What is Sean Ciall?
© Robert Reeder 2003
The witchcraft of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man has worn many masks in many ages; shape-shifting, changing, evolving with the passing of time. No word, or volume of words, can meaningfully describe the witchcraft of the Gaels, for any line which may be described is but a single strand of an amazingly beautiful and intricate tweed. The Sean Ciall practiced by the Seattle Sean Ciall community in this first part of the 21st common century is not the Sean Ciall of ancient Scotland, Ireland and Man, nor is it the Sean Ciall which immigrated to the Americas during the Highland Clearances and Potato Famine, nor is it the Sean Ciall that I myself learned in rural Appalachia some twenty years ago. We honor our heritage, but we are not enslaved by it. “Sean Ciall” is, literally, the “Old Way”, but it is also the new, as change is the very nature of magick, and truly ancient magicks are no more or less valuable than ancient techniques of surgery.
As the English language was specifically and methodically used as a weapon of oppression against the Gaels (as language has been used as a weapon of oppression in all times by many peoples), out of respect for our spiritual forbears we do not speak that language in formal circle, although it is used in teaching circles, of necessity. Beyond this consideration for our spiritual predecessors, however, it is also understood that one cannot learn the essence of the magick or spirituality of any given culture without first understanding the essence of that culture itself. The first humble steps toward understanding any culture are through learning the language, music and poetry of that culture. To this end, in circle, we immerse ourselves in the language and music of the Gàidhealtachd, for without this, we can never understand what it means to be a Gael, what it means to be the “Duine nan Sean Ciall”, the People of the Old Way. Throughout time, it has always been the Gaelic language which defined Gaeldom, for the Gaels were a people of no common ancestry, and no common faith; today we are descended of peoples from six continents, and our personal spiritualities are equally diverse.
The magick of Sean Ciall is alchemical, in all senses of that, but it is the alchemy of the forest, sea and sky rather than the alchemy of the laboratory, temple, or hermit’s cell. Every path of alchemy, from Ireland to China, has recognized that all magick exists simultaneously on three levels; practical, sexual, and spiritual. Within each of these three levels are the three realms of body, mind, and spirit, which are considered inseparable and indispensable parts of a greater whole. As an outward manifestation of this, the magick of the Sean Ciall is “divided” into three Circles, these are specific realms of influence and study chosen by the individual practitioners:
Cearcall a claidheamh. Circle of the Sword. Realm of the body, the Fir Bolg. Training is martial. Symbols are oak leaves, and black. The Warrior. The fear-claidheamhan and bana-claidheamhain of Sean Ciall personify the physical aspects of magick, and also perform the function of warden for the coven. In practice, the duine nan claidheamh study many forms of martial art, including firearms and modern tactics as well as traditional swordplay. It is expected that every initiate of this Cearcall will serve in the armed forces of their country, although professional law enforcement or fire fighting might pass as well.
Cearcall as oran. Circle of the Song. Realm of the mind, the Fomorians. Training is musical. Symbols are holly leaves, and blue. The Bard. The fear-ciùilean and bana-chiùileain of Sean Ciall personify the mental aspects of magick, and also perform the function of musician for the coven, both formally and informally. Focus is on modern music as well as traditional, and also poetry and storytelling. Each of the duine nan orain are expected to master both vocal and instrumental music, and it is expected that every initiate of this Cearcall will perform musically at least semi-professionally. Sean Ciall uses, as have all Gaelic magicks from at least the time of the Caith Maighe Tiuradh*, a four element system of earth, water, air and fire. Musically, by instrument, voice and dance, “earth” is the bodhran, the bass and the strathspey; “water” is the harp, the alto and the jig; “air” is the whistle, the tenor and the hornpipe, and “fire” is the fiddle, the soprano and the reel. Like all tables of correspondence, these are of course arbitrary.
Cearcall a drùidheachd. Circle of the Spell. Realm of the spirit, the Tuatha de Dannan. Training is sorceric. Symbols are mistletoe, and white. The Druid. The fear-drùidhean and ban-drùidheain of Sean Ciall personify the spiritual aspects of magick, and also perform the function of sorcerer for the coven. Each of the duine nan drùidheachd are expected to master both drùidheachd-àrd and drùidheachd-ìosal, the high and low sorceries of the Sean Ciall line. “High Magick” in Sean Ciall means specifically the unique alchemy of that line, “Low Magick” in Sean Ciall means everything other than this, including Wicca, Qabala and other non-Gaelic magicks, as well as traditional Gaelic magicks other than the Sean Ciall alchemy.
Together, these are known as an Triùir, or the Athree@, and form the nexus of coven organization. Initiation into each circle requires intense and arduous testing of proficiency of the skills appropriate to that realm. The Circles form three concentric rings of (ideally) equal-gendered pairs around the priest and priestess, who represent the realm of mysticism and who are considered distinct and separate from all these.
The cleft pentacle (pictured above, as well as I could render it in “Paint”) is the traditional symbol of the low magick of Sean Ciall, and perhaps, originally, of Sean Ciall as a whole. By inscribing it by whatever means on the ground where one is working, that space is defined as being dedicated to the low magicks of Sean Ciall, whatever the origin of the ritual, spell or work to be performed. Perhaps obviously or perhaps not, the cleft pentacle is a sexual symbol. The compass rose (not pictured, but very similar to the one used by NATO or the Seattle Mariners), which is the symbol of the special alchemy unique to Sean Ciall, is a sexual symbol as well, as are all symbols of crosses within circles, but on a rather different level. Meditation upon each of these glyphs, for they are such, is a worthy pursuit in its own right, and I will not endeavor to describe either of these symbols further here. But it would be imprudent not to address one of the more basic truths implied by both of them, namely that sex and magick are inseparable. There is no greater force which may be harnessed by mortals than that force which creates new life; every act of magick is sexual and every act of sex is magickal, in some sense of that.
This, then, is the essence of Sean Ciall. Sword, Song and Spell intertwined with the magicks of the forest, sea and sky; an ancient line of Gaelic witchcraft for a new generation of modern witches.
*The Second battle of Moy Tura, when the Gaels fought the gods of Ireland, won, and relegated them to living in barrow mounds for the rest of eternity. This is something beyond simple atheism; to the atheist’s “God is dead” the Gaels added “because I killed the fooker”. Whether this is a profound insight into the nature of the Divine, or just the whiskey talking, is hard to say…