Glories of the West: Traditional Irish step-dancing

Source: Step Dancing from 1963 | Forgotten Ireland

Traditional Irish step-dancing as it used to be practiced, before it became “cross-fertilized” with influences from Highland dancing, to ballet, to American clogging and tap – and probably a few more, to boot. Not that “Riverdance“-style Irish step-dancing isn’t absolutely amazing! It is. But I very much like to see old-style, from time to time.


King Arthur? Avalon? Who? What…?
Illustration of King Arthur Receiving Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. N.C. Wyeth, c. 1910.

I had an instructive incident this afternoon, as I was teaching one of my behind-the-wheel students: since the struggle to save the West does not come with a salary, I teach driver’s education to put meat and bread on the table, and otherwise attempt to keep the wolves from the door.

Seeing a Toyota Avalon ahead of us at a stop light, I quipped to my student, “Well, there’s Avalon! I wonder where King Arthur is?” There was a brief silence, followed by a (slightly sheepish, to her credit) “I didn’t get that one!” from my student.

She didn’t get it. An Anglophone high school student, and one with a European last name and apparent ancestral heritage, to boot, didn’t get a reference – and not an obscure one – to the Arthurian legends, one of the most formative legendary and literary cycles in the history of the English-speaking peoples (and significant to French and German-speaking ones, as well). If there is any doubt that our educational system is in serious disarray, this one incident is proof positive, I would confidently assert.

I passed off the episode lightly, for my student’s sake – I’m teaching her to drive a car, not appreciate her own cultural heritage, and there were tasks to accomplish, and traffic and road conditions in need of attention – but it bothered me, and it continues to rankle.

But thinking about it tonight, I realized that from the perspective of the propagandists and ideologues that make up much of our educational establishment, this is an example, not of disarray, but of how well their plan is working. King Arthur should most emphatically not be taught, according to this outlook!

He is not only a member of one of the most despised of all classes (and one of the very few it is permissible – indeed, encouraged – to despise), a “DWEM” (Dead White European Male), but he actually fought against the invasion and subjugation diversity and cultural enrichment of his Romano-British land and people by the Anglo-Saxons. Really fought! With swords and spears and things. And in the process became an icon and an inspiration for defense against immigrant invasion opposition to multiculturalism for centuries thereafter.

How vile! He must have been one of those white supremacists. Oh, wait – the Anglo-Saxons were white, too! And so were the Vikings… and the Normans… and even the French and Spanish, who tried and failed to invade England. Best we just leave British / English history out of the schools entirely, unless we can find ways to convincingly pretend that they weren’t nearly as European as they very clearly and historically were, at least until the last decade or so.

We certainly don’t want to infect any of today’s students of European ancestry with any pride in their heritage, do we? Much less suggest to them, however indirectly, that it might be – perhaps even, ought to be – defended from invaders? Perish the thought!

We are seriously screwed up, and are getting screwed-er up-er, all the time!


Celtic Spirituality Revisited | The Touchstone Archives

Columbanus (543–615) was an Irish monk, originally associated with the abbey at Bangor in modern-day County Down… Three practices from his rule that might benefit the modern church are mortification, simplicity, and moderation.

Source: Celtic Spirituality Revisited: The Touchstone Archives

These are good and apt thoughts, and particularly so for Lent.

It is certainly the case that some of our popular ideas of what constitutes “Celtic Christianity” or “Celtic spirituality” are a bit off from the historic reality. Sometimes, far off. I learned that while studying ancient and medieval Irish history and archaeology at University College, Galway, in 1990! Celtic Christians were not (however appealing the image may be) 4th to 9th century hippies, flower-children or “freaks for Jesus” cruising through the early medieval period in the first-millennium equivalent of a VW Microbus.

However, that is how they’re often portrayed. The author aptly notes,

“a search at a popular online retailer reveals over 900 books for sale on the topic. However, most of these books do not engage with actual Celtic Christian writings or the archaeology of the early medieval period; instead, a few ‘facts’ are used to build an elaborate yet largely fanciful reconstruction of an alternative Christian spirituality. Most of these reconstructions portray the ancient Celtic Christians as creative, peaceful, nature-loving free spirits (the casual reader would be forgiven for assuming that the ancient Celts spent most of their time climbing trees and hugging animals).”

He goes on to observe that this “Celtic Christianity” is “then re-appropriated as a modern alternative for persons disillusioned with mainstream Christianity.” I confess, I have been guilty of a like desire, and even a like re-appropriation, myself, at various times in my own spiritual journey (even post-1990). The reality, however, is rather different: quite a bit more orthodox – and quite a bit more strenuous!

If there is one thing that is characteristic of Celts, it’s that they have historically tended to go at things full-tilt (visualize Iron Age Celtic warriors, their bodies blue with woad and their hair bleached and spiked with lime, howling as they charge naked into battle – or a millennium-and-a-half later, Scots Highlanders doing much the same thing, only in great-kilts).

The Celtic approach to Christianity was, in many ways, no different! “Go big or go home” could have been a Celtic maxim. But this tendency was not un-moderated by wisdom, common sense, or awareness of proportion, as the author likewise points out.

Sometimes their practices could seem, by our 21st-century lights, a bit “over the top.” But that does not mean we might not have things to learn from them. After discussing St. Columbanus’ strictness with respect to “mortification” (the elimination of sin and self-will from our lives – literally, “killing” these tendencies within us, or at least seeking to), he adds,

“This may strike the modern reader as harsh, and undoubtedly it is; I would not suggest that this strict asceticism should be adopted in modern life without hesitation or qualification. But in a world where ease and luxury have become virtues, we might do well to place ourselves in circumstances that stretch us, that break us out of our comfort zones, and that force us to do things we might not enjoy. A bit of mortification would not hurt any of us.”

Very true. Aristotle asserted that virtue is found in the “mean” between surfeit (excess) and deficit, and that is true both of pursuing our desires and mortifying them. And so one of the characteristics the author ascribes to the Celts is moderation:

“Celtic monasticism was harsher than most contemporary forms of spirituality. The monks were unrelentingly hard on sin, and they sought to weed out immorality as few people in the Christian tradition have. Yet, paradoxically, there was also a strong tendency toward moderation. Columbanus counsels his followers to always seek a middle path: ‘Thus between the little and the excessive there is a reasonable measure in the middle, which always calls us back from every excess on either side, and in every case provides what is needed and spurns the unreasonable demand of unnecessary desire’ (chapter 8).”

Columbanus’ was “a very nuanced view of the Christian life, and it often seems out of keeping with our age of sound bites and superficiality. Celtic spirituality contains a thoughtful moderation that can help us steer between the extremes our culture pulls us toward.”

Indeed, moderation does not seem to be much of a current virtue, at all! We are counseled on the one hand to frantically climb the corporate ladder, eschewing vacations to get ahead, and keeping our smart-phones constantly by our sides so that we may not miss an opportunity – and on the other to lose ourselves in electronic stimulation and hedonistic “pleasures of the flesh.” Celtic Christians, I feel sure, would have counseled us to cast a disapproving eye on both!

As the author concludes,

“In a culture that demands that we seek immediate gratification of our every impulse, the ancient Celtic Christians remind us of self-denial and mortification. In a world of excess, we might learn from their satisfaction with simplicity. In a culture of extremism, they counsel us to embrace moderation. The real Celtic Christians may not be as trendy as the pop-culture ones, but if we engage them on their own terms, we might be surprised at how relevant their faith remains for our modern world.”


Where Celtic and Nordic meet…

I have long been especially fascinated by the intersection of Celtic and Nordic traditions: two strains of the European folk that are closely related, and yet distinct – but which have mutually enriched each other (even as they have sometimes also fought each other!) for millennia.

Here is one example, vocal improvisation on a Celtic folk song, accompanied by the traditional Swedish nyckelharpa:



And interestingly enough, the young woman in question is Polish! So truly a coming-together of three streams of European tradition: Celtic, Nordic, and Slavic. Awesome!

More on the Autumn Equinox

Cornucopia – horn of plenty

Yesterday (September 21st) may have been the traditional date for the Autumn Equinox – that I was born on the Equinox is an excuse I often cite for any eccentricities in my character! – but today is this year’s astronomical Equinox: that point in the Autumn of the year when the day and night are of equal length (“equinox” literally means “equal night”). So I offer this discussion of the day by a friend:

22nd September

The Celtic festival of Mabon – The autumnal equinox

The autumnal equinox is the time when the day and night are of equal length. This was a solar festival of great importance to the Celts who used the sky as both clock and calendar, as it was seen as a turning point in the year and as such, a time to get prepared for the colder months to follow.

Traditionally, this would have been the second harvest festival, celebrated with a feast and offerings to give thanks for the fruits of the earth and also acknowledge the harsh times ahead. The “Harvest Moon” is associated with the autumnal equinox, as being the closest full moon to it. It occurs when the moon rises approximately 30 minutes later from one night to the next. Thus, there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise for several days following the actual date of the full moon.

The Celts did not seem to have a specific name for this time of year, but it has become widely known recently as Mabon, named after the character from the mabinogian, Mabon ap Modron.

Mabon Ap Modron (son of Modron) is stolen from his mother Modron when he is only 3 days old. While Modron grieves for her loss, Mabon, the bright child of promise, is hidden or locked away (depending on the version ) in a castle for many years. His rescue becomes a quest for one of Arthur’s knights. Cei, Arthur’s adopted brother, and Gwrhyr, the translator of animal languages. In their journey they must seek out many ancient animals, each older and wiser than the one before.

They visit a Blackbird, a Stag, an Owl and an Eagle, until they are finally led to the salmon of Llyn Llyw, the oldest animal of them all. The enormous salmon carries them downstream to Mabon’s prison in Gloucester, where they hear him through the walls, singing a lamentation for his fate. The rest of Arthur’s men launch an assault on the front of the prison, while Cei and Bedwyr sneak in the back and rescue Mabon.

In the restored Druidic tradition of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and other British Druidic Orders, this day is known as “Alban Elfed“:

The name for the festival of the Autumn Equinox in Druidry is Alban Elfed, which means ‘The Light of the Water’. The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light. It is also the time of the second harvest, usually of the fruit which has stayed on the trees and plants that have ripened under the summer sun. It is this final harvest which can take the central theme of the Alban Elfed ceremony – thanking the Earth, in her full abundance as Mother and Giver, for the great harvest, as Autumn begins.

Whether you call it Alban Elfed, Mabon, the Autumn Equinox, or the first day of Fall, I hope you have an enjoyable celebration of this day when light and dark are in balance!

Autumn Equinox Rituals September 2017 Mabon Celebration

Find the way to honor this ancient holiday that works best for you.

Source: Autumn Equinox Rituals September 2017 Mabon Celebration

Although yesterday, September 21st – which also happens to be my birthday! – was the traditional date of the Autumn Equinox, today, the 22nd, is the “official,” astronomical date for this year (it varies between the 20th and, occasionally, as late as the 23rd).

With the coming of the Fall Equinox, Summer is at an end; and for those with eyes to see it, the signs of the changing seasons are everywhere apparent in the natural world. Trees are changing colours, leaves spin or drift lazily down, autumn wildflowers – chickory, asters, goldenrod – replace those of summer, and birds gather in foraging flocks or roost along telephone wires, gathering energy for the migration… or, if year-’round residents, for the long season of cold and reduced food sources.

This is always a bittersweet time of year for me: having been born into this season, I love it, and wait for it with anticipation and even longing for most of the rest of the year. The sights, the sounds, the smells, even the tastes of Autumn speak to my soul. But I would be less than honest if I did not admit to a tinge of regret as the sun slips earthward earlier each evening, and rises later and more reluctantly each morning.

Besides, it is a transition, and transitions are always poignant, for me. So it is not without mixed feelings that I greet the Autumn Equinox! With that in mind, I share this essay: a lovely selection of suggestions for both celebrating this season, and dealing with the sometimes conflicting emotions it can evoke within us.

“Nowadays, the fall equinox reminds us that, not only is the weather going to change, but so will our personal lives and plans. Home and family usually take center stage during the colder months, which can mean moving our priorities around. Consider this day a brief respite before you find yourself dragging out the heavy coats and planning holiday meals.”

Indeed! Read and, hopefully, enjoy – perhaps, even find some comfort.