About witchcraft and woodlore in early Ireland
Photo by Chad Veldhouse Like most early people, the early Irish were close to nature, their prehistory filled with nature spirits, revered trees such as the yew, hazel, and rowan, and animal shape-shifters. Christianity did relatively little to dispel these traditions (compared to most other places, at least), merely adopting enchanted wellsprings, animals, and groves for the saints’ use. The saints and many of their most ardent followers were positioned as magic-workers in stories that frequently obscure the religion’s basic tenets in favor of saint worship, and their relics were potent charms.

In this context, witchcraft was real to most of the Irish well after the spread of Christianity. When not attributed to the Christian God and His minions, it was taken seriously by the lawmakers, most often associated with women or supenatural hags, and feared. While clerics discouraged belief in such powers wielded by anyone other than saints, in the tenth century and in Ireland particularly, the church generally had not yet started its persecution of witches, and by extension, midwives, healers, herbalists, and women in general. Like many other aspects of Ireland’s mythology and culture, belief in the uncanny, including divining, was tolerated alongside Christian ideals for some time before it became generally associated with the Devil.

Still, much of what now passes as “Celtic” magic, NeoPaganism, modern druidry, etc., has been invented or “reconstructed” within the last 200 years based only loosely on any actual traditions, most of which were never written down and have been taken completely out of context. Lana’s witchery, though drawn from old folk beliefs about the moon and the qualities of different trees, fits more in this vein than into any actual ancient Irish practice or belief. It’s fun to imagine, though!

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