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Mythology & Heroic Sagas of Culture & Myth => Mythology => Topic started by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:02:37 pm



Title: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:02:37 pm
PREFACE
This book is what its author believes to be the only attempt yet made to put the English reader into possession, in clear, compact, and what it is hoped may prove agreeable, form, of the mythical, legendary, and poetic traditions of the earliest inhabitants of our islands who have left us written records--the Gaelic and the British Celts. It is true that admirable translations and paraphrases of much of Gaelic mythical saga have been recently published, and that Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the Mabinogion has been placed within the reach of the least wealthy reader. But these books not merely each cover a portion only of the whole ground, but, in addition, contain little elucidatory matter. Their characters stand isolated and unexplained; and the details that would explain them must be sought for with considerable trouble in the lectures and essays of scholars to learned societies. The reader to whom this literature is entirely new is introduced, as it were, to numerous people of whose antecedents he knows nothing; and the effect is often disconcerting enough to make him lay down the volume in despair.

But here he will at last make the formal acquaintance of all the chief characters of Celtic myth: of the Gaelic gods and the giants against whom they struggled; of the "Champions of the Red Branch" of Ulster, heroes of a martial epopee almost worthy to be placed beside "the tale of Troy divine"; and of Finn and his Fenians. He will meet also with the divine and heroic personages of

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the ancient Britons: with their earliest gods, kin to the members of the Gaelic Pantheon; as well as with Arthur and his Knights, whom he will recognize as no mortal champions, but belonging to the same mythic company Of all these mighty figures the histories will be briefly recorded, from the time of their unquestioned godhood, through their various transformations, to the last doubtful, dying recognition of them in the present day, as "fairies". Thus the volume will form a kind of handbook to a subject of growing importance--the so-called "Celtic Renaissance", which is, after all, no more--and, indeed, no less--than an endeavour to refresh the vitality of English poetry at its most ancient native fount.

The book does not, of course, profess to be for Celtic scholars, to whom, indeed, its author himself owes all that is within it. It aims only at interesting the reader familiar with the mythologies of Greece, Rome, and Scandinavia in another, and a nearer, source of poetry. Its author's wish is to offer those who have fallen, or will fall, under the attraction of Celtic legend and romance, just such a volume as he himself would once have welcomed, and for which he sought in vain. It is his hope that, in choosing from the considerable, though scattered, translations and commentaries of students of Old Gaelic and Old Welsh, he has chosen wisely, and that his readers will be able, should they wish, to use his book as a stepping-stone to the authorities themselves. To that end it is wholly directed; and its marginal notes and short bibliographical appendix follow the same plan. They do not aspire to anything like completeness, but only to point out the chief sources from which he himself has drawn.

To acknowledge, as far as possible, such debts is now the author's pleasing duty. First and foremost, he has relied upon the volumes of M. H. d’Arbois de Jubainville's Cours de Littérature celtique, and the Hibbert Lectures for 1886 of John Rhys, Professor of Celtic in the University

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of Oxford, with their sequel entitled Studies in the Arthurian Legend. From the writings of Mr. Alfred Nutt he has also obtained much help. With regard to direct translations, it seems almost superfluous to refer to Lady Charlotte Guest's Mabinogion and Mr. W. F. Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales, or to the work of such well-known. Gaelic scholars as Mr. Eugene O’Curry, Dr. Kuno Meyer, Dr. Whitley Stokes, Dr. Ernest Windisch, Mr. Standish Hayes O’Grady (to mention no others), as contained in such publications as the Revue Celtique, the Atlantis, and the Transactions of the Ossianic Society, in Mr. O’Grady's Silva Gadelica, Mr. Nutt's Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal, and Miss Hull's Cuchullin Saga. But space is lacking to do justice to all. The reader is referred to the marginal notes and the Appendix for the works of these and other authors, who will no doubt pardon the use made of their researches to one whose sole object has been to gain a larger audience for the studies they have most at heart.

Finally, perhaps, a word should be said upon that vexed question, the transliteration of Gaelic. As yet there is no universal or consistent method of spelling. The author has therefore chosen the forms which seemed most familiar to himself, hoping in that way to best serve the uses of others.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:03:31 pm
THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE BRITISH ISLANDS
CHAPTER I
THE INTEREST AND IMPORTANCE OF CELTIC MYTHOLOGY
It should hardly be necessary to remind the reader of what profound interest and value to every nation are its earliest legendary and poetical records. The beautiful myths of Greece form a sufficing example. In threefold manner, they have influenced the destiny of the people that created them, and of the country of which they were the imagined theatre. First, in the ages in which they were still fresh, belief and pride in them were powerful enough to bring scattered tribes into confederation. Secondly, they gave the inspiration to sculptor and poet of an art and literature unsurpassed, if not unequalled, by any other age or race. Lastly, when "the glory that was Greece" had faded, and her people had, by dint of successive invasions, perhaps even ceased to have any right to call themselves Hellenes, they have passed over into the literatures of the modern

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world, and so given to Greece herself a poetic interest that still makes a petty kingdom of greater account in the eyes of its compeers than many others far superior to it in extent and resources.

This permeating influence of the Greek poetical mythology, apparent in all civilized countries, has acted especially upon our own. From almost the very dawn of English literature, the Greek stories of gods and heroes have formed a large part of the stock-in-trade of English poets. The inhabitants of Olympus occupy, under their better-known Latin names, almost as great a space in English poetry as they did in that of the countries to which they were native. From Chaucer downwards, they have captivated the imagination alike of the poets and their hearers. The magic cauldron of classic myth fed, like the Celtic "Grail", all who came to it for sustenance.

At last, however, its potency became somewhat exhausted. Alien and exotic to English soil, it degenerated slowly into a convention. In the shallow hands of the poetasters of the eighteenth century, its figures became mere puppets. With every wood a "grove", and every rustic maid a "nymph", one could only expect to find Venus armed with patch and powder-puff, Mars shouldering a musket, and Apollo inspiring the versifier's own trivial strains. The affectation killed--and fortunately killed--a mode of expression which had become obsolete. Smothered by just ridicule, and abandoned to the commonplace vocabulary of the inferior hack-writer, classic myth became a subject

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which only the greatest poets could afford to handle.

But mythology is of such vital need to literature that, deprived of the store of legend native to southern Europe, imaginative writers looked for a fresh impulse. They turned their eyes to the North. Inspiration was sought, not from Olympus, but from Asgard. Moreover, it was believed that the fount of primeval poetry issuing from Scandinavian and Teutonic myth was truly our own, and that we were rightful heirs of it by reason of the Anglo-Saxon in our blood. And so, indeed, we are; but it is not our sole heritage. There must also run much Celtic--that is, truly British--blood in our veins. 1 And Matthew Arnold was probably right in asserting that, while we owe to the Anglo-Saxon the more practical qualities that have built up the British Empire, we have inherited from the Celtic side that poetic vision which has made English literature the most brilliant since the Greek. 2

We have the right, therefore, to enter upon a new spiritual possession. And a splendid one it is! The Celtic mythology has little of the heavy crudeness that repels one in Teutonic and Scandinavian story.


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[paragraph continues] It is as beautiful and graceful as the Greek ; and, unlike the Greek, which is the reflection of a clime and soil which few of us will ever see, it is our own. Divinities should, surely, seem the inevitable outgrowth of the land they move in! How strange Apollo would appear, naked among icebergs, or fur-clad Thor striding under groves of palms! But the Celtic gods and heroes are the natural inhabitants of a British landscape, not seeming foreign and out-of-place in a scene where there is no vine or olive, but "shading in with "our homely oak and bracken, gorse and heath.

Thus we gain an altogether fresh interest in the beautiful spots of our own islands, especially those of the wilder and more mountainous west, where the older inhabitants of the land lingered longest. Saxon conquest obliterated much in Eastern Britain, and changed more; but in the West of England, in Wales, in Scotland, and especially in legend-haunted Ireland, the hills and dales still keep memories of the ancient gods of the ancient race. Here and there in South Wales and the West of England are regions-once mysterious and still romantic-which the British Celts held to be the homes of gods or outposts of the Other World. In Ireland, not only is there scarcely a place that is not connected in some way with the traditionary exploits of the "Red Branch Champions", or of Finn and his mighty men, but the old deities are still remembered, dwarfed into fairies, but keeping the same attributes and the same names as of yore. Wordsworth's complaint 1


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that, while Pelion and Ossa, Olympus and Parnassus are "in immortal books enrolled", not one English mountain, "though round our sea-girt shore they rise in crowds", had been "by the Celestial Muses glorified" doubtless seemed true to his own generation. Thanks to the scholars' who have unveiled the ancient Gaelic and British mythologies, it need not be so for ours. On Ludgate Hill, as well as on many less famous eminences, once stood the temple of the British Zeus. A mountain not far from Bettws-y-Coed was the British Olympus, the court and palace of our ancient gods.

It may well be doubted, however, whether Wordsworth's contemporaries would have welcomed the mythology which was their own by right of birth as a substitute for that of Greece and Rome. The inspiration of classic culture, which Wordsworth was one of the first to break with, was still powerful. How some of its professors would have held their sides and roared at the very notion of a British mythology! Yet, all the time, it had long been secretly leavening English ideas and ideals, none the less potently because disguised under forms which could be readily appreciated. Popular fancy had rehabilitated the old gods, long banned by the priests' bell, book, and candle, under various disguises. They still lived on in legend as kings of ancient Britain reigning in a fabulous past anterior to Julius Caesar--such were King Lud, founder of London; King Lear, whose legend was immortalized by Shakespeare; King Brennius, who conquered Rome; as well as many others who will be found

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filling parts in old drama. They still lived on as long-dead saints of the early churches of Ireland and Britain, whose wonderful attributes and adventures are, in many cases, only those of their original namesakes, the old gods, told afresh. And they still lived on in another, and a yet more potent, way. Myths of Arthur and his cycle of gods passed into the hands of the Norman story-tellers, to reappear as romances of King Arthur and his Knights of the Table Round. Thus spread over civilized Europe, their influence was immense. Their primal poetic impulse is still resonant in our literature; we need only instance Tennyson and Swinburne as minds that have come under its sway.

This diverse influence of Celtic mythology upon English poetry and romance has been eloquently set forth by Mr. Elton in his Origins of English History. "The religion of the British tribes", he writes, "has exercised an important influence upon literature. The mediæval romances and the legends which stood for history are full of the 'fair humanities' and figures of its bright mythology. The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the waves and streams appear again as kings in the Irish Annals, or as saints and hermits in Wales. The Knights of the Round Table, Sir Kay and Tristrem and the bold Sir Bedivere, betray their mighty origin by the attributes they retained as heroes of romance. It was a goddess, 'Dea quaedam phantastica', who bore the wounded Arthur to the peaceful valley. 'There was little sunlight on its woods and streams, and the nights were dark

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and gloomy for want of the moon and stars.' This is the country of Oberon and of Sir Huon of Bordeaux. It is the dreamy forest of Arden. In an older mythology, it was the realm of a King of Shadows, the country of Gwyn ap Nudd, who rode as Sir Guyon in the 'Fairie Queene'--


And knighthood took of good Sir Huon's hand,
When with King Oberon he came to Fairyland'." 1

To trace Welsh and Irish kings and saints and hermits back to "the elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits that haunted the woods and streams" of Celtic imagination, and to disclose primitive pagan deities under the mediæval and Christian trappings of "King Arthur's Knights" will necessarily fall within the scope of this volume. But meanwhile the reader will probably be asking what evidence there is that apocryphal British kings like Lear and Lud, and questionable Irish saints like Bridget are really disguised Celtic divinities, or that the Morte D’Arthur, with its love of Launcelot and the queen, and its quest of the Holy Grail, was ever anything more than an invention of the Norman romance-writers. He will demand to know what facts we really possess about this supposed Celtic mythology alleged to have furnished their prototypes, and of what real antiquity and value are our authorities upon it.

The answer to his question will be found in the next chapter.


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Footnotes
3:1 "There is good ground to believe", writes Mr. E. W. B, Nicholson, M.A., the librarian of the Bodleian Library, in the preface to his recently-published Keltic Researches, "that Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, and part of Sussex, are as Keltic as Perthshire and North Munster; that Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, Devon, Dorset, Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, and Bedfordshire are more so--and equal to North Wales and Leinster; while Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire exceed even this degree and are on a level with South Wales and Ulster. Cornwall, of course, is more Keltic than any other English county, and as much so as Argyll. Inverness-shire, or Connaught."

3:2 The Study of Celtic Literature.

4:1 In a sonnet written in 1801.

7:1 Elton: Origins of English History, chap. x.

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:04:32 pm
CHAPTER II
THE SOURCES OF OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE CELTIC MYTHOLOGY
We may begin by asserting with confidence that Mr. Elton has touched upon a part only of the material on which we may draw, to reconstruct the ancient British mythology. Luckily, we are not wholly dependent upon the difficult tasks of resolving the fabled deeds of apocryphal Irish and British kings who reigned earlier than St. Patrick or before Julius Caesar into their original form of Celtic myths, of sifting the attributes and miracles of doubtfully historical saints, or of separating the primitive pagan elements in the legends of Arthur and his Knights from the embellishments added by the romance-writers. We have, in addition to these--which we may for the present put upon one side as secondary--sources, a mass of genuine early writings which, though post-Christian in the form in which they now exist, none the less descend from the pre-ceding pagan age. These are contained in vellum and parchment manuscripts long preserved from destruction in mansions and monasteries in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and only during the last century brought to light, copied, and translated by the patient labours of scholars who have grappled with

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the long-obsolete dialects in which they were transcribed.

Many of these volumes are curious miscellanies. Usually the one book of a great house or monastic community, everything was copied into it that the scholar of the family or brotherhood thought to be best worth preserving. Hence they contain matter of the most diverse kind. There are translations of portions of the Bible and of the classics, and of such then popular books as Geoffrey of Monmouth's and Nennius’ Histories of Britain; lives of famous saints, together with works attributed to them; poems and romances of which, under a thin disguise, the old Gaelic and British gods are the heroes; together with treatises on all the subjects then studied--grammar, prosody, law, history, geography, chronology, and the genealogies of important chiefs.

The majority of these documents were put together during a period which, roughly speaking, lasted from the beginning of the twelfth century to the end of the sixteenth. In Ireland, in Wales, and, apparently, also in Scotland, it was a time of literary revival after the turmoils of the previous epoch. In Ireland, the Norsemen, after long ravaging, had settled peacefully down, while in Wales, the Norman Conquest had rendered the country for the first time comparatively quiet. The scattered remains of history, lay and ecclesiastical, of science, and of legend were gathered together.

Of the Irish manuscripts, the earliest, and, for our purposes, the most important, on account of the great store of ancient Gaelic mythology which, in

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spite of its dilapidated condition, it still contains, is in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy. Unluckily, it is reduced to a fragment of one hundred and thirty-eight pages, but this remnant preserves a large number of romances relating to the old gods and heroes of Ireland. Among other things, it contains a complete account of the epical saga called the Táin Bó Chuailgné, the "Raiding of the Cattle of Cooley", in which the hero, Cuchulainn, performed his greatest feats. This manuscript is called the Book of the Dun Cow, from the tradition that it was copied from an earlier book written upon the skin of a favourite animal belonging to Saint Ciaran, who lived in the seventh century. An entry upon one of its pages reveals the name of its scribe, one Maelmuiri, whom we know to have been killed by robbers in the church of Clonmacnois in the year 1106.

Far more voluminous, and but little less ancient, is the Book of Leinster, said to have been compiled in the early part of the twelfth century by Finn mac Gorman, Bishop of Kildare. This also contains an account of Cuchulainn's mighty deeds which supplements the older version in the Book of the Dun Cow. Of somewhat less importance from the point of view of the student of Gaelic mythology come the Book of Ballymote and the Yellow Book of Lecan, belonging to the end of the fourteenth century, and the Books of Lecan and of Lismore, both attributed to the fifteenth. Besides these six great collections, there survive many other manuscripts which also contain ancient mythical lore. In one of these, dating from the fifteenth century, is to be found the

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story of the Battle of Moytura, fought between the gods of Ireland and their enemies, the Fomors, or demons of the deep sea.

The Scottish manuscripts, preserved in the Advocates’ Library at Edinburgh, date back in some cases as far as the fourteenth century, though the majority of them belong to the fifteenth and sixteenth. They corroborate the Irish documents, add to the Cuchulainn saga, and make a more special subject of the other heroic cycle, that which relates the not less wonderful deeds of Finn, Ossian, and the Fenians, They also contain stories of other characters, who, more ancient than either Finn or Cuchulainn, are the Tuatha Dé Danann, the god-tribe of the ancient Gaels.

The Welsh documents cover about the same period as the Irish and the Scottish. Four of these stand out from the rest, as most important. The oldest is the Black Book of Caermarthen, which dates from the third quarter of the twelfth century; the Book of Aneurin, which was written late in the thirteenth; the Book of Taliesin, assigned to the fourteenth; and the Red Book of Hergest, compiled by various persons during that century and the one following it. The first three of these "Four Ancient Books of Wales" are small in size, and contain poems attributed to the great traditional bards of the sixth century, Myrddin, Taliesin, and Aneurin. The last--the Red Book of Hergest--is far larger. In it are to be found Welsh translations of the British Chronicles; the oft-mentioned Triads, verses celebrating famous traditionary persons or things;

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ancient poems attributed to Llywarch Hên; and, of priceless value to any study of our subject, the so-called Mabinogion, stories in which large portions of the old British mythology are worked up into romantic form.

The whole bulk, therefore, of the native literature bearing upon the mythology of the British Islands may be attributed to a period which lasted from the beginning of the twelfth century to the end of the sixteenth. But even the commencement of this era will no doubt seem far too late a day to allow authenticity to matter which ought to have vastly preceded it. The date, however, merely marks the final redaction of the contents of the manuscripts into the form in which they now exist, without bearing at all upon the time of their authorship. Avowedly copies of ancient poems and tales from much older manuscripts, the present books no more fix the period of the original composition of their contents than the presence of a portion of the Canterbury Tales in a modern anthology of English poetry would assign Chaucer to the present year of grace.

This may be proved both directly and inferentially. 1 In some instances--as in that of an elegy upon Saint Columba in the Book of the Dun Cow--the dates of authorship are actually given. In others, we may depend upon evidence which, if not quite so absolute, is nearly as convincing. Even where the writer does not state that he is copying from older manuscripts,


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it is obvious that this must have been the case, from the glosses in his version. The scribes of the earlier Gaelic manuscripts very often found, in the documents from which they themselves were copying, words so archaic as to be unintelligible to the readers of their own period. To render them comprehensible, they were obliged to insert marginal notes which explained these obsolete words by reference to other manuscripts more ancient still. Often the mediæval copyists have ignorantly moved these notes from the margin into the text, where they remain, like philological fossils, to give evidence of previous forms of life. The documents from which they were taken have perished, leaving the mediæval copies as their sole record. In the Welsh Mabinogion the same process is apparent. Peculiarities in the existing manuscripts show plainly enough that they must have been copied from some more archaic text. Besides this, they are, as they at present stand, obviously made up of earlier tales pieced together. Almost as clearly as the Gaelic manuscripts, the Welsh point us back to older and more primitive forms.

The ancient legends of the Gael and the Briton are thus shown to have been no mere inventions of scholarly monks in the Middle Ages. We have now to trace, if possible, the date, not necessarily of their first appearance on men's lips, but of their first redaction into writing in approximately the form in which we have them now.

Circumstantial evidence can he adduced to prove that the most important portions both of Gaelic

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and British early literature can be safely relegated to a period of several centuries prior to their now-existing record. Our earliest version of the episode of the Táin Bó Chuailgné, which is the nucleus and centre of the ancient Gaelic heroic cycle of which Cuchulainn, fortissimus heros Scotorum, is the principal figure, is found in the twelfth-century Book of the Dun Cow. But legend tells us that at the beginning of the seventh century the Saga had not only been composed, but had actually become so obsolete as to have been forgotten by the bards. Their leader, one Senchan Torpeist, a historical character, and chief bard of Ireland at that time, obtained permission from the Saints to call Fergus, Cuchulainn's contemporary, and a chief actor in the "Raid", from the dead, and received from the resurrected hero a true and full version. This tradition, dealing with a real personage, surely shows that the story of the Táin was known before the time of Senchan, and probably preserves the fact, either that his version of Cuchulainn's famous deeds became the accepted one, or that he was the first to reduce it to writing. An equally suggestive consideration approximately fixes for us the earliest redaction of the Welsh mythological prose tales called the "Mabinogion", or, more correctly speaking, the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi". 1 In none of these is there the slightest mention, or apparently the least knowledge, of Arthur, around whom and whose supposed contemporaries centres the mass of British legend as it was transmitted by


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the Welsh to the Normans. These mysterious mythological records must in all probability, there-fore, antedate the Arthurian cycle of myth, which was already being put into form in the sixth century. On the other hand, the characters of the "Four Branches" are mentioned without comment--as though they were personages with whom no one could fail to be familiar--in the supposed sixth-century poems contained in those "Four Ancient Books of Wales" in which are found the first meagre references to the British hero.

Such considerations as these throw back, with reasonable certainty, the existence of the Irish and Welsh poems and prose tales, in something like their present shape, to a period antedating the seventh century.

But this, again, means only that the myths, traditions, and legends were current at that to us early, but to them, in their actual substance, late date, in literary form. A mythology must always be far older than the oldest verses and stories that celebrate it. Elaborate poems and sagas are not made in a day, or in a year. The legends of the Gaelic and British gods and heroes could not have sprung, like Athena from the head of Zeus, full-born out of some poet's brain. The bard who first put them into artistic shape was setting down the primitive traditions of his race. We may therefore venture to describe them as not of the twelfth century or of the seventh, but as of a prehistoric and immemorial antiquity.

Internal evidence bears this out. An examination

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of both the Gaelic and British legendary romances shows, under embellishing details added by later hands, an inner core of primeval thought which brings them into line with the similar ideas of other races in the earliest stage of culture. Their "local colour" may be that of their last "editor", but their "plots" are pre-mediæval, pre-Christian, pre-historic. The characters of early Gaelic legend belong to the same stamp of imagination that created Olympian and Titan, Æsir and Jötun. We must go far to the back of civilized thought to find parallels to such a story as that in which the British sun-god, struck by a rival in love with a poisoned spear, is turned into an eagle, from whose wound great pieces of carrion are continually falling. 1

This aspect of the Celtic literary records was clearly seen, and eloquently expressed, by Matthew Arnold in his Study of Celtic Literature. 2 He was referring to the Welsh side, but his image holds good equally for the Gaelic. "The first thing that strikes one", he says, "in reading the Mabinogion is how evidently the mediæval story-teller is pillaging an antiquity of which he does not fully possess the secret: he is like a peasant building his hut on the site of Halicarnassus or Ephesus; he builds, but what he builds is full of materials of which he knows not the history, or knows by a glimmering tradition merely: stones 'not of this building', but of an older architecture, greater, cunninger, more majestical." His heroes "are no mediæval personages: they belong to an older, pagan, mythological world". So,


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too, with the figures, however euhemerized, of the three great Gaelic cycles: that of the Tuatha Dé Danann, of the Heroes of Ulster, of Finn and the Fenians. Their divinity outshines their humanity; through their masks may be seen the faces of gods.

Yet, gods as they are, they had taken on the semblance of mortality by the time their histories were fixed in the form in which we have them now. Their earliest records, if those could be restored to us, would doubtless show them eternal and undying, changing their shapes at will, but not passing away. But the post-Christian copyists, whether Irish or Welsh, would not countenance this. Hence we have the singular paradox of the deaths of Immortals. There is hardly one of the figures of either the Gaelic or the British Pantheon whose demise is not somewhere recorded. Usually they fell in the unceasing battles between the divinities of darkness and of light. Their deaths in earlier cycles of myth, however, do not preclude their appearance in later ones. Only, indeed, with the closing of the lips of the last mortal who preserved his tradition can the life of a god be truly said to end.


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Footnotes
12:1 Satisfactory summaries of the evidence for the dates of both the Gaelic and Welsh legendary material will be found in pamphlets No. 8 and 11 of Mr. Nutt's Popular Studies in Mythology, Romance, and Folklore.

14:1 Rhys: Studies in the Arthurian Legend, chap. 1.

16:1 See chap. XVI of this book--"The Gods of the Britons".

16:2 Lecture II.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:06:13 pm
CHAPTER III
WHO WERE THE "ANCIENT BRITONS"?
But, before proceeding to recount the myths of the "Ancient Britons", it will be well to decide what people, exactly, we mean by that loose but convenient phrase. We have, all of us, vague ideas of Ancient Britons, recollected, doubtless, from our school-books. There we saw their pictures as, painted with woad, they paddled coracles, or drove scythed chariots through legions of astonished Romans. Their Druids, white-bearded and wearing long, white robes, cut the mistletoe with a golden sickle at the time of the full moon, or, less innocently employed, made bonfires of human beings shut up in gigantic figures of wicker-work.

Such picturesque details were little short of the sum-total, not only of our own knowledge of the subject, but also of that of our teachers. Practically all their information concerning the ancient inhabit-ants of Britain was taken from the Commentaries of Julius Caesar. So far as it went, it was no doubt correct; but it did not go far. Caesar's interest in our British ancestors was that of a general who was his own war-correspondent rather than that of an exhaustive and painstaking scientist. It has been reserved for modern archæologists, philologists, and

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ethnologists to give us a fuller account of the Ancient Britons.

The inhabitants of our islands previous to the Roman invasion are generally described as "Celts". But they must have been largely a mixed race; and the people with whom they mingled must have modified to some--and perhaps to a large--extent their physique, their customs, and their language.

Speculation has run somewhat wild over the question of the composition of the Early Britons. But out of the clash of rival theories there emerges one--and one only--which may be considered as scientifically established. We have certain proof of two distinct human stocks in the British Islands at the time of the Roman Conquest; and so great an authority as Professor Huxley has given his opinion that there is no evidence of any others. 1

The earliest of these two races would seem to have inhabited our islands from the most ancient times, and may, for our purpose, be described as aboriginal. It was the people that built the "long barrows"; and which is variously called by ethnologists the Iberian, Mediterranean, Berber, Basque, Silurian, or Euskarian race. In physique it was short, swarthy, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and long-skulled; its language belonged to the class called "Hamitic", the surviving types of which are found among the Gallas, Abyssinians, Berbers, and other North African tribes; and it seems to have come originally from some part either of Eastern, Northern, or Central Africa. Spreading thence, it was


p. 20

probably the first people to inhabit the Valley of the Nile, and it sent offshoots into Syria and Asia Minor. The earliest Hellenes found it in Greece under the name of "Pelasgoi"; the earliest Latins in Italy, as the "Etruscans"; and the Hebrews in Palestine, as the "Hittites". It spread northward through Europe as far as the Baltic, and westward, along the Atlas chain, to Spain, France, and our own islands. 1 In many countries it reached a comparatively high level of civilization, but in Britain its development must have been early checked. We can discern it as an agricultural rather than a pastoral people, still in the Stone Age, dwelling in totemistic tribes on hills whose summits it fortified elaborately, and whose slopes it cultivated on what is called the "terrace system", and having a primitive culture which ethnologists think to have much resembled that of the present hill-tribes of Southern India. 2 It held our islands till the coming of the Celts, who fought with the aborigines, dispossessed them of the more fertile parts, subjugated them, even amalgamated with them, but certainly never extirpated them. In the time of the Romans they were still practically independent in South Wales. In Ireland they were long unconquered, and are found as allies rather than serfs of the Gaels, ruling their own provinces, and preserving their own customs and religion. Nor, in spite of all the successive invasions of Great Britain and Ireland,


p. 21

are they yet extinct, or so merged as to have lost their type, which is still the predominant one in many parts of the west both of Britain and Ireland, and is believed by some ethnologists to be generally upon the increase all over England.

The second of the two races was the exact opposite to the first. It was the tall, fair, light-haired, blue- or gray-eyed, broad-headed people called, popularly, the "Celts", who belonged in speech to the "Aryan" family, their language finding its affinities in Latin, Greek, Teutonic, Slavic, the Zend of Ancient Persia, and the Sanscrit of Ancient India. Its original home was probably somewhere in Central Europe, along the course of the upper Danube, or in the region of the Alps. The "round barrows" in which it buried its dead, or deposited their burnt ashes, differ in shape from the "long barrows" of the earlier race. It was in a higher stage of culture than the "Iberians", and introduced into Britain bronze and silver, and, perhaps, some of the more lately domesticated animals.

Both Iberians and Celts were divided into numerous tribes, but there is nothing to show that there was any great diversity among the former. It is otherwise with the Celts, who were separated into two main branches which came over at different times. The earliest were the Goidels, or Gaels; the second, the Brythons, or Britons. Between these two branches there was not only a dialectical, but probably, also, a considerable physical difference. Some anthropologists even postulate a different shape of skull. Without necessarily admitting this,

p. 22

there is reason to suppose a difference of build and of colour of hair. With regard to this, we have the evidence of Latin writers--of Tacitus, 1 who tells us that the "Caledonians" of the North differed from the Southern Britons in being larger-limbed and redder-haired, and of Strabo, 2 who described the tribes in the interior of Britain as taller than the Gaulish colonists on the coast, with hair less yellow and limbs more loosely knit. Equally do the classic authorities agree in recognizing the "Silures" of South Wales as an entirely different race from any other in Britain. The dark complexions and curly hair of these Iberians seemed to Tacitus to prove them immigrants from Spain. 3

Professor Rhys also puts forward evidence to show that the Goidels and the Brythons had already separated before they first left Gaul for our islands. 4 He finds them as two distinct peoples there. We do not expect so much nowadays from "the merest school-boy" as we did in Macaulay's time, but even the modern descendant of that paragon could probably tell us that all Gaul was divided into three parts, one of which was inhabited by the Belgae, another by the Aquitani, and the third by those who called themselves Celtae, but were termed Galli by the Romans; and that they all differed from one another in language, customs, and laws. 5 Of these, Professor Rhys identifies the Belgae with the Brythons, and the Celtae with the Goidels, the


p. 23

third people, the Aquitani, being non-Celtic and non-Aryan, part of the great Hamitic-speaking Iberian stock. 1 The Celtae, with their Goidelic dialect of Celtic, which survives to-day in the Gaelic languages of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, were the first to come over to Britain, pushed forward, probably, by the Belgae, who, Caesar tells us, were the bravest of the Gauls. 2 Here they conquered the native Iberians, driving them out of the fertile parts into the rugged districts of the north and west. Later came the Belgae themselves, compelled by press of population; and they, bringing better weapons and a higher civilization, treated the Goidels as those had treated the Iberians. Thus harried, the Goidels probably combined with the Iberians against what was now the common foe, and became to a large degree amalgamated with them. The result was that during the Roman domination the British Islands were roughly divided with regard to race as follows: The Brythons, or second Celtic race, held all Britain south of the Tweed, with the exception of the extreme west, while the first Celtic race, the Goidelic, had most of Ireland, as well as the Isle of Man, Cumberland, the West Highlands, Cornwall, Devon, and North Wales. North of the Grampians lived the Picts, who were probably more or less Goidelicized Iberians, the aboriginal race also holding out, unmixed, in South Wales and parts of Ireland.

It is now time to decide what, for the purposes of this book, it will be best to call the two different


p. 24

branches of the Celts, and their languages. With such familiar terms as "Gael" and "Briton", "Gaelic" and "British", ready to our hands, it seems pedantic to insist upon the more technical "Goidel" and "Brython", "Goidelic" and "Brythonic". The difficulty is that the words "Gael" and "Gaelic" have been so long popularly used to designate only the modern "Goidels" of Scotland and their language, that they may create confusion when also applied to the people and languages of Ireland and the Isle of Mari. Similarly, the words "Briton" and "British" have come to mean, at the present day, the people of the whole of the British Islands, though they at first only signified the inhabitants of England, Central Wales, the Lowlands of Scotland, and the Brythonic colony in Brittany. However, the words "Goidel" and "Brython", with their derivatives, are so clumsy that it will probably prove best to use the neater terms. In this volume, therefore, the "Goidels" of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man are our "Gaels" and the "Brythons" of England and Wales are our "Britons".

We get the earliest accounts of the life of the inhabitants of the British Islands from two sources. The first is a foreign one, that of the Latin writers. But the Romans only really knew the Southern Britons, whom they describe as similar in physique and customs to the Continental Gauls, with whom, indeed, they considered them to be identical. 1 At the time they wrote, colonies of Belgae were still


p. 25

settling upon the coasts of Britain opposite to Gaul. 1 Roman information grew scantier as it approached the Wall, and of the Northern tribes they seem to have had only such knowledge as they gathered through occasional warfare with them. They describe them as entirely barbarous, naked and tattooed, living by the chase alone, without towns, houses, or fields, without government or family life, and regarding iron as an ornament of value, as other, more civilized peoples regarded gold. 2 As for Ireland, it never came under their direct observation, and we are entirely dependent upon its native writers for information as to the manners and customs of the Gaels. It may be considered convincing proof of the authenticity of the descriptions of life contained in the ancient Gaelic manuscripts that they corroborate so completely the observations of the Latin writers upon the Britons and Gauls. Reading the two side by side, we may largely reconstruct the common civilization of the Celts.

Roughly speaking, one may compare it with the civilization of the Greeks, as described by Homer. 3 Both peoples were in the tribal and pastoral stage of culture, in which the chiefs are the great cattle-owners round whom their less wealthy fellows gather. Both wear much the same attire, use the same kind of weapons, and fight in the same manner--from the war-chariot, a vehicle already obsolete even in Ireland by the first century of the Christian era.

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:07:09 pm
Battles are fought single-handed between chiefs, the ill-armed common people contributing little to their result, and less to their history. Such chiefs are said to be divinely descended--sons, even, of the immortal gods. Their tremendous feats are sung by the bards, who, like the Homeric poets, were privileged persons, inferior only to the war-lord. Ancient Greek and Ancient Celt had very much the same conceptions of life, both as regards this world and the next.

We may gather much detailed information of the early inhabitants of the British Islands from our various authorities. 1 Their clothes, which consisted, according to the Latin writers, of a blouse with sleeves, trousers fitting closely round the ankles, and a shawl or cloak, fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, were made either of thick felt or of woven cloth dyed with various brilliant colours. The writer Diodorus tells us that they were crossed with little squares and lines, "as though they had been sprinkled with flowers". They were, in fact, like "tartans", and we may believe Varro, who tells us that they "made a gaudy show". The men alone seem to have worn hats, which were of soft felt, the women's hair being uncovered, and tied in a knot behind. In time of battle, the men also dispensed with any head-covering, brushing their abundant hair forward into a thick mass, and dyeing it red with a soap made of goat's fat and beech ashes, until they looked (says Cicero's tutor Posidonius, who visited Britain about


p. 27

[paragraph continues] 110 B.C.) less like human beings than wild men of the woods. Both sexes were fond of ornaments, which took the form of gold bracelets, rings, pins, and brooches, and of beads of amber, glass, and jet. Their knives, daggers, spear-heads, axes, and swords were made of bronze or iron; their shields were the same round target used by the Highlanders at the battle of Culloden; and they seem also to have had a kind of lasso to which a hammer-shaped ball was attached, and which they used as the Gauchos of South America use their bola. Their war-chariots were made of wicker, the wooden wheels being armed with sickles of bronze. These were drawn either by two or four horses, and were large enough to hold several persons in each. Standing in these, they rushed along the enemy's lines, hurling darts, and driving the scythes against all who came within reach. The Romans were much impressed by the skill of the drivers, who "could check their horses at full speed on a steep incline, and turn them in an instant, and could run along the pole, and stand on the yoke, and then get back into their chariots again without a moment's delay". 1

With these accounts of the Roman writers we may compare the picture of the Gaelic hero, Cuchulainn, as the ancient Irish writers describe him dressed and armed for battle. Glorified by the bard, he yet wears essentially the same costume and equipment which the classic historians and geographers described more soberly. "His gorgeous raiment that he wore in great conventions"

.

p. 28

consisted of "a fair crimson tunic of five plies and fringed, with a long pin of white silver, gold-enchased and patterned, shining as if it had been a luminous torch which for its blazing property and brilliance men might not endure to see. Next his skin, a body-vest of silk, bordered and fringed all round with gold, with silver, and with white bronze, which vest came as far as the upper edge of his russet-coloured kilt. . . . About his neck were a hundred linklets of red gold that flashed again, with pendants hanging from them. His head-gear was adorned with a hundred mixed carbuncle jewels, strung." He carried "a trusty special shield, in hue dark crimson, and in its circumference armed with a pure white silver rim. At his left side a long and golden-hilted sword. Beside him, in the chariot, a lengthy spear; together with a keen, aggression-boding javelin, fitted with hurling thong, with rivets of white bronze." 1 Another passage of Gaelic saga describes his chariot. It was made of fine wood, with wicker-work, moving on wheels of white bronze. It had a high rounded frame of creaking copper, a strong curved yoke of gold, and a pole of white silver, with mountings of white bronze. The yellow reins were plaited, and the shafts were as hard and straight as sword-blades. 2

In like manner the ancient Irish writers have made glorious the halls and fortresses of their mythical kings. Like the palaces of Priam, of Menelaus, and of Odysseus, they gleam with gold


p. 29

and gems. Conchobar, 1 the legendary King of Ulster in its golden age, had three such "houses" at Emain Macha. Of the one called the "Red Branch", we are told that it contained nine compartments of red yew, partitioned by walls of bronze, all grouped around the king's private chamber, which had a ceiling of silver, and bronze pillars adorned with gold and carbuncles. 2 But the far less magnificent accounts of the Latin writers have, no doubt, more truth in them than such lavish pictures. They described the Britons they knew as living in villages of bee-hive huts, roofed with fern or thatch, from which, at the approach of an enemy, they retired to the local dún. This, so far from being elaborate, merely consisted of a round or oval space fenced in with palisades and earth-works, and situated either upon the top of a hill or in the midst of a not easily traversable morass. 3 We may see the remains of such strongholds in many parts of England--notable ones are the "castles" of Amesbury, Avebury, and Old Sarum in Wiltshire, Saint Catherine's Hill, near Winchester, and Saint George's Hill, in Surrey--and it is probable that, in spite of the Celtic praisers of past days, the "palaces" of Emain Macha and of Tara were very like them.

The Celtic customs were, like the Homeric, those of the primitive world. All land (though it may have theoretically belonged to the chief) was cultivated in common. This community of possessions


p. 30

is stated by Caesar 1 to have extended to their wives; but the imputation cannot be said to have been proved. On the contrary, in the stories of both branches of the Celtic race, women seem to have taken a higher place in men's estimation, and to have enjoyed far more personal liberty, than among the Homeric Greeks. The idea may have arisen from a misunderstanding of some of the curious Celtic customs. Descent seems to have been traced through the maternal rather than through the paternal line, a very un-Aryan procedure which some believe to have been borrowed from another race. The parental relation was still further lessened by the custom of sending children to be brought up outside the family in which they were born, so that they had foster-parents to whom they were as much, or even more, attached than to their natural ones.

Their political state, mirroring their family life, was not less primitive. There was no central tribunal. Disputes were settled within the families in which they occurred, while, in the case of graver injuries, the injured party or his nearest relation could kill the culprit or exact a fine from him. As families increased in number, they became petty tribes, often at war with one another. A defeated tribe had to recognize the sovereignty of the head man of the conquering tribe, and a succession of such victories exalted him into the position of a chief of his district. But even then, though his decision was the whole of the law, he was little more than the mouthpiece of public opinion.


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Footnotes
19:1 Huxley: On Some Fixed Points in British Ethnology. 1871.

20:1 Sergi: The Mediterranean Race.

20:2 Gomme: The Village Community. Chap, IV--"The non-Aryan Elements in the English Village Community".

22:1 Tacitus: Agricola, chap. xi.

22:2 Strabo: Geographica, Book IV, chap. v.

22:3 Tacitus, op. cit.

22:4 Rhys: The Early Ethnology of the British Islands. Scottish Review. April, 1890.

22:5 Caesar: De Bello Gallico, Book I, chap. 1.

23:1 Rhys: Scottish Review. April, 1890.

23:2 Op. Caesar, op. cit.

24:1 Tacitus: Agricola, chap. XI.

25:1 Caesar: De Bellico Gallico, Book V, chap. XII.

25:2 Elton: Origins of English History, chap. VII.

25:3 See "La Civilisation des Celtes et celle de l’Épopée Homérique", by M. d’Arbois de Jubainville, Cours de Littérature Celtique, Vol. VI.

26:1 See Elton: Origins of English History, chap. VII.

27:1 Caesar: De Bello Gallico, Book IV, chap. xx

28:1 From the Táin Bó Chuailgné. The translator is Mr. Standish Hayes O’Grady.

28:2 Tochmarc Emire--the Wooing of Emer--an old Irish romance.

29:1 Sometimes spelt "Conachar", and pronounced Conhower or Connor.

29:2 The Wooing of Emer.

29:3 Caesar: De Bello Galileo, Hook V, chap. xxi, and various passages in Book VII.

30:1 Ibid., chap. XIV.

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:08:19 pm
CHAPTER IV
THE RELIGION OF THE ANCIENT BRITONS AND DRUIDISM
The ancient inhabitants of Britain--the Gaelic and British Celts--have been already described as forming a branch of what are roughly called the "Aryans". This name has, however, little reference to race, and really signifies the speakers of a group of languages which can be all shown to be connected, and to descend remotely from a single source--a hypothetical mother-tongue spoken by a hypothetical people which we term "Aryan", or, more correctly, "Indo-European". This primeval speech, evolved, probably, upon some part of the great plain which stretches from the mountains of Central Europe to the mountains of Central Asia, has spread, superseding, or amalgamating with the tongues of other races, until branches of it are spoken over almost the whole of Europe and a great portion of Asia. All the various Latin, Greek, Slavic, Teutonic, and Celtic languages are "Aryan", as well as Persian and other Asiatic dialects derived from the ancient "Zend", and the numerous Indian languages which trace their origin to Sanscrit.

Not very long ago, it was supposed that this

p. 32

common descent of language involved a common descent of blood. A real brotherhood was enthusiastically claimed for all the principal European nations, who were also invited to recognize Hindus and Persians as their long-lost cousins. Since then, it has been conceded that, while the Aryan speech survived, though greatly modified, the Aryan blood might well have disappeared, diluted beyond recognition by crossing with the other races whom the Aryans conquered, or among whom they more or less peacefully settled. As a matter of fact, there are no European nations--perhaps no people at all except a few remote savage tribes--which are not made up of the most diverse elements. Aryan and non-Aryan long ago blended inextricably, to form by their fusion new peoples.

But, just as the Aryan speech influenced the new languages, and the Aryan customs the new civilizations, so we can still discern in the religions of the Aryan-speaking nations similar ideas and expressions pointing to an original source of mythological conceptions. Hence, whether we investigate the mythology of the Hindus, the Greeks, the Teutons, or the Celts, we find the same mythological ground-work. In each, we see the powers of nature personified, and endowed with human form and attributes, though bearing, with few exceptions, different names. Like the Vedic brahmans, the Greek and Latin poets, and the Norse scalds, the Celtic bards--whether Gaels or Britons--imagined the sky, the sun, the moon, the earth, the sea, and the dark underworld, as well as the mountains, the streams,




Click to enlarge
CELTIC WORSHIP
From the Drawing by E. Wallcousins




p. 33

and the woods, to be ruled by beings like their own chiefs, but infinitely more powerful; every passion, as War and Love, and every art, as Poetry and Smithcraft, had its divine founder, teacher, and exponent; and of all these deities and their imagined children, they wove the poetical and allegorical romances which form the subject of the present volume.

Like other nations, too, whether Aryan or non-Aryan, the Celts had, besides their mythology, a religion. It is not enough to tell tales of shadowy gods; they must be made visible by sculpture, housed in groves or temples, served with ritual, and propitiated with sacrifices, if one is to hope for their favours. Every cult must have its priests living by the altar.

The priests of the Celts are well-known to us by name as the "Druids"--a word derived from a root DR which signifies a tree, and especially the oak, in several Aryan languages. 1 This is generally--though not by all scholars--taken as proving that they paid an especial veneration to the king of trees. It is true that the mistletoe--that strange parasite upon the oak--was prominent among their "herbs of power", and played a part in their ritual; 2 but this is equally true of other Aryan nations. By the Norse it was held sacred to the god Balder, while the Romans believed it to be the "golden bough" that gave access to Hades. 3


p. 34

The accounts both of the Latin and Gaelic writers give us a fairly complete idea of the nature of the Druids, and especially of the high estimation in which they were held. They were at once the priests, the physicians, the wizards, the diviners, the theologians, the scientists, and the historians of their tribes. All spiritual power and all human know-ledge were vested in them, and they ranked second only to the kings and chiefs. They were freed from all contribution to the State, whether by tribute or service in war, so that they might the better apply themselves to their divine offices. Their decisions were absolutely final, and those who disobeyed them were laid under a terrible excommunication or "boycott". 1 Classic writers tell us how they lorded it in Gaul, where, no doubt, they borrowed splendour by imitating their more civilized neighbours. Men of the highest rank were proud to cast aside the insignia of mere mortal honour to join the company of those who claimed to be the direct mediators with the sky-god and the thunder-god, and who must have resembled the ecclesiastics of mediæval Europe in the days of their greatest power, combining, like them, spiritual and temporal dignities, and possessing the highest culture of their age. Yet it was not among these Druids of Gaul, with their splendid temples and vestments and their elaborate rituals, that the metropolis of Druidism was to be sought. We learn from Caesar that the Gallic Druids believed


p. 35

their religion to have come to them, originally, from Britain, and that it was their practice to send their "theological students" across the Channel to learn its doctrines at their purest source. 1 To trace a cult backwards is often to take a retrograde course in culture, and it was no doubt in Britain--which Pliny the Elder tells us "might have taught magic to Persia" 2--that the sufficiently primitive and savage rites of the Druids of Gaul were preserved in their still more savage and primitive forms. It is curious corroboration of this alleged British origin of Druidism that the ancient Irish also believed their Druidism to have come from the sister island. Their heroes and seers are described as only gaining the highest knowledge by travelling to Alba. 3 However this may be, we may take it as certain that this Druidism was the accepted religion of the Celtic race.

Certain scholars look deeper for its origin, holding its dark superstitions and savage rites to bear the stamp of lower minds than those of the poetic and manly Celts. Professor Rhys inclines to see three forms of religion in the British Islands at the time of the Roman invasion: the "Druidism" of the Iberian aborigines; the pure polytheism of the Brythons, who, having come later into the country, had mixed but little with the natives; and the mingled Aryan and non-Aryan cults of the Goidels, who were already largely amalgamated with them. 4


p. 36

[paragraph continues] But many authorities dissent from this view, and, indeed, we are not obliged to postulate borrowing from tribes in a lower state of culture, to explain primitive and savage features underlying a higher religion. The "Aryan" nations must have passed, equally with all others, through a state of pure savagery; and we know that the religion of the Greeks, in many respects so lofty, sheltered features and legends as barbarous as any that can be attributed to the Celts. 1

Of the famous teaching of the Druids we know little, owing to their habit of never allowing their doctrines to be put into writing. Caesar, however, roughly records its scope. "As one of their leading dogmas", he says, "they inculcate this: that souls are not annihilated, but pass after death from one body to another, and they hold that by this teaching men are much encouraged to valour, through disregarding the fear of death. They also discuss and impart to the young many things concerning the heavenly bodies and their movements, the size of the world and of our earth, natural science, and of the influence and power of the immortal gods." 2 The Romans seem to have held their wisdom in some awe, though it is not unlikely that the Druids themselves borrowed whatever knowledge they may have had of science and philosophy from the classical culture. That their creed of transmigration was not, however, merely taken over from the Greeks seems certain from its appearance in the


p. 37

ancient Gaelic myths. Not only the "shape-shifting" common to the magic stories of all nations, but actual reincarnation was in the power of privileged beings. The hero Cuchulainn was urged by the men of Ulster to marry, because they knew "that his rebirth would be of himself", 1 and they did not wish so great a warrior to be lost to their tribe. Another legend tells how the famous Finn mac Coul was reborn, after two hundred years, as an Ulster king called Mongan. 2

Such ideas, however, belonged to the metaphysical side of Druidism. Far more important to the practical primitive mind are ritual and sacrifice, by the due performance of which the gods are persuaded or compelled to grant earth's increase and length of days to men. Among the Druids, this humouring of the divinities took the shape of human sacrifice, and that upon a scale which would seem to have been unsurpassed in horror even by the most savage tribes of West Africa or Polynesia. "The whole Gaulish nation", says Caesar, "is to a great degree devoted to superstitious rites; and on this account those who are afflicted with severe diseases, or who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice human beings for victims, or vow that they will immolate themselves, and these employ the Druids as ministers for such sacrifices, because they think that, unless the life of man be repaid for the life of man, the will of the immortal gods cannot be


p. 38

appeased. They also ordain national offerings of the same kind. Others make wicker-work images of vast size, the limbs of which they fill with living men and set on fire." 1

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:09:28 pm
We find evidence of similarly awful customs in pagan Ireland. Among the oldest Gaelic records are tracts called Dinnsenchus, in which famous places are enumerated, together with the legends relating to them. Such topographies are found in several of the great Irish mediæval manuscripts, and therefore, of course, received their final transcription at the hands of Christian monks. But these ecclesiastics rarely tampered with compositions in elaborate verse. Nor can it be imagined that any monastic scribe could have invented such a legend as this one which describes the practice of human sacrifice among the ancient Irish. The poem (which is found in the Books of Leinster, of Ballymote, of Lecan, and in a document called the Rennes MS.) 2 records the reason why a spot near the present village of Ballymagauran, in County Cavan, received the name of Mag Slecht, the "Plain of Adoration".


"Here used to be
A high idol with many fights,
Which was named the Cromm Cruaich;
It made every tribe to be without peace.

"’T was a sad evil!
Brave Gaels used to worship it. p. 39
From it they would not without tribute ask
To be satisfied as to their portion of the hard world.

"He was their god,
The withered Cromm with many mists,
The people whom he shook over every host,
The everlasting kingdom they shall not have.

"To him without glory
They would kill their piteous, wretched offspring
With much wailing and peril,
To pour their blood around Cromm Cruaich.

"'Milk and corn
They would ask from him speedily
In return for one-third of their healthy issue:
Great was the horror and the scare of him.

"To him
Noble Gaels would prostrate themselves,
From the worship of him, with many manslaughters,
The plain is called "Mag Slecht".

. . . . . .

"They did evil,
They beat their palms, they pounded their bodies,
Wailing to the demon who enslaved them,
They shed falling showers of tears.

. . . . . .

"Around Cromm Cruaich
There the hosts would prostrate themselves;
Though he put them under deadly disgrace,
Their name clings to the noble plain.

"In their ranks (stood)
Four times three stone idols;
To bitterly beguile the hosts,
The figure of the Cromm was made of gold. p. 40

"Since the rule
Of Herimon 1, the noble man of grace,
There was worshipping of stones
Until the coming of good Patrick of Macha.

"A sledge-hammer to the Cromm
He applied from crown to sole,
He destroyed without lack of valour
The feeble idol which was there."


Such, we gather from a tradition which we may deem authentic, was human sacrifice in early Ireland. According to the quoted verse, one third of the healthy children were slaughtered, presumably every year, to wrest from the powers of nature the grain and grass upon which the tribes and their cattle subsisted. In a prose dinnsenchus preserved in the Rennes MS., 2 there is a slight variant. "’T is there", (at Mag Slecht), it runs, "was the king idol of Erin, namely the Crom Croich, and around him were twelve idols made of stones, but he was of gold. Until Patrick's advent he was the god of every folk that colonized Ireland. To him they used to offer the firstlings of every issue and the chief scions of every clan." The same authority also tells us that these sacrifices were made at "Hallowe’en", which took the place, in the Christian calendar, of the heathen Samhain--"Summer's End"--when the sun's power waned, and the strength of the gods of darkness, winter, and the underworld grew great.
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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:10:37 pm
Who, then, was this bloodthirsty deity? His name, Cromm Cruaich, means the "Bowed One of the Mound", and was evidently applied to him only after his fall from godhead. It relates to the tradition that, at the approach of the all-conquering Saint Patrick, the "demon" fled from his golden image, which thereupon sank forward in the earth in homage to the power that had come to supersede it. 1 But from another source we glean that the word cromm was a kind of pun upon cenn, and that the real title of the "king idol of Erin" was Cenn Cruaich, "Head" or "Lord" of the Mound. Professor Rhys, in his Celtic Heathendom, 2 suggests that he was probably the Gaelic heaven-god, worshipped, like the Hellenic Zeus, upon "high places", natural or artificial. At any rate, we may see in him the god most revered by the Gaels, surrounded by the other twelve chief members of their Pantheon.

It would appear probable that the Celtic State worship was what is called "solar". All its chief festivals related to points in the sun's progress, the equinoxes having been considered more important than the solstices. It was at the spring equinox (called by the Celts "Beltaine" 3) in every nineteenth year that, we learn from Diodorus the Sicilian, a writer contemporary with Julius Caesar, Apollo himself appeared to his worshippers, and was seen harping and dancing in the sky until the rising of the Pleiades. 4 The other corresponding festival was


p. 42

[paragraph continues] "Samhain" 1, the autumn equinox. As Beltaine marked the beginning of summer, so Samhain recorded its end. The summer solstice was also a great Celtic feast. It was held at the beginning of August in honour of the god called Lugus by the Gauls, Lugh by the Gaels, and Lleu by the Britons--the pan-Celtic Apollo, and, probably, when the cult of the war-god had fallen from its early prominence, the chief figure of the common Pantheon.

It was doubtless at Stonehenge that the British Apollo was thus seen harping and dancing. That marvellous structure well corresponds to Diodorus's description of a "magnificent temple of Apollo" which he locates "in the centre of Britain". "It is a circular enclosure," he says, "adorned with votive offerings and tablets with Greek inscriptions suspended by travellers upon the walls. The rulers of the temple and city are called 'Boreadæ' 2, and they take up the government from each other according to the order of their tribes. The citizens are given up to music, harping and chanting in honour of the sun." 3 Stonehenge, therefore, was a sacred religious centre, equally revered by and equally belonging to all the British tribes--a Rome or Jerusalem of our ancient paganism.

The same great gods were, no doubt, adored by all the Celts, not only of Great Britain and Ireland, but of Continental Gaul as well. Sometimes they can be traced by name right across the ancient





Click to enlarge
PORTION OF THE CIRCLE, STONEHENGE.--Frith




p. 43

[paragraph continues] Celtic world. In other cases, what is obviously the same personified power of nature is found in various places with the same attributes, but with a different title. Besides these, there must have been a multitude of lesser gods, worshipped by certain tribes alone, to whom they stood as ancestors and guardians. "I swear by the gods of my people", was the ordinary oath of a hero in the ancient Gaelic sagas. The aboriginal tribes must also have had their gods, whether it be true or not that their religion influenced the Celtic Druidism. Professor Rhys inclines to see in the genii locorum, the almost nameless spirits of well and river, mountain and wood--shadowy remnants of whose cults survive today,--members of a swarming Pantheon of the older Iberians. 1 These local beings would in no way conflict with the great Celtic nature-gods, and the two worships could exist side by side, both even claiming the same votary. It needs the stern faith of mono-theism to deny the existence of the gods of others. Polytheistic nations have seldom or never risen to such a height. In their dealings with a conquered people, the conquerors naturally held their own gods to be the stronger. Still, it could not be denied that the gods of the conquered were upon their own ground; they knew, so to speak, the country, and might have unguessed powers of doing evil! What if, to avenge their worshippers and themselves, they were to make the land barren and useless to the conquerors? So that conquering pagan nations have usually been quite ready to stretch out the hand of


p. 44

welcome to the deities of their new subjects, to propitiate them by sacrifice, and even to admit them within the pale of their own Pantheon.

This raises the question of the exact nationality of the gods whose stories we are about to tell. Were they all Aryan, or did any of the greater aboriginal deities climb up to take their place among the Gaelic tribe of the goddess Danu, or the British children of the goddess Dôn? Some of the Celtic gods have seemed to scholars to bear signs of a non-Aryan origin. 1 The point, however, is at present very obscure. Neither does it much concern us. Just as the diverse deities of the Greeks--some Aryan and Hellenic, some pre-Aryan and Pelasgian, some imported and Semitic--were all gathered into one great divine family, so we may consider as members of one national Olympus all these gods whose legends make up "The Mythology of the British Islands".


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Footnotes
33:1 See Schrader: Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples, pp. 138, 272.

33:2 A description of the Druidical cult of the mistletoe is given by Pliny: Natural History, XVI, chap. xcv.

33:3 See Frazer: The Golden Bough, chap. IV.

34:1 Caesar: De Bello Gallico, Book VI, chaps. XIII, XIV. But for a full exposition of what is known of the Druids the reader is referred to M. d’Arbois de Jubainville's Introduction d l’Etude de la Littérature Celtique, Vol. I of his Cours de Littérature Celtique.

35:1 Caesar: De Bello Gallico, Book VI, chap. XIII.

35:2 Pliny: Natural History, XXX.

35:3 See chap. XII, The Irish Iliad.

35:4 Rhys: Celtic Britain, chap. II. See also Gomme: Ethnology in Folk-lore, pp. 58-62; Village Community, p. 104.

36:1 Abundant evidence of this is contained in Pausanias' Description of Greece.

36:2 Caesar: De Bello Gallico, Book VI, chap. XIV.

37:1 The Wooing of Emer.

37:2 It is contained in the Book of the Dun Cow, and has been translated or commented upon by Eugene O’Curry (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish), De Jubainville (Cycle Mythologique Irlandais), and Nutt (Voyage of Bran).

38:1 Caesar: De Bello Gallico, Book VI, chap. XVI.

38:2 The following translation was made by Dr. Kuno Meyer, and appears as Appendix B to Nutt's Voyage of Bran. Three verses, here omitted, will be found later as a note to chap. XII--"The Irish Iliad".

40:1 The first King of the Milesians. The name is more usually spelt Eremon.

40:2 The Rennes Dinnsenchus has been translated by Dr. Whitley Stokes iii Vol. XVI of the Revue Celtique.

41:1 Told in the Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick, a fifteenth-century combination of three very ancient Gaelic MSS.

41:2 The Hibbert Lectures for 1886. Lecture II--"The Zeus of the Insular Celts"

41:3 Pronounced Baltinna.

41:4 Diodorus Siculus: Book II, chap. III.

42:1 Pronounced Sowin.

42:2 It has been suggested that this title is an attempt to reproduce the ancient British word for "bards".

42:3 Diodorus Siculus: Book II, chap. III.

43:1 Hibbert Lectures, 1886. Lecture I--"The Gaulish Pantheon"

44:1 See Rhys: Lectures on Welsh Philology, pp. 426, 552, 659.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:11:58 pm
THE GAELIC GODS AND THEIR STORIES
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CHAPTER V
THE GODS OF THE GAELS
Of the two Celtic races that settled in our islands, it is the earlier, the Gaels, that has best preserved its old mythology. It is true that we have in few cases such detailed account of the Gaelic gods as we gain of the Hellenic deities from the Greek poets, of the Indian Devas from the Rig Veda, or of the Norse Æsir from the Eddas. Yet none the less may we draw from the ancient Irish manuscripts quite enough information to enable us to set forth their figures with some clearness. We find them, as might have been anticipated, very much like the divine hierarchies of other Aryan peoples.

We also find them separated into two opposing camps, a division common to all the Aryan religions. Just as the Olympians struggled with the Giants, the Æsir fought the Jötuns, and the Devas the Asuras, so there is warfare in the Gaelic spiritual world between two superhuman hosts. On one side are ranged the gods of day, light, life, fertility, wisdom, and good; on the other, the demons of night, darkness, death, barrenness, and evil. The first were the great spirits symbolizing the beneficial aspects of nature and the arts and intelligence of man; the second were the hostile powers thought to be behind such baneful manifestations as storm and

p. 48

fog, drought and disease. The first are ranged as a divine family round a goddess called Danu, from whom they took their well-known name of Tuatha Dé Danann, 1 "Tribe" or "Folk of the Goddess Danu". The second owned allegiance to a female divinity called Domnu; their king, Indech, is described as her son, and they are all called "Domnu's gods". The word "Domnu" appears to have signified the abyss or the deep sea, 2 and the same idea is also expressed in their better-known name of "Fomors", derived from two Gaelic words meaning "under sea". 3 The waste of water seems to have always impressed the Celts with the sense of primeval ancientness; it was connected in their minds with vastness, darkness, and monstrous births--the very antithesis of all that was symbolized by the earth, the sky, and the sun.

Therefore the Fomors were held to be more ancient than the gods, before whom they were, however, destined to fall in the end. Offspring of "Chaos and Old Night", they were, for the most part, huge and deformed. Some had but one arm and one leg apiece, while others had the heads of goats, horses, or bulls. 4 The most famous, and perhaps the most terrible of them all was Balor, whose father is said to have been one Buarainech, that is, the "cow-faced", 5 and who combined in himself the two classical rôles of the Cyclops and the Medusa. Though he had two eyes, one was always


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kept shut, for it was so venomous that it slew anyone on whom its look fell. This malignant quality of Balor's eye was not natural to him, but was the result of an accident. Urged by curiosity, he once looked in at the window of a house where his father's sorcerers were preparing a magic potion, and the poisonous smoke from the cauldron reached his eye, infecting it with so much of its own deadly nature as to make it disastrous to others. Neither god nor giant seems to have been exempt from its dangers; so that Balor was only allowed to live on condition that he kept his terrible eye shut. On days of battle he was placed opposite to the enemy, the lid of the destroying eye was lifted up with a hook, and its gaze withered all who stood before it. The memory of Balor and his eye still lingers in Ireland: the "eye of Balor" is the name for what the peasantry of other countries call the "evil eye"; stories are still told of Balar Beimann, or "Balor of the Mighty Blows"; and "Balor's Castle" is the name of a curious cliff on Tory Island. This island, off the coast of Donegal, was the Fomorian outpost upon earth, their real abode being in the cold depths of the sea.

This rule, however, as to the hideousness of the Fomors had its exceptions. Elathan, one of their chiefs, is described in an old manuscript as of magnificent presence--a Miltonic prince of darkness. "A man of fairest form," it says, "with golden hair down to his shoulders. He wore a mantle of gold braid over a shirt interwoven with threads of gold. Five golden necklaces were round

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his neck, and a brooch of gold with a shining precious stone thereon was on his breast. He carried two silver spears with rivets of bronze, and his sword was golden-hiked and golden-studded." 1 Nor was his son less handsome. His name was Bress, which means "beautiful", and we are told that every beautiful thing in Ireland, "whether plain, or fortress, or ale, or torch, or woman, or man", was compared with him, so that men said of them, "that is a Bress". 2

Balor, Bress, and Elathan are the three Fomorian personages whose figures, seen through the mists of antiquity, show clearest to us. But they are only a few out of many, nor are they the oldest. We can learn, however, nothing but a few names of any ancestors of the Gaelic giants. This is equally true of the Gaelic gods. Those we know are evidently not without parentage, but the names of their fathers are no more than shadows following into oblivion the figures they designated. The most ancient divinity of whom we have any knowledge is Danu herself, the goddess from whom the whole hierarchy of gods received its name of Tuatha Dé Danann. She was also called Anu or Ana, and her name still clings to two well-known mountains near Killarney, which, though now called simply "The Paps", were known formerly as the "Paps of Ana". 3 She was the


p. 51

universal mother; "well she used to cherish the gods", says the commentator of a ninth-century Irish glossary. 1 Her husband is never mentioned by name, but one may assume him, from British analogies, to have been Bilé, known to Gaelic tradition as a god of Hades, a kind of Celtic Dis Pater from whom sprang the first men. Danu herself probably represented the earth and its fruitfulness, and one might compare her with the Greek Demeter. All the other gods are, at least by title, her children. The greatest of these would seem to have been Nuada, called Argetlám, or "He of the Silver Hand". He was at once the Gaelic Zeus, or Jupiter, and their war-god; for among primitive nations, to whom success in war is all-important, the god of battles is the supreme god. 2 Among the Gauls, Camulus, whose name meant "Heaven", 3 was identified by the Romans with Mars; and other such instances come readily to the mind. He was possessed of an invincible sword, one of the four chief treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, over whom he was twice king; and there is little doubt that he was one of the most important gods of both the Gaels and the Britons, for his name is spread over the whole of the British Isles, which we may surmise the Celts conquered under his auspices. We may picture him as a more savage Mars, delighting in battle and slaughter, and worshipped, like his Gaulish affinities, Teutates and Hesus, of whom the


p. 52

[paragraph continues] Latin poet Lucan tells us, with human sacrifices, shared in by his female consorts, who, we may imagine, were not more merciful than himself, or than that Gaulish Taranis whose cult was "no gentler than that of the Scythian Diana", and who completes Lucan's triad as a fit companion to the "pitiless Teutates" and the "horrible Hesus". 1 Of these warlike goddesses there were five--Fea, the "Hateful", Nemon, the "Venomous", Badb, the "Fury", Macha, a personification of "battle", and, over all of them, the Morrígú, or "Great Queen". This supreme war-goddess of the Gaels, who resembles a fiercer Herê, perhaps symbolized the moon, deemed by early races to have preceded the sun, and worshipped with magical and cruel rites. She is represented as going fully armed, and carrying two spears in her hand. As with Arês 2 and Poseidon 3 in the "Iliad", her battle-cry was as loud as that of ten thousand men. Wherever there was war, either among gods or men, she, the great queen, was present, either in her own shape or in her favourite disguise, that of a "hoodie" or carrion crow. An old poem shows her inciting a warrior:


"Over his head is shrieking
A lean hag, quickly hopping
Over the points of the weapons and shields;
She is the gray-haired Morrígú" 4

[paragraph continues] With her, Fea and Nemon, Badb and Macha also


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hovered over the fighters, inspiring them with the madness of battle. All of these were sometimes called by the name of "Badb" 1. An account of the Battle of Clontarf, fought by Brian Boru, in 1014, against the Norsemen, gives a gruesome picture of what the Gaels believed to happen in the spiritual world when battle lowered and men's blood was aflame. "There arose a wild, impetuous, precipitate, mad, inexorable, furious, dark, lacerating, merciless, combative, contentious badb, which was shrieking and fluttering over their heads. And there arose also the satyrs, and sprites, and the maniacs of the valleys, and the witches and goblins and owls, and destroying demons of the air and firmament, and the demoniac phantom host; and they were inciting and sustaining valour and battle with them." When the fight was over, they revelled among the bodies of the slain; the heads cut off as barbaric trophies were called "Macha's acorn crop". These grim creations of the savage mind had immense vitality. While Nuada, the supreme war-god, vanished early out of the Pantheon--killed by the Fomors in the great battle fought between them and the gods--Badb and the Morrígú lived on as late as any of the Gaelic deities. Indeed, they may be said to still survive in the superstitious dislike and suspicion shown in all Celtic-speaking countries for their avatar, the hoodie-crow. 2

After Nuada, the greatest of the gods was the


p. 54

[paragraph continues] Dagda, whose name seems to have meant the "Good God". 1 The old Irish tract called "The Choice of Names" tells us that he was a god of the earth; he had a cauldron called "The Undry", in which everyone found food in proportion to his merits, and from which none went away unsatisfied. He also had a living harp; as he played upon it, the seasons came in their order--spring following winter, and summer succeeding spring, autumn coming after summer, and, in its turn, giving place to winter. He is represented as of venerable aspect and of simple mind and tastes, very fond of porridge, and a valiant consumer of it. In an ancient tale we have a description of his dress. He wore a brown, low-necked tunic which only reached down to his hips, and, over this, a hooded cape which barely covered his shoulders. On his feet and legs were horse-hide boots, the hairy side outwards. He carried, or, rather, drew after him on a wheel, an eight-pronged war-club, so huge that eight men would have been needed to carry it; and the wheel, as he towed the whole weapon along, made a track like a territorial boundary. 2 Ancient and gray-headed as he was, and sturdy porridge-eater, it will be seen from this that he was a formidable fighter. He did great deeds in the battle between the gods and the Fomors, and, on one occasion, is even said to have captured single-handed a hundred-legged and four-headed monster called Mata, dragged him to the "Stone of Benn", near the Boyne, and killed him there.


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The Dagda's wife was called Boann. She was connected in legend with the River Boyne, to which she gave its name, and, indeed, its very existence. 1 Formerly there was only a well 2, shaded by nine magic hazel-trees. These trees bore crimson nuts, and it was the property of the nuts that whoever ate of them immediately became possessed of the knowledge of everything that was in the world. The story is, in fact, a Gaelic version of the Hebrew myth of "the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil". One class of creatures alone had this privilege--divine salmon who lived in the well, and swallowed the nuts as they dropped from the trees into the water, and thus knew all things, and appear in legend as the "Salmons of Knowledge". All others, even the highest gods, were forbidden to approach the place. Only Boann, with the proverbial woman's curiosity, dared to disobey this fixed law. She came towards the sacred well, but, as she did so, its waters rose up at her, and drove her away before them in a mighty, rushing flood. She escaped; but the waters never returned. They made the Boyne; and as for the all-knowing inhabitants of the well, they wandered disconsolately through the depths of the river, looking in vain for their lost nuts. One of these salmon was afterwards eaten by the famous Finn mac Coul, upon whom all its omniscience descended. 3 This way of accounting for the existence of a river is a favourite one in Irish legend. It is told also of the Shannon, which burst.


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like the Boyne, from an inviolable well, to pursue another presumptuous nymph called Sinann, a grand-daughter of the sea-god Lêr. 1

The Dagda had several children, the most important of whom are Brigit, Angus, Mider, Ogma, and Bodb the Red. Of these, Brigit will be already familiar to English readers who know no-thing of Celtic myth. Originally she was a goddess of fire and the health, as well as of poetry, which the Gaels deemed an immaterial, supersensual form of flame. But the early Christianizers of Ireland adopted the pagan goddess into their roll of saintship, and, thus canonized, she obtained immense popularity as Saint Bridget, or Bride. 2

Angus was called Mac Oc, which means the "Son of the Young", or, perhaps, the "Young God". This most charming of the creations of the Celtic mythology is represented as a Gaelic Eros, an eternally youthful exponent of love and beauty. Like his father, he had a harp, but it was of gold, not oak, as the Dagda's was, and so sweet was its music that no one could hear and not follow it. His kisses became birds which hovered invisibly over the young men and maidens of Erin, whispering thoughts of love into their ears. He is chiefly connected with the banks of the Boyne, where he had a "brugh", or fairy palace; and many stories are told of his exploits and adventures.

Mider, also the hero of legends, would seem to have been a god of the underworld, a Gaelic


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[paragraph continues] Pluto. As such, he was connected with the Isle of Falga--a name for what was otherwise, and still is, called the Isle of Man--where he had a stronghold in which he kept three wonderful cows and a magic cauldron. He was also the owner of the "Three Cranes of Denial and Churlishness", which might be described flippantly as personified "gentle hints". They stood beside his door, and when anyone approached to ask for hospitality, the first one said: "Do not come! do not come!" and the second added: "Get away! get away!" while the third chimed in with: "Go past the house! go past the house!" 1 These three birds were, however, stolen from Mider by Aitherne, an avaricious poet, to whom they would seem to have been more appropriate than to their owner, who does not otherwise appear as a churlish and illiberal deity. 2 On the contrary, he is represented as the victim of others, who plundered him freely. The god Angus took away his wife Etain, 3 while his cows, his cauldron, and his beautiful daughter Blathnat were carried off as spoil by the heroes or demi-gods who surrounded King Conchobar in the golden age of Ulster.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cml/cml09.htm


Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:13:44 pm
Ogma, who appears to have been also called Cermait, that is, the "honey-mouthed", was the god of literature and eloquence. He married Etan, the daughter of Diancecht, the god of medicine, and had several children, who play parts more or less prominent in the mythology of the Gaelic Celts. One of them was called Tuirenn, whose three sons murdered the father of the sun-god, and were compelled, as expiation, to pay the greatest fine ever heard of--nothing less than the chief treasures of the world. 1 Another son, Cairpré, became the professional bard of the Tuatha Dé Danann, while three others reigned for a short time over the divine race. As patron of literature, Ogma was naturally credited with having been the inventor of the famous Ogam alphabet. This was an indigenous script of Ireland, which spread afterwards to Great Britain, inscriptions in ogmic characters having been found in Scotland, the Isle of Man, South Wales, Devonshire, and at Silchester in Hampshire, the Roman city of Calleva Attrebatum. It was originally intended for inscriptions upon upright pillar-stones or upon wands, the equivalents for letters being notches cut across, or strokes made upon one of the faces of the angle, the alphabet running as follows:


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When afterwards written in manuscript, the strokes were placed over, under, or through a horizontal line, in the manner above; and the vowels were represented by short lines instead of notches, as:


A good example of an ogmic inscription is given in Professor Rhys's Hibbert Lectures. It comes from a pillar on a small promontory near Dunmore Head, in the west of Kerry, and, read horizontally, reads:


ERC, THE SON OF THE SON OF ERCA (DESCENDANT OF) MODOVINIA. 1

[paragraph continues] The origin of this alphabet is obscure. Some authorities consider it of great antiquity, while others believe it entirely post-Christian. It seems, at any rate, to have been based upon, and consequently to presuppose a knowledge of, the Roman alphabet.

Ogma, besides being the patron of literature, was the champion, or professional strong man of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His epithet is Grianainech,


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that is, the "Sunny-faced", from his radiant and shining countenance.

The last of the Dagda's more important children is Bodb 1 the Red, who plays a greater part in later than in earlier legend. He succeeded his father as king of the gods. He is chiefly connected with the south of Ireland, especially with the Galtee Mountains, and with Lough Dearg, where he had a famous sídh, or underground palace.

The Poseidon of the Tuatha Dé Danann Pantheon was called Lêr, but we hear little of him in comparison with his famous son, Manannán, the greatest and most popular of his many children. Manannán mac Lir 2 was the special patron of sailors, who invoked him as "God of Headlands", and of merchants, who claimed him as the first of their guild. His favourite haunts were the Isle of Man, to which he gave his name, and the Isle of Arran, in the Firth of Clyde, where he had a palace called "Emhain of the Apple-Trees". He had many famous weapons--two spears called "Yellow Shaft" and "Red Javelin", a sword called "The Retaliator", which never failed to slay, as well as two others known as the "Great Fury" and the "Little Fury". He had a boat called "Wave-sweeper", which propelled and guided itself wherever its owner wished, and a horse called "Splendid Mane", which was swifter than the spring wind, and travelled equally fast on land or over the waves of the sea. No weapon could hurt him through his magic mail and breast-plate, and on his helmet there shone two magic jewels


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bright as the sun. He endowed the gods with the mantle which made them invisible at will, and he fed them from his pigs, which, like the boar Sæhrimnir, in the Norse Valhalla, renewed themselves as soon as they had been eaten. Of these, no doubt, he made his "Feast of Age", the banquet at which those who ate never grew old. Thus the people of the goddess Danu preserved their immortal youth, while the ale of Goibniu the Smith-God bestowed invulnerability upon them. It is fitting that Manannán himself should have been blessed beyond all the other gods with inexhaustible life; up to the latest days of Irish heroic literature his luminous figure shines prominent, nor is it even yet wholly forgotten.

Goibniu, the Gaelic Hephaestus, who made the people of the goddess Danu invulnerable with his magic drink, was also the forger of their weapons. It was he who, helped by Luchtainé, the divine carpenter, and Credné, the divine bronze-worker, made the armoury with which the Tuatha Dé Danann conquered the Fomors. Equally useful to them was Diancecht, the god of medicine. 1 It was he who once saved Ireland, and was indirectly the cause of the name of the River Barrow. The Morrígú, the heaven-god's fierce wife, had borne a son of such terrible aspect that the physician of the gods, foreseeing danger, counselled that he should be destroyed in his infancy. This was done; and Diancecht opened the infant's heart, and found


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within it three serpents, capable, when they grew to full size, of depopulating Ireland. He lost no time in destroying these serpents also, and burning them into ashes, to avoid the evil which even their dead bodies might do. More than this, he flung the ashes into the nearest river, for he feared that there might be danger even in them; and, indeed, so venomous were they that the river boiled up and slew every living creature in it, and therefore has been called "Barrow" (boiling) ever since. 1

Diancecht had several children, of whom two followed their father's profession. These were Miach and his sister Airmid. There were also another daughter, Etan, who married Cermait (or Ogma), and three other sons called Cian, Cethé, and Cu. Cian married Ethniu, the daughter of Balor the Fomor, and they had a son who was the crowning glory of the Gaelic Pantheon--its Apollo, the Sun-God,--Lugh 2, called Lamhfada 3, which means the "Long-handed", or the "Far-shooter". It was not, however, with the bow, like the Apollo of the Greeks, but with the rod-sling that Lugh performed his feats; his worshippers sometimes saw the terrible weapon in the sky as a rainbow, and the Milky Way was called "Lugh's Chain". He also had a magic spear, which, unlike the rod-sling, he had no need to wield, himself; for it was alive, and thirsted so for blood that only by steeping its head in a sleeping-draught of pounded poppy leaves could it be kept at rest. When battle was near, it





Click to enlarge
LUGH'S MAGIC SPEAR
From the Drawing by H. R. Millar




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was drawn out; then it roared and struggled against its thongs; fire flashed from it; and, once slipped from the leash, it tore through and through the ranks of the enemy, never tired of slaying. Another of his possessions was a magic hound which an ancient poem, 1 attributed to the Fenian hero, Caoilte, calls--


"That hound of mightiest deeds,
Which was irresistible in hardness of combat,
Was better than wealth ever known,
A ball of fire every night.

"Other virtues had that beautiful hound
(Better this property than any other property),
Mead or wine would grow of it,
Should it bathe in spring water."


This marvellous hound, as well as the marvellous spear, and the indestructible pigs of Manannán were obtained for Lugh by the sons of Tuirenn as part of the blood-fine he exacted from them for the murder of his father Cian. 2 A hardly less curious story is that which tells how Lugh got his name of the Ioldanach, or the "Master of All Arts". 3

These are, of course, only the greater deities of the Gaelic Pantheon, their divinities which answered to such Hellenic figures as Demeter, Zeus, Herê, Cronos, Athena, Eros, Hades, Hermes, Hephaestus, Aesculapius, and Apollo. All of them had many descendants, some of whom play prominent parts


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in the heroic cycles of the "Red Branch of Ulster" and of the "Fenians". In addition to these, there must have been a multitude of lesser gods who stood in much the same relation to the great gods as the rank and file of tribesmen did to their chiefs. Most of these were probably local deities of the various clans--the gods their heroes swore by. But it is also possible that some may have been divinities of the aboriginal race. Professor Rhys thinks that he can still trace a few of such Iberian gods by name, as Nêt, Ri or Roi, Corb, and Beth. 1 But they play no recognizable part in the stories of the Gaelic gods.


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Footnotes
48:1 Pronounced Tooăha dae donnann.

48:2 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, 1886. Lecture VI--"Gods, Demons, and Heroes".

48:3 Ibid.

48:4 De Jubainville: Le Cycle Mythologique Irlandais, chap. v.

48:5 De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique Irlandais, chap. IX.

50:1 From the fifteenth century Harleian MS. in the British Museum, numbered 5280, and called the Second Battle of Moytura.

50:2 Harleian MS. 5280.

50:3 "In Munster was worshipped the goddess of prosperity, whose name was Ana, and from her are named the Two Paps of Ana over Luachair Degad." From Coir Anmann, the Choice of Names, a sixteenth-century tract, published by Dr. Whitley Stokes in Irische Texte.

51:1 Attributed to Cormac, King-Bishop of Cashel.

51:2 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, 1886--"The Zeus of the Insular Celts".

51:3 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, 1886--"The Gaulish Pantheon".

52:1 Pharsalia, Book I, 1. 444, &c.:


"Et quibus immitis placatur sanguine diro
Teutates, horrensque feris altaribus Hesus;
Et Taranis Scythicae non mitior ara Dianae".


52:2 Iliad, Book V.

52:3 Op, cit., Book XIV.

52:4 It commemorates the battle of Magh Rath.

53:1 The word is approximately pronounced Bive or Bibe.

53:2 For a full account of these beings see a paper by Mr. W. M. Hennessey in Vol. 1 of the Revue Celtique, entitled "The Ancient Irish Goddess of War".

54:1 De Jubainville: Le Cycle Mythologique. Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 154. The Coir Anmann, however, translates it "Fire of God".

54:2 The Second Battle of Moytura. Harleian MS. 5280.

55:1 The story is told in the Book of Leinster.

55:2 Now called "Trinity Well".

55:3 See chap. XIV--"Finn and the Fenians".

56:1 Book of Leinster. A paraphrase of the story will be found in O’Curry's Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, Vol. II, p. 143.

56:2 See chap. XV--"The Decline and Fall of the Gods".

57:1 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 331.

57:2 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 331.

57:3 See chap. XI--"The Gods in Exile".

58:1 See chap. VIII--"The Gaelic Argonauts".

59:1 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 524.

60:1 Pronounced Bove.

60:2 Lêr--genitive Lir.

61:1 Pronounced Dianket. His name is explained, both in the Choice of Names and in Cormac's Glossary, as meaning "God of Health".

62:1 Standish O’Grady: The Story of Ireland, p. 17

62:2 Pronounced Luga or Loo.

62:3 Pronounced Lavāda.

63:1 Translated by O’Curry in Atlantis, Vol. III, from the Book of Lismore.

63:2 Chap. VIII--"The Gaelic Argonauts".

63:3 Chap. VII--"The Rise of the Sun-God".

64:1 Rhys: Celtic Britain, chap. VII.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:15:16 pm
CHAPTER VI
THE GODS ARRIVE
The people of the goddess Danu were not the first divine inhabitants of Ireland. Others had been before them, dwellers in "the dark backward and abysm of time". In this the Celtic mythology resembles those of other nations, in almost all of which we find an old, dim realm of gods standing behind the reigning Pantheon. Such were Cronos and the Titans, dispossessed by the Zeus who seemed, even to Hesiod, something of a parvenu deity. Gaelic tradition recognizes two divine dynasties anterior to the Tuatha Dé Danann. The first of these was called "The Race of Partholon". Its head and leader came--as all gods and men came, according to Celtic ideas--from the Other World, and landed in Ireland with a retinue of twenty-four males and twenty-four females upon the first of May, the day called "Beltaine", sacred to Bilé, the god of death. At this remote time, Ireland consisted of only one treeless, grassless plain, watered by three lakes and nine rivers. But, as the race of Partholon increased, the land stretched, or widened, under them--some said miraculously, and others, by the labours of Partholon's people. At any rate, during the three hundred years they dwelt there, it grew from one

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plain to four, and acquired seven new lakes; which was fortunate, for the race of Partholon increased from forty-eight members to five thousand, in spite of battles with the Fomors.

These would seem to have been inevitable. Whatever gods ruled, they found themselves in eternal opposition to the not-gods--the powers of darkness, winter, evil, and death. The race of Partholon warred against them with success. At the Plain of Ith, Partholon defeated their leader, a gigantic demon called Cichol the Footless, and dispersed his deformed and monstrous host. After this there was quiet for three hundred years. Then--upon the same fatal first of May--there began a mysterious epidemic, which lasted a week, and destroyed them all. In premonition of their end, they foregathered upon the original, first-created plain--then called Sen Mag, or the "Old Plain",--so that those who survived might the more easily bury those that died. Their funeral-place is still marked by a mound near Dublin, called "Tallaght" in the maps, but formerly known as Tamlecht Muintre Partholain, the "Plague-grave of Partholon's People". This would seem to have been a development of the very oldest form of the legend--which knew nothing of a plague, but merely represented the people of Partholon as having returned, after their sojourn in Ireland, to the other world, whence they came--and is probably due to the gradual euhemerization of the ancient gods into ancient men.

Following the race of Partholon, came the race

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of Nemed, which carried on the work and traditions of its forerunner. During its time, Ireland again enlarged herself, to the extent of twelve new plains and four more lakes. Like the people of Partholon, the race of Nemed struggled with the Fomors, and defeated them in four consecutive battles. Then Nemed died, with two thousand of his people, from an epidemic, and the remnant, left without their leader, were terribly oppressed by the Fomors. Two Fomorian kings--Morc, son of Dela, and Conann, son of Febar--had built a tower of glass upon Tory Island, always their chief strong-hold, and where stories of them still linger, and from this vantage-point they dictated a tax which recalls that paid, in Greek story, to the Cretan Minotaur. Two-thirds of the children born to the race of Nemed during the year were to be delivered up on each day of Samhain. Goaded by this to a last desperate effort, the survivors of Nemed's people attacked the tower, and took it, Conann perishing in the struggle. But their triumph was short. Morc, the other king, collected his forces, and inflicted such a slaughter upon the people of Nemed that, out of the sixteen thousand who had assembled for the storming of the tower, only thirty survived. And these returned whence they came, or died--the two acts being, mythologically speaking, the same. 1

One cannot help seeing a good deal of similarity between the stories of these two mythical invasions of Ireland. Especially noticeable is the account of


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the epidemic which destroyed all Partholon's people and nearly all of Nemed's. Hence it has been held that the two legends are duplicates, and that there was at first only one, which has been adapted somewhat differently by two races, the Iberians and the Gaels. Professor Rhys considers 1 the account of Nemed to have been the original Celtic one, and the Partholon story, the version of it which the native races made to please themselves. The name "Partholon", with its initial p, is entirely foreign to the genius of Gaelic speech. Moreover, Partholon himself is given, by the early chroniclers, ancestors whose decidedly non-Aryan names reappear afterwards as the names of Fir Bolg chiefs. Nemed was later than Partholon in Ireland, as the Gaels, or "Milesians", were later than the Iberians, or "Fir Bolgs".

These "Fir Bolgs" are found in myth as the next colonizers of Ireland. Varying traditions say that they came from Greece, or from "Spain"--which was a post-Christian euphemism for the Celtic Hades. 2 They consisted of three tribes, called the "Fir Domnann" or "Men of Domnu", the "Fir Gaillion" or "Men of Gaillion", and the "Fir Bolg" or "Men of Bolg"; but, in spite of the fact that the first-named tribe was the most important, they are usually called collectively after the last. Curious stories are told of their life in Greece, and how they came to Ireland; but these are somewhat factitious, and obviously do not belong to the earliest tradition.


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In the time of their domination they had, we are told, partitioned Ireland among them: the Fir Bolg held Ulster; the Fir Domnann, divided into three kingdoms, occupied North Munster, South Munster, and Connaught; while the Fir Gaillion owned Leinster. These five provinces met at a hill then called "Balor's Hill", but afterwards the "Hill of Uisnech". It is near Rathconrath, in the county of West Meath, and was believed, in early times, to mark the exact centre of Ireland. They held the country from the departure of the people of Nemed to the coming of the people of the goddess Danu, and during this period they had nine supreme kings. At the time of the arrival of the gods, their king's name was Eochaid 1 son of Erc, surnamed "The Proud".

We have practically no other details regarding their life in Ireland. It is obvious, however, that they were not really gods, but the pre-Aryan race which the Gaels, when they landed in Ireland, found already in occupation. There are many instances of peoples at a certain stage of culture regarding tribes in a somewhat lower one as semi-divine, or, rather, half-diabolical. 2 The suspicion and fear with which the early Celts must have regarded the savage aborigines made them seem "larger than human". They feared them for the weird magical rites which they practised in their inaccessible forts among the hills, amid storms and mountain mists. The Gaels, who held themselves to be the children of light, deemed these "dark Iberians" children of


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the dark. Their tribal names seem to have been, in several instances, founded upon this idea. There were the Corca-Oidce ("People of Darkness") and the Corca-Duibhne ("People of the Night"). The territory of the western tribe of the Hi Dorchaide ("Sons of Dark") was called the "Night Country". 1 The Celts, who held their own gods to have preceded them into Ireland, would not believe that even the Tuatha Dé Danann could have wrested the land from these magic-skilled Iberians without battle.

They seem also to have been considered as in some way connected with the Fomors. Just as the largest Iberian tribe was called the "Men of Domnu", so the Fomors were called the "Gods of Domnu", and Indech, one of their kings, is a "son of Domnu". Thus eternal battle between the gods, children of Danu, and the giants, children of Domnu, would reflect, in the supernatural world, the perpetual warfare between invading Celt and resisting Iberian. It is shadowed, too, in the later heroic cycle. The champions of Ulster, Aryans and Gaels par excellence, have no such bitter enemies as the Fir Domnann of Munster and the Fir Gaillion of Leinster. A few scholars would even see in the later death-struggle between the High King of Ireland and his rebellious Fenians the last historic or mythological adumbration of racial war. 2

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:16:48 pm
The enemies alike of Fir Bolg and Fomor, the Tuatha Dé Danann, gods of the Gaels, were the next to arrive. What is probably the earliest account tells us that they came from the sky. Later versions, however, give them a habitation upon earth--some say in the north, others in the "southern isles of the world". They had dwelt in four mythical cities called Findias, Gorias, Murias, and Falias, where they had learned poetry and magic--to the primitive mind two not very dissimilar things--and whence they had brought to Ireland their four chief treasures. From Findias came Nuada's sword, from whose stroke no one ever escaped or recovered; from Gorias, Lugh's terrible lance; from Murias, the Dagda's cauldron; and from Falias, the Stone of Fál, better known as the "Stone of Destiny", which afterwards fell into the hands of the early kings of Ireland. According to legend, it had the magic property of uttering a human cry when touched by the rightful King of Erin. Some have recognized in this marvellous stone the same rude block which Edward I brought from Scone in the year 1300, and placed in Westminster Abbey, where it now forms part of the Coronation Chair. It is a curious fact that, while Scottish legend asserts this stone to have come to Scotland from Ireland, Irish legend should also declare that it was taken from Ireland to Scotland. This would sound like conclusive evidence, but it is none the less held by leading modern archæologists--including Dr. W. F. Skene, who has published a monograph on the subject 1--that the Stone of Scone and the Stone of


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[paragraph continues] Tara were never the same. Dr. Petrie identifies the real Lia Fáil with a stone which has always remained in Ireland, and which was removed from its original position on Tara Hill, in 1798, to mark the tomb of the rebels buried close by under a mound now known as "the Croppies' grave". 1

Whether the Tuatha Dé Danann came from earth or heaven, they landed in a dense cloud upon the coast of Ireland on the mystic first of May without having been opposed, or even noticed by the people whom it will be convenient to follow the manuscript authorities in calling the "Fir Bolgs". 2 That those might still be ignorant of their coming, the Morrígú, helped by Badb and Macha, made use of the magic they had learned in Findias, Gorias, Murias, and Falias. They spread "druidically-formed showers and fog-sustaining shower-clouds" over the country, and caused the air to pour down fire and blood upon the Fir Bolgs, so that they were obliged to shelter themselves for three days and three nights. But the Fir Bolgs had druids of their own, and, in the end, they put a stop to these enchantments by counter-spells, and the air grew clear again.

The Tuatha Dé Danann, advancing westward, had reached a place called the "Plain of the Sea", in Leinster, when the two armies met. Each sent out a warrior to parley. The two adversaries approached


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each other cautiously, their eyes peeping over the tops of their shields. Then, coming gradually nearer, they spoke to one another, and the desire to examine each other's weapons made them almost friends.

The envoy of the Fir Bolgs looked with wonder at the "beautifully-shaped, thin, slender, long, sharp-pointed spears" of the warrior of the Tuatha Dé Danann, while the ambassador of the tribe of the goddess Danu was not less impressed by the lances of the Fir Bolgs, which were "heavy, thick, pointless, but sharply-rounded". They agreed to exchange weapons, so that each side might, by an examination of them, be able to come to some opinion as to its opponent's strength. Before parting, the envoy of the Tuatha Dé Danann offered the Fir Bolgs, through their representative, peace, with a division of the country into two equal halves.

The Fir Bolg envoy advised his people to accept this offer. But their king, Eochaid, son of Erc, would not. "If we once give these people half," he said, "they will soon have the whole."

The people of the goddess Danu were, on the other hand, very much impressed by the sight of the Fir Bolgs' weapons. They decided to secure a more advantageous position, and, retreating farther west into Connaught, to a plain then called Nia, but now Moytura, near the present village of Cong, they drew up their line at its extreme end, in front of the pass of Balgatan 1, which offered a retreat in case of defeat.


p. 74

The Fir Bolgs followed them, and encamped on the nearer side of the plain. Then Nuada, King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, sent an ambassador offering the same terms as before. Again the Fir Bolgs declined them.

"Then when", asked the envoy, "do you intend to give battle?"

"We must have a truce," they said, "for we want time to repair our armour, burnish our helmets, and sharpen our swords. Besides, we must have spears like yours made for us, and you must have spears like ours made for you."

The result of this chivalrous, but, to modern ideas, amazing, parley was that a truce of one hundred and five days was agreed upon.

It was on Midsummer Day that the opposing armies at last met. The people of the goddess Danu appeared in "a flaming line", wielding their "red-bordered, speckled, and firm shields". Opposite to them were ranged the Fir Bolgs, "sparkling, brilliant, and flaming, with their swords, spears, blades, and trowel-spears". The proceedings began with a kind of deadly hurley-match, in which thrice nine of the Tuatha Dé Danann played the same number of the Fir Bolgs, and were defeated and killed. Then followed another parley, to decide how the battle should be carried on, whether there should be fighting every day or only on every second day. Moreover, Nuada obtained from Eochaid an assurance that the battles should always be fought with equal numbers, although this was, we are told, "very disagreeable to the Fir Bolg

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king, because he had largely the advantage in the numbers of his army". Then warfare recommenced with a series of single combats, like those of the Greeks and Trojans in the "Iliad". At the end of each day the conquerors on both sides went back to their camps, and were refreshed by being bathed in healing baths of medicinal herbs.

So the fight went on for four days, with terrible slaughter upon each side. A Fir Bolg champion called Sreng fought in single combat with Nuada, the King of the Gods, and shore off his hand and half his shield with one terrific blow. Eochaid, the King of the Fir Bolgs, was even less fortunate than Nuada; for he lost his life. Suffering terribly from thirst, he went, with a hundred of his men, to look for water, and was followed, and pursued as far as the strand of Ballysadare, in Sligo. Here he turned to bay, but was killed, his grave being still marked by a tumulus. The Fir Bolgs, reduced at last to three hundred men, demanded single combat until all upon one side were slain. But, sooner than consent to this, the Tuatha Dé Danann offered them a fifth part of Ireland, whichever province they might choose. They agreed, and chose Connaught, ever afterwards their especial home, and where, until the middle of the seventeenth century, men were still found tracing their descent from Sreng.

The whole story has a singularly historical, curiously unmythological air about it, which contrasts strangely with the account of the other battle of the same name which the Tuatha Dé Danann waged

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afterwards with the Fomors. The neighbourhood of Cong still preserves both relics and traditions of the fight. Upon the plain of "Southern Moytura" (as it is called, to distinguish it from the "Northern Moytura" of the second battle) are many circles and tumuli. These circles are especially numerous near the village itself; and it is said that there were formerly others, which have been used for making walls and dykes. Large cairns of stones, too, are scattered over what was certainly once the scene of a great battle. 1 These various prehistoric monuments each have their still-told story; and Sir William Wilde, as he relates in his Lough Corrib, 2 was so impressed by the unexpected agreement between the details of the legendary battle, as he read them in the ancient manuscript, and the traditions still attaching to the mounds, circles, and cairns, that he tells us he could not help coming to the conclusion that the account was absolutely historical. Certainly the coincidences are curious. His opinion was that the "Fir Bolgs" were a colony of Belgæ, and that the "Tuatha Dé Danann" were Danes. But the people of the goddess Danu are too obviously mythical to make it worth while to seek any standing-ground for them in the world of reality. In their superhuman attributes, they are quite different from the Fir Bolgs. In the epical cycle it is made as clear that the Tuatha Dé Danann are divine beings as it is that the Fir Bolg, the Fir Domnann, and the Fir Gaillion stand on exactly


p. 77

the same footing as the men of Ulster. Later history records by what Milesian kings and on what terms of rack-rent the three tribes were allowed settlements in other parts of Ireland than their native Connaught. They appear in ancient, mediæval, and almost modern chronicles as the old race of the land. The truth seems to be that the whole story of the war between the gods and the Fir Bolgs is an invention of comparatively late times. In the earliest documents there is only one battle of Moytura, fought between the people of the goddess Danu and the Fomors. The idea of doubling it seems to date from after the eleventh century; 1 and its inventor may very well have used the legends concerning this battle-field, where two unknown armies had fought in days gone by, in compiling his story. It never belonged to the same genuine mythological stratum as the legend of the original battle fought by the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of the Gaels, against the Fomors, the gods of the Iberians.


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Footnotes
67:1 De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique, chap. V.

68:1 Rhys: "The Mythographical Treatment of Celtic Ethnology", Scottish Review, Oct. 1890.

68:2 De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique, chap. v. Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, pp. 90, 91.

69:1 Pronounced Ecca or Eohee.

69:2 Gomme: Ethnology in Folklore, chap. III--"The Mythic Influence of a Conquered Race"

70:1 Elton: Origins of English History, note to p. 136.

70:2 It has been contended that the Fenians were originally the gods or heroes of an aboriginal people in Ireland, the myths about them representing the pre-Celtic and pre-Aryan ideal, as the sagas of the Red Branch of Ulster embodied that of the Celtic Aryans. The question, however, is as yet far from being satisfactorily solved.

71:1 The Coronation Stone, by William Forbes Skene.

72:1 See History and Antiquities of Tara Hill.

72:2 Our authorities for the details of this war between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fir Bolgs are the opening verses of the Harleian MS. 5280, as translated by Stokes and De Jubainville, and Eugene O’Curry's translations, in his MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History and his Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, from a manuscript preserved at Trinity College, Dublin.

73:1 Now called Benlevi.

76:1 See Dr. James Fergusson: Rude Stone Monuments, pp. 177-180.

76:2 Lough Corrib, Its Shores and Islands, by Sir William R. Wilde, chap. VIII.

77:1 De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique Irlandais, p. 156.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:18:29 pm
CHAPTER VII
THE RISE OF THE SUN-GOD 1
It was as a result of the loss of his hand in this battle with the Fir Bolgs that Nuada got his name of Argetlám, that is, the "Silver Handed". For Diancecht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, made him an artificial hand of silver, so skilfully that it moved in all, its joints, and was as strong and supple as a real one. But, good as it was of its sort, it was a blemish; and, according to Celtic custom, no maimed person could sit upon the throne. Nuada was deposed; and the Tuatha Dé Danann went into council to appoint a new king.

They agreed that it would be a politic thing for them to conciliate the Fomors, the giants of the sea, and make an alliance with them. So they sent a message to Bress, the son of the Fomorian king, Elathan, asking him to come and rule over them. Bress accepted this offer; and they made a marriage between him and Brigit, the daughter of the Dagda. At the same time, Cian 2, the son of Diancecht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, married


p. 79

[paragraph continues] Ethniu, the daughter of the Fomor, Balor. Then Bress was made king, and endowed with lands and a palace; and he, on his part, gave hostages that he would abdicate if his rule ever became unpleasing to those who had elected him.

But, in spite of all his fair promises, Bress, who belonged in heart to his own fierce people, began to oppress his subjects with excessive taxes. He put a tax upon every hearth, upon every kneading-trough, and upon every quern, as well as a poll-tax of an ounce of gold upon every member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. By a crafty trick, too, he obtained the milk of all their cattle. He asked at first only for the produce of any cows which happened to be brown and hairless, and the people of the goddess Danu granted him this cheerfully. But Bress passed all the cattle in Ireland between two fires, so that their hair was singed off, and thus obtained the monopoly of the main source of food. To earn a livelihood, all the gods, even the greatest, were now forced to labour for him. Ogma, their champion, was sent out to collect firewood, while the Dagda was put to work building forts and castles.

One day, when the Dagda was at his task, his son, Angus, came to him. "You have nearly finished that castle," he said. "What reward do you intend to ask from Bress when it is done?" The Dagda replied that he had not yet thought of it. "Let me give you some advice," said Angus. "Ask Bress to have all the cattle in Ireland gathered together upon a plain, so that you can pick out one

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for yourself. He will consent to that. Then choose the black-maned heifer called 'Ocean'."

The Dagda finished building the fort, and then went to Bress for his reward. "What will you have?" asked Bress. "I want all the cattle in Ireland gathered together upon a plain, so that I may choose one of them for myself." Bress did this; and the Dagda took the black-maned heifer Angus had told him of. The king, who had expected to be asked very much more, laughed at what he thought was the Dagda's simplicity. But Angus had been wise; as will be seen hereafter.

Meanwhile Bress was infuriating the people of the goddess Danu by adding avarice to tyranny. It was for kings to be liberal to all-comers, but at the court of Bress no one ever greased his knife with fat, or made his breath smell of ale. Nor were there ever any poets or musicians or jugglers or jesters there to give pleasure to the people; for Bress would distribute no largess. Next, he cut down the very subsistence of the gods. So scanty was his allowance of food that they began to grow weak with famine. Ogma, through feebleness, could only carry one-third of the wood needed for fuel; so that they suffered from cold as well as from hunger.

It was at this crisis that two physicians, Miach, the son, and Airmid, the daughter, of Diancecht, the god of medicine, came to the castle where the dispossessed King Nuada lived. Nuada's porter, blemished, like himself (for he had lost an eye), was sitting at the gate, and on his lap was a cat curled up asleep. The porter asked the strangers who

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they were. "We are good doctors," they said. "If that is so," he replied, "perhaps you can give me a new eye." "Certainly," they said, "we could take one of the eyes of that cat, and put it in the place where your lost eye used to be." "I should be very pleased if you would do that," answered the porter, So Miach and Airmid removed one of the cat's eyes, and put it in the hollow where the man's eye had been.

The story goes on to say that this was not wholly a benefit to him; for the eye retained its cat's nature, and, when the man wished to sleep at nights, the cat's eye was always looking out for mice, while it could hardly be kept awake during the day. Nevertheless, he was pleased at the time, and went and told Nuada, who commanded that the doctors who had performed this marvellous cure should be brought to him.

As they came in, they heard the king groaning, for Nuada's wrist had festered where the silver hand joined the arm of flesh. Miach asked where Nuada's own hand was, and they told him that it had been buried long ago. But he dug it up, and placed it to Nuada's stump; he uttered an incantation over it, saying: "Sinew to sinew, and nerve to nerve be joined!" and in three days and nights the hand had renewed itself and fixed itself to the arm, so that Nuada was whole again.

When Diancecht, Miach's father, heard of this he was very angry to think that his son should have excelled him in the art of medicine. He sent for him, and struck him upon the head with a sword, cutting

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the skin, but not wounding the flesh. Miach easily healed this. So Diancecht hit him again, this time to the bone. Again Miach cured himself. The third time his father smote him, the sword went right through the skull to the membrane of the brain, but even this wound Miach was able to leech. At the fourth stroke, however, Diancecht cut the brain in two, and Miach could do nothing for that. He died, and Diancecht buried him. And upon his grave there grew up three hundred and sixty-five stalks of grass, each one a cure for any illness of each of the three hundred and sixty-five nerves in a man's body. Airmid, Miach's sister, plucked all these very carefully, and arranged them on her mantle according to their properties. But her angry and jealous father overturned the cloak, and hopelessly confused them. If it had not been for that act, says the early writer, men would know how to cure every illness, and would so be immortal.

The healing of Nuada's blemish happened just at the time when all the people of the goddess Danu had at last agreed that the exactions and tyranny of Bress could no longer be borne. It was the insult he put upon Cairpré, son of Ogma the god of literature, that caused things to come to this head. Poets were always held by the Celts in great honour; and when Cairpré, the bard of the Tuatha Dé Danann, went to visit Bress, he expected to be treated with much consideration, and fed at the king's own table. But, instead of doing so, Bress lodged him in a small, dark room where there was no fire, no bed, and no furniture except

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a mean table on which small cakes of dry bread were put on a little dish for his food. The next morning, Cairpré rose early and left the palace without having spoken to Bress. It was the custom of poets when they left a king's court to utter a panegyric on their host, but Cairpré treated Bress instead to a magical satire. It was the first satire ever made in Ireland, and seems to us to bear upon it all the marks of an early effort. Roughly rendered, it said:


"No meat on the plates,
No milk of the cows;
No shelter for the belated;
No money for the minstrels:
May Bress's cheer be what he gives to others!"

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:20:52 pm
This satire of Cairpré's was, we are assured, so virulent that it caused great red blotches to break out all over Bress's face. This in itself constituted a blemish such as should not be upon a king, and the Tuatha Dé Danann called upon Bress to abdicate and let Nuada take the throne again.

Bress was obliged to do so. He went back to the country of the Fomors, underneath the sea, and complained to his father Elathan, its king, asking him to gather an army to reconquer his throne. The Fomors assembled in council--Elathan, Tethra, Balor, Indech, and all the other warriors and chiefs--and they decided to come with a great host, and take Ireland away, and put it under the sea where the people of the goddess Danu would never be able to find it again.

At the same time, another assembly was also

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being held at Tara, the capital of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Nuada was celebrating his return to the throne by a feast to his people. While it was at its height, a stranger clothed like a king came to the palace gate. The porter asked him his name and errand.

"I am called Lugh," he said. "I am the grand-son of Diancecht by Cian, my father, and the grand-son of Balor by Ethniu, my mother."

"But what is your profession?" asked the porter; "for no one is admitted here unless he is a master of some craft."

"I am a carpenter," said Lugh.

"We have no need of a carpenter. We already have a very good one; his name is Luchtainé.

"I am an excellent smith," said Lugh.

"We do not want a smith. We have a very good one; his name is Goibniu."

"I am a professional warrior," said Lugh.

"We have no need of one. Ogma is our champion."

"I am a harpist," said Lugh.

"We have an excellent harpist already."

"I am a warrior renowned for skilfulness rather than for mere strength."

"We already have a man like that."

"I am a poet and tale-teller," said Lugh.

"We have no need of such. We have a most accomplished poet and tale-teller."

"I am a sorcerer," said Lugh.

"We do not want one. We have numberless sorcerers and druids."

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"I am a physician," said Lugh.

"Diancecht is our physician."

"I am a cup-bearer," said Lugh.

"We already have nine of them."

"I am a worker in bronze."

"We have no need of you. We already have a worker in bronze. His name is Credné."

"Then ask the king," said Lugh, "if he has with him a man who is master of all these crafts at once, for, if he has, there is no need for me to come to Tara."

So the door-keeper went inside, and told the king that a man had come who called himself Lugh the Ioldanach 1, or the "Master of all Arts", and that he claimed to know everything.

The king sent out his best chess-player to play against the stranger. Lugh won, inventing a new move called "Lugh's enclosure".

Then Nuada invited him in. Lugh entered, and sat down upon the chair called the "sage's seat", kept for the wisest man.

Ogma, the champion, was showing off his strength. Upon the floor was a flagstone so large that four-score yokes of oxen would have been needed to move it. Ogma pushed it before him along the hall, and out at the door. Then Lugh rose from his chair, and pushed it back again. But this stone, huge as it was, was only a portion broken from a still greater rock outside the palace. Lugh picked it up, and put it back into its place.

The Tuatha Dé Danann asked him to play the


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harp to them. So he played the "sleep-tune", and the king and all his court fell asleep, and did not wake until the same hour of the following day. Next he played a plaintive air, and they all wept. Lastly, he played a measure which sent them into transports of joy.

When Nuada had seen all these numerous talents of Lugh, he began to wonder whether one so gifted would not be of great help against the Fomors. He took counsel with the others, and, by their advice, lent his throne to Lugh for thirteen days, taking the "sage's seat" at his side.

Lugh summoned all the Tuatha Dé Danann to a council.

"The Fomors are certainly going to make war on us," he said. "What can each of you do to help?"

Diancecht the Physician said: "I will completely cure everyone who is wounded, provided his head is not cut off, or his brain or spinal marrow hurt."

"I," said Goibniu the Smith, "will replace every broken lance and sword with a new one, even though the war last seven years. And I will make the lances so well that they shall never miss their mark, or fail to kill. Dulb, the smith of the Fomors, cannot do as much as that. The fate of the fighting will be decided by my lances."

"And I," said Credné the Bronze-worker, "will furnish all the rivets for the lances, the hilts for the swords, and the rims and bosses for the shields."

"And I," said Luchtainé the Carpenter, "will provide all the shields and lance-shafts."

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Ogma the Champion promised to kill the King of the Fomors, with thrice nine of his followers, and to capture one-third of his army.

"And you, O Dagda," said Lugh, "what will you do?"

"I will fight," said the Dagda, "both with force and craft. Wherever the two armies meet, I will crush the bones of the Fomors with my club, till they are like hailstones under a horse's feet."

"And you, O Morrígú?" said Lugh.

"I will pursue them when they flee," she replied. "And I always catch what I chase."

"And you, O Cairpré, son of Etan?" said Lugh to the poet, "what can you do?"

"I will pronounce an immediately-effective curse upon them; by one of my satires I will take away all their honour, and, enchanted by me, they shall not be able to stand against our warriors."

"And ye, O sorcerers, what will ye do?"

"We will hurl by our magic arts," replied Mathgan, the head sorcerer, "the twelve mountains of Ireland at the Fomors. These mountains will be Slieve League, Denna Ulad, the Mourne Mountains, Bri Ruri, Slieve Bloom, Slieve Snechta, Slemish, Blai-Sliab, Nephin, Sliab Maccu Belgodon, Segais 1, and Cruachan Aigle 2".

Then Lugh asked the cup-bearers what they would do.

"We will hide away by magic," they said, "the twelve chief lakes and the twelve chief rivers of Ireland from the Fomors, so that they shall not be


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able to find any water, however thirsty they may be; those waters will conceal themselves from the Fomors so that they shall not get a drop, while they will give drink to the people of the goddess Danu as long as the war lasts, even if it last seven years." And they told Lugh that the twelve chief lakes were Lough Derg, Lough Luimnigh 1, Lough Corrib, Lough Ree, Lough Mask, Strangford Lough, Lough Læig, Lough Neagh, Lough Foyle, Lough Gara, Lough Reagh, and Márloch, and that the twelve chief rivers were the Bush, the Boyne, the Bann, the Nem, the Lee, the Shannon, the Moy, the Sligo, the Erne, the Finn, the Liffey, and the Suir.

Finally, the Druid, Figol, son of Mamos, said: "I will send three streams of fire into the faces of the Fomors, and I will take away two-thirds of their valour and strength, but every breath drawn by the people of the goddess Danu will only make them more valorous and strong, so that even if the fighting lasts seven years, they will not be weary of it.

All decided to make ready for a war, and to give the direction of it to Lugh.


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Footnotes
78:1 The principal sources of information for this chapter are the Harleian MS. 5280 entitled The Second Battle of Moytura, of which translations have been made by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the Revue Celtique and M. de Jubainville in his L’Épopée Celtique en Irlande, and Eugene O’Curry s translation in Vol. IV. of Atlantis of the Fate of the Children of Tuirenn.

78:2 Pronounced Kian.

85:1 Pronounced Ildāna.

87:1 The Curlieu Hills, between Roscommon and Sligo.

87:2 Croagh Patrick.

88:1 The estuary of the Shannon.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:23:51 pm
CHAPTER VIII
THE GAELIC ARGONAUTS
The preparations for this war are said to have lasted seven years. It was during the interval that there befel an episode which might almost be called the "Argonautica" of the Gaelic mythology. 1

In spite of the dethronement of Bress, the Fomors still claimed their annual tribute from the tribe of the goddess Danu, and sent their tax-gatherers, nine times nine in number, to "Balor's Hill" to collect it. But, while they waited for the gods to come to tender their submission and their subsidy, they saw a young man approaching them. He was riding upon "Splendid Mane", the horse of Manannán son of Lêr, and was dressed in Manannán's breast-plate and helmet, through which no weapon could wound their wearer, and he was armed with sword and shield and poisoned darts. "Like to the setting sun", says the story, "was the splendour of his countenance and his forehead, and they were not able to look in his face for the greatness of his splendour." And no wonder! for he was Lugh the Far-shooter, the new-come sun-god of the Gaels. He fell upon


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the Fomorian tax-gatherers, killing all but nine of them, and these he only spared that they might go back to their kinsmen and tell how the gods had received them.

There was consternation in the under-sea country. "Who can this terrible warrior be?" asked Balor. "I know," said Balor's wife; "he must be the son of our daughter Ethniu; and I foretell that, since he has cast in his lot with his father's people, we shall never bear rule in Erin again."

The chiefs of the Fomors saw that this slaughter of their tax-gatherers signified that the Tuatha Dé Danann meant fighting. They held a council to debate on it. There came to it Elathan and Tethra and Indech, kings of the Fomors; Bress himself, and Balor of the stout blows; Cethlenn the crooked tooth, Balor's wife; Balor's twelve white-mouthed sons; and all the chief Fomorian warriors and druids.

Meanwhile, upon earth, Lugh was sending messengers all over Erin to assemble the Tuatha Dé Danann. Upon this errand went Lugh's father Cian, who seems to have been a kind of lesser solar deity, 1 son of Diancecht, the god of medicine. As Cian was going over the plain of Muirthemne, 2 he saw three armed warriors approaching him, and, when they got nearer, he recognized them as the three sons of Tuirenn, son of Ogma, whose names were Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba. Between these three and Cian, with his brothers Cethé and Cu,


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there was, for some reason, a private enmity. Cian saw that he was now at a disadvantage. "If my brothers were with me," he said to himself, "what a fight we would make; but, as I am alone, it will be best for me to conceal myself." Looking round, he saw a herd of pigs feeding on the plain. Like all the gods, he had the faculty of shape-shifting; so, striking himself with a magic wand, he changed himself into a pig, joined the herd, and began feeding with them.

But he had been seen by the sons of Tuirenn. "What has become of the warrior who was walking on the plain a moment ago?" said Brian to his brothers. "We saw him then," they replied, "but we do not know where he is now." "Then you have not used the proper vigilance which is needed in time of war," said the elder brother. "However, I know what has become of him. He has struck himself with a druidical wand, and changed himself into a pig, and there he is, in that herd, rooting up the ground, just like all the other pigs. I can also tell you who he is. His name is Cian, and you know that he is no friend of ours."

"It is a pity that he has taken refuge among the pigs," they replied, "for they belong to some one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and, even if we were to kill them all, Cian might still escape us."

Again Brian reproached his brothers. "You are very ignorant," he said, "if you cannot distinguish a magical beast from a natural beast. However, I will show you." And thereupon he struck his two brothers with his own wand of shape-changing, and

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turned them into two swift, slender hounds, and set them upon the pigs.

The magic hounds soon found the magic pig, and drove it out of the herd on to the open plain. Then Brian threw his spear, and hit it. The wounded pig came to a stop. "It was an evil deed of yours, casting that spear," it cried, in a human voice, "for I am not a pig, but Cian, son of Diancecht. So give me quarter."

Iuchar and Iucharba would have granted it, and let him go; but their fiercer brother swore that Cian should be put an end to, even if he came back to life seven times. So Cian tried a fresh ruse. "Give me leave", he asked, "only to return to my own shape before you slay me." "Gladly," replied Brian, "for I would much rather kill a man than a pig."

So Cian spoke the befitting spell, cast off his pig's disguise, and stood before them in his own shape. "You will be obliged to spare my life now," he said. "We will not," replied Brian. "Then it will be the worst day's work for all of you that you ever did in your lives," he answered; "for, if you had killed me in the shape of a pig, you would only have had to pay the value of a pig, but if you kill me now, I tell you that there never has been, and there never will be, anyone killed in this world for whose death a greater blood-fine will be exacted than for mine."

But the sons of Tuirenn would not listen to him. They slew him, and pounded his body with stones until it was a crushed mass. Six times they tried

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to bury him, and the earth cast him back in horror; but, the seventh time, the mould held him, and they put stones upon him to keep him down. They left him buried there, and went to Tara.

Meanwhile Lugh had been expecting his father's return. As he did not come, he determined to go and look for him. He traced him to the Plain of Muirthemne, and there he was at fault. But the indignant earth itself, which had witnessed the murder, spoke to Lugh, and told him everything. So Lugh dug up his father's corpse, and made certain how he had come to his death; then he mourned over him, and laid him back in the earth, and heaped a barrow over him, and set up a pillar with his name on it in "ogam". 1

He went back to Tara, and entered the great hall. It was filled with the people of the goddess Danu, and among them Lugh saw the three sons of Tuirenn. So he shook the "chiefs' chain", with which the Gaels used to ask for a hearing in an assembly, and when all were silent, he said:

"People of the goddess Danu, I ask you a question. What would be the vengeance that any of you would take upon one who had murdered his father?"

A great astonishment fell upon them, and Nuada, their king, said: "Surely it is not your father that has been murdered?"

"It is," replied Lugh. "And I am looking at


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those who murdered him; and they know how they did it better than I do."

"Then Nuada declared that nothing short of hewing the murderer of his father limb from limb would satisfy him, and all the others said the same, including the sons of Tuirenn.

"The very ones who did the deed say that," cried Lugh. "Then let them not leave the hall till they have settled with me about the blood-fine to be paid for it."

"If it was I who had killed your father," said the king, "I should think myself lucky if you were willing to accept a fine instead of vengeance."

The sons of Tuirenn took counsel together in whispers. Iuchar and Iucharba were in favour of admitting their guilt, but Brian was afraid that, if they confessed, Lugh would withdraw his offer to accept a fine, and would demand their deaths. So he stood out, and said that, though it was not they who had killed Cian, yet, sooner than remain under Lugh's anger, as he suspected them, they would pay the same fine as if they had.

"Certainly you shall pay the fine," said Lugh, "and I will tell you what it shall be. It is this: three apples; and a pig's-skin; and a spear; and two horses and a chariot; and seven pigs; and a hound-whelp; and a cooking-spit; and three shouts on a hill: that is the fine, and, if you think it is too much, I will remit some of it, but, if you do not think it is too much, then pay it."

"If it were a hundred times that," replied Brian, "we should not think it too much. Indeed, it

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seems so little that I fear there must be some treachery concealed in it."

"I do not think it too little," replied Lugh. "Give me your pledge before the people of the goddess Danu that you will pay it faithfully, and I will give you mine that I will ask no more."

So the sons of Tuirenn bound themselves before the Tuatha Dé Danann to pay the fine to Lugh.

When they had sworn, and given sureties, Lugh turned to them again. "I will now", he said, "explain to you the nature of the fine you have pledged yourselves to pay me, so that you may know whether it is too little or not." And, with foreboding hearts, the sons of Tuirenn set themselves to listen.

"The three apples that I have demanded," he began, "are three apples from the Garden of the Hesperides, in the east of the world. You will know them by three signs. They are the size of the head of a month-old child, they are of the colour of burnished gold, and they taste of honey. Wounds are healed and diseases cured by eating them, and they do not diminish in any way by being eaten. Whoever casts one of them hits anything he wishes, and then it comes back into his hand. I will accept no other apples instead of these. Their owners keep them perpetually guarded because of a prophecy that three young warriors from the west of the world will come to take them by force, and, brave as you may be, I do not think that you will ever get them.

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:25:58 pm
"The pig's-skin that I have demanded is the pig's-skin of Tuis, King of Greece. It has two virtues: its touch perfectly cures all wounded or sick persons if only there is any life still left in them; and every stream of water through which it passes is turned into wine for nine days. I do not think that you will get it from the King of Greece, either with his consent or without it.

"And can you guess what spear it is that I have demanded?" asked Lugh. "We cannot," they said. "It is the poisoned spear of Pisear 1, King of Persia; it is irresistible in battle; it is so fiery that its blade must always be held under water, lest it destroy the city in which it is kept. You will find it very difficult to obtain.

"And the two horses and the chariot are the two wonderful horses of Dobhar 2, King of Sicily, which run equally well over land and sea; there are no other horses in the world like them, and no other vehicle equal to the chariot.

"And the seven pigs are the pigs of Easal 3, King of the Golden Pillars; though they may be killed every night, they are found alive again the next day, and every person that eats part of them can never be afflicted with any disease.

"And the hound-whelp I claim is the hound-whelp of the King of Ioruaidhe 4; her name is Failinis; every wild beast she sees she catches at once. It will not be easy for you to secure her.

"The cooking-spit which you must get for me is one of the cooking-spits of the women of the Island


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of Fian****vél 1, which is at the bottom of the sea, between Erin and Alba.

"You have also pledged yourselves to give three shouts upon a hill. The hill upon which they must be given is the hill called Cnoc Miodhchaoin 2, in the north of Lochlann 3. Miodhchaoin and his sons do not allow shouts to be given on that hill; besides this, it was they who gave my father his military education, and, even if I were to forgive you, they would not; so that, though you achieve all the other adventures, I think that you will fail in this one.

"Now you know what sort of a fine it is that you have bargained to pay me," said Lugh.

And fear and astonishment fell upon the sons of Tuirenn.

This tale is evidently the work of some ancient Irish story-teller who wished to compile from various sources a more or less complete account of how the Gaelic gods obtained their legendary possessions. The spear of Pisear, King of Persia, is obviously the same weapon as the lance of Lugh, which another tradition describes as having been brought by the Tuatha Dé Danann from their original home in the city of Gorias; 4 Failinis, the whelp of the King of Ioruaidhe, is Lugh's "hound of mightiest deeds", which was irresistible in battle, and which turned any running water it bathed in into wine, 5 a property here transferred to the magic pig's-skin of King Tuis: the seven swine of the King of the


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[paragraph continues] Golden Pillars must be the same undying porkers from whose flesh Manannán mac Lir made the "Feast of Age" which preserved the eternal youth of the gods; 1 it was with horses and chariot that ran along the surface of the sea that Manannán used to journey to and fro between Erin and the Celtic Elysium in the West; 2 the apples that grew in the Garden of the Hesperides were surely of the same celestial growth as those that fed the inhabit-ants of that immortal country; 3 while the cooking-spit reminds us of three such implements at Tara, made by Goibniu and associated with the names of the Dagda and the Morrígú. 4

The burden of collecting all these treasures was placed upon the shoulders of the three sons of Tuirenn.

They consulted together, and agreed that they could never hope to succeed unless they had Manannán's magic horse, "Splendid Mane", and Manannán's magic coracle, "Wave-sweeper". But both these had been lent by Manannán to Lugh himself. So the sons of Tuirenn were obliged to humble themselves to beg them from Lugh. The sun-god would not lend them the horse, for fear of making their task too easy, but he let them have the boat, because he knew how much the spear of Pisear and the horses of Dobhar would be needed in the coming war with the Fomors. They bade farewell to their father, and went down to the shore and put out to sea, taking their sister with them.


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"Which portion of the fine shall we seek first?" said the others to Brian. "We will seek them in the order in which they were demanded," he replied. So they directed the magic boat to sail to the Garden of the Hesperides, and presently they arrived there.

They landed at a harbour, and held a council of war. It was decided that their best chance of obtaining three of the apples would be by taking the shapes of hawks. Thus they would have strength enough in their claws to carry the apples away, together with sufficient quickness upon the wing to hope to escape the arrows, darts, and sling-stones which would be shot and hurled at them by the warders of the garden.

They swooped down upon the orchard from above. It was done so swiftly that they carried off the three apples, unhit either by shaft or stone. But their difficulties were not yet over. The king of the country had three daughters who were well skilled in witchcraft. By sorcery they changed themselves into three ospreys, and pursued the three hawks. But the sons of Tuirenn reached the shore first, and, changing themselves into swans, dived into the sea. They came up close to their coracle, and got into it, and sailed swiftly away with the spoil.

Thus their first quest was finished, and they voyaged on to Greece, to seek the pig's-skin of King Tuis. No one could go without some excuse into a king's court, so they decided to disguise themselves as poets, and to tell the door-keeper that they were professional bards from Erin, seeking largess at the hands of kings. The porter let them

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into the great hall, where the poets of Greece were singing before the king.

When those had all finished, Brian rose, and asked permission to show his art. This was ac-corded; and he sang:


"O Tuis, we conceal not thy fame.
We praise thee as the oak above the kings;
The skin of a pig, bounty without hardness!
This is the reward which I ask for it.

"A stormy host and raging sea
Are a dangerous power, should one oppose it.
The skin of a pig, bounty without hardness!
This is the reward I ask, O Tuis."


"That is a good poem," said the king, "only I do not understand it."

"I will explain it," said Brian. "'We praise thee as the oak above the kings'; this means that, as the oak excels all other trees, so do you excel all other kings in nobility and generosity. 'The skin of a pig, bounty without hardness'; that is a pig's-skin which you have, O Tuis, and which I should like to receive as the reward of my poem. 'A stormy host and raging sea are a dangerous power, should one oppose it'; this means to say, that we are not used to going without anything on which we have set our hearts, O Tuis."

"I should have liked your poem better," replied the king, "if my pig's-skin had not been mentioned in it. It was not a wise thing for you to have done, O poet. But I will measure three fills of red gold out of the skin, and you shall have those."


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:27:05 pm
"May all good be thine, O King!" answered Brian. "I knew that I should get a noble reward."

So the king sent for the pig's-skin to measure out the gold with. But, as soon as Brian saw it, he seized it with his left hand, and slew the man who was holding it, and Iuchar and Iucharba also hacked about them; and they cut their way down to the boat, leaving the King of Greece among the dead behind them.

"And now we will go and get King Pisear's spear," said Brian. So, leaving Greece, they sailed in their coracle to Persia.

Their plan of disguising themselves as poets had served them so well that they decided to make use of it again. So they went into the King of Persia's hall in the same way as they had entered that of the King of Greece. Brian first listened to the poets of Persia singing; then he sang his own song:


"Small the esteem of any spear with Pisear;
The battles of foes are broken;
No oppression to Pisear;
Everyone whom he wounds.

"A yew-tree, the finest of the wood,
It is called King without opposition.
May that splendid shaft drive on
Yon crowd into their wounds of death."


"That is a good poem, O man of Erin," said the king, "but why is my spear mentioned in it?"

"The meaning is this," replied Brian: "I should like to receive that spear as a reward for my poem."

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"You make a rash request," said the king. "If I spare your life after having heard it, it will be a sufficient reward for your poem."

Brian had one of the magic apples in his hand, and he remembered its boomerang-like quality. He hurled it full in the King of Persia's face, dashing out his brains. The Persians flew to arms, but the three sons of Tuirenn conquered them, and made them yield up the spear.

They had now to travel to Sicily, to obtain the horses and chariot of King Dobhar. But they were afraid to go as poets this time, for fear the fame of their deeds might have got abroad. They therefore decided to pretend to be mercenary soldiers from Erin, and offer the King of Sicily their service. This, they thought, would be the easiest way of finding out where the horses and the chariot were kept. So they went and stood on the green before the royal court.

When the King of Sicily heard that there had come mercenaries from Erin, seeking wages from the kings of the world, he invited them to take service with him. They agreed; but, though they stayed with him a fortnight and a month, they never saw the horses, or even found out where they were kept. So they went to the king, and announced that they wished to leave him.

"Why?" he asked, for he did not want them to go.

"We will tell you, O King!" replied Brian. "It is because we have not been honoured with your confidence, as we have been accustomed with other

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kings. You have two horses and a chariot, the best in the world, and we have not even been allowed to see them."

"I would have shown them to you on the first day if you had asked me," said the king; "and you shall see them at once, for I have seldom had warriors with me so good as you are, and I do not wish you to leave me."

So he sent for the steeds, and had them yoked to the chariot, and the sons of Tuirenn were witnesses of their marvellous speed, and how they could run equally well over land or water.

Brian made a sign to his brothers, and they watched their opportunity carefully, and, as the chariot passed close beside them, Brian leaped into it, hurling its driver over the side. Then, turning the horses, he struck King Dobhar with Pisear's spear, and killed him. He took his two brothers up into the chariot and they drove away.

By the time the sons of Tuirenn reached the country of Easal, King of the Pillars of Gold, rumour had gone before them. The king came down to the harbour to meet them, and asked them if it were really true that so many kings had fallen at their hands. They replied that it was true, but that they had no quarrel with any of them; only they must obtain at all costs the fine demanded by Lugh. Then Easal asked them why they had come to his land, and they told him that they needed his seven pigs to add to the tribute. So Easal thought it better to give them up, and to make friends with the three sons of Tuirenn, than to fight with such

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warriors. The sons of Tuirenn were very glad at this, for they were growing weary of battles.

It happened that the King of Ioruaidhe, who had the hound-whelp that Lugh had demanded, was the husband of King Easal's daughter. Therefore King Easal did not wish that there should be fighting between him and the three sons of Tuirenn. He proposed to Brian and his brothers that he should sail with them to Ioruaidhe, and try to persuade the king of the country to give up the hound-whelp peacefully. They consented, and all set foot safely on the "delightful, wonderful shores of Ioruaidhe ", 1 as the manuscript calls them. But King Easal's son-in-law would not listen to reason. He assembled his warriors, and fought; but the sons of Tuirenn defeated them, and compelled their king to yield up the hound-whelp as the ransom for his life.

All these quests had been upon the earth, but the next was harder. No coracle, not even Manannán's "Wave-sweeper", could penetrate to the Island of Fian****vé, in the depths of the sea that severs Erin from Alba. So Brian left his brothers, and put on his "water-dress, with his transparency of glass upon his head"--evidently an ancient Irish anticipation of the modern diver's dress. Thus equipped, he explored the bottom of the sea for fourteen days before he found the island. But when at last he reached it, and entered the hall of its queen, she and her sea-maidens were so amazed at Brian's hardihood in having penetrated


p. 105

to their kingdom that they presented him with the cooking-spit, and sent him back safe.

By this time, Lugh had found out by his magic arts that the sons of Tuirenn had obtained all the treasures he had demanded as the blood-fine. He desired to get them safely into his own custody before his victims went to give their three shouts upon Miodhchaoin's Hill. He therefore wove a druidical spell round them, so that they forgot the rest of their task altogether, and sailed back to Erin. They searched for Lugh, to give him the things, but he had gone away, leaving word that they were to be handed over to Nuada, the Tuatha Dé Danann king. As soon as they were in safe-keeping, Lugh came back to Tara and found the sons of Tuirenn there. And he said to them:

"Do you not know that it is unlawful to keep back any part of a blood-fine? So have you given those three shouts upon Miodhchaoin's Hill?"

Then the magic mist of forgetfulness fell from them, and they remembered. Sorrowfully they went back to complete their task.

Miodhchaoin 1 himself was watching for them, and, when he saw them land, he came down to the beach. Brian attacked him, and they fought with the swiftness of two bears and the ferocity of two lions until Miodhchaoin fell.

Then Miodhchaoin's three sons--Corc, Conn, and Aedh--came out to avenge their father, and they drove their spears through the bodies of the three sons of Tuirenn. But the three sons of Tuirenn


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also drove their spears through the bodies of the three sons of Miodhchaoin.

The three sons of Miodhchaoin were killed, and the three sons of Tuirenn were so sorely wounded that birds might have flown through their bodies from one side to the other. Nevertheless Brian was still able to stand upright, and he held his two brothers, one in each hand, and kept them on their feet, and, all together, they gave three faint, feeble shouts.

Their coracle bore them, still living, to Erin. They sent their father Tuirenn as a suppliant to Lugh, begging him to lend them the magic pig's-skin to heal their wounds.

But Lugh would not, for he had counted upon their fight with the sons of Miodhchaoin to avenge his father Cian's death. So the children of Tuirenn resigned themselves to die, and their father made a farewell song over them and over himself, and died with them.

Thus ends that famous tale--"The Fate of the Sons of Tuirenn", known as one of the "Three Sorrowful Stories of Erin". 1


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Footnotes
89:1 This story of the Fate of the Children of Tuirenn is mentioned in the ninth-century "Cormac's Glossary". It is found in various Irish and Scottish MSS., including the Book of Lecan. The present retelling is from Eugene O’Curry's translation, published in Atlantis, Vol. IV.

90:1 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, pp. 390-396.

90:2 A part of County Louth, between the Boyne and Dundalk. The heroic cycle connects it especially with Cuchulainn. Pronounced M\ŭrthemna or M\ŭrhevna.

93:1 There is known to have been a hill called Ard Chein (Cian's Mound) in the district of Muirthemne, and O’Curry identifies it tentatively with one now called Dromslian.

96:1 Pronounced Pēzar.

96:2 Pronounced Dobar.

96:3 Pronounced Asal.

96:4 Pronounced Irōda.

97:1 Pronounced Fincāra.

97:2 The Hill (cnoc) of Midkēna.

97:3 A mythical country inhabited by Fomors.

97:4 See chap. VI--"The Gods Arrive".

97:5 Ibid.

98:1 See chap. VI--"The Gods Arrive".

98:2 See chap. XI--"The Gods in Exile"

98:3 Ibid.

98:4 Petrie: Hist. and Antiq. of Tara Hill.

104:1 The country seems to have been identified with Norway or Iceland.

105:1 Pronounced Midkēna.

106:1 The other two are "The Fate of the Children of Lêr", told in chap. XI, and "The Fate of the Sons of Usnach", an episode of the Heroic Cycle, related in chap XIII.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:28:14 pm
CHAPTER IX
THE WAR WITH THE GIANTS 1
By this time the seven years of preparation had come to an end. A week before the Day of Samhain, the Morrígú discovered that the Fomors had landed upon Erin. She at once sent a messenger to tell the Dagda, who ordered his druids and sorcerers to go to the ford of the River Unius, in Sligo, and utter incantations against them.

The people of the goddess Danu, however, were not yet quite ready for battle. So the Dagda decided to visit the Fomorian camp as an ambassador, and, by parleying with them, to gain a little more time. The Fomors received him with apparent courtesy, and, to celebrate his coming, prepared him a feast of porridge; for it was well-known how fond he was of such food. They poured into their king's cauldron, which was as deep as five giant's fists, fourscore gallons of new milk, with meal and bacon in proportion. To this they added the whole carcasses of goats, sheep, and pigs; they boiled the mixture together, and poured it into a hole in the ground. "Now," said they, "if you do not


p. 108

eat it all, we shall put you to death, for we will not have you go back to your own people and say that the Fomors are inhospitable." But they did not succeed in frightening the Dagda. He took his spoon, which was so large that two persons of our puny size might have reclined comfortably in the middle of it, dipped it into the porridge, and fished up halves of salted pork and quarters of bacon.

"If it tastes as good as it smells," he said, "it is good fare." And so it proved; for he ate it all, and scraped up even what remained at the bottom of the hole. Then he went away to sleep it off, followed by the laughter of the Fomors; for his stomach was so swollen with food that he could hardly walk. It was larger than the biggest cauldron in a large house, and stood out like a sail before the wind.

But the Fomors' little practical joke upon the Dagda had given the Tuatha Dé Danann time to collect their forces. It was on the eve of Samhain that the two armies came face to face. Even then the Fomors could not believe that the people of the goddess Danu would offer them much resistance.

"Do you think they will really dare to give us battle?" said Bress to Indech, the son of Domnu. "If they do not pay their tribute, we will pound their bones for them," he replied.

The war of gods and giants naturally mirrored the warfare of the Gaels, in whose battles, as in those of most semi-barbarous people, single combat figured largely. The main armies stood still, while, every day, duels took place between ambitious combatants

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[paragraph continues] But no great warriors either of the Tuatha Dé Danann or of the Fomors took part in them.

Sometimes a god, sometimes a giant would be the victor; but there was a difference in the net results that astonished the Fomors. If their own swords and lances were broken, they were of no more use, and if their own champions were killed, they never came back to life again; but it was quite otherwise with the people of the goddess Danu. Weapons shattered on one day reappeared upon the next in as good condition as though they had never been used, and warriors slain on one day came back upon the morrow unhurt, and ready, if necessary, to be killed again.

The Fomors decided to send someone to discover the secret of these prodigies. The spy they chose was Ruadan, the son of Bress and of Brigit, daughter of the Dagda, and therefore half-giant and half-god. He disguised himself as a Tuatha Dé Danann warrior, and went to look for Goibniu. He found him at his forge, together with Luchtainé, the carpenter, and Credné, the bronze-worker. He saw how Goibniu forged lance-heads with three blows of his hammer, while Luchtainé cut shafts for them with three blows of his axe, and Credné fixed the two parts together so adroitly that his bronze nails needed no hammering in. He went back and told the Fomors, who sent him again, this time to try and kill Goibniu.

He reappeared at the forge, and asked for a javelin. Without suspicion, Goibniu gave him one, and, as soon as he got it into his hand, he thrust it

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through the smith's body. But Goibniu plucked it out, and, hurling it back at his assailant, mortally wounded him. Ruadan went home to die, and his father Bress and his mother Brigit mourned for him, inventing for the purpose the Irish "keening". Goibniu, on the other hand, took no harm. He went to the physician Diancecht, who, with his daughter Airmid, was always on duty at a miraculous well called the "spring of health". Whenever one of the Tuatha Dé Danann was killed or wounded, he was brought to the two doctors, who plunged him into the wonder-working water, and brought him back to life and health again.

The mystic spring was not long, however, allowed to help the people of the goddess. A young Fomorian chief, Octriallach son of Indech, found it out. He and a number of his companions went to it by night, each carrying a large stone from the bed of the River Drowes. These they dropped into the spring, until they had filled it, dispersed the healing water, and formed a cairn above it. Legend has identified this place by the name of the "Cairn of Octriallach".

This success determined the Fomors to fight a pitched battle. They drew out their army in line. There was not a warrior in it who had not a coat of mail and a helmet, a stout spear, a strong buckler, and a heavy sword. "Fighting the Fomors on that day", says the old author, "could only be compared to one of three things--beating one's head against a rock, or plunging it into a fire, or putting one's hand into a serpent's nest."

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All the great fighters of the Tuatha Dé Danann were drawn out opposite to them, except Lugh. A council of the gods had decided that his varied accomplishments made his life too valuable to be risked in battle. They had, therefore, left him behind, guarded by nine warriors. But, at the last moment, Lugh escaped from his warders, and appeared in his chariot before the army. He made them a patriotic speech. "Fight bravely," he said, "that your servitude may last. no longer; it is better to face death than to live in vassalage and pay tribute." With these encouraging words, he drove round the ranks, standing on tiptoe, so that all the Tuatha Dé Danann might see him.

The Fomors saw him too, and marvelled. "It seems wonderful to me," 1 said Bress to his druids, "that the sun should rise in the west to-day and in the east every other day." "It would be better for us if it were so," replied the druids. "What else can it be, then?" asked Bress. "It is the radiance of the face of Lugh of the Long Arms," said they.

Then the two armies charged each other with a great shout. Spears and lances smote against shields, and so great was the shouting of the fighters, the shattering of shields, the clattering of swords, the rattling of quivers, and the whistling of darts and javelins that it seemed as if thunder rolled everywhere.

They fought so closely that the heads, hands, and


p. 112

feet of those on one side were touching the heads, hands, and feet of those on the other side; they shed so much blood on to the ground that it became hard to stand on it without slipping; and the river of Unsenn was filled with dead bodies, so hard and swift and bloody and cruel was the battle.

Many great chiefs fell on each side. Ogma, the champion of the Tuatha Dé Danann, killed Indech, the son of the goddess Domnu. But, meanwhile, Balor of the Mighty Blows raged among the gods, slaying their king, Nuada of the Silver Hand, as well as Macha, one of his warlike wives. At last he met with Lugh. The sun-god shouted a challenge to his grandfather in the Fomorian speech. Balor heard it, and prepared to use his death-dealing eye.

"Lift up my eyelid," he said to his henchmen, "that I may see this chatterer who talks to me.

The attendants lifted Balor's eye with a hook, and if the glance of the eye beneath had rested upon Lugh, he would certainly have perished. But, when it was half opened, Lugh flung a magic stone which struck Balor's eye out through the back of his head. The eye fell on the ground behind Balor, and destroyed a whole rank of thrice nine Fomors who were unlucky enough to be within sight of it.

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:29:06 pm
An ancient poem has handed down the secret of this magic stone. It is there called a tathlum, meaning a "concrete ball" such as the ancient Irish warriors used sometimes to make out of the brains of dead enemies hardened with lime.

p. 113


"A tathlum, heavy, fiery, firm,
Which the Tuatha Dé Danann had with them,
It was that broke the fierce Balor's eye,
Of old, in the battle of the great armies.

"The blood of toads and furious bears,
And the blood of the noble lion,
The blood of vipers and of Osmuinn's trunks;--
It was of these the tathlum was composed.

"The sand of the swift Armorian sea,
And the sand of the teeming Red Sea;--
All these, being first purified, were used
In the composition of the tathlum.

"Briun, the son of Bethar, no mean warrior,
Who on the ocean's eastern border reigned;--
It was he that fused, and smoothly formed,
It was he that fashioned the tathlum.

"To the hero Lugh was given
This concrete ball,--no soft missile;--
In Mag Tuireadh of shrieking wails,
From his hand he threw the tathlum." 1


This blinding of the terrible Balor turned the fortunes of the fight; for the Fomors wavered, and the Morrígú came and encouraged the people of the goddess Danu with a song, beginning "Kings arise to the battle", so that they took fresh heart, and drove the Fomors headlong back to their country underneath the sea.

Such was the battle which is called in Irish Mag Tuireadh na b-Fomorach, that is to say, the


p. 114

[paragraph continues] "Plain of the Towers of the Fomors", and, more popularly, the "Battle of Moytura the Northern", to distinguish it from the other Battle of Moytura fought by the Tuatha Dé Danann against the Fir Bolgs farther to the south. More of the Fomors were killed in it, says the ancient manuscript, than there are stars in the sky, grains of sand on the sea-shore, snow-flakes in winter, drops of dew upon the meadows in spring-time, hailstones during a storm, blades of grass trodden under horses' feet, or Manannán son of Lêr's white horses, the waves of the sea, when a tempest breaks. The "towers" or pillars said to mark the graves of the combatants still stand upon the plain of Carrowmore, near Sligo, and form, in the opinion of Dr. Petrie, the finest collection of prehistoric monuments in the world, with the sole exception of Carnac, in Brittany. 1 Megalithic structures of almost every kind are found among them--stone cairns with dolmens in their interiors, dolmens standing open and alone, dolmens surrounded by one, two, or three circles of stones, and circles without dolmens--to the number of over a hundred. Sixty-four of such prehistoric remains stand together upon an elevated plateau not more than a mile across, and make the battle-field of Moytura, though the least known, perhaps the most impressive of all primeval ruins. What they really commemorated we may never know, but, in all probability, the place was the scene of some important and decisive early battle, the monuments marking the graves of the chieftains who were interred as the





Click to enlarge
''THE KISSING STONE'', CARROWMORE, SLIGO.--R. Welch




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result of it. Those which have been examined were found to contain burnt wood and the half-burnt bones of men and horses, as well as implements of flint and bone. The actors, therefore, were still in the Neolithic Age. Whether the horses were domesticated ones buried with their riders, or wild ones eaten at the funeral feasts, it would be hard to decide. The history of the real event must have been long lost even at the early date when its relics were pointed out as the records of a battle between the gods and the giants of Gaelic myth.

The Tuatha Dé Danann, following the routed Fomors, overtook and captured Bress. He begged Lugh to spare his life.

"What ransom will you pay for it?" asked Lugh.

"I will guarantee that the cows of Ireland shall always be in milk," promised Bress.

But, before accepting, Lugh took counsel with his druids.

"What good will that be," they decided, "if Bress does not also lengthen the lives of the cows?"

This was beyond the power of Bress to do; so he made another offer.

"Tell your people," he said to Lugh, "that, if they will spare my life, they shall have a good wheat harvest every year."

But they said: "We already have the spring to plough and sow in, the summer to ripen the crops, the autumn for reaping, and the winter in which to eat the bread; and that is all we want."

Lugh told this to Bress. But he also said: "You

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shall have your life in return for a much less service to us than that."

"What is it?" asked Bress.

"Tell us when we ought to plough, when we ought to sow, and when we ought to harvest."

Bress replied: "You should plough on a Tuesday, sow on a Tuesday, and harvest on a Tuesday."

And this lying maxim (says the story) saved Bress's life.

Lugh, the Dagda, and Ogma still pursued the Fomors, who had carried off in their flight the Dagda's harp. They followed them into the submarine palace where Bress and Elathan lived, and there they saw the harp hanging on the wall. This harp of the Dagda's would not play without its owner's leave. The Dagda sang to it:


"Come, oak of the two cries!
Come, hand of fourfold music!
Come, summer! Come, winter!
Voice of harps, bellows 1, and flutes!"

[paragraph continues] For the Dagda's harp had these two names; it was called "Oak of the two cries" and "Hand of four-fold music".

It leaped down from the wall, killing nine of the Fomors as it passed, and came into the Dagda's hand. The Dagda played to the Fomors the three tunes known to all clever harpists--the weeping-tune, the laughing-tune, and the sleeping-tune. While he played the weeping-tune, they were bowed with weeping; while he played the laughing-tune,


p. 117

they rocked with laughter; and when he played the sleeping-tune, they all fell asleep. And while they slept, Lugh, the Dagda, and. Ogma got away safely.

Next, the Dagda brought the black-maned heifer which he had, by the advice of Angus son of the Young, obtained from Bress. The wisdom of Angus had been shown in this advice, for it was this very heifer that the cattle of the people of the goddess Danu were accustomed to follow, whenever it lowed. Now, when it lowed, all the cattle which the Fomors had taken away from the Tuatha Dé Danann came back again.

Yet the power of the Fomors was not wholly broken. Four of them still carried on a desultory warfare by spoiling the corn, fruit, and milk of their conquerors. But the Morrígú and Badb and Mider and Angus pursued them, and drove them out of Ireland for ever. 1

Last of all, the Morrígú and Badb went up on to the summits of all the high mountains of Ireland, and proclaimed the victory. All the lesser gods who had not been in the battle came round and heard the news. And Badb sang a song which began:


"Peace mounts to the heavens,
The heavens descend to earth,
Earth lies under the heavens,
Everyone is strong."

but the rest of it has been lost and forgotten.

Then she added a prophecy in which she foretold


p. 118

the approaching end of the divine age, and the beginning of a new one in which summers would be flowerless and cows milkless and women shameless and men strengthless, in which there would be trees without fruit and seas without fish, when old men would give false judgments and legislators make unjust laws, when warriors would betray one another, and men would be thieves, and there would be no more virtue left in the world.


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Footnotes
107:1 This chapter is, with slight interpolations, based upon the Harleian MS. in the British Museum numbered 5280, and called the Second Battle of Moytura, of rather from translations made of it by Dr. Whitley Stokes, published in the Revue Celtique, Vol. XII, and by M. de Jubainville in his L’Épopée Celtique en Irlande.

111:1 I have interpolated this picturesque passage from the account of a fight between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomors in the "Fate of the Children of Tuirenn", O’Curry's translation in Atlantis, Vol. IV.

113:1 This translation was made by Eugene O’Curry from an ancient vellum MS. formerly belonging to Mr. W. Monck Mason, but since sold by auction in London. See his Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, Lecture XII, p. 252.

114:1 See Fergusson: Rude Stone Monuments, pp. 180, &c.

116:1 ? Bagpipes.

117:1 Book of Fermoy. See Revue Celtique, Vol. I.--"The Ancient Irish Goddess of War".


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:30:01 pm
CHAPTER X
THE CONQUEST OF THE GODS BY MORTALS
Of what Badb had in mind when she uttered this prophecy we have no record. But it was true. The twilight of the Irish gods was at hand. A new race was coming across the sea to dispute the ownership of Ireland with the people of the goddess Danu. And these new-corners were not divinities like themselves, but men like ourselves, ancestors of the Gaels.

This story of the conquest of the gods by mortals--which seems such a strange one to us--is typically Celtic. The Gaelic mythology is the only one which has preserved it in any detail; but the doctrine would seem to have been common at one time to all the Celts. It was, however, of less shame to the gods than would otherwise have been; for men were of as divine descent as themselves. The dogma of the Celts was that men were descended from the god of death, and first came from the Land of the Dead to take possession of the present world. 1 Caesar tells us, in his too short account of the Gauls, that they believed themselves to be


p. 120

sprung from Dis Pater, the god of the underworld. 1 In the Gaelic mythology Dis Pater was called Bilé, a name which has for root the syllable bel, meaning "to die". The god Beli in British mythology was no doubt the same person, while the same idea is expressed by the same root in the name of Balor, the terrible Fomor whose glance was death. 2

The post-Christian Irish chroniclers, seeking to reconcile Christian teachings with the still vital pagan mythology by changing the gods into ancient kings and incorporating them into the annals of the country, with appropriate dates, also disposed of the genuine early doctrine by substituting Spain for Hades, and giving a highly-fanciful account of the origin and wanderings of their ancestors. To use a Hibernicism, appropriate in this connection, the first Irishman was a Scythian called Fenius Farsa. Deprived of his own throne, he had settled in Egypt, where his son Niul married a daughter of the reigning Pharaoh. Her name was Scôta, and she had a son called Goidel, whose great-grandson was named Eber Scot, the whole genealogy being probably invented to explain the origin of the three names by which the Gaels called themselves--Finn, Scot, and Goidel. Fenius and his family and clan were turned out of Egypt for refusing to join in the persecution of the children of Israel, and sojourned in Africa for forty-two years. Their wanderings took them to "the altars of the Philistines, by the


p. 121

[paragraph continues] Lake of Osiers"; then, passing between Rusicada and the hilly country of Syria, they travelled through Mauretania as far as the Pillars of Hercules; and thence landed in Spain, where they lived many years, greatly increasing and multiplying. The same route is given by the twelfth-century British historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth, as that taken by Brutus and the Trojans when they came to colonize Britain. 1 Its only connection with any kind of fact is that it corresponds fairly well with what ethnologists consider must have been the westward line of migration taken, not, curiously enough, by the Aryan Celts, but by the pre-Aryan Iberians.

It is sufficient for us to find the first men in Spain, remembering that "Spain" stood for the Celtic Hades, or Elysium. In this country Bregon, the father of two sons, Bilé and Ith, had built a watch-tower, from which, one winter's evening, Ith saw, far off over the seas, a land he had never noticed before. "It is on winter evenings, when the air is pure, that man's eyesight reaches farthest", remarks the old tract called the "Book of Invasions", 2 gravely accounting for the fact that Ith saw Ireland from Spain.

Wishing to examine it nearer, he set sail with thrice thirty warriors, and landed without mishap at the mouth of the River Scêné. 3 The country seemed to him to be uninhabited, and he marched with his


p. 122

men towards the north. At last he reached Aileach, near the present town of Londonderry.

Here he found the three reigning kings of the people of the goddess Danu, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, and Mac Greiné, the sons of Ogma, and grandsons of the Dagda. These had succeeded Nuada the Silver-handed, killed in the battle with the Fomors; and had met, after burying their predecessor in a tumulus called Grianan Aileach, which still stands on the base of the Inishowen Peninsula, between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle, to divide his kingdom among them. Unable to arrive at any partition satisfactory to all, they appealed to the newcomer to arbitrate.

The advice of Ith was moral rather than practical. "Act according to the laws of justice" was all that he would say to the claimants; and then he was indiscreet enough to burst into enthusiastic praises of Ireland for its temperate climate and its richness in fruit, honey, wheat, and fish. Such sentiments from a foreigner seemed to the Tuatha Dé Danann suggestive of a desire to take the country from them. They conspired together and treacherously killed Ith at a place since called "Ith's Plain". They, however, spared his followers, who returned to "Spain", taking their dead leader's body with them. The indignation there was great, and Milé, Bilé's son and Ith's nephew, determined to go to Ireland and get revenge.

Milé therefore sailed with his eight sons and their wives. Thirty-six chiefs, each with his shipful of warriors, accompanied him. By the magic arts

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of their druid, Amergin of the Fair Knee, they discovered the exact place at which Ith had landed before them, and put in to shore there. Two alone failed to reach it alive. The wife of Amergin died during the voyage, and Aranon, a son of Milé, on approaching the land, climbed to the top of the mast to obtain a better view, and, falling off, was drowned. The rest disembarked safely upon the first of May.

Amergin was the first to land. Planting his right foot on Irish soil, he burst into a poem preserved in both the Book of Lecan and the Book of Ballymote. 1 It is a good example of the pantheistic philosophy of the Celtic races, and a very close parallel to it is contained in an early Welsh poem, called the "Battle of the Trees", and attributed to the famous bard Taliesin. 2 "I am the wind that blows upon the sea," sang Amergin; "I am the ocean wave; I am the murmur of the surges; I am seven battalions; I am a strong bull; I am an eagle on a rock; I am a ray of the sun; I am the most beautiful of herbs; I am a courageous wild boar; I am a Salmon in the water; I am a lake upon a plain; I am a cunning artist; I am a gigantic, sword-wielding champion; I can shift my shape like a god. In what direction shall we go? Shall we hold our council in the valley or on the mountain-top? Where shall we make our home? What land is better than this island of the setting sun? Where


p. 124

shall we walk to and fro in peace and safety? Who can find you clear springs of water as I can? Who can tell you the age of the moon but I? Who can call the fish from the depths of the sea as I can? Who can cause them to come near the shore as I can? Who can change the shapes of the hills and headlands as I can? I am a bard who is called upon by seafarers to prophesy. Javelins shall be wielded to avenge our wrongs. I prophesy victory. I end my song by prophesying all other good things." 1

The Welsh bard Taliesin sings in the same strain as the druid Amergin his unity with, and therefore his power over, all nature, animate and inanimate. "I have been in many shapes", he says, "before I attained a congenial form. I have been a narrow blade of a sword; I have been a drop in the air; I have been a shining star; I have been a word in a book; I have been a book in the beginning; I have been a light in a lantern a year and a half; I have been a bridge for passing over threescore rivers; I have journeyed as an eagle; I have been a boat on the sea; I have been a director in battle; I have been a sword in the hand; I have been a shield in fight; I have been the string of a harp; I have been enchanted for a year in the foam of water. There is nothing in which I have not been." It is strange to find Gael and Briton combining to voice almost in the same words this doctrine of the mystical Celts, who, while still in a state of semi-barbarism,


p. 125

saw, with some of the greatest of ancient and modern philosophers, the One in the Many, and a single Essence in all the manifold forms of life.

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:31:06 pm
The Milesians (for so, following the Irish annalists, it will be convenient to call the first Gaelic settlers in Ireland) began their march on Tara, which was the capital of the Tuatha Dé Danann, as it had been in earlier days the chief fortress of the Fir Bolgs, and would in later days be the dwelling of the high kings of Ireland. On their way they met with a goddess called Banba, the wife of Mac Cuill. She greeted Amergin. "If you have come to conquer Ireland," she said, "your cause is no just one." "Certainly it is to conquer it we have come," replied Amergin, without condescending to argue upon the abstract morality of the matter. "Then at least grant me one thing," she asked. "What is that?" replied Amergin. "That this island shall be called by my name." "It shall be," replied Amergin.

A little farther on, they met a second goddess, Fotla, the wife of Mac Cecht, who made the same request, and received the same answer from Amergin.

Last of all, at Uisnech, the centre of Ireland, they came upon the third of the queens, Eriu, the wife of Mac Greiné. "Welcome, warriors," she cried. "To you who have come from afar this island shall henceforth belong, and from the setting to the rising sun there is no better land. And your race will be the most perfect the world has ever seen." "These are fair words and a good prophecy,"

p. 126

said Amergin. "It will be no thanks to you," broke in Donn, Milé's eldest son. "Whatever success we have we shall owe to our own strength." "That which I prophesy has no concern with you," retorted the goddess, "and neither you nor your descendants will live to enjoy this island." Then, turning to Amergin, she, too, asked that Ireland might be called after her. "It shall be its principal name," Amergin promised.

And so it has happened. Of the three ancient names of Ireland--Banba, Fotla, and Eriu--the last, in its genitive form of "Erinn", is the one that has survived.

The invaders came to Tara, then called Drumcain, that is, the "Beautiful Hill". Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, and Mac Greiné met them, with all the host of the Gaelic gods. As was usual, they held a parley. The people of the goddess Danu complained that they had been taken by surprise, and the Milesians admitted that to invade a country without having first warned its inhabitants was not strictly according to the courtesies of chivalrous warfare. The Tuatha Dé Danann proposed to the invaders that they should leave the island for three days, during which they themselves would decide whether to fight for their kingdom or to surrender it; but the Milesians did not care for this, for they knew that, as soon as they were out of the island, the Tuatha Dé Danann would oppose them with druidical enchantments, so that they would not be able to make a fresh landing. In the end, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, and Mac Greiné

p. 127

offered to submit the matter to the arbitration of Amergin, the Milesians' own lawgiver, with the express stipulation that, if he gave an obviously partial judgment, he was to suffer death at their hands. Donn asked his druid if he were prepared to accept this very delicate duty. Amergin replied that he was, and at once delivered the first judgment pronounced by the Milesians in Ireland.


"The men whom we found dwelling in the land, to them is possession due by right.
It is therefore your duty to set out to sea over nine green waves;
And if you shall be able to effect a landing again in spite of them,
You are to engage them in battle, and I adjudge to you the land in which you found them living.
I adjudge to you the land wherein you found them dwelling, by the right of battle.
But although you may desire the land which these people possess, yet yours is the duty to show them justice. I forbid you from injustice to those you have found in the land, however you may desire to obtain it." 1

[paragraph continues] This judgment was considered fair by both parties. The Milesians retired to their ships, and waited at a distance of nine waves' length from the land until the signal was given to attack, while the Tuatha Dé Danann, drawn up upon the beach, were ready with their druidical spells to oppose them.

The signal was given, and the Milesians bent to their oars. But they had hardly started before they discovered that a strong wind was blowing straight


p. 128

towards them from the shore, so that they could make no progress. At first they thought it might be a natural breeze, but Donn smelt magic in it. He sent a man to climb the mast of his ship, and see if the wind blew as strong at that height as it did at the level of the sea. The man returned, reporting that the air was quite still "up aloft". Evidently it was a druidical wind. But Amergin soon coped with it. Lifting up his voice, he invoked the Land of Ireland itself, a power higher than the gods it sheltered.


"I invoke the land of Eriu!
The shining, shining sea!
The fertile, fertile hill!
The wooded vale!
The river abundant, abundant in water!
The fishful, fishful lake!"

[paragraph continues] In such strain runs the original incantation, one of those magic formulas whose power was held by ancient, and still is held by savage races to reside in their exact consecrated wording rather than in their meaning. To us it sounds nonsense, and so no doubt it did to those who put the old Irish mythical traditions into literary shape; for a later version expands and explains it as follows: 1


"I implore that we may regain the land of Erin,
We who have come over the lofty waves, p. 129
This land whose mountains are great and extensive,
Whose streams are clear and numerous,
Whose woods abound with various fruit,
Its rivers and waterfalls are large and beautiful,
Its lakes are broad and widely spread,
It abounds with fountains on elevated grounds!
May we gain power and dominion over its tribes!
May we have kings of our own ruling at Tara!
May Tara be the regal residence of our many succeeding kings!
May the Milesians be the conquerors of its people!
May our ships anchor in its harbours!
May they trade along the coast of Erin!
May Eremon be its first ruling monarch!
May the descendants of Ir and Eber be mighty kings!
I implore that we may regain the land of Erin,
I implore!"

The incantation proved effectual. The Land of Ireland was pleased to be propitious, and the druidical wind dropped down.

But success was not quite so easy as they had hoped. Manannán, son of the sea and lord of headlands, shook his magic mantle at them, and hurled a fresh tempest out over the deep. The galleys of the Milesians were tossed helplessly on the waves; many sank with their crews. Donn was among the lost, thus fulfilling Eriu's prophecy, and three other sons of Milé also perished. In the end, a broken remnant, after long beating about the coasts, came to shore at the mouth of the River Boyne. They landed; and Amergin, from the shore, invoked the aid of the sea as he had al-ready done that of the land.

p. 130


"Sea full of fish!
Fertile land!
Fish swarming up!
Fish there!
Under-wave bird!
Great fish!
Crab's hole!
Fish swarming up!
Sea full of fish!"

which, being interpreted like the preceding charm seems to have meant:


"May the fishes of the sea crowd in shoals to the land for our use!
May the waves of the sea drive forth to the shore abundance of fish!
May the salmon swim abundantly into our nets!
May all kinds of fish come plentifully to us from the sea!
May its flat-fishes also come in abundance!
This poem I compose at the sea-shore that fishes may swim in shoals to our coast."

[paragraph continues] Then, gathering their forces, they marched on the people of the goddess Danu.

Two battles were fought, the first in Glenn Faisi, a valley of the Slieve Mish Mountains, south of Tralee, and the second at Tailtiu, now called Telltown. In both, the gods were beaten. Their three kings were killed by the three surviving sons of Milé--Mac Cuill by Eber, Mac Cecht by Eremon, and Mac Greiné by the druid Amergin. Defeated and disheartened, they gave in, and, retiring beneath the earth, left the surface of the land to their conquerors.

p. 131

From this day begins the history of Ireland according to the annalists. Milé's eldest son, Donn, having perished, the kingdom fell by right to the second, Eremon. But Eber, the third son, backed by his followers, insisted upon a partition, and Ireland was divided into two equal parts. At the end of a year, however, war broke out between the brothers; Eber was killed in battle, and Eremon took the sole rule.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Footnotes
119:1 It may be noted that, according to Welsh legend, the ancestors of the Cymri came from Gwlâd yr Hâv, the "Land of Summer", i.e. the Celtic Other World.

120:1 De Bello Gallico, Book VI, chap. XVIII.

120:2 De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique, chap. x. Rhys: Hibbert Lectures--"The Gaulish Pantheon".

121:1 Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Britonum, Book I, chap. II.

121:2 Contained in the Book of Leinster and other ancient manuscripts.

121:3 Now called the Kenmare River.

123:1 This poem and the three following ones, all attributed to Amergin, are said to be the oldest Irish literary records.

123:2 Book of Taliesin, poem VIII, in Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales, Vol. I, p. 276.

124:1 De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique. See also the Transactions of the Ossianic Society, Vol. V.

127:1 Translated by Professor Owen Connellan in Vol. V of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society.

128:1 The original versions of this and the following charm are from De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique Irlandais, the later from Professor Owen Connellan's translations in Vol. V of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society. "Some of these poems", explains the Professor, have been glossed by writers or commentators of the Middle Ages, without which it would be almost impossible now for any Irish scholar to interpret them; and it is proper to remark that the translation accompanying them is more in accordance with this gloss than with the original text."

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:33:26 pm
CHAPTER XI
THE GODS IN EXILE
But though mortals had conquered gods upon a scale unparalleled in mythology, they had by no means entirely subdued them. Beaten in battle, the people of the goddess Danu had yet not lost their divine attributes, and could use them either to help or hurt. "Great was the power of the Dagda", says a tract preserved in the Book of Leinster, "over the sons of Milé, even after the conquest of Ireland; for his subjects destroyed their corn and milk, so that they must needs make a treaty of peace with the Dagda. Not until then, and thanks to his. good-will, were they able to harvest corn and drink the milk of their cows." 1 The basis of this lost treaty seems to have been that the Tuatha Dé Danann, though driven from the soil, should receive homage and offerings from their successors. We are told in the verse dinnsenchus of Mag Slecht, that--


"Since the rule
Of Eremon, the noble man of grace,
There was worshipping of stones
Until the coming of good Patrick of Macha". 2


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Dispossessed of upper earth, the gods had, however, to seek for new homes. A council was convened, but its members were divided between two opinions. One section of them chose to shake the dust of Ireland off its disinherited feet, and seek refuge in a paradise over-seas, situate in some unknown, and, except for favoured mortals, unknowable island of the west, the counterpart in Gaelic myth of the British


. . . "island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea" 1

[paragraph continues] --a land of perpetual pleasure and feasting, described variously as the "Land of Promise" (Tir Tairngiré), the "Plain of Happiness" (Mag Mell), the "Land of the Living" (Tir-nam-beo), the "Land of the Young" (Tir-nan-ōg), and "Breasal's Island" (Hy-Breasail). Celtic mythology is full of the beauties and wonders of this mystic country, and the tradition of it has never died out. Hy-Breasail has been set down on old maps as a reality again and again; 2 some pioneers in the Spanish seas thought they had discovered it, and called the land they found "Brazil"; and it is still said, by lovers of old lore, that a patient watcher, after long gazing westward from the westernmost shores of Ireland or Scotland,


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may sometimes be lucky enough to catch a glimpse against the sunset of its--


"summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea".

Of these divine emigrants the principal was Manannán son of Lêr. But, though he had cast in his lot beyond the seas, he did not cease to visit Ireland. An old Irish king, Bran, the son of Febal, met him, according to a seventh-century poem, as Bran journeyed to, and Manannán from, the earthly paradise. Bran was in his boat, and Manannán was driving a chariot over the tops of the waves, and he sang: 1


"Bran deems it a marvellous beauty
In his coracle across the clear sea:
While to me in my chariot from afar
It is a flowery plain on which he rides about.

"What is a clear sea
For the prowed skiff in which Bran is,
That is a happy plain with profusion of flowers
To me from the chariot of two wheels.

"Bran sees
The number of waves beating across the clear sea:
I myself see in Mag Mon 2
Red-headed flowers without fault.

"Sea-horses glisten in summer
As far as Bran has stretched his glance:
Rivers pour forth a stream of honey
In the land of Manannán son of Lêr.p. 135

"The sheen of the main, on which thou art,
The white hue of the sea, on which thou rowest about,
Yellow and azure are spread out,
It is land, and is not rough.

"Speckled salmon leap from the womb
Of the white sea, on which thou lookest:
They are calves, they are coloured lambs
With friendliness, without mutual slaughter.

"Though but one chariot-rider is seen
In Mag Mell 1 of many flowers,
There are many steeds on its surface,
Though them thou seest not.

"Along the top of a wood has swum
Thy coracle across ridges,
There is a wood of beautiful fruit
Under the prow of thy little skiff.

"A wood with blossom and fruit,
On which is the vine's veritable fragrance;
A wood without decay, without defect,
On which are leaves of a golden hue."


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:34:51 pm
And, after this singularly poetical enunciation of the philosophical and mystical doctrine that all things are, under their diverse forms, essentially the same, he goes on to describe to Bran the beauties and pleasures of the Celtic Elysium.

But there were others--indeed, the most part--of the gods who refused to expatriate themselves. For these residences had to be found, and the Dagda, their new king, proceeded to assign to each of those who stayed in Ireland a sídh. These sídhe were barrows, or hillocks, each being the door to an underground


p. 136

realm of inexhaustible splendour and delight, according to the somewhat primitive ideas of the Celts. A description is given of one which the Dagda kept for himself, and out of which his son Angus cheated him, which will serve as a fair example of all. There were apple-trees there always in fruit, and one pig alive and another ready roasted, and the supply of ale never failed. One may still visit in Ireland the sídhe of many of the gods, for the spots are known, and the traditions have not died out. To Lêr was given Sídh Fionnachaidh 1, now known as the "Hill of the White Field", on the top of Slieve Fuad, near Newtown Hamilton, in County Armagh. Bodb Derg received a sídh called by his own name, Sídh Bodb 2, just to the south of Portumna, in Galway. Mider was given the sídh of Bri Leith, now called Slieve Golry, near Ardagh, in County Longford. Ogma's sídh was called Airceltrai; to Lugh was assigned Rodrubân; Manannán's son, Ilbhreach, received Sídh Eas Aedha Ruaidh 3, now the Mound of Mullachshee, near Ballyshannon, in Donegal; Fionnbharr 4 had Sídh Meadha, now "Knockma", about five miles west of Tuam, where, as present king of the fairies, he is said to live to-day; while the abodes of other gods of lesser fame are also recorded. For himself the Dagda retained two, both near the River Boyne, in Meath, the best of them being the famous Brugh-na-Boyne. None of the members of the Tuatha Dé Danann were left unprovided for, save one.





Click to enlarge
ENTRANCE TO THE GREAT CAIRN OF NEW GRANGE, ON THE BOYNE, NEAR DROGHEDA.--R. Welch




p. 137

It was from this time that the Gaelic gods received the name by which the peasantry know them to-day--Aes Sídhe, the "People of the Hills", or, more shortly, the Sídhe. Every god, or fairy, is a Fer-Sídhe 1, a "Man of the Hill"; and every goddess a Bean-Sídhe, a "Woman of the Hill", the banshee of popular legend. 2

The most famous of such fairy hills are about five miles from Drogheda. 3 They are still connected with the names of the Tuatha Dé Danann, though they are now not called their dwelling-places, but their tombs. On the northern bank of the Boyne stand seventeen barrows, three of which--Knowth, Dowth, and New Grange--are of great size. The last named, largest, and best preserved, is over 300 feet in diameter, and 70 feet high, while its top makes a platform 120 feet across. It has been explored, and Roman coins, gold torques, copper pins, and iron rings and knives have been found in it; but what else it may have once contained will never be known, for, like Knowth and Dowth, it was thoroughly ransacked by Danish spoilers in the ninth century. It is entered by a square doorway, the rims of which are elaborately ornamented with a kind of spiral pattern. This entrance leads to a stone passage, more than 60 feet long, which gradually widens and rises, until it opens into a chamber with a conical dome 20 feet high. On each side of this central chamber is a recess, with a shallow oval


p. 138

stone basin in it. The huge slabs of which the whole is built are decorated upon both the outer and the inner faces with the same spiral pattern as the doorway.

The origin of these astonishing prehistoric monuments is unknown, but they are generally attributed to the race that inhabited Ireland before the Celts. Gazing at marvellous New Grange, one might very well echo the words of the old Irish poet Mac Nia, in the Book of Ballymote:


"Behold the Sídh before your eyes,
It is manifest to you that it is a king's mansion,
Which was built by the firm Dagda,
It was a wonder, a court, an admirable hill." 1

It is not, however, with New Grange, or even with Knowth or Dowth, that the Dagda's name is now associated. It is a smaller barrow, nearer to the Boyne, which is known as the "Tomb of the Dagda". It has never been opened, and Dr. James Fergusson, the author of Rude Stone Monuments, who holds the Tuatha Dé Danann to have been a real people, thinks that "the bones and armour of the great Dagda may still be found in his honoured grave". 2 Other Celtic scholars might not be so sanguine, though verses as old as the eleventh century assert that the Tuatha Dé Danann used the brughs for burial. It was about this period that the mythology of Ireland was being rewoven into spurious history. The poem, which is called the "Chronicles of the Tombs", not only mentions the


p. 139

[paragraph continues] "Monument of the Dagda" and the "Monument of the Morrígú", but also records the last resting-places of Ogma, Etain, Cairpré, Lugh, Boann, and Angus.

We have for the present, however, to consider Angus in a far less sepulchral light. He is, indeed, very much alive in the story to be related. The "Son of the Young" was absent when the distribution of the sídhe was made. When he returned, he came to his father, the Dagda, and demanded one. The Dagda pointed out to him that they had all been given away. Angus protested, but what could be done? By fair means, evidently nothing; but by craft, a great deal. The wily Angus appeared to reconcile himself to fate, and only begged his father to allow him to stay at the sídh of Brugh-na-Boyne (New Grange) for a day and a night. The Dagda agreed to this, no doubt congratulating himself on having got out of the difficulty so easily. But when he came to Angus to remind him that the time was up, Angus refused to go. He had been granted, he claimed, day and night, and it is of days and nights that time and eternity are composed; therefore there was no limit to his tenure of the sídhe. The logic does not seem very convincing to our modern minds, but the Dagda is said to have been satisfied with it. He abandoned the best of his two palaces to his son, who took peaceable possession of it. Thus it got a second name, that of the Sídh or Brugh of the "Son of the Young". 1

The Dagda does not, after this, play much active


p. 140

part in the history of the people of the goddess Danu. We next hear of a council of gods to elect a fresh ruler. There were five candidates for the vacant throne--Bodb the Red, Mider, Ilbhreach 1 son of Manannán, Lêr, and Angus himself, though the last-named, we are told, had little real desire to rule, as he preferred a life of freedom to the dignities of kingship. The Tuatha Dé Danann went into consultation, and the result of their deliberation was that their choice fell upon Bodb the Red, for three reasons--firstly, for his own sake; secondly, for his father, the Dagda's sake; and thirdly, because he was the Dagda's eldest son. The other competitors approved this choice, except two. Mider refused to give hostages, as was the custom, to Bodb Derg, and fled with his followers to "a desert country round Mount Leinster", in County Carlow, while Lêr retired in great anger to Sídh Fionnachaidh, declining to recognize or obey the new king.

Why Lêr and Mider should have so taken the matter to heart is difficult to understand, unless it was because they were both among the oldest of the gods. The indifference of Angus is easier to explain. He was the Gaelic Eros, and was busy living up to his character. At this time, the object of his love was a maiden who had visited him one night in a dream, only to vanish when he put out his arms to embrace her. All the next day, we are told, Angus took no food. Upon the following night, the unsubstantial lady again appeared, and played and





Click to enlarge
THE DREAM-MAIDEN VISITS ANGUS




p. 141

sang to him. That following day, he also fasted. So things went on for a year, while Angus pined and wasted for love. At last the physicians of the Tuatha Dé Danann guessed his complaint, and told him how fatal it might be to him. Angus asked that his mother Boann might be sent for, and, when she came, he told her his trouble, and implored her help. She went to the Dagda and begged him, if he did not wish to see his son die of unrequited love, a disease that all Diancecht's medicine and Goibniu's magic could not heal, to find the dream-maiden. The Dagda could do nothing himself, but he sent to Bodb the Red, and the new king of the gods sent in turn to the lesser deities of Ireland, ordering all of them to search for her. For a year she could not be found, but at last the disconsolate lover received a message, charging him to come and see if he could recognize the lady of his dreams. Angus came, and knew her at once, even though she was surrounded by thrice fifty attendant nymphs. Her name was Caer, and she was the daughter of Etal Ambuel, who had a sídh at Uaman, in Connaught. Bodb the Red demanded her for Angus in marriage, but her father declared that he had no control over her. She was a swan-maiden, he said; and every year, as soon as summer was over, she went with her companions to a lake called "Dragon-Mouth", and there all of them became swans. But, refusing to be thus put off, Angus waited in patience until the day of the magical change, and then went down to the shore of the lake. There, surrounded by thrice fifty swans, he saw Caer, herself a swan

p. 142

surpassing all the rest in beauty and whiteness. He called to her, proclaiming his passion and his name, and she promised to be his bride, if he too would become a swan. He agreed, and with a word she changed him into swan-shape, and thus they flew side by side to Angus's sídhe, where they retook the human form, and, no doubt, lived happily as long as could be expected of such changeable immortals as pagan deities. 1

Meanwhile, the people of the goddess Danu were justly incensed against both Lêr and Mider. Bodb the Red made a yearly war upon Mider in his sídhe, and many of the divine race were killed on either side. But against Lêr, the new king of the gods refused to move, for there had been a great affection between them. Many times Bodb Derg tried to regain Lêr's friendship by presents and compliments, but for a long time without success.

At last Lêr's wife died, to the sea-god's great sorrow. When Bodb the Red heard the news, he sent a messenger to Lêr, offering him one of his own foster-daughters, Aebh 2, Aeife 3, and Ailbhe 4, the children of Ailioll of Arran. Lêr, touched by this, came to visit Bodb the Red at his sídhe, and chose Aebh for his wife. "She is the eldest, so she must be the noblest of them," he said. They were married, and a great feast made, and Lêr took her back with him to Sídh Fionnachaidh.

Aebh bore four children to Lêr. The eldest was


p. 143

a daughter called Finola, the second was a son called Aed; the two others were twin boys called Fiachra and Conn, but in giving birth to those Aebh died.

Bodb the Red then offered Lêr another of his foster-children, and he chose the second, Aeife. Every year Lêr and Aeife and the four children used to go to Manannán's "Feast of Age", which was held at each of the sídhe in turn. The four children grew up to be great favourites among the people of the goddess Danu.

But Aeife was childless, and she became jealous of Lêr's children; for she feared that he would love them more than he did her. She brooded over this until she began, first to hope for, and then to plot their deaths. She tried to persuade her servants to murder them, but they would not. So she took the four children to Lake Darvra (now called Lough Derravargh in West Meath), and sent them into the water to bathe. Then she made an incantation over them, and touched them, each in turn, with a druidical wand, and changed them into swans.

But, though she had magic enough to alter their shapes, she had not the power to take away their human speech and minds. Finola turned, and threatened her with the anger of Lêr and of Bodb the Red when they came to hear of it. She, however, hardened her heart, and refused to undo what she had done. The children of Lêr, finding their case a hopeless one, asked her how long she intended to keep them in that condition.

"You would be easier in mind," she said, "if you had not asked the question; but I will tell you.

p. 144

[paragraph continues] You shall be three hundred years here, on Lake Darvra; and three hundred years upon the Sea of Moyle 1, which is between Erin and Alba; and three hundred years more at Irros Domnann 2 and the Isle of Glora in Erris 3. Yet you shall have two consolations in your troubles; you shall keep your human minds, and yet suffer no grief at knowing that you have been changed into swans, and you shall be able to sing the softest and sweetest songs that were ever heard in the world."

Then Aeife went away and left them. She returned to Lêr, and told him that the children had fallen by accident into Lake Darvra, and were drowned.

But Lêr was not satisfied that she spoke the truth, and went in haste to the lake, to see if he could find traces of them. He saw four swans close to the shore, and heard them talking to one another with human voices. As he approached, they came out of the water to meet him. They told him what Aeife had done, and begged him to change them back into their own shapes. But Lêr's magic was not so powerful as his wife's, and he could not.

Nor even could Bodb the Red--to whom Lêr went for help,--for all that he was king of the gods. What Aeife had done could not be undone. But she could be punished for it! Bodb ordered his foster-daughter to appear before him, and, when she came, he put an oath on her to tell him truly "what shape of all others, on the earth, or above the earth,





Click to enlarge
LÊR AND THE SWANS
From the Drawing by J. H. Bacon, A.R.A.




p. 145

or beneath the earth, she most abhorred, and into which she most dreaded to be transformed". Aeife was obliged to answer that she most feared to become a demon of the air. So Bodb the Red struck her with his wand, and she fled from them, a shrieking demon.

All the Tuatha Dé Danann went to Lake Darvra to visit the four swans. The Milesians heard of it, and also went; for it was not till long after this that gods and mortals ceased to associate. The visit became a yearly feast. But, at the end of three hundred years, the children of Lêr were compelled to leave Lake Darvra, and go to the Sea of Moyle, to fulfil the second period of their exile.

They bade farewell to gods and men, and went. And, for fear lest they might be hurt by anyone, the Milesians made it law in Ireland that no man should harm a swan, from that time forth for ever.

The children of Lêr suffered much from tempest and cold on the stormy Sea of Moyle, and they were very lonely. Once only during that long three hundred years did they see any of their friends. An embassy of the Tuatha Dé Danann, led by two sons of Bodb the Red, came to look for them, and told them all that had happened in Erin during their exile.

At last that long penance came to an end, and they went to Irros Domnann and Innis Glora for their third stage. And while it was wearily dragging through, Saint Patrick came to Ireland, and put an end to the power of the gods for ever. They had been banned and banished when the children of

p. 146

[paragraph continues] Lêr found themselves free to return to their old home. Sídh Fionnechaidh was empty and deserted, for Lêr had been killed by Caoilté, the cousin of Finn mac Coul. 1

So, after long, vain searching for their lost relatives, they gave up hope, and returned to the Isle of Glora. They had a friend there, the Lonely Crane of Inniskea 2, which has lived upon that island ever since the beginning of the world, and will be still sitting there on the day of judgment. They saw no one else until, one day, a man came to the island. He told them that he was Saint Caemhoc 3, and that he had heard their story. He brought them to his church, and preached the new faith to them, and they believed on Christ, and consented to be baptised. This broke the pagan spell, and, as soon as the holy water was sprinkled over them, they returned to human shape. But they were very old and bowed--three aged men and an ancient woman. They did not live long after this, and Saint Caemhoc, who had baptised them, buried them all together in one grave. 4

But, in telling this story, we have leaped nine hundred years--a great space in the history even of gods. We must retrace our steps, if not quite to the days of Eremon and Eber, sons of Milé, and first kings of Ireland, at any rate to the beginning of the Christian era.


p. 147

At this time Eochaid Airem was high king of Ireland, and reigned at Tara; while, under him, as vassal monarchs, Conchobar mac Nessa ruled over the Red Branch Champions of Ulster; Curoi son of Daire 1, was king of Munster; Mesgegra was king of Leinster; and Ailell, with his famous queen, Medb, governed Connaught.

Shortly before, among the gods, Angus Son of the Young, had stolen away Etain, the wife of Mider. He kept her imprisoned in a bower of glass, which he carried everywhere with him, never allowing her to leave it, for fear Mider might recapture her. The Gaelic Pluto, however, found out where she was, and was laying plans to rescue her, when a rival of Etain's herself decoyed Angus away from before the pleasant prison-house, and set his captive free. But, instead of returning her to Mider, she changed the luckless goddess into a fly, and threw her into the air, where she was tossed about in great wretchedness at the mercy of every wind.

At the end of seven years, a gust blew her on to the roof of the house of Etair, one of the vassals of Conchobar, who was celebrating a feast. The unhappy fly, who was Etain, was blown down the chimney into the room below, and fell, exhausted, into a golden cup full of beer, which the wife of the master of the house was just going to drink. And the woman drank Etain with the beer.

But, of course, this was not the end of her--for the gods cannot really die,--but only the beginning of a new life. Etain was reborn as the daughter of


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[paragraph continues] Etair's wife, no one knowing that she was not of mortal lineage. She grew up to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland.

When she was twenty years old, her fame reached the high king, who sent messengers to see if she was as fair as men reported. They saw her, and returned to the king full of her praises. So Eochaid himself went to pay her a visit. He chose her to be his queen, and gave her a splendid dowry.

It was not till then that Mider heard of her. He came to her in the shape of a young man, beautifully dressed, and told her who she really was, and how she had been his wife among the people of the goddess Danu. He begged her to leave the king, and come with him to his sídh at Bri Leith. But Etain refused with scorn.

"Do you think," she said, "that I would give up the high king of Ireland for a person whose name and kindred I do not know, except from his own lips?"

The god retired, baffled for the time. But one day, as King Eochaid sat in his hall, a stranger entered. He was dressed in a purple tunic, his hair was like gold, and his eyes shone like candles.

The king welcomed him.

"But who are you?" he asked; "for I do not know you."

"Yet I have known you a long time," returned the stranger.

"Then what is your name?"

"Not a very famous one. I am Mider of Bri Leith."

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"Why have you come here?"

"To challenge you to a game of chess."

"I am a good chess-player," replied the king, who was reputed to be the best in Ireland.

"I think I can beat you," answered Mider.

"But the chess-board is in the queen's room, and she is asleep," objected Eochaid.

"It does not matter," replied Mider. "I have brought a board with me which can be in no way worse than yours."

He showed it to the king, who admitted that the boast was true. The chess-board was made of silver set in precious stones, and the pieces were of gold.

"Play!" said Mider to the king.

"I never play without a wager," replied Eochaid.

"What shall be the stake?" asked Mider.

"I do not care," replied Eochaid.

"Good!" returned Mider. "Let it be that the loser pays whatever the winner demands."

"That is a wager fit for a king," said Eochaid.

They played, and Mider lost. The stake that Eochaid claimed from him was that Mider and his subjects should make a road through Ireland. Eochaid watched the road being made, and noticed how Mider's followers yoked their oxen, not by the horns, as the Gaels did, but at the shoulders, which was better. He adopted the practice, and thus got his nickname, Airem, that is, The Ploughman".

After a year, Mider returned and challenged the king again, the terms to be the same as before. Eochaid agreed with joy; but, this time, he lost.

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"I could have beaten you before, if I had wished," said Mider, "and now the stake I demand is Etain, your queen."

The astonished king, who could not for shame go back upon his word, asked for a year's delay. Mider agreed to return upon that day year to claim Etain. Eochaid consulted with his warriors, and they decided to keep watch through the whole of the day fixed by Mider, and let no one pass in or out of the royal palace till sunset. For Eochaid held that if the fairy king could not get Etain upon that one day, his promise would be no longer binding on him.

So, when the day came, they barred the door and guarded it, but suddenly they saw Mider among them in the hall. He stood beside Etain, and sang this song to her, setting out the pleasures of the homes of the gods under the enchanted hills.


"O fair lady! will you come with me
To a wonderful country which is mine,
Where the people's hair is of golden hue,
And their bodies the colour of virgin snow?

"There no grief or care is known;
White are their teeth, black their eyelashes;
Delight of the eye is the rank of our hosts,
With the hue of the fox-glove on every cheek.

"Crimson are the flowers of every mead,
Gracefully speckled as the blackbird's egg;
Though beautiful to see be the plains of Inisfail 1
They are but commons compared to our great plains. p. 151

"Though intoxicating to you be the ale-drink of Inisfail,
More intoxicating the ales of the great country;
The only land to praise is the land of which I speak,
Where no one ever dies of decrepit age.

"Soft sweet streams traverse the land;
The choicest of mead and of wine;
Beautiful people without any blemish;
Love without sin, without wickedness.

"We can see the people upon all sides,
But by no one can we be seen;
The cloud of Adam's transgression it is
That prevents them from seeing us.

"O lady, should you come to my brave land,
It is golden hair that will be on your head;
Fresh pork, beer, new milk, and ale,
You there with me shall have, O fair lady!" 1


Then Mider greeted Eochaid, and told him that he had come to take away Etain, according to the king's wager. And, while the king and his warriors looked on helplessly, he placed one arm round the now willing woman, and they both vanished. This broke the spell that hung over everyone in the hall; they rushed to the door, but all they could see were two swans flying away.

The king would not, however, yield to the god. He sent to every part of Ireland for news of Etain, but his messengers all came back without having been able to find her. At last, a druid named Dalân learned, by means of ogams carved upon wands of yew, that she was hidden under Mider's


p. 152

sídh of Bri Leith. So Eochaid marched there with an army, and began to dig deep into the abode of the gods of which the "fairy hill" was the portal. Mider, as terrified as was the Greek god Hades when it seemed likely that the earth would be rent open, 1 and his domains laid bare to the sight, sent out fifty fairy maidens to Eochaid, every one of them having the appearance of Etain. But the king would only be content with the real Etain, so that Mider, to save his sídh, was at last obliged to give her up. And she lived with the King of Ireland after that until the death of both of them.

But Mider never forgave the insult. He bided his time for three generations, until Eochaid and Etain had a male descendant. For they had no son, but only a daughter called Etain, like her mother, and this second Etain had a daughter called Messbuachallo, who had a son called Conairé, surnamed "the Great". Mider and the gods wove the web of fate round Conairé, so that he and all his men died violent deaths. 2


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Footnotes
132:1 De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique Irlandais, p. 269.

132:2 See chap. IV--"The Religion of the Ancient Britons and Druidism".

133:1 Tennyson: Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur.

133:2 See Wood-Martin: Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, Vol. I, pp. 213-215.

134:1 The following verses are taken from Dr. Kuno Meyer's translation of the romance entitled The Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal, published in Mr. Nutt's Grimm Library, Vol. IV.

134:2 The Plain of Sports.

135:1 The Happy Plain.

136:1 Pronounced Shee Finneha.

136:2 Pronounced Shee Bove.

136:3 Pronounced Shee Assaroe.

136:4 Pronounced Finnvar.

137:1 Pronounced Far-shee.

137:2 O’Curry: Lectures on the MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History, Appendix p. 505.

137:3 See Fergusson: Rude Stone Monuments, pp. 200-213.

138:1 O’Curry: MS. Materials, p. 505.

138:2 Fergusson: Rude Stone Monuments, p. 209.

139:1 This story is contained in the Book of Leinster.

140:1 Pronounced Ilbrec.

142:1 This story, called the Dream of Angus, will be found translated into English by Dr. Edward Müller in Vol. III. of the Revue Celtique, from an eighteenth-century MS. in the British Museum.

142:2 Pronounced Aive.

142:3 Pronounced Aiva.

142:4 Pronounced Alva.

144:1 Now called "North Channel"

144:2 The Peninsula of Ems, in Mayo.

144:3 A small island off Benmullet.

146:1 See chap. XIV--"Finn and the Fenians".

146:2 An island off the coast of Mayo. Its lonely crane was one of the "Wonders of Ireland", and is still an object of folk-belief.

146:3 Pronounced Kemoc.

146:4 This famous story of the Fate of the Children of Lêr is not found in any MS. earlier than the beginning of the seventeenth century. A translation of it has been published by Eugene O’Curry in Atlantis, Vol. IV, from which the present abridgment is made.

147:1 Pronounced Dara.

150:1 A poetical name for Ireland.

151:1 Translated by O’Curry, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, Lecture IX, p. 192, 193.

152:1 Iliad, Book XX.

152:2 The story of Mider's revenge and Conairé's death is told in the romance Bruidhen Dá Derga, "The Destruction of Da Derga 's Fort", translated by Dr. Whitley Stokes, Eugene O’Curry and Professor Zimmer from the original text.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:36:01 pm
CHAPTER XII
THE IRISH ILIAD
With Eber and Eremon, sons of Milé, and conquerors of the gods, begins a fresh series of characters in Gaelic tradition--the early "Milesian" kings of Ireland. Though monkish chroniclers have striven to find history in the legends handed down concerning them, they are none the less almost as mythical as the Tuatha Dé Danann. The first of them who has the least appearance of reality is Tigernmas, who is recorded to have reigned a hundred years after the coming of the Milesians. He seems to have been what is sometimes called a "Culture-king", bearing much the same kind of relation to Ireland as Theseus bore to Athens or Minos to Crete. During his reign, nine new lakes and three new rivers broke forth from beneath the earth to give their waters to Erin. Under his auspices, gold was first smelted, ornaments of gold and silver were first made, and clothes first dyed. He is said to have perished mysteriously 1 with


p. 154

three-fourths of the men of Erin while worshipping Cromm Cruaich on the field of Mag Slecht. In him Mr. Nutt sees, no doubt rightly, the great mythical king who, in almost all national histories, closes the strictly mythological age, and inaugurates a new era of less obviously divine, if hardly less apocryphal characters. 1

In spite, however, of the worship of the Tuatha Dé Danann instituted by Eremon, we find the early kings and heroes of Ireland walking very familiarly with their gods. Eochaid Airem, high king of Ireland, was apparently reckoned a perfectly fit suitor for the goddess Etain, and proved a far from unsuccessful rival of Mider, the Gaelic Pluto. 2 And adventures of love or war were carried quite as cheerfully among the sídh dwellers by Eochaid's contemporaries--Conchobar son of Nessa, King of Ulster, Curoi son of Daire, King of Munster, Mesgegra, King of Leinster, and Ailell and Medb 3, King and Queen of Connaught.

All these figures of the second Gaelic cycle (that of the heroes of Ulster, and especially of their great champion, Cuchulainn) lived, according to Irish tradition, at about the beginning of the


p. 155

[paragraph continues] Christian era. Conchobar, indeed, is said to have expired in a fit of rage on hearing of the death of Christ. 1

But this is a very transparent monkish interpolation into the original story. A quite different view is taken by most modern scholars, who would see gods and not men in all the legendary characters of the Celtic heroic cycles. Upon such a subject, however, one may legitimately take sides. Were King Conchobar and his Ultonian champions, Finn and his Fenians, Arthur and his Knights once living men round whom the attributes of gods have gathered, or were they ancient deities renamed and stripped of some of their divinity to make them more akin to their human worshippers? History or mythology? A mingling, perhaps, of both. Cuchulainn 2 may have been the name of a real Gaelic warrior, however suspiciously he may now resemble the sun-god, who is said to have been his father. King Conchobar may have been the real chief of a tribe of Irish Celts before he became an adumbration of the Gaelic sky-god. It is the same problem that confronts us in dealing with the heroic legends of Greece and Rome. Were Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Paris, Æneas gods, demi-gods, or men? Let us call them all alike--whether they be Greek or Trojan heroes, Red Branch Champions, or followers of the Gaelic Finn or the British Arthur--demi-gods. Even so, they stand


p. 156

definitely apart from the older gods who were greater than they were.

We are stretching no point in calling them demi-gods, for they were god-descended. 1 Cuchulainn, the greatest hero of the Ulster cycle, was doubly so; for on his mother's side he was the grandson of the Dagda, while Lugh of the Long Hand is said to have been his father. His mother, Dechtiré, daughter of Maga, the daughter of Angus "Son of the Young", was half-sister to King Conchobar, and all the other principal heroes were of hardly less lofty descent. It is small wonder that they are described in ancient manuscripts 2 as terrestrial gods and goddesses.

"Terrestrial" they may have been in form, but their acts were superhuman. Indeed, compared with the more modest exploits of the heroes of the "Iliad", they were those of giants. Where Greek warriors slew their tens, these Ultonians despatched their hundreds. They came home after such exploits so heated that their cold baths boiled over. When they sat down to meat, they devoured whole oxen, and drank their mead from vats. With one stroke of their favourite swords they beheaded hills for sport. The gods themselves hardly did more, and it is easy to understand that in those old days not only might the sons of gods look upon the daughters of men and find them fair, but immortal


p. 157

women also need not be too proud to form passing alliances with mortal men.

Some of the older deities seem to have already passed out of memory at the time of the compilation of the Ulster cycle. At any rate, they make no appearance in it. Dead Nuada rests in the grianan of Aileach; Ogma lies low in sídh Airceltrai; while the Dagda, thrust into the background by his son Angus, mixes himself very little in the affairs of Erin. 1 But the Morrígú is no less eager in encouraging human or semi-divine heroes to war than she was when she revived the fainting spirits of the folk of the goddess Danu at the Battle of Moytura. The gods who appear most often in the cycle of the Red Branch of Ulster are the same that have lived on throughout with the most persistent vitality. Lugh the Long-handed, Angus of the Brugh, Mider, Bodb the Red, and Manannán son of Lêr, are the principal deities that move in the background of the stage where the chief parts are now played by mortals. But, to make up for the loss of some of the greater divine figures, the ranks of the gods are being recruited from below. All manner of inferior divinities claim to be members of the tribe of the goddess Danu. The goblins and sprites and demons of the air who shrieked around battles are described collectively as Tuatha Dé Danann. 2

As for the Fomors, they have lost their distinctive names, though they are still recognized as dwellers beneath the deep, who at times raid upon


p. 158

the coast, and do battle with the heroes over whom Conchobar ruled at Emain Macha.

This seat of his government, the traditionary site of which is still marked by an extensive prehistoric entrenchment called Navan Fort 1, near Armagh, was the centre of an Ulster that stretched southwards as far as the Boyne, and round its ruler gathered such a galaxy of warriors as Ireland had never seen before, or will again. They called themselves the "Champions of the Red Branch"; there was not one of them who was not a hero; but they are all dwarfed by one splendid figure--Cuchulainn, whose name means "Culann's Hound". Mr. Alfred Nutt calls him "the Irish Achilles" 2, while Professor Rhys would rather see in him a Heracles of the Gaels. 3 Like Achilles, he was the chosen hero of his people, invincible in battle, and yet "at once to early death and sorrows doomed beyond the lot of man", while, like Heracles, his life was a series of wonderful exploits and labours. It matters little enough; for the lives of all such mythical heroes must be of necessity somewhat alike.

If Achilles and Heracles were, as some think, personifications of the sun, Cuchulainn is not less so. Most of his attributes, as the old stories record them, are obviously solar symbols. He seemed generally small and insignificant, yet, when he was


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at his full strength, no one could look him in the face without blinking, while the heat of his constitution melted snow for thirty feet all round him. He turned red and hissed as he dipped his body into its bath--the sea. Terrible was his transformation when sorely oppressed by his enemies, as the sun is by mist, storm, or eclipse. At such times "among the aërial clouds over his head were visible the virulent pouring showers and sparks of ruddy fire which the seething of his savage wrath caused to mount up above him. His hair became tangled about his head, as it had been branches of a red thorn-bush stuffed into a strongly-fenced gap. . . . Taller, thicker, more rigid, longer than mast of a great ship was the perpendicular jet of dusky blood which out of his scalp's very central point shot upwards and then was scattered to the four cardinal points; whereby was formed a magic mist of gloom resembling the smoky pall that drapes a regal dwelling, what time a king at nightfall of a winter's day draws near to it." 1

So marvellous a being 2 was, of course, of marvellous birth. His mother, Dechtiré, was on the point of being married to an Ulster chieftain called Sualtam, and was sitting at the wedding-feast, when a may-fly flew into her cup of wine and was unwittingly swallowed by her. That same afternoon


p. 160

she fell into a deep sleep, and in her dream the sun-god Lugh appeared to her, and told her that it was he whom she had swallowed, and bore within her. He ordered her and her fifty attendant maidens to come with him at once, and he put upon them the shapes of birds, so that they were not seen to go. Nothing was heard of them again. But one day, months later, a flock of beautiful birds appeared before Emain Macha, and drew out its warriors in their chariots to hunt them.

They followed the birds till nightfall, when they found themselves at the Brugh on the Boyne, where the great gods had their homes. As they looked everywhere for shelter, they suddenly saw a splendid palace. A tall and handsome man, richly dressed, came out and welcomed them and led them in. Within the hall were a beautiful and noble-faced woman and fifty maidens, and on the tables were the richest meats and wines, and everything fit for the needs of warriors. So they rested there the night, and, during the night, they heard the cry of a new-born child. The next morning, the man told them who he was, and that the woman was Conchobar's half-sister Dechtiré, and he ordered them to take the child, and bring it up among the warriors of Ulster. So they brought him back, together with his mother and the maidens, and Dechtiré married Sualtam, and all the chiefs, champions, druids, poets, and lawgivers of Ulster vied with one another in bringing up the mysterious infant.

At first they called him Setanta; and this is how he came to change his name. While still a child,

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he was the strongest of the boys of Emain Macha, and the champion in their sports. One day he was playing hurley single-handed against all the others, and beating them, when Conchobar the King rode by with his nobles on the way to a banquet given by Culann, the chief smith of the Ultonians. Conchobar called to the boy, inviting him to go with them, and he replied that, when the game was finished, he would follow. As soon as the Ulster champions were in Culann's hall, the smith asked the king's leave to unloose his terrible watch-dog, which was as strong and fierce as a hundred hounds; and Conchobar, forgetting that the boy was to follow them, gave his permission. Immediately the hound saw Setanta coming, it rushed at him, open-mouthed. But the boy flung his playing-ball into its mouth, and then, seizing it by the hind-legs, dashed it against a rock till he had killed it.

The smith Culann was very angry at the death of his dog; for there was no other hound in the world like him for guarding a house and flocks. So Setanta promised to find and train up another one, not less good, for Culann, and, until it was trained, to guard the smith's house as though he were a dog himself. This is why he was called Cuchulainn, that is, "Culann's Hound"; and Cathbad the Druid prophesied that the time would come when the name would be in every man's mouth.

Not long after this, Cuchulainn overheard Cathbad giving druidical instruction, and one of his pupils asking him what that day would be propitious

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for. Cathbad replied that, if any young man first took arms on that day, his name would be greater than that of any other hero's, but his life would be short. At once, the boy went to King Conchobar, and demanded arms and a chariot. Conchobar asked him who had put such a thought into his head; and he answered that it was Cathbad the Druid. So Conchobar gave him arms and armour, and sent him out with a charioteer. That evening, Cuchulainn brought back the heads of three champions who had killed many of the warriors of Ulster. He was then only seven years old.

The women of Ulster so loved Cuchulainn after this that the warriors grew jealous, and insisted that a wife should be found for him. But Cuchulainn was very hard to please. He would have only one, Emer 1, the daughter of Forgall the Wily, the best maiden in Ireland for the six gifts--the gift of beauty, the gift of voice, the gift of sweet speech, the gift of needlework, the gift of wisdom, and the gift of chastity. So he went to woo her, but she laughed at him for a boy. Then Cuchulainn swore by the gods of his people that he would make his name known wherever the deeds of heroes were spoken of, and Emer promised to marry him if he could take her from her warlike kindred.

When Forgall, her father, came to know of this betrothal, he devised a plan to put an end to it. He went to visit King Conchobar at Emain Macha. There he pretended to have heard of Cuchulainn for the first time, and he saw him do all his feats.


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[paragraph continues] He said, loud enough to be overheard by all, that if so promising a youth dared to go to the Island of Scathach the Amazon, in the east of Alba, 1 and learn all her warrior-craft, no living man would be able to stand before him. It was hard to reach Scathach's Isle, and still harder to return from it, and Forgall felt certain that, if Cuchulainn went, he would get his death there.

Of course, nothing would now satisfy Cuchulainn but going. His two friends, Laegaire the Battle-winner and Conall the Victorious, said that they would go with him. But, before they had gone far, they lost heart and turned back. Cuchulainn went on alone, crossing the Plain of Ill-Luck, where men's feet stuck fast, while sharp grasses sprang up and cut them, and through the Perilous Glens, full of devouring wild beasts, until he came to the Bridge of the Cliff, which rose on end, till it stood straight up like a ship's mast, as soon as anyone put foot on it. Three times Cuchulainn tried to cross it, and thrice he failed. Then anger came into his heart, and a magic halo shone round his head, and he did his famous feat of the "hero's salmon leap", and landed, in one jump, on the middle of the bridge, and then slid down it as it rose up on end.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:37:46 pm
Scathach was in the dún, with her two sons. Cuchulainn went to her, and put his sword to her breast, and threatened to kill her if she would not teach him all her own skill in arms. So he became her pupil, and she taught him all her war-craft. In return, Cuchulainn helped her against a rival queen


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of the Amazons, called Aoife 1. He conquered Aoife, and compelled her to make peace with Scathach.

Then he returned to Ireland, and went in a scythed chariot to Forgall's palace. He leaped over its triple walls, and slew everyone who came near him. Forgall met his death in trying to escape Cuchulainn's rage. He found Emer, and placed her in his chariot, and drove away; and, every time that Forgall's warriors came up to them, he turned, and slew a hundred, and put the rest to flight. He reached Emain Macha in safety, and he and Emer were married there.

And so great, after this, were the fame of Cuchulainn's prowess and Emer's beauty that the men and women of Ulster yielded them precedence--him among the warriors and her among the women--in every feast and banquet at Emain Macha.

But all that Cuchulainn had done up to this time was as nothing to the deeds he did in the great war which all the rest of Ireland, headed by Ailill and Medb, King and Queen of Connaught, made upon Ulster, to get the Brown Bull of Cualgne. 2 This Bull was one of two, of fairy descent. They had originally been the swineherds of two of the gods, Bodb, King of the Sídhe of Munster, and Ochall Ochne, King of the Sídhe of Connaught. As swineherds they were in perpetual rivalry; then, the better to carry on their quarrel, they changed themselves into two ravens, and fought for a year;





Click to enlarge
QUEEN MEDB'S CAIRN, KNOCKNAREA, Sligo--R. Welch




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next they turned into water-monsters, which tore one another for a year in the Suir and a year in the Shannon; then they became human again and fought as champions; and ended by changing into eels. One of these eels went into the River Cruind, in Cualgne 1, in Ulster, where it was swallowed by a cow belonging to Daire of Cualgne, and the other into the spring of Uaran Garad, in Connaught, where it passed into the belly of a cow of Queen Medb's. Thus were born those two famous beasts, the Brown Bull of Ulster and the White-horned Bull of Connaught.

Now the White-horned was of such proud mind that he scorned to belong to a woman, and he went out of Medb's herds into those of her husband Ailill. So that when Ailill and Medb one day, in their idleness, counted up their possessions, to set them off one against the other, although they were equal in every other thing, in jewels and clothes and household vessels, in sheep and horses and swine and cattle, Medb had no one bull that was worthy to be set beside Ailill's White-horned. Refusing to be less in anything than her husband, the proud queen sent heralds, with gifts and compliments, to Daire, asking him to lend her the Brown Bull for a year. Daire would have done so gladly had not one of Medb's messengers been heard boasting in his cups that, if Daire had not lent the Brown Bull of his own free-will, Medb would have taken it. This was reported to Daire, who at once swore that she should never have it. Medb's messenger


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returned; and the Queen of Connaught, furious at his refusal, vowed that she would take it by force.

She assembled the armies of all the rest of Ireland to go against Ulster, and made Fergus son of Roy, an Ulster champion who had quarrelled with King Conchobar, its leader. They expected to have an easy victory, for the warriors of Ulster were at that time lying under a magic weakness which fell upon them for many days in each year, as the result of a curse laid upon them, long before, by a goddess who had been insulted by one of Conchobar's ancestors. Medb called up a prophetess of her people to foretell victory. "How do you see our hosts?" asked the queen of the seeress. "I see crimson on them; I see red," she replied. "But the warriors of Ulster are lying in their sickness. Nay, how do you see our men?" "I see them all crimson; I see them all red," she repeated. And then she added to the astonished queen, who had expected a quite different foretelling: "For I see a small man doing deeds of arms, though there are many wounds on his smooth skin; the hero-light shines round his head, and there is victory on his forehead; he is richly clothed, and young and beautiful and modest, but he is a dragon in battle. His appearance and his valour are those of Cuchulainn of Muirthemne; who that 'Culann's hound' from Muirthemne may be, I do not know; but I know this, that all our army will be reddened by him. He is setting out for battle; he will hew down your hosts; the slaughter he shall make will be long remembered; there will be many women crying over the bodies mangled by the Hound of

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the Forge whom I see before me now." 1 For Cuchulainn was, for some reason unknown to us, the only man in Ulster who was not subject to the magic weakness, and therefore it fell upon him to defend Ulster single-handed against the whole of Medb's army.

In spite of the injury done him by King Conchobar, Fergus still kept a love for his own country. He had not the heart to march upon the Ultonians without first secretly sending a messenger to warn them. So that, though all the other champions of the Red Branch were helpless, Cuchulainn was watching the marches when the army came.

Now begins the story of the aristeia of the Gaelic hero. It is, after the manner of epics, the record of a series of single combats, in each of which Cuchulainn slays his adversary. Man after man comes against him, and not one goes back. In the intervals between these duels, Cuchulainn harasses the army with his sling, slaying a hundred men a day. He kills Medb's pet dog, bird, and squirrel, and creates such terror that no one dares to stir out of the camp. Medb herself has a narrow escape; for one of her serving-women, who puts on her mistress's golden head-dress, is killed by a stone flung from Cuchulainn's sling.

The great queen determines to see with her own eyes this marvellous hero who is holding all her warriors at bay. She sends an envoy, asking him to come and parley with her. Cuchulainn agrees, and, at the meeting, Medb is amazed at his boyish


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look. She finds it hard to believe that it is this beardless stripling of seventeen who is killing her champions, until the whole army seems as though it were melting away. She offers him her own friendship and great honours and possessions in Connaught if he will forsake Conchobar. He refuses; but she offers it again and again. At last Cuchulainn indignantly declares that the next man who comes with such a message will do so at his peril. One bargain, however, he will make. He is willing to fight one of the men of Ireland every day, and, while the duel lasts, the main army may march on; but, as soon as Cuchulainn has killed his man, it must halt until the next day. Medb agrees to this, thinking it better to lose one man a day than a hundred.

Medb makes the same offer to every famous warrior, to induce him to go against Cuchulainn. The reward for the head of the champion will be the hand of her daughter, Findabair 1. In spite of this, not one of the aspirants to the princess can stand before Cuchulainn. All perish; and Findabair, when she finds out how she is being promised to a fresh suitor every day, dies of shame. But, while Cuchulainn is engaged in these combats, Medb sends men who scour Ulster for the brown bull, and find him, and drive him, with fifty heifers, into her camp.

Meanwhile the Æs Sídhe, the fairy god-clan, are watching the half-divine, half-mortal hero, amazed at his achievements. His exploits kindle love in the fierce heart of the Morrígú, the great war-goddess.


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[paragraph continues] Cuchulainn is awakened from sleep by a terrible shout from the north. He orders his driver, Laeg, to yoke the horses to his chariot, so that he may find out who raised it. They go in the direction from which the sound had come, and meet with a woman in a chariot drawn by a red horse. She has red eyebrows, and a red dress, and a long, red cloak, and she carries a great, gray spear. He asks her who she is, and she tells him that she is a king's daughter, and that she has fallen in love with him through hearing of his exploits. Cuchulainn says that he has other things to think of than love. She replies that she has been giving him her help in his battles, and will still do so; and Cuchulainn answers that he does not need any woman's help. "Then," says she, "if you will not have my love and help, you shall have my hatred and enmity. When you are fighting with a warrior as good as yourself, I will come against you in various shapes and hinder you, so that he shall have the advantage." Cuchulainn draws his sword, but all he sees is a hoodie crow sitting on a branch. He knows from this that the red woman in the chariot was the great queen of the gods.

The next day, a warrior named Loch went to meet Cuchulainn. At first he refused to fight one who was beardless; so Cuchulainn smeared his chin with blackberry juice, until it looked as though he had a beard. While Cuchulainn was fighting Loch, the Morrígú came against him three times--first as a heifer which tried to overthrow him, and next as an eel which got beneath his feet as he stood in

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running water, and then as a wolf which seized hold of his right arm. But Cuchulainn broke the heifer's leg, and trampled upon the eel, and put out one of the wolf's eyes, though, every one of these three times, Loch wounded him. In the end, Cuchulainn slew Loch with his invincible spear, the gae bolg 1, made of a sea-monster's bones. The Morrígú came back to Cuchulainn, disguised as an old woman, to have her wounds healed by him, for no one could cure them but he who had made them. She became his friend after this, and helped him.

But the fighting was so continuous that Cuchulainn got no sleep, except just for a while, from time to time, when he might rest a little, with his head on his hand and his hand on his spear and his spear on his knee. So that his father, Lugh the Long-handed, took pity on him and came to him in the semblance of a tall, handsome man in a green cloak and a gold-embroidered silk shirt, and carrying a black shield and a five-pronged spear. He put him into a sleep of three days and three nights, and, while he rested, he laid druidical herbs on to all his wounds, so that, in the end, he rose up again completely healed and as strong as at the very beginning of the war. While he was asleep, the boy-troop of Emain Macha, Cuchulainn's old companions, came and fought instead of him, and slew three times their own number, but were all killed.

It was at this time that Medb asked Fergus to go and fight with Cuchulainn. Fergus answered that he would never fight against his own foster-


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son Medb asked him again and again, and at last he went, but without his famous sword. "Fergus, my guardian," said Cuchulainn, "it is not safe for you to come out against me without your sword." "If I had the sword," replied Fergus, "I would not use it on you." Then Fergus asked Cuchulainn, for the sake of all he had done for him in his boyhood, to pretend to fight with him, and then give way before him and run away. Cuchulainn answered that he was very loth to be seen running from any man. But Fergus promised Cuchulainn that, if Cuchulainn would run away from Fergus then, Fergus would run away from Cuchulainn at some future time, whenever Cuchulainn wished. Cuchulainn agreed to this, for he knew that it would be for the profit of Ulster. So they fought a little, and then Cuchulainn turned and fled in the sight of all Medb's army. Fergus went back; and Medb could not reproach him any more.

But she cast about to find some other way of vanquishing Cuchulainn. The agreement made had been that only one man a day should be sent against him. But now Medb sent the wizard Calatin with his twenty-seven sons and his grandson all at once, for she said "they are really only one, for they are all from Calatin's body". They never missed a throw with their poisoned spears, and every man they hit died, either on the spot or within the week. When Fergus heard of this, he was in great grief, and he sent a man called Fiacha, an exile, like himself, from Ulster, to watch the fight and report how it went. Now Fiacha did not mean to join in it,

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but when he saw Cuchulainn assailed by twenty-nine at a time, and overpowered, he could not restrain himself. So he drew his sword and helped Cuchulainn, and, between them, they killed Calatin and his whole family.

As a last resource, now, Medb sent for Ferdiad, who was the great champion of the Iberian "Men of Domnu", who had thrown in their lot with Medb in the war for the Brown Bull. Ferdiad had been a companion and fellow-pupil of Cuchulainn with Scathach, and he did not wish to fight with him. But Medb told him that, if he refused, her satirists should make such lampoons on him that he would die of shame, and his name would be a reproach for ever. She also offered him great rewards and honours, and bound herself in six sureties to keep her promises. At last, reluctantly, he went.

Cuchulainn saw him coming, and went out to welcome him; but Ferdiad said that he had not come as a friend, but to fight. Now Cuchulainn had been Ferdiad's junior and serving-boy in Scathach's Island, and he begged him by the memory of those old times to go back; but Ferdiad said he could not. They fought all day, and neither had gained any advantage by sunset. So they kissed one another, and each went back to his camp. Ferdiad sent half his food and drink to Cuchulainn, and Cuchulainn sent half his healing herbs and medicines to Ferdiad, and their horses were put in the same stable, and their charioteers slept by the same fire. And so it happened on the second day. But at the end of the third day they parted




Click to enlarge
CUCHULAINN CARRIES FERDIAD ACROSS THE RIVER




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gloomily, knowing that on the morrow one of them must fall; and their horses were not put in the same stall that night, neither did their charioteers sleep at the same fire. On the fourth day, Cuchulainn succeeded in killing Ferdiad, by casting the gae bolg at him from underneath. But when he saw that he was dying, the battle-fury passed away, and he took his old companion up in his arms, and carried him across the river on whose banks they had fought, so that he might be with the men of Ulster in his death, and not with the men of Ireland. And he wept over him, and said: "It was all a game and a sport until Ferdiad came; Oh, Ferdiad! your death will hang over me like a cloud for ever. Yesterday he was greater than a mountain; to-day he is less than a shadow."

By this time, Cuchulainn was so covered with wounds that he could not bear his clothes to touch his skin, but had to hold them off with hazel-sticks, and fill the spaces in between with grass. There was not a place on him the size of a needle-point that had not a wound on it, except his left hand, which held the shield.

But Sualtam, Cuchulainn's reputed father, had learned what a sore plight his son was in. "Do I hear the heaven bursting, or the sea running away, or the earth breaking open," he cried, "or is it my son's groaning that I hear?" He came to look for him, and found him covered with wounds and blood. But Cuchulainn would not let his father either weep for him or try to avenge him. "Go, rather," he said to him, "to Emain Macha, and tell Conchobar

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that I can no longer defend Ulster against all the four provinces of Erin without help. Tell him that there is no part of my body on which there is not a wound, and that, if he wishes to save his kingdom, he must make no delay."

Sualtam mounted Cuchulainn's war-horse, the "Gray of Battle", and galloped to Emain Macha. Three times he shouted: "Men are being killed, women carried off, and cattle lifted in Ulster". Twice he met with no response. The third time, Cathbad the Druid roused himself from his lethargy to denounce the man who was disturbing the king's sleep. In his indignation Sualtam turned away so sharply that the gray steed reared, and struck its rider's shield against his neck with such force that he was decapitated. The startled horse then turned back into Conchobar's stronghold, and dashed through it, Sualtam's severed head continuing to cry out: "Men are being killed, women carried off, and cattle lifted in Ulster." Such a portent was enough to rouse the most drowsy. Conchobar, himself again, swore a great oath. "The heavens are over us, the earth is beneath us, and the sea circles us round, and, unless the heavens fall, with all their stars, or the earth gives way beneath us, or the sea bursts over the land, I will restore every cow to her stable, and every woman to her home."

He sent messengers to rally Ulster, and they gathered, and marched on the men of Erin. And then was fought such a battle as had never been before in Ireland. First one side, then the other, gave way and rallied again, until Cuchulainn heard

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the noise of the fight, and rose up, in spite of all his wounds, and came to it.

He called out to Fergus, reminding him how he had bound himself with an oath to run from him when called upon to do so. So Fergus ran before Cuchulainn, and when Medb's army saw their leader running they broke and fled like one man.

But the Brown Bull of Cualgne went with the army into Connaught, and there he met Ailill's bull, the White-horned. And he fought the White-horned, and tore him limb from limb, and carried off pieces of him on his horns, dropping the loins at Athlone and the liver at Trim. Then he went back to Cualgne, and turned mad, killing all who crossed his path, until his heart burst with bellowing, and he fell dead.

This was the end of the great war called Táin Bó Chuailgné, the "Driving of the Cattle of Cooley".

Yet, wondrous as it was, it was not the most marvellous of Cuchulainn's exploits. Like all the solar gods and heroes of Celtic myth, he carried his conquests into the dark region of Hades. On this occasion the mysterious realm is an island called Dún Scaith, that is, the "Shadowy Town", and though its king is not mentioned by name, it seems likely that he was Mider, and that Dun Scaith is another name for the Isle of Falga, or Man. The story, as a poem 1 relates it, is curiously suggestive of a raid which the powers of light, and especially the sun-gods, are represented as having made upon


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[paragraph continues] Hades in kindred British myth. 1. The same loathsome combatants issue out of the underworld to repel its assailants. There was a pit in the centre of Din Scaith, out of which swarmed a vast throng of serpents. No sooner had Cuchulainn and the heroes of Ulster disposed of these than "a house full of toads" was loosed upon them--"sharp, beaked monsters" (says the poem), which caught them by the noses, and these were in turn replaced by fierce dragons. Yet the heroes prevailed and carried off the spoil--three cows of magic qualities and a marvellous cauldron in which was always found an inexhaustible supply of meat, with treasure of silver and gold to boot. They started back for Ireland in a coracle, the three cows being towed behind, with the treasure in bags around their necks. But the gods of Hades raised a storm which wrecked their ship, and they had to swim home. Here Cuchulainn's more than mortal prowess came in useful. We are told that he floated nine men to shore on each of his hands, and thirty on his head, while eight more, clinging to his sides, used him as a kind of life-belt.

After this, came the tragedy of Cuchulainn's career, the unhappy duel in which he killed his only son, not knowing who he was. The story is one common, apparently, to the Aryan nations, for it is found not only in the Gaelic, but in the Teutonic and Persian mythic traditions. It will be remembered that Cuchulainn defeated a rival of Scathach the Amazon, named Aoife, and compelled her to render submission. The hero had also a son by


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[paragraph continues] Aoife, and he asked that the boy should be called Conlaoch 1, and that, when he was of age to travel, he should be sent to Ireland to find his father. Aoife promised this, but, a little later, news came to her that Cuchulainn had married Emer. Mad with jealousy, she determined to make the son avenge her slight upon the father. She taught him the craft of arms until there was no more that he could learn, and sent him to Ireland. Before he started, she laid three geasa 2 upon him. The first was that he was not to turn back, the second that he was never to refuse a challenge, and the third that he was never to tell his name.

He arrived at Dundealgan 3, Cuchulainn's home, and the warrior Conall came down to meet him, and asked him his name and lineage. He refused to tell them, and this led to a duel, in which Conall was disarmed and humiliated. Cuchulainn next approached him, asked the same question, and received the same answer. "Yet if I was not under a command," said Conlaoch, who did not know he was speaking to his father, "there is no man in the world to whom I would sooner tell it than to yourself, for I love your face." Even this compliment could not stave off the fight, for Cuchulainn felt it his duty to punish the insolence of this stripling who refused to declare who he was. The fight was a fierce one, and the invincible Cuchulainn found himself so pressed that the "hero-light" shone round


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him and transfigured his face. When Conlaoch saw this, he knew who his antagonist must be, and purposely flung his spear slantways that it might not hit his father. But before Cuchulainn understood, he had thrown the terrible gae bolg. Conlaoch, dying, declared his name; and so passionate was Cuchulainn's grief that the men of Ulster were afraid that in his madness he might wreak his wrath upon them. They, therefore, called upon Cathbad the Druid to put him under a glamour. Cathbad turned the waves of the sea into the appearance of armed men, and Cuchulainn smote them with his sword until he fell prone from weariness.

It would take too long to relate all the other adventures and exploits of Cuchulainn. Enough has been done if any reader of this chapter should be persuaded by it to study the wonderful saga of ancient Ireland for himself. We must pass on quickly to its tragical close--the hero's death.

Medb, Queen of Connaught, had never forgiven him for keeping back her army from raiding Ulster, and for slaying so many of her friends and allies. So she went secretly to all those whose relations Cuchulainn had killed (and they were many), and stirred them up to revenge.

Besides this, she had sent the three daughters of Calatin the Wizard, born after their father's death at the hands of Cuchulainn, to Alba and to Babylon to learn witchcraft. When they came back they were mistresses of every kind of sorcery, and could make the illusion of battle with an incantation.

And, lest she might fail even then, she waited

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with patience until the Ultonians were again in their magic weakness, and there was no one to help Cuchulainn but himself.

Lugaid 1, son of the Curoi, King of Munster whom Cuchulainn had killed for the sake of Blathnat, Mider's daughter, gathered the Munster men; Erc, whose father had also fallen at Cuchulainn's hands, called the men of Meath; the King of Leinster brought out his army; and, with Ailill and Medb and all Connaught, they marched into Ulster again, and began to ravage it.

Conchobar called his warriors and druids into council, to see if they could find some means of putting off war until they were ready to meet it. He did not wish Cuchulainn to go out single-handed a second time against all the rest of Ireland, for he knew that, if the champion perished, the prosperity of Ulster would fall with him for ever. So, when Cuchulainn came to Emain Macha, the king set all the ladies, singers, and poets of the court to keep his thoughts from war until the men of Ulster had recovered from their weakness.

But while they sat feasting and talking in the "sunny house", the three daughters of Calatin came fluttering down on to the lawn before it, and began gathering grass and thistles and puff-balls and withered leaves, and turning them into the semblance of armies. And, by the same magic, they caused shouts and shrieks and trumpet-blasts and the clattering of arms to be heard all round the house, as though a battle were being fought.


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Cuchulainn leaped up, red with shame to think that fighting should be going on without his help, and seized his sword. But Cathbad's son caught him by the arms. All the druids explained to him that what he saw was only an enchantment raised by the children of Calatin to draw him out to his death. But it was as much as all of them could do to keep him quiet while he saw the phantom armies and heard the magic sounds.

So they decided that it would be well to remove Cuchulainn from Emain Macha to Glean-na-Bodhar 1, the "Deaf Valley", until all the enchantments of the daughters of Calatin were spent. It was the quality of this valley that, if all the men of Ireland were to shout round it at once, no one within it would hear a sound.

But the daughters of Calatin went there too, and again they took thistles and puff-balls and withered leaves, and put on them the appearance of armed men; so that there seemed to be no place outside the whole valley that was not filled with shouting battalions. And they made the illusion of fires all around and the sound of women shrieking. Everyone who heard that outcry was frightened at it, not only the men and women, but even the dogs.

Though the women and the druids shouted back with all the strength of their voices, to drown it they could not keep Cuchulainn from hearing. "Alas!" he cried, "I hear the men of Ireland shouting as they ravage the province. My triumph is at an end; my fame is gone; Ulster lies low for ever."


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"Let it pass," said Cathbad; "it is only the idle magic noises made by the children of Calatin, who want to draw you out, to put an end to you. Stay here with us, and take no heed of them."

Cuchulainn obeyed; and the daughters of Calatin went on for a long time filling the air with noises of battle. But they grew tired of it at last; for they saw that the druids and women had outwitted them.

They did not succeed until one of them took the form of a leman of Cuchulainn's, and came to him, crying out that Dundealgan was burnt, and Muirthemne ruined, and the whole province of Ulster ravaged. Then, at last, he was deceived, and took his arms and armour, and, in spite of all that was said to him, he ordered Laeg to yoke his chariot.

Signs and portents now began to gather as thickly round the doomed hero as they did round the wooers in the hall of Odysseus. His famous war-horse, the Gray of Macha, refused to be bridled, and shed large tears of blood. His mother, Dechtiré, brought him a goblet full of wine, and thrice the wine turned into blood as he put it to his lips. At the first ford he crossed, he saw a maiden of the sídhe washing clothes and armour, and she told him that it was the clothes and arms of Cuchulainn, who was soon to be dead. He met three ancient hags cooking a hound on spits of rowan, and they invited him to partake of it. He refused, for it was taboo to him to eat the flesh of his namesake; but they shamed him into doing so by telling him that he ate at rich men's tables and refused the hospitality of

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the poor. The forbidden meat paralysed half his body. Then he saw his enemies coming up against him in their chariots.

Cuchulainn had three spears, of which it was prophesied that each should kill a king. Three druids were charged in turn to ask for these spears; for it was not thought lucky to refuse anything to a druid. The first one came up to where Cuchulainn was making the plain red with slaughter. "Give me one of those spears," he said, "or I will lampoon you." "Take it," replied Cuchulainn, "I have never yet been lampooned for refusing anyone a gift." And he threw the spear at the druid, and killed him. But Lugaid, son of Curoi, got the spear, and killed Laeg with it. Laeg was the king of all chariot-drivers.

"Give me one of your spears, Cuchulainn," said the second druid. "I need it myself," he replied. "I will lampoon the province of Ulster because of you, if you refuse." "I am not obliged to give more than one gift in a day," said Cuchulainn, "but Ulster shall never be lampooned because of me." He threw the spear at the druid, and it went through his head. But Erc, King of Leinster, got it, and mortally wounded the Gray of Macha, the king of all horses.

"Give me your spear," said the third druid. "I have paid all that is due from myself and Ulster," replied Cuchulainn. "I will satirize your kindred if you do not," said the druid. "I shall never go home, but I will be the cause of no lampoons there," answered Cuchulainn, and he threw the spear at the

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asker, and killed him. But Lugaid threw it back, and it went through Cuchulainn's body, and wounded him to the death.

Then, in his agony, he greatly desired to drink. He asked his enemies to let him go to a lake that lay close by, and quench his thirst, and then come back again. "If I cannot come back to you, come to fetch me," he said; and they let him go.

Cuchulainn drank, and bathed, and came out of the water. But he found that he could not walk; so he called to his enemies to come to him. There was a pillar-stone near; and he bound himself to it with his belt, so that he might die standing up, and not lying down. His dying horse, the Gray of Macha, came back to fight for him, and killed fifty men with his teeth and thirty with each of his hoofs. But the "hero-light" had died out of Cuchulainn's face, leaving it as pale as "a one-night's snow", and a crow came and perched upon his shoulder.

"Truly it was not upon that pillar that birds used to sit," said Erc.

Now that they were certain that Cuchulainn was dead, they all gathered round him, and Lugaid cut off his head to take it to Medb. But vengeance came quickly, for Conall the Victorious was in pursuit, and he made a terrible slaughter of Cuchulainn's enemies.

Thus perished the great hero of the Gaels in the twenty-seventh year of his age. And with him fell the prosperity of Emain Macha and of the Red Branch of Ulster.


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Footnotes
153:1


"There came
Tigernmas, the prince of Tara yonder,
On Hallowe’en with many hosts,
A cause of grief to them was the deed.

"Dead were the men
Of Banba's host, without happy strength,
Around Tigernmas, the destructive man in the North,
From the worship of Cromm Cruaich--’t was no luck for them.
"For I have learnt,
Except one-fourth of the keen Gaels
Not a man alive--lasting the snare!
Escaped without death in his mouth."
--Dr. Kuno Meyer's translation of the Dinnsenchus of Mag Slecht.


154:1 Nutt: Voyage of Bran, p. 164.

154:2 See chap. XI--"The Gods in Exile".

154:3 Pronounced Maive.

155:1 The story of the Tragical Death of King Conchobar, translated by Eugene O’Curry from the Book of Leinster, will be found in the appendix to his MS. Materials of Irish History, and (more accessible) in Miss Hull's Cuchullin Saga.

155:2 The name is best pronounced C\ŭhoolin or Cuchullin (ch as in German).

156:1 The descent of the principal Red Branch Heroes from the Tuatha Dé Danann is given in a table in Miss Hull's Introduction to her Cuchullin Saga.

156:2 Conchobar is called a terrestrial god of the Ultonians in the Book of the Dun Cow, and Dechtiré is termed a goddess in the Book of Leinster.

157:1 He is last heard of as chief cook to Conairé the Great, a mythical king of Ireland.

157:2 In the Book of Leinster.

158:1 For a description of Navan Fort see a paper by M. de Jubainville in the Revue Celtique, Vol. XVI.

158:2 Cuchulainn, the Irish Achilles. By Alfred Nutt. Popular Studies in Mythology, Romance, and Folklore, No. 8.

158:3 See a series of interesting parallels between Cuchulainn and Heracles in Studies in the Arthurian Legend, chap. IX and X.

159:1 The Táin Bó Chuailgné. Translated by Standish Hayes O’Grady.

159:2 The Irish romances relating to Cuchulainn and his cycle, nearly a hundred in number, need hardly be referred to severally in this chapter. Of many of the tales, too, there exist several slightly-varying versions. Many of them have been translated by different scholars. The reader desiring a more complete survey of the Cuchulainn legend is referred to Miss Hull's Cuchullin Saga or to Lady Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne.

162:1 Pronounced Avair.

163:1 Usually identified, however, with the Isle of Skye.

164:1 Pronounced Eefa.

164:2 A literal translation by Miss Winifred Faraday of the Táin Bo Chuailgné from the Book of the Dun Cow and the Yellow Book of Lecan has been published by Mr. Nutt--Grimm Library, No. 16.

165:1 Pronounced Cooley.

167:1 This prophecy (here much abridged) is, in the original, in verse.

168:1 Finnavár.

170:1 "Bellows-dart", apparently a kind of harpoon. It had thirty barbs.

175:1 It is contained in the Book of the Dun Cow story called the "Phantom Chariot".

176:1 See chap. XX--"The Victories of Light over Darkness".

177:1 Pronounced Conla.

177:2 A kind of mystic prohibition or taboo; singular, geis.

177:3 Now called Dundalk.

179:1 Pronounced Lewy.

180:1 Pronounced Glen na Mower.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:39:06 pm
CHAPTER XIII
SOME GAELIC LOVE-STORIES
The heroic age of Ireland was not, however, the mere **** of battle which one might assume from the previous chapter. It had room for its Helen and its Andromache as well as for its Achilles and its Hector. Its champions could find time to make love as well as war. More than this, the legends of their courtships often have a romantic beauty found in no other early literature. The women have free scope of choice, and claim the respect of their wooers. Indeed, it has been pointed out that the mythical stories of the Celts must have created the chivalrous romances of mediæval Europe. In them, and in no other previous literature, do we find such knightly treatment of an enemy as we see in the story of Cuchulainn and Ferdiad, or such poetic delicacy towards a woman as is displayed in the wooing of Emer. 1 The talk between man and maid when Cuchulainn comes in his chariot to pay his suit to Emer at Forgall's dún might, save for its strangeness, almost have come out of some quite modern romance.


p. 185

"Emer lifted up her lovely face and recognised Cuchulainn, and she said, 'May God make smooth the path before you!'

"'And you,' he said, 'may you be safe from every harm.'"

She asks him whence he has come, and he tells her. Then he questions her about herself.

"I am a Tara of women," she replies, "the whitest of maidens, one who is gazed at but who gazes not back, a rush too far to be reached, an untrodden way. . . . I was brought up in ancient virtues, in lawful behaviour, in the keeping of chastity, in rank equal to a queen, in stateliness of form, so that to me is attributed every noble grace among the hosts of Erin's women." In more boastful strain Cuchulainn tells of his own birth and deeds. Not like the son of a peasant had he been reared at Conchobar's court, but among heroes and champions, jesters and druids. When he is weakest his strength is that of twenty; alone he will fight against forty; a hundred men would feel safe under his protection. One can imagine Emer's smile as she listens to these braggings. "Truly," she says, "they are goodly feats for a tender boy, but they are not yet those of chariot-chiefs." Very modern, too, is the way in which she coyly reminds her wooer that she has an elder sister as yet unwed. But, when at last he drives her to the point, she answers him with gentle, but proud decision. Not by words, but by deeds is she to be won. The man she will marry must have his name mentioned wherever the exploits of heroes are spoken of.

p. 186

"Even as thou hast commanded, so shall all by me be done," said Cuchulainn.

"And by me your offer is accepted, it is taken, it is granted," replied Emer.

It seems a pity that, after so fine a wooing, Cuchulainn could not have kept faithful to the bride he won. Yet such is not the way of heroes whom goddesses as well as mortal women conspire to tempt from their loyalty. Fand, the wife of Manannán son of Lêr, deserted by the sea-god, sent her sister Liban to Cuchulainn as an ambassador of love. At first he refused to visit her, but ordered Laeg, his charioteer, to go with Liban to the "Happy Plain" to spy out the land. Laeg returned enraptured. "If all Ireland were mine," he assured his master, "with supreme rule over its fair inhabitants, I would give it up without regret to go and live in the place that I have seen."

So Cuchulainn himself went and stayed a month in the Celtic Paradise with Fand, the fairest woman of the Sídhe. Returning to the land of mortals, he made a tryst with the goddess to meet him again in his own country by the yew-tree at the head of Baile's strand.

But Emer came to hear of it, and went to the meeting-place herself, with fifty of her maidens, each armed with a knife to kill her rival. There she found Cuchulainn, Laeg, and Fand.

"What has led you, Cuchulainn," said Emer, "to shame me before the women of Erin and all honour-able people? I came under your shelter, trusting




Click to enlarge
CUCHULAINN REBUKED BY EMER
From the Drawing by H. R. Millar




p. 187

in your faithfulness, and now you seek a cause of quarrel with me."

But Cuchulainn, hero-like, could not understand why his wife should not be content to take her turn with this other woman--surely no unworthy rival, for she was beautiful, and came of the lofty race of gods. We see Emer yield at last, with queenly pathos.

"I will not refuse this woman to you, if you long for her," she said, for I know that everything that is new seems fair, and everything that is common seems bitter, and everything we have not seems desirable to us, and everything we have we think little of. And yet, Cuchulainn, I was once pleasing to you, and I would wish to be so again."

Her grief touched him. "By my word," he said, "you are pleasing to me, and will be as long as I live."

"Then let me be given up," said Fand. "It is better that I should be," replied Emer. "No," said Fand; "it is I who must be given up in the end.

"It is I who will go, though I go with great sorrow. I would rather stay with Cuchulainn than live in the sunny home of the gods.

"O Emer, he is yours, and you are worthy of him! What my hand cannot have, my heart may yet wish well to.

"A sorrowful thing it is to love without return. Better to renounce than not to receive a love equal to one's own.

"It was not well of you, O fair-haired Emer, to come to kill Fand in her misery."

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It was while the goddess and the human woman were contending with one another in self-sacrifice that Manannán, Son of the Sea, heard of Fand's trouble, and was sorry that he had forsaken her. So he came, invisible to all but her alone. He asked her pardon, and she herself could not forget that she had once been happy with the "horseman of the crested waves", and still might be happy with him again. The god asked her to make her choice between them, and, when she went to him, he shook his mantle between her and Cuchulainn. It was one of the magic properties of Manannán's mantle that those between whom it was shaken could never meet again. Then Fand returned with her divine husband to the country of the immortals; and the druids of Emain Macha gave Cuchulainn and Emer each a drink of oblivion, so that Cuchulainn forgot his love and Emer her jealousy. 1

The scene of this story takes its name from another, and hardly less beautiful love-tale. The "yew-tree at the head of Baile's strand" had grown out of the grave of Baile of the Honeyed Speech, and it bore the appearance of Baile's love, Ailinn. This Gaelic Romeo and Juliet were of royal birth: Baile was heir to Ulster, and Ailinn was daughter of the King of Leinster's son. Not by any feud of Montague and Capulet were they parted, however, but by the craft of a ghostly enemy. They had appointed to meet one another at Dundealgan,


p. 189

and Baile, who arrived there first, was greeted by a stranger. "What news do you bring?" asked Baile. "None," replied the stranger, "except that Ailinn of Leinster was setting out to meet her lover, but the men of Leinster kept her back, and her heart broke then and there from grief." When Baile heard this, his own heart broke, and he fell dead on the strand, while the messenger went on the wings of the wind to the home of Ailinn, who had not yet started. "Whence come you?" she asked him. "From Ulster, by the shore of Dundealgan, where I saw men raising a stone over one who had just died, and on the stone I read the name of Baile. He had come to meet some woman he was in love with, but it was destined that they should never see one another again in life." At this news Ailinn, too, fell dead, and was buried; and we are told that an apple-tree grew out of her grave, the apples of which bore the likeness of the face of Baile, while a yew-tree sprung from Baile's grave, and took the appearance of Ailinn. This legend, which is probably a part of the common heritage of the Aryans, is found in folk-lore over an area which stretches from Ireland to India. The Gaelic version has, however, an ending unknown to the others. The two trees, it relates, were cut down, and made into wands upon which the poets of Ulster and of Leinster cut the songs of the love-tragedies of their two provinces, in ogam. But even these mute memorials of Baile and Ailinn were destined not to be divided. After two hundred years, Art the "Lonely", High-King of Ireland, ordered them to be brought to the hall of Tara,

p. 190

and, as soon as the wands found themselves under the same roof, they all sprang together, and no force or skill could part them again. So the king commanded them to be "kept, like any other jewel, in the treasury of Tara." 1

Neither of these stories, however, has as yet attained the fame of one now to be retold. 2 To many, no doubt, Gaelic romance is summed up in the one word Deirdre. It is the legend of this Gaelic Helen that the poets of the modern Celtic school most love to elaborate, while old men still tell it round the peat-fires of Ireland and the Highlands. Scholar and peasant alike combine to preserve a tradition no one knows how many hundred years old, for it was written down in the twelfth-century Book of Leinster as one of the "prime stories'' which every bard was bound to be able to recite It takes rank with the "Fate of the Sons of Tuirenn", and with the "Fate of the Children of Lêr", as one of the "Three Sorrowful Stories of Erin".

So favourite a tale has naturally been much altered and added to in its passage down the generations. But its essential story is as follows:--

King Conchobar of Ulster was holding festival in the house of one of his bards, called Fedlimid, when Fedlimid's wife gave birth to a daughter, concerning whom Cathbad the Druid uttered a prophecy. He


p. 191

foretold that the new-born child would grow up to be the most lovely woman the world had ever seen, but that her beauty would bring death to many heroes, and much peril and sorrow to Ulster. On hearing this, the Red Branch warriors demanded that she should be killed, but Conchobar refused, and gave the infant to a trusted serving-woman, to be hidden in a secret place in the solitude of the mountains, until she was of an age to be his own wife.

So Deirdre (as Cathbad named her) was taken away to a hut so remote from the paths of men that none knew of it save Conchobar. Here she was brought up by a nurse, a fosterer, and a teacher, and saw no other living creatures save the beasts and birds of the hills. Nevertheless, woman-like, she aspired to be loved.

One day, her fosterer was killing a calf for their food, and its blood ran out upon the snowy ground, which brought a black raven swooping to the spot. "If there were a man," said Deirdre, "who had hair of the blackness of that raven, skin of the whiteness of the snow, and cheeks as red as the calf's blood, that is the man whom I would wish to marry me."

"Indeed there is such a man," replied her teacher thoughtlessly. "Naoise 1, one of the sons of Usnach 2, heroes of the same race as Conchobar the King.

The curious Deirdre prevailed upon her teacher to bring Naoise to speak with her. When they met she made good use of her time, for she offered


p. 192

[paragraph continues] Naoise her love, and begged him to take her away from King Conchobar.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:40:46 pm
Naoise, bewitched by her beauty, consented. Accompanied by his two brothers, Ardan and Ainle, and their followers, he fled with Deirdre to Alba, where they made alliance with one of its kings, and wandered over the land, living by following the deer, and by helping the king in his battles.

The revengeful Conchobar bided his time. One day, as the heroes of the Red Branch feasted together at Emain Macha, he asked them if they had ever heard of a nobler company than their own. They replied that the world could not hold such another. "Yet", said the king, "we lack our full tale. The three sons of Usnach could defend the province of Ulster against any other province of Ireland by themselves, and it is a pity that they should still be exiles, for the sake of any woman in the world. Gladly would I welcome them back!"

"We ourselves", replied the Ultonians, "would have counselled this long ago had we dared, O King!"

"Then I will send one of my three best champions to fetch them," said Conchobar. "Either Conall the Victorious, or Cuchulainn, the son of Sualtam, or Fergus, the son of Roy; and I will find out which of those three loves me best."

First he called Conall to him secretly.

"What would you do, O Conall," he asked, "if you were sent to fetch the sons of Usnach, and they were killed here, in spite of your safe-conduct?"

"There is not a man in Ulster," answered Conall,

p. 193

[paragraph continues] "who had hand in it that would escape his own death from me."

"I see that I am not dearest of all men to you," replied Conchobar, and, dismissing Conall, he called Cuchulainn, and put the same question to him.

"By my sworn word," replied Cuchulainn, "if such a thing happened with your consent, no bribe or blood-fine would I accept in lieu of your own head, O Conchobar."

"Truly," said the king, "it is not you I will send."

The king then asked Fergus, and he replied that, if the sons of Usnach were slain while under his protection, he would revenge the deed upon anyone who was party to it, save only the king himself.

"Then it is you who shall go," said Conchobar. "Set forth to-morrow, and rest not by the way, and when you put foot again in Ireland at the Dún of Borrach, whatever may happen to you yourself, send the sons of Usnach forward without delay."

The next morning, Fergus, with his two sons, Illann the Fair and Buinne the Ruthless Red, set out for Alba in their galley, and reached Loch Etive, by whose shores the sons of Usnach were then living. Naoise, Ainle, and Ardan were sitting at chess when they heard Fergus's shout.

"That is the cry of a man of Erin," said Naoise.

"Nay," replied Deirdre, who had forebodings of trouble. "Do not heed it; it is only the shout of a man of Alba." But the sons of Usnach knew better,

p. 194

and sent Ardan down to the sea-shore, where he found Fergus and his sons, and gave them greeting, and heard their message, and brought them back with him.

That night Fergus persuaded the sons of Usnach to return with him to Emain Macha. Deirdre, with her "second sight", implored them to remain in Alba. But the exiles were weary for the sight of their own country, and did not share their companion's fears. As they put out to sea, Deirdre uttered her beautiful "Farewell to Alba", that land she was never to behold again.


"A lovable land is yon eastern land,
Alba, with its marvels.
I would not have come hither out of it,
Had I not come with Naoise.

"Lovable are Dún-fidga and Duún-finn,
Lovable the fortress over them;
Dear to the heart Inis Draigende,
And very dear is Dún Suibni.

"Caill Cuan!
Unto which Ainle would wend, alas!
Short the time seemed to me,
With Naoise in the region of Alba.

"Glenn Láid!
Often I slept there under the cliff;
Fish and venison and the fat of the badger
Was my portion in Glenn Láid.

"Glenn Masáin!
Its garlic was tall, its branches white;
We slept a rocking sleep,
Over the grassy estuary of Masáin. p. 195

"Glenn Etive!
Where my first house I raised;
Beauteous its wood:--upon rising
A cattle-fold for the sun was Glenn Etive.
. . . . . . . . . .

"Glenn Dá-Rúad!
My love to every man who hath it as an heritage!
Sweet the cuckoos' note on bending bough,
On the peak over Glenn Dá-Rúad.

"Beloved is Draigen,
Dear the white sand beneath its waves;
I would not have come from it, from the East,
Had I not come with my beloved."


They crossed the sea, and arrived at the Dún of Borrach, who bade them welcome to Ireland. Now King Conchobar had sent Borrach a secret command, that he should offer a feast to Fergus on his landing. Strange taboos called geasa are laid upon the various heroes of ancient Ireland in the stories; there are certain things that each one of them may not do without forfeiting life or honour; and it was a geis upon Fergus to refuse a feast.

Fergus, we are told, "reddened with anger from crown to sole" at the invitation. Yet he could not avoid the feast. He asked Naoise what he should do, and Deirdre broke in with: "Do what is asked of you if you prefer to forsake the sons of Usnach for a feast. Yet forsaking them is a good price to pay for."

Fergus, however, perceived a possible compromise. Though he himself could not refuse to stop to partake of Borrach's hospitality, he could send

p. 196

[paragraph continues] Deirdre and the sons of Usnach on to Emain Macha at once, under the safeguard of his two sons, Illann the Fair and Buinne the Ruthless Red. So this was done, albeit to the annoyance of the sons of Usnach and the terror of Deirdre. Visions came to the sorrowful woman; she saw the three sons of Usnach and Illann, the son of Fergus, without their heads; she saw a cloud of blood always hanging over them. She begged them to wait in some safe place until Fergus had finished the feast. But Naoise, Ainle, and Ardan laughed at her fears. They arrived at Emain Macha, and Conchobar ordered the "Red Branch" palace to be placed at their disposal.

In the evening Conchobar called Levarcham, Deirdre's old teacher, to him. "Go", he said, "to the 'Red Branch', and see Deirdre, And bring me back news of her appearance, whether she still keeps her former beauty, or whether it has left her."

So Levarcham came to the "Red Branch", and kissed Deirdre and the three sons of Usnach, and warned them that Conchobar was preparing treachery. Then she went back to the king, and reported to him that Deirdre's hard life upon the mountains of Alba had ruined her form and face, so that she was no longer worthy of his regard.

At this, Conchobar's jealousy was partly allayed, and he began to doubt whether it would be wise to attack the sons of Usnach. But later on, when he had drunk well of wine, he sent a second messenger to see if what Levarcham had reported about Deirdre was truth.

p. 197

The messenger, this time a man, went and looked in through a window. Deirdre saw him and pointed him out to Naoise, who flung a chessman at the peering face, and put out one of its eyes. But the man went back to Conchobar, and told him that, though one of his eyes had been struck out, he would gladly have stayed looking with the other, so great was Deirdre's loveliness.

Then Conchobar, in his wrath, ordered the men of Ulster to set fire to the Red Branch House and slay all within it except Deirdre. They flung fire-brands upon it, but Buinne the Ruthless Red came out and quenched them, and drove the assailants back with slaughter. But Conchobar called to him to parley, and offered him a "hundred" of land and his friendship to desert the sons of Usnach. Buinne was tempted, and fell; but the land given him turned barren that very night in indignation at being owned by such a traitor.

The other of Fergus's sons was of different make. He charged out, torch in hand, and cut down the Ultonians, so that they hesitated to come near the house again. Conchobar dared not offer him a bribe. But he armed his own son, Fiacha, with his own magic weapons, including his shield, the "Moaner", which roared when its owner was in danger, and sent him to fight Illann.

The duel was a fierce one, and Illann got the better of Fiacha, so that the son of Conchobar had to crouch down beneath his shield, which roared for help. Conall the Victorious heard the roar from far off, and thought that his king must be in peril. He

p. 198

came to the place, and, without asking questions, thrust his spear "Blue-green" through Illann. The dying son of Fergus explained the situation to Conall, who, by way of making some amends, at once killed Fiacha as well.

After this, the sons of Usnach held their fort till dawn against all Conchobar's host. But, with day, they saw that they must either escape or resign themselves to perish. Putting Deirdre in their centre, protected by their shields, they opened the door suddenly and fled out.

They would have broken through and escaped, had not Conchobar asked Cathbad the Druid to put a spell upon them, promising to spare their lives. So Cathbad raised the illusion of a stormy sea before and all around the sons of Usnach. Naoise lifted Deirdre upon his shoulder, but the magic waves rose higher, until they were all obliged to fling away their weapons and swim.

Then was seen the strange sight of men swimming upon dry land. And, before the glamour passed away, the sons of Usnach were seized from behind, and brought to Conchobar.

In spite of his promise to the druid, the king condemned them to death. None of the men of Ulster would, however, deal the blow. In the end, a foreigner from Norway, whose father Naoise had slain, offered to behead them. Each of the brothers begged to die first, that he might not witness the deaths of the others. But Naoise ended this noble rivalry by lending their executioner the sword called "The Retaliator", which had been given




Click to enlarge
DEIRDRE'S LAMENT
From the Drawing by J. H. Bacon, A.R.A.




p. 199

him by Manannán son of Lêr. They knelt down side by side, and one blow of the sword of the god shore off all their heads.

As for Deirdre, there are varying stories of her death, but most of them agree that she did not survive the sons of Usnach many hours. But, before she died, she made an elegy over them. That it is of a singular pathos and beauty the few verses which there is space to give will show. 1


"Long the day without Usnach's children!
It was not mournful to be in their company!
Sons of a king by whom sojourners were entertained,
Three lions from the Hill of the Cave.
. . . . . . . . . .

"Three darlings of the women of Britain,
Three hawks of Slieve Gullion,
Sons of a king whom valour served,
To whom soldiers used to give homage!
. . . . . . . . . .

"That I should remain after Naoise
Let no one in the world suppose:
After Ardan and Ainle
My time would not be long.

"Ulster's over-king, my first husband,
I forsook for Naoise's love.
Short my life after them:
I will perform their funeral game.

"After them I shall not be alive--
Three that would go into every conflict, p. 200
Three who liked to endure hardships,
Three heroes who refused not combats.
. . . . . . . . . .

"O man, that diggest the tomb
And puttest my darling from me,
Make not the grave too narrow:
I shall be beside the noble ones."


It was a poor triumph for Conchobar. Deirdre in all her beauty had escaped him by death. His own chief followers never forgave it. Fergus, when he returned from Borrach's feast, and found out what had been done, gathered his own people, slew Conchobar's son and many of his warriors, and fled to Ulster's bitterest enemies, Ailill and Medb of Connaught. And Cathbad the Druid cursed both king and kingdom, praying that none of Conchobar's race might ever reign in Emain Macha again.

So it came to pass. The capital of Ulster was only kept from ruin by Cuchulainn's prowess. When he perished, it also fell, and soon became what it is now--a grassy hill.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Footnotes
184:1 The romance of the Wooing of Emer, a fragment of which is contained in the Book of the Dun Cow, has been translated by Dr. Kuno Meyer, and published by him in the Archæological Review, Vol. I, 1888. Miss Hull has included this translation in her Cuchullin Saga. Another version of it from a Bodleian MS., translated by the same scholar, will be found in the Revue Celtique, Vol. XI.

188:1 This story, known as the Sick-Bed of Cuchulainn, translated into French by M. d’Arbois de Jubainville, will be found in his L’Épopée Celtique en Irlande, the fifth volume of Cour de Littérature Celtique. Another translation, into English, by Eugene O’Curry is in Atlantis, Vols. I and II.

190:1 For the full story of Baile and Ailinn see Dr. Kuno Meyer's translation in Vol. XIII of the Revue Celtique.

190:2 There are not only numerous translations of this romance, but also many Gaelic versions. The oldest of the latter is in the Book of Leinster, while the fullest are in two MSS. in the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh. The version followed here is from one of these, the so-called Glenn Masáin MS., translated by Dr, Whitley Stokes, and contained in Miss Hull's Cuchullin Saga.

191:1 Pronounced Naisi.

191:2 Pronounced Usna.

199:1 It will be found in full in Miss Hull's Cuchullin Saga. The version there given was first translated into French by M. Ponsinet from the Book of Leinster.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:42:30 pm
CHAPTER XIV
FINN AND THE FENIANS 1
The epoch of Emain Macha is followed in the annals of ancient Ireland by a succession of monarchs who, though doubtless as mythical as King Conchobar and his court, seem to grow gradually more human. Their line lasts for about two centuries, culminating in a dynasty with which legend has occupied itself more than with its immediate predecessors. This is the one which began, according to the annalists, in A.D. 177, with the famous Conn "the Hundred-Fighter", and, passing down to the reign of his even more famous grandson, Cormac "the Magnificent", is connected with the third Gaelic cycle--that which relates the exploits of Finn and the Fenians. All these kings had their dealings with the national gods. A story contained in a fifteenth-century Irish manuscript, and called "The Champion's Prophecy", 2 tells how Lugh appeared to Conn, enveloped him in a magic mist, led him away to an enchanted palace, and there prophesied to him the number of his descendants, the length of their reigns,


p. 202

and the manner of their deaths. Another tradition relates how Conn's son, Connla, was wooed by a goddess and borne away, like the British Arthur, in a boat of glass to the Earthly Paradise beyond the sea. 1 Yet another relates Conn's own marriage with Becuma of the Fair Skin, wife of that same Labraid of the Quick Hand on Sword who, in another legend, married Liban, the sister of Fand, Cuchulainn's fairy love. Becuma had been discovered in an intrigue with Gaiar, a son of Manannán, and, banished from the "Land of Promise", crossed the sea that sunders mortals and immortals to offer her hand to Conn. The Irish king wedded her, but evil came of the marriage. She grew jealous of Conn's other son, Art, and insisted upon his banishment; but they agreed to play chess to decide which should go, and Art won. Art, called "the Lonely" because he had lost his brother Connla, was king after Conn, but he is chiefly known to legend as the father of Cormac.

Many Irish stories occupy themselves with the fame of Cormac, who is pictured as a great legislator--a Gaelic Solomon. Certain traditions credit him with having been the first to believe in a purer doctrine than the Celtic polytheism, and even with having attempted to put down druidism, in revenge for which a druid called Maelcen sent an evil spirit who placed a salmon-bone crossways in the king's throat, as he sat at meat, and so compassed his death. Another class of stories, however, make him


p. 203

an especial favourite with those same heathen deities. Manannán son of Lêr, was so anxious for his friendship that he decoyed him into fairyland, and gave him a magic branch. It was of silver, and bore golden apples, and, when it was shaken, it made such sweet music that the wounded, the sick, and the sorrowful forgot their pains, and were lulled into deep sleep. Cormac kept this treasure all his life; but, at his death, it returned into the hands of the gods. 1

King Cormac was a contemporary of Finn mac Coul 2, whom he appointed head of the Fianna 3 Eirinn, more generally known as the "Fenians". Around Finn and his men have gathered a cycle of legends which were equally popular with the Gaels of both Scotland and Ireland. We read of their exploits in stories and poems preserved in the earliest Irish manuscripts, while among the peasantry both of Ireland and of the West Highlands their names and the stories connected with them are still current lore. Upon some of these floating traditions, as preserved in folk ballads, MacPherson founded his factitious Ossian, and the collection of them from the lips of living men still affords plenty of employment to Gaelic students.

How far Finn and his followers may have been historical personages it is impossible to say. The Irish people themselves have always held that the Fenians were a kind of native militia, and that Finn


p. 204

was their general. The early historical writers of Ireland supported this view. The chronicler Tighernach, who died in 1088, believed in him, and the "Annals of the Four Masters", compiled between the years 1632 and 1636 from older chronicles, while they ignore King Conchobar and his Red Branch Champions as unworthy of the serious consideration of historians, treat Finn as a real person whose death took place in 283 A.D. Even so great a modern scholar as Eugene O’Curry declared in the clearest language that Finn, so far from being "a merely imaginary or mythical character", was "an undoubtedly historical personage; and that he existed about the time at which his appearance is recorded in the Annals is as certain as that Julius Caesar lived and ruled at the time stated on the authority of the Roman historians". 1

The opinion of more recent Celtic scholars, however, is opposed to this view. Finn's pedigree, preserved in the Book of Leinster, may seem at first to give some support to the theory of his real existence, but, on more careful examination of it, his own name and that of his father equally bewray him. Finn or Fionn, meaning "fair", is the name of one of the mythical ancestors of the Gaels, while his father's name, Cumhal 2, signifies the "sky", and is the same word as Camulus, the Gaulish heaven-god identified by the Romans with Mars. His followers are as doubtfully human as himself. One may compare them with Cuchulainn and the rest of the heroes of Emain Macha. Their deeds are not less marvellous.


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[paragraph continues] Like the Ultonian warriors, they move, too, on equal terms with the gods. "The Fianna of Erin", says a tract called "The Dialogue of the Elders", 1 contained in thirteenth and fourteenth century manuscripts, "had not more frequent and free intercourse with the men of settled habitation than with the Tuatha Dé Danann". 2 Angus, Mider, Lêr, Manannán, and Bodb the Red, with their countless sons and daughters, loom as large in the Fenian, or so-called "Ossianic" stories as do the Fenians themselves. They fight for them, or against them; they marry them, and are given to them in marriage.

A luminous suggestion of Professor Rhys also hints that the Fenians inherited the conduct of that ancient war formerly waged between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomors. The most common antagonists of Finn and his heroes are tribes of invaders from oversea, called in the stories the Lochlannach. These "Men of Lochlann" are usually identified, by those who look for history in the stories of the Fenian cycle, with the invading bands of Norsemen who harried the Irish coasts in the ninth century. But the nucleus of the Fenian tales antedates these Scandinavian raids, and mortal foes have probably merely stepped into the place of those immortal enemies of the gods whose "Lochlann" was a country, not over the sea--but under it. 3

The earlier historians of Ireland were as ready with their dates and facts regarding the Fenian band


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as an institution as with the personality of Finn. It was said to have been first organized by a king called Fiachadh, in 300 B.C., and abolished, or rather, exterminated, by Cairbré, the son of Cormac mac Art, in 284 A.D. We are told that it consisted of three regiments modelled on the Roman legion; each of these bodies contained, on a peace footing, three thousand men, but in time of war could be indefinitely strengthened. Its object was to defend the coasts of Ireland and the country generally, throwing its weight upon the side of any prince who happened to be assailed by foreign foes. During the six months of winter, its members were quartered upon the population, but during the summer they had to forage for themselves, which they did by hunting and fishing. Thus they lived in the woods and on the open moors, hardening themselves for battle by their adventurous life. The sites of their enormous camp-fires were long pointed out under the name of the "Fenians' cooking-places".

It was not easy to become a member of this famous band. A candidate had to be not only an expert warrior, but a poet and a man of culture as well. He had practically to renounce his tribe; at any rate he made oath that he would neither avenge any of his relatives nor be avenged by them. He put himself under bonds never to refuse hospitality to anyone who asked, never to turn his back in battle, never to insult any woman, and not to accept a dowry with his wife. In addition to all this, he had to pass successfully through the most stringent physical tests. Indeed, as these have come down

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to us, magnified by the perfervid Celtic imagination, they are of an altogether marvellous and impossible character. An aspirant to the Fianna Eirinn, we are told, had first to stand up to his knees in a pit dug for him, his only arms being his shield and a hazel wand, while nine warriors, each with a spear, standing within the distance of nine ridges of land, all hurled their weapons at him at once; if he failed to ward them all off, he was rejected. Should he succeed in this first test, he was given the distance of one tree-length's start, and chased through a forest by armed men; if any of them came up to him and wounded him, he could not belong to the Fenians. If he escaped unhurt, but had unloosed a single lock of his braided hair, or had broken a single branch in his flight, or if, at the end of the run, his weapons trembled in his hands, he was refused. As, besides these tests, he was obliged to jump over a branch as high as his forehead, and stoop under one as low as his knee, while running at full speed, and to pluck a thorn out of his heel without hindrance to his flight, it is clear that even the rank and file of the Fenians must have been quite exceptional athletes. 1

But it is time to pass on to a more detailed description of these champions. 2 They are a goodly company, not less heroic than the mighty men of Ulster. First comes Finn himself, not the strongest in body of the Fenians, but the truest, wisest, and kindest, gentle to women, generous to men, and


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trusted by all. If he could help it, he would never let anyone be in trouble or poverty. "If the dead leaves of the forest had been gold, and the white foam of the water silver, Finn would have given it all away."

Finn had two sons, Fergus and his more famous brother Ossian 1. Fergus of the sweet speech was the Fenian's bard, and, also, because of his honeyed words, their diplomatist and ambassador. Yet, by the irony of fate, it is to Ossian, who is not mentioned as a poet in the earliest texts, that the poems concerning the Fenians which are current in Scotland under the name of "Ossianic Ballads" are attributed. Ossian's mother was Sadb, a daughter of Bodb the Red. A rival goddess changed her into a deer--which explains how Ossian got his name, which means "fawn". With such advantages of birth, naturally he was speedy enough to run down a red deer hind and catch her by the ear, though far less swift-footed than his cousin Caoilte 2, the "Thin Man". Neither was he so strong as his own son Oscar, the mightiest of all the Fenians, yet, in his youth, so clumsy that the rest of the band refused to take him with them on their warlike expeditions. They changed their minds, however, when, one day, he followed them unawares, found them giving way before an enemy, and, rushing to their help, armed only with a great log of wood which lay handy on the ground, turned the fortunes of the fight. After this, Oscar was hailed the best warrior of all the





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OSSIAN'S CAVE, GLENCOE




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[paragraph continues] Fianna; he was given command of a battalion, and its banner, called the "Terrible Broom", was regarded as the centre of every battle, for it was never known to retreat a foot. Other prominent Fenians were Goll 1, son of Morna, at first Finn's enemy but afterwards his follower, a man skilled alike in war and learning. Even though he was one-eyed, we are told that he was much loved by women, but not so much as Finn's cousin, Diarmait O’Duibhne 2, whose fatal beauty ensnared even Finn's betrothed bride, Grainne 3. Their comic character was Conan, who is represented as an old, bald, vain, irritable man, as great a braggart as ancient Pistol and as foul-mouthed as Thersites, and yet, after he had once been shamed into activity, a true man of his hands. These are the prime Fenian heroes, the chief actors in its stories.

The Fenian epic begins, before the birth of its hero, with the struggle of two rival clans, each of whom claimed to be the real and only Fianna Eirinn. They were called the Clann Morna, of which Goll mac Morna was head, and the Clann Baoisgne 4, commanded by Finn's father, Cumhal. A battle was fought at Cnucha 5, in which Goll killed Cumhal, and the Clann Baoisgne was scattered. Cumhal's wife, however, bore a posthumous son, who was brought up among the Slieve Bloom Mountains secretly, for fear his father's enemies should find and kill him. The boy, who was at first


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called Deimne 1, grew up to be an expert hurler, swimmer, runner, and hunter. Later, like Cuchulainn, and indeed many modern savages, he took a second, more personal name. Those who saw him asked who was the "fair" youth. He accepted the omen, and called himself Deimne Finn.

At length, he wandered to the banks of the Boyne, where he found a soothsayer called Finn the Seer living beside a deep pool near Slane, named "Fec's Pool", in hope of catching one of the "salmons of knowledge", and, by eating it, obtaining universal wisdom. He had been there seven years without result, though success had been prophesied to one named "Finn". When the wandering son of Cumhal appeared, Finn the Seer engaged him as his servant. Shortly afterwards, he caught the coveted fish, and handed it over to our Finn to cook, warning him to eat no portion of it. "Have you eaten any of it?" he asked the boy, as he brought it up ready boiled. "No indeed," replied Finn; "but, while I was cooking it, a blister rose upon the skin, and, laying my thumb down upon the blister, I scalded it, and so I put it into my mouth to ease the pain." The man was perplexed. "You told me your name was Deimne," he said; "but have you any other name?" "Yes, I am also called Finn." "It is enough," replied his disappointed master." Eat the salmon yourself, for you must be the one of whom the prophecy told." Finn ate the "salmon of knowledge", and thereafter he had only to put his thumb under his tooth, as he had done when he





Click to enlarge
FINN FINDS THE SALMON OF KNOWLEDGE
From the Drawing by H. R. Millar.




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scalded it, to receive fore-knowledge and magic counsel. 1

Thus armed, Finn was more than a match for the Clann Morna. Curious legends tell how he discovered himself to his father's old followers, confounded his enemies with his magic, and turned them into faithful servants. 2 Even Goll of the Blows had to submit to his sway. Gradually he welded the two opposing clans into one Fianna, over which he ruled, taking tribute from the kings of Ireland, warring against the Fomorian "Lochlannach", destroying every kind of giant, serpent, or monster that infested the land, and at last carrying his mythical conquests over all Europe.

Out of the numberless stories of the Fenian exploits it is hard to choose examples. All are heroic, romantic, wild, fantastic. In many of them the Tuatha Dé Danann play prominent parts. One such story connects itself with an earlier mythological episode already related. The reader will remember 3 how, when the Dagda gave up the kingship of the immortals, five aspirants appeared to claim it; how of these five--Angus, Mider, Lêr, Ilbhreach son of Manannán, and Bodb the Red--the latter was chosen; how Lêr refused to acknowledge him, but was reconciled later; how Mider, equally rebellious, fled to "desert country round Mount Leinster" in County Carlow; and how a yearly war was waged upon him and his people by the rest of the gods to


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bring them to subjection. This war was still raging in the time of Finn, and Mider was not too proud to seek his help. One day that Finn was hunting in Donegal, with Ossian, Oscar, Caoilte, and Diarmait, their hounds roused a beautiful fawn, which, although at every moment apparently nearly overtaken, led them in full chase as far as Mount Leinster. Here it suddenly disappeared into a cleft in the hillside. Heavy snow, "making the forest's branches as it were a withe-twist", now fell, forcing the Fenians to seek for some shelter, and they therefore explored the place into which the fawn had vanished. It led to a splendid sídhe in the hollow of the hill. Entering it, they were greeted by a beautiful goddess-maiden, who told them that it was she, Mider's daughter, who had been the fawn, and that she had taken that shape purposely to lead them there, in the hope of getting their help against the army that was coming to attack the sídh. Finn asked who the assailants would be, and was told that they were Bodb the Red with his seven sons, Angus "Son of the Young" with his seven sons, Lêr of Sídh Fionnechaidh with his twenty-seven sons, and Fionnbharr of Sídh Meadha with his seventeen sons, as well as numberless gods of lesser fame drawn from sídhe not only over all Ireland, but from Scotland and the islands as well. Finn promised his aid, and, with the twilight of that same day, the attacking forces appeared, and made their annual assault. They were beaten off, after a battle that lasted all night, with the loss of "ten men, ten score, and ten hundred". Finn, Oscar, and Diarmait,

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as well as most of Mider's many sons, were sorely wounded, but the leech Labhra healed all their wounds. 1

Sooth to say, the Fenians did not always require the excuse of fairy alliance to start them making war on the race of the hills. One of the so-called "Ossianic ballads" is entitled "The Chase of the Enchanted Pigs of Angus of the Brugh 2". This Angus is, of course, the "Son of the Young", and the Brugh that famous sídh beside the Boyne out of which he cheated his father, the Dagda. After the friendly manner of gods towards heroes, he invited Finn and a picked thousand of his followers to a banquet at the Brugh. They came to it in their finest clothes, "goblets went from hand to hand, and waiters were kept in motion". At last conversation fell upon the comparative merits of the pleasures of the table and of the chase, Angus stoutly contending that "the gods' life of perpetual feasting" was better than all the Fenian huntings, and Finn as stoutly denying it. Finn boasted of his hounds, and Angus said that the best of them could not kill one of his pigs. Finn angrily replied that his two hounds, Bran 3 and Sgeolan 4, would kill any pig that trod on dry land. Angus answered that he could show Finn a pig that none of his hounds or huntsmen could catch or kill. Here were the makings of a pretty quarrel among such inflammable creatures as gods and heroes, but the steward of


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the feast interposed and sent everyone to bed. The next morning, Finn left the Brugh, for he did not want to fight all Angus's fairies with his handful of a thousand men. A year passed before he heard more of it; then came a messenger from Angus, reminding Finn of his promise to pit his men and hounds against Angus's pigs. The Fenians seated themselves on the tops of the hills, each with his favourite hound in leash, and they had not been there long before there appeared on the eastern plain a hundred and one such pigs as no Fenian had ever seen before. Each was as tall as a deer, and blacker than a smith's coals, having hair like a thicket and bristles like ships' masts. Yet such was the prowess of the Fenians that they killed them all, though each of the pigs slew ten men and many hounds. Then Angus complained that the Fenians had murdered his son and many others of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who, indeed, were none other than the pigs whose forms they had taken. There were mighty recriminations on both sides, and, in the end, the enraged Fenians prepared to attack the Brugh on the Boyne. Then only did Angus begin to yield, and, by the advice of Ossian, Finn made peace with him and his fairy folk.

Such are specimens of the tales which go to make up the Fenian cycle of sagas. Hunting is the most prominent feature of them, for the Fenians were essentially a race of mighty hunters. But the creatures of their chase were not always flesh and blood. Enchanters who wished the Fenians ill could always lure them into danger by taking the

p. 215

shape of boar or deer, and many a story begins with an innocent chase and ends with a murderous battle. But out of such struggles the Fenians always emerge successfully, as Ossian is represented proudly boasting, "through truthfulness and the might of their hands".

The most famous chase of all is, however, not that of deer or boar, but of a woman and a man, Finn's betrothed wife and his nephew Diarmait. 1 Ever fortunate in war, the Fenian leader found disaster in his love. Wishing for a wife in his old age, he sent to seek Grainne, the daughter of Cormac, the High-King of Ireland. Both King Cormac and his daughter consented, and Finn's ambassadors returned with an invitation to the suitor to come in a fortnight's time to claim his bride. He arrived with his picked band, and was received in state in the great banqueting-hall of Tara. There they feasted, and there Grainne, the king's daughter, casting her eyes over the assembled Fenian heroes, saw Diarmait O’Duibhne.

This Fenian Adonis had a beauty-spot upon his cheek which no woman could see without falling instantly in love with him. Grainne, for all her royal birth, was no exception to this rule. She asked a druid to point her out the principal guests. The druid told her all their names and exploits. Then she called for a jewelled drinking-horn, and, filling it with a drugged wine, sent it round to each in turn, except to Diarmait. None could be so


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discourteous as to refuse wine from the hand of a princess. All drank, and fell into deep sleep.

Then, rising, she came to Diarmait, told him her passion for him, and asked for its return. "I will not love the betrothed of my chief," he replied, "and, even if I wished, I dare not." And he praised Finn's virtues, and decried his own fame. But Grainne merely answered that she put him under geasa (bonds which no hero could refuse to redeem) to flee with her; and at once went back to her chair before the rest of the company awoke from their slumber.

After the feast, Diarmait went round to his comrades, one by one, and told them of Grainne's love for him, and of the geasa she had placed upon him to take her from Tara. He asked each of them what he ought to do. All answered that no hero could break a geis put upon him by a woman. He even asked Finn, concealing Grainne's name, and Finn gave him the same counsel as the others. That night, the lovers fled from Tara to the ford of the Shannon at Athlone, crossed it, and came to a place called the "Wood of the Two Tents", where Diarmait wove a hut of branches for Grainne to shelter in.

Meanwhile Finn had discovered their flight, and his rage knew no bounds. He sent his trackers, the Clann Neamhuain 1, to follow them. They tracked them to the wood, and one of them climbed a tree, and, looking down, saw the hut, with a strong seven-doored fence built round it, and Diarmait and


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[paragraph continues] Grainne inside. When the news came to the Fenians, they were sorry, for their sympathies were with Diarmait and not with Finn. They tried to warn him, but he took no heed; for he had determined to fight and not to flee. Indeed, when Finn himself came to the fence, and called over it to Diarmait, asking if he and Grainne were within, he replied that they were, but that none should enter unless he gave permission.

So Diarmait, like Cuchulainn in the war of Ulster against Ireland, found himself matched single-handed against a host. But, also like Cuchulainn, he had a divine helper. The favourite of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he had been the pupil of Manannán son of Lêr in the "Land of Promise", and had been fostered by Angus of the Brugh. Manannán had given him his two spears, the "Red Javelin" and the "Yellow Javelin", and his two swords, the "Great Fury" and the "Little Fury". And now Angus came to look for his foster-son, and brought with him the magic mantle of invisibility used by the gods. He advised Diarmait and Grainne to come out wrapped in the cloak, and thus rendered invisible. Diarmait still refused to flee, but asked Angus to protect Grainne. Wrapping the magic mantle round her, the god led the princess away unseen by any of the Fenians.

By this time, Finn had posted men outside all the seven doors in the fence. Diarmait went to each of them in turn. At the first, were Ossian and Oscar with the Clann Baoisgne. They offered him their protection. At the second, were Caoilte and the

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[paragraph continues] Clann Ronan, who said they would fight to the death for him. At the third, were Conan and the Clann Morna, also his friends. At the fourth, stood Cuan with the Fenians of Munster, Diarmait's native province. At the fifth, were the Ulster Fenians, who also promised him protection against Finn. But at the sixth, were the Clann Neamhuain, who hated him; and at the seventh, was Finn himself.

"It is by your door that I will pass out, O Finn," cried Diarmait. Finn charged his men to surround Diarmait as he came out, and kill him. But he leaped the fence, passing clean over their heads, and fled away so swiftly that they could not follow him. He never halted till he reached the place to which he knew Angus had taken Grainne. The friendly god left them with a little sage advice: never to hide in a tree with only one trunk; never to rest in a cave with only one entrance; never to land on an island with only one channel of approach; not to eat their supper where they had cooked it, nor to sleep where they had supped, and, where they had slept once, never to sleep again. With these Red-Indian-like tactics, it was some time before Finn discovered them.

However, he found out at last where they were, and sent champions with venomous hounds to take or kill them. But Diarmait conquered all who were sent against him.

Yet still Finn pursued, until Diarmait, as a last hope of escape, took refuge under a magic quicken-tree 1, which bore scarlet fruit, the ambrosia of the


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gods. It had grown from a single berry dropped by one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who, when they found that they had carelessly endowed mortals with celestial and immortal food, had sent a huge, one-eyed Fomor called Sharvan the Surly to guard it, so that no man might eat of its fruit. All day, this Fomor sat at the foot of the tree, and, all night, he slept among its branches, and so terrible was his appearance that neither the Fenians nor any other people dared to come within several miles of him.

But Diarmait was willing to brave the Fomor in the hope of getting a safe hiding-place for Grainne. He came boldly up to him, and asked leave to camp and hunt in his neighbourhood. The Fomor told him surlily that he might camp and hunt where he pleased, so long as he refrained from taking any of the scarlet berries. So Diarmait built a hut near a spring; and he and Grainne lived there, killing the wild animals for food.

But, unhappily, Grainne conceived so strong a desire to eat the quicken berries that she felt that she must die unless her wish could be gratified. At first she tried to hide this longing, but in the end she was forced to tell her companion. Diarmait had no desire to quarrel with the Fomor; so he went to him and told the plight that Grainne was in, and asked for a handful of the berries as a gift.

But the Fomor merely answered: "I swear to you that if nothing would save the princess and her unborn child except my berries, and if she were the last woman upon the earth, she should not have any

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of them." Whereupon Diarmait fought the Fomor, and, after much trouble, killed him.

It was reported to Finn that the guardian of the magic quicken-tree lived no longer, and he guessed that Diarmait must have killed him; so he came down to the place with seven battalions of the Fenians to look for him. By this time, Diarmait had abandoned his own hut and taken possession of that built by the Fomor among the branches of the magic quicken. He was sitting in it with Grainne when Finn and his men came and camped at the foot of the tree, to wait till the heat of noon had passed before beginning their search.

To beguile the time, Finn called for his chess-board and challenged his son Ossian to a game. They played until Ossian had only one more move.

"One move would make you a winner," said Finn to him, "but I challenge you and all the Fenians to guess it."

Only Diarmait, who had been looking down through the branches upon the players, knew the move. He could not resist dropping a berry on to the board, so deftly that it hit the very chessman which Ossian ought to move in order to win. Ossian took the hint, moved it, and won. A second and a third game were played; and in each case the same thing happened. Then Finn felt sure that the berries that had prompted Ossian must have been thrown by Diarmait.

He called out, asking Diarmait if he were there, and the Fenian hero, who never spoke an untruth,

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answered that he was. So the quicken-tree was surrounded by armed men, just as the fenced hut in the woods had been. But, again, things happened in the same way; for Angus of the Brugh took away Grainne wrapped in the invisible magic cloak, while Diarmait, walking to the end of a thick branch, cleared the circle of Fenians at a bound, and escaped untouched.

This was the end of the famous "Pursuit"; for Angus came as ambassador to Finn, urging him to become reconciled to the fugitives, and all the best of the Fenians begged Finn to consent. So Diarmait and Grainne were allowed to return in peace.

But Finn never really forgave, and, soon after, he urged Diarmait to go out to the chase of the wild boar of Benn Gulban 1. Diarmait killed the boar without getting any hurt; for, like the Greek Achilles, he was invulnerable, save in his heel alone. Finn, who knew this, told him to measure out the length of the skin with his bare feet. Diarmait did so. Then Finn, declaring that he had measured it wrongly, ordered him to tread it again in the opposite direction. This was against the lie of the bristles; and one of them pierced Diarmait's heel, and inflicted a poisoned and mortal wound.

This "Pursuit of Diarmait and Grainne", which has been told at such length, marks in some degree the climax of the Fenian power, after which it began to decline towards its end. The friends of Diarmait never forgave the treachery with which Finn had


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compassed his death. The ever-slumbering rivalry between Goll and his Clann Morna and Finn and his Clann Baoisgne began to show itself as open enmity. Quarrels arose, too, between the Fenians and the High-Kings of Ireland, which culminated at last in the annihilation of the Fianna at the battle of Gabhra 1.

This is said to have been fought in A.D. 284. Finn himself had perished a year before it, in a skirmish with rebellious Fenians at the Ford of Brea on the Boyne. King Cormac the Magnificent, Grainne's father, was also dead. It was between Finn's grandson Oscar and Cormac's son Cairbré that war broke out. This mythical battle was as fiercely waged as that of Arthur's last fight at Camlan. Oscar slew Cairbré, and was slain by him. Almost all the Fenians fell, as well as all Cairbré's forces.

Only two of the greater Fenian figures survived. One was Caoilte, whose swiftness of foot saved him at the end when all was lost. The famous story, called the "Dialogue of the Elders", represents him discoursing to St. Patrick, centuries after, of the Fenians' wonderful deeds. Having lost his friends of the heroic age, he is said to have cast in his lot with the Tuatha Dé Danann. He fought in a battle, with Ilbhreach son of Manannán, against Lêr himself, and killed the ancient sea-god with his own hand. 2 The tale represents him taking possession of Lêr's fairy palace of Sídh Fionnechaidh, after which we know no more of him, except that


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he has taken rank in the minds of the Irish peasantry as one of, and a ruler among, the Sídhe.

The other was Ossian, who did not fight at Gabhra, for, long before, he had taken the great journey which most heroes of mythology take, to that bourne from which no ordinary mortal ever returns. Like Cuchulainn, it was upon the invitation of a goddess that he went. The Fenians were hunting near Lake Killarney when a lady of more than human beauty came to them, and told them that her name was Niamh 1, daughter of the Son of the Sea. The Gaelic poet, Michael Comyn, who, in the eighteenth century, rewove the ancient story into his own words, 2 describes her in just the same way as one of the old bards would have done:


"A royal crown was on her head;
And a brown mantle of precious silk,
Spangled with stars of red gold,
Covering her shoes down to the grass.

"A gold ring was hanging down
From each yellow curl of her golden hair;
Her eyes, blue, clear, and cloudless,
Like a dew-drop on the top of the grass.

"Redder were her cheeks than the rose,
Fairer was her visage than the swan upon the wave,
And more sweet was the taste of her balsam lips
Than honey mingled thro' red wine. p. 224

"A garment, wide, long, and smooth
Covered the white steed,
There was a comely saddle of red gold,
And her right hand held a bridle with a golden bit.

"Four shoes well-shaped were under him,
Of the yellow gold of the purest quality;
A silver wreath was on the back of his head,
And there was not in the world a steed better."


Such was Niamh of the Golden Hair, Manannán's daughter; and it is small wonder that, when she chose Ossian from among the sons of men to be her lover, all Finn's supplications could not keep him. He mounted behind her on her fairy horse, and they rode across the land to the sea-shore, and then over the tops of the waves. As they went, she described the country of the gods to him in just the same terms as Manannán himself had pictured it to Bran, son of Febal, as Mider had painted it to Etain, and as everyone that went there limned it to those that stayed at home on earth.


"It is the most delightful country to be found
Of greatest repute under the sun;
Trees drooping with fruit and blossom,
And foliage growing on the tops of boughs.

"Abundant, there, are honey and wine,
And everything that eye has beheld,
There will not come decline on thee with lapse of time.
Death or decay thou wilt not see."


As they went they saw wonders. Fairy palaces with

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bright sun-bowers and lime-white walls appeared on the surface of the sea. At one of these they halted, and Ossian, at Niamh's request, attacked a fierce Fomor who lived there, and set free a damsel of the Tuatha Dé Danann whom he kept imprisoned. He saw a hornless fawn leap from wave to wave, chased by one of those strange hounds of Celtic myth which are pure white, with red ears. At last they reached the "Land of the Young", and there Ossian dwelt with Niamh for three hundred years before he remembered Erin and the Fenians. Then a great wish came upon him to see his own country and his own people again, and Niamh gave him leave to go, and mounted him upon a fairy steed for the journey. One thing alone she made him swear--not to let his feet touch earthly soil. Ossian promised, and reached Ireland on the wings of the wind. But, like the children of Lêr at the end of their penance, he found all changed. He asked for Finn and the Fenians, and was told that they were the names of people who had lived long ago, and whose deeds were written of in old books. The Battle of Gabhra had been fought, and St. Patrick had come to Ireland, and made all things new. The very forms of men had altered; they seemed dwarfs compared with the giants of his day. Seeing three hundred of them trying in vain to raise a marble slab, he rode up to them in contemptuous kindness, and lifted it with one hand. But, as he did so, the golden saddle-girth broke with the strain, and he touched the earth with his feet. The fairy horse vanished, and Ossian rose from the ground, no

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longer divinely young and fair and strong, but a blind, gray-haired, withered old man.

A number of spirited ballads 1 tell how Ossian, stranded in his old age upon earthly soil, unable to help himself or find his own food, is taken by St. Patrick into his house to be converted. The saint paints to him in the brightest colours the heaven which may be his own if he will but repent, and in the darkest the hell in which he tells him his old comrades now lie in anguish. Ossian replies to the saint's arguments, entreaties, and threats in language which is extraordinarily frank. He will not believe that heaven could be closed to the Fenians if they wished to enter it, or that God himself would not be proud to claim friendship with Finn. And if it be not so, what is the use to him of eternal life where there is no hunting, or wooing fair women, or listening to the songs and tales of bards? No, he will go to the Fenians, whether they sit at the feast or in the fire; and so he dies as he had lived.


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Footnotes
201:1 The translations of Fenian stories are numerous. The reader will find many of them popularly retold in Lady Gregory's Gods and Fighting Men. Thence he may pass on to Mr. Standish Hayes O’Grady's Silva Gadelica; the Waifs and .Strays of Celtic Tradition, especially Vol. IV; Mr. J. G. Campbell's The Fians; as well as the volumes of the Revue Celtique and the Transactions of the Ossianic Society.

201:2 See O’Curry's translation in Appendix CXXVIII to his MS. Materials.

202:1 The story, found in the Book of the Dun Cow, appears in French in De Jubainville's Épopée Celtique.

203:1 This famous story is told in several MSS. of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For translations see Dr. Whitley Stokes, Irische Texte, and Standish Hayes O’Grady, Transactions of the Ossianic Society, Vol. III.

203:2 In Gaelic spelling, Fionn mac Cumhail.

203:3 Pronounced Fēna.

204:1 O’Curry: MS. Materials, Lecture XIV, p. 303.

204:2 Pronounced Coul or Cooal.

205:1 Agalamh na Senórach. Under the title The Colloquy of the Ancients, there is an excellent translation of it, from the Book of Lismore, in Standish Hayes O’Grady 's Silva Gadelica.

205:2 O’Grady: Silva Gadelica.

205:3 Hibbert Lectures, p. 355.

207:1 See The Enumeration of Finn's Household, translated by O’Grady in Silva Gadelica.

207:2 For a good account, see J. G. Campbell's The Finns, pp. 10-80.

208:1 In more correct spelling, Oisin, and pronounced Usheen or Isheen.

208:2 Pronounced Kylta or Cweeltia.

209:1 Pronounced Gaul.

209:2 Pronounced Dermat O’Dyna.

209:3 Pronounced Grania.

209:4 Pronounced Baskin.

209:5 Now Castleknock, near Dublin.

210:1 Pronounced Demna.

211:1 This and other "boy-exploits" of Finn mac Cumhail are contained in a little tract written upon a fragment of the ninth century Psalter of Cashel. It is translated in Vol. IV of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society.

211:2 Campbell's Fians, p. 22.

211:3 See chap. XI--"The Gods in Exile".

213:1 From the Colloquy of the Ancients in O’Grady's Silva Gadelica.

213:2 It is translated in Vol. VI of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society.

213:3 Pronounced Brăn, not Brān.

213:4 Pronounced Skōlaun or Scolaing.

215:1 A fine translation of the Pursuit of Diarmait and Grainne has been published by S. H. O’Grady in Vol. III of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society.

216:1 Pronounced Navin or Nowin.

218:1 The mountain-ash, or rowan.

221:1 Now called Benbulben. It is near Sligo.

222:1 Pronounced Gavra.

222:2 See O’Grady's Silva Gadelica.

223:1 Pronounced Nee-av.

223:2 The Lay of Oisin in the Land of Youth, translated by Brian O’Looney for the Ossianic Society--Transactions, Vol. IV. A fine modem poem on the same subject is W. B. Yeats' Wanderings of Oisin.

226:1 See the Transactions of the Ossianic Society. They are generally called the Dialogues of Oisin and Patrick.


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http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cml/cml18.htm


Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:44:14 pm
CHAPTER XV
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE GODS
In spite, however, of the wide-spread popularity of the ballads that took the form of dialogues between Ossian and Patrick, certain traditions say that the saint succeeded in converting the hero. Caoilté, the other great surviving Fenian, was also represented as having gladly exchanged his pagan lore for the faith and salvation offered him. We may see the same influence on foot in the later legends concerning the Red Branch Champions. It was the policy of the first Christianizers of Ireland to describe the loved heroes of their still half-heathen flocks as having handed in their submission to the new creed. The tales about Conchobar and Cuchulainn were amended, to prove that those very pagan personages had been miraculously brought to accept the gospel at the last. An entirely new story told how the latter hero was raised from the dead by Saint Patrick that he might bear witness of the truth of Christianity to Laogaire the Second, King of Ireland, which he did with such fervour and eloquence that the sceptical monarch was convinced. 1


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Daring attempts were also made to change the Tuatha Dé Danann from pagan gods into Christian saints, but these were by no means so profitable as the policy pursued towards the more human-seeming heroes. With one of them alone, was success immediate and brilliant. Brigit, the goddess of fire, poetry, and the hearth, is famous to-day as Saint Bridget, or Bride. Most popular of all the Irish saints, she can still be easily recognized as the daughter of the Dagda. Her Christian attributes, almost all connected with fire, attest her pagan origin. 1 She was born at sunrise; a house in which she dwelt blazed into a flame which reached to heaven; a pillar of fire rose from her head when she took the veil; and her breath gave new life to the dead. As with the British goddess Sul, worshipped at Bath, who--the first century Latin writer Solinus 2 tells us--"ruled over the boiling springs, and at her altar there flamed a perpetual fire which never whitened into ashes, but hardened into a stony mass", the sacred flame on her shrine at Kildare was never allowed to go out. It was extinguished once, in the thirteenth century, but was relighted, and burnt with undying glow until the suppression of the monasteries by Henry the Eighth. This sacred fire might not be breathed on by the impure human breath. For nineteen nights it was tended by her nuns, but on the twentieth night it was left untouched, and kept itself alight miraculously. With so little of her essential character


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and ritual changed, it is small wonder that the half-pagan, half-Christian Irish gladly accepted the new saint in the stead of the old goddess.

Doubtless a careful examination of Irish hagiology would result in the discovery of many other saints whose names and attributes might render them suspect of previous careers as pagan gods. But their acceptation was not sufficiently general to do away with the need of other means of counter-acting the still living influence of the Gaelic Pantheon. Therefore a fresh school of euhemerists arose to prove that the gods were never even saints, but merely worldly men who had once lived and ruled in Erin. Learned monks worked hard to construct a history of Ireland from the Flood downwards. Mr. Eugene O’Curry has compiled from the various pedigrees they elaborated, and inserted into the books of Ballymote, Lecan, and Leinster an amazing genealogy which shows how, not merely the Tuatha Dé Danann, but also the Fir Bolgs, the Fomors, the Milesians, and the races of Partholon and Nemed were descended from Noah. Japhet, the patriarch's son, was the father of Magog, from whom came two lines, the first being the Milesians, while the second branched out into all the other races. 1

Having once worked the gods, first into universal history, and then into the history of Ireland, it was an easy matter to supply them with dates of birth and death, local habitations, and places of burial.


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[paragraph continues] We are told with precision exactly how long Nuada, the Dagda, Lugh, and the others reigned at Tara. The barrows by the Boyne provided them with comfortable tombs. Their enemies, the Fomors, became real invaders who were beaten in real battles. Thus it was thought to make plain prose of their divinities.

It is only fair, however, to these early euhemerists to say that they have their modern disciples. There are many writers, of recognized authority upon their subjects, who, in dealing with the history of Ireland or the composition of the British race, claim to find real peoples in the tribes mentioned in Gaelic myth. Unfortunately, the only point they agree upon is the accepted one--that the "Milesians" were Aryan Celts. They are divided upon the question of the "Fir Bolgs", in whom some see the pre-Aryan tribes, while others, led astray by the name, regard them as Belgic Gauls; and over the really mythological races they run wild. In the Tuatha Dé Danann are variously found Gaels, Picts, Danes, Scandinavians, Ligurians, and Finns, while the Fomors rest under the suspicion of having been Iberians, Moors, Romans, Finns, Goths, or Teutons. As for the people of Partholon and Nemed, they have even been explained as men of the Palæolithic Age. This chaos of opinion was fortunately avoided by the native annalists, who had no particular views upon the question of race, except that everybody came from "Spain".

Of course there were dissenters from this prevailing mania for euhemerization. As late as the

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tenth century, a poet called Eochaid O’Flynn, writing of the Tuatha Dé Danann, at first seems to hesitate whether to ascribe humanity or divinity to them, and at last frankly avows their godhead. In his poem, preserved in the Book of Ballymote, 1 he says:


"Though they came to learned Erinn
Without buoyant, adventurous ships,
No man in creation knew
Whether they were of the earth or of the sky.

"If they were diabolical demons,
They came from that woeful expulsion; 2
If they were of a race of tribes and nations,
If they were human, they were of the race of Beothach."


[paragraph continues] Then he enumerates them in due succession, and ends by declaring:--


"Though I have treated of these deities in their order,
Yet I have not adored them".

One may surmise with probability that the common people agreed rather with the poet than with the monk. Pious men in monasteries might write what they liked, but mere laymen would not be easily persuaded that their cherished gods had never been anything more than men like themselves. Probably they said little, but acted in secret according to their inherited ideas. Let it be granted, for the sake of peace, that Goibniu was only a man; none the less, his name was known to be uncommonly effective in an incantation. This


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applied equally to Diancecht, and invocations to both of them are contained in some verses which an eighth-century Irish monk wrote on the margin of a manuscript still preserved at St. Gall, in Switzerland. Some prescriptions of Diancecht's have come down to us, but it must be admitted that they hardly differ from those current among ordinary mediæval physicians. Perhaps, after that unfortunate spilling of the herbs that grew out of Miach's body, he had to fall back upon empirical research. He invented a porridge for "the relief of ailments of the body, as cold, phlegm, throat cats, and the presence of living things in the body, as worms"; it was compounded of hazel buds, dandelion, chick-weed, sorrel, and oatmeal; and was to be taken every morning and evening. He also prescribed against the effects of witchcraft and the fourteen diseases of the stomach.

Goibniu, in addition to his original character as the divine smith and sorcerer, gained a third reputation among the Irish as a great builder and bridge-maker. As such he is known as the Gobhan Saer, that is, Goibniu the Architect, and marvellous tales, current all over Ireland attest his prowess.


"Men call’d him Gobhan Saer, and many a tale
Yet lingers in the by-ways of the land
Of how he cleft the rock, or down the vale
Led the bright river, child-like, in his hand:
Of how on giant ships he spread great sail,
And many marvels else by him first plann’d ",

writes a poet of modern Ireland. 1 Especially were


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the "round towers" attributed to him, and the Christian clerics appropriated his popularity by describing him as having been the designer of their churches. He used, according to legend, to wander over the country, clad, like the Greek Hephaestus, whom he resembles, in working dress, seeking commissions and adventures. His works remain in the cathedrals and churches of Ireland; and, with regard to his adventures, many strange legends are still, or were until very recently, current upon the lips of old people in remote parts of Ireland.

Some of these are, as might have been expected, nothing more than half-understood recollections of the ancient mythology. In them appear as characters others of the old, yet not quite forgotten gods--Lugh, Manannán, and Balor--names still remembered as those of long-past druids, heroes, and kings of Ireland in the misty olden time.

One or two of them are worth retelling. Mr. William Larminie, collecting folk-tales in Achill Island, took one from the lips of an aged peasant which tells in its confused way what might almost be called the central incident of Gaelic mythology, the mysterious birth of the sun-god from demoniac parentage, and his eventual slaying of his grandfather when he came to full age. 1

Gobhan the Architect and his son, young Gobhan, runs the tale, were sent for by Balor of the Blows to build him a palace. They built it so well that Balor decided never to let them leave his kingdom alive, for fear they should build another one


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equally good for someone else. He therefore had all the scaffolding removed from round the palace while they were still on the top, with the intention of leaving them up there to die of hunger. But, when they discovered this, they began to destroy the roof, so that Balor was obliged to let them come down.

He, none the less, refused to allow them to return to Ireland. The crafty Gobhan, however, had his plan ready. He told Balor that the injury that had been done to the palace roof could not be repaired without special tools, which he had left behind him at home. Balor declined to let either old Gobhan or young Gobhan go back to fetch them; but he offered to send his own son. Gobhan gave Balor's son directions for the journey. He was to travel until he came to a house with a stack of corn at the door. Entering it, he would find a woman with one hand and a child with one eye.

Balor's son found the house, and asked the woman for the tools. She expected him; for it had been arranged between Gobhan and his wife what should be done, if Balor refused to let him return. She took Balor's son to a huge chest, and told him that the tools were at the bottom of it, so far down that she could not reach them, and that he must get into the chest, and pick them up himself. But, as soon as he was safely inside, she shut the lid on him, telling him that he would have to stay there until his father allowed old Gobhan and young Gobhan to come home with their pay. And she sent the same message to Balor himself.

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There was an exchange of prisoners, Balor giving the two Gobhans their pay and a ship to take them home, and Gobhan's wife releasing Balor's son. But, before the two builders went, Balor asked them whom he should now employ to repair his palace. Old Gobhan told him that, next to himself, there was no workman in Ireland better than one Gavidjeen Go.

When Gobhan got back to Ireland, he sent Gavidjeen Go to Balor. But he gave him a piece of advice--to accept as pay only one thing: Balor's gray cow, which would fill twenty barrels at one milking. Balor agreed to this, but, when he gave the cow to Gavidjeen Go to take back with him to Ireland, he omitted to include her byre-rope, which was the only thing that would keep her from returning to her original owner.

The gray cow gave so much trouble to Gavidjeen Go by her straying, that he was obliged to hire military champions to watch her during the day and bring her safely home at night. The bargain made was that Gavidjeen Go should forge the champion a sword for his pay, but that, if he lost the cow, his life was to be forfeited.

At last, a certain warrior called Cian was unlucky enough to let the cow escape. He followed her tracks down to the sea-shore and right to the edge of the waves, and there he lost them altogether. He was tearing his hair in his perplexity, when he saw a man rowing a coracle. The man, who was no other than Manannán son of Lêr, came in close to the shore, and asked what was the matter.

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Cian told him.

"What would you give to anyone who would take you to the place where the gray cow is?" asked Manannán.

"I have nothing to give," replied Cian.

"All I ask," said Manannán, "is half of whatever you gain before you come back."

Cian agreed to that willingly enough, and Manannán told him to get into the coracle. In the wink of an eye, he had landed him in Balor's kingdom, the realm of the cold, where they roast no meat, but eat their food raw. Cian was not used to this diet, so he lit himself a fire, and began to cook some food. Balor saw the fire, and came down to it, and he was so pleased that he appointed Cian to be his fire-maker and cook.

Now Balor had a daughter, of whom a druid had prophesied that she would, some day, bear a son who would kill his grandfather. Therefore, like Acrisius, in Greek legend, he shut her up in a tower, guarded by women, and allowed her to see no man but himself. One day, Cian saw Balor go to the tower. He waited until he had come back, and then went to explore. He had the gift of opening locked doors and shutting them again after him. When he got inside, he lit a fire, and this novelty so delighted Balor's daughter that she invited him to visit her again. After this--in the Achill islander's quaint phrase--"he was ever coming there, until a child happened to her." Balor's daughter gave the baby to Cian to take away. She also gave him the byre-rope which belonged to the gray cow.




Click to enlarge
CIAN FINDS BALOR'S DAUGHTER
From the Drawing by H. R. Millar




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Cian was in great danger now, for Balor had found out about the child. He led the gray cow away with the rope to the sea-shore, and waited for Manannán. The Son of Lêr had told Cian that, when he was in any difficulty, he was to think of him, and he would at once appear. Cian thought of him now, and, in a moment, Manannán appeared with his coracle. Cian got into the boat, with the baby and the gray cow, just as Balor, in hot pursuit, came down to the beach.

Balor, by his incantations, raised a great storm to drown them; but Manannán, whose druidism was greater, stilled it. Then Balor turned the sea into fire, to burn them; but Manannán put it out with a stone.

When they were safe back in Ireland, Manannán asked Cian for his promised reward.

"I have gained nothing but the boy, and I cannot cut him in two, so I will give him to you whole," he replied.

"That is what I was wanting all the time," said Manannán; "when he grows up, there will be no champion equal to him."

So Manannán baptized the boy, calling him "the Dul-Dauna". This name, meaning "Blind-Stubborn", is certainly a curious corruption of the original Ioldanach 1 "Master of all Knowledge". When the boy had grown up, he went one day to the sea-shore. A ship came past, in which was a man. The traditions of Donnybrook Fair are evidently prehistoric, for the boy, without troubling to ask who


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the stranger was, took a dart "out of his pocket", hurled it, and hit him. The man in the boat happened to be Balor. Thus, in accordance with the prophecy, he was slain by his grandson, who, though the folk-tale does not name him, was obviously Lugh.

Another version of the same legend, collected by the Irish scholar O’Donovan on the coast of Donegal, opposite Balor's favourite haunt, Tory Island, is interesting as completing the one just narrated. 1 In this folk-tale, Goibniu is called Gavida, and is made one of three brothers, the other two being called Mac Kineely and Mac Samthainn. They were chiefs of Donegal, smiths and farmers, while Balor was a robber who harassed the mainland from his strong-hold on Tory Island. The gray cow belonged to Mac Kineely, and Balor stole it. Its owner determined to be revenged, and, knowing the prediction concerning Balor's death at the hands of an as yet unborn grandson, he persuaded a kindly fairy to spirit him in female disguise to Tor Mor, where Balor's daughter, who was called Ethnea, was kept imprisoned. The result of this expedition was not merely the one son necessary to fulfil the prophecy, but three. This apparent superfluity was fortunate; for Balor drowned two of them, the other being picked out of the sea by the same fairy who had been incidentally responsible for his birth, and handed over to his father, Mac Kineely, to be brought up. Shortly after this, Balor managed to capture Mac Kineely, and, in retaliation for the wrong done him, chopped off his head upon a large white


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stone, still known locally as the "Stone of Kineely". Satisfied with this, and quite unaware that one of his daughter's children had been saved from death, and was now being brought up as a smith by Gavida, Balor went on with his career of robbery, varying it by visits to the forge to purchase arms. One day, being there during Gavida's absence, he began boasting to the young assistant of how he had compassed Mac Kineely's death. He never finished the story, for Lugh--which was the boy's name--snatched a red-hot iron from the fire, and thrust it into Balor's eye, and through his head.

Thus, in these two folk-tales, 1 gathered in different parts of Ireland, at different times, by different persons, survives quite a mass of mythological detail only to be found otherwise in ancient manuscripts containing still more ancient matter. Crystallized in them may be found the names of six members of the old Gaelic Pantheon, each filling the same part as of old. Goibniu has not lost his mastery of smithcraft; Balor is still the Fomorian king of the cold regions of the sea; his daughter Ethniu becomes, by Cian, the mother of the sun-god; Lugh, who still bears his old title of Ioldanach, though it is strangely corrupted into a name meaning almost the exact opposite, is still fostered by Manannán, Son of the Sea, and in the end grows up to destroy his grandfather by a blow in the one vulnerable place, his death-dealing eye. Perhaps, too, we may claim to see a genuine, though


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jumbled tradition, in the Fomor-like deformities of Gobhan's wife and child, and in the story of the gray cow and her byre-rope, which recalls that of the Dagda's black-maned heifer, Ocean.

The memories of the peasantry still hold many stories of Lugh, as well as of Angus, and others of the old gods. But, next to the Gobhan Saer, the one whose fame is still greatest is that ever-potent and ever-popular figure, the great Manannán.

The last, perhaps, to receive open adoration, he is represented by kindly tradition as having been still content to help and watch over the people who had rejected and ceased to worship him. Up to the time of St. Columba, he was the special guardian of Irishmen in foreign parts, assisting them in their dangers and bringing them home safe. For the peasantry, too, he caused favourable weather and good crops. His fairy subjects tilled the ground while men slept. But this is said to have come to an end at last. Saint Columba, having broken his golden chalice, gave it to a servant to get repaired. On his way, the servant was met by a stranger, who asked him where he was going. The man told him, and showed him the chalice. The stranger breathed upon it, and, at once, the broken parts reunited. Then he begged him to return to his master, give him the chalice, and tell him that Manannán son of Lêr, who had mended it, desired to know in very truth whether he would ever attain paradise "Alas," said the ungrateful saint, "there is no forgiveness for a man who does such works as this!" The servant went back with the answer, and Manannán,

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when he heard it, broke out into indignant lament. "Woe is me, Manannán mac Lêr! for years I've helped the Catholics of Ireland, but I'll do it no more, till they're as weak as water. I'll go to the gray waves in the Highlands of Scotland." 1

And there he remained. For, unless the charming stories of Miss Fiona Macleod are mere beautiful imaginings and nothing more, he is not unknown even to-day among the solitary shepherds and fishers of "the farthest Hebrides". In the Contemporary Review for October, 1902, 2 she tells how an old man of four-score years would often be visited in his shieling by a tall, beautiful stranger, with a crest on his head, "like white canna blowing in the wind, but with a blueness in it", and "a bright, cold, curling flame under the soles of his feet". The man told him many things, and prophesied to him the time of his death. Generally, the stranger's hands were hidden in the folds of the white cloak he wore, but, once, he moved to touch the shepherd, who saw then that his flesh was like water, with sea-weed floating among the bones. So that Murdo MacIan knew that he could be speaking with none other than the Son of the Sea.

Nor is he yet quite forgotten in his own Island of Man, of which local tradition says he was the. first inhabitant. He is also described as its king, who kept it from invasion by his magic. He would cause mists to rise at any moment and conceal the island,


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and by the same glamour he could make one man seem like a hundred, and little chips of wood which he threw into the water to appear like ships of war. It is no wonder that he held his kingdom against all-comers, until his sway was ended, like that of the other Gaelic gods, by the arrival of Saint Patrick. After this, he seems to have declined into a traditionary giant who used to leap from Peel Castle to Contrary Head for exercise, or hurl huge rocks, upon which the mark of his hand can still be seen. It is said that he took no tribute from his subjects, or worshippers except bundles of green rushes, which were placed every Midsummer Eve upon two mountain peaks, one called Warrefield in olden days, but now South Barrule, and the other called Man, and not now to be identified. His grave, which is thirty yards long, is pointed out, close to Peel Castle. The most curious legend connected with him, however, tells us that he had three legs, on which he used to travel at a great pace. How this was done may be seen from the arms of the island, on which are pictured his three limbs, joined together, and spread out like the spokes of a wheel. 1

An Irish tradition tells us that, when Manannán left Ireland for Scotland, the vacant kingship of the gods or fairies was taken by one Mac Moineanta; to the great grief of those who had known Manannán. 2 Perhaps this great grief led to Mac Moineanta's being deposed, for the present king of the


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[paragraph continues] Irish fairies is Finvarra, the same Fionnbharr to whom the Dagda allotted the sídhe of Meadha after the conquest of the Tuatha Dé Danann by the Milesians, and who takes a prominent part in the Fenian stories. So great is the persistence of tradition in Ireland that this hill of Meadha, now spelt Knockma, is still considered to be the abode of him and his queen, Onagh. Numberless stories are told about Finvarra, including, of course, that very favourite Celtic tale of the stolen bride, and her recapture from the fairies by the siege and digging up of the sídh in which she was held prisoner. Finvarra, like Mider of Bri Leith, carried away a human Etain--the wife, not of a high king, but of an Irish lord. The modern Eochaid Airem, having heard an invisible voice tell him where he was to look for his lost bride, gathered all his workmen and labourers and proceeded to demolish Knockma. Every day they almost dug it up, but every night the breach was found to have been repaired by fairy workmen of Finvarra's. This went on for three days, when the Irish lord thought of the well-known device of sanctifying the work of excavation by sprinkling the turned-up earth with salt. Needless to say, it succeeded. Finvarra gave back the bride, still in the trance into which he had thrown her; and the deep cut into the fairy hill still remains to furnish proof to the incredulous. 1

Finvarra does not always appear, however, in


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such unfriendly guise. He was popularly reputed to have under his special care the family of the Kirwans of Castle Hacket, on the northern slope of Knockma. Owing to his benevolent influence, the castle cellars never went dry, nor did the quality of the wine deteriorate. Besides the wine-cellar, Finvarra looked after the stables, and it was owing to the exercise that he and his fairy followers gave the horses by night that Mr. John Kirwan's racers were so often successful on the Curragh. That such stories could have passed current as fact, which they undoubtedly did, is excellent proof of how late and how completely a mythology may survive among the uncultured. 1

Finvarra rules to-day over a wide realm of fairy folk. Many of these, again, have their own vassal chieftains, forming a tribal hierarchy such as must have existed in the Celtic days of Ireland. Finvarra and Onagh are high king and queen, but, under them, Cliodna 2 is tributary queen of Munster, and rules from a sídh near Mallow in County Cork, while, under her again, are Aoibhinn 3, queen of the fairies of North Munster, and Ainé, queen of the fairies of South Munster. These names form but a single instance. A map of fairy Ireland could without much difficulty be drawn, showing, with almost political exactness, the various kingdoms of the Sídhe.

Far less easy, however, would be the task of ascertaining the origin and lineage of these fabled


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beings. Some of them can still be traced as older gods and goddesses. In the eastern parts of Ireland, Badb and her sisters have become "banshees" who wail over deaths not necessarily found in battle. Aynia, deemed the most powerful fairy in Ulster, and Ainé, queen of South Munster, are perhaps the same person, the mysterious and awful goddess once adored as Anu, or Danu. Of the two, it is Ainé who especially seems to carry on the traditions of the older Anu, worshipped, according to the "Choice of Names", in Munster as a goddess of prosperity and abundance. Within living memory, she was propitiated by a magical ritual upon every Saint John's Eve, to ensure fertility during the coming year. The villagers round her sídh of Cnoc Ainé (Knockainy) carried burning bunches of hay or straw upon poles to the top of the hill, and thence dispersed among the fields, waving these torches over the crops and cattle. This fairy, or goddess was held to be friendly, and, indeed, more than friendly, to men. Whether or not she were the mother of the gods, she is claimed as first ancestress by half a dozen famous Irish families.

Among her children was the famous Earl Gerald, offspring of her alliance with the fourth Earl of Desmond, known as "The Magician". As in the well-known story of the Swan-maidens, the magician-earl is said to have stolen Ainé's cloak while she was bathing, and refused to return it unless she became his bride. But, in the end, he lost her. Ainé had warned her husband never to show surprise at anything done by their son; but a wonderful

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feat which he performed made the earl break this condition, and Ainé was obliged, by fairy law, to leave him. But, though she had lost her husband, she was not separated from her son, who was received into the fairy world after his death, and now lives under the surface of Lough Gur, in County Limerick, waiting, like the British Arthur, for the hour to strike in which he shall lead forth his warriors to drive the foreigners from Ireland. But this will not be until, by riding round the lake once in every seventh year, he shall have worn his horse's silver shoes as thin as a cat's ear. 1

Not only the tribe of Danu, but heroes of the other mythical cycles swell the fairy host to-day. Donn, son of Milé, who was drowned before ever he set foot on Irish soil, lives at "Donn's House", a line of sand-hills in the Dingle Peninsula of Kerry, and, as late as the eighteenth century, we find him invoked by a local poet, half in jest, no doubt, but still, perhaps also a little in earnest. 2 The heroes of Ulster have no part in fairyland; but their enemy, Medb, is credited with queenly rule among the Sídhe, and is held by some to have been the original of "Queen Mab". Caoilté, last of the Fenians, was, in spite of his leanings towards Christianity, enrolled among the Tuatha Dé Danann, but none of his kin are known there, neither Ossian, nor Oscar, nor even Finn himself. Yet not even to merely historical mortals are the gates of the gods necessarily closed. The Barry, chief of the barony


p. 247

of Barrymore, is said to inhabit an enchanted palace in Knockthierna, one of the Nagles Hills. The not less traditionally famous O’Donaghue, whose domain was near Killarney, now dwells beneath the waters of that lake, and may still be seen, it is said, upon May Day. 1

But besides these figures, which can be traced in mythology or history, and others who, though all written record of them has perished, are obviously of the same character, there are numerous beings who suggest a different origin from that of the Aryan-seeming fairies. They correspond to the elves and trolls of Scandinavian, or the silenoi and satyrs of Greek myth. Such is the Leprechaun, who makes shoes for the fairies, and knows where hidden treasures are; the Gan Ceanach, or "love-talker", who fills the ears of idle girls with pleasant fancies when, to merely mortal ideas, they should be busy with their work; the Pooka, who leads travellers astray, or, taking the shape of an ass or mule, beguiles them to mount upon his back to their discomfiture; the Dulachan, who rides without a head; and other friendly or malicious sprites. Whence come they? A possible answer suggests itself. Preceding the Aryans, and surviving the Aryan conquest all over Europe, was a large non-Aryan population, which must have had its own gods, who would retain their worship, be revered by successive generations, and remain rooted to the soil. May not these uncouth and half-developed


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[paragraph continues] Irish Leprechauns, Pookas, and Dulachans, together with the Scotch Cluricanes, Brownies, and their kin, be no "creations of popular fancy", but the dwindling figures of those darker gods of "the dark Iberians"?


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Footnotes
227:1 The story, contained in the Book of the Dun Cow, is called The Phantom Chariot. It has been translated by Mr. O’Beirne Crowe, and is included in Miss Hull's Cuchulinn Saga.

228:1 See Elton, Origins of English History, pp. 269-271.

228:2 Caius Julius Solinus, known as Polyhistor, chap. XXIV.

229:1 It is appended to his translation of the tale of the Exile of the Children of Usnach in Atlantis, Vol. III.

231:1 See Cusack's History of Ireland, pp. 160-16a.

231:2 I.e. from Heaven.

232:1 Thomas D'Arcy M’Gee: Poems, p. 78, "The Gobhan Saer".

233:1 Larminie: West Irish Folk-Tales, pp. 1-9.

237:1 Pronounced Ildāna.

238:1 It is told in Rhys's Hibbert Lectures, pp. 314-317.

239:1 For still other folk-tale versions of this same myth see Curtin's Hero Tales of Ireland.

241:1 A Donegal story, collected by Mr. David Fitzgerald and published in the Revue Celtique, Vol. IV, p. 177.

241:2 The paper is called "Sea-Magic and Running Water".

242:1 Moore: Folklore of the Isle of Man.

242:2 See an article in the Dublin University Magazine for June, 1864.

243:1 The story is among those told by Lady Wilde in her Ancient Legends of Ireland, Vol. I, pp. 77-82.

244:1 Dublin University Magazine, June, 1864.

244:2 Pronounced Cleena.

244:3 Pronounced Evin.

246:1 See Fitzgerald, Popular Tales of Ireland, in Vol. IV of the Revue Celtique.

246:2 Dublin University Magazine, June, 1864.

247:1 For stories of these two Norman-Irish heroes, see Crofton Croker's Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland.


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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:46:02 pm
THE BRITISH GODS AND THEIR STORIES
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CHAPTER XVI
THE GODS OF THE BRITONS
The descriptions and the stories of the British gods have hardly come down to us in so ample or so compact a form as those of the deities of the Gaels, as they are preserved in the Irish and Scottish manuscripts. They have also suffered far more from the sophistications of the euhemerist. Only in the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi" do the gods of the Britons appear in anything like their real character of supernatural beings, masters of magic, and untrammelled by the limitations which hedge in mortals. Apart from those four fragments of mythology, and from a very few scattered references in the early Welsh poems, one must search for them under strange disguises. Some masquerade as kings in Geoffrey of Monmouth's more than apocryphal Historia Britonum. Others have received an undeserved canonization, which must be stripped from them before they can be seen in their true colours. Others, again, were adopted by the Norman-French romancers, and turned into the champions of chivalry now known as Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. But, however disguised, their real nature can still be discerned. The Gaels and the Britons were but two branches of one

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race--the Celtic. In many of the gods of the Britons we shall recognize, with names alike and attributes the same, the familiar features of the Gaelic Tuatha Dé Danann.

The British gods are sometimes described as divided into three families--the "Children of Dôn", the "Children of Nudd", and the "Children of Llyr". But these three families are really only two; for Nudd, or Lludd, as he is variously called, is himself described as a son of Beli, who was the husband of the goddess Dôn. There can be no doubt that Dôn herself is the same divine personage as Danu, the mother of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and that Beli is the British equivalent of the Gaelic Bilé, the universal Dis Pater who sent out the first Gaels from Hades to take possession of Ireland. With the other family, the "Children of Llyr", we are equally on familiar ground; for the British Llyr can be none other than the Gaelic sea-god Lêr. These two families or tribes are usually regarded as in opposition, and their struggles seem to symbolize in British myth that same conflict between the powers of heaven, light, and life and of the sea, darkness, and death which are shadowed in Gaelic mythology in the battles between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomors.

For the children of Dôn were certainly gods of the sky. Their names are writ large in heaven. The glittering W which we call "Cassiopeia's Chair" was to our British ancestors Llys Dôn, or "Dôn's Court"; our "Northern Crown" was Caer Arianrod, the "Castle of Arianrod", Dôn's daughter;

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while the "Milky Way" was the "Castle of Gwydion", Dôn's son. 1 More than this, the greatest of her children, the Nudd or Lludd whom some make the head of a dynasty of his own, was the Zeus alike of the Britons and of the Gaels. His epithet of Llaw Ereint, that is, "of the Hand of Silver", proves him the same personage as Nuada the "Silver-Handed". The legend which must have existed to explain this peculiarity has been lost on British ground, but it was doubtless the same as that told of the Irish god. With it, and, no doubt, much else, has disappeared any direct account of battles fought by him as sky-god against Fomor-like enemies. But, under the faint disguise of a king of Britain, an ancient Welsh tale 2 records how he put an end to three supernatural "plagues" which oppressed his country. In addition to this, we find him under his name of Nudd described in a Welsh Triad as one of "the three generous heroes of the Isle of Britain", while another makes him the owner of twenty-one thousand milch cows--an expression which must, to the primitive mind, have implied inexhaustible wealth. Both help us to the conception of a god of heaven and battle, triumphant, and therefore rich and liberal. 3

More tangible evidence is, however, not lacking to prove the wide-spread nature of his worship. A temple dedicated to him in Roman times under the name of Nodens, or Nudens, has been discovered at


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[paragraph continues] Lydney, on the banks of the Severn. The god is pictured on a plaque of bronze as a youthful deity, haloed like the sun, and driving a four-horsed chariot. Flying spirits, typifying the winds, accompany him; while his power over the sea is symbolized by attendant Tritons. 1 This was in the west of Britain, while, in the east, there is good reason to believe that he had a shrine overlooking the Thames. Tradition declares that St. Paul's Cathedral occupies the site of an ancient pagan temple; while the spot on which it stands was called, we know from Geoffrey of Monmouth, "Parth Lludd" by the Britons, and "Ludes Geat" by the Saxons. 2

Great, however, as he probably was, Lludd, or Nudd occupies less space in Welsh story, as we have it now, than his son. Gwyn ap Nudd has outlived in tradition almost all his supernatural kin. Professor Rhys is tempted to see in him the British equivalent of the Gaelic Finn mac Cumhail. 3 The name of both alike means "white"; both are sons of the heaven-god; both are famed as hunters. Gwyn, however, is more than that; for his game is man. In the early Welsh poems, he is a god of battle and of the dead, and, as such, fills the part of a psychopompos, conducting the slain into Hades, and there ruling over them. In later, semi-Christianized story he is described as "Gwyn, son of Nudd, whom God has placed over the brood of devils in Annwn, lest they should destroy the present


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race 1". Later again, as paganism still further degenerated, he came to be considered as king of the Tylwyth Teg, the Welsh fairies, 2 and his name as such has hardly yet died out of his last haunt, the romantic vale of Neath. He is the wild huntsman of Wales and the West of England, and it is his pack which is sometimes heard at chase in waste places by night.

In his earliest guise, as a god of war and death, he is the subject of a poem in dialogue contained in the Black Book of Caermarthen. 3 Obscure, like most of the ancient Welsh poems, 4 it is yet a spirited production, and may be quoted here as a favourable specimen of the poetry of the early Cymri. In it we shall see mirrored perhaps the clearest figure of the British Pantheon, the "mighty hunter", not of deer, but of men's souls, riding his demon horse, and cheering on his demon hound to the fearful chase. He knows when and where all the great warriors fell, for he gathered their souls upon the field of battle, and now rules over them in Hades, or upon some "misty mountain-top". 5 It describes a mythical prince, named Gwyddneu Garanhir, known to Welsh legend as the ruler of a lost country now covered by the waters of Cardigan Bay, asking protection of the god, who


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accords it, and then relates the story of his exploits:

Gwyddneu.

A bull of conflict was he, active in dispersing an arrayed army,
The ruler of hosts, indisposed to anger,
Blameless and pure his conduct in protecting life.

Gwyn.

Against a hero stout was his advance,
The ruler of hosts, disposer of wrath,
There will be protection for thee since thou askest it.

Gwyddneu.

For thou hast given me protection
How warmly wert thou welcomed!
The hero of hosts, from what region thou comest?

Gwyn.

I come from battle and conflict
With a shield in my hand;
Broken is the helmet by the pushing of spears.

Gwyddneu.

I will address thee, exalted man,
With his shield in distress.
Brave man, what is thy descent?

Gwyn.

Round-hoofed is my horse, the torment of battle,
Fairy am I called, Gwyn the son of Nudd, 1
The lover of Creurdilad, the daughter of Lludd.


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Gwyddneu.

Since it is thou, Gwyn, an upright man,
From thee there is no concealing:
I am Gwyddneu Garanhir.

Gwyn.

Hasten to my ridge, the Tawë abode;
Not the nearest Tawë name I to thee,
But that Tawë which is the farthest. 1

Polished is my ring, golden my saddle and bright:
To my sadness
I saw a conflict before Caer Vandwy. 2

Before Caer Vandwy a host I saw,
Shields were shattered and ribs broken;
Renowned and splendid was he who made the assault.

Gwyddneu.

Gwyn, son of Nudd, the hope of armies,
Quicker would legions fall before the hoofs
Of thy horse than broken rushes to the ground.

Gwyn.

Handsome my dog, and round-bodied,
And truly the best of dogs;
Dormarth 3 was he, which belonged to Maelgwyn.

Gwyddneu.

Dormarth with the ruddy nose! what a gazer
Thou art upon me because I notice
Thy wanderings on Gwibir Vynyd. 4


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Gwyn

I have been in the place where was killed Gwendoleu,
The son of Ceidaw, the pillar of songs,
When the ravens screamed over blood.

I have been in the place where Brân was killed,
The son of Iweridd, of far extending fame,
When the ravens of the battle-field screamed.

I have been where Llacheu was slain,
The son of Arthur, extolled in songs,
When the ravens screamed over blood.

I have been where Meurig was killed,
The son of Carreian, of honourable fame,
When the ravens screamed over flesh.

I have been where Gwallawg was killed,
The son of Goholeth, the accomplished,
The resister of Lloegyr, the son of Lleynawg.

I have been where the soldiers of Britain were slain,
From the east to the north:
I am the escort of the grave. 1

I have been where the soldiers of Britain were slain,
From the east to the south:
I am alive, they in death!

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Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:48:24 pm
A line in this poem allows us to see Gwyn in another and less sinister rôle. "The lover of Creurdilad, the daughter of Lludd," he calls himself; and an episode in the mythical romance of "Kulhwch and Olwen", preserved in the Red Book of Hergest, gives the details of his courtship. Gwyn had as rival a deity called Gwyrthur ap Greidawl,


p. 259

that is "Victor, son of Scorcher". 1 These two waged perpetual war for Creurdilad, or Creudylad, each in turn stealing her from the other, until the matter was referred to Arthur, who decided that Creudylad should be sent back to her father, and that Gwyn and Gwyrthur "should fight for her every first of May, from henceforth until the day of doom, and that whichever of them should then be conqueror should have the maiden". What satisfaction this would be to the survivor of what might be somewhat flippantly described as, in two senses, the longest engagement on record, is not very clear; but its mythological interpretation appears fairly obvious. In Gwyn, god of death and the underworld, and in the solar deity, Gwyrthur, we may see the powers of darkness and sunshine, of winter and summer, in contest, 2 each alternately winning and losing a bride who would seem to represent the spring with its grain and flowers. Creudylad, whom the story of "Kulhwch and Olwen" calls "the most splendid maiden in the three islands of the mighty and in the three islands adjacent", is, in fact, the British Persephoné. As the daughter of Lludd, she is child of the shining sky. But a different tradition must have made her a daughter of Llyr, the sea-god; for her name as such passed, through Geoffrey of Monmouth, to Shakespeare, in whose hands she became that pathetic figure, Cordelia in "King Lear". It may not be altogether unworthy of notice, though perhaps it is only a coincidence, that in some myths


p. 260

the Greek Persephoné is made a daughter of Zeus and in others of Poseidon. 1

Turning from the sky-god and his son, we find others of Dôn's children to have been the exponents of those arts of life which early races held to have been taught directly by the gods to men. Dôn herself had a brother, Mâth, son of a mysterious Mathonwy, and recognizable as a benevolent ruler of the underworld akin to Beli, or perhaps that god himself under another title, for the name Mâth, which means "coin, money, treasure ", 2 recalls that of Plouton, the Greek god of Hades, in his guise of possessor and giver of metals. It was a belief common to the Aryan races that wisdom, as well as wealth, came originally from the underworld; and we find Mâth represented, in the Mabinogi bearing his name, as handing on his magical lore to his nephew and pupil Gwydion, who, there is good reason to believe, was the same divine personage whom the Teutonic tribes worshipped as "Woden" and "Odin". Thus equipped, Gwydion son of Dôn became the druid of the gods, the "master of illusion and phantasy", and, not only that, but


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the teacher of all that is useful and good, the friend and helper of mankind, and the perpetual fighter against niggardly underworld powers for the good gifts which they refused to allow out of their keeping. Shoulder to shoulder with him in this "holy war" of culture against ignorance, and light against darkness, stood his brothers Amaethon, god of agriculture, and Govannan, a god of smithcraft identical with the Gaelic Giobniu. He had also a sister called Arianrod, or "Silver Circle", who, as is common in mythologies, was not only his sister, but also his wife. So Zeus wedded Heré; and, indeed, it is difficult to say where otherwise the partners of gods are to come from. Of this connection two sons were born at one birth--Dylan and Lieu, who are considered as representing the twin powers of darkness and light. With darkness the sea was inseparably connected by the Celts, and, as soon as the dark twin was born and named, he plunged headlong into his native element. "And immediately when he was in the sea," says the Mabinogi of Mâth, son of Mâthonwy, "he took its nature, and swam as well as the best fish that was therein. And for that reason was he called Dylan, the Son of the Wave. Beneath him no wave ever broke." He was killed with a spear at last by his uncle, Govannan, and, according to the bard Taliesin, the waves of Britain, Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man wept for him. 1 Beautiful legends grew up around his death. The clamour of the waves dashing


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upon the beach is the expression of their longing to avenge their son. The sound of the sea rushing up the mouth of the River Conway is still known as "Dylan's death-groan " 1. A small promontory on the Carnarvonshire side of the Menai Straits, called Pwynt Maen Tylen, or Pwynt Maen Dulan, preserves his name. 2

The other child of Gwydion and Arianrod grew up to become the British sun-god, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the exact counterpart of the Gaelic Lugh Lamh-fada, "Light the Long-handed". Like all solar deities, his growth was rapid. When he was a year old, he seemed to be two years; at the age of two, he travelled by himself; and when he was four years old, he was as tall as a boy of eight, and was his father's constant companion.

One day, Gwydion took him to the castle of Arianrod--not her castle in the sky, but her abode on earth, the still-remembered site of which is marked by a patch of rocks in the Menai Straits, accessible without a boat only during the lowest spring and autumn tides. Arianrod had disowned her son, and did not recognize him when she saw him with Gwydion. She asked who he was, and was much displeased when told. She demanded to know his name, and, when Gwydion replied that he had as yet received none, she "laid a destiny upon" him, after the fashion of the Celts, that he should be without a name until she chose to bestow one on him herself.


p. 263

To be without a name was a very serious thing to the ancient Britons, who seem to have held the primitive theory that the name and the soul are the same. So Gwydion cast about to think by what craft he might extort from Arianrod some remark from which he could name their son. The next day, he went down to the sea-shore with the boy, both of them disguised as cordwainers. He made a boat out of sea-weed by magic, and some beautifully-coloured leather out of some dry sticks and sedges. Then they sailed the boat to the port of Arianrod's castle, and, anchoring it where it could be seen, began ostentatiously to stitch away at the leather. Naturally, they were soon noticed, and Arianrod sent someone out to see who they were and what they were doing. When she found that they were shoemakers, she remembered that she wanted some shoes. Gwydion, though he had her measure, purposely made them, first too large, and then too small. This brought Arianrod herself down to the boat to be fitted.

While Gwydion was measuring Arianrod's foot for the shoes, a wren came and stood upon the deck. The boy took his bow and arrow, and hit the wren in the leg--a favourite shot of Celtic "crack" archers, at any rate in romance. The goddess was pleased to be amiable and complimentary. "Truly," said she, "the lion aimed at it with a steady hand." It is from such incidents that primitive people take their names, all the world over. The boy had got his. "It is no thanks to you," said Gwydion to Arianrod, "but now he has a name. And a good

p. 264

name it is. He shall be called Llew Llaw Gyffes 1."

This name of the sun-god is a good example of how obsolete the ancient pagan tradition had become before it was put into writing. The old word Lleu, meaning "light", had passed out of use, and the scribe substituted for a name that was unintelligible to him one like it which he knew, namely Llew, meaning "lion". The word Gyffes seems also to have suffered change, and to have meant originally not "steady", but "long" 2.

At any rate, Arianrod was defeated in her design to keep her son nameless. Neither did she even get her shoes; for, as soon as he had gained his object, Gwydion allowed the boat to change back into sea-weed, and the leather to return to sedge and sticks. So, in her anger, she put a fresh destiny on the boy, that he should not take arms till she herself gave them him.

Gwydion, however, took Lleu to Dinas Dinllev his castle, which still stands at the edge of the Menai Straits, and brought him up as a warrior. As soon as he thought him old enough to have arms, he took him with him again to Caer Arianrod. This time, they were disguised as bards. Arianrod received them gladly, heard Gwydion's songs and tales, feasted them, and prepared a room for them to sleep in.

The next morning, Gwydion got up very early, and prepared his most powerful incantations. By his druidical arts he made it seem as if the whole


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country rang with the shouts and trumpets of an army, and he put a glamour over everyone, so that they saw the bay filled with ships. Arianrod came to him in terror, asking what could be done to protect the castle. "Give us arms," he replied, "and we will do the best we can." So Arianrod's maidens armed Gwydion, while Arianrod herself put arms on Lleu. By the time she had finished, all the noises had ceased, and the ships had vanished. "Let us take our arms off again," said Gwydion; "we shall not need them now." "But the army is all round the castle!" cried Arianrod. "There was no army," answered Gwydion; "it was only an illusion of mine to cause you to break your prophecy and give our son arms. And now he has got them, without thanks to you." "Then I will lay a worse destiny on him," cried the infuriated goddess. "He shall never have a wife of the people of this earth." "He shall have a wife in spite of you," said Gwydion.

So Gwydion went to Mâth, his uncle and tutor in magic, and between them they made a woman out of flowers by charms and illusion. "They took the blossoms of the oak, and the blossoms of the broom, and the blossoms of the meadow-sweet, and produced from them a maiden, the fairest and most graceful that man ever saw." They called her Blodeuwedd (Flower-face), and gave her to Lleu as his wife. And they gave Lleu a palace called Mur y Castell, near Bala Lake.

All went well until, one day, Gronw Pebyr, one of the gods of darkness, came by, hunting, and

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killed the stag at nightfall near Lieu's castle. The sun-god was away upon a visit to Mâth, but Blodeuwedd asked the stranger to take shelter with her. That night they fell in love with one another, and conspired together how Lleu might be put away. When Lleu came back from Mâth's court, Blodeuwedd, like a Celtic Dalilah, wormed out of him the secret of how his life was preserved. He told her that he could only die in one way; he could not be killed either inside or outside a house, either on horseback or on foot, but that if a spear that had been a year in the making, and which was never worked upon except during the sacrifice on Sunday, were to be cast at him as he stood beneath a roof of thatch, after having just bathed, with one foot upon the edge of the bath and the other upon a buck goat's back, it would cause his death. Blodeuwedd piously thanked Heaven that he was so well protected, and sent a messenger to her paramour, telling him what she had learned. Gronw set to work on the spear; and in a year it was ready. When she knew this, Blodeuwedd asked Lleu to show her exactly how it was he could be killed.

Lleu agreed; and Blodeuwedd prepared the bath under the thatched roof, and tethered the goat by it. Lieu bathed, and then stood with one foot upon the edge of the bath, and the other upon the goat's back. At this moment, Gronw, from an ambush, flung the spear, and hit Lleu, who, with a terrible cry, changed into an eagle, and flew away. He never came back; and Gronw took possession of both his wife and his palace.




Click to enlarge
BLODEUWEDD'S INVITATION TO GRONW PEBYR




p. 267

But Gwydion set out to search everywhere for his son. At last, one day, he came to a house in North Wales where the man was in great anxiety about his sow; for as soon as the sty was opened, every morning, she rushed out, and did not return again till late in the evening. Gwydion offered to follow her, and, at dawn, the man took him to the sty, and opened the door. The sow leaped forth, and ran, and Gwydion ran after her. He tracked her to a brook between Snowdon and the sea, still called Nant y Llew, and saw her feeding underneath an oak. Upon the top of the tree there was an eagle, and, every time it shook itself, there fell off it lumps of putrid meat, which the sow ate greedily. Gwydion suspected that the eagle must be Lleu. So he sang this verse:


"Oak that grows between the two banks;
Darkened is the sky and hill!
Shall I not tell him by his wounds,
That this is Lleu?"

[paragraph continues] The eagle, on hearing this, came half-way down the tree. So Gwydion sang:


"Oak that grows in upland ground,
Is it not wetted by the rain?
Has it not been drenched
By nine score tempests?
It bears in its branches Lleu Llaw Gyffes."

[paragraph continues] The eagle came slowly down until it was on the lowest branch. Gwydion sang:


"Oak that grows beneath the steep;
Stately and majestic is its aspect!
Shall I not speak it?
That Lleu will come to my lap?"

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[paragraph continues] Then the eagle came down, and sat on Gwydion's knee. Gwydion struck it with his magic wand, and it became Lleu again, wasted to skin and bone by the poison on the spear.

Gwydion took him to Mâth to be healed, and left him there, while he went to Mur y Castell, where Blodeuwedd was. When she heard that he was coming, she fled. But Gwydion overtook her, and changed her into an owl, the bird that hates the day. A still older form of this probably extremely ancient myth of the sun-god--the savage and repulsive details of which speak of a hoary antiquity--makes the chase of Blodeuwedd by Gwydion to have taken place in the sky, the stars scattered over the Milky Way being the traces of it. 1 As for her accomplice, Lleu would accept no satisfaction short of Gronw's submitting to stand exactly where Lleu had stood, to be shot at in his turn. To this he was obliged to agree; and Lleu killed him. 2

There are two other sons of Beli and Dôn of whom so little is recorded that it would hardly be worth while mentioning them, were it not for the wild poetry of the legend connected with them. The tale, put into writing at a time when all the gods were being transfigured into simple mortals, tells us that they were two kings of Britain, brothers. One starlight night they were walking together. "See," said Nynniaw to Peibaw, "what a fine, wide-spreading field I have." "Where is it?" asked


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[paragraph continues] Peibaw. "There," replied Nynniaw; "the whole stretch of the sky, as far as the eye reaches." "Look then," returned Peibaw, "what a number of cattle I have grazing on your field." "Where are they?" asked Nynniaw. "All the stars that you can see," replied Peibaw, "every one of them of fiery-coloured gold, with the moon for a shepherd over them." "They shall not feed on my field," cried Nynniaw. "They shall," exclaimed Peibaw. "They shall not," cried Nynniaw, "They shall," said Peibaw. "They shall not," Nynniaw answered; and so they went on, from contradiction to quarrel, and from private quarrel to civil war, until the armies of both of them were destroyed, and the two authors of the evil were turned by God into oxen for their sins. 1

Last of the children of Dôn, we find a goddess called Penardun, of whom little is known except that she was married to the sea-god Llyr. This incident is curious, as forming a parallel to the Gaelic story which tells of intermarriage between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomors. 2 Brigit, the Dagda's daughter, was married to Bress, son of Elathan, while Cian, the son of Diancecht, wedded Ethniu, the daughter of Balor. So, in this kindred mythology, a slender tie of relationship binds the gods of the sky to the gods of the sea.

The name Llyr is supposed, like its Irish equivalent Lêr, to have meant "the Sea". 3 The British sea-god is undoubtedly the same as the Gaelic; indeed,


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the two facts that he is described in Welsh literature as Llyr Llediath, that is, "Llyr of the Foreign Dialect", and is given a wife called Iweridd (Ireland) 1, suggest that he may have been borrowed by the Britons from the Gaels later than any mythology common to both. As a British god, he was the far-off original of Shakespeare's "King Lear". The chief city of his worship is still called after him, Leicester, that is, Llyr-cestre, in still earlier days, Caer Llyr.

Llyr, we have noticed, married two wives, Penardun and Iweridd. By the daughter of Dôn he had a son called Manawyddan, who is identical with the Gaelic Manannán mac Lir. 2 We know less of his character and attributes than we do of the Irish god; but we find him equally a ruler in that Hades or Elysium which the Celtic mind ever connected with the sea. Like all the inhabitants. of that other world, he is at once a master of magic and of the useful arts, which he taught willingly to his friends. To his enemies, however, he could show a different side of his character. A triad tells us that


"The achievement of Manawyddan the Wise,
After lamentation and fiery wrath,
Was the constructing of the bone-fortress of Oeth and Anoeth", 3

which is described as a prison made, in the shape of


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a bee-hive, entirely of human bones mortared together, and divided into innumerable cells, forming a kind of labyrinth. In this ghastly place he immured those whom he found trespassing in Hades; and among his captives was no less a person than the famous Arthur. 1

"Ireland" bore two children to Llyr: a daughter called Branwen and a son called Brân. The little we know of Branwen of the "Fair Bosom" shows her as a goddess of love--child, like the Greek Aphrodité, of the sea. Brân, on the other hand, is, even more clearly than Manawyddan, a dark deity of Hades. He is represented as of colossal size, so huge, in fact, that no house or ship was big enough to hold him. 2 He delighted in battle and carnage, like the hoodie-crow or raven from which he probably took his name, 3 but he was also the especial patron of bards, minstrels, and musicians, and we find him in one of the poems ascribed to Taliesin claiming to be himself a bard, a harper, a player on the crowth, and seven-score other musicians all at once. 4 His son was called Caradawc the Strong-armed, who, as the British mythology crumbled, became confounded with the historical Caratacus, known popularly as "Caractacus".

Both Brân and Manawyddan were especially connected with the Swansea peninsula. The bone-fortress of Oeth and Anoeth was placed by tradition in


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[paragraph continues] Gower. 1 That Brân was equally at home there may be proved from the Morte Darthur, in which store-house of forgotten and misunderstood mythology Brân of Gower survives as "King Brandegore". 2

Such identification of a mere mortal country with the other world seems strange enough to us, but to our Celtic ancestors it was a quite natural thought. All islands--and peninsulas, which, viewed from an opposite coast, probably seemed to them islands--were deemed to be pre-eminently homes of the dark Powers of Hades. Difficult of access, protected by the turbulent and dangerous sea, sometimes rendered quite invisible by fogs and mists and, at other times, looming up ghostlily on the horizon, often held by the remnant of a hostile lower race, they gained a mystery and a sanctity from the law of the human mind which has always held the unknown to be the terrible. The Cornish Britons, gazing from the shore, saw Gower and Lundy, and deemed them outposts of the over-sea Other World. To the Britons of Wales, Ireland was. no human realm, a view reciprocated by the Gaels, who saw Hades in Britain, while the Isle of Man was a little Hades common to them both. Nor even was the sea always necessary to sunder the world of ghosts from that of "shadow-casting men". Glastonbury Tor, surrounded by almost impassable swamps, was one of the especial haunts of Gwyn ap Nudd. The Britons of the north held that beyond the Roman


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wall and the vast Caledonian wood lived ghosts and not men. Even the Roman province of Demetia--called by the Welsh Dyfed, and corresponding, roughly, to the modern County of Pembrokeshire--was, as a last stronghold of the aborigines, identified with the mythic underworld.

As such, Dyfed was ruled by a local tribe of gods, whose greatest figures were Pwyll, "Head of Annwn" (the Welsh name for Hades), with his wife Rhiannon, and their son Pryderi. These beings are described as hostile to the children of Dôn, but friendly to the race of Llyr. After Pwyll's death or disappearance, his widow Rhiannon becomes the wife of Manawyddan. 1 In a poem of Taliesin's we find Manawyddan and Pryderi joint-rulers of Hades, and warders of that magic cauldron of inspiration 2 which the gods of light attempted to steal or capture, and which became famous afterwards as the "Holy Grail". Another of their treasures were the "Three Birds of Rhiannon", which, we are told in an ancient book, could sing the dead to life and the living into the sleep of death. Fortunately they sang seldom. "There are three things," says a Welsh triad, "which are not often heard: the song of the birds of Rhiannon, a song of wisdom from the mouth of a Saxon, and an invitation to a feast from a miser."

Nor is the list of British gods complete without mention of Arthur, though most readers will be surprised to find him in such company. The


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genius of Tennyson, who drew his materials mostly from the Norman-French romances, has stereotyped the popular conception of Arthur as a king of early Britain who fought for his fatherland and the Christian faith against invading Saxons. Possibly there may, indeed, have been a powerful British chieftain bearing that typically Celtic name, which is found in Irish legend as Artur, one of the sons of Nemed who fought against the Fomors, and on the Continent as Artaius, a Gaulish deity whom the Romans identified with Mercury, and who seems to have been a patron of agriculture. 1 But the original Arthur stands upon the same ground as Cuchulainn and Finn. His deeds are mythical, because superhuman. His companions can be shown to have been divine. Some we know were worshipped in Gaul. Others are children of Dôn, of Llyr, and of Pwyll, dynasties of older gods to whose head Arthur seems to have risen, as his cult waxed and theirs waned. Stripped of their godhead, and strangely transformed, they fill the pages of romance as Knights of the Table Round.

These deities were the native gods of Britain. Many others are, however, mentioned upon inscriptions found in our island, but these were almost all exotic and imported. Imperial Rome brought men of diverse races among her legions, and these men brought their gods. Scattered over Britain, but especially in the north, near the Wall, we find evidence that deities of many nations--from Germany to Africa, and from Gaul to Persia--were


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sporadically worshipped. 1 Most of these foreign gods were Roman, but a temple at Eboracum (now York) was dedicated to Serapis, and Mithras, the Persian sun-god, was also adored there; while at Corbridge, in Northumberland (the ancient Corspitium), there have been found altars to the Tyrian Hercules and to Astarte. The war-god was also invoked under many strange names--as "Cocidius" by a colony of Dacians in Cumberland; as Toutates, Camulus, Coritiacus, Belatucador, Alator, Loucetius, Condates, and Rigisamos by men of different countries. A goddess of war was worshipped at Bath under the name of Nemetona. The hot springs of the same town were under the patronage of a divinity called Sul, identified by the Romans with Minerva, and she was helped by a god of medicine described on a dedicatory tablet as "Sol Apollo Anicetus". Few of these "strange gods", however, seem to have taken hold of the imagination of the native Britons. Their worshippers did not proselytize, and their general influence was probably about equal to that of an Evangelical Church in a Turkish town. The sole exceptions to this rule are where the foreign gods are Gaulish; but in several instances it can be proved that they were not so much of Roman, as of original Celtic importation. The warlike heaven-god Camulus appears in Gaelic heroic myth as Cumhal, the father of Finn, and in British mythical history as Coel, a duke of Caer Coelvin (known earlier as


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[paragraph continues] Camulodunum, and now as Colchester), who seized the crown of Britain, and spent his short reign in a series of battles. 1 The name of the sun-god Maponos is found alike upon altars in Gaul and Britain, and in Welsh literature as Mabon, a follower of Arthur; while another Gaulish sun-god, Belinus, who had a splendid temple at Bajocassos (the modern Bayeux), though not mentioned in the earliest British mythology, as its scattered records have come down to us, must have been connected with Brân; for we find in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History "King Belinus" as brother of "King Brennius", 2 and in the Morte Darthur "Balin" as brother of "Balan". 3 A second-century Greek writer gives an account of a god of eloquence worshipped in Gaul under the name of Ogmios, and represented as equipped like Heracles, a description which exactly corresponds to the conception of the Gaelic Ogma, at once patron of literature and writing and professional strong man of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Nemetona, the war-goddess worshipped at Bath, was probably the same as Nemon, one of Nuada's Valkyr-wives, while a broken inscription to athubodva, which probably stood, when intact, for Cathubodva, may well have been addressed to the Gaulish equivalent of Badb Catha, the "War-fury". Lugh, or Lleu, was also widely known on the Continent as Lugus. Three important towns--


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[paragraph continues] Laon, Leyden, and Lyons--were all anciently called after him Lugu-dunum (Lugus' town), and at the last and greatest of these a festival was still held in Roman times upon the sun-god's day--the first of August--which corresponded to the Lugnassad (Lugh's commemoration) held in ancient Ireland. Brigit, the Gaelic Minerva, is also found in Britain as Brigantia, tutelary goddess of the Brigantes, a Northern tribe, and in Eastern France as Brigindo, to whom Iccavos, son of Oppianos, made a dedicatory offering of which there is still record. 1

Other, less striking agreements between the mythical divine names of the Insular and Continental Celts might be cited. These recorded should, however, prove sufficiently that Gaul, Gael, and Briton shared in a common heritage of mythological names and ideas, which they separately developed into three superficially different, but essentially similar cults.


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Footnotes
253:1 Lady Guest's Mabinogion, a note to Math, the Son of Mathonwy.

253:2 The Story of Lludd and Llevelys. See chap. XXIV--"The Decline and Fall of the Gods".

253:3 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 128.

254:1 See a monograph by the Right Hon. Charles Bathurst: Roman Antiquities in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire.

254:2 See chap. XXIV--"The Decline and Fall of the Gods".

254:3 Hibbert Lectures, pp. 178, 199.

255:1 So translated by Lady Guest. Professor Rhys, however, renders it, "in whom God has put the instinct of the demons of Annwn". Arthurian Legend, p. 341.

255:2 Lady Guest's Mabinogion. Note to "Kulhwch and Olwen".

255:3 Black Book of Caermarthen, poem XXXIII. Vol. I, p. 293, of Skene's Four Ancient Books.

255:4 I have taken the liberty of omitting a few lines whose connection with their context is not very apparent.

255:5 Gwyn was said to specially frequent the summits of hills.

256:1 This line is Professor Rhys's. Skene translates it: "Whilst I am called Gwyn the son of Nudd".

257:1 I have here preferred Rhys's rendering: Arthurian Legend, p. 364.

257:2 A name for Hades, of unknown meaning.

257:3 Dormarth means "Death's Door". Rhys: Arthurian Legend, pp. 156-158.

257:4 Rhys has it:


"Dormarth, red-nosed, ground-grazing
On him we perceived the speed
Of thy wandering on Cloud Mount."
--Arthurian Legend, p. 156.


258:1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 383. Skene translates: "I am alive, they in their graves!"

259:1 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 561.

259:2 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, pp. 561-563.

260:1 Dyer: Studies of the Gods in Greece, p. 48.

Gwyn, son of Nudd, had a brother, Edeyrn, of whom so little has come down to us that he finds his most suitable place in a foot-note. Unmentioned in the earliest Welsh legends, he first appears as a knight of Arthur's court in the Red Book stories of "Kulhwch and Olwen", the "Dream of Rhonabwy", and "Geraint, the Son of Erbin". He accompanied Arthur on his expedition to Rome, and is said also to have slain "three most atrocious giants" at Brentenol (Brent Knoll), near Glastonbury. His name occurs in a catalogue of Welsh saints, where he is described as a bard, and the chapel of Bodedyrn, near Holyhead, still stands to his honour. Modern readers will know him from Tennyson's Idyll of "Geraint and Enid", which follows very closely the Welsh romance of "Geraint, the Son of Erbin".

260:2 Rhys--who calls him "a Cambrian Pluto": Lectures on Welsh Philology, P. 414.

261:1 Book of Taliesin, man. The Death-song of Dylan, Son of the Wave, Vol. I, p. 288 of Skene.

262:1 Rhys: Hibbert Lecturer, p. 387.

262:2 Rhys: Celtic Folklore, p. 210.

264:1 i.e. The Lion with the Steady Hand.

264:2 See Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, note to p. 237.

268:1 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 240.

268:2 Retold from the Mabinogi of Math, Son of Mathonwy, In Lady Guest's Mabinogion.

269:1 The Iolo Manuscripts: collected by Edward Williams, the bard, at about the beginning of the nineteenth century--The Tale of Rhitta Gawr.

269:2 See Chapter VII--"The Rise of the Sun-God".

269:3 Rhys: Studies in the Arthurian Legend, p. 130.

270:1 Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 130.

270:2 The old Irish tract called Coir Anmann (the Choice of Names) says: "Manannán mac Lir . . . the Britons and the men of Erin deemed that he was the god of the sea".

270:3 Iolo MSS., stanza 18 of The Stanzas of the Achievements, composed by the Azure Bard of the Chair.

271:1 See note to chap. XXII--"The Treasures of Britain".

271:2 Mabinogi of Branwen, Daughter of Llyr.

271:3 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 245.

271:4 Book of Taliesin, poem XLVIII, in Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales. Vol. I. p. 297.

272:1 The Verses of the Graves of the Warriors, in the Black Book of Caermarthen. See also Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 347.

272:2 Rhys: Studies in the Arthurian Legend, p. 160.

273:1 Mabinogi of Manawyddan, Son of Llyr.

273:2 Book of Taliesin, poem xiv, Vol. I, p. 276, of Skene.

274:1 Rhys: Studies in the Arthurian Legend, p. 48 and note.

275:1 See a paper in the Edinburgh Review for July, 1851--"The Romans in Britain".

276:1 It is said that the "Old King Cole" of the popular ballad, who "was a merry old soul", represents the last faint tradition of the Celtic god.

276:2 Geoffrey of Monmouth, Book III, chap. 1.

276:3 Morte Darthur, Book I, chap. xvi.

277:1 For full account of Gaulish gods, and their Gaelic and British affinities, see Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, I and II--"The Gaulish Pantheon".


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http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cml/cml20.htm


Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Nicole Jimmelson on February 03, 2007, 10:49:27 pm
CHAPTER XVII
THE ADVENTURES OF THE GODS OF HADES
It is with the family of Pwyll, deities connected with the south-west corner of Wales, called by the Romans Demetia, and by the Britons Dyfed, and, roughly speaking, identical with the modern county of Pembrokeshire, that the earliest consecutive accounts of the British gods begin. The first of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi tell us how "Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed", gained the right to be called Pen Annwn, the "Head of Hades". Indeed, it almost seems as if it had been deliberately written to explain how the same person could be at once a mere mortal prince, however legendary, and a ruler in the mystic Other World, and so to reconcile two conflicting traditions. 1 But to an earlier age than that in which the legend was put into a literary shape, such forced reconciliation would not have been needed; for the two legends would not have been considered to conflict. When Pwyll, head of Annwn, was a mythic person whose tradition was still alive, the unexplored, rugged, and savage country of Dyfed, populated by the aboriginal Iberians whom the Celt had driven into such remote districts, appeared to those who dwelt upon the


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eastern side of its dividing river, the Tawë, at least a dependency of Annwn, if not that weird realm itself. But, as men grew bolder, the frontier was crossed, and Dyfed entered and traversed, and found to be not so unlike other countries. Its inhabitants, if not of Celtic race, were yet of flesh and blood. So that, though the province still continued to bear to a late date the names of the "Land of Illusion" and the "Realm of Glamour", 1 it was no longer deemed to be Hades itself. That fitful and shadowy country had folded its tents, and departed over or under seas.

The story of "Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed", 2 tells us how there was war in Annwn between its two kings--or between two, perhaps, of its many chieftains. Arawn ("Silver-Tongue") and Havgan ("Summer-White") each coveted the dominions of the other. In the continual contests between them, Arawn was worsted, and in despair he visited the upper earth to seek for a mortal ally.

At this time Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, held his court at Narberth. He had, however, left his capital upon a hunting expedition to Glyn Cûch, known to-day as a valley upon the borders of the two counties of Pembroke and Carmarthen. Like so many kings of European and Oriental romance, when an adventure is at hand, he became separated from his party, and was, in modern parlance, "thrown out". He could, however, still hear the music of his hounds, and was listening to them, when he also


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distinguished the cry of another pack coming towards him. As he watched and listened, a stag came into view; and the strange hounds pulled it down almost at his feet. At first Pwyll hardly looked at the stag, he was so taken up with gazing at the hounds, for "of all the hounds that he had seen in the world, he had never seen any that were like unto these. For their hair was of a brilliant shining white, and their ears were red; and as the whiteness of their bodies shone, so did the redness of their ears glisten." They were, indeed, though Pwyll does not seem to have known it, of the true Hades breed--the snow-white, red-eared hounds we meet in Gaelic legends, and which are still said to be sometimes heard and seen scouring the hills of Wales by night. Seeing no rider with the hounds, Pwyll drove them away from the dead stag, and called up his own pack to it.

While he was doing this, a man "upon a large, light-gray steed, with a hunting-horn round his neck, and clad in garments of gray woollen in the fashion of a hunting garb" appeared, and rated Pwyll for his unsportsmanlike conduct. "Greater discourtesy," said he, "I never saw than your driving away my dogs after they had killed the stag, and calling your own to it. And though I may not be revenged upon you for this, I swear that I will do you more damage than the value of a hundred stags."

Pwyll expressed his contrition, and, asking the new-comer's name and rank, offered to atone for his fault. The stranger told his name--Arawn, a king of Annwn--and said that Pwyll could gain his forgiveness only in one way, by going to Annwn

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instead of him, and fighting for him with Havgan. Pwyll agreed to do this, and the King of Hades put his own semblance upon the mortal prince, so that not a person in Annwn--not even Arawn's own wife--would know that he was not that king. He led him by a secret path into Annwn, and left him before his castle, charging him to return to the place where they had first met, at the end of a year from that day. On the other hand, Arawn took on Pwyll's shape, and went to Narberth.

No one in Annwn suspected Pwyll of being anyone else than their king. He spent the year in ruling the realm, in hunting, minstrelsy, and feasting. Both by day and night, he had the company of Arawn's wife, the most beautiful woman he had ever yet seen, but he refrained from taking advantage of the trust placed in him. At last the day came when he was to meet Havgan in single combat. One blow settled it; for Pwyll, Havgan's destined conqueror, thrust his antagonist an arm's and a spear's length over the crupper of his horse, breaking his shield and armour, and mortally wounding him. Havgan was carried away to die, and Pwyll, in the guise of Arawn, received the submission of the dead king's subjects, and annexed his realm. Then he went back to Glyn Cûch, to keep his tryst with Arawn.

They retook their own shapes, and each returned to his own kingdom. Pwyll learned that Dyfed had never been ruled so well, or been so prosperous, as during the year just passed. As for the King of Hades, he found his enemy gone, and his domains

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extended. And when he caressed his wife, she asked him why he did so now, after the lapse of a whole year. So he told her the truth, and they both agreed that they had indeed got a true friend in Pwyll.

After this, the kings of Annwn and Dyfed made their friendship strong between them. From that time forward, says the story, Pwyll was no longer called Prince of Dyfed, but Pen Annwn, "the Head of Hades".

The second mythological incident in the Mabinogi of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, tells how the Head of Hades won his wife, Rhiannon, thought by Professor Rhys to have been a goddess either of the dawn or of the moon. 1 There was a mound outside Pwyll's palace at Narberth which had a magical quality. To anyone who sat upon it there happened one of two things: either he received wounds and blows, or else he saw a wonder. One day, it occurred to Pwyll that he would like to try the experience of the mound. So he went and sat upon it.

No unseen blows assailed Pwyll, but he had not been sitting long upon the mound before he saw, coming towards him, "a lady on a pure-white horse of large size, with a garment of shining gold around her", riding very quietly. He sent a man on foot to ask her who she was, but, though she seemed to be moving so slowly, the man could not come up to her. He failed utterly to overtake her, and she passed on out of sight.

The next day, Pwyll went again to the mound.


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[paragraph continues] The lady appeared, and, this time, Pwyll sent a horseman. At first, the horseman only ambled along at about the same pace at which the lady seemed to be going; then, failing to get near her, he urged his horse into a gallop. But, whether he rode slow or fast, he could come no closer to the lady than before, although she seemed to the eyes of those who watched to have been going only at a foot's pace.

The day after that, Pwyll determined to accost the lady himself. She came at the same gentle walk, and Pwyll at first rode easily, and then at his horse's topmost speed, but with the same result, or lack of it. At last, in despair, he called to the mysterious damsel to stop. "I will stop gladly," said she, "and it would have been better for your horse if you had asked me before." She told him that her name was Rhiannon, daughter of Heveydd the Ancient. The nobles of her realm had determined to give her in marriage against her will, so she had come to seek out Pwyll, who was the man of her choice. Pwyll was delighted to hear this, for he thought that she was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen. Before they parted, they had plighted troth, and Pwyll had promised to appear on that day twelvemonth at the palace of her father, Heveydd. Then she vanished, and Pwyll returned to Narberth.

At the appointed time, Pwyll went to visit Heveydd the Ancient, with a hundred followers. He was received with much welcome, and the disposition of the feast put under his command, as the Celts seem to have done to especially honoured

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guests. As they sat at meat, with Pwyll between Rhiannon and her father, a tall auburn-haired youth came into the hall, greeted Pwyll, and asked a boon of him. "Whatever boon you may ask of me," said Pwyll thoughtlessly, "if it is in my power, you shall have it." Then the suitor threw off all disguise, called the guests to witness Pwyll's promise, and claimed Rhiannon as his bride. Pwyll was dumb. "Be silent as long as you will," said the masterful Rhiannon; "never did a man make worse use of his wits than you have done." "Lady," replied the amazed Pwyll, "I knew not who he was." "He is the man to whom they would have given me against my will," she answered, "Gwawl, the son of Clûd. You must bestow me upon him now, lest shame befall you." "Never will I do that," said Pwyll. "Bestow me upon him," she insisted, "and I will cause that I shall never be his." So Pwyll promised Gwawl that he would make a feast that day year, at which he would resign Rhiannon to him.

The next year, the feast was made, and Rhiannon sat by the side of her unwelcome bridegroom. But Pwyll was waiting outside the palace, with a hundred men in ambush. When the banquet was at its height, he came into the hall, dressed in coarse, ragged garments, shod with clumsy old shoes, and carrying a leather bag. But the bag was a magic one, which Rhiannon had given to her lover, with directions as to its use. Its quality was that, however much was put into it, it could never be filled. "I crave a boon," he said to Gwawl. "What is

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it?" Gwawl replied. "I am a poor man, and all I ask is to have this bag filled with meat." Gwawl granted what he said was "a request within reason", and ordered his followers to fill the bag. But the more they put into it, the more room in it there seemed to be. Gwawl was astonished, and asked why this was. Pwyll replied that it was a bag that could never be filled until someone possessed of lands and riches should tread the food down with both his feet. "Do this for the man," said Rhiannon to Gwawl. "Gladly I will," replied he, and put both his feet into the bag. But no sooner had he done so than Pwyll slipped the bag over Gwawl's head, and tied it up at the mouth. He blew his horn, and all his followers came in. "What have you got in the bag?" asked each one in turn. "A badger," replied Pwyll. Then each, as he received Pwyll's answer, kicked the bag, or hit it with a stick. "Then," says the story, "was the game of 'Badger in the Bag' first played."

Gwawl, however, fared better than we suspect that the badger usually did; for Heveydd the Ancient interceded for him. Pwyll willingly released him, on condition that he promised to give up all claim to Rhiannon, and renounced all projects of revenge. Gwawl consented, and gave sureties, and went away to his own country to have his bruises healed.

This country of Gwawl's was, no doubt, the sky; for he was evidently a sun-god. His name bewrays him; for the meaning of "Gwawl" is "light". 1 It


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was one of the hours of victory for the dark powers, such as were celebrated in the Celtic calendar by the Feast of Samhain, or Summer End.

There was no hindrance now to the marriage of Pwyll and Rhiannon. She became his bride, and returned with him to Dyfed.

For three years, they were without an heir, and the nobles of Dyfed became discontented. They petitioned Pwyll to take another wife instead of Rhiannon. He asked for a year's delay. This was granted, and, before the end of the year, a son was born. But, on the night of his birth, the six women set to keep watch over Rhiannon all fell asleep at once; and when they woke up, the boy had vanished. Fearful lest their lives should be forfeited for their neglect, they agreed to swear that Rhiannon had eaten her child. They killed a litter of puppies, and smeared some of the blood on Rhiannon's face and hands, and put some of the bones by her side. Then they awoke her with a great outcry, and accused her. She swore that she knew nothing of the death of her son, but the women persisted that they had seen her devour him, and had been unable to prevent it. The druids of that day were not sufficiently practical anatomists to be able to tell the bones of a child from those of a dog, so they condemned Rhiannon upon the evidence of the women. But, even now, Pwyll would not put her away; so she was assigned a penance. For seven years, she was to sit by a horse-block outside the gate, and offer to carry visitors into the palace upon her back. "But it rarely happened,"

p. 287

says the Mabinogi, "that any would permit her to do so."

Exactly what had become of Rhiannon's child seems to have been a mystery even to the writer of the Mabinogi. It was, at any rate, in some way connected with the equally mysterious disappearance on every night of the first of May--Beltaine, the Celtic sun-festival--of the colts foaled by a beautiful mare belonging to Teirnyon Twryv Vliant, one of Pwyll's vassals. Every May-day night, the mare foaled, but no one knew what became of the colt. Teirnyon decided to find out. He caused the mare to be taken into a house, and there he watched it, fully armed. Early in the night, the colt was born. Then there was a great noise, and an arm with claws came through the window, and gripped the colt's mane. Teirnyon hacked at the arm with his sword, and cut it off. Then he heard wailing, and opened the door, and found a baby in swaddling clothes, wrapped in a satin mantle. He took it up and brought it to his wife, and they decided to adopt it. They called the boy Gwri Wallt Euryn, that is "Gwri of the Golden Hair".

The older the boy grew, the more it seemed to Teirnyon that he became like Pwyll. Then he remembered that he had found him upon the very night that Rhiannon lost her child. So he consulted with his wife, and they both agreed that the baby they had so mysteriously found must be the same that Rhiannon had so mysteriously lost. And they decided that it would not be right for them to keep the son of another, while

p. 288

so good a lady as Rhiannon was being punished wrongfully.

So, the very next day, Teirnyon set out for Narberth, taking the boy with him. They found Rhiannon sitting, as usual, by the gate, but they would not allow her to carry them into the palace on her back. Pwyll welcomed them; and that evening, as they sat at supper, Teirnyon told his hosts the story from beginning to end. And he presented her son to Rhiannon.

As soon as everyone in the palace saw the boy, they admitted that he must be Pwyll's son. So they adopted him with delight; and Pendaran Dyfed, the head druid of the kingdom, gave him a new name. He called him "Pryderi 1", meaning "trouble", from the first word that his mother had uttered when he was restored to her. For she had said: "Trouble is, indeed, at an end for me, if this be true".


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Footnotes
278:1 Rhys. Studies in the Arthurian Legend, p. 282.

279:1 It is constantly so-called by the fourteenth-century Welsh poet, Dafydd ab Gwilym, so much admired by George Borrow.

279:2 This chapter is retold from Lady Guest's translation of the Mabinogi of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed.

282:1 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 678.

285:1 Rhys: Hibbert Lectures, p. 123 and note. Clûd was probably the goddess of the River Clyde. See Rhys: Arthurian Legend, p. 294.

288:1 Pronounced Pridairy.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cml/cml21.htm


Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: unknown on March 05, 2007, 01:03:02 am
Hi Nicole

I have got to find time to read all this, thanks for posting it.


Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Mark of Australia on March 18, 2007, 06:37:39 am
Hi all

 I was wondering if anyone else has heard of how the ancient Celts were said by some classical author ,to believe in reincarnation of the soul and that after someone dies the soul does not enter another incarnation until 9 years later .

 I read that in some book about the ancient Celts .


Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Bianca on March 18, 2007, 07:35:38 pm

Mark:

Check CELTS, KARMA AND REINCARNATION at:

www.summerlands.com/crossroads/library/celts_and_karma.html-28k





Sorry, Mark.  The above link won't work.  I think it is too old.

But you can get it  - for sure, if you

'google':    CELTS, KARMA AND REINCARNATION -   That does work.


Title: Re: Gaelic & Celtic Myth
Post by: Bianca on May 12, 2007, 06:46:40 pm



Celts, Karma and Reincarnation

Recent discussions about the concept of reincarnation among the Celtic people and the Druids as compared to the teachings of Pythagoras have sparked insights for me that should have been obvious. The first of these insights is that the Celts believed in a world of the spirit. This belief means, among other things, that the Celts believed that spirits could exist in this world by inhabiting the bodies of people, of animals, of plants, of trees and even manifest themselves as the spirits of places (wells, brughs, caves, stones, rivers, ponds, and fields). This migration of spirit between worlds, places, animals and people was a reflection of the communal nature of Celtic life. A belief in spiritual migration and transmigration does not rule out the Celt's most common spiritual belief, the belief that there is a life in another world after death in this one. Before I cover these additional topics in Celtic/Druidic spiritual belief, let me cite some examples from Celtic literature concerning these matters.
In the tales that lead to the "Tain Bó Cuailgne" is the story of the two swineherds, Friuch and Rucht, "The Quarrel of the Two Pig-keepers and how the Bulls were Begotten." These two men got into a contest as to who had greater Magical power. This led them to shapechange into a variety of forms over periods of years. First they were birds of prey and they fought and quarreled. Next, they were men again. Then they went through a series of changes that included being: water creatures, stags, warriors, phantoms, and dragons, until they finally became worms. One worm fell into the spring of the river Cronn in Cuailnge, where a cow belonging to Dáire mac Fiachna swallowed it. This cow gave birth to Dub, the great, dark bull of Cuailnge. The other worm suffered a similar fate in the wellspring of Garad, located in Connacht, where a cow belonging to Medb and Aillill drank it. It became Finnbennach, the white-horned bull of Ai Pain. The exploits surrounding these two great creatures is another story, for another time, to be found in the Táin Bó Cuailgne itself. It is a primary example of how spirit flowed between people, places, animals, and even objects.

Celtic Beliefs in Spirit

Another common belief in the continuity of spirit, was for the spirit of the departed to enter into stones or trees. This is often told about two lovers who die, have a tree spring from their graves and eventually re-unite with one another as intertwined branches, wooden objects, or even Ogham staves. The story of Baile and Aillinn is one such tale. These two lovers became a Yew and an Apple tree after their deaths. Eventually Ogham staves were made from their woods. When the staves were presented to the king at Tara, they sprang together and were kept in the treasure room from that day forward. The fate of Deirdre and Naoise is another tale of ill-fated love. Two pines grew from their graves, intertwining together, never to be parted. To this very day, Celtic people hold trees sacred, especially those that grow from a grave.

The Celtic belief that spirit could inhabit a place, is found in the common feeling regarding graveyards and passage graves. These places are known to contain ghosts and spirits. Many stones are said to be Druids and others who have been changed to that state by Magick. The "sleeping king" or "warrior band" idea is another example of how the Land itself contains the spirit of people. This idea that famous warriors will awaken in the hour of need is the essence of spirit being stored within the Land itself. Foundation sacrifices were also known to have occurred where a person willingly gave their spirit to a structure or to a place, to become its guardian. This belief in the connection between spirit, person and place is still alive today in the belief that the last soul to die is the guardian of the graveyard. It is also intertwined with the Celtic belief that the soul must revisit the three sods (soils) before passing through the doorway to the Otherworld: the place of birth, the place of baptism and the "sod of death".

Even in their art, Celts reflected their ideas that spirit was an interconnected weaving of all things together in a tapestry of life. Nowhere is this more evident than in the art of Celtic knotwork. Knotwork is a symbol of the interconnection between destiny, the Three Worlds and the human soul. This belief in interconnection also shows up in the Magical practices of "taking a measure" and the tying of knots in cords and threads. There are also practices that center around the "cord of life" (which is the umbilical cord itself) and how it should be honored and guarded, but that is a thread for another day.

This brief introduction has attempted to present an idea of the Celtic beliefs in the interconnectivity of life, of the connection to the land, of the soul's journeys through many forms and bodies, of the doorway of death, and the various forms of reincarnation available to the spirit. It has only touched upon the surface of the topic, which is mentioned in a vast number of tales, beliefs, and traditions. All of these works demonstrate the Celtic belief in the reincarnation of the spirit in its many forms.

Other Lives

Allusions to the Celts having believed in another life have sometimes been interpreted to mean that they embraced the concept of "karma" (whatever that is). There is a body of evidence to support a Celtic belief in re-incarnation as well as another life after death. This belief takes many forms. Some of these forms are noted as being a transmigration of the soul. Stories contain instances of shapeshifting. Instances exist that tell of Otherworldly experiences. Lives are said to be gifts from the Sidhe. Reincarnations are manifestations and gifts of the gods, while other cases are considered to manifest as a common spirit returning along family lines. Of course, there are also the stories about those that sleep and do not die (awaiting a call), and the magicians that live backwards in time like Merlin, as well as warriors who are resurrected with and without a soul. There may be other instances of Otherworldly life or reincarnation in Celtic tradition, but these seem to be the most often cited.

The writings of the Poseidonian and Alexandrian Schools of history, as well as Caesar, support the possibility that the Druids generally practiced and taught a belief in reincarnation. Instances also occur in the insular literature that can be taken to mean that reincarnation was thought to have occurred in the case of exceptional people. There are also mentions of a belief in a spirit that passed from one member of a family to another that occurs in the tales and survived in Celtic folk practice. Much more definitive evidence or a skillful documented research effort on a level of at least a Ph.D. dissertation should be attempted before the evidence can be said to be substantial. This does not mean that evidence does not exist (however scanty that it is).

"How Cúchulainn was Begotten"

There are references to a belief in reincarnation among the Celts and Druids to be found in traditional writings. These references seem to be characteristic of a common Indo-European spiritual belief. It seems to have been a universally held concept until relatively recently. An example of a belief in reincarnation can be found in Thomas Kinsella's translation of the story of "How Cúchulainn was Begotten."

"The men of Ulster pressed on until they reached Brug on the Boann river, and night overtook them there. It snowed heavily upon them, and Conchobor told his people to unyoke the chariots and start looking for a shelter. Conall and Bricriu searched about and found a solitary house, newly built. They went up to it and found a couple there and were made welcome. But when they returned to their people, Bricriu said it was useless to go there unless they brought their own food and set the table themselves – that even so it would be meager enough. Nevertheless, they went there with all of their chariots, and crowded with difficulty into the house. Soon they found the door to the store-room, and by their usual mealtime the men of Ulster were drunk with their welcome and in good humour.

Later the man of the house told them his wife was in her birth-pangs in the store-room. Deichtine went in to her and helped her to bear a son. At the same time, a mare at the door of the house gave birth to two foals. The Ulstermen took charge of the baby boy and gave him the foals as a present, and Deichtine nursed him.

When morning came there was nothing to be seen eastward from the Brugh – no house, no birds – only their own horses, the baby and the foals. They went back to Emain and reared the baby until he was a boy.

He caught an illness then, and died. And they made a lamentation for him, and Deichtine's grief was great at the loss of her foster son. She came home from lamenting him and grew thirsty and asked for a drink, and the drink was brought in a cup. She set it to her lips to drink from it and a tiny creature slipped into her mouth with the liquid. As she took the cup from her lips she swallowed the creature and it vanished.

She slept that night and dreamed that a man came toward her and spoke to her, saying she would bear a child by him – that it was he who had brought her to the Brug to sleep with her there, that the boy she had reared was his, that he was again planted in her womb and was to be called Se/tanta, that he himself was Lug mac Etnenn, and that the foals should be reared with the boy."

This is clearly reincarnation along family lines. The above story about Cú Chulainn is a translation of an eighth century tale, "Compert Con Culainn," as found in Lebor na hUidre and other ancient manuscripts. Another work that mentions this type of reincarnation is "Compert Mongain" (where Mongan is born through the actions of Manannán, and as a reincarnation of Fionn). The story of how Daogas was begotten of himself is the third example of this form of reincarnation to be found in Irish writings. It is to be found in a story translated on page 135, Volume II of the Ossianic Society Transactions. The examples of Finn being the reincarnation of Cumhal or of Mongan being the incarnation of Manannán seem to support this belief. Who has not heard the expression, "a chip off the old block?"

The men of Ulster desired to have Cúchualinn married so that he would be assured of having progeny. They wished that he could be reincarnated to them again, but were thwarted in their desires when he killed his only son as recounted in another tale about him. The evidence for this belief in the men of Ulster is based on this passage out of "Tochmarc Emire," where it was said:

"There was the danger besides that Cúchulainn might die young and leave no son, which would be tragic: they knew it was only out of Cúchulainn himself that the like of him might come again, For this reason also he should have a woman."

"Cauldron of Poesy"

This idea is also echoed in the teaching attributed to Amergin in the "Cauldron of Poesy" materials:

"Where is the root of poetry in a person; in the body or in the soul? They say it is in the soul, for the body does nothing without the soul. Others say it is in the body where the arts are learned, passed through the bodies of our ancestors. It is said this is the seat of what remains over the root of poetry; and the good knowledge in every person's ancestry comes not into everyone, but comes into every other person." - translation by Erynn Laurie

The Filidh Amergin is talking about a skill being passed along family lines in an almost instinctive manner. He also ascribes certain knowledge and awareness to come from the soul through heightened spiritual experiences. Here we are touching the edges of what I believe to be an ancient and valid Celtic belief in a reincarnation that occurs within families. Cormac of Caisheal seems to be echoing this concept in his glossary:

The tuirgen is "...the birth that passes from every nature to another... a transitory birth which has traversed all nature from Adam and goes through every wonderful time down to the world's doom."

Diodorus seems to be saying the same thing of Druidic belief: "... the souls of men are immortal, and that after a definite number of years they live a second life when the soul passes to another body..."

Caesar is also echoing this idea when he says that the Druids teach, "...souls do not suffer death, but after death pass from one to another..."

The Druids' beliefs and teachings about the soul indicate that the essence of a person was not thought to die at the death of the body, but to live on. I think that the tale of "How Cúchualinn was Begotten" clearly shows one possibility for what can happen to a soul after death: i.e. it is reborn into another body. This is exactly what the Druids were said to have taught in the quotation by Diodorus and in the writings of Ammianus Marcellinus:

They "..were of loftier intellect, and bound by the rules of brotherhood as decreed by Pythagoras's authority, exalted by investigations of deep and serious study, and despising human affairs, declared souls to be immortal."

The Alexandrian School

The soul does not have to reincarnate in this world but can stay in the Otherworld. The life into which one is reborn appears to be tied to fate and the will of the gods. The Alexandrian School of ancient historians considered the Druids to be philosophers who followed the ways of Pythagoras, though I suspect this association by them to be because both schools of philosophy taught the belief of reincarnation. I do not think that the Druids were Pythagorean, nor do I think that Pythagoras was a Druid. Here are some of the historians that seem to have held this belief (as provided in an email source):

Hippolytus - (circa 170 - 236 CE) Christian author writing in Greek, of whose work only fragments remain, claimed that the Druids had adopted the teachings of Pythagoras

Clement of Alexandria - (circa 150 - 211/216 CE) Athenian known also as Titus Flavius Clement, a Greek theologian, founder and head of the Christian school of Alexandria, also believed the Druids learned from Pythagoras. Wrote on the topic of Druids as philosophers

Cyril of Alexandria - (archbishop of Alexandria in 412 - 444 CE) Quotes the same passages that Clement did from Polyhistor's book on Pythagoras, holding that the Druids learned their knowledge from Pythagoras. Also wrote about the Druids as philosophers

Timaeus of Tauromenion - (circa 356 - 260 BCE) Sicilian Greek writer whose work was extensively used by Diogenese Laertius and Clement of Alexandria

Polyhistor - (born circa 105 BCE) Alexander Cornelius Polyhistor, Greek who wrote of the Druids as philosophers and was the main source on Pythagoras:

"The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls' teaching that the souls of men are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they will enter into another body."

Timagenes - (circa mid-first century BCE) Alexandrian who is cited by Diodorus Siculus as an authority on Druids, also quoted in the works of Ammianus Marcellinus. He wrote around the same time as Polyhistor. He gives the earliest mention of the Druids being the historians of the Celts. Truly belongs to the Posidonius School

Multiple Incarnations

Additional information that seems to indicate the occurrence of multiple incarnations are to be found in the tales surrounding Fintan, Tuan Mac Carrel, and Gwion Bach, as well as the lament of the Hag of Beara. Beyond this I have also seen such beliefs in reincarnation expressed as an on-going Celtic tradition in the _Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries_ by W. Y. Evans-Wentz.

If the concept of Karma existed among the Celts, it might have manifested itself in the principle of repaying debts, whether incurred in one life or another:

"They lent sums of money to each other which are repayable in the next world, so firmly are they convinced that the souls of men are immortal."

- Valerius Maximus -

Such debts would have reflected on the honor of oneself and one’s family. The obligation to repay them went beyond lives and lifetimes.

"Contracts were sometimes composed with provision for payment in future lives, and there was full expectation of payment, for the Celts were firm believers in reincarnation of some sort. Reincarnation as descendants in the family line seems to have been a Celtic belief, and so your grandchildren (who may well be you reborn) might pay back your neighbor's grandchildren at the completion of a contract's term of agreement. Most contracts were also sealed with a material forfeiture in the event of failure to fulfill the contract. The loyalty and trust of family was essential in the making of any contracts, because failure to fulfill a contract obligated your tuath to pay your debts if you could not."

- Erynn Laurie on Nemeton-L

Debts of behavior and morality might also have required repayment, but I’m not certain they were considered to be sins as defined in modern dictionaries. If the Celts had a concept similar to sin, it probably did not occur until after they embraced Christianity. The Early Irish Penitentials and Rules (of monasteries) detailed the actions necessary for repayment and restitution for "sinful" behaviors. There does seem to be earlier evidence that pre-Christian Irish Celts thought that one could be dishonored and redeemed through actions and payments (hence the concepts of eraic and honor price in the Brehon Laws). Modern concepts of Karma seem to have developed in the East from a bedrock of earlier beliefs that were similar to those of the Celts. The Buddhist idea of Karma owes much to its Vedic and Hindu roots. Those roots are branches of the Indo-European tradition to the Euro-Indian tradition (depending on which culture you think more greatly influenced the other). I tend to view the relative mix of such Indo-European beliefs as a cyclical affair that has flowed back and forth over the aeons. Celts don't have Karma per se, they have debts, honor, and obligations (none of which vanish at the end of a lifetime). In this belief in continuity of obligation, I also see a belief in the continuance of spirit.

The idea that a person's power could be obtained through the possession of their head (and hence their soul) is another indicator of the Celtic belief in the connection between the soul and the body, and hence in the manner that one’s spirit was passed or supported by the other.

Other Lives

I don't think that these ancient beliefs exactly mirrored modern New Age thought or even Hindu practice and belief. I do think that such episodes as those of Fintan, Tuan Mac Carrel and Taliesin allude to the ability of one's spirit to connect with other lives across the boundaries between lives. These connections may not mean that a person has actually lived before but they can mean that a person's spirit is able, through trance, to experience other lives in other times. Isaac Bonewits states this clearly in "Some Notes on Indo-European Paleopaganism and its Clergy," (c) 1984 P. E. I. Bonewits, reprinted from "The Druids' Progress" #1:

"There are definite indications that the Indo-European clergy held certain polytheological and mystical opinions in common, although only the vaguest outlines are known at this point. There was a belief in reincarnation (with time spent between lives in an Other World very similar to the Earthly one), in the sacredness of particular trees, in the continuing relationship between mortals, ancestors and deities, and naturally in the standard laws of magic (see Real Magic)."

Experiences of reincarnation and memories of past lives are frequently reported by the general public, though the objective substantiation of such previous lives and their experiences is not well documented in scholarly literature. Recent studies in Near Death Experiences (NDE) that have appeared in medical journals seem to support objective evidence of an afterlife and the ability of souls to return to physical bodies. My own mystical experiences support the idea that spirit has many corporal existences, though my mental disciplines and natural skepticism require further investigation and validation to completely establish and document this process.

The Afterlife

The afterlife seems to be much like this one. It is a dream state, at times vivid, at other times, very remote. Whenever I have experienced being killed within a dream, it generally results in the following consequences:

Another dream occurs,

I become the person that killed me in the dream,

I do not die but lose interest in the dream anyway,

I become something else within the dream,

I wake up and realize that I've been dreaming.

Why should being awake, dying or being killed in this life be much different from the experiences of our dream lives? In my own experiences with death in this life, I have seen that it is not too different from dreams or the illusions of life. This seems to be the same question that the ancient Druids asked themselves about realities. Their teachings about this mystery are best discovered through the experiences of imbas and pathworking. There are tales in the Mabinogion that seem to demonstrate a kinship between dreaming and life, especially in regards to death being a temporary condition.

In the tale of Gronw Pebyr and Blodeuwedd, Llew was tricked into revealing how he could be killed:

He must be both within and without a house at the same time, neither on horseback nor on foot, and could only be slain by a spear that took an entire year to be made.

When Llew was killed in the only way that he could be killed in this life according to the tale, he became an eagle almost instantaneously (even though he was a wounded eagle). He cheated death by having his spirit go from one body to another. Gwydion found him in an oak tree and cured him through his powers of Draíocht. Lugh was immediately transformed into a person again. He was clearly killed by the spear of Gronw Pebyr and restored to life after being dead by Gwydion (in the transmigrated form of an eagle)?. This tale is clearly about life, death, re-incarnation and the ability of Draíocht to transform between states of being. Such tales as this and the two swineherds of the gods are all about states of being and lessons of life. The lesson in this tale seems to be that life and death go through many transformations, yet one never really dies. We change in many ways and can even become a part of the Land itself (as well as a part of its legends).

Final Thoughts and Musings

In some of the tales we have discussed, it is clear that exceptional people were thought to have been reborn. In other tales, transformations occurred through a variety of animal types. The soul and spirit have been described by Celtic tradition as going from one life and body to another in tales and in teachings as reported by the Classical historians of ancient times. Indo-European traditions also teach much the same thing, with notable survivals of this belief among the Gnostics and the Hindus in modern times. Personal experiences and the beliefs and experiences of others tend to support a continuity of spirit as well. The sleeping warrior or king is another example of a sustained after life and continuity of the self that has not been detailed in this discussion but it should be familiar to all from the tales of Merlin, Arthur or those of the Fianna. Who is to say what we experience after death? What people among us have visited the Otherworldly realms? Where are our Draiothe that we can discover the mysteries of the soul? It is in these questions and our answers to them that we will find our truth and we will experience our own rebirth.

Return to the Library
 
Celts, Karma and Reincarnation

Recent discussions about the concept of reincarnation among the Celtic people and the Druids as compared to the teachings of Pythagoras have sparked insights for me that should have been obvious. The first of these insights is that the Celts believed in a world of the spirit. This belief means, among other things, that the Celts believed that spirits could exist in this world by inhabiting the bodies of people, of animals, of plants, of trees and even manifest themselves as the spirits of places (wells, brughs, caves, stones, rivers, ponds, and fields). This migration of spirit between worlds, places, animals and people was a reflection of the communal nature of Celtic life. A belief in spiritual migration and transmigration does not rule out the Celt's most common spiritual belief, the belief that there is a life in another world after death in this one. Before I cover these additional topics in Celtic/Druidic spiritual belief, let me cite some examples from Celtic literature concerning these matters.
In the tales that lead to the "Tain Bó Cuailgne" is the story of the two swineherds, Friuch and Rucht, "The Quarrel of the Two Pig-keepers and how the Bulls were Begotten." These two men got into a contest as to who had greater Magical power. This led them to shapechange into a variety of forms over periods of years. First they were birds of prey and they fought and quarreled. Next, they were men again. Then they went through a series of changes that included being: water creatures, stags, warriors, phantoms, and dragons, until they finally became worms. One worm fell into the spring of the river Cronn in Cuailnge, where a cow belonging to Dáire mac Fiachna swallowed it. This cow gave birth to Dub, the great, dark bull of Cuailnge. The other worm suffered a similar fate in the wellspring of Garad, located in Connacht, where a cow belonging to Medb and Aillill drank it. It became Finnbennach, the white-horned bull of Ai Pain. The exploits surrounding these two great creatures is another story, for another time, to be found in the Táin Bó Cuailgne itself. It is a primary example of how spirit flowed between people, places, animals, and even objects.

Celtic Beliefs in Spirit

Another common belief in the continuity of spirit, was for the spirit of the departed to enter into stones or trees. This is often told about two lovers who die, have a tree spring from their graves and eventually re-unite with one another as intertwined branches, wooden objects, or even Ogham staves. The story of Baile and Aillinn is one such tale. These two lovers became a Yew and an Apple tree after their deaths. Eventually Ogham staves were made from their woods. When the staves were presented to the king at Tara, they sprang together and were kept in the treasure room from that day forward. The fate of Deirdre and Naoise is another tale of ill-fated love. Two pines grew from their graves, intertwining together, never to be parted. To this very day, Celtic people hold trees sacred, especially those that grow from a grave.

The Celtic belief that spirit could inhabit a place, is found in the common feeling regarding graveyards and passage graves. These places are known to contain ghosts and spirits. Many stones are said to be Druids and others who have been changed to that state by Magick. The "sleeping king" or "warrior band" idea is another example of how the Land itself contains the spirit of people. This idea that famous warriors will awaken in the hour of need is the essence of spirit being stored within the Land itself. Foundation sacrifices were also known to have occurred where a person willingly gave their spirit to a structure or to a place, to become its guardian. This belief in the connection between spirit, person and place is still alive today in the belief that the last soul to die is the guardian of the graveyard. It is also intertwined with the Celtic belief that the soul must revisit the three sods (soils) before passing through the doorway to the Otherworld: the place of birth, the place of baptism and the "sod of death".

Even in their art, Celts reflected their ideas that spirit was an interconnected weaving of all things together in a tapestry of life. Nowhere is this more evident than in the art of Celtic knotwork. Knotwork is a symbol of the interconnection between destiny, the Three Worlds and the human soul. This belief in interconnection also shows up in the Magical practices of "taking a measure" and the tying of knots in cords and threads. There are also practices that center around the "cord of life" (which is the umbilical cord itself) and how it should be honored and guarded, but that is a thread for another day.

This brief introduction has attempted to present an idea of the Celtic beliefs in the interconnectivity of life, of the connection to the land, of the soul's journeys through many forms and bodies, of the doorway of death, and the various forms of reincarnation available to the spirit. It has only touched upon the surface of the topic, which is mentioned in a vast number of tales, beliefs, and traditions. All of these works demonstrate the Celtic belief in the reincarnation of the spirit in its many forms.

Other Lives

Allusions to the Celts having believed in another life have sometimes been interpreted to mean that they embraced the concept of "karma" (whatever that is). There is a body of evidence to support a Celtic belief in re-incarnation as well as another life after death. This belief takes many forms. Some of these forms are noted as being a transmigration of the soul. Stories contain instances of shapeshifting. Instances exist that tell of Otherworldly experiences. Lives are said to be gifts from the Sidhe. Reincarnations are manifestations and gifts of the gods, while other cases are considered to manifest as a common spirit returning along family lines. Of course, there are also the stories about those that sleep and do not die (awaiting a call), and the magicians that live backwards in time like Merlin, as well as warriors who are resurrected with and without a soul. There may be other instances of Otherworldly life or reincarnation in Celtic tradition, but these seem to be the most often cited.

The writings of the Poseidonian and Alexandrian Schools of history, as well as Caesar, support the possibility that the Druids generally practiced and taught a belief in reincarnation. Instances also occur in the insular literature that can be taken to mean that reincarnation was thought to have occurred in the case of exceptional people. There are also mentions of a belief in a spirit that passed from one member of a family to another that occurs in the tales and survived in Celtic folk practice. Much more definitive evidence or a skillful documented research effort on a level of at least a Ph.D. dissertation should be attempted before the evidence can be said to be substantial. This does not mean that evidence does not exist (however scanty that it is).

"How Cúchulainn was Begotten"

There are references to a belief in reincarnation among the Celts and Druids to be found in traditional writings. These references seem to be characteristic of a common Indo-European spiritual belief. It seems to have been a universally held concept until relatively recently. An example of a belief in reincarnation can be found in Thomas Kinsella's translation of the story of "How Cúchulainn was Begotten."

"The men of Ulster pressed on until they reached Brug on the Boann river, and night overtook them there. It snowed heavily upon them, and Conchobor told his people to unyoke the chariots and start looking for a shelter. Conall and Bricriu searched about and found a solitary house, newly built. They went up to it and found a couple there and were made welcome. But when they returned to their people, Bricriu said it was useless to go there unless they brought their own food and set the table themselves – that even so it would be meager enough. Nevertheless, they went there with all of their chariots, and crowded with difficulty into the house. Soon they found the door to the store-room, and by their usual mealtime the men of Ulster were drunk with their welcome and in good humour.

Later the man of the house told them his wife was in her birth-pangs in the store-room. Deichtine went in to her and helped her to bear a son. At the same time, a mare at the door of the house gave birth to two foals. The Ulstermen took charge of the baby boy and gave him the foals as a present, and Deichtine nursed him.

When morning came there was nothing to be seen eastward from the Brugh – no house, no birds – only their own horses, the baby and the foals. They went back to Emain and reared the baby until he was a boy.

He caught an illness then, and died. And they made a lamentation for him, and Deichtine's grief was great at the loss of her foster son. She came home from lamenting him and grew thirsty and asked for a drink, and the drink was brought in a cup. She set it to her lips to drink from it and a tiny creature slipped into her mouth with the liquid. As she took the cup from her lips she swallowed the creature and it vanished.

She slept that night and dreamed that a man came toward her and spoke to her, saying she would bear a child by him – that it was he who had brought her to the Brug to sleep with her there, that the boy she had reared was his, that he was again planted in her womb and was to be called Se/tanta, that he himself was Lug mac Etnenn, and that the foals should be reared with the boy."

This is clearly reincarnation along family lines. The above story about Cú Chulainn is a translation of an eighth century tale, "Compert Con Culainn," as found in Lebor na hUidre and other ancient manuscripts. Another work that mentions this type of reincarnation is "Compert Mongain" (where Mongan is born through the actions of Manannán, and as a reincarnation of Fionn). The story of how Daogas was begotten of himself is the third example of this form of reincarnation to be found in Irish writings. It is to be found in a story translated on page 135, Volume II of the Ossianic Society Transactions. The examples of Finn being the reincarnation of Cumhal or of Mongan being the incarnation of Manannán seem to support this belief. Who has not heard the expression, "a chip off the old block?"

The men of Ulster desired to have Cúchualinn married so that he would be assured of having progeny. They wished that he could be reincarnated to them again, but were thwarted in their desires when he killed his only son as recounted in another tale about him. The evidence for this belief in the men of Ulster is based on this passage out of "Tochmarc Emire," where it was said:

"There was the danger besides that Cúchulainn might die young and leave no son, which would be tragic: they knew it was only out of Cúchulainn himself that the like of him might come again, For this reason also he should have a woman."

"Cauldron of Poesy"

This idea is also echoed in the teaching attributed to Amergin in the "Cauldron of Poesy" materials:

"Where is the root of poetry in a person; in the body or in the soul? They say it is in the soul, for the body does nothing without the soul. Others say it is in the body where the arts are learned, passed through the bodies of our ancestors. It is said this is the seat of what remains over the root of poetry; and the good knowledge in every person's ancestry comes not into everyone, but comes into every other person." - translation by Erynn Laurie

The Filidh Amergin is talking about a skill being passed along family lines in an almost instinctive manner. He also ascribes certain knowledge and awareness to come from the soul through heightened spiritual experiences. Here we are touching the edges of what I believe to be an ancient and valid Celtic belief in a reincarnation that occurs within families. Cormac of Caisheal seems to be echoing this concept in his glossary:

The tuirgen is "...the birth that passes from every nature to another... a transitory birth which has traversed all nature from Adam and goes through every wonderful time down to the world's doom."

Diodorus seems to be saying the same thing of Druidic belief: "... the souls of men are immortal, and that after a definite number of years they live a second life when the soul passes to another body..."

Caesar is also echoing this idea when he says that the Druids teach, "...souls do not suffer death, but after death pass from one to another..."

The Druids' beliefs and teachings about the soul indicate that the essence of a person was not thought to die at the death of the body, but to live on. I think that the tale of "How Cúchualinn was Begotten" clearly shows one possibility for what can happen to a soul after death: i.e. it is reborn into another body. This is exactly what the Druids were said to have taught in the quotation by Diodorus and in the writings of Ammianus Marcellinus:

They "..were of loftier intellect, and bound by the rules of brotherhood as decreed by Pythagoras's authority, exalted by investigations of deep and serious study, and despising human affairs, declared souls to be immortal."

The Alexandrian School

The soul does not have to reincarnate in this world but can stay in the Otherworld. The life into which one is reborn appears to be tied to fate and the will of the gods. The Alexandrian School of ancient historians considered the Druids to be philosophers who followed the ways of Pythagoras, though I suspect this association by them to be because both schools of philosophy taught the belief of reincarnation. I do not think that the Druids were Pythagorean, nor do I think that Pythagoras was a Druid. Here are some of the historians that seem to have held this belief (as provided in an email source):

Hippolytus - (circa 170 - 236 CE) Christian author writing in Greek, of whose work only fragments remain, claimed that the Druids had adopted the teachings of Pythagoras

Clement of Alexandria - (circa 150 - 211/216 CE) Athenian known also as Titus Flavius Clement, a Greek theologian, founder and head of the Christian school of Alexandria, also believed the Druids learned from Pythagoras. Wrote on the topic of Druids as philosophers

Cyril of Alexandria - (archbishop of Alexandria in 412 - 444 CE) Quotes the same passages that Clement did from Polyhistor's book on Pythagoras, holding that the Druids learned their knowledge from Pythagoras. Also wrote about the Druids as philosophers

Timaeus of Tauromenion - (circa 356 - 260 BCE) Sicilian Greek writer whose work was extensively used by Diogenese Laertius and Clement of Alexandria

Polyhistor - (born circa 105 BCE) Alexander Cornelius Polyhistor, Greek who wrote of the Druids as philosophers and was the main source on Pythagoras:

"The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls' teaching that the souls of men are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they will enter into another body."

Timagenes - (circa mid-first century BCE) Alexandrian who is cited by Diodorus Siculus as an authority on Druids, also quoted in the works of Ammianus Marcellinus. He wrote around the same time as Polyhistor. He gives the earliest mention of the Druids being the historians of the Celts. Truly belongs to the Posidonius School

Multiple Incarnations

Additional information that seems to indicate the occurrence of multiple incarnations are to be found in the tales surrounding Fintan, Tuan Mac Carrel, and Gwion Bach, as well as the lament of the Hag of Beara. Beyond this I have also seen such beliefs in reincarnation expressed as an on-going Celtic tradition in the _Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries_ by W. Y. Evans-Wentz.

If the concept of Karma existed among the Celts, it might have manifested itself in the principle of repaying debts, whether incurred in one life or another:

"They lent sums of money to each other which are repayable in the next world, so firmly are they convinced that the souls of men are immortal."

- Valerius Maximus -

Such debts would have reflected on the honor of oneself and one’s family. The obligation to repay them went beyond lives and lifetimes.

"Contracts were sometimes composed with provision for payment in future lives, and there was full expectation of payment, for the Celts were firm believers in reincarnation of some sort. Reincarnation as descendants in the family line seems to have been a Celtic belief, and so your grandchildren (who may well be you reborn) might pay back your neighbor's grandchildren at the completion of a contract's term of agreement. Most contracts were also sealed with a material forfeiture in the event of failure to fulfill the contract. The loyalty and trust of family was essential in the making of any contracts, because failure to fulfill a contract obligated your tuath to pay your debts if you could not."

- Erynn Laurie on Nemeton-L

Debts of behavior and morality might also have required repayment, but I’m not certain they were considered to be sins as defined in modern dictionaries. If the Celts had a concept similar to sin, it probably did not occur until after they embraced Christianity. The Early Irish Penitentials and Rules (of monasteries) detailed the actions necessary for repayment and restitution for "sinful" behaviors. There does seem to be earlier evidence that pre-Christian Irish Celts thought that one could be dishonored and redeemed through actions and payments (hence the concepts of eraic and honor price in the Brehon Laws). Modern concepts of Karma seem to have developed in the East from a bedrock of earlier beliefs that were similar to those of the Celts. The Buddhist idea of Karma owes much to its Vedic and Hindu roots. Those roots are branches of the Indo-European tradition to the Euro-Indian tradition (depending on which culture you think more greatly influenced the other). I tend to view the relative mix of such Indo-European beliefs as a cyclical affair that has flowed back and forth over the aeons. Celts don't have Karma per se, they have debts, honor, and obligations (none of which vanish at the end of a lifetime). In this belief in continuity of obligation, I also see a belief in the continuance of spirit.

The idea that a person's power could be obtained through the possession of their head (and hence their soul) is another indicator of the Celtic belief in the connection between the soul and the body, and hence in the manner that one’s spirit was passed or supported by the other.

Other Lives

I don't think that these ancient beliefs exactly mirrored modern New Age thought or even Hindu practice and belief. I do think that such episodes as those of Fintan, Tuan Mac Carrel and Taliesin allude to the ability of one's spirit to connect with other lives across the boundaries between lives. These connections may not mean that a person has actually lived before but they can mean that a person's spirit is able, through trance, to experience other lives in other times. Isaac Bonewits states this clearly in "Some Notes on Indo-European Paleopaganism and its Clergy," (c) 1984 P. E. I. Bonewits, reprinted from "The Druids' Progress" #1:

"There are definite indications that the Indo-European clergy held certain polytheological and mystical opinions in common, although only the vaguest outlines are known at this point. There was a belief in reincarnation (with time spent between lives in an Other World very similar to the Earthly one), in the sacredness of particular trees, in the continuing relationship between mortals, ancestors and deities, and naturally in the standard laws of magic (see Real Magic)."

Experiences of reincarnation and memories of past lives are frequently reported by the general public, though the objective substantiation of such previous lives and their experiences is not well documented in scholarly literature. Recent studies in Near Death Experiences (NDE) that have appeared in medical journals seem to support objective evidence of an afterlife and the ability of souls to return to physical bodies. My own mystical experiences support the idea that spirit has many corporal existences, though my mental disciplines and natural skepticism require further investigation and validation to completely establish and document this process.

The Afterlife

The afterlife seems to be much like this one. It is a dream state, at times vivid, at other times, very remote. Whenever I have experienced being killed within a dream, it generally results in the following consequences:

Another dream occurs,

I become the person that killed me in the dream,

I do not die but lose interest in the dream anyway,

I become something else within the dream,

I wake up and realize that I've been dreaming.

Why should being awake, dying or being killed in this life be much different from the experiences of our dream lives? In my own experiences with death in this life, I have seen that it is not too different from dreams or the illusions of life. This seems to be the same question that the ancient Druids asked themselves about realities. Their teachings about this mystery are best discovered through the experiences of imbas and pathworking. There are tales in the Mabinogion that seem to demonstrate a kinship between dreaming and life, especially in regards to death being a temporary condition.

In the tale of Gronw Pebyr and Blodeuwedd, Llew was tricked into revealing how he could be killed:

He must be both within and without a house at the same time, neither on horseback nor on foot, and could only be slain by a spear that took an entire year to be made.

When Llew was killed in the only way that he could be killed in this life according to the tale, he became an eagle almost instantaneously (even though he was a wounded eagle). He cheated death by having his spirit go from one body to another. Gwydion found him in an oak tree and cured him through his powers of Draíocht. Lugh was immediately transformed into a person again. He was clearly killed by the spear of Gronw Pebyr and restored to life after being dead by Gwydion (in the transmigrated form of an eagle)?. This tale is clearly about life, death, re-incarnation and the ability of Draíocht to transform between states of being. Such tales as this and the two swineherds of the gods are all about states of being and lessons of life. The lesson in this tale seems to be that life and death go through many transformations, yet one never really dies. We change in many ways and can even become a part of the Land itself (as well as a part of its legends).

Final Thoughts and Musings

In some of the tales we have discussed, it is clear that exceptional people were thought to have been reborn. In other tales, transformations occurred through a variety of animal types. The soul and spirit have been described by Celtic tradition as going from one life and body to another in tales and in teachings as reported by the Classical historians of ancient times. Indo-European traditions also teach much the same thing, with notable survivals of this belief among the Gnostics and the Hindus in modern times. Personal experiences and the beliefs and experiences of others tend to support a continuity of spirit as well. The sleeping warrior or king is another example of a sustained after life and continuity of the self that has not been detailed in this discussion but it should be familiar to all from the tales of Merlin, Arthur or those of the Fianna. Who is to say what we experience after death? What people among us have visited the Otherworldly realms? Where are our Draiothe that we can discover the mysteries of the soul? It is in these questions and our answers to them that we will find our truth and we will experience our own rebirth.