Tag Archives: ancient Celtic tradition

The Wooing of Etain: Part Six

The Storyteller continues her magical tale of Etain. Midir has found Etain once more, having waited a thousand years for her. He has told her of their love of long ago, but has not been able to persuade her to return with him. Etain has said she will not leave Eochaid unless he releases her. How will MIdir manage to win her from the King?

On a day in midsummer Eochaid the King arose and went to the high terrace of Tara to look out over the plain of Breg, shimmering in the haze of summer. He could hear the gentle humming of the bees in the flowers around him, and the cries of the nimble deer from the wooded slopes, and the lowing of the heifers, white-backed, short-haired and merry in the soft fields. The cuckoo called with familiar voice, and the early blackbird sang the dawn, and as he looked about him at the fair land, suddenly he saw on the terrace before him a young warrior. He wore a purple cloak, and a golden brooch that reached from one shoulder to the other. He held a five-pointed spear in one hand, and in the other a white-bossed shield. It was richly encrusted with jewels and precious stones that gleamed in the morning sunlight, so that the King could not see the warrior clearly for the radiance of him.

This warrior was not in Tara last night when the gates were locked, he thought, and the Courts have not yet been opened for the day. The visitor walked towards him.

“Welcome to you, Warrior. I do not know you,” the King said.

“It is for that we have come,” said the warrior.

“We do not know you,” the King said again.

“Yet, in truth, I know you well,” the stranger replied.

“Then, in truth, tell me your name.”

“I am Midir of Bri Leith.”

“And what has brought you here?”

“I have come to play chess with you.”

“Of a truth, I am good at chess,” said Eochaid, who was the best chess player in all of Ireland, “but the chessboard is in the House of the Queen, and she is yet asleep.”

“It is of no matter,” said Midir, “I have one here that is not inferior.” And in a trice, there on the table in front of them, was a silver chessboard with golden men delicately carved by the finest artificers. Each corner of it was lit by a precious stone of golden hue, and the bag for the chessmen was of plaited links of bronze. The King looked down at it.

“It is not inferior,” he said.

“Then what shall be the stake?” Midir asked, and Eochaid said: It is of no matter.”

“If you win my stake,” the warrior said, “at the hour of terce tomorrow you shall have from me fifty dark grey steeds with dappled, blood-red heads, and pointed ears, broad-chested, with distended nostrils and slender limbs. Mighty, keen, huge, swift, steady, yet easily yoked with their fifty enamelled reins.”

Eochaid agreed to the stake and the play began. The King won with ease, and the strange warrior left the terrace of Tara, taking his chessboard with him.

But when the King arose on the morrow, his opponent was already waiting for him, and he wondered again how the warrior had entered the House before the Courts had been opened. Then he saw fifty darkly beautiful steeds on the Plain of Breg, each with its wrought enamelled bridle, and all other thoughts left his mind. He turned to his visitor.

“This is honourable, indeed,” he said.

“What is promised is due,” said Midir of Bri Leith, and he repeated his words. “What is promised is due”.

They sat down again, to play. This time Eochaid asked what the stake should be.

“If you win my stake, you shall have from me fifty young boars, curly-mottled, grey-bellied, blue-backed, with horse’s hoofs to them…and further you shall have fifty gold-hilted swords, and again fifty red-eared cows,” Midir said, “and fifty swords with ivory hilts.”

“It is well,” agreed the King, and again, he won, and the fruits of his winning were there at his House when he wakened. He was filled with wonder, and was counting his rich gains when his foster-father came upon him.

“From whence, Eochaid, is this great wealth?” he asked, surprised, and the King told him of the strange warrior to whom locked doors were no barrier, but who could not defeat him at the chess game.

“Have a care, Eochaid,” his foster-father said, “for this is a man of great magic power that has come to you. See that next time you lay heavy burden on him.” And the King’s foster-father bade him farewell, and left Tara for his own kingdom.

The King went out to the terrace, and on the instant Midir was there, and the chessboard ready. Remembering the advice he had been given, Eochaid made the stake, and he put on Midir the famous tasks that are remembered in Ireland to this day.

“If I take your stake,” he said, “you must clear the rocks and stones from the hillocks of Great Meath, and the rushes from the land of Tethba. You must cut down the forest of Breg, and lay a causeway over the Great Bog of Tavrach, and all this you must accomplish in a single night.”

“You lay too much upon me,” Midir said.

“I do not indeed,” the King replied.

“Then grant me this request,” asked Midir. “That none shall be out of
doors till the sun shall rise tomorrow.”

“It shall be done,” Eochaid agreed, and they began to play.

The King won again, and when Midir left, Eochaid called for his steward and commanded him to go to the Bog of Tavrach, forthwith, and to watch the efforts and the work of that night.

The Wooing of Etain: Part Three

Well, that was rather sudden and unexpected! The lovely Etain becomes a pool of water! A worm! A gorgeous purple fly!
What do you think of this? Let’s take time to ponder…

Water is the first of the elements to embrace our bodies while we are in our mother’s womb. So water is a feminine substance. And isn’t water a symbol of the deep unconscious within our psyche? the womb of new dreams, stirrings, possibilities, riches.

Especially in Ireland, water is honoured: its ancient holy wells are places of healing; its rivers were thought to be birthing places of the goddesses. The Mac Og’s mother Boan is of the River Boyne.

The water of life rebirths Etain. From it she emerges as a worm, and the worm transforms into a gorgeous purple fly.

The physicist Elisabeth Sautoris has devoted intense study to the life cycle of the butterfly, tracing the astounding transformative process that happens within the cocoon. Imaginal cells that will become a butterfly cluster to protect themselves against the older caterpillar cells which see them as invaders and try to destroy them. The clustering of the new cells gives them the strength to overcome the older form. And then when the time is right, at the Kairos moment, a new being emerges.

Have there been times in your life when newness seemed to be gathering within you? Did you then experience the old ways rising up within you, crying out, “too much trouble!” or “Why not just go on as you are?” or even “How do you dare to believe you are meant to be more? Be satisfied with your little life….”

Then, in your deep soul, did you feel the strengthening of the new desires? Did you feel them drawing together until they were strong enough to silence the voices of defeat? Did you feel yourself emerge into newness? surprising and
perhaps annoying your friends and family?

Think about these times… ask where you are now in the ongoing process of transformation. It doesn’t happen all at once, or only once. There is always newness gathering within us; there are always old inner habits, beliefs, holding
the newness back, trying to destroy it.

Now, the Storyteller continues her tale:

But soon Fuamnach discovered the happiness of Midir and Etain, and forthwith she came to where they were. Midir tried to protect his love, but the witch-power of Fuamnach prevailed, and straightway she began to chant a powerful incantation, and they could not see each other. She raised and stirred up a great evil wind of assault, strong and irresistible, so that in spite of their love, and of all the arts of Midir, Etain was taken up and swept away from the fair familiar mound of Bri Leith.

Fuamnach put upon her further that she should not light on any hill or tree or bush in the whole of Ireland for seven years, but only on the sea rocks, and upon the waves themselves.

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For seven years,  Etain could light only on the sea rocks and on the waves themselves

Whenever Etain, faint and exhausted, tried to settle on a shrub or a land rock, the evil blast blew her upwards and away. She had no respite, no rest until, seven years to the day, she alighted on the golden fringe of Angus mac Og’s tunic as he stood on the Mound of the Brugh.

“Welcome,” he said. “Welcome, Etain, weary and careworn, who has suffered great dangers through the evil of Fuamnach.” And the Mac Og gathered the tired purple fly into the warm fleece of his cloak, against his heart. He brought her into his House. Angus made a sun bower for Etain, with bright windows for passing in and out. He filled it with flowers of every hue, and wondrous healing herbs. The purple fly throve on the fragrance and the bloom of those goodly, precious plants. Angus slept in the sun bower with Etain, and comforted her, until gladness and colour came to her again. Wherever he went, he took the sun bower with him.

At the end of the seven years Fuamnach had begun her search for the purple fly. When she found the sun bower, and discovered the honour and the love that the Mac Og bestowed upon Etain, her hatred deepened. With cunning, she went to Midir. “Let Angus come and visit you for a while,” she said,” for the love between you is deep.”

Midir, in his loneliness, welcomed the thought, and sent messengers to bid the Mac Og come to Bri Leith.
Angus left the Brugh and the sun bower with a heavy heart. As soon as he had come to the Fair Mound of Bri Leith, and he and his foster father were closeted together, Fuamnach, by devious and secret ways, came to his House. Entering into the sun bower, she raised the same dread fury of wind and swept Etain with violence through the window and away from the Brugh, to be driven and buffeted, hither and yon, for seven more years, over the length and breadth of Ireland.

When Angus returned to the Brugh and found the crystal sun bower empty, he followed Fuamnach’s tracks. He came up with her at the House of the wizard Bresal, and he shore off her head.

Etain, seven years to the day of the second great wind of Fuamnach, tired and spent, small and pale, lit upon the roof of Etar’s House. Etar was an Ulster warrior. There were feasting and celebration within. As the wife of Etar was about to drink, Etain, exhausted, dropped from the roof and fell into the golden beaker. The woman swallowed the purple fly with the wine that was in the goblet. Etain was conceived in the womb of Etar’s wife, and afterwards became her daughter.

When she was born, she became Etain, daughter of Etar. It was one thousand and twelve years from the time of her first begetting by the Fairy King, Aylill, until her conception in the womb of the wife of Etar.
(to be continued….)

Brigid Cailleach, Midwife to A new World

The crone or “cailleach” is an important part of the ancient Celtic tradition. With her blessing, today’s blog features excerpts from an article written by the great Celtic scholar Dolores Whelan (www.doloreswhelan.ie)

Brigid: Cailleach and Midwife to a New Worldmaiden_mother_crone_jpg_320_320_0_9223372036854775000_0_1_0
Reflecting on the turmoil present in the world today it is clear to all, but those steeped in denial, that all is not well. It seems that something ails us humans; something that causes us to live in ways that disrespect our mother, the living earth, and all our relatives. We ask what is it in us humans that creates such a restless world where there is little sense of belonging, nurture or home and which causes so many of the species with which we share this planet to suffer?

The exclusion of the Feminine energy in our naming and understanding of the Divine is reflected in a corresponding absence and valuing of feminine energy in all aspects of life in western society. The devaluing and exclusion of the feminine energy over the past centuries has created a distorted story about life which has resulted in a world whose shape and vibration creates disharmony.
So how do we find our way back to a more harmonious way of life? If we know what is missing and what ails us, it may be possible for us to make the journey back towards wholeness and health.

At the present time there is a wonderful re-emergence of aspects of ancient spiritual traditions by people all over the world. The reconnection and embodiment of these ancient spiritual traditions, myths and stories has the potential to release the spiritual power needed for us to become agents of transformation within our society.

To include the presence of the divine feminine energy in creating a world whose shape is more wholesome requires a fundamental reclaiming of the essential role of the feminine in all aspects of life. In order to create change within the physical world and in our society it is necessary to change the dreams and stories held within the imagination of a society.

My own journey over the past 25 years has been primarily within the Celtic spiritual tradition. This tradition which has emerged over many millennia continues to evolve. It includes the wisdom of the megalithic, the pre-Christian Celtic and the Christian Celtic traditions as they met and engaged with each other through the ages. I believe the rekindling of the flames of this tradition, which have lain dormant for many centuries, “like coals under the smooring awaiting a new kindling” holds a key to the recovery of the wisdom needed to create a more sane society.

“God is good and he has a great mother!” a statement sometimes heard in Ireland, reflects an important truth at the heart of the Celtic spiritual tradition, one that honours the presence of the divine feminine and understands that even God emerges out of the feminine energy of being-ness. The Divine Feminine is present at the heart of this spiritual tradition and plays a central role in both Celtic spirituality and Celtic culture.

There are many goddesses within Celtic mythology; however, Brigid as both goddess and saint, occupies a central place as representative of the Divine Feminine within Celtic tradition. Reconnecting with and re-membering the spirit and archetypal energy of Brigid, in both her Goddess and saint manifestations, is an essential task of this renaissance. Brigid, although normally associated with the maiden and mother aspects of feminine energy, is also expressed in the cailleach form….

Each aspect of this trinity occupies a different role within the life, death, and rebirth continuum. The Feminine energy is both the harbinger and the birther of new life and is the destroyer of life that has been spent. It is experienced at the thresholds of life and death and rebirth.

The role of … Cailleach…. is the wellspring from which Brigid’s power manifests in the world.

What then is the energy associated with the hag, crone, or cailleach aspect of the divine feminine? The cailleach is the embodiment of the tough mother-love that challenges its children to stop acting in destructive ways. It is the energy that refuses to indulge in inappropriate personal or societal dreams. It is the energy that will bring death to those dreams and fantasies that are not aligned with our highest good. Yet, this cailleach energy also will support the emergence and manifestation in the world of the highest and deepest within us. It will hold us safely as we embrace the darkness within ourselves and our society. It is an energy that insists that we stand still, open our hearts, and feel our own pain and the pain of the earth. This is the energy that teaches us how to stay with the process when things are difficult. This energy will not allow us to run away!

Her way of being is a slow, inwardly focused way, with minimum outward activity: a way that values…active waiting that pays attention and allows life to unfold.

An essential part of the journey that all the great heroes and heroines in world mythologies undertake includes facing and embracing the energy of surrender, darkness, and death. The hero or heroine learns the next step required in their outer world journey only by submitting to and being initiated into the dark world of the cailleach.

Through this initiation the mature masculine power can emerge and lead each one to find their true path. When this happens the action that follows will be in the service of the true feminine and bring forth wisdom and compassion creating new life, vitality, and sustainability.
Dolores Whelan ???????????????????????????????