The moon and Manannán mac Lir

It’s a godly time of year. As I write this, my Jewish friends are in the midst of Passover, and my Christian friends are celebrating Easter. My Facebook feed has been full, the last few days, of joyful exclamations: “Chag Sameach Pesach!” and “He is Risen!” Depending on the interlocking of the cycles of the sun and the moon, these two holidays sometimes align closely with the vernal equinox, but this year there’s been a lag of a couple weeks — my high day came and went weeks ago. Nevertheless, I thought I’d take advantage of the lunar tie-in (complete with a total lunar eclipse this past Saturday morning) to finally write a post I consider writing every 28 days or so.

Modern druids vary widely in their practices (and the broader neopagan community still more), but one fair constant is a recognition of the cycles of the moon. I’m no different; in fact, long before I figured out most elements of my current practice, I would feel a draw to go out under the full moon and pray, even if I didn’t know why or to whom. These days, I pray to Manannán mac Lir.

I’ve mentioned Manannán here before, but not as much as you’d expect, given his importance in my life. But we’ll get to that. First, who is this Manannán mac Lir? The usual quick answer is “the Irish god of the sea,” and that’s true as far as it goes. He is indeed a seagod: ‘mac Lir’ means ‘son of Ler,’ and Ler is the sea personified. (Ler, too, is a god in his own right, who shows up most famously in “The Fate of the Children of Lir.”) To describe Manannán as simply the god of the sea, however, misses the point. Mannanán is also: a powerful magician; a skillful navigator, which we would expect, given that his chariot/boat Wave-Sweeper is pulled by the horse Aonbharr, who can ride as easily over water as over land; the guardian of the Isles of the Otherworld, and of the Isle of Man; a foster-father to many, including the god Lugh. In full consideration we see that his power, though rooted in the vast ocean, extends throughout life and death: Manannán is a powerful guardian, a finder of pathways and a guide between states of being.

Nowhere in my list above, however, do we see any mention of the moon. So why do I honor Manannán at the full moon specifically? Because of science. We know that the tides — the cyclical rising and falling of the level of the earth’s oceans — are caused by the moon; as the moon travels around the earth, the oceans bulge toward it, pulled by its gravitational field. The oceans and the moon are entangled in a system that fuels the life of all the shorelines of the world; in a very real sense, they form a unitary system. Manannán, as the god of the sea, is also necessarily a god of the moon. What’s more, the moon in its fullness shines light on the world such that even a nightblind person like me can see (read: navigate) — Manannán’s guidance shines down brightly from the night sky.

So I pray to Manannán mac Lir at the full moon, but more generally the moon in all its phases is a constant reminder of his gentle, guiding presence throughout my life. Whenever I note the moon (a slender crescent just after sunset, the waning gibbous moon in the midmorning, the waxing gibbous moon in the afternoon western sky), I whisper a salutation:

Hail, Manannán, Son of the Sea!
Hail, Waverider; hail, Bringer of Tides.
May my prayers transport me to your shores,
And may I be washed in the sea.

This month I celebrated the moon early, not because of any scheduling conflict or weather event, but simply because I found myself walking home under the night sky and felt the draw of the waxing moon so very sharply. As I was walking, I wrote a poem of praise, and when I got home I gathered candle, wine, bread, and salt, wrote the poem out onto a card, and went out under the moonlit sky. I quieted my mind, called out to Manannán, and invited him to come break bread with me. I ate half the bread and drank half the wine, then poured the rest of the wine in a circle around the rest of the bread. I held the poem up to the moon and read it by candlelight, then burned it in the middle of the circle, so that my prayer might drift up as smoke. In the morning, the wine had dried and the bread had been taken by the local animals. The wind had scattered the ashes, and all that remained was memory, and a deepened bond in my heart.

The moon lifts bright
over the eastern treetops, cabochon
of mottled opal dimpling blue velvet.

Its shining limns the faint
exhalation of the drowsy earth, 
invisible but by moonlight. O Manannán,

it is near to fullness, and I feel
your pull as greatly as any ocean, and
the hazy mantle of the moon

seems your cloak spread on the waters,
shimmering, resplendent. May I lie
beneath it, shielded and secure against

the tossings of the world.

Header image credit: Kris Williams, “‘The Comb-Over’ – Penmon, Anglesey” (license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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