Posted: July 3rd. 2004
Times Viewed: 7,729
The Witchcraft of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man has worn many masks in many ages; shape-shifting, changing, evolving with the passing of time. No word, or volume of words, can meaningfully describe the Witchcraft of the Gaels, for any line which may be described is but a single strand of an amazingly beautiful and intricate tweed. The Sean Ciall practiced today is not the Sean Ciall of ancient Scotland, Ireland and Man, nor is it the Sean Ciall which immigrated to the Americas during the Highland Clearances and Potato Famine, although we may at times, legitimately or otherwise, claim some distant kinship to these. We honor this heritage, but we are not enslaved by it. "Sean Ciall" (also written "Sean Cill," which translates rather differently) is, literally, the "Old Way," but it is also the new, as change is the very nature of magick, and truly ancient magicks are no more or less valuable than ancient techniques of surgery.
All history is fiction. The fiction of the history of Sean Ciall begins in Ulster during the latter part of the 1700's, during the height of the NeoPagan revival in Europe. The shredded remnants of Gaelic, Welsh and Broad Scots which have actually been passed down indicate strongly that the original creators of what is now Sean Ciall were English- speaking Protestants, attempting to recreate what they thought Celtic Druidism might have been based on such folklore as they had been exposed to in Ulster and Donegal. I imagine this to have been rather like some of the predominantly European-American "Native American Spirituality" groups which were popular in this country ten or so years ago. In any event, the Presbyterian migration, fuelled by the Highland Clearances in Scotland and the Potato Famine in Ireland, brought many Scots and Irish to the Americas in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and they in turn brought Sean Ciall. In the years since, Sean Ciall has been either "enhanced" or "corrupted" (depending on one's perspective) by whatever magickal or mystical fad it happened to be exposed to, from Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism to Voudun and Cherokee practices to Spiritism, Hermetics and eventually Wicca. Today Sean Ciall has been co-opted once again by the larger whole of NeoPaganism.
Sean Ciall, as it is currently practiced in this time and place, is but one denomination within the greater whole of NeoPaganism. We believe, as do most NeoPagans, in the immanence of personal divinity, and that the nature of that divinity is revealed to each individual in the way that individual is best able to understand it. Whether the name of an individual's personal divinity is "Brigid" or "Jesus" or "Krishna" or "Physics" is of no relevance to anyone other than the individual. The individual's personal divinity is the only magickal or spiritual teacher worthy of that name.
If there is an all-encompassing divinity beyond the dreams of mortals, it is presumed that such is essentially infinite, and hence all finite things (such as human consciousnesses) are, by definition, equidistant from it. No individual or entity can be more or less "spiritually evolved" than any other, as no finite thing can be closer to or more distant from the infinite than any other. All entities, and all acts, are equally sacred; there is no hierarchy, only continuum.
There is no "good" and there is no "evil" in the world. Every act of creation is of necessity also an act of destruction, and every act of destruction is of necessity an act of creation. In order for a human (or any other organism) to exist, they must kill many things every day. Every act of killing, whether of a plant or an animal, changes the world in some way. Being aware of the changes one is manifesting, and minimizing the manifestation of undesired changes, is the ethical responsibility of every practitioner of our line.
The cleft pentacle is the traditional symbol of the low magick of Sean Ciall, and perhaps, originally, of Sean Ciall as a whole. By inscribing it by whatever means on the ground where one is working, that space is defined as being dedicated to the low magicks of Sean Ciall, whatever the origin of the ritual, spell or work to be performed. Perhaps obviously or perhaps not, the cleft pentacle is a sexual symbol. The compass rose, which is the symbol of the special alchemy unique to Sean Ciall, is a sexual symbol as well, as are all symbols of crosses within circles, but on a rather different level. Although the sexuality of Sean Ciall magick is by no means overt, sex and magick are inseparable. There is no greater force which may be harnessed by mortals than that force which creates new life; every act of magick is sexual and every act of sex is magickal, in some sense.
As the English language was specifically and methodically used as a weapon of oppression against the Gaels (as language has been used as a weapon of oppression in all times by many peoples), out of respect for our spiritual forbears we do not speak that language in formal circle, although it is used in teaching circles, of necessity. Beyond this consideration for our spiritual predecessors, however, it is also understood that one cannot learn the essence of the magick or spirituality of any given culture without first understanding the essence of that culture itself. The first humble steps toward understanding any culture are through learning the language, music and poetry of that culture. To this end, in circle, we immerse ourselves in the language and music of the Gàidhealtachd, for without this, we can never understand what it means to be a Gael, what it means to be the "Duine nan Sean Ciall," the People of the Old Way. Throughout time, it has always been the Gaelic language which defined Gaeldom, for the Gaels were a people of no common ancestry, and no common faith; today we are descended from peoples from six continents, and our personal spiritualities are equally diverse.
Organization of Groups:
The magick of Sean Ciall is alchemical, in all senses of that, but it is the alchemy of the forest, sea and sky rather than the alchemy of the laboratory, temple, or hermit's cell. Every path of alchemy, from Ireland to China, has recognized that all magick exists simultaneously on three levels; practical, sexual, and spiritual. Within each of these three levels are the three realms of body, mind, and spirit, which are considered inseparable and indispensable parts of a greater whole. As an outward manifestation of this, the magick of the Sean Ciall is "divided" into three Circles, which are specific realms of influence and study chosen by the individual practitioners.
Circle of the Sword. Realm of the body; the race of the Fir Bolg. Training is martial. Symbols are oak leaves, and black. The Warrior. The Warriors of Sean Ciall personify the physical aspects of magick, and also perform the function of warden for the coven. In practice, the Warriors study many forms of martial arts, including firearms and modern tactics as well as traditional swordplay. It is expected that every initiate of this Circle will serve in the armed forces of their country, although professional law enforcement or fire fighting might pass as well in some groups.
Circle of the Song. Realm of the mind; the race of the Fomorians. Training is musical. Symbols are holly leaves, and blue. The Bard. The Bards of Sean Ciall personify the mental aspects of magick, and also perform the function of musician for the coven, both formally and informally. Focus is on modern music as well as traditional, and also poetry and storytelling. Each of the Bards is expected to master both vocal and instrumental music, and it is expected that every initiate of this Circle will perform musically at least semi-professionally. Sean Ciall uses, as have all Gaelic magicks from at least the time of the Caith Maighe Tiuradh*, a four element system of earth, water, air and fire. Musically, by instrument, voice and dance, "earth" is the bodhran, the bass and the strathspey; "water" is the harp, the alto and the jig; "air" is the whistle, the tenor and the hornpipe, and "fire" is the fiddle, the soprano and the reel. Like all tables of correspondence, these are of course arbitrary.
Circle of the Spell. Realm of the spirit; the race of the Tuatha de Danaan. Training is sorceric. Symbols are mistletoe, and white. The Magician. The Magicians of Sean Ciall personify the spiritual aspects of magick, and also perform the function of sorcerer for the coven. Each of the Magicians is expected to master both the high and low sorceries of the Sean Ciall line. "High Magick" in Sean Ciall means specifically the unique alchemy of that line, "Low Magick" in Sean Ciall means everything other than this, including Wicca, Qabala and other non-Gaelic magicks, as well as traditional Gaelic magicks other than the Sean Ciall alchemy.
Together, these are known as an Triùir, or "the Three," and form the nexus of coven organization. Initiation into each circle requires intense and arduous testing of proficiency in the skills appropriate to that realm. The Circles form three concentric rings of (ideally) equal-gendered pairs around the priest and priestess, who represent the realm of mysticism and who are considered distinct and separate from all these.
Role of Clergy:
The "Fourth Circle" of Craft is that of the priest(ess)hood.
Underlying Sean Ciall is something of a "gnostic agnosticism," if that's possible. Sean Ciall priests and priestesses are expected to experience divinity personally and profoundly, but not necessarily believe in it, or pretend to have any understanding of it.
Sean Ciall priests and priestesses are not "spiritual leaders" or "spiritual teachers" in any sense of that, for we consider the notion of one individual teaching another individual how best to attune themselves to their own divinity to be preposterous.
The requirements for initiation into the Fourth Circle are rigorous, but as with the other Circles one may well study and work with a given Circle without initiating. In order to initiate into the Fourth Circle one must first be an initiate of one of the other three Circles, and have spent no less than a year's study in each of the other two. The duties of the priest or priestess in Sean Ciall are ceremonial and mystical (as opposed to magickal); the priests and priestesses of Sean Ciall are also expected to train and perform as healers. The ceremonial duties of the Fourth Circle include coordinating and directing the rituals of the Fire Festivals and other religious celebrations, weddings, funerals, rites of passage and initiations for each of the Circles. Mysticism, especially the inner pathworkings and ultimately the sacred union of the self and the divine, is the special sphere of work of the priests and priestesses of this line. Healing, in all and any of its forms, is also integral to the path of the priest or priestess, and is the only aspect of this path for which the Priest or priestess may accept money or other compensation for their Craft; as such, those who chose to integrate their professional lives and their spirituality would likely be physicians, acupuncturists or some such.
Initiates of this circle wear a silver (women) or gold (men) torc at all times, in public as well as in private, as a symbol of their role as clergy.
The religion of NeoPagan Sean Ciall is in no way unique. Much has been written elsewhere regarding the myriad gods and goddesses and the faerie-faith of the Celtic world, and it is not my intention to try to replicate this here; all are recognized and celebrated, to some degree. There are four major Fire-Festivals, at Samhain, Brigid, Beltaine and Lughnasadh. Very roughly (and starting out of order) Brigid is the celebration of the Goddess and birth; Beltaine is the celebration of the union of the Goddess and the God and also the union of all things living; Lughnasadh is the celebration of the God and death; and Samhain is the celebration of the union-in-dissolution of the Goddess and the God and also the union of all things living and unliving.
Standards of Conduct:
Sean Ciall, at least as it is practiced in the Pacific Northwest, is open to all who are willing to undertake this rigorous course of study. Due to the use of ritual nudity and the fairly intense nature of the magicks practiced, minimum age is 18 years, or 13 years with informed parental consent. No monetary or other compensation is allowed for teachers or practitioners of this Craft, or for materials distributed in class or in Circle. All participation on any level is strictly voluntary.
Possession or consumption of alcohol or other mind-altering drugs is not permitted at our events. Possession of firearms at our events is also prohibited except when Sword Circle is specifically doing small-arms training. As much of our work is skyclad, a "concealed" weapon is generally an unattended one (and, frankly, a person who feels the need to bring a gun to church might well consider finding a better church).
Ways of Worship:
Throughout the year, the separate Circles of Sword, Song and Spell practice their respective arts by their own lights, and celebrate the turning of the seasonal wheel as best seems appropriate to them.
Once each year, at Lughnasadh, the three Circles come together and help create a three- day festival and ritual celebrating the sacrifice of the first harvest. This ritual climaxes with the (spontaneous!) ignition of a 20-foot tall Wicker Man, is skyclad for all participants and is performed entirely in Gaelic. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the festival is called Fires of Lughnasadh and averages 150 participants each year. The festival is hosted by the Longhouse community in Redmond, WA, with tremendous support from Our Lady of the Earth and Sky. A Witchvox review of last year's festival can be seen here.
Reading and Other References:
There are not, so far as I am aware, any books specifically relating to Sean Ciall at this time. For more information, please visit us at www.seanciall.org.
This, then, is the essence of Sean Ciall. Sword, Song and Spell intertwined with the magicks of the forest, sea and sky; an ancient line of Gaelic Witchcraft for a new generation of modern Witches.
*The Second Battle of Moy Tura, when the Gaels fought the gods of Ireland, won, and relegated them to living in barrow mounds for the rest of eternity. This is something beyond simple atheism; to the atheist's "God is dead," the Gaels added "Because I killed the fooker." Whether this is a profound insight into the nature of the Divine, or just the whiskey talking, is hard to say...
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