Part 4 – Between the Worlds
I found a Book Proposal from 13 years ago, that I had agreed to write before life took a different turn for me – a ‘Who’s Who of Irish Mythology & How to Work with Them’.
I may or may not turn it into a book at some stage…?! But for now it may as well be out in world as sitting on my computer.
WARNING: It’s an unedited old photo of my thoughts and practice 13 years ago. So, be aware.
As modern magical practitioners or workers with Irish native traditions, by whatever name we choose to call ourselves, it is useful and even essential to us to be able to recognise, create, and control these intersections or connections between the worlds at will, as well as being able to recognise and utilise the more naturally occurring ones.
This is called, among other terms, creating sacred space.
Creation of Sacred Space
When the magical group in which I work began to move away from the whole Wicca thing, the first and possibly most difficult hurdle for us was regularly and ritually creating a space that was suitable to our membership and our surroundings, in which we could honour our ancestors and the Powers of this land.
With Wicca, it’s easy. You join a coven, are taught the importance of protection and containment of energy, learn how to cast your circle with the whole “I conjure thee O thou Circle of power, that thou be-est a meeting place of love and joy and truth…” bit, and you quickly get to a point where you always work magic within a magical circle.
Of course, you don’t always go through the entire salt, water, cast, strengthen, watchtowers rigmarole – sometimes it’s as simple as an impromptu mental “Shields Up” blast and, as we see so faithfully represented in Star Trek, your ship and all within it are encased in an impenetrable force-field. Possibly a rather fetching blue flamey or golden edged force-field.
Ok, it’s not easy exactly; there’s a lot of hard work and regular repeated ritual involved before you get to the Star Trek special effects stage.
But I’ll tell you what, it’s a lot easier than trying to figure out a set and standard procedure for the creation of sacred space, from scratch, that’s faithful to Irish source material and natural Powers, and encompasses the often widely differing views and practices of a group of very headstrong and opinionated Witches. I should know.
We did eventually come up with an ‘opening ritual’ or standard format for the creation of sacred space that works really well for us as a group.
A part of me would love to just write it all down and trust that those who chose to work with it after reading this book would adapt and develop it, as our group will continue to do.
But, apart from the fact that it’s relevant to our particular time, place and people – the rest of the group would break my arms and legs for publishing something that is still very much a work in progress. Which is fair enough really.
What I am free to do is elaborate on what the ‘creation of sacred space’ actually means and what function it performs, for this Irish Witch at least.
Yet, there is also another factor to be taken into consideration.
When I started to write my first book, “Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch”, I was determined to avoid the usual hand holding we see in so many New Age books.
I credited you, Dear Reader, from the outset, with integrity. And with the willingness to work as hard as it takes for your knowledge. I credited you with not needing me to hold your hand every step of the way. I placed the responsibility for your own development squarely on your shoulders. And still do.
It has however, been pointed out to me on many occasions since, that not everybody knows how to create a sacred space to work within, and those who do, don’t necessarily feel their usual methods are appropriate to an Irish based way of working.
I was aware of this at the time, and tried to address it in my resources list. A few have reported that this leaves them hopping between one book and another with no real insight or guidance as to what is ‘right’ in the context of ‘Irish Witchcraft’.
My position has always been that through all that hopping and fumbling, you will find what is right, for you. But, as I’m here and putting up some sort of signposts anyway, I guess I can get off my high horse and make them a little clearer this time round. In doing so, I am breaking with my native tradition and culture – Irish signposts are notorious for pointing you in the wrong direction, or just hiding from the unwary traveller altogether. But all in all, this is an important part of the book. So let’s have a look at the form and function of different ways to do this.
How Differing Traditions Do It (Generally Speaking…)
Traditional Wiccans, such as Gardnerian or Alexandrians, usually refer to the sacred space simply as the Circle. When creating or ‘casting’ it, the Circle becomes a “meeting place of love and joy and truth”, a “shield against all wickedness and evil”, a “boundary between the world of men and the realms of the Mighty ones”, a “rampart and a protection”, which will “conserve and contain the power” that is raised within it.
These are all individual functions, describing what one would achieve when using a Traditional Wiccan circle casting. What these quotes mean in essence is that the circle or sacred space serves as: a neutral territory in which personal arguments or clashes are unnecessary, protection for the group/individual practitioner from unwanted outside influences, an intersection between the mundane and the ‘supernatural’ realms, and as a sort of bubble battery pack in which to hold the energy which is raised during ritual or spell working, until the High Priestess or individual practitioner deconstructs the circle and the releases the stored energy to go and fulfil it’s appointed purpose.
The Elemental Lords are evoked to their appropriate quarters of East, South, West, and North, and a God and Goddess energy -either generic or specifically named – are usually called from the North (seen as the most appropriate place of power or magic), to further protect and guard the circle. That’s Wicca, and a lot of ‘eclectic witchcraft’ is based around those principles. It’s all useful stuff.
Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans don’t tend to set aside specific sacred space, as they feel that the entire world is sacred. They may work around altars, hearths, or shrines, which can be dedicated to individual deities, to spirits or ancestors, or specifically set up for particular magical purposes.
Some acknowledge the four or twelve winds, and mark the division of the world into quarters or provinces which equate to the Irish model of Four Provincial divisions with a sacred centre. CR’s generally seem to work also with a three worlds model: the realms of Earth, Sea and Sky being appropriate to a Celtic mindset.
This makes sense to me, as we can see that these realms or worlds of Nem, Talam, and Muir (sky, earth, and sea respectively in Old Irish) are at least referred to, evoked, or attached a very certain potency through examination of ancient texts such as The Book of Leinster, the Táin Bó Cuailgne (though this is based on parts of the former), and Togail Bruidne Da Derga. All in all, an interesting approach, and relevant to Irish native heritage.
Ceremonial Magicians might ensure their personal space or aura is strong, healthy and razor sharp by the daily practice of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and other personal cleansing, banishing and strengthening rituals. Working with the evocation of universal forces, sometimes referred to as Angels or Demons, seems to ensure a healthy respect for the concept of “this is my space, and that is your space”; so a protective circle would be used in such workings, along with a triangle outside this space to contain/control the evoked being. Very practical and safe.
Early Celtic Christians utilised the Turas Deiseal, often named the ‘Sunwise’ journey/walk (pron. Toor-ass Jesh-al). In Irish, ar dheis (pron. Air Yesh) still means ‘to the right’, so technically it is following the direction the sun appears to travel in the sky, in our country.
The Turas Deiseal is a circular walk to the right, sometimes specified as seven times round, with the rounds being counted on hand held pebbles. It was most appropriately done around a holy well, church, or other sacred site, and was viewed as a pilgrimage or journey. Dara Molloy, in his essay for the book “Celtic Threads”, maintains that the Turas Deiseal is a ritual which facilitates a tuning in “with the rhythms of the earth, the cycle of the days, the seasons and the passing years”.
Personally, I believe this practice to be based on older knowledge or techniques. One similar instance of this practice which I have come across is in a fore-tale to the Cattle raid of Cooley, about the curse put on the Ulster men by the Goddess Macha. The story is entitled Ces Ulad, or ‘the pangs of Ulster’. It tells how the Goddess came to live with a mortal man, just turned up one day and attended to the household as if she had been there forever. But before she would sleep with him, she does an interesting thing. Proinsias MacCana describes her action as “the ritual right hand turn to ensure good fortune”. Daragh Smyth says that it was only “after circling three times on the flagstone on the front of his house” that she went in and entered his bed. Although this is hardly concrete evidence to support my theory, the Turas Deiseal could quite possibly have a more ancient heritage than the Celtic Christian usage.
That’s how some folks go about things, and there are many more examples available for you to study. Do go and look up different traditions to see what is important, relevant or useful from them.
In our search to blend sensible modern magic with native Irish practices, there are a few notable elements which the creation of sacred space could take into account.
I am quite firm in my belief that any actual words you use, whether spontaneous or pre-written, regularly and routinely used or changed each time, should and indeed must be your words and not mine – but to help with the whole signposts thing, my personal practice includes the following:
- An initial tuning in, relaxation and opening up exercise, or connection of some sort to the actual physical space in which I work, particularly when outdoors. This can be as simple as a few minutes of silent contemplation, physical relaxation, deep breathing and observation, or can involve the like of a more detailed ‘Chakra opening’ exercise for those who are comfortable with, or interested in, such things. The intent is to relax, tune out of the mundane and into more ‘supernatural’ aspects, prepare myself, and observe what is already going on around me.
- I then use the Turas Deiseal, as outlined above, to demarcate the area in which I wish to work. A simple walk, sunwise (that is, following whichever way the sun appears to travel through the sky in your part of the world), which I usually take seven times round, while chanting or singing, speaking particular words or absorbing the silent creation – depending on where I am and who I am working with at the time. I find this to be useful on many levels. It is reminiscent of the spiral symbol which is an important part of Irish heritage. This symbol was used by our ancestors from as early as 3100 BCE, the most famous examples being found carved into the stones surrounding the pre-historic passage-tomb of Newgrange, in County Meath. What these images represented, or why they were important, nobody can say for sure. But if the spiral or triple spiral symbol is something you feet an affinity with or wish to explore for yourself, then the Turas Deiseal can be adapted to facilitate this. Walking the spiral path is an effective connection to Otherworld energies. Walking the ritual right-hand path also clearly marks the space in which I wish to work. It creates boundaries and protection if that is so desired – this aspect can be clarified and strengthened by your words and your visualisation, if you feel the need yourself. And it focuses and strengthens your central point – whether that is a fire, a seat, a cooking pot, a candle, a hearth, an altar, a shrine, a standing stone – making the centre of your sacred space a useful focal point for whatever work you intend to carry out.
- I then bring in other elements of Irish tradition as appropriate, again to time, place, and the company I am keeping when I work. These elements could include: Provincial evocations (Ulster, Connaught, Leinster and Munster, with either Midhe or Uisneach as the central point), acknowledgement of the four directions/winds/cities or treasures of the Tuatha De Danaan, evocation (calling to my presence) or invocation (more complex, calling to within myself) of particular deities, movement/dance to incorporate the triple spiral symbol into the space, or connection to the three worlds of land, sea and sky.
When the sacred space has been created to my satisfaction, I then proceed with the work of the time.
For the purposes of this book, the work might be:
- simply sitting in contemplation of the Power to whom you wish to introduce yourself and seeing what way your mind takes you (this is often how the feedback happens), the oral telling of a story connected to the Power or illustrating their attributes (this serves to remind them of who they are, as well as educating yourself and others present regarding them, and tapping into Bardic skills of story-telling and continuance/development of knowledge),
- a more formal introductory proclamation of who you are, and what you want from them (be warned: this may open up a whole can of worms if they decide to throw what work they want from you into your life),
- a magical evocation of the Power to come and meet you within the space you have created (requires a level of visualisation/concentration practice and ability, and prior experience with meditations and spiritual journeying is an advantage),
- or a full blown invocation of the power to come and inhabit your body for a time, to speak or act through you, to prophesise through you, to merge with you for a time (this requires the highest level of previous skill and magical training to be able to handle and control successfully and at Will – though it can happen spontaneously, such an occurrence should be viewed as honestly and critically as possible to avoid the whole experience or series of experiences degrading into nothing more than fanciful ego stroking and self aggrandisement).
Any of these methods of working can happen simultaneously, e.g. an evocation or invocation may begin with the silent contemplation or be followed by the telling of a story. It is always a good idea to plan what you wish to do before hand; get it clear in your own head what the intent of your work is, and what from the above outlined (or from your own intuition/experience/research) you feel is relevant to your time or place.
You can write and learn off specific words to say, chants to use, learn songs or drum on a bodhrán, or just have the basic outline of what you want to do ready in your head and fill in the gaps as you go, as the spirit moves you.
Please, please, for your own sake, keep a full and honest record of all you do and all you experience. Even things that seem irrelevant, failed, or stupid to you now can hold immense value as you continue your own development and training through the years.
It is truly amazing what clicks into place when I look back over records I have kept for years without realising the significance or relevance of incidents such as dreams, intuitive feelings, life events and recurring challenges, when viewed only in isolation.
And of course, tracking your personal development is always good for a laugh, and occasionally to highlight just how far you have actually come – it can often seem like we are banging our heads on the proverbial brick wall, when in fact we are coming further and faster and steadier than we think.