Dec 24, 2013

How Christmas Came to the Celts

You may have heard this before: December 25th wasn't really when Jesus was born. It came about because the church commandeered another pagan festival, this time the winter solstice.

But, have you thought about why? The ancient pagans were not evil people, at least not especially evil for the times they lived in. They weren't devil worshippers for heaven's sake. They worshiped what they saw and witnessed. The sun, the moon, the trees, the wonders of nature.

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.~Romans 1:20 NLT

The winter solstice marks the end of the dark half of the year and the beginning of the light half, and before Christianity, people observed this, creating great festivals. The Romans in particular observed this time of year by decorating their houses with greenery, lighting candles, and giving presents. The ancient people, being dependent on the land, saw the lengthening days as something to celebrate.

The people who walk in darkness  will see a great light.For those who live in a land of deep darkness,   a light will shine.~Isaiah 9:2 NLT

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” ~John 8:12 NLT

It's true that Christianity came and turned pagan celebrations into Christian ones in an attempt to get the people to focus on the church's teachings. But when you look at what the people already sensed, and what the scriptures say, it makes sense to celebrate Christmas during this season. What do you think?

Oct 31, 2013

CD Review: Winterfold by Jeff Johnson, Brian Dunning, Wendy Goodwin

I like listening to instrumental music while I write, and I've found Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning's work to be among the best--gentle, inspiring, and decidedly Celtic.

I posted an interview last year with Jeff Johnson here. So when he asked if I'd like to review his latest CD, I said, "Yes, please!"

Winterfold is the perfect combination of gentle spirit-lifting music and rhythmic toe-tapping pieces. Johnson is accompanied as he is on many of his CDs by Irish musician Brian Dunning, but this time they've also featured Wendy Goodwin on violin. A few other musicians join in as well, and the result is a nice long CD you can play this winter without the usual holiday tunes. Not that I don't love Christmas music, but sometimes you want something new and fresh, and this is it.

The CD was inspired in part by the writings of George Mackay Brown, a Scottish poet.

One of my favorite tracks is called Watching Clouds. It made me feel like I was back here, watching these clouds at Rosses Point, County Sligo, Ireland:

But it's hard to pick a favorite because all the tracks are inspiring. I hope you'll check out Winterfold!

You can find this CD on iTunes, and on the Ark Music site. Check out the sample of Watching Clouds!

FTC disclosure: Jeff Johnson and Ark Music provided me with a promotional copy of Winterfold for the purpose of a review. I was not otherwise compensated or required to write a positive review. This review is nothing but my own honest opinion.

Oct 30, 2013

Let's Talk About Halloween

Not my favorite holiday, but I don't have anything against trick-or-treat fun. It's fun for the kids, and some adults are still kids at heart. No one I know is out to promote evil on this day. Those who do, do it on any day of the year, I would imagine. So I'm not up for a rant on the evil nature of Halloween.

But I do think some Christians latch on to what could be described as a spiritual downside of the celebration. And that has led to some misunderstandings. I believe you have to try to understand the ancient people who held the beliefs some Christians are opposing today surrounding Halloween.

Yes, the holiday comes from pagan beliefs. So do many other traditions we don't seem to object to on other holidays such as Christmas and Easter. The fact is paganism predated Christianity, and the pagans had no knowledge of Christ, although I don't believe that is entirely true. They were attuned to nature because their lives depended on understanding and respecting (or fearing) the natural world. God can be found in nature, which is something we tend to forget as we spend our days and nights inside of buildings. The word pagan does not mean "evil Satan worshippers." I just want to make sure we're clear about that. The word means "country people."

For more about of the Celtic roots of Halloween, click here.

There is true evil in the world, and I do believe we are fighting a spiritual battle. I do believe we should dwell on things that are "true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." ~Philippians 4:8. So in my view I try to do that and not spend time telling people Halloween is evil. The Celts believed that on that night the veil between the worlds was very thin. The veil between heaven and earth was thin, so I'll dwell on that and try to see God, especially on Halloween.

These views are my own. I won't be debating them. But, tell me, do you see God here?

Sleepy Hollow Halloween Bonfire

Easy, right?

Sometimes it's harder, but God created all of us, so look hard.


Sep 23, 2013

An Irish Storyteller

I'm researching Irish storytellers and found this. I love it! Thought you would, too!

Sep 20, 2013

Sean Nos--Old Style Singing

Several years ago I got to know Mike O'Laughlin from the Irish Roots Cafe. Mike publishes Irish genealogy books and resources, and he's a wealth of information. His podcasts are always interesting as well.

But lately Mike's taken up a hobby, Sean-nós, or old style Irish singing. I love that style, especially done in English so I can understand the words (although the melodies are lovely) because the songs tell stories, and you know...I'm all about stories!

Have a listen and tell me what you think!

Sep 10, 2013

High Crosses at Clonmacnoise

I would love to have seen what these looked like originally, but thankfully there is enough preserved that we can get an idea. At Clonmacnoise the original high crosses from the site were placed inside the visitor's center in 1991 for safe keeping. Replicas (and pretty good ones, in my unprofessional opinion) have replaced them outside in their original spots. The showpiece is the Cross of the Scriptures. The title is self-explanatory.

Soldiers guarding the tomb of Christ, the arrest of Christ, Flagellation and in the centre of the ring the Crucifixion. This cross is decorated with figure sculpture on all four sides. The Cross of the Scriptures was mentioned twice in the annals of the Four Masters, first in 957 and later in 1060. ~Megalithic Ireland
Photos are from my April 2013 visit.

So, what do you think they would have looked like new?
Like this?
Or maybe this?

Aug 20, 2013

Watching and Waiting in Sligo, Ireland

A pictorial post today from my April trip to Sligo, Ireland, Rosses Point, a place by the sea where those on land are awaiting those at sea.

Jun 10, 2013

Museum Would Give a Home to Celtic Voices

Not this blog, but the voices I write about. Seriously, have you heard about this?

A museum where the stories could be told. This is so right up my alley, so much where my passion is. And probably yours, if you're reading this.

The goal of the Irish American Museum of Washington, D.C., is to become a major cultural institution that will bring Irish-American history to life for visitors of all ages, from all ethnic, racial, and cultural back- grounds. The museum will initially be housed in temporary gallery space; ultimately, the plan is for a prestigious establishment that will provide future generations of Irish-Americans a sense of their history.

And speaking of the stories, have you heard that Grace's Pictures is now available? There is a very good summary along with some review blurbs on my publisher's blog here.

So, what do you think about a museum like this in the city of museums??

May 16, 2013

Happy St. Brendan's Day!

The church at Clonfert, St. Brendan's image.
Photo copyright,  Cindy Thomson, 2013
When we were in Ireland last month my husband and I made a trip to Clonfert, the site where St. Brendan set up his monastery. It's not so easy to get to, but I'm so glad we figured it out. This site turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for me.

The church, the Cathedral of Clonfert, is part of the Church of Ireland. The cathedral was not open when were there, but truly the doorway is the most magnificent draw. From Wikipedia: The earliest part of the church dates back to around 1180. Its doorway is the crowning achievement of Hiberno-Romanesque style. It is in six orders, and has an amazing variety of motifs, animal heads, foliage, human heads etc. Above the doorway is a pointed hood enclosing triangles alternating with bizarre human heads, and below this is an arcade enclosing more human heads.

Just amazing. What do you think?

Clonfert Cathedral, Photo copyright, Cindy Thomson, 2013

Closeup of Confert Cathedral doorway, photo copyright, Cindy Thomson, 2013
 Even though we couldn't go inside, I saw this stained glass window through another window, and the sun was brilliantly backlighting it. The trees behind me were reflected in the plain glass window, and gave this photograph an eerie appearance.

Stained glass of Clonfert Cathedral, photo copyright, Cindy Thomson, 2013

This, of course, was not St. Brendan's church, just the site where he established his in the 6th century. He is one of my favorite Irish saints because of his adventurous tale. If you're not familiar with it, there are several sites where you can read the original, like here.  I've blogged about his journey many times, here and here and here.

It was a little startling, however, to find St. Brendan's resting place looking so...modern day?
St. Brendan's gravesite, photo copyright Cindy Thomson, 2013

Just for grins, go to Google maps, satellite  and look up Clonfert Cathedral, County Galway. You'll see how remote it is, surrounded by bogland. So many of the holy sites are located on hilltops with impressive views, but this site is special as well. I could feel it. And don't miss the forested walk (along with St. Brendan's tree) right next door. Very special!

Photo copyright, Cindy Thomson, 2013

Photo copyright, Cindy Thomson, 2013

Apr 30, 2013

Spring Comes Late

...this year to Northern Ireland.

I'm nearing my deadline so I'm not able to put up a lengthy post, but for now I thought I'd share this picture I took on the hill from the Saint Patrick Centre looking up to Down Cathedral. Did you know John Wesley preached on this hill? I'll have to make that another blog post!

Northern Ireland had a cold and snowy spring, so unusual. But when I got there the daffodils were blooming!

Mar 25, 2013

Celtic Spring

I was looking for spring (snowstorm outside right now!) and look what I found!


Mar 16, 2013

Who Loves a Parade?

St Patrick's Day at the National Leprechaun Museum

Apparently the Irish, especially the Irish-Americans. They've been having parades in America since before the Declaration of Independence was signed! The very first St. Patrick's Day Parade occurred, as best as I can tell, in Boston in 1737. New York's first, in 1762 (or 1766 according to Wikipedia), was similar, a far cry from what it is now. Just some Irish soldiers serving in the British military going on parade for the patron saint's feast day.

Even General George Washington saw a need to recognize St. Patrick's Day for his Irish soldiers. On March 17, 1780 he declared a holiday as “an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence.”

Read more:

But the idea caught on, and not just in New York. Philadelphia's parade started in 1771 and by the 1800s parades had sprung up in most major cities.

St. Patrick's Day Kilts 1

Now, even minor cities have St. Patrick's Day parades.

And so does Dublin, Ireland. You can even watch a live feed of the parade (on Sunday, March 17) if you can't make it there.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Day Parade 2009, Dublin, Ireland

Feb 7, 2013

Voices That Need to Heard, The Women of the Magdalene Laundries

If you don't know about the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, You can read about it here
Recently there was an inquiry to find out if the Irish government was involved, as so many who were victims of this system purported. And it was true. At least a quarter of the women were sent there by the state. There was no formal apology, not yet, and that has these women and their families feeling as though they've not been heard. At least one group is trying to change that with an oral history project. 

It's a sad and even horrifying fact of Irish history that thousands of women were detained and forced to work long, hard hours scrubbing away their sins in places that were called Magdalene Laundries. If you've never heard of them before, read this.

And before you think this is a historical story, the last of them was closed in 1996.

You might wonder how it all came to light. According to this website, here's how:

In 1993, church property held by the Sisters of Charity in Dublin which once served as a convent laundry was to be sold back to the Republic for public use. It was discovered at that time that some 133 graves existed, unmarked, in a cemetery on the convent grounds. The graves belonged to women who had worked in the service of the convent all their lives, buried without notification to possible family...unmarked, unremembered. When the discovery was made, a cry arose in the streets of Dublin...families came forth to identify and claim some of the women as their long-lost daughters, mothers, grandmothers, and sisters. Yet many remained unidentified.

Members of the Magdalene Survivors Together group on their way into Leinster House for a meeting with Senator Martin McAleese last year. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Magdalene Survivors who testified. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Sinead O'Connor (remember when she ripped up a photographed of the Pope and received a lot of backlash?) recently said she also suffered in a Magdalene Laundry.

It is not my intention to bash the church or the Irish government. There is good among the bad, as everywhere. But Celtic Voices like these must be heard. I've written about it in Book Two of The Ellis Island Series.

You cannot scrub away your sins with hard work and discipline or dissolve them with your shame. You cannot be spiritually freed by continually being told how bad you are. God made you in His image, and He can scrub away all that's bad in you so that the good you, your true self, is whiter than snow. ~"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18 NIV

Jan 27, 2013

Jan 24, 2013

Jan 18, 2013

Jan 16, 2013

Picture Some Celtic Wisdom

I pinned this on Facebook and Twitter, but in case you missed it, here it is again. I'll be posting these photos with Celtic sayings from time to time. The photographs are mine. The sayings will mostly come from my book, Celtic Wisdom, as this one did. Please feel free to share liberally. ;)

Jan 14, 2013

Another Celtic Voice

Here's another Celtic voice for you. The song Erin Hill is singing is Molly Malone, and this statue in Grafton Street, Dublin, depicts the fishmonger referred to in this song.

Molly Malone Dublin

Jan 8, 2013

I Am The Voice

This seemed like an appropriate song to share on a blog called Celtic Voices.
What do you think?