Thursday, March 31, 2011



For many people, the workplace is unsatisfactory and permits neither growth nor creativity. More often than not, it is an anonymous place where function and image have control. Since work demands such labour and effort, it has always made the worker vulnerable. Even in the ancient Celtic tradition negativity could be harnessed to make nature work against the worker. When people disliked each other or wanted to damage each other, they often did it through destroying the neighbour's harvest. This is the world of pisreoga. Maybe one neighbour was jealous of another and planted eggs in his garden of potatoes. When the neighbour goes to dig up the potatoes at harvest time, the potatoes have decayed. The destructive wish of the neighbour is realized through a ritual of negative invocation and the symbol of an egg. This then robs the power and the fruitfulness of the garden.

In the Celtic tradition, the first of May was a precarious date. The Celts guarded their wells at this time; negative or destructive spirits might want to destroy, poison or damage them. Such negativity is illustrated in a story my uncle used to tell of a neighbouring village. One May morning a farmer was out herding his animals. He met a strange woman pulling a rope along the meadow. He greeted her with a blessing. 'Dia dhuit,' he said, but she did not answer. Rather, she turned and disappeared, leaving the rope behind her. It was a fine rope. He coiled it and brought it back to the house and threw it into a barrel in one of the outhouses where it lay forgotten. The following harvest the neighbours were helping him bring hay home from the meadows with the horse and cart and they needed an extra rope to tie the load of hay. Someone asked if he had any other rope. He said, 'Níl aon rópa agam ach rópa an t-sean cailleach,' i.e. I have no rope but the rope of the old hag. He went to the shed to find the rope but when he came to the barrel, it was full of butter. The old woman was no innocent visitor, she had stolen the cream and strength of the land on May morning. When she dropped the rope, the power remained in the rope and the cream of the land filled up the barrel. This story shows how sometimes the harvest and the reward of work could be stolen at the precarious threshold of May morning.

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