The Tuatha de Danann (pronounced Thoo-a day Du-non) is most accurately translated as the "tribe or people of Danu". Some attribute these words to Sanskrit which, if true, would place their origin the in Indus valley region of modern India/Pakistan, probably at the time when the Dravidians were escaping the invading Aryans (second millennium BCE). I haven't been able to find well-documented evidence to support this conjecture and so, while the conjecture abounds on the internet, I treat it as an interesting theory. Nevertheless, scholars do agree that Danu was the name of their Goddess, most probably Anu/ Anann. Ancient alien proponents would probably attribute the name "Anu" to the proposed alien race of Anunnaki, which again is pure conjecture and without evidence.
The Book of Invasions (Lebor Gebála Érénn compiled c.1150 CE) claims that the Tuatha de Danann came to Ireland riding in "flying ships" surrounded by "dark clouds". They landed on Sliabh an Iarainn (the Iron Mountain) in County Leitrim, where they "brought a darkness over the sun lasting three days". A line in the poem in The Book of Invasions illustrates how the local inhabitants may have felt about the newcomers, “The truth is not known, beneath the sky of stars, whether they were of heaven or earth.” Once again we are probably faced with a mixture of fact, mythology, and fiction because The Book of Invasions was written a few millennium after the arrival of the Tuatha de Danann and obviously the author of the poem is also unsure of what is true and what is legend. (Please note that I do not consider mythology and fiction to be synonymous.)
The Danann are generally described as tall and slim, powerfully built, and with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes and pale skin. They didn't look anything like the inhabitants of the region and whether or not they were gods, they must certainly have look imposing. Not only that, but they arrived with four treasures, the Jewels of Eire:
So what did the Tuatha de Danann do with this technology when they arrived and what happened to them? Stay tuned, that's for the next post.
Follow your path,
I really do enjoy reading history, now that I don't have to memorize names and dates for an exam that is. Celtic paganism is a term that is usually used to refer to the religious beliefs and practices for the Celts, an Iron Age people of Western Europe, from about 500 BCE to 500 CE(1). Druids were part of this pre-christian religious practice.
The Druids left no written record, at least not one that has not been destroyed or is still hidden. The earliest known reference to the druids dates to 200 BCE, although the oldest actual description comes from Julius Caesar, when he was still a field commander, in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (50s BCE). The Druids were suppressed in the 1st century CE by the Roman government under the emperors Tiberius and Claudius after the Roman invasion of Gaul, and they disappeared from the written record by the 2nd century.
Unfortunately most of what we know about Celtic paganism and the Druids comes from two potentially unreliable and biased sources. First, we have the descriptions of the Celts and Druids as written by their conquering enemies, the Romans. Second, we have Celtic beliefs and practices that found their way into the local Catholic church. This happened, in part, through the conscious decisions of Catholic priests to make their religion more attractive to the local populace by incorporation local beliefs and practices into the new faith. It also occurred when Celts followed the outward practices of the new, imposed religion, while secretly retaining their own beliefs. Both of these effects can be seen in the incorporation of Brigid into the new religion.
Brigid, the "exalted one", was a goddess of pre-christian Ireland. She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann (2). Some argue that that Brigid is a continuation of the Indo-European dawn goddess. She is associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft. The christian Saint Brigid shares many of the goddess's attributes and her feast day was originally the pagan festival Imbolc, which I still celebrate and which marks the beginning of spring. Thus a pagan goddess became a christian saint. Unfortunately the power, majesty, and significance of the divine feminine were lost when the Goddess Brigid was demoted to the Saint Brigid.
With faith in the Old Ways,
(1) I use BCE to mean "Before the Common Era" and "CE" to refer to the "Common Era". Unfortunately this designation still relies on the zero year which divides BCE from CE. To me the zero year is simply a division where nothing particular important happened.
(2) This is probably where we will begin with the next blog post as we start to explore the Goddess and Gods of the Celts.
I am frequently asked if one has to have Irish ancestry to practice the Old Celtic Religion or Celtic or Druid shamanism. I have two answer to that question. First, your ancestry doesn't determine or control the spiritual path to which you are called. We have all lived many lives and lived in many places so our current ancestry is just one of a multitude of ancestries that we have. The eternal spirit within each of us has experienced all of those lives, blood lines, places and times and so we may naturally feel an affinity to a path that differs from our current blood line. For example, your current blood line may be found far from Celtic lands but if you lived many past lives in the Celtic world then you may feel a soul call to that spiritual path.
My second answer to that questions is that we often underestimate the extent of the Celtic expansion and the degree to which we may have a blood line that is colored with Celtic blood. The Celtic world was not located in just Ireland, Wales and Scotland. In fact, those countries were just the far Northwestern reaches of the Celtic expansion as shown on this map.
So guess what, even if you don't like my first answer above (and I really think that it is a better answer to the question) then if you look at the map above and see any of your ancestral lands colored then it is likely that your blood has a Celtic taint. We don't often think or Spain and Portugal as Celtic countries. However, a modern example of this coloring is found in the album released by The Chieftains (an Irish/Celtic band) that they recorded with musicians from Northern Spain. They felt such an affinity and connection with the music of Northern Spain and parts of Latin American that they recorded the album Santiago.
A significant part of Europe was dominated by Celts in the times before the Roman, Germanic and Slavic expansions into what is now Northern and Western Europe. This Celtic expansion has left behind a legacy of Celtic cultural traits, artifacts, art, and language. The territories in north-western Iberia, particularly Galicia and northern Portugal and Asturias have historically been referred to as Gallaecia. The six remaining territories that are still considered to be Celtic nations today (not in the legal or political sense) are Brittany (Breizh), Cornwall (Kernow), Wales (Cymru), Scotland (Alba), Ireland (Éire), and the Isle of Man (Mannin). In each of these "nations" a Celtic language is either still spoken or was spoken into modern times and many of the Celtic traditions still remain.
Welcome to the Celtic world,
Click to read more about the Gundestrup cauldron.
The last of the nine Norse worlds that we are going to look at are Niflheim, NIF-el-hame or World of Fog, and Muspelheim, The World of Múspell. Niflheim is the land of primordial darkness, cold, mist, and ice and is the opposite cosmological principle of Muspelheim, the world of fire and heat.
According to Sturluson the first being, the giant Ymir, was born when ice from Niflheim and fire from Muspelheim met in the middle of Ginnungagap, the abyss that had formerly separated them. Unfortunately Sturluson is the only one to mention Niflheim and it is not found in earlier Norse writings. What is found in the earlier poems is "Niflhel" which is probably an emblishment of "Hel" the world of the dead. I have not visited Niflheim so I can't tell you if it really exists or it is a fiction created by Sturlson.
Like Niflheim, Muspelheim is only recorded in Surluson's Prose Edda. The image the I see in my mind when I think of Muspelheim is the true land of fire and brimstone, a place of burning sulfur. The word and the idea that Muspelheim denotes most likely goes back to the Proto-Germanic period because cognates of Múspell can be found in Old High German and Old Saxon. Its oldest meaning seems to have been “end of the world through fire.” In pre-Surluson Old Norse poetry, the word seems to refer to a giant who leads his people or sons into battle against the gods during Ragnarok. Thus Muspelheim may represent an event as much as it represents a place.
In Norse cosmology it appears that time is more circular than linear. Ragnarok, The Doom of the Gods, is the name the pre-christian Norse gave to the end of their mythical cycle, during which the cosmos is destroyed and is subsequently re-created. Thus destruction is not permanent but rather the end is also a new beginning. Something that is good for us to remember.
I hope that you have enjoyed this series of posts. In previous posts we worked through core shamanism and Andean shamanism. Note that these two links take you back to the first post in each sequence and if you want to read the sequence then you will have to start at the bottom and work up to get them in chronological order. In my next series of posts we will explore the Celtic world and Celtic shamanism . . . the place where I feel most at home.
Thanks for reading,
Helheim, pronounced HELL-hame, is the world of the goddess Hel and is the second of the lower world in Norse cosmology that we are going to visit. Helheim is also known as “Hel” and is the general name for the underworld where the dead dwell. The modern tendency to think of Valhalla and Hel as radically different places is unwarranted when one turns to the older and more reliable sources. It appears that this distinction may be due to the writing of the Icelandic Christian scholar Snorri Sturluson (13th Century) who wrote about Norse mythology long after Iceland had been christianized.
The word “Hel” means hidden or concealed and thus refers to the invisible nature of the realm and also the feeling of absence or longing felt by the living for those who have died. Unlike the christian hell, a place of punishment for sinner, the Norse Hel is a place for all. Everyone goes to Hel when they die. It is not a place where one is sent for punishment after judgment. Consequently one’s actions in life have little to nothing to do with one’s lot thereafter.
The story of the god Hermod's journey to Hel is reminiscent of a prototypical shamanic journey into the lower world. Hermond departed from Asgard on Odin's horse Sleipnir. He descended down the trunk of Yggdrasil, the world tree, into the lower worlds. This is one of the most common ways in core shamanism to descend into the lower worlds. He rode through deep valleys, so pitch-black he could not see the way, for nine nights. Finally, he came to a river, Gjöll, Loud Noise, which was spanned by a bridge named Gjallarbrú, Bridge over Gjöll, The giantess, Móðguðr, Furious Battle, stood watch on the bridge. She wanted to know why Hermod wanted to cross. It must have been obvious from his appearance that he was not one of the dead. He answered that he was going to look after Baldr who had died. This response must have been satisfactory because the guardian of the bridge let him cross. She even told him that he would find Hel downwards and northwards from the bridge. When Hermod arrived at Hel he jumped over the fence that surrounds it, I guess he was too excited to look for the gate, and made his way toward the hall of Hel (the goddess), where he found Baldr sitting in the seat of honor.
Some Norse scholars believe that the goddess Hel is a literary invention. She is generally presented as being rather greedy and indifferent to the concerns of both the living and the dead, her personality is little-developed in what survives of Old Norse literature, and she is mentioned only in passing. According to the Icelandic scholar Sturluson (13th Century), she’s the daughter of Loki and the giantess Angrboða, Anguish-boding. Some scholars feel that he invented her genealogy because it is not found in the surviving Old Norse literature.
I worry less about genealogy and personalities and more about the world Hel than the goddess with the same name. That because Hel is the place that I visit on shamanic journeys when I want to converse with my ancestors. Every morning when I do my shamanic invocation and call upon my ancestors I envision them in Hel (not the christian hell) enjoying the camaraderie and telling stores of their experiences, probably greatly embellished, in Midgard. I have found Hel to be a happy place and one that I enjoy visiting. I heartily recommend it for shamanic journeys if you want to visit with ancestors.
Find peace in Hel,
In Roman times the urbani were the urban folk, they lived in the cities. The pagani on the other hand were rural and village people. The urbani enjoyed the luxuries of Rome, the Roman night life, the spectacles at the Coliseum and the Roman bathhouses. The pagani enjoyed night life as well, the movement of the star through the heavens, the cycles of nature, and getting their hands dirty.
Very few of us today live on farms or even in rural communities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 80.7 percent of the American population lived in urban areas in 2010. That means that a majority of us are urbani, if you base the classification based on where we live. However, I don’t think that definition is appropriate today.
One of the other factors that differentiated the urbani from the pagani in Roman times was the adoption of the new book religion. You remember, Christianity (or maybe more appropriately Paulianity). In fact the word “pagan” is now used most frequently to describe those who are outside or, who don’t ascribe to, a book religion. Thus, even if you live in an urban area, if your spiritual path takes you towards nature you are probably a pagani.
The pagani lived and worked in nature. They practiced nature-based, polytheistic religions, and celebrated the cycles of the year. While spiritual practices today are probably the best witness of whether we are urbani or pagani it is still true that they lived close to nature. Here is a little quiz to see how close you are to nature and if that closeness might be why you describe yourself as a pagani.
So, how close to the natural world are you . . .
Here are a few resources that you might enjoy:
Moon phase calendar
Sky chart (Free and printable)
Here are a few more pagani things to look forward to in August (I’ll try to remember to post September at the end of the month, remind me if I forget):
So, are you pagani or urbani? I suppose that it depends of your definition of the words. I’m an urban pagani by both spiritual path and nature practices. I happily follow the pagani path in a metropolitan area of about 250,000 people and I can’t imagine living any other way. I go for a forest walk every day, I watch the stars and night and I get up before dawn so that I can greet Father Sky (Intitayta) and Mother Earth (pachamama) every day at sunrise, and I worship in a grove of trees on Friday nights. But I also enjoy the symphony and opera.
May the goddess and god smile upon you on your path.
PS: I decided that I would probably forget to post September so here is the rest of the year:
We started our exploration of Nordic cosmology by first visiting the upper worlds and then the middle world were we live. Now its time to journey to the under worlds. When we take shamanic journeys we chose the world that we want to visit. There are five worlds or levels below the middle world in Nordic cosmology. The first of those is Jotunheim, pronounced “YO-tun-hame" the World of the Giants.
Jotunheim is one of the utangard or beyond-the-fence worlds. Being outside the fence, outside the settled and civilized world, it is chaotic, anarchic, and wild. The English word "wilderness" comes from Old English, a Germanic language. The word formed from the roots wild-deor-ness literally means “the place of self-willed beasts.” One would therefore expect the cosmological Jotunheim of the Utgard to be a vast, mighty wilderness that surrounds a more civilized world.
This dwelling-places of the giants is described in the Eddas as deep, dark forests with mountain peaks where winter never eases its grip. It appears as an inhospitable and grim landscapes. I visit Jotunheim in shamanic journeys when I need to completely disconnect from midgard and hibernate for a spell. I also visit there when I need the help or counsel that only giants can give. Jotenheim is a cold and desolate place, but it is also beautiful wilderness (remember the meaning). Most of all, I have noted that after I visit Jotenheim I return feeling more self-willed, and that is a feeling that can sometimes be useful.
May you find the power to do what needs to be done and to say what needs to be said,
Shinrin-yoku means "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." The practice was developed in Japan during the 1980s and it has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. The idea is really simple. Going for a relaxing walk in a natural area provides calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits.
You probably already knew this. My wife and I go for a forest walk almost every evening, all year long because it always feels so incredibly good. Over the past few decades scientific studies have demonstrated what many of us intuitively knew. For example, many trees give off organic compounds that support our “NK” (natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system's way of fighting cancer. I'll place a few articles on Shinrin-Yoku and health in the resources section.
The scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
Take a walk in nature this weekend and see how you feel.
Welcome to Midgard. If you have been reading my blog for a while then you will probably remember that after introducing shamanism and Andean Shamanism I started a journey through Norse cosmology. We have been through the upper world so now its time to visit Midgard. Actually we don’t need to visit it because that’s where you and I reside.
You might think of Midgard (Old Norse Miðgarðr) as its near English equivalent, Midyard. I hope that helps you envision a large and spacious field encompassed by a fence, a fenced in yard. The name “Midgard”, which may be better translated as Middle Enclosure has two meanings.
The first meaning of the word refers to civilization’s position, our position, in the middle of an otherwise pretty hostile world. This view is primarily a horizontal view. We are in Midgard, in the center, surrounded by nasty. Cosmologically Midgard surrounded by the uninhabited wilderness of Jotunheim, the world of the often-hostile giants. Midgard is surrounded much in the same way as the continents are surrounded by the ocean, which was, in the ancient Germanic perspective, also teeming with giants. The serpent Jormungand lives in the sea and encircles the terrestrial Midgard and the wilderness at its borders, and Aegir and Ran dwell in the same watery depths and claim the lives of unfortunate seafarers.
The second view is vertical and places Midgard’s below Asgard, the world of the Aesir gods and goddesses, and above the underworld. This vertical axis is represented by the world-tree Yggdrasil, which holds Asgard in its upper branches, Midgard at the base of its trunk, and the underworld down among its roots. We often travel up or down the world tree when we undertake shamanic journeys.
When the gods slew the giant Ymir to form the world they used his different body parts to build the various part of the world. They used his eyebrows to build a fence around Midgard to protect it and us from the giants, Building fences around farms and yards repeats this paradigmatic act. Our fences separate that which is within the fences as innangard and that which is outside the fences as utangard.
During Ragnarok, the destruction of the world at the end of the Germanic mythical cycle, Midgard will sink into the sea, only to rise again, as green and fertile as ever, when the cycle begins again and the creation is repeated.
We are the inhabitants and keepers of Midgard, let us keep it well.
Peace my friends,
As I get ready to start a new academic year I thought that I would ask you to think about the center of your world. To the Pre-Colombian Incas Cuzco was the center of their world, the umbilical of the world. When I was a child my father was involved in highly technical research and we moved every year until I was in high school as has he chased equipment from one side of the country to the other. I remember feeling like there was no one place that I could call home and then one morning I woke up and realized that the Center of My World was where my family was and that it wasn’t place dependent, it was people dependent. I still fee that way. However, if you grew up in one place that one place may be the center of your world.
The One Tree, the World Tree is viewed by some as the center of the world.
Take a few minutes and go outside and slowly turn around. Take in the vista that surrounds you, the earth, the plants and animals, buildings, whatever you find there, and the sky. This is your local world and you are standing in the center of your world. This is the place where you act and where you matter.
My view of the Center of My World has changed a little over the years. It is no longer just where my family is, although they still fill my heart. I have adopted more the Lakota view of mitakue oyasin or “all my relations”. Our energies are all woven together and so we are related to everything in the universe. Taking that more shamanic view of the world and my place in it has changed my relationship with beings in my local world. Now my world doesn't just consist of my family, but every living thing that surrounds me.
I believe that the world around me is alive. Really alive. Obviously the plants and animals are alive and have spirit, but so is the stream, the earth, the rocks, the Blue Ridge Mountains that I hike every week, and the James River where I kayak. All of these are part of my local world. As a shamanic practitioner I feel responsible for the spirits that indwell all that is alive. That doesn’t mean that I don’t use the material resources around me. My bed frame, for example, is made of wood, as is my front door and I wear leather shoes. However, it does mean that when I use any part of nature I make the conscious decision to do so and only after considering the necessity; and I do it with deep respect and thanksgiving.
For example, yesterday I wanted/needed Cedar smoke for a ritual. I went into the forest across the street to an old Cedar tree, sat at its base and we had a little talk. I told the tree what I needed and why and asked permission to gather dead, broken branches from around the base of the tree. Feeling that I had permission, I collected only what I needed, left an offering of corn meal, and returned. [Aside: if you are as old as I am you might remember the old Smothers Brother’s routine with the song, I Talk to the Trees, and yes, I really do talk to the trees and they listen to me.]
May you find peace this day and always in your local world. May the spirits of your world uphold and support you, and may you find oneness with all the surrounds you. May your ancestors and mine guide and direct us, teach us what to do and what to say so that our world is a better place for all living things.
I'm Dr. Dave, an eclectic shaman. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice eclectic shamanism.