Caer Australis

The Grove

     And the three arts thus he learned -
       Namely, teinm láeda,
         Imus for-osna,
           And díchetal di chennaib.

         - Finn partakes of the Salmon of Knowledge

oak, river and sun. Image source:

Welcome to Rowan Berries in the Grove -

The Celtic literature is replete with moments of transformation mystery.

Sometimes the tranformation is directly attributed to some mushroom or other hallucinogen, sometimes there is a more circumspect reference, for the euphamisms were used to disguise it on occasion for the audience in later times.

In Rowan Berries in the Grove are presented excerpts from the myths of some magical moments.

Sustaining and magically transformative are the songs of soma amongst the oaks of the Grove!

Soma of the Celts

In his 1995 article, 'Irish Soma', Peter L. Wilson explores the use of soma in Ireland, and makes the valid point that consideration of entheogenesis, 'the birth of the god within', by the ingestion of psychotropic substances ought be considered in the development of religion. His article may be read in full at:

Every fourth and every month
Ripe fruit the rowan bore:
Fruit more sweet than honey-comb;
Its clusters' virtues strong,
Its berries red could one but taste
Hunger they staved off long.

Wilson writes, 'Mushroom language tends to be euphamised, masked, coded, [and] buried in etymologies and even false etymologies. If we are to speculate about the possible existence of a Celtic -specifically Irish - soma, we must excercise a bit of detective work, [and] go back and read our texts over again and hope for a few glimmerings or clues.' Since the myths and legends of the Celts were written down in the Christian era, misunderstadings and even censorship could well have had mushroom/ soma references amended to magic berries or beverages; soma's redness appears maintained in magical fruits, crimson nuts, scarlet quicken berries of the rowan, and even the hazels of wisdom are reddened by salmon. Wilson provides as examples myths, including the Pursuit of Diarmait and Grania, which reveal references to ritual, and so the quest to obtain 'the full of my hand of the berries of a quicken tree' is transformed in meaning, and the doorway opened to investigating Celtic soma.

fly agaric - Amanita muscaria. Image source: Warning: when a mushroom or toadstool has white gills, a ring and a bulbous volva at the base of the stem, it belongs to the genus Amanita, and in that genus you will find the really deadly poisonous species. In Europe, Amanita phalloides, the Death Cap, is responsible for probably more than 90% of the fatal mushroom poisonings. The infamous "magic mushroom" Amanita muscaria, the Fly Agaric, affects the central nervous system, causing confusion, loss of muscular coordination, mild euphoria, profuse sweating, chills, visual distortions, and sometimes convulsions, hallucinations and delusions such as feeling of greater strength. It also puts many people right to sleep, only to wake up hours later with the feeling they've been very sick. The Fly Agaric is very attractive to maggots, and even clean looking specimens will dissolve into balls of maggots within a day or two. Caer Australis in no way encourages or advocates the use of poisonous mushrooms. Read the articles,
'Attractive but deadly - a look at some of the more poisonous fungi'
by J. Parmentier at
and the entry 'Amanita muscaria, Fly Agaric, Fly Amanita' at

The paper 'Fly-Agaric Motifs in the Cú Chulaind Myth Cycle' was presented by Thomas J Riedlinger at the Mycomedia Millennium Conference hosted by Fungi Perfecti at the Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit, Oregon, 1999. Riedlinger writes, 'The emphasis here is on aspects of Cú Chulaind's abnormal behavior corresponding to various symptoms of Amanita muscaria intoxication. The combined effect of these aspects in Cú Chulaind is exaggerated [and it is] feasible that Cú Chulaind's warp spasms and wasting sickness represent exaggerated versions of the mushroom's true effects as perceived by observers and subjectively reported by its users, including ataxia (loss of muscle control), frenzied dancing in shamanic rites, amazing feats of strength, dramatic optical distortions, and disruption of sleep patterns lasting for several days with unusually vivid dreams.' The paper may be found at:

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The Quicken Berries of the Forest of Dooros

By the plain at Loch Lein, the Tuatha de Danaan had come to meet the Fena to compete in a game of hurley, and for three days and three nights neither had won a single goal from the other. The Tuatha de Danaan had brought with them food from the Land of Promise - crimson nuts and arbutus apples and scarlet quicken berries. These fruits were gifted with many secret virtues, and they were careful that neither apple nor nut nor berry should toch the soil of Erin.
But travelling through the Wood of Dooros, one of the scarlet quicken berries did drop to the ground, and from that a great Rowan sprang up, and it had the virtues of the quicken trees of the Land of Promise. Its beries had the taste of honey, and those that ate of them felt a cheerful flow of spirit, as if they had drunk of wine or old mead; and if a man were a hundred years old, he returned to the age of thirty, as soon as he had eaten three of them.

from the Pursuit of Diarmait and Grania:

Now when Grania heard of the berries of the quicken tree, she was seized with a longing desire to taste them. At first she strove against it and was silent, knowing the danger, for the tree was guarded by the giant Fomor, Sharvan the Surly, sent by the Tuatha de Danaan to guard it lest anyone should eat of the berries and obtain from them their virtues. Sharvan was burly and strong, with crooked teeth and a single red and fiery eye in the middle of his forhead, with a great club, and so skilled in magic that fire would not burn him, water would not drown him and weapons could not wound him - save three blows from his own club. But Grania could not hide her desire any longer, and she told Diarmait that she should certainly die if she did not get some of the berries to eat! Diarmait went to the quicken tree and met the giant, and asked leave to obtain some of the berries, 'I seek not strife, but Grania longs to taste of these quicken berries; and if she does not get them she will die. I pray you now give me a few of the berries for the princess.' The giant looked down at Diarmait, raising his head and glared at him with his great red eye, and said 'There has been peace between us hitherto, I have allowed you to live and hunt in this forest as you please, as long as you do not take and eat the berries of the quicken tree, and you have agreed; do you now wish strife? I swear that if the princess and her child were now dying, and that one of my berries would save them, I would not give it!' To this Diarmait declared, 'Understand that before I leave this spot, I will have some of the berries, whether you will or no.' And they fought, and Diarmait dealt the giant three blows of his club, dashing out his brains with the last. Grania came, and Dairmait said, 'Behold the quicken berries, Grania: take now and eat.' But she replied, 'I will eat no berries except those that are plucked by the hands of my husband.' So Diarmait stood up and plucked the berries; and Grania ate till she was satisfied.

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     "Grows an oak upon a steep,
       The sanctuary of a fair lord;
       If I speak not falsely,
       Lleu will come into my lap"

              - Gwydion, Mabinogi of Math ap Mathonwy

     Rowan Berries in the Grove
     Featuring the works:
     Soma of the Celts
     Glyn Cuch - The Red Valley
     Gwydion obtains the swine of Annwn
     Grania declares her heart to Diarmait
     The Quicken Berries of the Forest of Dooros
     The Dream of Macsen Wledig

     Other places in the Grove:
     Welcome to the Grove
     Summer in the Grove
     Winter in the Grove
     Saints in the Grove
     Goddesses in the Grove

     For articles on Celtic History and Myth, see the Gorsedd

Glyn Cuch - The Red Valley

Pwyll Prince of Dyfed would also be called Chief of Annwn
For his valour and deeds in paying his eric to Arrawn
To cross at the Ford and enter the Realm of Annwn
The Prince of Dyfed travelled to Glyn Cuch.

from the Mabinogi of Pwyll Prince of Dyfed:

And when he reached Glyn Cuch he saw in the red glade a stag, and it had been brought down by the Hounds of Arrawn, their hair a brilliant shining white, and their ears were red; and as the whiteness of their bodies shone, so did the reddness of their ears glisten. And Pwyll Prince of Dyfed drove away those that had brought down the stag, and set his own dogs upon it. 'Greater discourtesty saw I never in man,' exclaimed Arawn King of Annwn, 'than to drive away the dogs that were killing the stag and to set upon it thine own!' And Pwyll replied, 'If I have done ill, I will redeem thy friendship! How may I gain thy friendship?' And Arrawn King of Annwn answered, 'I will put my form and semblence upon thee and send thee to Annwn in my stead, and I will give thee the fairest lady thou didst ever behold to be thy companion, and one year from this night, thou shall rid me of the oppression of Havgan, who is ever warring against me. We should meet at the Ford, and with one stroke that thou givest him, he shall no longer live. Clear the path, and nothing shall detain thee, until thou come into my dominions of Annwn, and I myself will be thy guide!'

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Gwydion obtains the Swine of Annwn

And to this day is kept of their name:
Hanner hwch, hanner hob - They belong to Pryderi map Pwyll,
sent from Annwn by Arawn king of Annwn:
They may not be gifted, they may not be bought.

from the Mabinogi of Math ap Mathonwy:

Gywdion therefore betook him to his arts, and began to display his magic. And he made by magic twelve stallions and twelve greyhounds, each of then black but whitebreasted, with collars and leashes upon them, and anyone who saw them would not but see them to be made of gold; and so with the saddles and the bridles. And twelve golden shields, of the same workmanship: Those he had made by magic out of toadstool. And he came to Pryderi, and said, 'The swine may not be given nor sold - but exchange them you may for that which is better - exchange the swine for these twelve horses and greyhounds and shields, as thou seest them.' And exchange them he did, but Gwydion quickly took leave with the swine, declaring, 'My brave lads, we must needs shift in haste, for the spell will last but from one day till the morrow!'

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The Dream of Macsen Wledig

Macsen Wledig was Emporer of Rome, handsomest and wisest of men,
And went one day a-hunting, long in the sun, and the heat was great
And sleep came upon him:
His servants laid his head upon a gold-chased shield
And he slept, and he dreamt

from the The Dream of Macsen Wledig:

He was high on a mountain, as high as heaven; and as he came over the mountain, he entered the fairest of regions that mortal had ever seen. And in this fair plain, a castle the fairest that mortal had ever seen, and in this castle a fair hall. Two auburn-haired youths he saw playing gwyddbwyll, red gold frontlets embedded with rubies holding their red hair in place. And before them a hoary-headed man seated on a chair of ivory, carving men for the board. And a maiden before him on a chair of red gold, excelling in beauty, vests of white silk, clasps of red gold, a ruby laden red gold frontlet and a girdle of red gold around her. And he embraced this fairest of maidens, cheek to cheek... he awoke! And all he had in the world was gone from him, save the love for the maiden he had seen in his sleep.

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Grania declares her heart to Diarmait

And Finn declared, 'I am without wife, since Maighneis died,
Who can enjoy sweet sleep, with no wife to comfort and cheer him?
And Diorraing son of Dobhar spoke and said, 'I know where there is a maiden, the most beautiful, the best instructed, and the most discreet in speech and manner of all the maidens in Erin: Grania daughter of Cormac, son of Art, son of Conn, and at Tara she dwells.
And Finn and the chief men of the seven standing battalions of the Fena marched to Tara, and the king greeted them with great honour, and welcomed the Fena, and they feasted.

from the Pursuit of Diarmait and Grania:

Then Grania called her handmaid, and said to her, 'Bring me the large jewelled, gold-chased drinking-horn that lies in my chamber.' And when it was brought, Grania filled the drinking-horn to the brim, and said, 'Take it now to Finn from me, and tell him I desire him to drink from it.'
Finn took a full draught, and passed it to the king, and the king took a drink, and after him the queen. And then Grania bade the handmaid bring it to Cairbre the king's son; and she ceased not till all she wished to drink had drunk from the gold-chased horn. And after a little time, those who had drunk fell into a deep sleep, like the sleep of death.
Then the princess rose from her seat, and walking softly across the hall, sat down by Diarmait, and with down-cast eyes and a soft voice, asked 'Wilt thou, Diarmait, return my love if I give it to thee?'
'I love thee, Diarmait, since I first gave thee my love - the day you showed great honour at Tara in the name of your countrymen - and I beseech thee, Diarmait, to save me from this hateful marriage to Finn, an old man even older than my father!'
Diarmait was troubled, for his heart promted him to joy, but his thoughts forbade his disloyalty to Finn, and Grania said, 'I read thy thoughts; And now then, Diarmait, I place thee under a geasa, and under the bonds of heavy druidical spells - bonds that true heroes never break through, and that thou take me for thy wife before Finn and the others awaken from their sleep, which will last but one day till dawn on the morrow!'
Then Diarmait at last yielded and strove no longer; and putting off his sternness of manner and voice, he spoke gently to the princess and said, 'I will hide my thoughts from thee no more, Grania. I will be thy husband, all unworthy of thee as I am; and I will guard thee and defend thee to the death from Finn and his men.' And they pledged their faith, and vowed to be faithful as man and wife forever.

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Original work and design © Caer Australis 2011: From Coogee in Sydney's eastern beaches NSW Australia