Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing at the House of Henry Irish Pub in Panama City, FL. I like the place. It’s nice and new, only established in 2019. It has all of the hardwood, stained glass and bric-a-brac I’ve come to expect from a good Irish Pub. They have a full menu and two rooms with separate bars, a dining room and a pub area with a stage. It’s a cool spot and I’m looking forward to playing there often.
After a recent gig Jake, the booking manager met with me in the loft above the pub and we recorded an episode of House of Henry Loft Sessions.
The Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year is a solar calendar marking the eight seasonal points of the ancient and indigenous western European holiday tradition.
It has always been vital for human survival to live in tune with the seasonal cycle in order to plan ahead and prepare for the various environmental changes that occur over a year. Our lithic ancestors needed to know when berries ripen, when herds migrate or when the snow comes just for basic survival. Along the way certain specific celestial events were noted that marked the beginnings and midpoints of the seasons and these dates were set apart as special. As civilization developed and farming became central to life, celebrations and holidays were created through tradition and the foresight of wise and creative participants. This is such an intrinsic part of our evolutionary heritage that our greatest holidays, those with long histories attached to them still carry these ancient seasonal and astronomical markers.
In the mid 20th century an uncertain group of Euro-traditionalist scholars combined the four-point seasonal holidays of the Germanic Anglo-Saxon tradition with a quite similar though differently organized traditional Celtic holiday calendar to create the Eight-Fold Seasonal Cycle. Though originally combined by neo-pagans to satisfy their need for a holiday cycle and to reclaim the old ways, it corresponds naturally with the holiday cycle already celebrated throughout Western civilization. It serves as a useful toolbox for those desiring to orient themselves with a more naturalistic or even indigenous outlook on life.
There is no “true” beginning or end to the Eight-Fold Seasonal Cycle, and different communities begin their year at different points for cultural and historical reasons of their own. Since I have a strong affinity for the Irish Celtic orientation I would normally begin with Samhain, but for this article I’ll start at at a point that seems like a more natural beginning, Yule.
Each holiday is presented below in brief. Click on the name of each holiday to be taken to a full article describing that day in more detail.
Yule, Dec 21st
A Germanic holiday in its origin, Yule falls at the winter solstice. It’s a time of new beginnings as the midpoint of winter. After two brutal months of winter the days are finally becoming longer once again and there is hope for a new summer just months ahead. It’s a time to celebrate the birth of a new year, and new sun. Yule traditions coupled with traditions from the Roman Saturnalia and transferred into a Christian context have been handed down to us as the modern day Christmas.
Imbolc, Feb 1
Imbolc is an Irish holiday. It’s the first defining evidence of the fulfillment of the promise made at Yule. The young earth is becoming fertile and the young sun has begun to show signs of his virility. This is when seeds that have lain dormant in the earth begin to show the first signs of sprouting. Life is starting to become more active after the hard winter. It is a time for lovers. The symbolism of Imbolc has been adapted into multiple different celebrations such as Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras.
Ostara, March 21st
Ostara falls on the Spring Equinox. At Ostara the Corn Mother is celebrated in her first stirrings of pregnancy. Agriculturally Ostara comes at the end of the Spring sowing season. Flowers are blooming everywhere and the animals are starting their mating dances as pollen wafts through the air. This holiday was wholesale converted, name and all into the Church as Easter and many of its symbolism such as rabbits and colored eggs were adopted along with it.
Beltane, May 1
Beltane is an Irish holiday and is also full of fertility symbolism. As the crops and herds are flourishing and pollinators are active, sexuality is pervasive through Beltane. Ancient customs recall celebrations in which lovers met in the fields, the forests, or along the shores for trysts and escapades. The Maypole with its phallic symbolism was commonly danced at Beltane.
Midsummer, June 21st
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, with the sun at its strongest, therefore Midsummer represents the triumph of light over darkness. It is the counterpart to Yule, the fulfillment of prophecy. The Solar Hero born at Yule rises to his destiny. He could be King Arthur, Lugh Lamfada or God.
Lugnasadh, Aug 1
Lugnasadh is the first real harvest festival. It means “The Wake of Lugh.” As autumn approaches, summer day’s become noticeably shorter as winter’s grip is only a short way off and the sun begins to die. As a celebration many competitions and public dances are traditional.
Mabon is the autumnal equinox. To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The Solar Hero is near death, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in steadily to rule the land. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat and the hero meets his doom.
Samhain, Oct 31st-Nov 1st
Samhain traditionally celebrates the last harvest of the season. It was the highest feast day on the old Celtic calendar and often regarded as the Celtic New Year. It represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season, the season of death as the solar hero lies slain. As such the date is associated with ghosts and dark themes eventually becoming the modern day Halloween.
As you see, the Solar Wheel follows the annual cycle through the activity of the sun and its relationship with the earth in order to sustain life. The symbolism associated with that has been built into allegories, mythologies and cultures, but at their core lays our genuine evolutionary nature. As natural beings, we are dependent upon this cycle of life, the dance between sun and earth. By living in tune with the seasonal cycle along with other traditions, customs and philosophies which I can only call Indigenist, I think we become more centered and grounded as human beings and more complete. With that completeness we lose a lot of insecurity, and anxiety about the meaning of it all and our place within it. This is just such a thing I think can help restore a bit of sanity to modern humanity.
Imbolc is an ancient Celtic Fire Festival traditionally celebrated on February 1st and heralds in the beginning of spring. For several hundred years this day has been the feast day of Saint Brigid of Kildare and before that of an Irish goddess by a similar name.
As the first day of spring, Imbolc is placed early in the season because Celtic people recognized that seasons begin upon their incubation rather than at their midpoint as the seasons are generally measured today. Similarly, the feast day itself as with all Celtic fire festivals begins the eve before the actual calendar date. Being a fire festival, Imbolc was marked by bonfires, hearthfires and candles. And as is traditional for the Irish any time of year, Imbolc would be celebrated with a solemn visit to sacred wells, or rivers
By Imbolc, the days have become noticeably longer since midwinter’s darkness as the sun continues to mature in the sky. The young earth is becoming fertile and the young sun begins to show signs of his virility. Seeds that have lain dormant in the earth will soon sprout. Life is becoming more active as the cold winter fades away. The stag begins to regrow his antlers and shall soon be searching for his spring-time mate. This is the day for coming of age.
In its earliest incarnations, Imbolc was a shepherd’s holiday likely called Oimelc, meaning “ewe’s milk.” At this time of year, the female sheep have often recently given birth and are lactating. Another proposed meaning of the name Imbolc would translate to “in the belly” carrying forward this theme of fertility, mating and pair-bonding.
Though Imbolc is still celebrated continuously in parts of Ireland and Britain, it was also adopted into the neopagan Eightfold Wheel of the Year in the mid twentieth century. In this progression, Imbolc is the first discernible evidence of the fulfillment of that divine promise of Yule, celebrating the returning of light and the fertility of the earth.
Anciently, Imbolc is the feast day of Brigid, patroness of poetry, medicine and metallurgy and celebrates her as the fertile virgin Earth-bride to be mated to the returning sun of spring personified as the youthful Green Man, an archetype of the springtime blooming. His hair and beard are usually represented as leaves and vines. His symbols are horns, vegetation and snakes. Though, the male hero plays an integral role in this relationship, Imbolc is truly in celebration of the Bride. Amongst her many epithets Brigid is referred to as “mistress of fire,” “old lady of the whirling fire,” and selchi shut emyss; “mistress of serpents.” The Catholic saint is portrayed just as strikingly though far less romantically as a bride of Christ.
The serpent is also a symbol of Imbolc. Much like the similar event of Groundhog Day which falls at this same time, the sighting of snakes at this time of year indicates the arrival of spring. Snakes brumate in the winter; a kind of mild hibernation. They return in the spring, making their reappearance a sign of springtime fertility. Snakes have been seen as symbolic of rebirth in many cultures due to the manner in which they slough their skin and are thus each time ‘reborn.’ The sighting of the first serpent of spring is considered a good omen bestowing virile blessings upon the seer. For this reason, the historical celebrations of Imbolc included the pounding of a serpent effigy and the pronouncement: “Today is the day of the Bride. The serpent shall come from his hole. I will not molest the serpent and the serpent will not molest me.”
As an agricultural celebration and the first fertility rite of the year, Imbolc is a time to prepare the fields for the sowing. Traditional celebrations for this time include breaking ground for new crops or blessing the fields, the plows and other farming tools, and offerings were made of milk, honey or mead, and cakes or bread.
Historically, by this time the winter supplies would be dwindling. Few if any fruits or vegetables were available. Wild animals are quite lean in late winter and so were the people having dropped their summer weight as they entered the lean season the Church would eventually institute as the season of Lent. Since wild foods are scarcest and our favorites scarcer still, this time period has historically marked a time of fasting.
The internationally touring Irish musical duo The Guinness Brothers have been spreading the craic* from pub to pub and festival to festival over two continents for the past seven years. Consisting of Colm Kelly on vocals, guitar, and harmonica, and Roddy Carreira on vocals, mandolin, banjo, and occasional percussion, The Guinness Brothers really are the life of the party.
Based out of Albufeira, Portugal (though Colm originally hails from Kildare, Ireland), they are consistent performers at Irish Pubs, weddings and events at a nearly non-stop pace throughout Europe and the United States.
I naturally met Colm on his first trip to Pensacola as a performer at McGuire’s Irish Pub. Sometime later Roddy came along with him and brought the full Guinness Brothers experience to McGuire’s. One of the most immediately noticeable features of a Guinness Brothers show, as well as a Colm Kelly solo performance is that Colm has a natural gift for working a room and amping up a crowd. With Roddy beside him, they create a power team of sarcasm and debauchery that will have any festival ground, reception hall, or bar entertained and actively involved with all the antics they bring with them.
A Guinness Brothers show is more than a musical performance; it really is a party. The boys don’t want the audience just sitting and listening as each songs fritters by, but instead in the age-old Irish tradition they want you to be a part of the show, to interact, dance, sing, shout out responses and play along for the fun, or the “craic” as is said in Ireland.
Their sets include a wide variety of musical styles from Irish Traditionals, pop, rock, country and more, all of it delivered in the distinct high energy fashion that is a staple of a Guinness Brothers show. On top of all that, the boys are also known to boldly take requests from the audience. Even if they haven’t rehearsed the requested tune before, they’re likely to give it a shot anyway, and fake their way through it, all for the craic. It’s a bit of game to them, a challenge to which they’re eager to rise.
Speaking of games, as an audience member you might find yourself drafted into any number of games such as “left-hand drinking” during which the audience is only allowed to drink with their left hand. If someone is caught drinking with their right hand they’ll be called out, asked to stand up and down their drink all in one. This becomes a lot of fun as the audience begins to call each other out as the night goes on, and of course all for the craic.
In 2019 The Guinness Brothers released a live album appropriately titled Live Craic, a twelve song set including Irish favorites such as Whiskey in the Jar, The Wild Rover, and Rocky Road to Dublin as well as classic rock and popular covers like Folsom Prison Blues, Thunderstruck and Take On Me, with a half dozen more.
The album does a great job at capturing the spirit and the vibe the duo produces with Colm’s signature fast, percussive acoustic guitar rhythms and Roddy’s bright and lighthearted mandolin standing out ontop of the mix. Their rendition of The Wild Rover especially gives a sense of the back and forth banter the two are known for engaging in between and even during songs.
Their interpretation of the traditional reel The Moving Cloud is particularly demonstrative of Roddy’s proficiency with playing Celtic melodies. That and his dynamite mandolin lead on Whiskey in the Jar really helps to ground the disk’s versatile song selection in the Irish musical tradition from which the duo emerges.
While Live Craic is a good listen its only drawback is that you don’t get the full experience of all the antics of a Guinness Brothers live show. How could it? So, the only way to rectify this is to download this album now and make sure you catch the Guinness Brothers live at one of the various venues in which they perform throughout Europe and the United States.
* In case you haven’t figured it out by now, “craic” is a traditional Irish word for fun, joviality, or living comedy. It’s derives front the same root from which we Americans get the idea of “cracking jokes.”
Here we are the beginning of summer. The earth is waking up and her creatures are becoming active once more. The sun sets later in the evening. Flowers are blooming. Bees are pollinating the crops. Birds are laying their eggs. The mating season is in full swing. Life is abundant. This is the season of Beltane.
Beltane is an ancient festival traditionally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. This holiday coincides with the Germanic festival of Walpurgis. It is traditionally celebrated on May 1st. Ancient Gaelic tradition, much like Jewish tradition considered the beginning of each new day to be at sunset. Therefore, May 1st on the Celtic calendar really begins at sunset on April 30th of the Gregorian calendar.
The name Beltane is thought to be derived from a Gaelic term meaning the “fire of Belenos,” referring to an obscure Celtic solar deity. This date is a celebration that officially kicks off the active summer season, fully separate from the dormant times of winter. It is the counterpart to and opposite or the season of Samhain.
Flowers and blossoms are especially symbolic of this date as the crops have set to full blossom, some even starting to fruit. For this reason, the Flower Maiden plays a central role in the theme of the season. Coming of age, the Lord in his guise as the youthful Green Man or Stag Lord regaining his antlers has arrived not only to court the Flower Maiden, but to consummate their relationship, in their symbolic roles of pistol and stamen. Here, the young maiden is transformed into a woman through the loss of her virginity.
Sexuality pervades the themes of Beltane. Ancient customs recall celebrations in which lovers met in the fields, the forests, or along the shores for sexual escapades. As the counterpart and opposite to Samhain, bonfires also characterize Beltane and many of these midnight trysts occur at the edges of the firelight. The Maypole was commonly danced at Beltane. Often times a new pole would be erected each year, while the previous year’s pole was burned as part of a bonfire. The new pole would be allowed to stand all throughout the year. In some cases a live tree would be used instead.
Amongst herders, two fires would be built close beside each other. Then they would drive their herds between them as a means of purification, protection and fertility. The people would in some cases themselves also pass between the fires. Jumping over the fires to secure good blessings was also a custom practiced in certain parts of Ireland. These festivities often continued all throughout the night and culminated with the participants observing the sunrise, and bathing or washing with water touched by the first light of the season.
The boar hunt was another traditional activity occurring this time of year, held with great ceremonial significance. Ham and other pork dishes are traditional Beltane feast items. According to Alexie Kondratiev, the mythology associated with this holiday is Maponos (the youthful male) slaying the boar that will later kill him at Samhain. The boar in this case represents the forces of winter and death which are keeping the Flower Maiden (the earth) imprisoned. The young warrior as the solar hero defeats the dominating beast, sometimes a hag or wicked parental figure, freeing the earth maiden, symbolizing the spring. The conquest of the beast frees the earth to be the bride of the sun. In some traditions the hero must conquer the boar to retrieve his tusks, or some other item to use as a weapon to defeat the beast which imprisons the maiden. Here we obsere a common theme regarding the quest for a weapon that deals both death and life. Examples of such stories occur all throughout Celtic literature such as in the Welsh Mabinog, and can be seen especially in the marriage of Blodeuwedd and Lleu.
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The spookiness, the costumes, and the troops of kids and families marching through the streets, shaking down the neighborhood for candy has left an indelible imprint upon my Autumnal expectations. Like most traditional Western holidays, Halloween and the rituals associated with it are descended from ancient traditions lost on most of modern society.
The name “Halloween” is actually a contraction of the phrase All Hallows Eve, but that is the later Christianized name for the holiday that stretches back into historical obscurity. The earlier and more indigenous form of the holiday is of Celtic origin and was known as Samhain (Sow-un) in Ireland.
Samhain is a three day festival that begins sunset on October 31 and ends at sunset on November 2. Traditionally, it celebrates the last harvest of the season and is often regarded as the Gaelic (Irish and Scottish Celtic) New Year. It was the highest feast day on the old calendar. Samhain translates from Gaelic for “Summer’s End,” and it represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season.
As a harvest festival Samhain is full of deep symbolism. The warm season is over. The season of light is at its close and darkness regains its dominion of the land. The last of the season’s crops have been harvested. The fields, formerly lush and bursting with life now lay stripped of their bounty. The harsh autumn sunlight cast upon the barren fields creates an eerie atmosphere and a sense of dread as winter approaches. Amongst herding communities this is the time that traditionally concluded with the fall slaughters. This is also a time amongst many communities that kicks off the traditional hunting season.
Surrounded by dead fields, bloody slaughters, the turn toward hunting as a means of subsistence, the waning of the sun’s influence, and the impending frost which will kill off what is left of the season’s greenery makes the theme of death inescapable. These are often somber days, therefore it is important that this day is celebrated with much festivity and jubilation as things will only become darker and colder as times progress toward Yule.
The last sheaf of the harvest would be traditionally cut ceremoniously and fashioned into a corn dolly. The corn dolly is named for the corn mother and placed in a special location where she can watch over the household, hall, circle, or clan. She will serve to continue to bestow the blessings of the harvest upon the community all throughout the barren winter months.
Due to the spirit of darkness and death, Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. This time of year brings with it the highest potential for vision seeking and prophecy. This is a time for to meditate upon the subconscious powers of the inner cauldrons and the cauldron of Annwn.
There is much folklore associated with Samhain. Fairy mounds are abundant with the jubilance of the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk and the Sidhe. The Solar hero is slain in the boar hunt and lies dead until he is reborn at Yule. The Kernunnos archetype reigns from this time forward, leading the Wild Hunt through the skies and the countryside, herding the souls of those who died during the previous year and taken on animal forms. In Germanic tradition the Wild Hunt is lead by either Odin or Thor.
Traditional celebrations for this holiday are naturally enough centered on bonfires, torches, and lanterns. As the origin of the modern Halloween; masquerade balls and parades are also appropriate ways to celebrate Samhain. Revelers would march through the town streets from house to house singing seasonal songs. Soul cakes (little square cakes with currants) were given out to the roving bands, who would offer a prayer or song for the dead of that house. This is the origin of “trick or treat” in which young, costumed children venture from house to house collecting candy.
Harvest delicacies are abundant this time of year. Fresh fruits are traditional and symbolic. In Celtic countries apples are symbolic of the season. In America, corn and pumpkins are profound harvest symbols. In my celebration, all three are important. Corn and apples are paired as symbols of the old world and new world tradition and are the appropriate sacrifices for this day. Since Mabon is a traditional brewer’s holiday, by Samhain the beer is usually well prepared and properly aged. Ales and ciders are especially traditional at this time of year.
Halloween is a great holiday. Its roots run deep and its symbols have profound spiritual and practical significance that have been watered down by a civilization whose people largely no longer live in a seasonal and agricultural society dictated by the changing seasons, but within the preserved customs of Halloween, the real meaning of Samhain can still be observed.
The Festival of Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals attributed to the neo-pagan and Western spiritual revivalist’s eight-fold Wheel of the Year. It is celebrated on or near September 21 and coincides with the autumnal equinox. The festival has also been adopted by Revival Druidry as Alban Elfed; one of the four High Holy days.
Mabon is an interesting festival to write about. Although the date on which Mabon falls is astronomically significant, a festival by this name did not exist historically. Notable academic and occultist Aidan Kelly named the equinox festival “Mabon” after the Welsh legendary figure and member of King Arthur’s court, Mabon ap Modron. It’s positioned right next to Michaelmas, the Catholic Church’s Feast of St. Michael the Archangel who is said to be the most like God, and whose characteristics are perhaps the most reminiscent of the solar hero, complete even in archetype as a warrior and dragon-slayer.
Mabon is significant in that as the second of three harvest festivals it lies between two other significant historical Celtic holidays, Lugnasadh and Samhain (Halloween) and contains elements of both. The autumn equinox signals the end of the mythic cycle. With the sun’s height being at Midsummer, it has now begun to wane. Together with the spring holiday Ostara, Mabon is one of two days of the year when the daylight hours are of equal length as the nighttime hours.
To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat. The hero meets his doom as either the hunter is slain by his intended prey, or as Arthur mortally wounded on the battlefield defending his kingdom against the forces of darkness and chaos. It could be a myriad of turns on this theme. The Solar Hero is dying, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in stealthily to rule the land.
Much like the other harvest festivals, this is a time to reflect on the past, especially the past year. What have your efforts yielded? What positive or negative results have you experienced as a result of your choices and behaviors? What did you do that has had positive results in your life that you could do more or again? What changes would you make for the coming year in order to have even better results? Give thanks for life and all the good fortune you have no matter how difficult the past year may have been.
Equinox time is also a traditional time to begin brewing. Consider that the season’s harvest of wheat and fruits is just now being gathered and distributed. The beers, wines, and ciders which are such a part of the Halloween and Yuletide traditions are begun at this time. Even as the summer’s project of cultivating the fields comes to a close, it’s time for the beginning of new projects.
The Irish Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh is traditionally celebrated on August 1st but extends throughout much of the month. It is the first genuine harvest festival of the year and it coincides directly with the Anglo-Saxon holiday of Lammas.
The holiday is named for Lugh, the Irish hero of light. His name derives from the word for lightning and illumination. Amongst Germanic peoples, this day was sacred to the god Thor: the god of thunder, storms and agriculture. Thunder and lightning are obvious signs of rain and storm which are naturally an important ecological phenomenon for agricultural societies.
Lugh is of course more than a simple agricultural deity. As a patron of light, Lugh is the embodiment of all things light represents: intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment. Science and artistry are also considered to have been invented by Lugh. Considering his close association with the Roman god Mars, Lugh is a patron of martial prowess, which is perhaps best exemplified through his son Cuchulain. All of these attributes, whether agricultural or innovative attest to Lugh as a god of wealth, the guardian and benefactor of the tribe’s prosperity. It is probably more than mere coincidence that this time of year in Anglos-Saxon tradition, bondsmen would pay their rent.
This holiday, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain represent the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar. As the first true harvest festival in the seasonal cycle, Lughnasadh has certain associations with death. In fact, the name itself translates roughly as “the wake of Lugh.” Whereas holidays in the earlier seasons coincide with increasing life, harvest festivals are the first signs of the summer’s demise. With the summer day’s becoming noticeably shorter at this time, it becomes quite obvious that winter’s grip is only a short way off. Although the theme of a wake is a significant part of the festival, the overall atmosphere is generally one of joy and revelry.
The legends tell us that Lugh established the harvest fair of Lugnasadh in honor of his foster-mother Tailtiu at the Town of Teltown in County Meath. Tailtu’s death was a necessary component in establishing the growing of the crops and the abundant harvest that follows. These celebrations quite often resembled today’s Scottish Highland Games. Lugnasadh often involved horse races, and martial arts displays or competitions. Competitive games such as chess were also a part of the festivities, representing Lugh’s victory over the Fomorian King Bres who previously controlled the powers of the Harvest, establishing the Irish agricultural tradition.
Lugh is the hero of Light. For this reason he is often compared with the Sun, since the Sun is the greatest source of light with which humans and earthly crops interact. As a hero of Light, Lugh is also called Samh-ildánach, “the many gifted one,” because of his multiple skills in all the arts and trades. Just as darkness represents ignorance, Light represents knowledge, and in this case knowledge of many, if not all things. In the old legends we find that Lugh (representing the Sun) conquers the Fomorians (representing darkness, ignorance and oppression). When this is done, Lugh wrestles from the King of primitive darkness the knowledge of cultivation and the harvest.
This is a celebration of the Harvest. On this day families gather together to give thanks for the bounty of the Harvest and to reenact the mythological event that brought the Ancestors from a life of oppression and into a life of abundance with the knowledge of agriculture. It must be remembered that it is only with this knowledge that humankind has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in even inhospitable environments. It is agriculture that has allowed human beings to settle lands, build defensive structures and over all make life safer for acquiring food. This has allowed civilization to flourish and become specialized, developing art, literature, economics, and other remarkable aspects of material culture.
Finnegan’s Wake is amongst my favorite traditional Irish songs and it has been a staple of the Irish balladeer’s repertoire since the middle of the 19th century. Over the past several decades it has been covered by great and legendary Irish bands like The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, the Pogues, and most recently the Massachusetts-based Dropkick Murphys. However, like much of Irish lyrical tradition stretching back to the ancient bards “Finnegan’s Wake” is in reality a work of deep esoteric value cleverly disguised as a silly drinking song that only the initiated were likely to fully comprehend.
At Face Value
The story tells of Tim Finnegan, a poor construction worker with a love for the liquor who drank a bit too much before work one morning, fell from a ladder, broke his skull and died. Upon the eve of his wake his friends and relatives arrive at his home to mourn him. Biddy O’Brien begins crying loudly and is essentially told to shut up by one Paddy McGee.
Once Maggie O’Connor gets involved in the exchange telling Biddy she’s wrong, Biddy punches her in the mouth, leaving her ‘sprawling on the floor.” Then all Hell breaks loose as the entire house becomes engaged in a brawl “woman to woman and man to man,” brandishing their shillelaghs, the classical Irish club.
A bottle of whiskey is thrown across the room, just barely missing Mickey Maloney, and instead landing on Tim Finnegan’s bed with the whiskey scattering all over his body. At that point Tim revives and “rises from the bed,” and delivers the punch line of the ballad; “Whittle your whiskey around like blazes, Thanum an Dhul! Do you think I’m dead?”
The Mystery Unveiled
While this ballad is typically considered a comical drinking song, it actually gives us a glimpse into an old Irish and western mystical tradition.
Tim Finnegan is a construction-worker. Although this was a common vocation amongst Irishmen throughout the 19th century, there is much more being said here than meets the eye, or ear. As the lyrics clearly tell us “to rise in the world he carried a hod.” A hod is a tool used for carrying bricks and mortar, telling us that Mr. Finnegan was, in fact a mason. Since no later than 1717 AD the repository for esoteric wisdom in Western countries has been the order of Free and Accepted Masons who trace their historic origins to the medieval stone masons guilds, and from there symbolically to the ancient builders of Greek, Egyptian and Israelite temples.
Let us also take note that Tim Finnegan carries his hod “to rise in the world.” In Freemasonry, it is said that a candidate is “raised” to the degree of a Master Mason. Freemasonry also makes use of the symbolism of death and resurrection through the allegory of the architect Hiram Abiff.
Architecture, construction work and craftsmanship have been metaphors for mystical knowledge going back thousands of years. In ancient Irish mythology the three brothers Luchta, Goibniu, and Credne are known as the Trí Dée Dána (the three gods of art). Each represented the respective trades of carpentry, blacksmithing, and silver-smithing, and they crafted the weapons which the Tuatha Dé Danann (Irish ancestor gods) used to conquer the Fomorians (Irish beings of chaos and darkness).
In ancient Egypt, the god Ptah was the patron of craftsmen and architects, and he was closely associated as an aspect of the dying and resurrecting god Osiris. Both of these deities were incorporated by the Greeks into the god Dionysus, well known as a patron of wine and spirits. It is more than coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth, perhaps the most well-known dying and resurrecting god is often cited as having been a carpenter before he began his spiritual mission and he, much like his forebears also had an affinity toward life-giving and preserving drink.
A further look at the lyrics of this ballad reveals that at the wake of Finnegan they placed a gallon of whiskey at his feet and a barrel of porter at his head. This sentiment is echoed in the Irish ballad “Jug of Punch” in which the balladeer requests upon his death “just lay me down in my native peat with a jug of punch at my head and feet.” This is a particularly Irish rendition of the tradition found amongst the world’s cultures of making sacramental offerings to the dead. The making and pouring of libations is well documented in European traditions.
As mentioned previously, Jesus, Osiris and Dionysus are not only associated with death and resurrection, they are all three also closely associated with drinking rituals. Amongst other things, Dionysus is a god of wine. Osiris is said to have taught the world the art of brewing. Jesus turned water into wine. Similarly, the Irish craftsman-god Goibniu also brewed the beer of immortality.
The English word whiskey is derived from the Irish Gaelic uisce beatha which translates as “the waters of life.” So when the whiskey scatters across the corpse of Tim Finnegan, it literally, magically and sacramentally imbues him with life; a spiritual conception which stretches back through centuries of esoteric tradition.
The dying and resurrecting god is not just a rhetorical device for dramatic affect. To ancient civilizations death and rebirth are symbolic of the annual cycle, the dying and rebirth of the summertime, the growing season and of the sun, so often symbolic of divinity. This symbolism has been revised, reincorporated and redistributed as a multitude of myths, legends and doctrines throughout the world in order to teach each civilization or cult’s particular perspective on the meaning of creation.
A creator god’s primary attribute is creativity, and this trait has been imitated through the creative works of humans whom are believed to be made in the divine image. Art, music, agriculture and most especially architecture has long been associated metaphorically if not literally with godliness, and enlightenment.
Finnegan’s Wake is far more than just another drinking song. It is a humorous retelling of an ancient initiation myth. Tim Finnegan is not just a drunk construction worker who died and came back to life. He is the personification of the mystery of the dying and resurrecting god represented in the form of Irish lyrical satire.
d’anam ‘on Diabhal. a common curse: your soul to the Devil, from the Irish D’anam don Diabhal