Lá Bealtaine

Bealtaine was done with my grove co-founders as part of our ‘practice’ runs for ritual.  So this will be the first publication of a multi-participant ritual.  It ran fairly smoothly, we identified some changes to be implemented for the next ritual to make things run even smoother.  The only incident was the juniper smudge stick going up in flames due to the breeze igniting the embers.

What follows is the ritual.

Lá Bealtaine

(La Beltina)
The participants gather the following offerings
Local River Goddesses
Corn meal
Manannan Mac Lir
Mighty Dead
Spirits of Place
honey/sage smoke
Tuatha de Danaan
Beings of occasion
The folk

Prior to the ritual the participants should light the flame, fill the well with fresh water, and place whatever tools are needed on the altar.  
A bell is tolled three times calling the folk to the nemed.
Opening Prayer
Bless those minding cattle,
And those minding sheep,
And those fishing the sea
May the rains sweep gentle across the fields,
May the sun warm the land,
May every good seed planted bear fruit,
And late summer find us among fields of plenty.
Centering Meditation
D1: Clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly visualizing the spiral of the cosmos around you.

All: We are at the center of An Thríbhís Mhór.                                      ah-heeveesh-vohr

As you exhale lower yourself and place a palm of your hand on the ground.

All: We stand firmly upon the Sacred Land.

As you inhale, rise to your feet, moving the hands behind at hip height, palms up, cupping. Exhale and move the hands in an arc until they meet in front.

All: The Eternal Sea always surrounds us.

As you inhale, move your hands to the sides, spread the fingers wide, palms forward. Exhale and raise the arms, bringing the hands together above the head, thumb & forefinger meeting to create a triangle.

All: The Endless Sky spreads itself above us.
Inhale; lower the hands to the heart again.

All: We are at the center of An Thríbhís Mhór.

Exhale; lower the hands to the sides
Honoring the Local Land Goddesses
D2: We honor the Five Rivers, the goddesses of the land; Potomac Patapsco, Susquehanna Gunpowder, and Patuxent.  Givers of life that flow from the mountains and form estuaries of the Chesapeake.  
We honor you and make this offering to you in gratitude for your waters that nourish this land.                       

D2: makes an offering and says: Mighty goddesses of the land accept this offering.
Statement of Purpose
D1:  Summer has finally arrived and as we begin the light half of the year the foci are fertility and growth.  In Ireland our ancestors would build great bonfires and herd the animals between the fires to bless them on their way to the summer pastures.  The druids would bless the fields that had been planted since Imbolc all in efforts to produce a good crop.  We honor Aine, the sun, and the rivers for without whom there can be no growth.
As a fledgling grove we extend those blessings of fertility and growth to our own efforts of community building.  We planted the seeds of our new community at the Solstice and now we have to promote the growth while keeping out the weeds; divisiveness, insincerity, stagnation. We honor Nuada, great chieftain of the gods who ruled with wisdom, whose blessings on our grove will aid in growth.
As individuals we ask for blessings upon our attempts at personal growth.  To help us nurture positive relationships that facilitate our growth as understanding, caring, and forgiving people. We honor Ruad Rofessa, the keeper of knowledge whose blessings will aid each of us to be wise in our choices.
Establishing the Sacred Grove
Sacred Hearth Fire
Druid 1:
I make sacred the fire,
The first fire born of lightning
from which all fires are lit.
The hearth fire which warms our homes
and binds our people.
I stand in the grove at the center of the realms,

Let the flame be the hearth fire,
Lets the water be the Well of Knowledge
Let the tree be the bile,
I stand in the grove at the center of the realms,

D1: puts oil on the fire, then says:
I light the sacred fire of inspiration.  Sacred fire, burn within me.
Well of Segais
Druid 2 says:
I make sacred the well,
From which the five rivers flow,
Salmon swimming, hazels hanging high.
Bubbling brightly Segais, source of wisdom,
I stand in the grove at the center of the realms,

Let the flame be the hearth fire,
Lets the water be the Well of Knowledge
Let the tree be the bile,
I stand in the grove at the center of the realms,
D2: taps the well then says:
In the depths flow the waters of wisdom. Sacred waters, flow within me.
World Tree
Druid 3 says:
I make sacred the branch/tree,
Towering high, hanging heavy with hazel,
Spanning and connecting the Three Realms,
The mighty bile of the grove,
I stand in the grove at the center of the realms,

Let the flame be the hearth fire,
Lets the water be the Well of Knowledge
Let the tree be the bile,
I stand in the grove at the center of the realms,
D3: dresses the bile, then says:
From the depths to the heights spans the world tree. Sacred tree, grow within me.
D1: raises arms
D1: With the Flame of the Hearth, the Well of Knowledge, and the Sacred Bile the grove is erected and hallowed.
Parting the Mists
D1: prepares an offering for the gatekeeper and says:
D1: says: We honor Oirbsen (orib-sheen), Manannan, Patron of our tribe, Lord of the Mist, Ruler of Tir na mBan (teer na man), Guardian of the gate of the Otherworld.  Oh Lord of the Otherworld, bearer of the silvered apple branch, hear us this day and aid in the passage of the ancestors through the misty veil.
 D1: makes an offering and says: Manannan mac Lir, accept our offerings and gratitude as you part the mists. (mah-nuh-nahn’ mak leer)
D1: Let the mists be parted!!
All: Let the mists be parted.
Inviting the Gods and Ungods
An Sinsear  (en shen-shoor)
D2: Mighty dead, you who have come before,
Ancestors of our blood,  Heros of our people
We offer you this gift with love and loyalty and invite you to witness this rite.
D2: makes an offering and says: Ancestors, accept this offering.
Aos Sí  (ees-shee)
D1: Great nature spirits, you who frolic in the wild world,
Spirits of this place,
We offer you this gift in friendship and invite you to witness this rite.
Spirits of family and the people that came to this land from faraway lands.
We offer you this gift in friendship and invite you to witness this rite.
D1: makes an offerings and says: Aos Sí , accept this offering.
Tuatha de Danaan (tooah-de-danyan)
D3: Great gods, you who are mightiest in all things,
Deities of my faith,
We offer you this gift with reverence and honor and invite you to witness this rite.
D3: makes an offering and says: Gods and goddesses accept this offering.
Key Offering
D1: Áine, hail to you, sun of the seasons.
As you traverse the skies;
Your steps are strong on the wing of the heavens,
You glorious mother of the stars.

You lie down in the destructive ocean
Without impairment and without fear;
You rise up on the peaceful wave-crest
Like a queenly maiden in bloom.

Áine, of the summer sun we honor you.

All: Áine, of the summer sun we honor you.

D2: Nuada, hail to you, wise leader of the gods.
You guided your people from the North;
Defeating the chaos and taming the land,
Resigning per the laws of the gods.

You of the Silver Hand,
Restored to glory
Again resigned in wisdom,
Showing true Kingship.

Nuada, chieftain we welcome you.
All: Nuada, chieftain we welcome you.
D3: Ruad Rofessa, hail to you, keeper of knowledge.
You are the wisest of the gods
The Good God you are skilled at all things,
You of the red eye glowing.
Possessor of Undry and Uaithne
You provide nourishment of both body and mind
Most wise and knowledgeable
An Dagda.

Ruad Rofessa, god of great knowledge we honor you.

All: Ruad Rofessa, god of great knowledge we honor you.
The Omen
Seer: Ritually washes their hands then forms the left hand into a tube and blows through the tube then says:
Gods over me, gods under me,
Gods before me, gods behind me,
I am on your path oh gods.
            You, my gods, are in my steps.
I am going within
To the doorstep of the sí
in the name of Finn
Stronger in sight then all.
The augury made by Finn to his men,
That Bride blew her palm,
Did you see the augury gods of art?–
            Said the gods of art,  they saw.
Message of truth without a message of falsehood
That I myself shall see
The semblance, joyous and mild
Of all that is hidden to me
Good spirits and gods of my people,
Give me the sight to see all I need,
With vision that shall never fail, before me,
            That shall never quench nor dim.
Seer: then takes the omen, interprets it, and records it.
Receiving the blessings of the Gods and Ungods
D1: raises the blessing plate/cup high and says:
Tuatha de Danaan (tooah-de-danyan), Aos Sí , (ees she) and An Sinsear  (en shen-shoor), we have praised you and made a sacrifice. A gift calls for a gift, and we pray to you and ask that you give us your blessings.  Make sacred these apples and infuse them with your vitality, strength and inspiration.
Lo, the blessings of the Gods and Ungods are upon us.
D1: Slices and eats the blessed apple and passes it around.
Thanking the Gods and Ungods and Closing the Mists
D1: We have called upon the Gods and Ungods and they have answered.  With love and loyalty we carry the blessings into our daily lives.  As we prepare to depart let me give thanks to those who have aided us.
D1: Áine, you are the light of our days.  We give you praise and thank you for your blessings.
D2: Nuada, noble chieftain.  We thank you for your blessings. 
D3: Ruad Rofessa, mighty red one your blessings shall guide us in our actions. Thank you.
D3: Tuatha de Danaan, gods of our tribe, we thank you for your presence and blessings.  
 D1: Aos Sí, these are your lands and here you shall remain.  We thank you for attending and accepting our offerings of peace and respect.                                                             
D2: Mighty Dead, thank you for attending and accepting our gifts.  Pass back through the mists and return to the Otherworld.  .
D1: Manannan, thank you for your attendance and parting the mists.  We ask that you allow the mists to fall as our ancestors pass back into your realm.    
D1: Let the mists return and the veil be whole.
D1: Mighty Rivers, these are your lands and here you shall remain.  We thank you for attending and accepting my offerings of peace and respect.
Taking down the Sacred Grove
D1: We came and honored the Gods, the Spirits and the Ancestors and now the Sacred Grove must be taken down. We honor the Hearth Fire and restore it to flame.  We honor the Well of Segais and restore it to water. We honor the bile and restore it to branch.  All is as it was and the Sacred Grove is dismantled. The ritual is ended.

All: Biodh Se!            (bee-shay)

Outlaws/Outsiders Part I – Fénidecht

The following article has been published in “Oak Leaves – The Quarterly Journal of Ár nDraíocht Féin” Spring 2014 Issue No. 64

If  you attend Neopagan festivals or belong to a public Neopagan group, you have likely encountered individuals who, while willing to participate in social activities, for specific and often spiritually-based reasons they are unwilling or unable to take part in the religious aspects. As Neopagans, we generally accept that from outside the community many of us appear different from the norm or don’t seem to fit easily into mainstream culture. It’s often this “otherness” that brings us together, despite the variety of our beliefs and practices. So it’s understandable that when our members seem committed to remaining apart from our most central religious activities, we may react with disdain, discomfort, or simply not know what to do with them. After all, what’s the point of belonging to a community if you don’t actually want to belong?

At issue is a basic misunderstanding: Neopaganism as a whole has not yet recognized the true  motivations and needs of these individuals, nor recognized that a historically-grounded role known as the ‘outsider’ can be a powerful spiritual path for its practitioners while also contributing to the broader
Neopagan culture.

Though every person has his or her own reasons for remaining on the fringe of their chosen community, this article will focus on the Gaelic based ‘warrior outsider’ path known as fénidecht. Presented here  from a historical perspective as well as a modern spiritual practice for those who identify as Irish or  Scottish polytheists, we look to the tales of the Irish warbands known as fiana for inspiration.

Ancient Fiana
 Up until the medieval period, communities of Indo-European descent were routinely harassed and, paradoxically, protected by bands of men living in the wilds. Often wearing the pelts of and referred to as wolves, these men  have had many names among many peoples, such as the French iuventus, Irish fíana, Germanic úlfhéðnar, Welsh gwyn , Greek krypteia, Gaulish gaesates and in Indo-European *koryos (McCone, The Celtic and Indo-European Origins of the Fian 22, 30; McCone, Werewolves,  Cyclopes, Diberga, and Fianna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland 15). As in other cultures, the Irish fíana,  were typically comprised of temporarily disenfranchised youth (such as second sons without inheritance or uncontrollably rowdy adolescents), social outcasts, and self-imposed outcasts seeking recompense for offenses given outside the law (as in the case of Nessa, who sought  to avenge her foster father’s death at the hands of a fían). (McCone, Werewolves, Cyclopes, Diberga, and Fianna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland 13; Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in
the Gaelic Narrative Tradition 48-51). Living outside of established communities, these men formed an ancient counterculture; existing beyond the bounds and protections of their villages laws, they had their own rules and values.

Leading these outlaw bands were older warriors who for various reasons never transitioned back into the communities. Instead, they trained and fostered the young men (and if we believe the tales, sometimes women) who were sent to them to become féinnidi (singular féinnid).  Despite being part of the counterculture, these aging warriors were held in high regard by local leaders and ironically were often asked to enforce the established laws and defend towns and villages from outside forces. Despite such status, they remained outsiders in both their eyes and those of the people they protected. They lived
and worshipped their gods on their own.  (Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition 50; McCone, The Celtic and Indo-European Origins of the Fian 20).
According to the lore, in Ireland these bands were led by gods and heroes such as Finn mac Cumaill; Nessa, daughter of the King of Ulster; the druid Cathbad; and many others named in the Ulster and Ossianic Cycles of Irish mythology. These roving warrior bands often raided the countryside, attacking farms and hostels, while at the same time defending Ireland against invaders from the Otherworld or across the sea as necessary (Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic
Narrative Tradition 54-55). To join a warrior-band or fían required one to give up all claims to hearth and home and complete legendary feats requiring mental and physical discipline (Keating 349-350). Separate from their society, they had to fulfill the most crucial and highly valued roles for themselves, including those of hunter, warrior, poet, and seer. As he excelled in all these things, Finn mac Cumaill was often considered the epitome of the accomplished warrior outsider.

Modern Fiana
 The reality is that we no longer send our disruptive youth into the wilds to learn usefulness as hunters and warriors, or to keep them from making trouble for the community. However, outsiders do still play a role in 21st century culture. From the hermit living in his rural home to the soldier and his family
living next door, the outlaw motorcycle club you saw on the highway and the loner kid who seems slightly off to classmates and parents alike, modern life affords the intentional and unintentional outsiders many different lifestyles and expressions, and unlike in the past, they may or may not come together in counterculture groups. The hermit isolates himself voluntarily much like some ancient seers and poets while the soldier, also a volunteer (at least in the U.S.), is involved in a military lifestyle not so different from the warriors of old, and that is separated from regular society by the tasks they are asked
to perform. Some outlaw motorcycle clubs may be involved in criminal activity, while the loner kid is intellectually or socially in conflict with his peers. These are all examples of modern situations and lifestyles that can set people apart from their societies of origin.

So how does fénidecht manifest as a life practice in the 21st century with our cities, supermarkets, standing armies and police forces? The answer is complex due to the fact that those I know who identify themselves as féinnidi vary greatly. Though fénidecht manifests as a spectrum encompassing wildly different lifestyles, all are practitioners of fénidecht due to what they have in common.

To begin with there are the physical and mental aspects of the warrior/hunter, namely combat and survival training. Warriors are trained to fight and are expected to do so if the need arises. In the 21st century hand-to-hand training is the most available and does not come into conflict with any legal authority the way weapons may. The mental training a warrior goes through to cultivate survival skills typically includes simple plant identification and ideally the experience of a hunt. At minimum  warrior/hunters would know if they can and would kill for food, and it’s best if they test that
capability occasionally. An authentic practice of Fénidecht also requires that the warrior/hunter aspect of the path be sustained through non-combative physical training.

Following the old model, modern féinnidi should also be reading and writing poetry—in other words, practicing filidecht. As noted previously, in Irish lore Finn is held as the quintessential warrior outsider, and his command of poetry rivaled that of the more widely known bardic traditions. Filidecht is a basic and as essential a component of fénidecht as hunting or fighting skills (Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition 17-40). Further, the requirement for the
memorization and recitation of poetry comes to us from the stories of Finn and the initiation requirements to join his fían (Keating 349-350; Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn inthe Gaelic Narrative Tradition 248). Today, this requirement could be expanded  to include the writing of rituals and liturgy that they share with their communities.

Additionally, as the fíana had the ability to interact with and even enter the Otherworld (Dooley and Roe 13-15; Nagy, Shamanic Aspects of the “Bruidhean” Tale 302), it follows that modern féinnidi must  cultivate the skills of the seer. Unlike Finn and his fían we don’t physically cross the boundaries between the worlds, but through journeying and divination we can interact with the Otherworld to get answers
and seek aid for ourselves or our community.

Last but not least, as much as the ancient fíana conducted raids, they also defended their homelands and thus the communities to which they would eventually return to finish out their days as householders or
old men (Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition 51; McCone, The Celtic and Indo-European Origins of the Fian 20). Because modern fénidecht
mostly live in communities rather than remaining camped in the wild, this defensive role must evolve slightly. Serving in the national or local defense industries, working with or on the police and firefighting forces, working in the personal or self-defense industry, doing festival and event security, and even participating in activism to protect your community’s interests are all ways in which the “defense of the people” can manifest.

Beyond the traditional roles and their associated skills that define féinnidi, another defining feature of Fénidecht is the worship of the gods of the Gaels, since this path is specific to the Irish and Scottish cultures from which Finn’s legends come. (As a side note, the same tradition of warrior outsider exists in the Welsh culture and is called gwynwyr in Middle Welsh (Lewis xi)). Many naturally worship the war
deities but there are also “outsider” deities, such as Manannan, Finn, and Brig Ambue.

Today’s Outsiders and Their Communities
 What I’ve described so far are practices familiar to many pagans, especially those who follow a warrior path. However, there is a distinct difference between warriors and warrior outsiders, namely  “separateness” from the larger community. Again, the reasons vary, but for those who identify with the fiana or for whom Fénidecht would be an appropriate path, those reasons typically have to do with differentreligious practices, views, or values that restrict what they are able or willing to share with others. For example, it’s common for Neopagan groups to work with a variety of deities from a variety of cultures in ritual space—but for a warrior outsider devoted to a particular god or Gaelic pantheon, this
kind of ceremony may be best uncomfortable, and at worst in direct conflict with his oaths.

So then what can an outsider or even a group of outsiders do for the communities to which they only peripherally belong? I have already covered a few things that féinnidi can do to contribute to the communities’ wellbeing, such as being part of defense efforts and contributing poetic and ritual material to the liturgies. But I believe Neopagan communities can provide more proscribed roles and open themselves to including féinnidi in yet more ways.

If affiliated with a group, féinnidi could participate in community rituals by acting as guardians—protectors outside the ritual itself—both in a physical sense as well as spiritual. When attending public festivals they could do the same—in fact, it was at a pagan festival where I first witnessed a large-scale  recognition of the outsider as the organizers gave them space and latitude to function as they saw fit. Some who follow fénidecht have composed prayers and ritual acts they perform during these community rituals either independently or together as a small, intimate group. The féinnidi could also come together, much  like their predecessors, as groups that aid each other in development in all areas of fénidecht and to celebrate the outsider lifestyle and spirituality. Part of this effort could include an exploration of the transitory nature of being an outsider.

After all, being a féinnid was never meant to be a permanent state, but a temporary one after which the individual would return to society (Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition 50-52). For most, this is still true. There are warrior outsiders who fluidly move in and out of society during different periods of their lives, and others whose status relates more to their profession or experiences, such as the soldier who is leaving military service or returning from war. This aspect of fénidecht has historically been addressed through rites of passage transitioning outsiders back to the community-at-large when desire or circumstance calls for it. The Gunderstup cauldron has a
depiction of one of these rituals and is described by McCone in detail (McCone, The Celtic and Indo-European Origins of the Fian 28-29). But groups of féinnidi can do more than facilitate these rituals and transitions for their own  as members go through phases of being within the community and without—they can provide such work as a service to the broader community as well, facilitating rituals of ‘cleansing’ and ‘purification’ for others, such as the aforementioned soldier. (Lupus).

As you can see, Fénidecht is a modern, complex and valuable spiritual practice. It is my hope that in  exploring how those who practice fénidecht approach their spirituality and showing how these féinnidi
can support the Neopagan community, this article may inspire more groups to provide for the inclusion and spiritual development of these individuals in their organizations. As knowledge of this path spreads, I look forward to seeing the community learn how to acknowledge and accept the outsiders, and
give them a place and a voice, which is, ultimately, what all human beings—even self-described outsiders—desire.

Dooley, Ann and Harry Roe, The Tales of the Elders of Ireland: A new Translation of the Acallam na Senorach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Keating, Geoffrey. The History of Ireland from the Earliest Period Through the English Invasion. Trans. John O’Mahony. New York: P.M. Haverty, 1857. PDF Document.
Lewis, Timothy. A Glossary of Mediaeval Welsh Law Based Upon the Black Book of Chirk. London: University Press Manchester, 1913.
Lupus, P. Sufenas Virius. The Hidden Imbolc. 1 February 2011. 1 October 2013.
McCone, Kim. “The Celtic and Indo-European Origins of the Fian.” The Gaelic Finn Tradition. Ed. Sharon J. Arbuthnot and Geraldine Parsons. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012. 14-73.
—. “Werewolves, Cyclopes, Diberga, and Fianna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland.” Camrbidge Medieval Celtic Studies Winter (1986): 1-22. PDF.
Nagy, Joseph Falaky. “Shamanic Aspects of the “Bruidhean” Tale.” History of Religions 20.4 (1981): 302-322. PDF.
—. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition. London: University of California Press, 1985.

I hate writing, but my wife is a master…

As much as I love to talk, I don’t like writing so much.  My writing is pretty much how I speak, long winded and full of information that may or may not be needed to get my point across.  So after my editor went over the Fénidecht article with me for a 3rd  time (we dropped 1000 words) and we jointly declared it ready for submission, I sent it in.  Then as I fell asleep last night I was fretting everything that I removed to make it more concise and specific to the audience. ARG!!

That really is the beauty of the modern technological age though isn’t it?  ADF will publish the article in the Spring edition after which I can publish another version on this blog putting that information I had to remove for length back in and making it more informative for the general audience.   This flexibility should remove any anxiety I have about not providing enough information in the print edition, but it really doesn’t.  Maybe I should focus on getting a larger following by the time it comes out??

My next published project was going to be on Finn as a god, but I think I will focus on gentlidecht and how I came to choose gentlidecht as the word to describe my faith.  Both drafts are over 2500 words so I suspect my editor and I will be going over them a lot before they hit the blog.  I hope to learn how to better write my drafts so that she doesn’t have to go over them as much in the future.

For full disclosure the editor I work with happens to be my wife.  I call her my editor because being an editor and writer is her career, from Simon and Schuster to her successful freelance business.  From query letters to developmental editing to ghostwriting she does it all, and I have to plug her latest ghostwriting project is now available on Amazon called “Way of the SEAL”  by Mark Divine with Allyson Edlehertz Machate and it is something those interested in the warrior path should read.  I will be doing a review of it in the next couple weeks and posting it here.