A Book Review by Maireid Sullivan
Lora O’Brien. A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality
Wolfpack Publishers, ISBN10 095749940X: RRP: $31.86
Beauty and personal sovereignty – every moment spent in acknowledging beauty is an act of liberation: It is the act of breaking down the walls that separate us from beauty that truly releases us to experience freedom.
The Digital Age is a great equaliser because it encourages innovative thinking. The term Silo has emerged as a useful metaphor to highlight isolating systems – from business practice to religious practice. The argument is that those who work in a ‘siloed’ environment operate in isolation, and are forced to adopt and promote narrow concerns that stifle personal growth and innovative thinking. (We now know that learning promotes healing.)
Lora O’Brien has developed THE perfect visualisation guide to bridging imagination and logical thinking: long-standing Irish cultural ‘silos’ have become transparent. O’Brien’s meticulously sourced guidelines eases her reader through deep memory recall to create a personal record via a unique immersion in Irish mythology, history, and literature, across time to the root of Ireland’s most ancient tradition – a joyous celebration of an intimate relationship with the land, sea and sky.
We now know that Ireland has been settled for over 10,000 years, and that stone monuments such as Newgrange pre-date Egyptian monuments. Legend has it that when Ériu, Irish Goddess of Sovereignty, surrendered Ireland to the Milesian poet Amhairghin around 500 BC, she asked that he acknowledge the sovereignty of the land by giving the island her name, Ériu. Ancient Irish cultural wisdom flourished on respect for the land, scholarship and learning. Being based on the elegant tradition of personal sovereignty, Irish cultural tradition thrived on respect for the mysteries of every-day life. The ‘longing’ for open-hearted Spontaneity and Wildness in the celebration of beauty in the natural world thrives in music, dance, poetry, story and love for conversation. It’s all in the Craic.
As Lora O’Brien, herself, stated, ‘
You don’t have to be Pagan, or New Age, or Magical, or Spiritual, to read this book. You don’t even have to be Irish. To get the full benefit, you do have to be open minded, willing to learn something about yourself
When I began my exploration of ancient Irish heritage, back in 1991, I had to hunt through the work of several authors to piece together my overview of the history. In this single book we now have a comprehensive introduction to this diverse history.
I’m interested in how we can intentionally shift our perception – break limiting habits by seeking out original perspectives – intentionally choreographing our habits – our diet, the style of our living space – the clothes we wear – rethinking everything we can design for ourselves, leading to intentionally shaping the impact we have on our community and environment.
We have a lot of historical revision and re-thinking to do, and Lora O’Brien’s Practical Guide is filled with enhancing essential survival skills: Taking control – learning how to hold your own in a crisis – methods for building resistance to exploitative relationships. In other words, Lora O’Brien has a gift for quietly guiding her reader toward a stronger grounding in personal sovereignty.
The guidelines are very well organised, as follows:
Part 1 World of Earth: Ancestry; Ancient Places; Sacred Cycles
Part 2 World of Sea: The Sidhe; Gods & Goddesses; Otherworld Journeys
Part 3, World of Air: Magical Craft; Literature; Priesthood & Community
The work begins with an exploration of the concept of ancestry.
‘To go forward’, we need to understand what is behind us, what has built us, where our foundations lie.
The immigrant’s heart marches to the beat of two quite different drums, one from the old homeland and the other from the new. The immigrant has to bridge these two worlds, living comfortably in the new and bringing the best of his or her ancient identity and heritage to bear on life in an adopted homeland.
Former Irish President Mary McAleese.
Ancestry is important to the Irish. As far back as we can tell, who you were the son of or daughter of was an inherent part of your identity. The annals are full of long lists. … There is barely a mention of man or woman without referencing who they were a child of. … Skip ahead now to modern Irish rural experience. When I visit the small village of County Clare where my mother’s family is from, I always have to introduce myself as a member of that family. … I have a free pass into most social occasions or situations, simply because their grandparents knew my grandparents. … the chances are high that if you are looking for a family connection, and in roughly the right area, and you are polite and respectful of people’s time and energy – they’ll go out of their way to help you out. (p 17)
We know so much more about our own heritage than we realize. On p 38, O’Brien introduces the first of several expertly guided meditations:
Close your eyes. Are you warm enough? Are you well covered? Your body may get a little chilly as we go. Are you positioned comfortably? Good, then let’s begin.
What follows is a guided tour of your own family history, drawing upon deep-memory recall of cultural rituals and practices, from birth – and you’ve written it all down yourself.
Just to give a hint of insight into O’Brien’s style, in Ch 2, p 43, our exploration of Ancient Places begins – at home.
Where do you live?
Take out your Record and describe it.
Now, pick one of those plants or trees on your local list. Something physically convenient, and interesting to you, something you feel comfortable with, that is familiar. Go and sit with it. Look at it, really look at it. Notice how the leaves are shaped, how many there are on each stem, what patterns they form… While you are up close and personal, reach out and touch it. …Now find somewhere by the plant or tree that you can settle down as comfortable as possible. If you want to lie down, go for it. Close your eyes. Put your hands in your lap, or on the ground – palms up, not touching anything. Close your mouth, and breath steadily through your nose … While you’re there, all relaxed and open, sure why not see if there’s anything else you can feel or perceive? …you will be sheltered and accepted at that point by the plant or tree you have chosen, or has chosen you. Step into the protection, so to speak. Allow yourself, your own energies, to mingle and blend a little with the natural energies that particular piece of flora is emitting. … If you’re doing what I’ve written here, more or less, and your doing it with an open heart and an open mind—you are doing it right. There’s now way you can be doing it wrong because whatever you’re feeling and experiencing is what’s right for you at this time and place.
I can hear the scoffing of crabby old Pagans all over the world at what I just wrote. No, I haven’t gone soft with my advancing years. ‘Just do what’s right for you’ is not an excuse to make shit up and call it Druidry, or Witchcraft, Wicca or Shamanism, and it most certainly is NOT an excuse for laziness. Please note that I have bracketed the above with – ‘If you’re doing what I have written here, more or less’. That’s because I have a plan, and we are currently on track with that plan. And at this point in that plan, it is genuinely ok to figure out where your own boundaries are, and what is right for you. …We’re now going to take a journey to meet the spirit of the plant… Close your eyes.
And another expertly guided meditation follows.
An examination of historical legal tracts from 700 shows how ‘supernatural powers’ were documented. Jumping ahead to Part 3, Ch 7: Magical Craft, here are excerpts from pp 162-165.
‘Féth Fia, or Féth Fiada is a ‘magical mist’, one of the powers of Druidecht (Magic, or Druidry). The term refers to protection by supernatural means, especially transformations or concealment. There are many, many examples of it in the tales, with Druids being the main creators or bringers of the mists, but even St Patrick was a dab hand at it too by all accounts. In a gloss to the old Irish law text Uraicecht Becc, the ‘Small Primer’, Druids are defined as those who perform the Féth Fia, or the aisdinecht, ‘prophecy’, the latter of which we’ll get to in a while now.
‘From the 700s, there’s a law tract called Bretha Crólige, ‘Judgements on Blood-Lying’, which describes druids sending power ‘across the border into the midst of the host so that they enter not the territory to do damage’. This seems to describe the battle and physical protective functions and work of the Druids, but it seems to me that ‘the border’ may also represent idircheo, the ‘between mists’ place where the magic happens. … This ability to penetrate the mists, to see and perceive what is really there, is essential. …
The next time you are in a crowd of people, or a social situation, begin to practise doing two things. The first is to make yourself invisible. In a story called Altromh Tighi Dá Medar, the Fosterage of the House of the Two Vessels, we see Manannán Mac Lir as High King of the Tuatha De Dannan, and he teaches the Féth Fia as a protection for the Pagan people in the face of the Christian society growing up around them. They can become invisible to humans. …I mean the kind of fading out, becoming unobtrusive, unseen… You can achieve ‘invisibility’ by creating a mist around yourself which hazes people’s view of you, … Learning to fully control yourself is an incredibly difficult journey, but in the long run, far easier than trying to control every other person or event around you. …
The second thing to practice, again in crowds or social situations, with people you are not very close to, at first – is the ability to see through other people’s mists – to see, to perceive what is really there. Some of that is basic awareness training. …this is the origin of the ‘glamour magic myths – becoming more noticeable, changing how you are perceived by others. But does anybody in that room blend in? Do another pass round the room. Is there anyone you didn’t notice the first time round? Do it again. And again? Some of it is body language, so a good grounding in the psychology of body language would be a great place to start with this. I’m sure you don’t need me to find you a book on that. Google is your friend.
The dream of a free society is based on the idea that all people are equal in common law, that each has a right to exercise free will and free speech within the law, and that government has a role in acknowledging and supporting the personal sovereignty of every citizen. Instead, we find ourselves turning a blind eye to problems that will not go away. The good news is that there are creative solutions!
For those who haven’t got time to follow Lora O’Brien’s practical guide to journaling, simply reading this book is an excellent immersion in the wide-ranging attributes of the heritage – and a lot of laughs too!
Maireid is a lover of music and laughter. She is a singer, dancer, poet, and songwriter, an enthusiastic filmmaker, and a life-long student of history. She was born on a farm in the Bantry township, West Cork, Ireland.
Lora O’Brien’s website