Connecting with the Ancestors
Article ID: 6728
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,187
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Posted: October 5th. 2003
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As Pagans, we often find ourselves in the position of keeping holidays that are foreign to our own beliefs. Those of us with children may find it difficult to ignore Christmas or Easter and, while they may be observed according to their ancient roots, for those not following an eclectic path the incorporation of Norse or Saxon deities may not be especially appropriate. It is a pleasure, then, to arrive at a moment in the sacred year where the ancient and modern meet and embrace as comfortably as they do at Halloween!
For who among us forgoes the carving of the jack-o-lantern, bobbing for apples, the augury of the hazelnut, or the processional donning of masks? With all these things we are familiar, yet how many of us can name the origins of these customs? For the people of Western Europe, there is a common source. It is old beyond reckoning, but is recorded in the myths of Celtic culture, in a series of stories known to us as The Mabinogi.
I am an Avalonian Druid, practitioner of a little-known sect whose roots spring from the customs and practices of the indigenous tribes, the pre/proto-Celtic peoples of the Isles of the Mighty from whose lore the stories of The Mab derive. Like all Druids, the ancestors and the ancestral wisdoms we carry forth are a great focus of our work throughout the year. And so, as I have come to know something of these tales I share them now with you, so that each of you may, in your turn, share them with others...
As the inheritors of the bardic, oral traditions, most modern Druids are accustomed to immersing in Celtic history, lore and literature, but even for a Druid The Mab is a difficult text to read. At the time of its recording most people were still familiar with the ancient lore and appreciated the views encoded within the telling of the tales. But it is so no longer. To understand The Mabinogi means stepping out of our modern views and walking in the shoes of the ancestors. By so doing, we come at last to understand the depth of meaning behind the legacy of "modern" customs we take so much for granted.
The Second Branch of The Mabinogi is the secret heart of the Matter of Britain. In brief, in an effort to restore peace between the Irish and Welsh and the Old and New Tribes of the Isles, a marriage is made between the Irish King and Branwen, one of three sovereign matriarchs. The match is a disaster. The much- abused Branwen sends word to her brother, Bendigeidfran (Bran the Blessed), who musters the men of Wales and crosses to Ireland.
After diplomatic efforts fail, a terrible battle ensues in which the Irish and all but seven of the Welsh are killed, and Bran himself is mortally wounded. He commands that his head should be struck off and carried back to Wales, there to entertain them all for eighty years until the enchantment be broken, whence it should be brought to the White Mount (the Tower of London) and buried to keep watch and forever protect Britain from invasion.
His followers comply and are so entertained until the enchantment is broken. The company then processes to the White Mount, where Bran's head is interred. (It was later dug up by Arthur, who quickly re-interred it upon realizing his error.) It keeps watch over the Isle of Britain to this day and is remembered in a variety of myths, legends and customs.
The name Bran means "raven," and it is said that should the ravens ever leave the Tower, Britain would fall. Thus, by keeping their ravens, modern Britons keep alive the memory of an ancestral king, the archetypal wounded king and guardian of the Sovereignty Goddess of their land.
How many of us remember or realize that it is Bran's protective presence we evoke when we carve the jack-o-lanterns that adorn our doorsteps and windows on All Soul's Eve and his followers whom we emulate as we process, masked, down the moonlit autumn lane?
Another well-known Halloween custom, bobbing for apples, is associated with Bran and resonates both with this and later Irish stories. In The Voyage of Bran, an ancestral king is confronted by a Faery woman wielding "the silver branch" or "apple branch," emblem of the Isle of Women or the Apple Isle, known as Emain Abhlach (Irish) or Ynis Afallon (Welsh): the Isle of Avalon. She invites, even urges him to find this Isle. Bran is unable to resist and, with a small company of men, takes up the quest. To understand why, we must learn one of the great secrets of journey to the ancestral realms.
The apple has long been associated with Avalon. The Celts, like those before them, believed that humankind journeyed to a realm of pleasure and healing in the world below, often described as being "across the Western seas." As a mortal man, Bran's movements between the worlds would normally be restricted but, by giving him her branch, the Faery woman grants him safe passage.
But why should we identify this branch as being of the apple? Anyone who has seen the red, white and black center of the cross-cut apple will recognize within the sign of the pentagram: passport of the living to the underworld realms.
It is the fruit of the apple, then, which opens the portal to the ancestral realms, those gateways which swing wide at Samhain or Halloween. Thus the apple is an ever-present motif in modern holiday custom, representing both the apple isle and the token by which we may come to honor and share wisdoms with our far-ancestors.
Much that we thought lost, has merely been forgotten. The ancient wisdoms are all around us! By taking up the strands of existing myths, legends, and folklore, we often discover truths hidden in plain sight, a legacy from the far-ancestors for our time. Stories such as these provide keys to better understand the links between our own and ancient cultures, our physical and spiritual ancestors. Their interweavings offer a pattern through which to understand ancient culture and beliefs, illuminating the ways in which their world informs our own. Modern technology has made these tales more widely available than ever before; it is up to us now to explore them. May you find much joy in them!
Blessings of the season!
Location: Blacksburg/Christiansburg, Virginia
Author's Profile: To learn more about Morgaine - Click HERE
Bio: Morgaine is an ordained Druid Priestess of Avalon, currently serving on the Council of Elders for the Avalon Druid Order. She is a trained vibrational healer, herbalist, seer, and ritualist, conducting workshops in pre-Celtic Avalonian spirituality both at home and abroad. Currently, Morgaine and her life partner, Myrddin, are renovating Sanctuary Cottage, the local dwelling place of their Grove, Rhosyn Ddraig. She is very pleased to have had this opportunity to share with the Pagan community!
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