Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Selkie

If you lived around the coasts of Northern Ireland and Scotland especially the Orkney and Shetland Islands of Scotland and the coast of County Donegal in Ireland you would probably hear the tales of the Selkies or Roanes in Ireland.
     The Selkies were an ancient race of people disguised as seals that could come ashore and shed their skins to take the form of a human. The were also known as Water Kelpies, the seal people or selchies.  They were more gentle creatures than Mermaids or Merrow. The Irish race known as Roane were even a more gentle race than the Selkies.
     A female selkie was said to come out of the sea then shed her seal skin to dance in the moonlight, run in the sand and sing her songs.  If a man comes along and sees her beauty for tales says that she is so beautiful that no man can resist her. She would have an unearthly beauty with dark hair and eyes. Today many Irish and Scottish families that has a child born with black hair and black eyes are usually credited being with Selkie blood in them. Some families are famously known as having Selkie in their bloodline.
     When the man sees the captivating female selkie then if he can find her seal skin and hides it she will be under his power until she finds her seal skin. In most tales she becomes his wife and a female selkie was known to make a fine wife being faithful, loyal, loving, dedicated and being a great mother to her children.
     When a male selkie comes ashore it's not to dance or sing but to find a woman who is 'unsatisfied' and becomes her lover. Just as the females, the males are dark haired with black eyes. They are said to have a magical power over human women.  After they have their fill they return to the sea. While in the sea, the male selkies can be vengeful and make strong storms at sea tormenting the seal poachers. If a human woman wants a selkie then all she had to do was go to the sea and shed seven tears into the sea at high tide. When a human woman was missing at sea it was said that her selkie lover came and got her to take her to his underwater home.
     Another physical feature that they have during their human form is that they have webbing between their fingers and toes.
     The female selkies in their human form and a captive of a love sick fisherman usually will be noticeably quiet and found many times standing somewhere on a cliff over looking the sea and singing their beautiful songs. Some tales are told that when a fisherman is thought to be lost at sea his selkie wife will go to the sea cliff and sing her song to bring him back home.  I wonder if it was because of love or because he was the only one that knew where her seal skin was.
     When a selkie female finds her seal skin either by tricking the husband or getting her children to look for it, she returns to the sea but she never forgets her husband and children. In her seal form she watches over them from far away.
     It is thought that selkies could take the form of a human only at certain times of the year. One tradition says only at Midsummer's Eve and another says every ninth night of the year.
     There are many stories about their origin.
     One belief is that were fallen angels who had fell into the seas became seals while the fallen angels who fell on the earth became known as the fairies. I wonder who started this version.
     Another one is that they were human beings at one time. They did something so horrible that they were doomed to live as seals in the sea.
     Some say that they are souls which were drowned at sea and on one night each year these lost souls were allowed to come ashore in their original human form.
     When Christianity invaded Ireland, selkies or roanes came to stand in for humans in purgatory being caught between two worlds and they were allowed to come to shore once a year. I guess as a reward for their sacrifice.
     When I went to Ireland I walked along a rocky beach and saw seals lying on the rocks out in the bay. It was awesome. I can see where they could have been thought to have that human soul and kindness. Their eyes is what caught me first. They are so deep and mysteriously dark.
     If you are interested in the myths of the Selkies or Roanes then there is a must see movie called The Secret of Roan Inish.  I have seen it and highly recommend it. It's a great movie based on the islands off of Ireland and it was filmed there as well.
     Click here for the movie. You can rent it from Netflix.  The Secret of Roan Inish 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Dogwood Tree

Step outside and you will see Spring is well on it's way with the Dogwoods blooming. My grandmother, who is a great fisherman, says when you see the Dogwood blooming the fish are biting. Living down here in the south you see all the wisteria bloom, hanging everywhere. The dandelions and buttercups are covering the fields and yards. You see among the deep and green woods that the dogwood tree are taking the stage. So I thought I would look up and see how other cultures saw the dogwood tree.
     The name dogwood is thought to come from two different ideas. One is because a wash was thought to be made from the dogwood bark for dogs to cure them of the mange. An European cultivator boiled the bark and found it effect against the mange.
     Another idea is that the tree was once called dagwood from the Celtic word dag or dagga. The Celts would use the hard wood to make daggers thus how the tree got it's name.Through time the word changed to dogwood.
     As I was doing my research I found tons of websites and articles referring to the Legend of the Dogwood Tree and it's association with the cross that the Jesus was nailed on. I must say here that the dogwood grew in North America, Europe and eastern Asia only; not Jerusalem, not Bethlehem and not Israel . Enough said on that.
     I found much information on how the Native Americans respected and used the Dogwood Tree but not much of the European countries. The Gypsies did use it for basket weaving. They would take the twigs and burned them and then the ash was boiled into a thick mixture which is mixed with the Gypsy's blood.  Then the mixture would be smeared onto 'promise paper', which was made from birch bark. On the 'promise paper' a wish was written and surely the wish would come true.
     The Native Americans had deep respect and many legends about the dogwood tree esp. the Cherokees. They believed that a tiny race of people lived in the forest and watched over them. They were known as the Dogwood People. They taught the Native Americans how to live in harmony with the land and watch over the elderly and the infants. The Dogwood People believed in treating people with respect and to do good deeds for others just for kindness and not personal gain.
     Another legend tells of a Cherokee princess. Now I must stop here and explain something that I learned while I was walking the Red Road. There is NO SUCH THING AS A CHEROKEE PRINCESS and never was. Princess is a white man's word and way of thinking. Usually when you hear of a Cherokee princess it mostly means a daughter of a chief. Now back to the story. There was a jealous warrior who ended the life of the Cherokee maiden because she refused him as a suitor. As she laid dying the maiden used a dogwood blossom in attempting to stop the bleeding. Today the Cherokee believes the white flowering dogwood species known as the Cherokee Princess produces red petal tips in honor of the slain beautiful Cherokee maiden.
     A third Cherokee legend tells of a powerful chief who demanded ' rich ' gifts from suitors for his four daughters. The gods / spirits were angry at how selfish and greedy the chief was so they turned him into a small tree with low branches and promised that he would never grow tall. His four daughters are still with him in the four petals of the flower.
     The Native Americans used the bark to treat malaria because of alkaloid which is a nitrogen compound found in the bark. They also developed a scarlet dye from the bark which was used to color eagle feathers and porcupine quills. Just as the Celts used the wood to make their daggers, the Native Americans used it for their arrow shafts and daggers. When the dogwood tree started blooming it was a sign to start planting their corn.
     The Arikaras, a Native American tribe would mix bear berry with the dry inner bark of the red dogwood to make a sacred tobacco which they would smoke. More on the Arikaras tribe
     The pioneers used dogwood bark steeped in whiskey to help treat the 'the shakes'. You can use the twigs as a tooth brush. Native Americans and slaves would take the twigs of a dogwood tree and chew on them until the ends would turn into a 'brush'. There is one precaution though, using the 'brush' too much causes a receding gum line.
     Early settlers and pioneers found the wood useful as well for any type of handles especially for outside tools. Early makers of watches and clocks loved using 'toothpicks' made out of the dogwood tree. They were perfect for cleaning and repairing watches and clocks for they' wouldn't splint. 
     Some of our founding fathers fell in love with the Dogwood Tree. George Washington planted the dogwood at his hone in Mt. Vernon as well as Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. The white dogwood tree is a native tree here in North America and it was cultivated in 1731.
     I tried to find any magical usage for the dogwood tree. The only thing that I found was that the tree represents charm and finesse. If you want to enhance you social abilities and increase you personality then used the dogwood tree. I didn't find how but I would think of making incense out of the bark. Maybe make some dogwood water or oil.
     I must say I learned a lot. Went on a boat ride today and saw all the dogwood trees blooming along the shore, up through the forest and up the mountains. I saw more than just a tree.

     Awesome!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Rabbit & the Hare

Ostara has passed us and the Christian Easter is on it's way. This is the season of the Rabbit & the Hare. Through-out many cultures, traditions & myths both has been held sacred in so many ways. From an animal that could teach us so much in wisdom to a trickster and master at pranks in other beliefs.  I wanted to learn about this fluffy, long eared and cute mammal that we have come to love.
     As I said before there are many myths, folklore and traditions concerning the rabbit / hare.  In many myths they are a symbol of femininity, cleverness, foolishness, cowardice, courage, sexuality and the virginal purity. In their association with femininity they became connected to the moon.
     I have a friend that when we would sit on her deck late at night talking about different things we would look up at the moon. I commented about the man-in-the-moon. She said that she didn't see a man but she saw a rabbit. I always thought that was unique and special so even back then I researched to see if there was an association.
     Along with many of the stories and myths of the moon there was always a association with the hare / rabbit. They were thought as a messenger of the Great Goddess, moving by moonlight between the human world and the realm of the gods. Since the mammal digs and burrows into the ground the Celts believed that the rabbit / hare would carry messages from the world of the living to the dead and also from humans to the fairies. They thought rabbits / hares while in the ground could commune with the Spirit World.
     Celtics treated the animal with respect and honor. During Eostre, Celtic version of Ostara the goddess was connected with the moon and it's cycles and death, redemption and resurrection during the transition from Winter to Spring. Sounds familiar? It should.  The goddess would take shape of a hare at each full moon. The hares was considered very sacred to her and acted as her messengers.
     Eating rabbit or hare meat was a taboo to the Celtics because of this relation with the goddess. In the land of Ireland they were so revered that it is said that eating a hare was like eating one's own grandmother. Experts believe that this was mostly because the Celtics also believe that ' wise women ' could turn into hares by moonlight. Grandmothers in the Celtic society were considered ' wise women '.  Their shamans or priests / priestess would use the hares in their rites of divination by watching their patterns of tracks, their ritualistic mating dance and also in their entrails.
     The British moon goddess, Andraste held the hare / rabbit sacred . Cerridwen, the Celtic goddess was also associated with the hare.
     The warrior queen Boudicca was said to released a hare before each battle to serve as a good omen before battle. The hare's movement would determine the outcome of the battle. She took a hare with her to every battle to ensure victory. She would kept the hare underneath her cloak. It was said that people could hear it's scream from her cloak striking fear in her enemies and those who supported her.
     In China, the hare was shown with a mortar and pestle mixing the elixir of immortality and was again associated with the moon. He is the messenger of the female moon deity and the guardian of all wild animals. They thought that the hare could conceive just by the touch of the full moon's light, by crossing water by moonlight and even by licking the moonlight from a males fur.  They observed the hare's great talent of reproduction. LOL.
     There are stories about Buddha's association with hares / rabbits. One time he summoned the animals to him before he left earth.  Only 12 answered his request. To reward the 12, he named a year after each one. The hare was the fourth animal to show up.  The animal that ruled the year that someone was born would hide in the heart of the person in which this would cast a strong influence on the personality, spirit and fate of the person. The ones born under the year of the Rabbit are said to be intelligent, intuitive, gracious, kind, loyal, sensitive to beauty, prone to moodiness and periods of melancholy.
     Another story tells of Lord Buddha was a hare in one of his early incarnations. As a hare he would travel with an ape and a fox. One day the god Indra wanted to test the three so he turned himself into a hungry beggar. He wanted to test their hospitality.  Each animal decided to go and search for some food to feed the hungry beggar. After some time, the hare was the only one who returned without any food. The hare being determined to pass this test decided to build a fire and then he jumped into it and offered the god Indra his own flesh. The god was touched and rewarded the hare by transforming into the hare-in-the-moon.
     To the Egyptians the hare was also associated with the cycles of the moon. During the waxing of the moon the hare was a male and during the waning it was considered to be female. In Dendera, there is a Egyptian temple with  pictures on the wall depicting a hare-head god and goddess. The female goddess was believed to be the goddess Unut or Wenet. The male representation most likely was the god Osiris also called Wepuat or Un-nefer, who was sacrificed to the Nile river in a form of a hare.
    In the Grecodemi-god who went around shooting arrows into people to cause them to fall in love had a hare companion. In the Greco-Roman world when someone wanted to give a gift of affection they would give a rabbit. In Roman, giving a gift of a rabbit would help a barren wife to conceive.
     In the Teutonic or Norse myths, Holda the earth and sky goddess and leader of the Wild Hunt was followed by hares who would bear torches. Freya, the goddess of love, sensuality and women's mysteries had hare attendants. When she rode her chariot which was drawn by cats, Freya would travel with a sacred hare and boar.
     The rabbit / hare's magic even reach the people of western Siberia. Kaltes was a moon goddess who would shape shift into a hare and roam the hills. When she was in human form she was depicted with wearing a headdress with ears of a hare.
      Ostara a Anglo-Saxon goddess of the moon, fertility and spring was shown with the ears or head of a hare with a white hare standing in attendance. This white hare would go around during the spring laying brightly colored eggs for the kids to find. Sounds familiar?  It should. 
     Again the hare and at the rabbit was held in much awe and respect. During the Christian invasion upon the world the idea of the rabbit was changed. They were thought to be evil and seen as a witch's familiar. Or course...everything is evil to the Christians. Many superstitions started to be created. Sailors considered the hares so unlucky that they could not be mentioned at all while at sea.
     If you were a pregnant women and a hare crossed your path then you would have a miscarriage or give birth to a child with a hare's lip. In order to prevent this from happening the women would have a lucky hare's foot on her. I use to have a rabbit's foot and yes I carried it around with me. It was a gift from my grandfather. A hare's foot was said to avert rheumatism and cramps. They would also help actors perform better. If you burn the fat of a hare in a lamp then all in it's presence or in the room would become merry. Another remedy consist of the brain in some wine before bed to prevent oversleeping. I'm sure that worked. I know it would have for me.
     If you were in the Cambridge shire, England and you saw a hare running through the streets then that would be a sign that a fire was about to break out somewhere in the city.
     In the Cornish superstitions any young girl who was abandoned by her lover would turn into a white hare in order to pursue her faithless lover.
     Hares would hide in cornfields during the reaping season. The farmers called the last sheaf  " the hare " and the action of cutting it was called " killing the hare ".  In some places the farmers or reapers would stand around and throw their sickles at the hare.
    Today the rabbit or hare is considered a pet to many families especially those with little girls but in the ancient times the rabbit and hares was respected, honored, sacred and was considered very magical. Through out time and many cultures the rabbit has remained connected to the celebration of Ostara and Easter. At Easter he is shown as laying beautiful eggs around for children to find.
     During this season of  Easter or Ostara, the Spring Equinox, then please remember the sacredness of this little timid animal.