Tag Archives: Wooing of Etain

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.

P1000092

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….)

We Return to the Well of the Storyteller

These days the heat and humidity weigh on us. Let’s return to the cool deep well of the Storyteller. Surely there are tales she has not yet told us.

tara-overhead-86682_207x136

You remember the way. We climb Tara Hill, follow the spiral path towards the south east. We arrive at the well, its low surrounding stones forming a protective wall. Here we remove our shores, bend down, grasp firmly a large stone for balance, then swing with the grace of an Olympic gymnast above and across the stones, letting our body sink upright into the welcoming cool of the water. Now, we let go. We sink down, down, down, pulled by our weight, until the right wall of the well disappears, pulling us into a womb–like opening that pushes us out into an underground pool. We swim across, climb up onto the rocky ledge. We are wholly dry, as refreshed as though just wakened from a sweet afternoon nap.
The Storyteller is here, seated near us, her dark eyes luminous in the shadow of of her purple hooded cloak. She smiles, welcomes us with delight in her voice:
You’ve come for another story!

The Storyteller gazes at us, scrutinizing each face, nodding as though she has reached a decision. It must be a story of longing and desire. It all begins with longing…

She looks directly at me as she says, Isn’t that what I have taught you? But this tale you have not heard before. You were not ready. Perhaps you are ready now. We shall see.

This is a love story from ancient Ireland, “The Wooing of Etain”.

In the early days when the children of the Goddess Danu, the Fairy gods, were defeated by the Sons of Mil, they agreed to make their vast and beautiful dwelling places inside the mountains and under the rivers and lakes of Ireland. The High King of the Fairy gods was the Dagda. He played upon his wooden harp to make the seasons to follow one another. He commanded the winds and the rains and the crops. His people called him “the good god”.

According to ancient custom, the Dagda sent his son Angus mac Og to be fostered by Midir, the proud Fairy King of Bri Leith. Angus’ companions were thrice-fifty of the noblest youths in Ireland and thrice-fifty of the loveliest maidens, and for all their great number, they all lived in one House. Their beds had columns and posts adorned with wrought gold that gleamed in the light of a precious stone of great size, brilliant in the roof at the centre of the House. Angus was leader of them all, for the beauty of his form and face and for his gentleness.

His days were spent in the Playing field, in feasting and taletelling, in harping and minstrelsy, and the reciting of poetry, and every youth was a chess player in the House of Midir of Bri Leith. Angus stayed with his foster-father for nine years, then he returned to his own Sid, Brugh on the Boyne.

One year to the very day of Angus’ departure, Midir, lonely for his foster son, decided to visit him. He put on his white silk, gold-embroidered tunic and his shoes of purple leather with silver-embroidered tips. He fastened his purple cloak of good fleece with the golden gem-encrusted brooch of Bri Leith, that reached from shoulder to shoulder, in splendour, across his breast, and on the Eve of the autumn Feast of Samhain, he came to the Sid of Angus mac Og, at Brugh on the Boyne.

The Mac Og was standing on the Mound of the Brugh, watching two companies of his youths at play before him. The first company rode horses of purple-brown colour, and their bridles were of white bronze, decorated with gold, and the horses of the second company were blue as the summer sky at early morn, and they had bridles of silver.

The battle sport was joyful, and the air was filled with the clash of arms, the clean ring of metal against metal and the lusty, clear-voiced challenging cries. Angus embraced his foster-father with delight, and they watched the play together, until, inadvertently, Midir was hurt in the eye by one of the youths. Though he was cured by the Dagda’s Physician, he was angered, and demanded satisfaction.

Angus readily agreed. “If it is in my power,” he said, “it is yours. What is your desire?”

“The hand of Etain who is the gentlest and loveliest in all Ireland.”

“And where is she to be found?” Angus asked.

“In Mag Inish, in the North East. She is daughter of the Fairy King Aylill.”

“Then it shall be so,” the Mac Og said, and at the end of the feasting he set out over the soft, cloud-bright fields of our many-hued Land, and came to Mag Inish, in the North East.
Aylill the King demanded a high bride-price. “I will not give my daughter to you except that you clear for me twelve plains in a single night,” he said, “and furthermore, that you draw up out of this land twelve great rivers to water those plains.”
Angus knowing he could not himself accomplish these feats, went to his father, the Dagda, who, of his great power, caused twelve plains to be cleared in the Land of Aylill, and he caused twelve rivers to course towards the sea, and all in a single night. On the morrow, Angus mac Og came to Etain’s father to claim her for Midir.

“You shall not have her till you purchase her,” Aylill said.

“What do you require now?” Angus asked.

“I require the maiden’s weight in gold and silver,” Aylill answered and the Mac Og said: “It shall be done.”
And forthwith he placed the maiden in the centre of her father’s House, measured the weight of her in gold and silver, and leaving the wealth piled up there on the floor, he returned to Brugh on the Boyne with Etain, and the ancient manuscript says, “Midir made that company welcome.”

Etain looked into Midir’s eyes, and that night she became his bride.

Here the Storyteller pauses for that is her way, allowing us time to ask, “What surprised me so far in this tale?”

“What gift have I received from this first part?”

(to be continued….)