Druid Augury: Interpreting Omens from Nature


Augury is one of the oldest and most authentic forms of reading omens in not only Celtic culture, but throughout the world as well. Augury is defined as the practice of viewing and interpreting omens from nature. In Gaelic, the term 'frìth' meaning 'finding' (employed 'to find' something such as lost objects, people, or animals1, (clearly denoting 'finding answers') is often used by contemporary Druids to describe this practice (note: frìth historically is often married to a heavy Christian heritage as seen by folklore of the highlands of Scotland. To remain neutral in my approach, I adopt the spirit of frìth rather than the literal historical practices thereof)
In my own practice of Hedge Druidry, augury or frìth is a species of fáistine (soothsaying and the second sight), one of the twenty-five magickal ogham artes2
In this essay, we will be discussing the act of fáistine, known as 'déan fáistine' (“divine, forecast, foretell, omen, presage, prophesy”) as it applies on my own path as a solitary Druid specifically when reading omens in nature which I choose to refer to as frìth for distinction purposes (as there other aspects of fáistine such as ogham divination, sortilege, casting bones, geomancy, tarot, etc.).
One who is a practitioner of fáistine is known as a 'fáistineach'. In this particular application of déan fáistine (known in my practice as frìth), the person who has 'frìtheireachd' the gift of augury is known as a 'frìtheir' (auguror). The frìtheir seeks signs in nature such as the flight of birds, migration of animals, weather patterns, the interplay of smoke and fire, animal interaction within nature, movements of humans and or animals, plant direction and or shape, natural colors, etc. to determine answers to a query from one's self or others.

Frìth Origins

While there is no record that one can refer to in order to precisely date such a practice, there is circumstantial evidence that links aspects of
frith to Druid lore. For instance:

Within the practice of frìth , it is common to view the omen by peering through an object with one eye while the other closed, while that object is being held with one hand. Such a practice of peering through one eye while utilizing only one hand is seen in one of the twenty-five magical ogham artes known as 'Corrguineacht': or "crane magick", where one stands on one foot with one eye closed, and has one hand in one's belt. This was the technique used by Lugh, God of Lightning, prior to the Second Battle of Moytura, to incite the Men of Dea to battle against the Fomhoire.
Gaelic tradition places the origin of frìth with Mary, the mother of Jesus as told in the Carmina Gadelica3:

When Christ was not to be found Mary made an augury to discover Him. Mary made a tube of her palms and looked through this and saw Christ in the temple disputing with the doctors. Then Mary and Joseph went to the temple and there found Christ as Mary had foreseen.
Mary and Brigit were loving friends. It was the husband of Brigit who brought Jesus the water to wash the feet of His disciples. When Christ again was not to be found Mary asked Brigit to make an augury for His discovery, and Brigit made the augury as Mary asked. She made a tube of her hands as Mary had done and looking through saw Christ sitting at a well.” (emphasis my own)

Frìth Components

While the vast majority of sources notate that the frìtheir be male in gender, there is contradictory evidence to refute this notion such as Mary and Brigit being the ones to make an augury when Jesus was not to be found. Also, in the Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael states:The man or woman performing the augury or divination forms the fingers of the left hand into a tube. He or she blows through this tube in the name of the Three Persons of the Trinity and then says the rune.4 (emphasis my own)

While there are variations of how one is to make a frìth, there are three commonalities that are nearly universal in frìth folklore:

  1. Frìth should be made during liminal times.
  2. Frìth should be made in liminal places.
  3. Frìth should be made with an incantation (dícheadal) / prayer.

Why liminal times and places? These 'Idircheo' (literally “between-mist”, areas of overlapping liminality) was where most Celtic Magic was worked. This could be at the edge of water, within a mist, at morning or sunset, during an eclipse, etc. Thus, allowing one to achieve a state where one could exist in two worlds simultaneously, therewith allowing the power of the Shining Ones and the Ancestors to be more readily accessible. This was sometimes called "walking the hedge". These commonalities are exemplified in the following tales:Immediately before sunrise, the augurer, fasting, his head and feet bared and his eyes closed, went to the door of the house and stood on the threshold with a hand on each jamb. He began with an incantation or ‘a prayer to the God of the Unseen to show him his quest and grant him his augury’, and then, opening his eyes, looking steadfastly in front of him… From the nature and position of the objects within sight, he divined the facts of which knowledge was sought.5 (emphasis my own)McNeill notes: “The first Monday of the Quarter day was considered the most auspicious day for making the frith...“6 (emphasis my own)

Corrghuíneacht Lugha
(Lugh circles his own hosts.
on one leg, with one eye closed, one hand behind his back (a form of ritual known as "corrguíneacht" or "crane- prayer") and chants this rosc. (Corrguíneacht is usually associated with cursing, but in this case Lugh uses it instead as a blessing for his own troops' victory)...”7 (emphasis my own)

In the story of Lugh inciting the Men of Dea to battle against the Fomhoire, we also see the liminalness in his approach as He closes one eye while leaving the other open (seeing and not seeing), standing on one leg while lifting the other (standing and not standing), and one hand behind his back [some say in his belt] while the other is not (restrained but not restrained). He begins to enact '
Idircheo' -one of the twenty-five magickal ogham artes.

There is an even deeper meaning beyond what is described above in Lugh's chosen position of great importance. The body position itself that Lugh takes is one of ritual known as 'glám dícenn' (meaning ‘sattire which destroys’). In the ritual, the open eye was able to look directly into the Otherworld allowing one to see beyond the veil. Standing on only one leg indicated one being present in neither this world or the other. The one hand restrained in his belt while the other free indicates the notion that while being confined to his physical body in this world, he was free to roam beyond in spirit. For one in this ritual walked the hedge (a very early description of practical Hedge Druidry)! There is thought also that such eye positions are related directly to a supernatural practice associated with magic, prophecy, divination, and the creation of illusions.8

Why an incantation or prayer? The incantation or prayer is calling upon something greater than one's self, and/or calling forth something greater within one's self (I leave this for the reader to decide for one's self). As previously noted, being in liminal places while stating one's incantation or prayer, the Shining Ones and Ancestors are seen as more readily available to help as one is much closer to them. Therewith, one's incantation is aided, and one's prayer is heard and enacted upon.

Frìth Praxis

Drawing from the three commonalities found in the various writings about how others made a frìth, I have constructed my own frìth practice that I have found to be effective, and have included ideas for your liminal viewing tool.

Tools:

As the various texts indicate, an object is needed for one to look through. One may utilize one's hand in the shape of a circle with the thumb touching the finger, a door or window-sill that one can look through from the inside to the outside, etc. I have seen others effectively utilize picture frames with the glass removed, home-made wooden tubes, and other like items that one can peer through.

I myself find the use of a '
Gloine nan Druidh' (Druid stone), or what many know as a “hag stone, holey stone, faery stone, witch stone, adderstane (adder stone), etc. as my choice of viewing apparatus as it is portable, can be brought nearly anywhere, and has direct relation to the Earth. I have it attached to a string which I wear daily as a sort of necklace as I am always open to the opportunity to see what omens are before me.

In viewing through the chosen object, whether being a door-sill, window-sill, picture fram, tube of one's hand, or a '
Gloine nan Druidh', one is viewing the liminal space of inside the object and without. Therewith, one is bound by neither and participating in both simultaneously.

Liminal Timing:

In keeping with notion of working within the concept of 'Idircheo' or “between-mist” as it pertains to timing, we have noted earlier on in this essay that “The first Monday of the Quarter day was considered the most auspicious day for making the frith...” Also, we have seen that “Immediately before sunrise, the augurer,...” thus demonstrating a time-frame of when the frìtheir performs his or her augury.
Therefore, as the text suggest that the
frìtheir performs his or her augury just before the sun rises on one of the quarter days. For the Druid, these days would be Samhuinn, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. I must concede however that for the Contemporary Druid operating in the spirit of frìth, this could be performed just before sunset, or even during Alban Arthan, Alban Eiler, Alban Hefan, and Alban Elfed as well. Even times such a during an eclipse would be efficient. For the liminal timing is still maintained during such times.

It must be noted as well that
frìth may be done at any time deemed necessary; and be performed for oneself, or for others. For it is said; “air a shon ‘s air a shealbhaich” (‘for him and his luck’)9.

Liminal Places:

These 'Idircheo' (literally “between-mist”, areas of overlapping liminality) are not limited to door-sills, window-sills, etc. They could be at the edge of water from the ocean meeting the shore, within a morning mist, between two trees on the edge of a forest looking over a field, or even floating on the surface of your pool while gazing into the sky (being in the water and without).
My favorite liminal place is the edge of a forest overlooking a field (with my Gloine nan Druidh' in hand).

Incantation / Prayer: 

In the practice of contemporary Druidry, when one makes a frìth, the choice of making a 'dícheadal' (an incantation) such as Lugh performed, or a prayer like latter folklore suggests is a matter of choice. Lore indicates both being of equal effectiveness. I leave this up to the reader to decide what best suits one's own belief system. However, I will share my own personal incantation utilized in my augury;

I call to the Shining One's,
banishers of cloud and darkness,
uncover my eyes that I might see
omens of truth..
Keep confusion far away,
and grant to me clarity
of heart, mind, and purpose.
Ancestors of Light, pierce my darkest places,
and show unto me the answer I seek.
By Land, Sea, and Sky, so it be!”

There is further evidence of an additional action performed during one's frìth in South Uist as recorded by McNeill:

The frithir, or seer, says a ‘Hail Mary’…and then walks deiseil or sunwards round the house, his eyes being closed till he reaches the door-sill, when he opens them, and looking through a circle made of his finger and thumb, judges of the general character of the omen by which the first object on which his eye has rested.”10 (emphasis my own)

According to tradition, “one can bring someone good fortune by walking around the person clockwise three times while carrying a torch or candle. In Scottish Gaelic, the word deiseil is used for the direction one walks in such a luck-bringing ritual. English speakers modified the spelling to deasil, and have used the word to describe clockwise motion in a variety of rituals.11

This action of treading around a person is seen in Lugh's actions mentioned previously “as he went round the men of Erin, on one foot and with one eye closed.” (emphasis my own)

This action of treading 'deiseil' (“clockwise”, “sunwise”) around the house before making way to the place of liminal viewing (door-sill in this case) is one clearly pointing to a pre-Christian practice as well as sharing a commonality with practices associated with Druidry. Thus, one may wish to incorporate this practice in one's own augury.

Frìth Application

Here is an example of frìth with the structure I follow in my augury practices.

  1. Begin with the query (Know what your question is that you are seeing an answer for before hand). Example; “Is the next quarter a favorable time for me to change jobs?”
  2. At your chosen liminal time (eclipse, sunset, sunrise, quarter, etc.), begin to tread 'deiseil' around your area of liminal place with your eyes closed. Do so three times. ( I prefer to do so barefoot as the folklore indicates as there are great benefits to 'earthing'; my practice is often in the forest)
  3. After your third walk 'deiseil' with your eyes closed, stop at your chosen liminal location (i.e. Door-sill, window-sill, between two trees on the edge of a field, at the waters edge, etc.
  4. With eyes still closed, state your chosen incantation or prayer (intoning out loud, or silently is your choice). Upon its completion blow the incantation or prayer through one's chosen liminal object (tube of ones hand, door-sill, window-sill, picture frame, Druid stone, etc).
  5. Place the liminal object close to one eye and open only that eye (if one is viewing through two trees, a sill, etc. simply open one eye to view that in nature which is before you). Take heed to look steadfastly upon that which first comes into view, careful not to scan for other objects.
  6. From the nature of the object/s within sight, interpret the omen/s before you.

Frìth Omen Interpretation

Frìth omens are viewed in a dichotomy of 'rathadach' (lucky) or 'rosadach' (unlucky). While there have been many historical interpretations of omens presented within recorded folklore, the majority of contemporary Druids are not likely to have such objects come across ones path (example: not many of us will see a Chestnut Red horse -a bad sign, run across our door). Never the less, we can adapt such historical attributes to our own time and practice by attributing their properties like the color Chestnut Red as a bad sign, or green for money, growth, etc. for instance. Thus, here I present a list of objects with their significance in interpretation of sighted omens of times past for you to consider in your contemporary practice. This list is compiled from the Mackenzie manuscripts12:

A man coming towards you- An excellent sign.
A cock looking towards you- Also an excellent sign.
A man standing- Sign of a sick man recovering and casting off illness
A man lying down- Sickness ; continued illness.
A beast lying down- Ominous-sickness; continued ill­ness and sickness, death
A beast rising up- Sign of a man recovering and throwing off all illness
A bird on the wing- A good sign.
A bird on the wing coming to you- Sign of a letter coming.
A woman seen standing- A bad sign-such as death, or some untoward event.
A woman seen passing or returning- Not so bad.
A woman with red hair- Not lucky.
A woman with fair hair (falt ban)- Not lucky
A woman with black hair (falt duh)- lucky
A woman with brown hair (falt donn)- luckiest
Fowls without a cock in their midst- Not a good sign.
A lark- a good sign
A dove- a good sign
A crow or a raven- a bad sign; death
A sparrow (glaiseun)- not lucky – but blessed (it tells the death of a child)
A wild duck- A good sign
Ducks (tunnagan)- Good. For sailors especially meaning safety from drowning
A dog- Good luck
A cat- Good for Mackintoshes only. To others it is considere  rosadach, or untoward. The cat is regarded as evil, as shown by the fact that witches are believed to assume this form.
A pig- Good for campbell’s. For others indifferent when facing you: bad with its back towards you.
A calf or lamb- Lucky with its face towards you, good with its side facing you.
A horse- Lucky
A brown horse- is the best
A chestnut or red horse- a bad sign, death

This manuscript also subscribes meanings to colors (specifically to horses):
Brown horse- Land
Grey Horse- The ocean
Chestnut Horse- The graveyard
Black Horse- Sorrow

It should be noted that for the Contemporary Druid who wishes to embrace the practice of frìth, one does not need to be on farmland, or deep in the countryside. For even the historical interetations leave room for urban Druids in this practice. In every city there are people of all types in various positions, cats, dogs, birds, flowers, etc. One can easily formulate ones own interpretation key for that which surrounds them. Even building types can mean something for those who encounter them spiritually.

Be guided by your intuition and own the practice. Attribute meanings to colors, animals, positions of people, plant types -both flora and fauna, etc. Be creatice. For your practice of Druidry is your own.


Next, make note of what you saw, your interpretation of the sighting, and the correlation to the query you began the frìth with. Once you have understood your answer clearly, give and offering of thanks to the Shining One's, Ancestors, God, the universe, or whoever your chosen deity / power you called upon for assistance in this ritual.

May you be offered all that you need through each unfolding moment of this very day! Beannachd Leibh "Bless You"

_________________________________________________________________References:
1MacInnes, ‘Traditional Belief in Gaelic Society,’ in Fantastical Imagination, Lizanne Henderson (Ed.), 2009, p190.
3Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, 1992, p670
4Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, 1992, p534
5McNeill, The Silver Bough Volume I, 1957, p56.
6The Silver Bough, p.50-52, F. Marian McNeill.
8Borsje and Kelly, ‘The Evil Eye in Early Irish Literature’, Celtica Vol 24, p25.
9Black, The Gaelic Otherwold, 2005, p142-143; Henderson, Survivals in belief among the Celts, 1911, p223-224; Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, 1992, p529; p616; MacKenzie, Gaelic Incantations, Charms and Blessings of the Hebrides, 1895, p8.
10McNeill, The Silver Bough Volume I, 1957, p56.
12MacKenzie, Gaelic Incantations, Charms and Blessings of the Hebrides, 1895