Monday, November 18, 2013

The Story of Airmid's Apron

copyright Searles O'Dubhain, Samradh 1997 - I use this story in my classes to teach my students.

The story of Airmid's Apron begins with a battle between gods and not-gods, which is a strange beginning for a story of healing herbs. You might ask, "How can an apron possibly determine the fate of the universe and what associations can an apron, much less the universe, have to herbs and healing? And you would be very right in the asking of those questions, as we also hope that we will be granted much truth in our telling of the answers to you.

In the beginning times of the Three Worlds, there were those beings of the Sky who ruled with skill and light, and then there were those others of the Depths who created and destroyed in never ending Chaos and darkness. Between these two worlds was a third world known as the Earth which was without much life upon it. That is, there was not much life upon it until the gods of the Sky took an interest in it. Though the not-gods of Chaos had often cast their multitude of creatures upon its face, most did not live. Those that did tended to frequent the depths of the Seas and the extreme reaches of the Earth's caverns. The gods of Light were called the People of Danu (The Sky River) or the Tuatha Dé Danann. The not-gods of Darkness were the children of Domnu (The Abyss) and known as the Fomorii. After Brighid threw her mantle down upon the Earth and after the children of the Sky River descended in a mist to its surface,. there was light upon creation and there was an order brought to the created chaos of existence. What the Tuatha Dé found to be good and pleasing, the Fomorii found to be disgusting and horrible. It was only natural that battle should ensue between the two groups, and that is exactly what happened. Two battles were fought to determine the fate of the earth. These two battles were both called Moytura after the Great Plain of the Pillar, which in Old Irish is known as Maige Tuired. This is the plain were the pillar that suspends the Earth between the Heavens and the Pit still exists and is to be found in the West of Ireland.

The First Battle of Moytura was fought between the Tuatha Dé and the Fir Bolg, a vassal tribe of the Fomorii. The gods had offered to divide the land into two parts, allowing both people to lead peaceful lives and have a prosperous coexistence. The Fir Bolg would have none of this (for how would they pay their yearly tribute to the Fomorii at Samhain if they possessed only part of the Land?) In the battle that resolved the issue, the Tuatha Dé were victorious. The price in lives was high on both sides and Nuada, the king of the People of Danu, lost his right hand in personal combat with Sreng, king of the Fir Bolg. Thus, the stage was set for the story of how Airmid's Apron became the cradle of life and healing to all the world.

Nuada was the best man qualified to be king among the children of Danu (next to Her Three Sons and The Dagda, that is). A king he would have remained, except that a king must remain unblemished in his truth and his form among the People. No matter how wise or good or strong a man might be, he could not be the king if he had only one good arm. It is for this reason that the God of Medicine, DianCécht, and the God of Craftsmen, Creidne, were summoned to the Hill of Tara (home of kings). They were brought to the king so that his arm might be healed and made whole again. Creidne said he could make a new arm for Nuada of silver but that it would only be a mechanical device, not as good as the original. This was still considered a blemish and was therefore no solution to the problem of being a king without blemish. DianCécht said he could not regrow the arm or restore it completely by his healing powers. The problem of the blemish remained. To resolve this dilemma, the two gods worked together and it was determined that Creidne could make an arm of silver in the likeness of the original, and that DianCécht could give this arm the life and movement of a real arm. This compromise, coupled with Nuada's kingly abilities, was enough to regain him the kingship of the Tuatha Dé (for he was, in truth, a king better than any other).

Nuada reigned supreme and wisely for many days thereafter. One day, a young healer approached the company of Tara accompanied by his sister, a fair maiden with wisdom beyond her years and a heart that could not be contained within a single body. The door keeper challenged them for their names and their skills (for no unskilled person could enter the hall of the king). To which, the young man replied, " I am Miach, son of DianCécht and this is my sister Airmid." We have come to the court of Nuada Argetlamh at the Mound of Tara to work a healing. We have come from our studies and our workings among the families of the healing gods" "Then you may enter!" said the door keeper (for, in truth Nuada's silver arm was not *really* considered to be entirely fitting for a king of the gods). So, enter they did, walking into the banquet hall of the heroes, where Nuada sat in the King's Seat and Ogma sat in the Sages' Seat. When told that Miach, Mac DianCécht and Airmid Ni DianCécht were present, Nuada rose before them in kingly fashion and inquired of them their purpose. When he was told that they had come to work a complete healing of his arm, he beamed a silver rayed smile throughout the land (brighter than two suns in a Mid-June sky on a clear day along the River of Bóann).

All of the company of Tara was assembled to witness the working and this is what was done: The true arm of Nuada was brought from the place of great value and presented to the healers. Miach took the silver arm from Nuada's body, sending it back to the room of trophies. He placed the withered arm of the king back upon his body, connecting bone to bone, sinew to sinew, and skin to skin. For three days it was connected to Nuada's skin, with Miach, chanting,

"Skin to Skin and Skin again!"

... and the skin of the arm regrew and was as pink as a baby's skin! Next, Miach placed the arm against Nuada's side for three days and chanted,

"Sinew to Sinew and Muscle anew!"

...and the arm regained its true form and strength! Miach next held the arm between his hands for three days and chanted the Chant of Life into it,

"Breath to Breath and Blood to Blood and Mind to Mind, 

Life upon thee, I threefold *BIND*!

All the gods gathered around the wonder that had been done by Miach. They praised him and marveled at his skill, extolling him as having been a better healer than DianCécht himself. Miach had succeeded where DianCécht had failed and the tribe was once again led by a king without a blemish!

Each word of praise turned a heart that should have been glad into a seething pit of burning coals. Words upon words caused the fires to leap higher until they raged through DianCécht's very being! An unconquerable fury came upon the god of all healing and he smote his son with his sword, so that it cut the skin of his head. Miach, in the glory of his healing, said that it mattered naught and healed the wound instantly so that it left no mark upon him. DianCécht's fury rose higher and he smote his son with the sword a second time, cutting the flesh of his head down to the bone. This wound, Miach dispatched as easily as the first with the same ease and skill. A third time the furious sword lashed out and pierced both skin and sinew, even through the skull itself, yet once again Miach's wizardry of healing availed against the wounding. Now, DianCécht rose in all his godly power and smote Miach such a blow with his sword that his brain was pierced and removed from his head. From this blow there was to be no healing, for the soul and the brain both departed from his body at the same time. Even the god of medicine could not have healed such a wound. Even the Well of Slán could not have returned life to a person whose soul had flown. Miach was truly dead. None dared raise their hands to DianCécht as he stood with bloody sword in hand and the blood of his son upon his hands,a badge of dishonor. The full blood price was due to Miach's family from the same person that had killed him, DianCécht, his father, head of that same family, a sad irony and a deed wrought by a blade, hot with anger.

The body of Miach was taken to the Plain of Brega the Mighty and buried within a mound of honor. When the shock of this tragedy finally released her, Airmid was overcome by waves of sadness and much longing for her brother. For these reasons, she went to his grave every day and sang him the secret songs of the beloved sisters and brothers. The words of such songs are not to be heard, yet the sound of them travels throughout worlds. A brother never had a finer sister, nor one so skilled in the healing arts. The burial place of Miach was on the Plain of Brega and it was there that Airmid came to watch over him and his grave. Each day that she came, a small miracle occurred. A new herb would spring up from a different place on the grave mound! Miach's healing powers were manifesting themselves as individual herbs, each with its own correspondence to the parts of the body and each marking a special cure for its ailments.

For a year and a day Airmid attended her brother Miach's grave, and for a year and a day herbs grew from it in answer to his healing spirit. On the last day of that vigil, she gathered all the herbs within her apron, each with its special place marking its usage and its powers. Within the contents of her apron, her brother's gift would live again, through the healing knowledge and power of the herbs. As fate would have it, this last day was the very day that DianCécht missed Airmid at the Well of Slán and began to search for her. Knowing her as he did, he immediately went to the site of Miach's grave to bring her home again. The Well of Slán required himself and three other healers in order to maintain its healing flow. With Miach gone, Airmid was sorely missed and the Well could not be brought to its full healing potential. When he arrived at the grave and found her standing there, apron filled with 365 healing herbs and all alone, he scattered its contents in another out-of-control fury! "This knowledge is not for the world to have!" he shouted. "If Miach's knowledge is received into the coimgne (common knowledge), then everyone will become a healer and our kind shall surely vanish from the hearts of men and the ways of the Earth forever!" After that outburst, he stalked away in a thunder, assured that the secrets of healing were safely preserved to the healers. Alone and afraid, crying tears for her brother and the fury of here father that had killed him, Airmid could only stare at his back as he departed. She stood there in wonder and sorrow at the ways of gods and men, gazing all the while at the many scattered herbs upon the grave.

Was the healing knowledge truly lost to the ways of the People and the coimgne? 

Was the healing power only to be used through the good will of DianCécht? 

Was the Well of Slán to be the only place for obtaining healing and re-birth?

As she began to gather the herbs of her brother's gift, and even through her streaming tears:

She smiled a smile as only a goddess can smile. 

She smiled the smile of knowing. 

She smiled the smile of giving and receiving. 

She smiled a smile as one who never forgets a brother. 

She smiled the smile of sisterhood. 

She smiled the smile of one who never forgets their duty. 

She smiled a smile as she once again gathered the herbs of her apron. 

She smiled the smile of a year and a day of remembering. 

She smiled the smile of Miach and his healing gifts.

and she began to sing this song ...

" I am the secret of Airmid's Apron. 

I am the healing herbs. 

I am the sister of Miach. 

I am the keeper of his gift. 

I am a year and a day of vigil. 

I am all of time and beyond. 

I am a knower and a healer.

I am a living memory that never forgets. 

I am the mark of each and every one. 

I am a secret garden and its bed of honor. 

I am many and I am also one. 

What is the secret of Airmid's Apron? 

Who is it that honors a brother's gift? 

When is this herb gathered and What is that one's use?

Words of healing! 
Marks upon a sister's cloth!"

And that my friends, is the story of Airmid's Apron.

Friday, November 1, 2013


When Druids Meet

When Druids meet, how do they recognize one another? The answer to this question has many answers today because there are many ways that a person can be a Druid. In one of the few references available to us on this subject from antiquity, The Colloquy of the Two Sages, we can discover that some of these many ways are as follows:
  1. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by detailing the truth of the inner *nature* that caused them to seek to become Druids.
  2. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by providing the *traditions* of the studies that formed them into Druids.
  3. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by describing their *rank* of attainment in their chosen specialties of Draíocht.
  4. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by itemizing the *skills* in the art of Druids that they practice as Druids.
  5. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by outlining the *goals* that they've set for themselves as Druids.
  6. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by detailing their *accomplishments* in their life as Druids.
  7. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by tracing the Druidic *lineage* of their teachers.
  8. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by performing *prophecy* that is inspired through imbas.
  9. Druids recognize one another through inquiry and by *acknowledging truth* when they see it.
These nine points of being a Druid are clearly provided to us from the Druids of the past in the tales about them and their interactions. I think they ably provide us with three questions that we each need to answer:
·         Can we ignore these nine points of being a Druid when we seek to be Druids ourselves?
·         Can we afford to ignore discovering them in others who say they are Druids?
·         Can we demonstrate them to the world through the truth of our own actions?

When we look for Druids among us or within ourselves, will we find the requisite nature, tradition, rank, skill, goals, accomplishments, lineage, prophecy and truth that is the mark of a Druid? Will we be able to ask and answer the three questions of seeking, discovering and demonstrating? When Druids meet, the knowledge of tradition, experience and inquiry are each validated through the harmony of respect, openness and imbas.
What is demonstrated and meant here is that Druids tell one another what it was that set them on the Druid Way and describe this epiphany of choice in such a way that other Druids can identify and synchronize with it.

Wouldn't you want to know the degrees that a person has as well as their experience if they were going to be your doctor or discuss other professional matters with you in a professional specialty? Wouldn't you want to know the qualifications of your lawyer, your clergy or your doctor? Would you eat in a restaurant that had not been inspected or drive a vehicle without assurances that it was safe to do so?

To evaluate whether a person is actually a Druid, one might consider itemizing their areas of specialty or attempt to understand the techniques or systems that they use. In medicine, this might be reflected in looking for a diploma from a medical school, a license or a certification on the wall. One should hopefully ask if they specialized in surgery before contracting with them for an operation. One might want to know if a doctor practices holistic medicine vs. heavy use of drug therapies, etc. Some of these questions are answered or assured by reputation in the community or by the certifications and regulations for the hospitals and health facilities where doctors are employed and ply their craft.

Establishing a professional relationship with a person or colleague pretty much mandates that one understand their skills and levels of competency. After that, associating with a person is pretty a matter of getting together with like minds who share a common dream and then pulling together in the same direction.
Knowing a person’s lineage, school or level of training, is also very helpful in evaluating where a person is coming from.

 If the teacher, school or group is already well known, the evaluation of the individual's practice as a Druid might be better understood against that background. Knowing a person is a member of Keltria, ADF or OBOD might suggest something about their overall belief structure and practice.

If the Druids of one’s lineage are known, then one’s credibility as a Druid is established and measured though that connection. I hope that Druids everywhere consider intelligence to be a great measuring stick, along with truth, intuition and awareness.

I also think that using the various ways that have been listed of evaluating anyone's claims are sensible. What we are talking about here are credentials that are similar to what would be on any resume.

It is a major focus of my work as a Druid to effectively establish credentials and other clear-cut ways of defining who and what we are as Druids. It's my great hope that much of the confusion and hoopla associated with the many who *claim* to be Druids (but who are actually something else) can be eliminated through these (and similar) efforts. That's why some of us in The Summerlands are working toward the establishment of a Druid Seminary.

 I suspect that is also why OBOD, Keltria and ADF have improved (and continue to improve) their training courses. I also think that's why the Druid College of Avalon is being established. I think that we can establish centers of credibility and authority without having to have one central authority. If we do this, I think we will be emulating the ways that the ancient Druids also established and maintained their own centers of learning and authority. Most modern Druid groups are really not that far apart in terms of requiring education and dedication from their members. The traditions mainly differ in regard to degree and point of focus.  They also have differing histories and cultural focus, but these are to be expected as they are geographically and culturally separated.

Without some type or center of credibility and authority, anything can be misused or become off-centered. Anyone’s claims can be considered as valid as another’s. Throwing away standards and definitions opens up order to anarchy. That is why most workable systems and Druid groups have some form of checks and balances as well as a listed way of self-evaluating and regulating.

How this can or is being done is worthy of another thread and further discussion. Maybe some of the more successful groups or schools out there can tell us what their experience has been?

The idea behind having certification is to provide an easy means of determining credentials and capability, even relative authority. These standards should not be considered the "be all and end all" of Druidic society. Rather, they are ways for the general public to get a grasp on what Druids are all about in a fairly uniform and consistent manner.

A feature of such groups should be their ability to recognize individuals who have obtained the necessary standards of excellence on their own as well as through divine inspiration. Here (and also in the case of those who attend regular schools and training) there should be a criteria that establishes what a Druid (no matter the specialty) actually is.

That same yardstick can measure the conventional as well as the unique. In fact, that is one reason I started this thread (to attempt to place some marks of reference on that stick). The Inis Glas Hedge School was an excellent example of a knowledge base that could serve as an educational yardstick for traditional knowledge that a Druid should be expected to have. The ADF, Keltria, AODA and OBOD study programs define levels of knowledge and achievement sufficient for their organization to recognize levels, rings, orders and types of Druids. Some of these are ordered with tree names like Birch, Oak and Yew, while others separate the disciplines as Bard, Ovate and Druid. Each level or ring has its own uniquely defined skills and tests for achievement.

 This study, discipline and testing is a traditional requirement for being recognized as a Druid.

In ancient Ireland, an ollamh (in any skill but primarily in law, poetry or priestly duties) was established and recognized through a process of education, examination and installation involving other sages and ollamhs (of that discipline), as well as by the local kings and chieftains. Our recognition of modern Druids should require similar standards of education and achievement that are measured and established by a similar process of recognition by schools, boards and governmental offices today. That is actually how the university system still works in much of the world. That's the way that it should work among us as well.

Perhaps the members of any such board should come from the schools, the leadership of government and from those who are independently acknowledge experts in the field on some rotating basis? That way, we might minimize any one group gaining a control over the process in a restrictive manner? How to do this in balance and fairness is a discussion and an outcome that I eagerly await.

I generally agree with addressing the general warning signs as being red flags about a person’s claims and credentials (needs details) but do reserve judgment on ruling out wisdom that is found in unusual, controversial and little known traditions. This does not mean that one should endorse the unusual or the controversial (or even the outright wrong) just because it is different but it does mean that such sources can contain truth beyond conventional wisdom. The unorthodox can inspire us to go beyond the normal and usual into realms of truth that would otherwise be ignored.

Common sense tells us that to be generally accepted knowledge must be evaluated and substantiated through careful research and thorough investigation. In these considerations of the unusual, wisdom is found almost as often from failure as it is through success. Perhaps the list of warnings and red flags should be qualified or limited through accurate definitions while a list of positive affirmations for Druids is also clearly stated? What a Druid is not is equally and more easily understood at times than what it is that defines a person as being a Druid. The negatives often times screen the dreck more efficiently than the positives recognize the jewels.