Lorax & Erynn
Here is the promised beginning discussion of “The Gods” in Celtic religion. The majority of this post is brought to you by Lorax, Small Furry Tree-Creature of the Gods <g>
****Extra-Long Posts Warning****
I shall throw out the first hot caber by suggesting that use of the term “Gods” within a Pagan Celtic context is totally useless, misleading, and an example of the sloppy scholarship that Deartha’ir Isaac bemoans.
This notion has been long in coming for me, but was triggered this week when an ADF member noted the use of the word “God” [singular] several hundred times in a suggested reference work on pre-Christian Greek religion. It made her somewhat nervous as it seemed to not be the best possible term in a polytheistic culture, given that a multitude of things, from entities to abstract concepts had been subsumed as “God”.
This, combined with my very recent reading of the Dunnaire Finn, the Book of Invasions, and the Tain has led me to be more discriminating.
As my Priestess colleague, Brandy Williams, has often said, there are 2 kinds of people: Splitters, and people who deny the existence of splitters. <g>
So, let us take it from the very top, the creation of the world. At least, according to one translation of one version of the Book of Invasions.
The first inhabitants of Ireland were Cesair, daughter of Bith, son of Noe (Noah), and their 3 men + 50 women. <Happy happy, joy joy!> These people all drowned, and are therefore unimportant to this story, save that Fintan survived to recount tales of the before-time.
Partholan was the second discoverer, the chief of his people. Partholan brought with him the people that were first in many arts-brewing, cauldron making-first combat, farming, and a host of other things.
Patholan chose a fertile place, cleared 4 plains, and homesteaded there. His wife slept with his retainer, which caused problems. This resulted in the giving of the First Verdict, that of Delgnat. Boan, Brea, Ban, Aine and 6 others were the “pure daughters” of Partholan, implying perhaps that he had more, following the customs of the times.
The generation of Partholan was the one responsible for first naming of places in Ireland. Partholan’s generation was also long-lived, and no plants grew old in their time. His generation largely died out after a plague.
Both of these first generations are referred to as men and women, not deities. People of Arts [Aes Da’na] maybe yes, but not deithe [deities]. This, at least, according to the Christians who recorded the tales.
The third generation is that of Neimhedh (Nemed). He came from Scythia. Neimhedh had 4 chiefs with him. Neimhedh fought and won three battles over the Fomhoire. Fo-mhor (over the sea, or something like that). Despite this, the Fomorians seemed to be quite good at oppressing the Nemedians, by demanding 2/3 of their agricultural output at Samhain, delivered to Magh Cetne. The Nemedians went to Greece and collected an army, some drui and ban-drui, wolves and venomous animals. A proper challenge was delivered, and the battles were engaged. The Fomorians were defeated at last. Only 30 Nemedians survived.
The next group of invaders are the somewhat mysterious Fir Bolg, or Bagmen. The Fir Bolg had 5 chiefs (one more than all of the previous invaders) as did the De Dannan. The Fir Bolg divided Ireland into 5 parts. Previous invasions had separated Ireland into 4 parts. Much is made of the poetic, noise-shakin skill of the Fir Bolg. They were some jammin’ magickal folk, all right. The Fir Bolg have the distinction of the first “riogh” (king) in Ireland. So we have division into 5 parts, kingship, and the use of iron.
Now, the Sons of Nemed had not been sitting still all of this time. They had been off in Greece, learning draidheacht, cleverness, niceness, and Spiffy Things In General (slight gloss from bad 19th century Victorian english). These folks were called “Tuatha De” “…that is, they considered their men of learning to be gods, and their husbandmen non-gods, so much was their power in every art and every druidic occultism besides. Thence came the name, which is Tuathe De, to them.”
Now, please note that their ancestors are PEOPLE. The TdD became so by virtue of their skills. This is a process that would not be unfamiliar to a good citizen of Republican (not Imperial) Rome. One can become deific by proper actions, family and/or national devotion, and other things. The TdD had been instructed in 4 cities in the North. One has to infer that these cities are in Greece, where they are instructed in these arts. Now, not all translations say this, exactly. Greece and Spain are frequently glosses for the Otherworld, but not always. The 4 Treasures were brought from Greece. As we have discussed the Treasures before, we shall pass in silence on them here.
The TdD fought battles with the Athenians as their allies, and through druidic demonry reanimated dead bodies that then rose up and fought as if they were living. It is here that we learn that hazel or rowan twigs through the neck do in reanimated corpses. <Occult Factiod #912 collect em all.)
The TdD arrive in Ireland on a Monday, in the Calends of May, where they burn their ships on the shore so they cannot return, or the Fomorians use the ships.
The TdD fought with the Fir Bolg (it is, after all Ireland we are talking about…), won, lost, won again, lost again, were healed, hurt, etc. Nuada gets his silver arm and loses kingship in this process. The TdD slew all but a few of the Fir Bolg, who then fled to the outermost isles of the seas. Compare this with the more archaic traditions of the Hebrides and Northern Islands of Ireland…
The genealogies up to this point are enough to make a kinship specialist whimper, cringe, and fall to sleep the final sleep, so we will ignore them, but to say that aside from Cessair, everyone is related (or sleeping with someone who is) to everyone else. Biblical begatting is easier, trust me.
The TdD are referred to as goblins in the text. So much for the great contrast between the demonic Fomorians and Deific TdD. If you care to argue that to a medieval monk all deities are one deity and all are demonic, then there is even less reason to consider the Fomor demonic.
That said, the text has Eochaid triumph, “without enchantment of idols, shaped the distinction of good verses but as for knowledge of the warrior bands of whom we speak although we enumerate them we do not worship them.”
The picture is far more confused than ANY simple model, folks. I have not even begun to discuss the “giant” stories. If I were to do so, then Finn and his buddies are giants, not unlike Jotuns. But wait! So is Cu! And, if they are giants, then what are their parents? Finn is descended from Baiscne, and Cu is descended (or a reincarnation) of Lugh. So the Aes Dana=Giants?@(#*#*(@# @
If we get to the local spirits, worshipped well into the 18th century, and maybe later, (or the 20th, as Erynn thinks), any meaningful use of the term “God” has to be tossed out with the burnt brac after dinner.
We have people, descended from the Trojans/Greeks learning heavy juju and becoming like Gods. They fight, live, die, get reincarnated, stretch their influence far beyond a single generation, and are immortalized in song. Remember, the Cauldron of Poesy, the only available text on the training of a fili (one who sees) reminds us that we are all more than our birth, at least potentially.
As Patrick Ford has suggested, the written tales/sagas are probably just a sequencing of shorter oral bits, there is no real problem with dying on page 23, and having hot sweaty sex on page 25.
They are also said to be immortal in the Otherworld. Many of the later tales have all of these survivors gathering in the Otherworld (somewhere near Miami or Desert Springs, I suspect) and only sometimes coming out to see us mere mortals.
Also note (this flash of awen just in) that most of the folks that wander into faery are Aes Dana! Reverend Kirk, Thomas the Rhymer, Tam Lin and many others.
The Path to Faery must be (therefore) paved with Excellence.
Now, the above analysis depends strictly on my reading of the texts. I am quoting from the handiest text, the one that unfortunately has no bibliographic data in it, but is well-reasoned, erudite, and footnoted to death. This is a facing-page xlation, btw.
I am NOT saying that some of these beings are not worthy of devotion. I am saying that it is not necessarily. true that all of them were viewed as “Gods” at all times in history, particularly not in the omnipotent, omniscient Xian meaning of the word, nor in the usage common to Bullfinch.
It may be best to regard the Aes Dana as Shterpersavs, or “Short-Term- Personal-Saviors”, in Dobbspeak.
<Rant Modes Off>
This article is copyright © 1995 by Erynn Darkstar (E.R. Laurie) and Lorax (G.S. Cooper) and republished here by permission of the authors; all rights reserved. This article was originally published in the “Celtic” forum of PODS, the Pagan-Occult Distribution System.