Return to Missal-Any News Desk or Return to RDNA homepage

An Un-Official Publication of the Reformed Druids

Spring Equinox, Year 41
(March 21st, 2004)

Volume 20, Number 2


Spring Equinox Essay
News of the Groves
ARDA 2 Update
Ogham Rant
Bricriu's Bluff and Bluster
News: Pagan Fire Festival Reignites with a Fee
News: Druids Want Involvement in Stonehenge Project
News: Calif. County Votes to Ban Biotech
Announcement: Psychic Eye Book Store Closing
Annoucnement: 2004 CSANA Conference
Announcement: Celtic Cauldron of Creation

pring Equinox, balance, awakening, a time of planting, a time in keeping with the theme of Irish Macha, Patroness of farmers, the Horse-goddess, who could run with the speed of a horse or become one. On the Continent She was called Epona. She was Rhiannon in Wales. She is a shape-shifting Goddess who can appear in human form, or in the form of a mare, or of a woman mounted on horseback. She is responsible not only for the fertility of herds, but of the ground as well. She is described in Celtic myths as the mother of kings or as capable of bestowing sovereignty on the rightful king. She is represented by the white mare whom the Kings of Ireland espouse at their coronations. Prof. J. Duran speculates that Macha and the mare represents the agrarian classes, the "Tuath," the third of the three castes in ancient Celtic society. (The other two were the warriors and the Druids. "Caste" is a poor word since these categories were not rigid, and some movement between them was possible, but it is used in Indo-European studies for lack of a better term.)

Macha may have been the Patroness of the Tuath, as Bride was the Patroness of Bards, and as the Morgani were associated with the warrior caste. Llyr, or Manannan McLlyr, it is said, also has ancient equine themes running through His worship. There is a theory that He was a Horse-deity back on the steppes of the Indo-European homeland, and that only later, when the Celtic peoples reached the Atlantic coast and the Island, did He become a Sea-god. He is always portrayed in a chariot, or riding in a boat, or in a combination of both, as in His sea-shell boat drawn by porpoises. This considered, He may be more a charioteer or vehicular god than a Horse-deity.* Epona rides astride. Cernunnos, the other shape-shifting, fertility-bestowing deity, never rides. He sits on the ground among the wild beasts, and is spoken of as running with the deer. These latter two figures hark back to the earliest Eur-Asian levels, very likely to the Paleolithic. Similar figures may have been common to the Ice Age peoples of Eastern Europe and West Asia from whom the Proto-Indo-Europeans sprang. In that early time, in the art of the Magdelinian hunters, a similar theme can be seen.

The Paleolithic dancer wearing a horse-head mask is a woman. The men wear disguises of horned animals, bear, or mammoths. The connection between Macha, the female shape-shifter-shaman-magician, and the horse may be very old, paralleling the male enchanter of horned animals, from the time when the Horned Man and the Horse Woman danced in Paleolithic caves.

*Could He be persuaded to protect us nowadays in our cars?

By Emmon Bodfish, reprinted from a Druid Missal-Any 1987

News of the Groves
For the Full Grove Directory

Carleton Grove: News from Minnesota

Carleton runs along as usual. Its been a cold and snowy winter up until recently, which has made for some good celebrations (as well as broomball), though weather suddenly warmed up in the middle of last week, and spring seems intent on coming early.

While I am in semi-exile due to my senior project, Corwin is currently running the grove and doing a good job at innovation. He's come up with a new ceremony which has been described by one person as druidical free-association. Corwin calls it calling. Basically you choose one aspect of the world to come and be with us for the ceremony, and list some of the important aspects/things it can help with.

We also celebrated "Create your own religious texts night." Only one religious text was created: The Book of Pass Around. The people who were present each wrote a verse and passed it to the next person. Some time next term we'll get together and everyone will bring their own version of what they wanted to happen, breaking off after one of the earlier verses. If all goes well I will submit those for the next Missal-Any.

Digitalis Grove: News from D.C.

Mike has been doing nothing but editing the Green Book and Magazine Volume, such that he has miserably memorized the two mega-volumes, and can think only of freedom from the endeavor. This month the Cherry Blossoms of Washington will distract him a little, and he is expecting a new puppy to train for the Guide Dog Foundation. He is currently seeking a job in the Federal Government bureaucracy, so that he can relocate after a few years to the West Coast.

Dravidia Grove: News from Maryland

All is well here, lots of rain, and the ground is soaked through. Have not had much time to do too much except pack and get ready for the move. Final date is 3/27/04 but don't worry, Dravidia Grove will continue in Indiana and I hope that the area change will provide new members as well. Have found a great place for purchasing swords. I collect them and have really got some beautiful pieces and at a real good price...These are not the high quality pieces, nor the cheap display pieces either they are real decorative swords...

Well Blessed Be and cya in Indiana

Rowan Oak Grove: News from Tulsa, OK

Rowan-Oak Grove is undergoing a reorganization and general spring cleaning early this year. adjustments to delegation of offices and authority have taken a major load off arch-druidess m.s. white raven's shoulders. another change that is occuring is that as sis tsarah is preparing to move to another town we are going to have to have someone else with a vehicle that will provide our car pooling for feild trips. even with all of these changes happening we just added the Gray Angels Grove in texas, adding another 25-30 members to our grove family, our 40th member to the tulsa grove and our 16th member (living in florida) to our online grove (having members all over usa and canada). at the same time the muskogee mother grove is going through changes that i'm sure my mentor myrddin will tell you of. it looks like for both of us it will be a busy 6-8 months. m.c. werebear, m.s. white tigress, m.s. maximus pheonixfire all received their elevations from novice to apprentice (1st degree sharayean trad) in the ovates classes and continue on towards acheiving full druidic wicca training as the tradition itself evolves toward a more fully druidic path. secretary/treasurer m.c. werebear is catching up on all the paperwork that couldn't be done while the computer was down, including the yearly financial report for 2003 and the finalizing of the by-laws adapted from the original tbrsc by-laws, (our first grove now headed by m.s. cattwoman in wagner) bro valens our arch druid is head of the circle of Cybele study group and administrator the knights of the celtic cross with our sir redwolf as fully trained at mocc with the knights there and the head of our security team. the grove is also making plans for a business venture to more fully be self supporting and give grove members that have been unable to find work a chance at gainful employment. we will send you more on this as it evolves. beltaine looks to be one if our busiest convocations of all time with many things to vote on that will effect our grove family, in addition to our yearly field trip to renfaire at muskogee as part of the celebration. ostara rites will be held march 20 according to the grove calendar barring unforeseen events and the feast of sharaye and her consort the 31 of march which is a sharayean trad minor holy day.

the blessings of light, love and healing to you all

m.s. white raven, arch-druidess
rowan-oak grove

Poison Oak Grove, News from California
Publisher of "A Druid Missal-Any"

The ongoing work on the Grove site moves slower than molasses in January. Due to an extremely wet winter we have not been able to carve site lines and set up the new cabers marking the High Days. The weather seems to be cooperating with the coming of the Spring and we hope to get them up in time for Beltaine.

Poison Oak Grove is sad to announce the passing of the tenant of the main house, Mike Auerbach. Mike was a small yet strong and feisty woman. Sometimes she could be difficult about sharing the electricity and water but this past year we came to an understanding. May her journey to Tir nan Og be a smooth one as she waits for her partner Charlie and her beloved dogs Kodak and Reno.

ARDA 2 Update
By Mike Scharding, Digitalis Grove

As you know, about this time last year, I promised that ARDA 2 would be imminently released, and continued to make deadline extensions. Well, after taking two of the book projects directly under my wing, the presses have finished the massive 847 page Green Volume and the 700 page Magazine Volume is nearly completed and will be sent to the printer in Early April. The 750 page Main Volume should be out in May, if all goes well, as it is the most complicated of the series. Those who ordered the book can begin to expect it in their pot of gold shortly after St. Patrick's Day by Leprechaun Rainbow Express.

The Green Books doubled from my early estimates, and anything that was vaguely copy-right protected was removed from the Main Volume. The contents are viewable for free on-line and can be downloaded, printed and bound locally by yourself at:

One problem I had is that it went way over-estimate, and hard-cover binding is just simply not feasible at $45 per book, in addition to printing costs of $25; so I had them soft-bound like a telephone book at $10 per book. Library copies will still be hard-bound. Another problem I had was that I waited too long to cash most of the checks you sent. I will return them with the first volume that I'm mailing out, and I'm hoping that you'll reissue new checks at the original estimate of $71 for the set of three.

Ogham Rant

By Mark Carter

(This article evolved out of a posting on the newsgroup alt.religion.druid as a sort of open letter to a single person. It has been rewritten by the author for inclusion here. We at the Missal-Any hope that it provokes some thoughts as well as some comments. -The Editor)

As many readers know, there's an extreme divergence of ogham theories between the trained experts (historians and archeologists) and the neopagan community. Mainstream historians place ogham's creation in fifth century Ireland while many neopagans push it back to a much earlier time. For a moment, let's totally disregard the origins of ogham and focus only upon its later usage and the changing interpretations of it. By the time we reach the manuscript tradition and start examining fourteenth century texts, like the Book of Ballymote, we are at least nine hundred years removed from ogham's creation and its invention begins to appear irrelevant to the argument. Possibly ogham had undergone significant reinterpretation between the fifth and fourteenth centuries and the Auraicept may no longer reflect the original tradition. The scribe was certainly copying from older texts but may have been unfamiliar with what he was copying or perhaps the text was incomplete. Portions of the Auraicept appear childish and we suspect the authors were trying to flesh out a system which was already in decline when they wrote.

Despite these flaws one fact becomes obvious; ogham is a memory system. Regardless of what else it might have been the memory training possibilities are the most conspicuous when you look at the Auraicept , the kennings, and the variants such as river ogham, church ogham, and fortress ogham. Yet, many modern druids have placed the cart before the horse in their interpretations of this system. They tend to believe that the kennings and other ogham listings were used to conceal ogham in literature; particularly in poems. Then, with this misconception in mind, they search Celtic literature for ogham kennings in hopes of finding hidden messages. Not only do they search Irish literature but they spend a great deal of time examining Welsh literature as well, despite the fact that ogham was an Irish invention and not Welsh at all. Consider what has been done to Cad Goddeu; a late and garbled Welsh poem constantly being reinterpreted in light of Irish ogham theories. Robert Graves popularized this method and gave it the unofficial blessing of the literary crowd but it was heading that way even before him.

Concealing ogham messages in poetry is crazy. Just try to write out even the shortest druidic statement in ogham kennings and then devise a poem around it. The poem would take hundreds of lines to convey a single sentence. Think of the most basic druidic concept; something like Mela's "act bravely in war, souls are immortal, there is another life after death". In English (rather than Gaelic) this totals 73 letters. You'd have to write out 73 ogham kennings and devise a poem around them; keeping the same letter order, otherwise, the message would be garbled. It's impossible and justifies Macalister's claim that ogham is "childishly impractical". Druids didn't do this. Later bards didn't do it either. If they did two things would be obvious: there would be several times more ogham kennings in the surviving poetry and there would be much more surviving poetry itself because the amount required to conceal druidic believes would be massive. Clearly, there are no hidden druidic messages waiting to be found in the surviving poetry.

The question is: what was the point of the kennings and ogham listings in the Auraicept if they weren't used for concealment? Obviously, the kennings and listings were used as a memory system. The real point of these lists wasn't to secretly communicate druidic messages but to memorize lists of important fortresses, churches, and common names of local birds and rivers; among other things. The ogham thus became a mnemonic aid allowing the user to memorize long lists of important names, places, or events. In its most basic form this memory system needed no religious or poetic value at all. However, poets could draw upon these mental lists when needed and such ogham listings could supply a needed word when the poet either suffered writers block or recited impromptu poetry. A poet needing a word which started with B could mentally scour the various ogham listings for a fortress, church, bird, or other object to flesh out his composition. Thus, occasionally, we find a single ogham kenning in a poem but find no others. Why? Not because the poem contains hidden messages but simply because the poet needed a fitting word or phrase and fell back on the memorized kennings to supply it.

Regardless of ogham's age or its original intent one thing is clear; by the fourteenth century it was being used for a memory system. Probably, it had been used like this for centuries before the fourteenth century. Some of the kennings and other ogham variants are incredibly childish and this is possibly because the authors of the Auraicept were recording a memory system which was already in decline at the time. They were in fact attempting to flesh out a memory system which was already partially lost. This also accounts for the false kennings and corrupt ogham variants within the text. Some of the variants such as "man ogham", "dog ogham", or "cow ogham" aren't true kennings. They simply substitute the number of letter strokes with the number of cows or dogs. Nuinne becomes five cows instead of five strokes; nobody is fooled by this and it serves no purpose. These "weaker" ogham variants are either late and corrupt imitations or early attempts at creating a memory system from ogham. I suggest they are late corruptions simply because the "stronger" points of ogham seem to predate them and therefore prove that the stronger (i.e.: more useful) kennings are older.

The same can be said of many of the written variants upon the stemline. "Ridge ogham", "shield ogham", and all the other variants which attempt to conceal the written script are childish and fool nobody. They look like the sort of ciphers children use to pass notes at school and they would be no harder to decode. They are possible evidence that the scribe was attempting to flesh out a partial system. Either he was working from an incomplete/corrupt text, he was making things up based on what he thought ogham was once used for, or (most likely) he was expanding upon a shorter text which was nothing more than earlier notes taken by someone else who was familiar with the complete system. The earlier text possibly contained many headings and listings for oghams which were not given and the scribe merely fleshed it out with what he thought those ogham variants were. In modern terms: he was trying to write his thesis using only the Cliffnotes.

Therefore, ogham could exist with no magic or religious purpose at all. It was merely a memory system and the magic/religious/poetic side could have developed either concurrently with ogham's creation or sometime after the fact. This accounts for the close association between knowledge and poetry in Irish culture. You don't need to be smart to write poetry but it certainly helps and anyone who memorized the ogham kennings and variants would have a mental spreadsheet in their head to fall back upon any time they were stuck with a poem. Thus, the more of this system you knew the smarter you became and also the more able to write poetry. Yet, any time you fleshed out a poem with an ogham kenning you were, in a sense, putting "filler" into your poem. Anyone familiar with ogham would notice the kenning and realize you were falling back upon hack methods. Thus, poets didn't strive to secretly utilize ogham in their poems as some modern druids suggest. In fact, they strived to avoid ogham kennings. Only this can account for the relatively few ogham kennings in the surviving poetry. Those poems in which we find kennings aren't the best examples of Irish poetry, they are the worst. A poem depending entirely upon kennings and listings taken from this system wouldn't be a masterpiece; it would be hack verse which any third year fili could write. This, in turn, explains why the ogham variants were kept secret; how better to cultivate an aire of superiority than to conceal the system from the non-fili? Keeping the non-poet ignorant of the system meant keeping the masses in check; exactly as the fili did. Also, notice the fili's total disregard for the poetic opinion of the masses. The fili wrote for each other and didn't care what the non-poet thought of their work. They often had to explain their own poems to the non-poet because the non-poet was unfamiliar with the system and was unable to judge good poetry from bad.

Dichetal do Chennaib seems to prove the case and also suggests that this memory system is much closer to the fifth century than the fourteenth. Dichetal do Chennaib is "recital from the finger-ends" in which the poet recites an impromptu poem by somehow consulting his finger tips. Cormac's Glossary flatly states that Dichetal do Chennaib allowed the poet to create a poem instantly and without study. This is because the poet is counting off the ogham on his fingertips and reciting the rhyming letter attributes derived from the ogham ciphers. There is nothing mystical, or even religious, in this method. A poet reciting a poem upon the Irish character Balor could quickly count off on his fingers and rhyme Balor to a relevant fortress, church, and bird from his memorized list of ogham variations. The result wouldn't be a deeply esoteric poem of druidic mysticism. It would be a piece of hack poetry based on commonly known ogham associations. Dichetal do Chennaib's non-religious purpose is proven by the fact that St. Patrick allowed its practice even after the introduction of Christianity. He had banned Imbas Forosnai and Teinm Laegda for their paganism but apparently Patrick realized that Dichetal do Chennaib was non-religious in function; it was merely counting off on your fingers as you reviewed the ogham listings during recitation. Patrick knew he had to retain this system; it was the foundation of Irish memory training and therefore the core of Irish education itself. Patrick Joyce came near the truth when he said Dichetal do Chennaib was "the utterance of an extempore prophecy or poem that seems to have been accomplished with the aid of mnemonic contrivance of some sort in which the fingers played a principle part". Joyce also mentions that "the fingers were used as a mnemonic aid in the pagan Dichetal do Chennaib".

Now we begin to understand the vague references within the Book of Ballymote which imply ogham hand signaling between the fili. Undoubtedly, this is a reference to the habit of counting on the fingers as the fili mentally cycles through his memorized ogham lists. A fili mentally consulting the ogham while reciting may very well count upon his fingers during recital. Another poet who observes him could easily reconstruct his thoughts because he also knew the relevant ogham lists. Thus, one poet watching another count off his fingers could simultaneously arrive at the same rhyming word. If he blurted it out before his partner it would appear to the ignorant observer that the two men had secretly communicated the word from one to the other. To see this method in action simply stand in a crowd and count upon your fingers while reciting: "thirty days hath September". Inevitably someone will join the rhyme and this would appear to be the result of secret communication to any observers unfamiliar with the poem.

This finger counting method, incidentally, destroys the assertion that druids and later fili could conduct two different conversations at once; one verbally and another via signaling. Macalister suggests that such methods were possible and that the fili could verbally say one thing while secretly conveying a contradictory meaning to a fellow poet via signaling. This was manifestly impossible. If the poet said anything during his finger counting it would most likely be a muttered recital of the ogham listings he was reviewing. The ability to count off ogham listings while simultaneously speaking on an entirely different subject is unrealistic. The fili could no more review their ogham listings during conversation than a modern English speaker could find the fifteenth letter of the alphabet without muttering the entire alphabet under the breath and counting off his fingers until reaching the correct letter. Attempting to count off the English alphabet while discussing any other subject proves this.

If this theory is correct one question remains: why does the Auraicept mention "shin ogham", "nose ogham" and other ogham signaling performed against various straight, flat surfaces? Is it possible that these methods were used as subtle prompts to reciting fili from an observing colleague? Impromptu recitals were part of the fili's final testing and demonstrated his mastery of the one hundred and fifty ogham listings. Possibly a floundering fili received assistance from a colleague during his testing. Likewise, this signaling could be used during critical public recitals, thereby protecting the integrity of the fili order as a whole. This silent coaching was a far cry from the blatant signals flashed between coaches and players in modern baseball and is more akin to the modern practice of lawyers secretly prompting their clients during court testimony or the subtle cues used between celebrities and talk show hosts to ensure a smooth dialogue during live performance.

When did this system develop? If this interpretation of Dichetal do Chennaib is correct then this system must have been in place by Patrick's time at least; putting it contemporary with the majority of the known ogham inscriptions. Significantly, this puts us in a druidic time frame and suggests the possibility that the ogham memory system retains some druidic impact. It certainly did at some point but these druidic traits may not have lasted long enough to be well recorded in the fourteenth century. Ogham as a memory system may have been in decline in the fourteenth century and the manuscript tradition doesn't necessarily reflect earlier (more druidic) usage. By the time ogham was put on paper it was being used for memory training and was clearly subjected to various corruptions, regardless of what it may have been before that. These corruptions included not only continual modernization which moved it further and further away from it's origins, but also attempts to restore the more pagan aspects which the later scribes believed were lost; Irish scribes possibly held some fairly inaccurate conceptions of their ancestors much as their Welsh brothers did. Lastly, the ogham system was corrupted by other memory systems; mainly the cabal.

It seems that few people have commented upon the cabalistic influences within the Auraicept : the building of the tower, the dispersal of languages, and the 72 poets who collected the languages (led by Fenius Farsaidh, a descendant of Noah). All of this is cabalistic. By the time the Book of Ballymote was compiled all of these elements had already appeared in those cabalistic texts pouring out of Spain and France. This exact same story was used to account for the creation of Hebrew and the secret preservation of the cabal through the descendants of Noah. Certainly, this tradition isn't Celtic and the Celts wouldn't have credited the creation of Gaelic to a descendant of Noah on the plain of Shinar unless they were trying to tie their own beliefs into a Judeo-Christian system. It's been argued that the Auraicept contains intentional deception but that's almost beside the point. We're not concerned with whether or not the Irish believed the story; the mere fact that they knew the tale and included it proves cabalistic impact. Regardless of whether the author believed it or not he obviously drew from contemporary cabalistic sources of the time.

Also, few neopagans notice that the Auraicept contains Hebrew and runes as well. It's plain as day in Calder's translations. Page 313 lists both Hebrew and "Scandinavian Ogham" (runes). The 84th example in Calder's reproduction is listed as Hebrew and below it appears a similar script; perhaps a corrupt Hebrew variant. Calder lists it as "unnamed". There's other strange looking alphabets listed in Ballymote that are obviously not ogham. Nor do they look like Hebrew, or any of the more commonly found magical alphabets (Celestial, Theban, Malachim, "Passing the River"). Page 307 reproduces three enclosed figures; two of which are often reproduced in modern neopagan texts. The third figure is seldom addressed. Why has it been ignored so often? Because it's not as intelligible as the other two. It resembles a magic circle taken from cabalistic text.

How much cabalistic contamination was there? Nobody knows but the fact that the two systems were merged at all indicates that the author of the Auraicept was at least partially familiar with both systems and saw a need to tie ogham traditions into the contemporary Judeo-Christian system. Was he fleshing out a partial ogham tradition with cabalism or was he attempting to compare ogham tradition to the more popular cabal? Either way, the Auraicept strives to put ogham on equal footing with the cabal, if not to supersede it entirely. Apparently, the Irish fili were not going to accept the importation of a foreign memory system without some compromise. The Auraicept dismisses Hebrew as the language "some say...the people of heaven had" and proceeds to offer Gaelic as the new divine language. The final result was a partial merger of these systems as the Celts struggled to tie Celtic history into biblical history at a time when biblical history was blindly accepted as the final word.

If all of this is correct, what is proven? The argument that ogham memory training was a late invention completely modeled upon the cabal and earlier Greek memory methods seems faulty and can't be supported from the text of the Auraicept alone. The Auraicept's scribe certainly didn't create this system from ogham in an attempt to create a native equivalent to the cabal; some sort of system already existed. If the theory of Dichetal do Chennaib is correct then ogham memory training obviously predates any cabalistic impact; and we do know that the druids were respected for their amazing memory and they must have had some sort of system. Conversely, it could be argued that the manuscript tradition of ogham is almost a complete rewrite of ogham traditions. If Welsh bards could project their own misconceptions of their druidic past into their poetry then the same thing might have happened in Irish manuscripts as well. Maybe an ogham memory system existed in the fifth century and by the fourteenth century it was so corrupt that what we have today is mostly cabalistic corruption and recreations of what the Irish believed they had lost.

Incidentally, Carmina Gadelica contains the following prayer;

    Uiriel shall be at my feet
    Ariel shall be at my back
    Gabriel shall be at my head
    Raphael shall be at my side

It's unknown how long the Scots had this poem before Carmina Gadelica published it but nearly the same prayer is found in cabalistic literature. If nothing else it proves that cabalism was accepted into folk beliefs as authentic tradition at some point. Certainly, this predates W.B. Yeats and the Golden Dawn; although that doesn't necessarily push it back to before the fourteenth century.

Lastly, someone more familiar with Celtic literature could argue that this ogham memory system traveled from Ireland to Wales. The Irish impact on the Mabinogion is well established. Some Welsh poetry seems to be modeled upon the Irish as well. T.G. Jones argues that Welsh poetic laws are based upon the Irish and there was communication between the two schools in the middle ages. We know the bardic system lasted longer in Ireland and it was stronger there too. The lowest ranked Irish bard still ranked higher in courts than the highest ranked Welsh bard. It seems that at some point Welsh bardism was revived with a strong infusion of the Irish system. Some of the Welsh poetic rules appear to be weaker version of the rules within the Auraicept and it's possible that the Welsh had adopted some memory system as well; possibly based on ogham, although it's unlikely. There's no known ogham kennings in Welsh poetry but there are superficial similarities which suggest they were copying the general idea: tree symbolism, finger counting, and rigid similes similar to kennings but lacking a concrete system. A Welsh poem cited in Barddas suggests that Wales had an identical system: "A didactic bard...on the fingers it is necessary to question him". The Welsh hero Hu Gadarn supposedly wrote the first Welsh mnemonic poem and his follower, Tydain, made such mnemonic poetry the primary method of record keeping. Barddas is a faulty document but it could at least suggest that Morganwg himself saw the memory applications of ogham or Dichetal do Chennaib and tried to introduce them into Welsh bardism. Someone at sometime certainly saw the memory aspect and tried to put it into the Welsh system.

Calder, George, ed and trans. Auraicept na N'Eces. Edinburgh: Four Courts, 1995
Carmichael, Alexander. Carmina Gadelica. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1928
Jones, T. Gwynn. "Bardism and Romance." Transactions of the Honourable Society of the Cymmrodorion. London, 1915. 205-310.
Joyce, Patrick Weston. A Social History of Ireland. 2 vols. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968
Macalister, R. A. S. Secret Languages Of Ireland, The. Amsterdam: Philo, 1976

Bricriu's Bluff and Bluster

Based on Perudo and Liar's Dice and Bluff
(Dice and cups available commercially)

By Mike Scharding, 2004
Color board printout at


Bricriu, the trickster god of Irish legends, is holding the Trickster Convention, and has invited other trouble-making spirits from other parts of the world to exchange schemes, ploys and devious ideas. At the end he reveals a new tournament to decide where the next convention will be held in the next century. The game is played in a golden palace with 20 white shields and 10 red shields hanging on hooks upon the walls of the hall. Bricriu addresses the assembly and says the purpose of the game is to see who is the more conniving and devious spirit.

The goal is to be the last player to have at least one die in play. A game is played in rounds by two to six players (four or five is best) and takes 30-40 minutes for a full game. During each round, the players roll their dice, an opening bid is mad, and play continues as the bid is raised until it is challenged, and the challenge is resolved. Players lose dice for incorrect bids or challenges. Once a player has lost all of their dice, they are out of the game.


Print a color version of the board and laminate it.
Collect five dice for each player. (30 white dice)
Have one colored dice as a bid marker (preferably red)
One plastic opaque cup for each player (six cups)

Game Board
(Click on graphic to enlarge)

The Red Die

Players will place this dice on the bidding circles track to declare their bids and make it easier to keep track.

The Bidding Circles Track

This is the white and red circle shields that ring the board. As the bids are called and raised, the red die is moved sun-wise (clockwise) on the bidding spaces around the track. Players declare their bids by placing the red die on either Number Bid circles or Magic One Bid circles allowing all players to decide whether its time to raise a bid or challenge. (If the bid, for some reason, goes above 20 White circles or 10 Red circles, just keep going around the board adding 20 (or 10) to the number written on the board.)

The Lost Dice Squares

Players place any dice that they have lost on these squares, where they will remain out of play. This aids other players to keep track of how many dice are in play or out of play; making bid calculations more simple.

The White Dice

Players will bid on ALL white dice in play, including those in their own cup (or those show outside the cup, but in play.) Dice on Lost Dice Squares do not affect game play. The single pip on the dice is a "Magic One." and will change to match the number called on any bid, without control of the die's owner.

Game Rules

0. Choose the First Bidder of the Game

Every one rolls all five of their dice, to determine who will start the game. The person with the highest total will start and then proceed clockwise around the table. Ties are re-rolled.

1. Roll the Dice

We begin. All players takes a dice cup and five white dice. They shake their dice and give them a roll, but do not let their opponents see what they have rolled. Keep them concealed under the cups. You may peek in your cup as often as you like, but secrecy is a critical aspect of Bricriu's Bluff & Bluster!

2. Opening Bid

The first player can declare any amount of numbers (or Magic Ones) as their opening bid, even if they didn¡¯t roll that many. You base your bid on your estimate of all dice in play. There are two types of opening bids; Number Bids and Magic Ones Bids.

    Number Bids:

The white shields along the bidding circle track are for Number Bids. A Number Bid is a claim that revealing all of the dice in play (your dice and your opponents') will show a particular number (Magic Ones count towards the number called, being like jokers in a deck of cards.) All matching number and Magic Ones on the white dice count together toward a Number Bid.

For example, if you have three 5s and your three opponents each have one Magic One (but no 5s), there are really six 5s in play (5+5+5+1+1+1). After reading your opponent's eyes for weakness, declare your bid by placing the red die with a six facing up on the white "5" shield circle.

    Magic Ones Bids:

Red shields are used for Magic One Bids. A Magic One Bid is a claim that revealing all of the dice in play (your dice as well as those of your opponents) will show a particular amount of Magic Ones. Only Magic Ones will count toward a Magic One Bid, but this gives you another option in bidding and bluffing your opponents in tight situations.

For example: If you have three Magic Ones in your hand and you suspect that your other opponents each have a Magic One in their hand, then it is reasonable to advance the red die around the Bidding Circles Track to the red "6" shield circle and have the red die face upwards with a Magic One on it.

3. Bluff, Bluster and Raise

After the opening bid is made, play continues clockwise to the next surviving player. You cannot pass. Each player in succession will have only two options that they can make:

    A. Raise the current bid, or
    B. Challenge the current bid.

Remember, all the white dice in play, both yours and the dice held by other players, even the dice you can¡¯t see should be considered when you calculate to raise the bid. It's okay to bluff and bluster, and setting the next bid just a bid higher than the true odds, will force the next person into a difficult dilemma of whether to risk a challenge or raise it to even more ridiculous odds. Don't make it an easy decision for them.

Raising the Bid

Raising the bid is the key to strategy. Depending on your opponents¡¯ bidding and the dice showing in your cup, you can raise the bid in a few different ways.

    A. Either keep the red die on the same bidding circle, and turn it to show a higher number on the die. (For example, if your opponent's poor bid was four 3s, then you can raise that with a daring bid of four 4s, four 5s, or four 6s.)
    B. Or, move the red die clockwise to any higher Number Bid circle (White), and turn the dice to show any number you want on top. (For example, if your opponent declares a bid of four 3s, then you can upset the game by confidently bidding five 2s, six 5s, seven 3s, and so on.)
    C. Or, move the red die clockwise to any Magic One Bid circle (Red) and turn the red die to show a Magic One on the top. For instance, if your opponent declares a bid of five 3s, counter his impetuous bid with a bid of three Magic Ones (or even four Magic Ones), since it is in a position on the Bidding Circle Track that is higher (i.e. clockwise) from the already declared bid.

NOTE: If you are playing by the Show and Reroll rule, after your bid you should immediately announce or execute this maneuver before the next player makes their call.

Bid raises continue to rise from one player to the next until challenged.

Challenging the Bid

If you don't think there are enough white dice in play to support the latest bid, then you can challenge the bid rather that raise it. You can only challenge a bid on your turn, and must loudly and clearly call out the word "Challenge" or "call" for everyone to reveal their dice. This decision cannot be reversed or recalled.

4. Resolving the Challenge and Ending the Round

Once a player has challenged a bid, all players lift their cups and reveal their dice to everyone. Count all the dice in play that match the bid; numbers and Magic Ones for Number Bids; or Magic Ones only for Magic One Bids.

After you count the total, it is time to determine who lost.

    A. If the actual amount of dice is equal to or more than the bid amount, the challenger loses the challenge, and forfeits one dice, and puts the dice on the Lost Dice Track in the middle of the board, and drinks once.
    B. If the actual amount of dice is less than the bid amount, the bidder loses the challenge, and forfeits one dice, and puts the dice on the Lost Dice Track in the middle of the Board, and drinks once.
    C. If you are player by the optional Special Rule "Perfect Bid," and the bid is exactly the same as the bid amount, the everyone but the bidder loses a die and drinks. This rule tends to unbalance the game's odds quickly, but is enjoyable because you get to berate the challenger verbally.

Challenge Examples:

Example One:
You challenge a bid of ten 5s. When all the white dice are counted, there are eight 5s and four Magic Ones. That's twelve 5 in all¡ªtwo more than the bid amount. Therefore the bidder was right; there were at least ten 5 in play. So you lose the challenge and place one of your dice on the Lost Dice Track.

Example Two:
You challenge a bid of five Magic Ones. When the dice are counted, there are four Magic Ones. You win the challenge. The bidder loses the challenge and surrenders one die to a Lost Dice square.

5. Next Round

After the challenge is resolved either way it is time for the next round and the red die is reset to the white "1" circle with a one facing up. All load the dice you still have into your cup and roll again, as in the beginning. The player who won the last round takes the red die and starts the bidding in the new round. Bidding, of course, can begin anywhere on the bidding track.

Game continues until people run out of dice.

Mix and match these rules to the players' preferences.

Show and Re-roll Rule

This is great for confusing your opponents. Immediately after opening or raising a bid, you may put one or more of your dice outside your cup for all players to see, then reroll and hide all of your remaining dice. Any rerolled dice that match your bid (if challenged) will count towards it. Showing and rerolling can therefore improved your chance of winning a possible challenge.

Your can show any amount of dice outside of your cup, as long as you have at least one die left to reroll. The dice shown does not have to match your bid at all, but that may help to convince the next player. The dice outside your cup remain there for the rest of the round, and count towards any future challenge, and can not be returned to your cup until the next round, possibly inhibiting your options, if the bid should revolve around the table to you again.

Perfect Bid Rule

If the amount of dice is exactly the same as the bid amount, everyone except the bidder lose the challenge, and must forfeit a die to the Lost Dice Track and drink once. This often unbalances a game, on average people will lose two or three dice in the game to this rule, if used, lowering the strategy quotient in the game. You could also have dice lost only by challenger and ALL but bidder must drink once, which is more fair.

Die Hard Rule (Corollary to Perfect Bid Rule)

You cannot lose your last die when there is a perfect bid, unless you are the player who is actually challenging the bid.

For example, you have one die left. Alex has four dice, Sue and Susan both have two, Shane challenges Sue's bid of eight 4s. There are exactly eight 4s shown. Normally in this situation, all players except Sue would have to surrender one die each, but under the Die Hard rule, because you didn't call the challenge, you are saved and can keep your final die.

Big Miss Rule

The difference between the actual amount of dice and the bid affects the number of dice lost. If there are more dice than the bid called, the losing challenger loses the difference in dice to the center track (if he challenges seven 5s, and there are nine 5s, then the challenger loses two dice (nine minus seven =two.) If the bidder bids seven 5s and there are actually four 5's, then the bidder lose three dice (seven minus four = three.)


Pagan Fire Festival Reignites with a Fee

By Alastair Jamieson
From The Scotsman Thu 19 Feb 2004,

THE Beltane Fire Festival, which heralds the arrival of spring with spectacular traditional dancing, is to return to Edinburgh after organisers struck a deal with the council to lease Calton Hill for a night.

The agreement, which puts the boisterous all-night event on a formal footing for the first time, will mean revellers from around the world being charged between £2 and £4 to go on to the hill to watch the celebrations.

Last year's event was cancelled for the first time in its 15-year history after council officials insisted the Beltane Fire Society needed a public entertainment licence.

It is understood councillors wanted the celebration to "grow up" and become more professional following complaints about excessive drinking, noise and risks to public safety.

The number of people attending the event, which has attracted crowds of 15,000 in the past, will be limited to 12,000 as part of the new arrangement.

A council insider said: "The event is fantastic and it is great to be supporting it again on a proper, contractual level. There were concerns that there was no control over anything and that people were just turning up and getting completely out of their heads.

"There were people so drunk that they were waking up on the hill the following morning."

The event is now expected to go ahead this year, with organisers agreeing to a string of conditions imposed by Edinburgh City Council.

As well as the limit on numbers, the festival will be forced to finish at 1am and provide stewarding to ensure crowd safety. The deal is expected to be approved by councillors at a meeting next week.

Organisers are introducing the entrance charge to meet the cost of providing stewards.

Ricky Henderson, the city council's leisure leader, said: "There will be some fairly robust conditions placed on their licence."

The fire festival, which takes place on the night of 30 April, features 300 performers and celebrates the beginning of summer in the old Celtic calendar. Staged at Calton Hill since 1988, it is the biggest Beltane celebration in the UK and attracts visitors from all over the world.

Beltane, which has strong undertones of fertility, has significance for pagans, who believe that the event marks the "coming of age" of the gods born at the previous corresponding winter solstice.

Dougie Kerr, the Calton ward councillor, said this year's event was the organisers' last chance to prove they could operate the festival without disruption to neighbours.

Mr Kerr said: "If it's going to come back, I'm determined it's going to come back on a proper footing. It has caused a number of problems in the past and it's not just problems to the residents. I have been seriously concerned about public safety at this event and I think in the past it has been non-existent."

But Mr Henderson said organisers realised there would have to be controls to ensure the festival runs smoothly.

"I think the impression the officials have got from dealing with the Beltane Fire Society is that people seem to be far more serious and professional in their approach," he said.

The Beltane Fire Society has also agreed to stop the use of drums at 1am and finish cleaning Calton Hill by 9am the following day.

Steve Cardownie, the Deputy Lord Provost and champion of the Edinburgh Festival, said: "This has the potential to be a great event and can be an important part of Edinburgh's portfolio of festivals. It has always been popular, but there has been a need to improve the public safety. Hopefully, Beltane will remain an important part of the city's calendar of celebrations."

The Beltane Fire Society was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The Beltane Fire Festival takes the form of a procession which snakes around the hill between points entitled fire, air, earth and water.

The name is thought to have derived from a Gaelic-Celtic word meaning "bright/sacred fire". It was held to mark and celebrate the blossoming of spring, and coincided with the ancient pastoral event of moving livestock to summer grazing. It was a celebration of the fertility of the land and animals.

Historically, the Beltane festival was the primary focus of a community's year. Before the Romans divided the seasons into a calendar of 12 months, the Celtic year was marked by four quarter days: Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhuinn and Imbolc. Of these, Beltane was the most frequently and significantly celebrated.

Druids Want Involvement at Stonehenge Project

From This is Bristol, March 2, 2004.

Druid leaders yesterday called for the creation of a sacred site at Stonehenge for the re-burial of human remains unearthed during a unique road project in the area. They want a parcel of land near the "powerful temple of our heritage" to be set aside as a ceremonial shrine for the Pagan and Druid communities. They also hope to carry out important rituals at key stages of the proposed Stonehenge Tunnel construction, such as the first ground breaking "to ease ancestral spirits". And they want to be informed of any archaeological discoveries during the £193million A303 road scheme in the World Heritage Site.

The Druid Network told a public inquiry they were in favour of the 4,500-year-old stone circle being returned to its natural setting without nearby roads and visitor centre. But they are concerned about various aspects of the proposed project, which is the subject of a 10-week public inquiry in Salisbury. Giving evidence for the network, Emma Restall Orr said the scheme "lacks any acknowledgement of this ancient site's significance as a working temple for existing spiritual and religious communities".

She said: "A major concern is the potential lack of respect given to our ancestors and their physical remains." Such problems could be diverted if "the sanctity of the temple" was acknowledged and respected throughout the work.

Ms Restall Orr said the Druids wanted to carry out their rituals at important stages of the three-year construction programme. These include the first sod-cutting and when the work nears sensitive sites such as Longbarrow Crossroads, the Avenue and the Heel Stone. Rituals were also required at times of significant archaeological finds during tunnelling at the heritage site, especially the uncovering of human remains.

She said: "Of particular concern are human remains. "We seek assurances that any Pagan human remains found during the work are treated with appropriate respect. While we do not wish to stop the archaeologists from gaining knowledge, removing human remains to store in museums is no longer acceptable within international Pagan communities. All human remains must be reburied with the appropriate Pagan ritual as close to the site of discovery as possible, together with their grave goods - or appropriate facsimiles. We would support the setting aside of a piece of land within the World Heritage Site that could act as a ceremonial funerary shrine for the Pagan and Druid communities. This could be used not only for the reburial of the ancient dead, but also as a place of honouring the dead within many modern spiritual communities."

Calif. County Votes to Ban Biotech

Wed Mar 3, 2004
By Paul Elias, AP Biotechnology Writer

UKIAH, Calif. AP) -- Mendocino County voters approved the nation's first ban on the raising and keeping of genetically engineered crops or animals.

The vote Tuesday represented a big black eye for the biotechnology industry, which spent more than $500,000 to defeat the measure in a county of 47,000 registered voters.

"They had the money, we had the people," said Els Cooperrider, who led the local ballot measure.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Measure H had support from 56 percent of voters in the area known for its wineries.

Opponents of the measure could not be immediately reached for comment. Their campaign headquarters in Ukiah was vacant with a "for lease" sign on it.

Led by organic vintners and farmers, backers of the ban raised and spent close to $100,000.

The ban will have little direct effect inside Mendocino County, since there are no known genetically modified crops raised in the area.

But Mendocino County's organic growers said they would use the law as a marketing tool, especially in Europe, where opposition to genetically engineered foods is fierce.

The victory is also expected to embolden similar movements in neighboring Northern California counties as well as elsewhere in the county.

The biotechnology industry may file a lawsuit trying to overturn the new law. The industry argued that biotechnology regulation should be left to the federal government, otherwise biotech companies will have to wade through a hodgepodge of local laws.

Editor's note: This reminds us of the old ad campaign "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." Communities are starting to stand up to the biotechnology industry and their bio-engineered foods. We don't know what the long term effects are on our bodies, neighboring plants, the environment. Best to leave well enough alone.


Psychic Eye Book Shop Closing

We will continue to be open during this closing process, which should carry us through the next two to three weeks. Unfortunately, due to the state of the economy, it has come down to this, but we will endeavor to return to the San Francisco Bay area as soon as is humanly possible.

We have valued your continued patronage over the years, and we will continue to offer most of our merchandise via our website (tax-free to California residents) and our remaining 8 locations will of course continue to offer readings, both in person and over the telephone. If anyone has any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to e-mail us at

2004 CSANA Conference

The 2004 CSANA conference will be held April 15-18, 2004 on the campus of St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto, co-hosted by the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, and the Celtic Studies Program, St. Michael's College, University of Toronto. The conveners are David Klausner of the Centre for Medieval Studies and Ann Dooley of the Celtic Studies Program. St. Michael's College is located on the east side of the university campus, in the heart of downtown Toronto in a park-like setting that is close to museums, shopping, restaurants and art galleries, all easily accessible by public transportation (TTC).

Confirmed participants include Pádraig Ó Riain of University College Cork, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh of the University of Cambridge, and Graham Isaac, John Koch and Brynley Roberts of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

For those arriving by air, a taxi from Pearson International Airport to the University of Toronto costs approximately $40.00. Pacific Western operates coach service from the airport to the major downtown hotels approximately every half hour at a cost of $14.95 one-way ($25.75 return). The closest dropoff hotel is the Delta Chelsea Inn on Gerrard Street West; from there it is a short taxi ride to the university campus and the conference hotels. Or, for $2.25 exact change, and a possible wait, one can take the Airport Rocket Shuttle to the Kipling subway station and take the subway from there to either the St. George stop (exit at St. George, turn left, and walk south to Bloor, then turn right and walk west on Bloor for Quality Hotel Midtown) or to the Bay St. stop (exit at Cumberland for the Howard Johnson hotel, walk left to Avenue, turn right, and walk north on Avenue); the hotels are a short walk from their respective stops.

Arrangements have been made with two local area hotels. Please make your own reservations. Cut-off date for room bookings at the conference rate is March 15.

Quality Hotel Midtown
280 Bloor Street West (at St. George Street)
Cost:Cdn.$109.00 + taxes per night
Phone: 1-800-228-5151 or 416-968-0010
and quote "CSANA Conference - Group No. 102035"
Howard Johnson Hotel
89 Avenue Road (North of Bloor Street)
Cost: Cdn.$89.00 + taxes per night
Phone: 1-800-446-4656 or 416-964-1220
and quote "CSANA Conference"

Conference Schedule:
All sessions will take place at Robert Madden Hall on the main floor of Carr Hall, 100 St. Joseph Street, St. Michaelfs College.

Thursday, April 15
1.30 p.m.-5 p.m. Registration and sessions
6-7.30 p.m. Reception: (Charbonnel Lounge, Elmsley Hall, 81 St. Mary Street)
Optional evening event: Traditional music session at Dora Keogh's Pub, 141 Danforth Avenue

Friday, April 16
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sessions (break for lunch 12.30-2 p.m.)
7.30 p.m. Chinese banquet (prior registration required)

Saturday, April 17
9 a.m.-5.30 p.m. Sessions (break for lunch 12.30-2 p.m.)
Optional evening event: Informal gathering at McVeigh's New Windsor Irish Tavern, 124 Church Street

Sunday, April 18
10 a.m.-1.30 p.m. Sessions

The registration fee is $30.00 (student rate $20.00). Registration for the Friday night banquet is also required ($30.00).

We encourage you to register by Friday, April 2, 2004 so that accurate arrangements may be made. Please make cheques payable to "Celtic Conference" and mail with registration form to:

Jean Talman
Celtic Studies
St. Michael's College
81 St. Mary Street
Toronto, ON M5S 1J4
Phone: 416-926-7145
Fax: 416-926-2330

The Celtic Cauldron of Creation

A Shamanic Retreat Exploring the Spirit-Powers of Dana
Facilitated by Tom Cowan (author of Fire in the Head) and Frank MacEowan
Assisted by Susan McClellan

Long before the arrival of the Gaels, an ancient race of people inhabited Ireland known through oral traditions and written history as the Tuatha De Danann, or the Shining Ones. This mystical race may have originated in the primal forests of Old Europe, somewhere in a Celtic Otherworld manifesting along the Danube. The Dananns were highly attuned to the mysterious elements of nature, possessed advanced spiritual powers, and may have been attempting to bring forth an enlightened society on Earth, as other mystical races around the world are thought to have been attempting in the dreamtimes of their own cultures.

In this weeklong retreat we will delve deeply into the ancient mysteries surrounding the Dananns and look at how their unique culture and spirituality shaped the beliefs and practices of the later Celtic peoples of Ireland and Britain. Our intention will be to prepare ourselves to be skillful recipients of the potent spiritual forces the Dananns tended in their own lands and within themselves, and which are still accessible to us. It is our belief that the Dananns are initiating people in our own day to preserve and carry forth their wisdom and spiritual knowledge for the sake of humanity and the nonhuman communities of life on our Mother, the Earth.

We will trace and track the dana energies as they reveal themselves in the Three Cauldrons of the Soul, as they help to shape the Wheel of the Four Airts, and as they originate in the Primal Mother Spirit called Danu or Dana by those earliest Celtic peoples. Through ritual and ceremony, we'll contact the dana life-force behind the spirits of nature in our own lands so that we may become better healers and seers. By drumming, dancing, and dreaming we will spend intimate time with the dana energies and allow them to initiate us into the mysteries that the Shining Ones are calling back into the visible world for its renewal and transformation, not to mention our own.


August 18-22, 2004 near Denver, Colorado. Contact: Cynthia McMahon at 303-726-8508 or

September 22-26, 2004 Kirkridge near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Contact: Susan McClellan at 302-478-6844 or

A Druid Missal-Any

The Vernal Equinox, when the Sun crosses the equator, will occur on March 19, at 10:49 p.m. PST. The Sun rises due East and sets due West today and the Night equals the Day. Balanced now are we!

A Druid Missal-Any is published eight times a year. Post mail subscriptions are $8.00 and email subscriptions are free. Or write an article or send us a cartoon and receive a year's post mail subscription free. Write to:

      A Druid Missal-Any
      P.O. Box 5003
      Elmwood Station
      Berkeley, CA 94705


This is the end of the Spring Equinox Issue

To return to the main news page.

Where you can read our many back issues.

Read RDNA magazines from 70's, 80's, 90's & 00's

Comments on the Missal-Any?
Sign Guestbook / View Guestbook
Submissions to



Webmastered by Mike Scharding