Celtic Magic does not follow the four elements; it honors the three realms of Land, Sea, and Sky.
And by Celtic, of course, I mean Welsh.
It was in Anglesey, (known as Ynys Môn, island of the Goddess, or Y Mam Cymru, the mother of Wales) that the Druids held their ground against Roman invaders for as long as they could, before the survivors were pushed over the sea to Ireland. The Celts in general, and the Welsh specifically, were the indigenous people of Britain that were conquered by wave after wave of invading cultures. What remains is a fiercely patriotic nation of good-natured people who have a talent for singing and a devotion to spirit.
For many Welsh people today, living in Wales and in North America, spirit takes the form of the Christian God, and the enthusiastic congregations hold hymn singing festivals (Gymanfa Ganu) where devotional songs are heartily sung in angelic four-part harmony like an impromptu, pop-up choir. A guest director is called in to herd the enthusiastic tenors and robust sopranos into line with the demur altos and booming basses, and lead them all in about 27 repetitions of the final refrain. Afterwards, a Te Bach (little tea) is enjoyed with Welsh cakes and cookies from every kitchen in the community.
For me, the semi-annual Gymanfa Ganu festivals were all I knew of my Welsh heritage for most of my childhood. My mother and I would visit her late father's church and fill that church with the vibrations of worshipful song up to the rafters. There is a spiritual euphoria that comes from the purity of a high, clear tone vibrating in the head as you sing. It is magical. I remember the slate sidewalks and the Welsh dragons on the street signs of the little Pennsylvania town. In fact, as a seven year old child, I learned to read English, read music, and pronounce Welsh all in the same year. For me, those things are forever linked.
Fast forward twenty years to an adult Julie who has recently made the joyful discovery that she has been a witch all along, and that this is something she is actually allowed to be.
In his grimoire, The Book of Celtic Magic, Kristoffer Hughes writes, "While the persecution of witches and Witchcraft ravaged England, Wales-- in stark contrast-- was relatively untouched by the witch-hunting fever. The Welsh had no point of reference that referred to the vulgar character of the witch hysteria, as swyn [magic] was a vital component of Welsh society."
This book was a revelation to me, because it meant that I did not have to choose between my newly beloved path of magic, and my ancient love of my culture. I could keep the connection to Wales, and perhaps, even deepen it. . .
I closely studied Cauldron Born, also by Kristoffer Hughes, and made connections to Welsh gods and goddesses that I never knew were Welsh. I worked intimately with Cerridwen in particular, for a year and a day, and then began to plan a pilgrimage. There is a word in Welsh, hiraeth, which refers to a longing for homeland-- it doesn't quite translate. But that yearning had taken root in me. I needed to see Wales, to stand at Llyn Tegid where Cerridwen enacted her ritual, to visit the standing stones and ancient tombs, and to see the slate mines that drove my family to America. I needed to be with the spirit of the Land.
As it turns out, the faeries had other lessons in mind.
My first attempt to get to Wales, with my
beloved husband as travel companion, ended up in an unexpected trip to the underworld in the form of Boston's International Airport. I had learned of a neolithic burial chamber on Anglesey called Bryn Celli Ddu, and I wanted to see the Solstice light shine through it in late June. However, there was a problem with our flight, which turned into bigger problems and longer delays, and we ended up spending the night on cots in the cold, dark airport, anxious and overwrought. The discoveries I made on that trip were 1. My husband and I do well in a crisis together-- we were kind to each other throughout, and 2. Never try to force the timing of a spiritual event.
There was a time when I thought I wouldn't get there at all. The airline was painfully slow in refunding us. Finally, the battle was won, and we had the funds to try again, this time in November. (I should have known-- my magical adventures always start after Samhain!) And when I finally made it onto Welsh soil, the trip exceeded all of my expectations.
Throughout my pilgrimage, I was reborn through the Land, the Sea, and the Sky. I made it to the neolithic burial chamber, and crept inside her damp walls to meditate on the cool, dark earth and leave little offerings to the ancient ones within. I walked into a waterfall in the hometown of a female ancestor and disappeared into the mist. I flew over the slate mine of my ancestors on the fastest zip line in the world, and it felt like a dream or a song. I was christened by every realm twice over, and finally, I made it to Cerridwen's lake.
Triumph, at last. The rays of the sky mimicked the rays of Awen, or spirit, that are symbolized by three angled lines like so: /I\
I blessed all of my altar tools in her waters, and reverently brought a stone back with me, after leaving offerings to the spirits who live there. There was a deep satisfaction in my bones. I had been reunited with the source of magic that runs through my veins, and so many revelations regarding my blood ancestors arose that I did not expect. I made friends and connections with the Welsh people there, and I deepened my appreciation for the loving connections I already had in my life. I have the spirit of Wales in me now, remembered in my eyes, my lungs, and my feet. I know what the motherland feels like, in spirit and in body.
Which means that now, whether in body or in spirit, I know how to find my way back.