Ireland is steeped in mythology and tales of faeries but these fae have nothing in common with the adorable little Disney-created pixies that flit across the movie screen. Irish faeries have a dark side and many folks still attempt to appease them to this day. You can still find bowls of milk outside certain homes on certain days and many locals who stay away from nearby hills, caves, and mounds. They warn wayward travelers to do the same. Some have iron in their doorways or other superstitious markings to protect against dark creatures of a different world. In the past these beliefs were even more prevalent and tales of changelings and other mischievous things in the night were simply a part of life. These stories also became part of a highly publicized murder after a young woman named Bridget Cleary was burned to death by her husband, her father, and others, on this day in 1895.
Imbolc, also called Oimealg by the Druids, is the festival of the lactating sheep. Yes, you heard that right. It is derived from the Gaelic word oimelc meaning ewes milk. At this time of the year, many herd animals have either given birth for the first time of the year or they are just about to. It’s the first breath of Spring and it marks the center point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden and from February 1st to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. On Feb. 1st, Brighid’s snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather (Ground Hog Day anyone?) and in many places the first flowers begin to pierce the grounds of winter and start to bloom. Brighid’s Crosses are made and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year.Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun. It is a festival of fire and renewal and one of the first celebrations of Spring.
The Hunger Strike is an ancient custom that has been used for solving serious personal and social conflicts for centuries. The concept was originally an option for fighting injustice and it remains so to this day. August 3rd, 2014, is the day Hunger Strike Commemorations in Ireland wind up for the year, which is a perfect time to learn about the tradition and some of the people who have carried it on.
The Hunger Strike was codified in the early Brehon Laws of Ireland and known as a Troscad. It was often employed against a chieftain or tribal leader by someone of lower standing and was carried out publicly on the abuser’s doorstep. Advance notice was given before commencing this type of strike and the defendant was supposed to fast along with the person who had the complaint. If the originator of the strike died of starvation their opponent had to pay relatives a fee and would be subjected to societal penalties and supernatural consequences. Few people allowed themselves to be shamed in such a situation for long and most conflicts were resolved quickly and without death. It turns out that forcing the other party to go hungry right along with you made a difference, as did the peering eyes of the public.