Happy St Patrick's Day!
Aside from the modern day ritual of wearing green and drinking way too much Guinness, of which I am a big fan, I thought it would be fun to share some traditions and rituals from Ireland today. I spent two amazing weeks driving around Ireland with my cousin from London years ago and it still ranks as one of my favorite places on earth. You can practically feel the magic and the history in the woods, fields and structures - from crumbling castles to thousands of years old stone circles. Many of the ancient beliefs of and rituals of Ireland are still practiced today. Some of them have been given different names and folded into the rituals of the Catholic church. Here are a few fun rituals from a country steeped in history, magic and tradition...
The ritual of music. Irish music just makes you want to dance. In pubs to this day people will spontaneously stand and sing a song and everyone joins in. It's a big part of Irish culture. From raucous, fast paced drum and fiddle music, to melancholy accapella songs, Irish music is a ritual that for centuries, before most Irish people could read and write, passed on the oral history and traditions of the culture, passing that wealth of knowledge from generation to generation.
Sacred water: The Irish Celts believed that springs - where water came up from deep in the earth and streams and rivers were born - were sacred. They were the connecting spot for this world, and the underworld where the Goddess Aine resided. After St. Patrick brought Catholicism to Ireland, these traditions were banned by the Catholic church. So the Irish began referring to these springs as Holy Wells, and the tradition of visiting a Holy Well and praying for something: health, a baby, wealth, exists to this day, with people often leaving an offering at the well of a few coins or a Catholic prayer card.
Blessings and curses. The ancient pagans of Ireland believed that if you asked for a blessing, or wanted to create a curse, these wishes became much more powerful if you said them while touching an ancient stone known as a balluan stone. These large rocks were considered sacred and powerful. When Christianity came along, curses at a baluan faded as they were associated with black magic and angered the church. But the idea of touching a stone and making a wish or asking for a blessing survives to this day. One example that most anyone who has been to Ireland knows is kissing the blarney stone for good luck.
Interesting little fact: The original color of St. Patrick's Day was blue. It was only in 1798, during the Irish rebellion, that the shamrock became the symbol of Irish nationalism and green became the color associated with the Irish.
Finally, stone circles are one of the most fascinating ancient ritual sites in Ireland (and Britain in general). While most people have heard of Stonehenge in England, smaller stone circles are scattered all over Ireland, often without mention in guide books. Several times my cousin and I found them by talking with local people or B&B owners who would mention circles nearby and we would find them beautifully untouched, standing in fields as they had been for thousands of years. Most stone circles date to 3000-1500 BC. They usually have two larger stones with a gap between them that are an entrance. Certainly the stone circles were sites sacred places where rituals were carried out. But specifics on their purposes have never been confirmed. They do all share a fascinating trait - that they are built so that the sun rises right between two stones exactly on the winter solstice sun and summer solstices. The more well known of these sites - such as Drombeg in Ireland - draw modern day pagans who carry out rituals at those sites on the solstices, just as ancient pagans have done for five thousand years.