Celtic Witchcraft chapter 2: Stepping Stones

Aug 24th, 2014 | By | Category: Articles, Celtic Witchcraft, Work in Progress

By Mabh Savage

Celtic Triad: Three candles that illumine every darkness: truth, nature, knowledge.

In magic we look to the elements, the directions and spirits among many, many other things, as a way to quantify and understand the universal energies we are harnessing. In Wicca and other ritual based on a similar foundation, the cardinal points are the focus for an individual or coven to consecrate or cast a circle; North, East, South and West, and their associated elements, respectively Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The practitioner can then go deeper to the aspects of the world associated with each element; birds of the air, or the heat of the summer sun for example.

Let’s go deeper still to understand how the directions and elements represent different parts of human nature, or our own psyche. East is about new beginnings, birth, the start of something. The freshness of a morning breeze moves us towards thinking about the element of air. The carefree and uncontrollable nature of the wind; this translates in ourselves as mischief or playfulness, childishness or embracing our inner child and un-tempered emotions both light and dark. You’ll note that I am careful to point out that each of these aspects has a flip side. There is no good and evil in Celtic Witchcraft. Everything you do has consequences and you have to be prepared for that. It’s up to you to make sure your choices affect your life and the lives of those around you in the way you intend. Hopefully this is a positive one! If you have darker designs, just remember consequences have a way of biting you in the bum when you least expect it.

At some point I’ll provide the obligatory list of elemental correspondences and how you can use them, but it’s important to note that I don’t want you to feel bound by these. Celtic Witchcraft is very much about using your instincts. Rite and ritual, tools and trinkets; these things are not necessary for you, but also they should not be shunned. Choose your own way of working, and expect it to change often, perhaps even daily at first. You are not only a witch; you are a scientist, experimenting with yourself and the world, responsibly but with healthy curiosity and a sense of adventure.

By this point we have accepted that we are a part of a huge universe and a world which seems even huger because we are so close to it, even though in reality it is a tiny speck in the eye of creation. We use directions and symbolism to break this massive, incomprehensible world into smaller chunks that are easier to understand, and as we’ve discussed, we start to relate those pieces of the world to ourselves. How does this benefit us? Why do we need to do this? Ultimately, what’s in it for you?

Well, what do you want? Why are you here? What answer eludes you? What desire is just out of reach? The Celts were seekers not only of knowledge, but of wealth, power and beauty. I’ve found that there is no shame in admitting a desire for something worldly, just as there is certain glory in seeking something divine.

“This is the way of it then” said Lugh. “The three apples I asked of you are the three apples from the Garden in the East of the World, and no other apples will do but these, for they are the most beautiful and have the most virtue in them of the apples of the whole world. And it is what they are like, they are of the colour of burned gold, and they are the size of the head of a child one month old, and there is the taste of honey on them, and they do not leave the pain of wounds or the vexation of sickness on anyone that eats them, and they do not lessen by being eaten forever.” (Gods and Fighting Men: the Story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland; Gregory, Lady; John Murray, London, 1910.)

Lugh, speaking here, has just lost his father. Instead of simply killing the culprits, the infamous Sons of Tuireann, he devises a plan whereby the murderers are sent on a mission that will either kill them through its sheer danger and difficulty, or if they somehow succeed, many great and powerful artefacts, such as the apples described above, will be bestowed upon Lugh. Lugh may seem somewhat cold to us; using his father’s death as a vehicle to gain power. But look at it another way. He is distraught. His father, to whom he is very close, has been brutally taken from him. He can exact revenge, or he can use the situation positively. He masters his emotions and moves everyone down a path that ultimately can only end to his advantage.

This is basically how you have to think when you work with magic. You can’t do magic angry. You can’t do magic upset. Your intent has to be pure; not pure as in good or even altruistic! But pure as in unsullied, not tainted by other thoughts and wishes that are roiling around inside your skull. You must master yourself before you can master magic. And that is why, as in all great endeavours, we start small.

Your journey is like crossing a river without a bridge. You must find the shallowest point, and use the water worn rocks as stepping stone, to gradually move your way across. But before you even set foot upon a stone, let’s sit on the bank a while. Listen to the rush of the water. Appreciate its power. Look at the plants growing; there’s a bulrush, oh and yellow flag… The water feeds and nourishes them. A dragonfly swoops down almost in tandem with a kingfisher; brilliant bolts of blue beneath the bright day. But look at how that piece of the opposite bank is crumbling away. The water is destroying it, minute by minute. This is what you have to understand about magic, and about witchcraft. It is power and the application of power. The former is a universal energy and the latter is a tool, a way of manipulating said energy. But you can never take it for granted and you will work hard before you ever feel that you have achieved a successful spell, or a change in the world. And you must never forget that power is only power; like the rush of the river, it has no alignment; no good, no evil. It is your intent that channels and directs the power, always.

So here we are, on the bank of this great body of water, thinking about what we need in order to be able to step confidently onto that first stone, with no fear of slipping. The triad tells us the candles that illuminate the darkness are truth, nature and knowledge. Truth is the first meal, and like breakfast, it’s the most important one. Most importantly you have to be willing to face your own truth, your own desires, and the ability to be honest with yourself. What has brought you to this point? Why are you drawn to witchcraft? Are you trying to fix something in your life that you are unhappy with? This, I have often found, is not a great reason for learning any form of witchcraft. Magic is not a plaster or Band-Aid that can be put over the wounds in your life. Sure, it can help bolster your confidence and your ability to deal with difficulties, but it’s not a cure-all. If all you want out of witchcraft is a way to cure unhappiness or misfortune, step away until you can come at it from a more balanced place. I have seen too many people delve deep into witchcraft to try and escape from the problems in their life, and it has never ended well. Witchcraft for revenge, for purely selfish reasons or as a kind of anti-depressant is ineffective at best and highly damaging at worst. You need a clear and uncluttered mind to do your best work in any endeavour. When you are working with magic, this is even more crucial, as the slightest crookedness in your intent can lead to unpredictable results.

Honesty with yourself is hard, but achievable. If you have any doubts about why you are doing what you are doing, address them head on. Don’t be afraid of feeling doubt, or worry. These are normal, human emotions, and it would be more of a concern if you had no doubts or worry about learning witchcraft! There is another Irish triad that states

Three things a person is: what he thinks he is, what others think he is and what he really is.

Try and address all three of these. What kind of a person do you think you are? Are you stubborn and headstrong? Or do you avoid confrontation? Are you kind and compassionate? Or out for number one? Then think of how others view you. This may sound harder but think of a time a friend has described you to another. What personality traits were discussed? Were you flattered or riled? Did you feel like they had nailed you, to a tee, or were you shocked and surprised at the description? The purpose of this exercise is not to determine whether you are ‘fit’ to be a witch or walk a Celtic path, but simply to encourage you to explore the skill of self-analysis. It’s really, really important that you can be as self-aware as possible, in order to be as honest as possible about your goals and ambitions. There are no right or wrong answers; please, please, please don’t write yourself up as the kindest and most compassionate person in the world when actually you can’t stand kids and you have a low tolerance for fools; every aspect of your personality is important and is a vital part of you. You will be the most complete person you can be when you accept every part of yourself and don’t try and hide what you or others may see as ‘dark’ or ‘negative’. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) has parts of themselves they are not proud of. ¬†However those aspects may stand you in good stead at certain times in your life.

Think about a situation where you became angry, and that anger helped you through the situation. Anger is often seen as a negative emotion, but the expression of anger is the outlet for depression, it can help overcome fear and it can drive us to actions that may seem out of character but move us forward in some way.

I recently split with the father of my child, and it was my ultimately my anger that made me realise we were in the wrong place for each other. We had grown apart, and I didn’t feel supported by him in any of my endeavours. Being fiercely independent, I tried not to let this bother me at first, but it’s hard when the person who apparently loves you shows no interest in your achievements. I had spent so long being calm, collected and measured about every situation, that things had always settled down and seemed calm on the surface, though there was resentment and unease constantly bubbling beneath. It wasn’t until I lost my temper, said all the things I had been holding back from saying and truly threw down the gauntlet that it became clear that there was no fixing the problems that had grown between us. Without that outburst, that venting of steam, it’s likely that we would still be struggling on together now, both unhappy and creating an unhappy home for our family. Anger was a cleansing force, although the experience was harsh, and extremely unpleasant, it was the emotional equivalent of ripping the plaster off the wound; painful but effective.

Hopefully you won’t have to go through something as painful to appreciate that every aspect of you as a person will benefit you at some point in your life. But do try and make a note of the times when you are angry, sad, lonely, selfish, cruel, callous or apathetic; what’s the impact this emotion is having on your life? How have your actions led to you behaving like this? And is there any way for you to turn this negative seeming behaviour into a positive force in your life? The answer will often be no, but the more you realise this, the easier it will become to stop this behaviour in its tracks; to stop yourself, take a breath,¬† and make a different choice,

The second candle in the darkness is nature. Nature is a strange word; at its root it means ‘how things are’, the nature of things is their original state, how they began and even what they grow into. We’ve already discussed examining our own nature, but I feel that this section of the triad is referring to the more commonly accepted use of nature, the natural world. Wildlife. Plants. Animals. Weather. Landscapes. Everything that has barely been touched by mankind or technology and, indeed, remains somewhat in its original state. Why is it important to be in touch with nature? Almost every Pagan path holds reverence toward nature at some core point in its tenets, yet often the why and wherefore of this is not explored. As we move through this book, we will explore the different ways to connect with your local land, but for now, as we rest on the riverbank, all we need to understand is why it is important.

Well firstly, you are a part of the natural world. You are an animal; a mammal. If you take off your clothes and lie in the grass it is basically your shape and sentient thought that distinguishes you from the cows in the field. I’m not suggesting you do this! But you can if you want. Watch out for spiders; that’s all I’m saying.¬† My point is we are not better than the cow. We are not more important. We are one strand in a web of creation, which is a huge and complex web. I use the term web because it reminds us that everything is connected. Every action we make affects something in some way. This may seem obvious, but it surprises me how many people seem to bounce along through life completely oblivious to the impact they are having on the world. When you pause and consider your actions, you can truly appreciate that the smallest effort can have huge consequences.

I had a wasp’s nest in the garden last year. It was a bit scary. My first instinct was ‘Argh, get rid of it!’ But I took some time to sit in the garden, and watch the wasps, and I discovered that they were not interested in me in the slightest. They were a slightly smaller breed than the usual ‘chase you around a field’ variety, and they were so focused on their own business that my family and I did not register on their radar one iota. They had a strict flight path which they stuck to, over the pine trees and back. They had one entrance hole to the nest which was rarely threatened. On the odd occasion I came too near with the grass strimmer, they would pour out and fly in formation around the site, but would not attack. It was pure defensive posturing. That year I barely had any aphids in the garden as the carnivorous wasps fed on them constantly. Although I was scared of the wasps, I managed to live harmoniously with them, because I didn’t follow my knee jerk reaction which was to destroy them out of fear. At the end of summer, I saw the queen crawling away from the now defunct site, and I dug out the whole area to stop infestation the following year. Nothing was killed, and the wasps had a good year of feasting on aphids, and I had a relatively pest free garden.

I’m not suggesting you let your house and garden be overrun by animals of all kinds; of course not. Our lives and homes are important too, just as the lives of the wasps were important. But if there is a way to find balance, this is preferable to simply dominating the natural world because you can. A lack of action can sometimes be as powerful and profound as the greatest endeavour. There are small ways to connect to nature; feeding the birds, sitting in a forest, having a wild patch of your garden. But more than anything, don’t feel that simply because you are top of your local food chain, that you are better than any other living thing. You are vital, and important. But so is everything else.

Finally, the last candle which illuminates the darkness, or the final stretch before placing a foot upon the stepping stones across the river: knowledge. This is actually a very tricky one, as with any esoteric subject, there are no hard and fast facts; there is only that which most people agree on. You will read many books which will ring true with you now but perhaps in later years you will have outgrown that way of thinking, and have your own knowledge that is truer and more relevant to you.

The knowledge I will impart comes equally from the mythology and history of the Celts and current, modern thinking on magic. I combine the two to create a way of working that is relevant in today’s world but gives honour to the ways of our Celtic forebears.

My final tip for this chapter is this: get a notebook. I’m not going to say ‘journal’ or ‘book of shadows’; simply a notebook, so every time you learn something new that will help you along your path to become a witch, you can write it down, and revisit it from time to time. These notes are your stepping stones; each nugget of knowledge is a step across the river. Feel the rock beneath your feet, the fire of the blood pumping in your veins, the cool whisper of wind on your face and the force of flow around you as the river sings on. You will cross this fierce beast, and it will be your own hands and mind that allow you to do it. Be proud.


If you’ve missed chapter one, click here to read it.

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