Ireland was a land whose was overrun by a variety of invading peoples, the Anglo-Saxons, the Norse, the Romans, and the Britons. Multiple religions existed side by side the moon based beliefs presided over by the Druids, the caste of priest and priestesses that practiced the ancient rituals. Eventually, most of the invaders were absorbed by marriage into the traditional ways of the Celts. Catholicism broke this chain of invasion and absorption, with Saint Patrick’s claim to fame not driving snakes out of Ireland, but by driving the Druids, represented by the serpent, underground. So deeply were the Druids driven underground, that ancient genealogical lines of druidic origin were forgotten or lost and the ancient teachings hidden beyond the reach of most Irish. But one thing about the Irish remain, and that is the love of a good story. The Celtic tales of love, battle, glory and loss remained mostly in oral tradition, but were catalogued by a succession of scribes from the thirteenth century on.
From these works, Helena Patterson reconstructed the Druidic teachings of the lunar/solar calendar in her book The Celtic Lunar Zodiac. Celtic astrology is primarily moon based, though there is a ying/yang element of the Sun and Moon sharing dominion over the earth, and their relative strength to one another according the amount of light and darkness seen during the day. It is an astrology designed to achieve balance between the duality of feminine and masculine forces.
Saint Patrick’s Day falls just about at the spring solstice, when the Celts herald the arrival of the lengthening day and the Moon goddess as a fertile young bride. It was a major celebration, one of the four fire ceremonies, which was, of course, the excuse for revels and feasts.
During these revels, the Irish bards would sing the cautionary tale of British King Bran, brother of the sea God, Manannan, who won the battle but lost the war through the extreme losses of his kin and fighting forces against the Irish king Matholwych. Matholwych had married Bran’s sister, Branwen, but dishonored her, and therefore Bran, by refusing to acknowledge her as his queen. In doing so he denied the traditional matriarchal line of succession.
Matholwych, in marrying Branwen, had obtained from Bran the powerful Cauldron of Regeneration. We see the Cauldron of Regeneration in the Greek myths as well, when Medea used it to kill Jason’s uncle Pelias, so that he could secure his rightful kingdom, Pagasae. In both these tales we see the ill effects of use of power for a solely masculine agenda. In the tale of King Bran, because Branwen was dishonored, the Cauldron of Regeneration failed to produce the desired results. The Irish dead revived in the cauldron were alive but were no better than zombies.
Because Bran lost some of his family, including Branwen, all his army and most of his generals, he was unable to defend his throne against a usurper and was forced into exile.
Since we are culturally divorced from celtic ways, the story does not yield up an alternate solution from which Bran could salvage the situation. However, it is clear through the story that Bran failed to act as a proper protector to his sister’s interests and thereby lost everything.
So when you lift your mug, proclaiming your Irish heritage, real or imagined, remember the story of the British king Bran and the your role in protecting the family and the hearth.
Erin Go Braugh