Fionn's Wheel

Copyright by Searles O'Dubhain

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This is the second Celtic Workshop. It covers Pathworking using Fionn's Wheel as well as introducing concepts about how Druids performed Magick. (O'Dubhain - 28 Feb 1994). In the first workshop I discussed Druids, Oghams, and Divination. Studying a wide variety of ancient and modern books, writings, meanings, and cross references, for Ogham will assist you in the following discussion and subsequent practical workings. If I were a student in this workshop, the first question I would ask is .... Why are we studying these subjects? I mean, what are we going to get out of this study? My own answer is that I study these matters because they are there, a part of my surrounding Reality, and I feel I should learn as much as I can (in answer to my quest for Truth and Inner Wisdom). I'm interested in learning about the Ogham and Fionn's Wheel because they are part of my heritage, as well as the heritage of those around me (my friends and relatives, and my ancestors). I'd like to learn more about the history and practice of my ancestors, which were based on natural beliefs, because those beliefs and natural practices may be one of the few ways that we can save our ailing planet (especially for those that come after us, if not for ourselves when we get another spin on the Wheel). Those are the reasons I walk the Druid Way as well. I asked myself the following questions: Why study Ogham? The answer is because the Druids used them in Magick. They are symbols of Magick. Why study Magick? The reason I study Magick is many reasons: I study the Magick of the Earth, and of people, and of the Spirit, to find the keys to who I am ... to discover how we relate to each other as people, as well as to find better ways to realte to and heal our planet. This is a time when we are all coming together to save ourselves and our Planet. This is a time of gathering and regathering. Old Ones walk the Earth again, some of them in new skins, and some of them in dreams only. The ancient Wisdom is alive once more. It is showing us a way to the future. We must look within ourselves for the power of self-awareness. We must work and struggle for personal growth and spiritual harmony. The Ogham are the road signs on the Ways to this Wisdom. The story of Fionn is the tale of how one man was able to read the signs successfully.

Threefold Wisdom

The story of Fionn's Wheel is the story of Fionn and his shield, and it is also a story about the acquisition of hidden Wisdom. In traditional Celtic fashion, this story is really three separate stories. The first story is how Fionn gained his wisdom. The second story is how his shield is also a wheel, and the third story describes the symbols upon the shield. Let us discover the secrets of Fionn's wheel/shield and its threefold creation.

Chewing the Thumb

The story of Fionn is the story of the discovery of wisdom. As a student of the Druid Fintain, Fionn was assigned the task of cooking the Salmon of Wisdom that had been caught by Fintain in the River Boann (this river flowed from the Well of Segais, which is the fountain of all Wisdom. It is surrounded by the five Hazel Trees of Wisdom). The great fish had lived since thebeginning of time and had also swallowed the hazel nuts of wisdom themselves. This wisdom would be passed to the first person that ate of its flesh. Finatin had sought this fish, his entire life and now all that was left was the cooking and the eating of it. Fionn was assigned the task of roasting the fish. While prepairing the fish for his master, Fionn attempted to pop one of the blisters or bubbles that arose upon the fish's skin. This "Na Bolcca Immaiss" or "bubble of wisdom", ruptured and burned Fionn's thumb. He immediately inserted his burned thumb into his mouth to ease the pain. It was in this manner that he inadvertantly acquired the Wisdom of the Salmon. During his later life, he would insert his thumb into his mouth as a prelude to "immas" or "inspiration". This "chewing of his thumb" was his key to "Imbas Forosnai". This is how Fionn acquired his wisdom.

The White Hazel Shield

Fionn's shield was constructed of a hazel tree that had stood for many years upon White Hazel Mountain. This was the same tree upon which Lugh hung the severed head of Balor of the Evil Eye. This head contained all of Balor's Wisdom as well as the Power of his Eye. This Eye was so powerful that it was shielded with a cover of nine layers. The cover itself, required five men to lift it. No one could withstand the evil of Balor's stare. Balor's Eye had been poisoned when he had spied upon the incantations of his father's Druids (while in secret ritual). His severed head dripped poisons into the fork of the hazel tree for many years, until the tree finally split into two parts. So it remained, until Manannan of the Round Eye determined that he would cut it down to construct a shield. The poisons of the wood killed 18 men in the felling of the tree and blinded another nine in the making of the shield. The wood itself was covered with the hide of a sacred bull and then it was ornamented with the symbols of druidic wisdom. This shield was eventually given to Fionn by Manannan and protected him from harm during his many battles.

Markers of the Way

The ornaments upon the Fionn's Shield are the symbols of Druidic Wisdom. They are none other than the Ogham that we all must learn in order to be wise like Druids. We have already studied these symbols in a previous workshop as well as some of their meanings. In fact, many different Ogham meanings/correspondences have been produced by a number of modern writers (Thorssen, Matthews, Hope, Pennick, Murray, Webster). The tables and writings of these authorsa are very instructive, as well as showing us that there are many ways to wisdom. One of these ways is the use of the Ogham as tools of divination (that I will cover later). Another way to use the Ogham is as a guide in "pathworking" and "journeying". Using Ogham to pathwork can be a very similar process to the Native American "Vision Quest". It is my firm opinion that many of the more mystical and Magical Ogham correspondences originated during such divinatory journeys. It is my further opinion that one of the initiatory rites of a young Druid was to undertake just such a"journey" of the spirit in order to learn his own special set of correspondences for the Oghams. He may well have lain upon a bed made from the wood for his shield (perhaps hazel), and may also have been covered with the hide of a sacrificial bull (usually white) as his spirit animal guide into the Otherworld. Such a ritual is sometimes called a "tarb feis". After such a "vision quest", the Druid's shield would then not only contain the familiar Ogham but also be empowered with their special hidden meanings. The Ogham can become personal symbols of power in this manner, and are consequently much more useful in the performance of Magick.

Stepping onto the Path

Seeking such power is not something tha we should do for ourselves alone. It does not come without a price and it is also connected to many responsiblities. We should understand that we ourselves are only as important to the World as a single leaf is necessary to a tree. A single leaf cannot, by itself, insure that a tree may live. A single Druid cannot change the world alone. One step to power will not assure our safety or reveal the Truth to us. There are many steps, just as there are many leaves, many ways, and many stops, along the way in this journey. To prevent us from straying , we have been given a map of this inner journey. This map is called Fionn's Wheel. It is a symbol that connects the many parts of ourselves to the Cosmos Though it shows us the the entirity of Being, we must start the journey within ourselves. The map leads to the work. It is not the work itself. The work is long and the way is difficult. To become a tree or wise like a tree, one must be a seed and then a shoot. One must also grow leaves, and branches, a trunk, and roots, as well as embracing Life itself. All parts of ourselves and our lives must work together for the benefit of the whole. A tree is composed of many parts. The purpose of this workshop is to determine the way that Fionn's Wheel shows to us, as well as to discuss and to discover how we may "pathwork" to attain knowledge of ourselves. I will also attempt to show how Druids did this. Before I step upon the Wheel myself, here's what I mean by "pathworking", just so that we're thinking along the same lines in our use of Fionn's Wheel: Pathworking is basically an inner journey to discover truth within ourselves. It allows us to tap a "Higher" wisdom, to know our totem animals, and to find our Spirit Guides. It allows us to connect with our total self and all of its many elements. What is Fionn's Wheel? Fionn's Wheel is, for one thing, a representation of the Ogham laid out in concentric circles around a center, much like a Native American Medicine Wheel. It is pretty much the same thing for shamaniic purposes. I includeded a GIF of it here for reference (as well as a visual aid). On it are the Ogham symbols for our journey. Each symbol represents an ability or a knowledge to be gained or understood. A good picture of Fionn's Wheel can also be found in the following books: "The Book of Ogham" by Edred Thorsson; "The Celtic Shaman" by John Matthews; "The Book of Ballymote" which was written by 12th century Celtic monks. One of the ways that Druids worked their Magick was by "becoming", or by actually changing reality (taking on another shape, transforming into an animal, growing larger, disappearing....etc). A classic example of this ability is found within "The Song of Amergin", by the Druid who aided the Gaels in defeating the Tuatha de Danann. I quote from his song:

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea
I am the wave of the ocean.
I am the murmur of the billows.
I am the ox of the seven combats.
I am the vulture upon the rocks.
I am a beam of the Sun.
I am the fairest of plants.
I am a wild boar in valour.
I am a salmon in the water.
I am a lake in the plain.
I am a word of science.
I am a point of a lance in battle.
I am the God who created in the head the fire.
Who is it who throws light into the meeting in the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the Moon?
Who teaches the place where couches the Sun?
If not I?
I invoke the land of Ireland!

Amergin's invocation of the elements, teaches us how to invoke the power of the Land. This particular version of the poem was a translation by Douglas Hyde. These words bcame from Amergin's "imbas" as he stepped upon the shores of Ireland after the Gaels had overcome the winds raised by the De Danann. They mark the beginnings of the battle for the sovereignty of the Land. Amergin has claimed the elements of Ireland for himself and his people. It is an example of the way a Druid would work. It smacks of Otherworldly wisdom and power over the elements, in much the same way that a Shaman would work. I spoke earlier about the Druidic technique of becoming. Amergin is actually "becoming"... all of these elements, these "duile". This is no metaphor. As a Druid poet (Filidh), he is one with the elements. He is actually synchronizing himself (his "Fein" and internal "duile") with the spirit that controls these items (the Duile of the Cosmos). It is a series of symbols. It can be viewed metaphorically. But the fact is, it got results. The wind died and the Gaels landed on Ireland to claim its sovereignty.

More Pathways on the Wheel

To take a Journey on Fionn's Wheel, I suggest we study the Paths as outlined in Workshop #1 - Druids, Ogham and Divination. The first Path on Fionn's Wheel, according to my inner vision and as based upon the Ogham in Nigel Pennicks "Magical Alphabets", is the Way of Protection. This Way has the Ogham (B, L, F, S, N) on it, starting from the outside to the center. Each Ogham on this pathway teaches us a Magical ability. The first Ogham "B" stands for the tree Birch-The White Tree of Purity and Purification. B is birch in the Norse runes, as well as within the Ogham. It is used to protect and Purify us before we start our journey within. It was the first Ogham ever used. Seven "B's" carved upon a birch rod, warned Lugh that his wife was going to be abducted to the Underworld. The B Ogham will serve us here,showing us that we are protected in our studies. Life springs anew. The jouney begins with "B". To make such a "journey" one should meditate and cleanse the mind of all unclean and impure thoughts. Native Americans might do this in a "sweat lodge". The experience to me is more of a putting away of the mundane baggage of life. Make an Out of Body (OOBE) type of Journey to a White tree shining against a totally Black Darkness. Use its image to purge your mind of distracting thoughts and go to the next level --The Tree of Life. Upon this tree one learns to shield unwanted psychic energies and Magicks. This Ogham is "L" for Rowan. I have found that when I am traveling within an OOBE, I need such shielding to travel safely (as well as to stay both connected and focused). The next symbol of knowledge that we encounter on our journey is "the Red Man". The Red Man (or the Fear Dearg, in Irish), is a supernatural being that I think of as ais a fire entity. He sometimes will rescue us from the Other forces of the Underworld. His Ogham is the Alder Tree. This is also known as the whistle tree. Perhaps the whistle will lead us from the Underworld!? Red is the color of life and frees us from conflicts and shields us in our lives. Once we are pure and can shield and have no inner conflicts, it is time to learn of Magick itself! The next step or Ogham is The Moon. It is the letter "S" for the White Willow. This is a form of the Goddess and leads us in Divinations to guide our future travels on the Wheel. The last or inner Ogham on this path is "N". It represents the Keys to inner Knowledge that we have gained. It is the Black Ash. It also gives us the insight "as Above so Below". All our previous insights will aid us in the physical and the astral worlds. These keys and knowledge must grow like seeds within us. In the future, they will allow us to work with Power, the Earth's Power and the Power of the Spirit. This completes the Way of Protection. I suggest that each of you try such a journey on your own, in a Circle or Safe quiet place. Learn the symbols for the Ogham from the tables of the various modern writers, (there are about 7 sets available, I think... or develop your own). Shamanic journeys are very individualized. Use symbols that have meaning to You. To complete the journey around Fionn's Wheel would cover the entire year and the Major festivals. Really project yourselves into the Wheel and you will find your own inner guide and Truth.

Windows into Reality

I will cover pathworking and more on Fionn's Wheel in another workshop. For practical work I suggest using the wheel as a mandala. Just look at it and project yourself into to it. Pay close attention to the images that it gives back to you. It is an amazing device in the hands of a seeker. It is a window in to worlds of further reality.

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