Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine's Day... Lupercalia


From February 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia.  This festival honours Lupercus, a god of shepherds, their flocks, and fertility.  The priests of the festival were called the Luperci.  The Luperci were the masters of the festival's rituals. They sacrificed male goats and a dog.  The Luperci dressed in goat skins and used strips of goat hide from those sacrificed to strike, or mark, young women. This was done in a gentle manner and not painfully. Often young women would seek out the Luperci and hold their palms out to be struck. 

It was a joyous occasion, the air festive. The purpose of the ritual was to encourage fertility in women, to encourage lactation in new, or soon to be mothers, and importantly, to encourage matchmaking between couples. Childless women especially would seek out the Luperci to be marked and encourage pregnancy.  As noted, it was a festive time, and like the Valentine's Day of our time, things sometimes became too merry. The Emperor Augustus forbade men that were deemed too young from participating. They tended to drink too much and become overly enthusiastic with their reveling. Foods were given out, libations taken, and the colour and flavour of the festival was much like our modern celebration of Valentine's Day, but without the crass materialism of post modern consumerism.
Icon of Valentine

Like many of our ancient traditions, this old pagan festival was synchronized into Christian beliefs and Lupercalia evolved into Valentine's Day. There are several legends about a man called Valentine. The most common one is there was an early Christian named Valentine. He was executed on 14 February, in the 3rd century. Valentine was imprisoned in Rome for helping Christians and was known to have secretly married Christian couples in love. The lore states that while Valentine was a prisoner he tried to convert the Emperor Claudius to the new faith. Claudius was not impressed and had the poor Valentine beheaded.

Valentine became a saint and was the patron of lovers. In the late 5th century Pope Gelasius I banned the festival of Lupercalia and declared 14 February the feast day of Saint Valentine. Christians began to celebrate Valentine's Day... but the people continued to embrace all the customs and nuances of the old pagan Lupercalia. The colours red and white were used in Lupercalia, red for the ritual blood and white for milk to represent fertility. The memory and veneration of Valentine continued, but so did also the earlier traditions from Lupercalia. 

The god Cupid
Over the centuries, Valentine's Day picked up yet one more pagan relic from the past, in Cupid, another old god. Even before the Romans adopted Cupid as a god representing passion and love, he was already know in the Hellenic world as Eros, i.e the god of love. Cupid was an easy fit into the Valentine's Day complex.  He was armed with a bow and arrows - golden arrows to arouse desire and passion and leaden arrows to cause aversion. Cupid struck at the hearts of both gods and mortals to influence their emotions and passions. 

Victorian Valentine's Day Card with Cupid

Lupercalia was an old festival even in ancient Rome. It shares similarities to the old Celtic Imbolc which takes place on 1 February.  The festival and rituals ultimately go back to our distant past and shared Indo-European religious spiritual beliefs.

So there you have it on this Valentine's Day - I give you Lupercus, Cupid, and ole Valentine, we should celebrate them all on this day.  Do enjoy your Valentine's Day.    

Friday, January 31, 2020

Imbolc And Saint Bríd's Day

A Bríd's Cross
Today, at sunset, marks the beginning of the festival of Imbolc. This a Gaelic festival to honour the beginning of Spring and falls between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The festival is general to Celtic areas, but is perhaps most celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man - which are the Gaelic homelands. It is indeed an ancient celebration and is mentioned in the earliest Gaelic literature, and it was old even at that time. 

In Christian times Imbolc was conflated with the veneration of Saint Bríd. Bríd is also a goddess, a prominent member of the Tuatha Dé, and it is no accident that the Church synchronized Imbolc to Lá Fhéile Bríde (Saint Brid's Day). It was a way to allow the people to continue their ancient custom, but place it into the Judeo-Christian cosmology.

The etymology of Imbolc has several theories, but given its ancient origins, it is most likely from an early proto Celtic word 'embibolgon' which means 'budding.'  And, this is when the first buds on early blooming plants start to show the signs of the growing sunlight at this latitude.

Saint Bríd
There are several customs still observed on Imbolc - visits to Holy Wells, where one walks sunwise, known as Deiseil in Gaelic, around the Holy Well and leaves a Clootie on the Faerie Tree (or bush). A Clootie is a piece of cloth tied to a Faerie Tree. The Clootie is to invoke blessings on home, family, clan, and livestock and fields. The practiced is still done to this day. One will also light a fire, candles or a bonfire, and celebrate with a feast and libations. This was also a time when divination is done. 

In Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, there are numerous accounts throughout the centuries to the present, of people celebrating this festival. Saint Bríd is a very thinly Christianized form of the older goddess Bríd and the saint retains many of the attributes of the older goddess.

So I wish you all a Merry Imbolc and a Happy Saint Bríd's Day.  Light a candle tonight after sundown, and have a glass of drink and salute the growing daylight and wish the best to your family and loved ones.     

© Barry R McCain 

Finding the McCains

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Faerie Lore Among the Scots-Irish

A Jackro aka a Brownie drawn from eyewitness encounter

There was a large migration of people from the north of Ireland to the English Colonies in the 18th Century. This event is called the Ulster Migration. This migration began in early Colonial times, from1690 onward, and grew into a large exodus by 1718. Many of these immigrant were Irish Protestants, with the majority of them being Scots-Irish. 

They came in great numbers and the migration had organization to it.  Often whole families, extended families, even villages, participated. One family would settle, and cousins, uncles and aunts, etc., would follow a few years later. The pattern continue from 1718 into the late 1770s. It was quite a remarkable phenomenon. These people brought with them their values, their folk beliefs, from Ulster to the New World. One aspect of these beliefs was their Faerie Faith. 

Some of the Faeries from Ireland followed these people to the Colonies. From the early 1700s into the early 1900s belief in Faeries endured. It was in the Southern Uplands and Backsettlements that these beliefs survived the longest and there are still a few people in these areas that see things and believe. 

Among the Scots-Irish, one type of Faerie was called a Jackro. They were also called a Brownie. This type of Faerie was well known in Ireland. There it had several names, in Gaelic it was often called a Gruagach (said grew o gach) or a Fear Dearg (Gaelic for a Red Man, so called because of their red hats). Brownie was a Scots-Irish term from the Lallans language (a dialect of northern English spoken in the Lowlands of Scotland, and Ulster). 

The Jackro and Brownie were simple Faerie folk. They were generally tutelary beings. These lived in or near settlements, in the attics, barns, and out-buildings, of some family they attached themselves to. There were also solitary Faeries. These lived in the lonely places; in the mountains, ridges, and hills, or in the deep woods, or near waterfalls.  

Sarah Pearl McCain née Tweedy circa 1900
My grandmother, Sarah Pearl McCain née Tweedy, was born in 1883. She passed away in 1962 when I was only twelve years old. I was fortunately to be able to spent a lot of time with her in my youth. She  She told me about the Jackros. From that time on I was fascinated by the topic.  My grandmother had the Second-Sight, an inherited trait that runs in her Tweedy family. Her family were typical Scots-Irish; to Ireland in the early 1600s, then on to the Colonies circa 1700. They eventually settled in southern Illinois circa 1805. This area is called the Illinois Ozarks. The geography there is a series of hills and ridges and the region was heavily settled by the Scots-Irish at an early date. Just across the Mississippi from southern Illinois are the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. Many of her Tweedy family moved west and were some of the first families to settle the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. These Scots-Irish brought their folkways with them.

The Ouachita Mountain in Arkansas
As Faeries go, the Jackro, or Brownie is you prefer, was your typical type of Faerie known in Ireland and Scotland. They were hard to see, and often one would just catch a glimpse of the being going around a corner, or through a door way. Their size was small, about three feet tall. They were often dressed in brown or grey, but some were known to sport red caps. In older and more civilized times, some families would reserve a place by the fire for the Jackro; a small home made stool. Libations of milk, or something stronger was also set out. The solitary Jackros shunned men however, and chose to live the solitary life in the wild places.  They were thought of as dangerous.

The belief in Faeries has almost died out here, though not quite, and there is some revival of interest in them. An interesting sidebar, the belief in races of Faeries was also strong among some American Indians, particularly the Cherokee and Shoshone tribes. Their lore is remarkably like that of the Irish, Scots, and Scots-Irish. 

I am collecting oral history on the Faerie Faith in America right now.  If anyone has a story, part of your family history, of encounters, do send me a note through my blog McCain's Corner.  I would love to hear it.  

 Link:  Finding the McCains 

© Barry R McCain 2019  

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Luchramán, or Leprechaun

Illustration from 1900 of a Luchramán

The Luchramán, which is anglicised as Leprechaun. They are mentioned in an 8th Century manuscript, which is a old reference even at that point in time. They have been around for a very long time it seems.  They are a diminutive Otherworld race, one of the lesser Sí (the Faeries). 

They and several similar beings migrated to the New World during the 1700s, along with the Ulster Migration. They were well known in the Backsettlements and Uplands where Ulster folk settled in large numbers. There are several races of them, but they are known in the aggregate as Jackros.  

They are most numerous in the Southern Uplands in Appalachia; perhaps best know in the mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. There are small groups of them in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri and Arkansas, and the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas. However, there are sporadic accounts of them throughout the United States and Canada. 

Jackros are similar to the French Lutins. Lutins are another diminutive race of the Otherworld and they also migrated to the New World. They are found in those areas of large French settlements, such as Quebec, Newfoundland, parts of the northern USA, and even in south Louisiana. A Lutin is also called a Nain Rouge, i.e. a Red Dwarf.

a Lutin
The Jackros were well known and often seen from the 1700s well into the early 20th century, but of late, there has been very few sightings of them. On a personal note, I do know a few people that have seen one, on several occasions. I will write about this in more detail in a future post.

Link:  Finding the McCains

© Barry R McCain 2019


Monday, August 5, 2019

Lúnasa 2019... Castellano

Lúnasa es uno de los festivales más antiguos que tenemos en las Islas. En la ortografía gaélica moderna, es Lúnasa, la ortografía gaélica más antigua es Lúghnasa, en gaélico escocés, lùnastal y en luanistino gaélico manés. El festival marca el final de la temporada de crecimiento y la llegada del otoño. Lugh está presente para bendecir la cosecha y garantizar su protección.


El festival se observa en Irlanda, Escocia, la Isla de Man y en toda la diáspora del pueblo gaélico. La etimología de Lúnasa es del antiguo gaélico Lug (el dios) y násad (asamblea). Lúnasa es el comienzo de la temporada de cosecha. Lúnasa se ha celebrado durante más de tres mil años. Tradicionalmente, se celebra el 1 de agosto y los días circundantes. Este es el tiempo entre el solsticio de verano y el equinoccio de otoño. Lúnasa es uno de los cuatro festivales de temporada gaélicos, junto con Samhain, Imbolc y Lá Bealtaine.
Cuervos y cuervos tótem animales de Lugh

Lúnasa se menciona en la literatura gaélica más antigua y era antigua incluso en los primeros tiempos cristianos. El festival lleva el nombre del dios Lugh, quien es uno de los antiguos dioses del Gael. Lúnasa incluye ceremonias religiosas, concursos deportivos, emparejamientos, visitas a pozos sagrados y árboles de hadas, y días especiales de mercado. En la antigüedad, el festival incluía la degustación de los 'primeros frutos' y las elaboradas fiestas, el sacrificio de un toro, las porciones de arándanos y un juego ritual y baile donde Lugh toma y protege la cosecha para la gente de las tribus
Una imagen precristiana de Lugh de Francia

Lúnasa disfrutó de una gran popularidad hasta bien entrado el siglo XX, pero se desvaneció a mediados de siglo, ya que la modernidad y su materialismo asesino de almas pusieron énfasis en estas viejas costumbres ... pero, afortunadamente, Lúnasa ha visto un gran renacimiento en los últimos años. Los festivales, ferias y actividades de Lúnasa están creciendo en popularidad. El festival y los eventos relacionados sobreviven bajo diferentes nombres, como Crom Dubh Sunday, Garland Sunday, Bilberry Sunday, Mountain Sunday. Lúnasa se ha incorporado al ritual cristiano con San Patricio reemplazando a Crom, en la peregrinación a la cima de Croagh Patrick el último domingo de julio. Crom Dubh y Crom Cruach son denominaciones post cristianas, dos de las muchas nominaciones de Dagda. En parte de la tradición, Dagda también está presente en Lúnasa.

En el mito irlandés, Lúnasa comenzó como una fiesta fúnebre y una competencia atlética para conmemorar la muerte de Tailtiu, la madre adoptiva de Lugh. Las leyendas nos dicen que murió de agotamiento después de limpiar los campos de Irlanda para la agricultura. Tailtiu era la esposa del último rey Fir Bolg de Irlanda, antes de la llegada del Tuatha Dé Danann.

Disfrute de su Lúnasa ... Es el momento de comer un plato de carne y algunas de las frutas y verduras de la nueva cosecha, cocinar un pan y verter la cerveza. Este es un buen momento para tener un pequeño incendio en el pozo de fuego esta noche. Recordamos a nuestros antepasados ​​en tales ocasiones. Y vierta el primer sorbo de su libación en el suelo para honrar al viejo Lugh. Siempre es algo bueno que hacer.

Enlace: Encontrando a los McCains

© Barry R McCain 2019

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Lúnasa 2019

Advertisement Logo Lúnasa 2019

Here we are again, another year and the return of Lúnasa.  Lúnasa is one of the oldest festivals we have in the Isles.  In modern Gaelic spelling, it is Lúnasa, the older Gaelic spelling is Lúghnasa, in Scots Gaelic, Lùnastal, and in Manx Gaelic Luanistyn. The festival marks the end of the growing season and the coming of Autumn. Lugh is present to bless the harvest and ensure its protection. 

The festival is observed in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and throughout the Diaspora of the Gaelic people. The etymology of Lúnasa is from the old Gaelic Lug (the god) and násad (assembly). Lúnasa is the start of the harvest season. Lúnasa has been celebrated over three thousand years. Traditionally, it is held on 1 August and the surrounding days. This is the time between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. Lúnasa is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lá Bealtaine.      

Ravens and Crows totem animals of Lugh

Lúnasa is mentioned in the earliest Gaelic literature and was ancient even by early Christian times.  The festival is named from the god Lugh, who is one of the ancient gods of the Gael.  Lúnasa includes religious ceremonies, sporting contests, matchmaking, visits to holy wells and Faery trees,  and special market days. In ancient times, the festival included the tasting of the ‘first fruits' and elaborate feasts, the sacrifice of a bull, servings of bilberries, and a ritual play and dance where Lugh takes and protects the harvest for the people of the tribes. 

A pre Christian image of Lugh from France

Lúnasa enjoyed great popularity well into the 20th century, but waned in mid-century, as modernity and its soul killing materialism, put stress upon these old customs... but, fortunately, Lúnasa has seen a great revival in the last few years.  Lúnasa  festivals, fairs, and activities are growing in popularity.  The festival and related events survive under different names, such as Crom Dubh Sunday, Garland Sunday, Bilberry Sunday, Mountain Sunday.  Lúnasa has been incorporated in Christian ritual with Saint Patrick filling in for Crom, in the pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July. Crom Dubh and Crom Cruach are post Christian appellations, two of the many nomina of the Dagda. In some of the lore, Dagda also is present at Lúnasa.

In Irish myth Lúnasa began as a funeral feast and athletic competition to commemorate the death of Tailtiu,  the foster mother of Lugh.  The legends tell us that she died of exhaustion after clearing the fields of Ireland for agriculture. Tailtiu was the wife of the last Fir Bolg king of Ireland, before the coming of the Tuath Dé Danann.

Enjoy your Lúnasa... It is the time to have a plate of beef and some of the new harvest's fruits and vegetable, to cook a loaf, and pour the beer. This is a good time to have a wee fire out in the fire pit tonight. We remember our ancestors on such occasions. And do pour the first sip of your libation on the ground to honour the old guy Lugh. Always a good thing to do

Link:  Finding the McCains

© Barry R McCain 2019 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Pecho de Vaca, Mi Método

el hombre a la parilla
 Cómo cocinar un pecho de vaca; Mi método al menos. A menudo cocino el Punto del pecho de vaca. Esta parte tiene más grasa, y más grasa significa más sabor. Uso un frote para cocinar, que es sal de mar (celta) y pimienta negra.  

Un Pecho de vaca, el punto

Yo uso trozos de nogal americano para fumar la carne. Lo puse a la parrilla a una temperatura entre 225 y 260 grados Fahrenheit (107 a 122 grados centígrados) y lo dejé allí durante 4 horas (a veces un poco más). Luego hago el método de Texas Crutch. Esto es para envolver el pecho de vaca en papel de aluminio y seguir cocinando a esa temperatura hasta que la temperatura interna sea de 196 grados Fahrenheit (92 grados centígrados). El proceso de cocción dura de 12 a 14 horas normalmente.

Muy importante, no lo cocines demasiado. La temperatura interna es el aspecto importante de cocinar un pecho de vaca. 196-198 Fahrenheit (92-93 celcius) serás bueno, si superas eso, para decir, 205 Fahrenheit (96 celcius), la carne se secará y será menos tierna.

Pecho de vaca es el alimento de mi tribu.

© 2019 Barry R McCain 

Link:  Finding the McCains

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Cracker

From Lonesome Dove, Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, both men carry Gaelic origin surnames, and are archetypal 'Cracker' cowboys. 
What is the etymology of the term Cracker?  We all know what a Cracker was (or is).  A Southern Anglo-Celt, usually of Scots-Irish origin, who lives in the backcountry.   The term appears intact and in use by the mid-1700s in Colonial America.  One eighteenth-century definition of what a Cracker provides a good description a Cracker; in 1776 a Colonial official wrote to the earl of Dartmouth:

I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers, a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their place of abode.
They were basically a semi nomadic group who were excellent hunters, kept free range cattle and pigs, and lived in the backcountry.  They were normally of Ulster ancestry, but not exclusively so.

Cracker is still a much used term.  Dubious sources, such as Wikipedia, tell us it is a “usually derogatory term for white people.” Wikipedia also offers a proposed etymology of the term coming from the sound of the “whips” used by Southern whites on their livestock.

The real story is more complex.  It is term with links to Ulster and associated with the people we know as the Scots-Irish.  The original Crackers are also associated with free range cattle and lived in the backcountry.  That much is on firm ground, but the etymology is more difficult to deduce, but I believe is also linked to Ulster.

two Florida Crackers by Frederic Remington

There are several possible origins:
Creachadóir:  This is the word I believe is the actual origin of Cracker. It is Ulster Gaelic and Scots Gaelic (Creachadair) word meaning, “raider and freebooter,” but also associated with the free range cattle drovers in Ulster.  In short, I think Cracker is the anglicised form of Creachadóir. Creach (Ulster Gaelic) means a “herd of cattle,” and also a “Cattle raid.”   You will also find the word Greigh in Scot Gaelic meaning a “herd of cattle.”   There is also the Scots-Gaelic word Gréighear meaning a “farm grieve.”  (someone who took care of livestock).  

Having stated my opinion of the etymology, I must now confess there are other possible ones. 

Cracaire: This word means “talker” or a person that chats a lot and is related to the modern Irish word “Craic” meaning “a gathering where people talk, have refreshments, and have a good time.”  As far as I can tell, the use of Cracaire and Craic are more recent in their use in the Gaelic language and I do not think this is the etymology of Cracker, but it is a debatable point.

Arizona Cowboy, Frederic Remington

I think the salient element is the linking of Crackers to cattle.  Creach was anglicised as Creacht and was used by the Elizabethan English usage to describe both a herd of cattle and the drovers (cowboys) of the herd.  These men were also used for raiding parties.  So in actual use a Creacht was both a free range cowboy and raider and freebooter. In modern Gaelic usage the older meaning of free range cowboy has been dropped and now the definition is “raider and freebooter, ” but it was the same thing, or person, in a historical context.  So, in Ulster, we have the word Creach and Creacht in use in both English and Gaelic and meaning exactly what the Southern Crackers, who were primarily from Ulster, were.

The anglicised form may be just from Creachadóir or it could be from Creach and anglicised from adding an English suffix of “er.”   I think however, the former more likely.

Cowboy, Frederic Remington

So, the apparently etymology of Cracker is from the Ulster and Scots Gaelic work Creachadóir.  For the record, Cracker is not considered derogatory among the Crackers living in the South today.  The opposite is true, it is an often used term of ethnic self-description and one of pride.  It means you are indigenous to the South, ancestors from Ulster or northwest Britain, have roots in the Uplands or Backcountry, are independent, self-reliant, you act in an honorable way, are good with weapons, hunting, fishing, and are a man who knows how to do things.  As the Southern Crackers settled Texas and the Southwest they became the Cowboy, a cultural continuum of their unique lifestyle. 

© 2019 Barry R McCain 

Link:  Finding the McCains 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May Day-Lá Bealtainne

Well it is May Day... I remember well the May Pole ritual which was still around when I was a child.  And what is May Day? It is a very old celestial festival long celebrated in Europle. In Gaelic Celtic lands it is called Lá Bealtainne.  This is on 1 May, circa halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. 

May Day is still widely observed by the better sort of person and is particularly popular in Celtic areas. The festival ritual was, and still is, observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, and throughout the Gaelic Diaspora. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lunasa.

On our earth, Lá Bealtainne is a transition between the seasons. In ancient times this was when cattle and other livestock were driven to the summer pastures. The old gods were evoked for blessings of fertility and growth for the new growing season. There are many rituals associated with Lá Bealtainne that date from ancient times and some have survived to this day. 

Foremost are the bonfires. In Old Times folk walked around the bonfires as part of a protective ritual. This is done in a Deisealach (towards the right, i.e. clockwise) fashion. People would jump over smaller bonfires also, which is still a common practice.

 Yellow flowers were, and still are, used as decorations on windows, barns, and on the folk and livestock themselves.  The yellow colour is a celebration of the coming summer, the warmth and fertility of the summer sun.  Holy Wells are visited with votives left in the well or on the Faery Tree. 

Lá Bealtainne was similar to Oíche Shamhna (Holloween) in that this was also a time when the Aos Sí moved about and the veil between the Otherworld and our world dropped.  An Dagda presided over Lá Bealtainne, as he does at Oíche Shamhna and the Aos Sí were about at this time. 


So, Remember your ancestors on the Day, and if you can, do light the bonfire and celebrate tonight... If this is not possible, not to worry, just light a candle. It is the fire ritual itself that is important, even a wee fire will do. And, a libation for you and your loved ones and one for the Old Ones as well.  Enjoy your May Day. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Scottish Heritage Weekend, 5-7 April; Laurinburg NC

I will be speaking at the 30th Charles Bascombe Shaw Memorial Scottish Heritage Weekend.  This symposium runs from April 5 through April 7. The event takes place in Laurinburg, North Carolina and is sponsored by St Andrews University.  

An excellent slate of speakers will be there. My talk is on the Redshank Migration from Mid Argyll to East Donegal.  This is the story of the Redshanks, or Highland Gaels, that in the 1500s settled  in the Lagan District, east Donegal. It is a romantic, though tragic tale, of the Scottish princess, Fionnuala Nic Dhónaill, the daughter of Seamus Mac Dónaill, the taoiseach, or chief, of Clann Dhónaill and how she became a pivotal figure in the migration of Highland Gaels into west Ulster. 

Fionnuala Nic Dhónaill is better known in history as Iníon Dubh (said Nee-an Doo), which means 'black haired daughter.'

If you have an interest in Scottish history and lore, do attend. Going to be an enjoyable and interesting event.

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