless horseman, the borrowers and swanlake, but stories for another day.
Happy Halloween/Samhain

Friday, October 30, 2009

Second wave of Mythological people to Ireland.

The second wave to Ireland according to the book of Invasions was the Partholanians, they were the first to arrive after the biblical flood according to the monks who wrote down the oral history. The Partholanians were named after their leader Partholon, he was the son of Sera according to all accounts. There are varous histories but it is thought that they had come from the west from the other world, which is thought to be the Land of 'Tir na nOg'(land of the forever young).These again are like the first wave were not mortal men, they were God llike and had magical powers. Partholon arrived with his followers after seven years sailing and landed on the coast of Kenmare in county Kerry.

These people were the shapers of the land of Ireland, when they arrived the landscape was a pretty bare grass-less landscape, but as they landed one plain, three lakes and nine rivers sprung up as if to bless their landing. They cleared off four more plains and more lakes sprang up, they brought farming and cattle to Ireland. They had the first recorded battle in Ireland against the third wave of invaders, they battled the Fomorians and drove them from country.
Also they had the first case of Jealousy and adultry in Ireland, Partholon was out touring his domain and while his wife was gone his wife Delgnat cheated with a servant Topa. After making love they quenched their thirst drinking his Ale from his golden tube, Partholon caught them out by getting the taste from the adulterers mouths on the tube. He flew into a rage and killed the servant and his wifes dog. But his wife laid the blame on him and his absence, saying that it was leaving temptation in front of her like leaving honey in front of a woman, milk in front of a cat, meat infront of a child and not expect them to take advantage.
The Partholanians came to a sad demise when an epidemic broke out and all but one of tribe died from the pestilence, they were living in what is now Tallaght part of Dublin City at the foot of the Wicklow hils. The one Survivor was Tuan who wandered the land untill he was an old man, he then shapeshifted and lived through all of the ages of the invasions so he too was able to tell his history to a monk.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Faerie tree's

There is a fairy tree opposite where I grew up and I have always been fascinated about it as a child growing up. That faerie tree is a Hawthorn tree and there is a tradition in Ireland that a single Hawthorn  growing in the middle of a field is a faerie tree, as the Hawthorn was seen in Celtic mythology as a gateway to the otherworld. I know from the picture that it looks like two trees but its all from the one root.
Irish faeries or 'Sidhe' in Irish, differ completely to the Hollywood vision of Leprechauns, they are not all small, dress in green and are cute with an Oirish accent. There are also many different types of  faerie or little people, some of them are good and some not so good, that and more  I will get into another time.
I was told when I was very small that if I wanted to see the faeries and get their gold I had to go to the tree at midnight. But I was to be very careful, as they are cunning magical beings and would trick me with their magic and I would be left without my pot of gold and could be dragged off to their world in the morning. I remember trying to stay awake until  midnight when I was five or six but I always fell asleep before my parents went to bed, once I did make it to the front door one night in my pyjamas after my parents had gone to bed, but was foiled by the height of the front door latch.  But you just cannot just arrive at the tree at midnight with one hand as long as the other*, you have to come armed with a hand-made three legged stool made from an Ash three. When I was young I had not the means to make myself such a stool and by the time I would have been able to fashion a stool I had gone past the stage of believing in faeries.
It is bad luck to cut down a faerie tree or damage it in any way, it is said that you will never know a good nights sleep again for the rest of your life.  The ill fated DeLorean car company that was the iconic symbol of the 1980's was built in a factory on a plot of ground where a faerie tree was said to stood. The tree was cut down to make way for the factory and folklorists contend that this is the reason for the companies failure, nothing at all to do with its finances or dodgy owner. More recently the Ennis bypass was delayed for a number of years due to a faerie tree on the chosen path of the moterway, the road eventually opened going around the faerie tree. This tree was said to be the meeting point of the faeries when they were on their travels, it was fenced off and the roadworks continued, but the poor faeries still have to cross a motorway.
* 'One hand as long as the other' is a way of saying , coming empty handed, as in if you had something in one hand it would not be as long as the other ;-).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First wave of Mythological people to Ireland.

According to all the ancient Myths there were four waves of people to come to Ireland, the first of these people arrived in Ireland around the time of the Biblical flood, the monks that took down these stories might have made a few edits.  All of these
Bith the son Noe (Noah) did not make it onto the boat with the rest of his family, so Cessair his daughter advised him that they whorship another idol who advised them that they could survive the deluge by sailing to the western edge of the world.

They sailed off in three ships, but only one made it to the west coast of Ireland, forty days before the flood. On board were tree men and fifty women, Bith took sixeen women along with his wife and headed north.
The second man Ladra took sixteen women and died of excess of women withen forty days of landing on Irish soil! He was the first person to be buried on Irish Soil.
Fintan son of Bochra ended up with Cessair and sixteen other wives and fled away  to the west coast to what is now the province of Connaught. Cessair died of a broken heart six days before the flooding of broken heart.
These people were not just ordinary human beings the were semi divine and had magical powers, Fintan went to the mountain of the wave and took the form of a Salmon. He hid during the deluge in a cave and lived for 5500 years, using his magic to shape shift  into other forms like Eagle.