Joining the natural world with daily acts at Bealtaine. Interview with West Ireland’s Permaculture Alchemist Colette O’Neill

Interview by Willi Paul. Co-Presented by Magazine &

“My smallholding is in the west of Ireland. I designed and constructed it from scratch, well, from three, very rushy acres of wet land, to be exact! Growing as much of my own food as I can, spinning, soap making and crafting, my days are full and happy.

Being a vegetarian is easy, with a plentiful supply of home produce, a big orchard…producing fantastic crops just five years down the line, I freeze, store, bottle and pickle all I can.

I am passionate about permaculture, biodiversity and nature.
What has happened here during the past almost 6 years is either magic or miracle…

…yes, Permaculture is that amazing…it has to be experienced!”


* * * * * * *

Interview with Colette by Willi

What is the connection between permaculture and spirituality?

I define permaculture as a holistic way of living on this Earth. For myself, there is a thin veil between reality, as I perceive it to be and the journey of the soul. Both body and soul are linked on an Earth journey. Permaculture helps me to fuse my daily life into the natural world around me, thus feeding my spiritual needs.

How do you define and use alchemy at Bealtaine?

Alchemy, being for me, the pursuit of the elixir of life, as opposed to the transmutation of base metal into gold…

The importance of fresh water being paramount. I divined water here at Bealtaine within the woodland known as the Fairy Dell. Water like this that bubbles up from deep within the Earth is sacred. It needs to be cherished and covered. Spring Wells do not react well to exposure. The veneration of water was renowned within Celtic society. Many of the exhibits from that time now in modern museums were found in and around water, originally as votive offerings.

Light is important too! The sun, sunrise, moonrise, full moon…all act upon the land, ourselves, plant life, water, moods and energy. Solstice, winter and summer are times to honor that.

Is sustainability like a new religion?

I believe that religion is a thing of the past. Religion is man made to control the sacred journey of the individual soul. Sustainability is living according to personal awareness, belief in being a part of the Earth rather than worshipping inside a building governed by men. Bear in mind that ALL religions are MAN made and MAN controlled. Sustainability does not differentiate between male and female. In that, we are one with the Earth. Sustainability is a new understanding of how to live, how to make the journey, which is unique to each human being.

“home-made soup and brown soda bread sort of day” and “Wizard of Oz,” sort of day – what do these mean for you?

When the day is cold and the light-span short, it is time to be inside a dwelling, to nurture the body and make time for the spirit. Making soup and bread is a way to do that and the very rituals involved are a way of worshipping the Earth for her bountiful gift of food.

A Wizard of Oz day means high winds and a little bit of mayhem and madness! High winds conjure up a little fear and adrenalin makes the heart race…it can release the inner child!

Is there a Father Earth in your view?

There is a male and female element in all and the Earth no less. However, culturally the Earth is referred to as Mother…I wonder why? Is this because we feel nurtured upon her? I would like to see a societal embrace of male/female in all aspects of life. Equality is now a sustainability issue. There is a huge debate here and this needs to begin in all areas of life.

Describe all of the forms and sources of energy at the place. What is your favorite?

I presume you mean my home…I love the open fire, the scent of wood as it burns. There is a real connection in this with all aspects of life and spirit. Fire evokes memories and solace and is incredibly nurturing.

I also love candlelight. Lighting a candle that I have made is a special connective act of spirit and life. It is energizing and healing, especially if the needs of others are held in the mind’s eye during the lighting.

I could not live without my stove. I light it in the morning to boil the kettle, I cook on it and bake in it.

What is sacred to you?


What myths do you like to read? Are you creating new ones there?

My favourite myths are from my Celtic ancestors. I love to read Willie Yeats. As a poet he embraced the past to light the present and re-ignite our passion for that time. I believe a life well lived creates its own myths.

“…regarded as magical and dangerous, in that a grown man will be reluctant to cut it down for fear of the wrath of the Fairies being brought against him.” Fairy Trees? Blackthorn. Do tell!

My grandmother told me a story from Omagh of something that happened back in the 1930’s.

A farmer had employed a work-gang to plough some land and cut back the hedges. In the middle of one particular field was a Fairy Thorn, a Blackthorn. He insisted that this be cut down to make way for the new machinery that would plough the field. The workers, being peasants and in touch with stories and beliefs, refused to cut the tree for fear of the wrath of the Fairies being brought down upon them. After much verbal abuse and threats from the farmer, he decided to take it upon himself to cut down the tree and show the men there was little to fear. He began to cut into one of the branches in an attempt to clear a way to the trunk, when a thorn pierced his arm. It was a savage cut and the farmer made his way back home to have the wound dressed. Within a week the wound had turned gangrenous and the man had to have his arm amputated.

The tree remained, having lost a branch.

The tree was pointed out to me as a child. No-one went near it after sunset. It was regarded as a portal to the underworld where the Fairies lived.

How do you see Christianity and Paganism moving forward?

I believe in neither. We cannot be so easily defined. Organized religions are only to control destinies. We must be free to experience the journey and grow in whichever way suits best. I see a forward movement in this understanding and the institutions of power will be left behind. This has already started.

Is a Shillela like a wand?

No…it is an instrument of aggression!

What are the key symbols, songs or signs at Bealtaine?

Maytime. Blossom. Fire. Bonfires…the fires of Bel. Re-kindling the fire after extinguishing the hearth fire. Music and food and drink and celebration…make it your own. Ultimately, renewal!

Are the seasons a basis for spiritual connection to the ecosystem?

Absolutely! The seasons are a manifestation of the heartbeat of Earth. The closest we get is to listen to the heartbeat. A crying baby, when held against the heart of the mother, will be soothed. We have rampaged for too long. We now need to learn how to soothe ourselves and each other.

Connections –

Colette O’Neill

coletteoneill2010 at
Permaculture Blog

Please join us at openmythsource – reservoir for discussion.

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