Animism & Ecology in Gaelic Lore:
Exploring Imagination & Intimacy with the Natural World
Traditional lore in Scotland ascribes animistic beliefs to certain hills, islands, rocks, trees, caves, springs, and wells whose energy is most potent at threshold times such as dawn and dusk, or Beltane and Samhain. As sacred spaces, those places were, (and many cases still are) treated with reverence. Some are still known to leave milk for the Faeries in hollowed stones and refuse to pick plants like foxglove, let alone bring them inside. Hawthorn and Elder trees fill with clootie ties; a custom of placing a wish into shreds of one’s clothing and tying them to branches to be granted by the nature spirits who dwell there. The reverence and fear of these beings often led to the conservation and protection of the spaces they inhabit, until stories are discarded as mere superstition.
In this online course, we will engage traditional story and song as a way to connect more deeply with the natural world. We will explore texts like the Carmina Gadelica, Gaelic animal totems, the lore of faerie mounds, concepts of unquantified time and liminal spaces, human/plant relationships, and the power of language in relationship with nature. In between each class, we will suggest reading and give assignments to engage your creativity and help to deepen intimacy to the land where you are. We will examine elements of Gaelic lore and ask questions such as:
What is the significance of these stories both in the Gaelic past and now?
What elements of their practice can we adopt into our lives today?
What do the stories tell us about the Gaelic mindset and outlook?
How can we benefit the natural world through exposure to them?
How can we deepen our relationship to the natural world through our own art and story?
DATES & TIMES:
Every other Friday: May 21st – July 16th
3 pm – 5:30 pm EST
(The Sunday session, beginning May 16th is now FULL)
PART ONE: Guardians of the Land:
We will explore wild goddesses such as Easga Bhuidhe nam Féidh, Yellow Eska of the Deer which are regarded in Gaelic culture as the faerie herd, the like of which was tended by Cailleach na Beinne Brice, The Crone of the Speckled Mountain, and A’ Chailleach Bheur / Bheithir The Serpent Crone, the keeper of the mountain top cauldron, brewer of potions, ranger of wilderness, spirit of winter. Winter is the time of stories, time of quiet, time of frost and fireside song when humans retreat inside and the land is dark. In harnessing the spirit of winter, we can return to seasonal practices and the natural rhythms of the Earth, allowing ourselves and the planet to heal.
PART TWO: Faerie Lore
We will explore Faerie lore and Faerie Mounds as portals of the imagination; wombs from which faeries came forth and to which ancestors returned in mortal death. We will discuss Faeries as interlocutors between nature and the human mind, as guardians of the environment through the maintenance of taboos surrounding land, language, and ritual practice.
PART THREE: Plant Lore
We will explore nature-based rituals like the use of clootie ties, giving offerings to the plants prior to harvesting and using plants as offerings, and the burning of certain woods in the hearth at specific festival times. We will discuss the symbolism of rowan trees planted at the gable end of every new house, of oak trees in Druidic tradition, of yews as the ancient bloodlines of the land, and dualchas (intangible culture) as the blood of the inherited Gaelic stream of consciousness. We will investigate plants as stewards of our inner sanctity through medicinal use and how we humans can act as stewards of the plants’ environs.
PART FOUR: Animal Totems
The raven and eagle survive into modern Scotland and are Gaelic totems of strength. The reindeer, bear, wild boar, and wolf also once carried totemic significance, but are now long extinct in the Scottish countryside. Together, we’ll travel back through the carrying stream of the Gael via these animal totems, using them as points to orient our souls back to our wilder, more instinctual selves.
PART FIVE Closing Circle and Sharing Stories
Sharing our own creative writing, plant medicine, and art.
Early Registration Rate through Spring Equinox:
$395 (normally $495)
Limited to 9 people
All sessions will be live on Zoom and recorded in case you miss one or want to review.
Àdhamh hails from Cowal in Argyle and is of mixed Irish and Scottish Highland descent. He is the first person in 80 years to raise a family of fluent speakers of his local Gaelic dialect which remains on the verge of extinction. Àdhamh has absorbed a huge storehouse of lore over many years traveling the length and breadth of the Scottish Highlands, spending time with the few mainland tradition bearers who now remain. This experience has fostered a particular concern with the maintenance of the native cosmology of the Highlands and in particular with the manner in which the natural world has come to be viewed as incidental to the human experience. Although globally renowned for his work as Scottish Gaelic advisor to the Outlander film production, Àdhamh’s daily preoccupation keeps him much closer to home and the long-overdue decolonization of Scotland’s people through reconnection with the carrying stream of indigenous culture, language, and spirituality.
A visual artist, herbalist, holistic arts educator, former pro-boxer, and environmental activist, Vanessa’s work is a dynamic blend of her vast personal experiences over the last two decades. Her unique approach is rooted in the belief that healing happens through reclaiming an intuitive connection to ourselves, the natural world, and our own “inner-wild.” As the founder of Sacred Warrior, she inspires personal relationships with the plants and animals that share our ecosystem and curates embodied experiences in her workshops, herbal apprenticeships, and rewilding retreats. She has been traveling back to her ancestral home or Scotland to deepen relationship with her roots and explore her ancestral Earth-based Cosmology. She and Àdhamh have collaborated on retreats in Scotland and together, are constantly researching, exploring, and unearthing pre-Christian Gaelic Cosmology.
A fierce defender and advocate of the land, Vanessa embodies the practices she teaches. She has spearheaded land-based education programs to inspire ecological awareness and land stewardship. As an inspirational speaker, she has spoken at the United Nations, Brown University, and the Muhammad Ali Center. Her work has been featured in Aligned Magazine, Ravenous Zine, Culture Trip, and more. She leads ongoing courses and workshops in NYC and throughout the Northeast and runs Rewilding Retreats in New York, Costa Rica, and Scotland. Her upcoming book, Awakening Artemis: Deepening Intimacy with The Living Earth and Reclaiming Our Wild Nature, will be published December 2021 with Viking in the US, Penguin in the UK, and Ullstein Press in Germany.