02 June 2018

McCain's Corner: Cultural Continuum II

McCain's Corner: Cultural Continuum II: Walking up to the summit of Loughcrew This photo taken on the same day as I had the strange experience at Loughcrew in County Meath,...

19 July 2017

Fairies and the Old Faith

Walking up to the summit of Loughcrew
This photo taken on the same day as we had the strange experience at Loughcrew in County Meath, at Slieve na Callí, which is the main hill at the site. It is the abode of Béara, who is a Bean Sí (fairy woman) and one of the Tuatha Dé.  There is a passage tomb on top, in which at the equinox sunrise, the rays of the sun shine down and illuminate the inner chamber.  There are the graves of extremely ancient dead kings, queens, and warriors there.  I give a full account of my strange and singular experience at Loughcrew in my book 'Finding the McCains.'  These Celtic fairies are not your wee, cute type, of the Victorian era children's books.  They are tall, fair, powerful beings of light, that are dangerous to be around.  Béara is remembered throughout Ireland and Scotland, in the old Gaelic homelands. She is, or has become in legend, a primordial nature spirit and Queen of Winter.  She can appear as an old woman or as a beautiful young maiden, tall and fair.     

Placing an 'intention' on a Faerie Tree
The practice of leaving 'wishes' or intentions, on Fairy trees goes back to pre Christian times.  A Fairy Tree is often located near a holy well, and a spiritual place of worship for pagans.  Many travel, a pilgrimage of sorts, to the Fairy trees, to leave prayers or intentions, to ask a blessing or a favour, from those mysterious, unseen but felt, aspects of nature and the Old Faith that still manage to survive at these locations. When you visit a Fairy Tree you will see an array of objects left in the branches or at the base of the tree.  You will see ribbons, messages written on paper, colouful pieces of cloth or foil, photographs, toys, small figurines, and even strips of fabric torn from a visitor's clothing. 

A Fairy Tree near a Holy Well

A Fairy Tree is often a Hawthorn tree, but not always.  A lone hawthorn standing in the middle of a field or pasture garners both respect and some suspicion by the local communities.  A Fairy Tree is thought to bring good fortune, but it is also known to belong to the Otherworld and is part of the Sidhe.  For this reason, it was the tradition to never cut nor harm the tree for fear of retribution of the old gods and their allies.  The Fairy Tree was, and to some still is, seen as a gateway into the Fairy realms.     

With my old son, Donovan, on Tara Hill at Lia Fáil. 
This photo taken at Tara.  My older son, Donovan, and I are standing by the Lia Fáil, a stone of power that was a gift to Ireland from the Tuatha Dé.  It is one of the four legendary treasures of Ireland brought to Ireland from the Northern Isles by the Tuatha Dé.   The treasures are the Claíomh Solais (sword of light), the Sleá Bua (victory spear of Lugh), the Coire Dagdae (cauldron of Dagda), and the last, the Lia Fáil (stone of Ireland).  

© 2017 Barry R McCain

20 June 2017

Summer Solstice 2017

 The Summer Solstice, aka St John's Day, but, in the Old Faith, the Day of An Dagda (the good god). Feasting and dancing, and bonfires were lit in celebration. So today, raise a glass to An Dagda, if you are lucky enough to have a bonfire, it is tradition to jump it, suggest this be done before taking in ale. Happy Solstice!!!

09 June 2017

Tuatha Dé Danann


Tuatha Dé Danann (tribe of Danu) is the name of the Gaelic ancestral gods.  They are also known by the earlier name of Tuath Dé (tribe of gods).

The Tuatha Dé are also called the Aos Sí and are the Faeries of later Gaelic folklore.  However, they are not the diminutive creatures of the popular Victorian children stories or of modern Hollywood portrayals. They are described in the earliest primary sources as being tall, with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, and very fair skin. They are luminous beings of great power and strength... and very dangerous to those unfortunate enough to become their enemy.

Sightings of the Tuatha Dé were common in older times, but have become less frequent in modern times, though there are several eyewitness accounts from the 20th Century.   These sightings take place in their traditional homeland of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, however one of the Tuatha Dé, Manannan Mac Lír, was sighted in Canada on Nova Scotia in the early 1900s.

Our knowledge of them comes to us from the filter of the Christian monks who first recorded the stories and history of the Tuatha Dé.   The stories were embellished and at times given comic aspects to enhance the tale. Some of the Tuatha Dé are obvious cognates with gods in other Indo European deity pantheons. Nuada is a cognate with the Noden, Lugh is a pan Celtic god, Bríd is a cognate to Brigantian, Tuireann with Taran (Taranis), Ogma with Ogmios, and Badbh with Catubodua.

As I develop this blog, I will enumerate the Tuatha Dé, discuss their cognates with other Indo-European pantheons, and discuss late examples of, if not worship, at least acknowledgement of, the Tuatha Dé in modern times.  


Oisín and Tír na nÓg

Oisin and Tír na nÓg by by Francois Pascal Simon Gerard

07 June 2017

John Duncan... Riders of the Sidhe

Riders of the Sidhe, by John Duncan 1911
An illustration of the Tuatha Dé Danann by Scottish artist John Duncan.  Duncan was born in 1866 in the Hilltown area of Dundee.  He submitted his first art work to a local magazine The Wizard of the North at the age of 15.  From 1887-88 he worked in London as a commercial artist.  After spending time on the Continent to study art he returned to Dundee in 1889.     

In 1892 Duncan moved to Edinburgh to work with urbanist Patrick Geddes and he became part of the Celtic Revival movement.  Duncan was the principal artist of Geddes' seasonal magazine The Evergreen.  In 1897 Duncan returned to Dundee to exhibit Celtic and symbolist paintings at the Graphic Arts Association and the Royal Scottish Academy.  He travelled to America to teach at the Chicago Institute for a short time, before returning to Scotland to stay.  He passed away in 1945.  

The Second Sight

Sarah Pearl Tweedy circa 1905
The phenomenon of Second sight has fascinated me for many years.  I was exposed to the Second Sight early in my life, before I even knew what it was.  My grandmother had the Second Sight.  She was Sarah Pearl McCain née Tweedy, born in Carbondale, in southern Illinois, in 1883.  She passed away in 1962, when I was only twelve years old, but I was close to her and despite her passing when I was young, I remember her countenance and personality well.  I also remember she had a unique quality to her; it is hard to describe in words, other than to say she had an other world quality.  I found out about her Second Sight through a child's eyes and ears.  I heard her friends and relatives talk about it and tell stories. She never mentioned it to me.  She had a strong case of it one could say.  She 'saw' things and had experience that exist in a world that is not well understood by our sciences.

The Second Sight is so called because normal vision was regarded as coming first, and with certain individuals a  supernormal vision developed.  The Gaelic term is An Da Shealladh which means "the two sights," meaning normal sight and the sight of the seer. There are many Gaelic words for the various aspects of second sight, but An Da Shealladh is the one mostly recognized by non Gaidhlig speakers, even though, strictly speaking, it does not really mean second sight. 

Simply put, Second sight is a form of extrasensory perception, the ability to perceive things that are not present to the senses, whereby a person perceives information, in the form of a vision, about future events or events at remote locations.  Other manifestations include knowing things about a person just by meeting them, such as their true nature and history, or sometimes by perceiving this by merely handling an object that the person owns.  In popular culture it is also called 'the sixth sense.'

The Second Sight happens in several peoples and cultures, but it is in Scotland perhaps that it is most recognized and studied.  My grandmother's Tweedy family originated in Scotland and migrated to Ireland very early in the 1600s or even late in the 1500s.  In Scotland, the Tweedys had a penchant for getting into feuds that resulted in legal issues and even their surname was proscribed at one time.  Migration from Scotland to Ireland and other parts of the Isles was an often used path for them to 'get out of town.'   I have found records of them in the 1620s with a group of native Irish in County Cavan and being listed as 'Irish.'  This means the clerk thought them born in Ireland.  I know many of the Tweedys spoke Irish and were often Protestant and in the Established Church (the Church of Ireland, i.e. Anglicans).

Her family migrated to the English Colonies in the late 1600s, oral history remembers the place of entry as Rhode Island.  The Tweedys migrated to the Carolinas in the early 1700s.  They were what popular history likes to call Scots-Irish.  They were an adventurous family as several of them were in Daniel Boone's party that crossed the Cumberland Gap in the 1770s.  Their history is one of trailblazing adventures, ferocious battles with Indians, and eventually settling in southern Illinois by 1805.  That area was very dangerous and very few white people lived there at that time. Hostile Indians were very active and their family records has accounts of Indian raids and several brutal deaths to members of the extended family.

As an adult my research discovered that the Second Sight runs in their family.  This is not unusual and Scottish families with the Second Sight often report it as an inherited trait.  I found records of a Tweedy woman that had been accused of witchcraft in the mid 1600s.  I do not know if the woman was a relation to my grandmother's family, but it is very possible.  In the mid 1600s people with the Second Sight were sometimes accused of witchcraft and brought to trial.  Such was the case of the poor Tweedy woman whose records I read.  She was arrested and a trial held.  I found the record of the trail, her charges, and also found the brutal method with which she was interrogated.  It involved a government paid witch hunter.  He would ask questions and then stick her with long metal needles, about the size of a small knitting needle.  If the wound bled it meant she was telling the truth, if it did not bleed, this indicated a lie.  Yes, I know what you all are thinking, that is insane.  She was found guilty and did not survive the ordeal.

17th Century witch pricking needles
In my work and travels I have discovered many accounts of families that have the Second Sight, particularly in the Southern Uplands and Backsettlments.  It was a normal aspect of Scots-Irish culture well into the 1900s and even today it is known.  When you read the literature written on the Scots-Irish in their traditional homelands the phenomenon of Second Sight or 'Seers' is a common theme. 'Seer' was a common term for people with the Second Sight in the Uplands from the Ozarks to the Appalachians.   I am researching Scots-Irish families that have a tradition of the Second Sight for a new writing project now.
I am collecting stories from Scots-Irish families now that have experience with the Second Sight, have old tales of it in their family, etc. So, anyone reading this who has a story, do please contact me, I would love to hear your Second Sight experiences.

Sarah Pearl Tweedy circa late 1800s

McCain's Corner: Cultural Continuum II

McCain's Corner: Cultural Continuum II : Walking up to the summit of Loughcrew This photo taken on the same day as I had the strange...