People of the Goddess Dana
[Note: This is taken from W.Y. Evans Wentz’s The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.]
‘So firm was the hold which the ethnic gods of Ireland had taken upon the imagination and spiritual sensibilities of our ancestors that even the monks and christianized bards never thought of denying them. They doubtless forbade the people to worship them, but to root out the belief in their existence was so impossible that they could not even dispossess their own minds of the conviction that the gods were real supernatural beings.’ – Standish O’Grady.
The Goddess Dana and the modern cult of St. Brigit – The Tuatha De Danaan or Sidhe conquered by the Sons of Mil – But Irish seers still see the Sidhe – Old Irish MSS. Faithfully represent the Tuatha De Danaan – The Sidhe as a spirit race – Sidhe palaces – The ‘Taking’ of mortals – Hill visions of Sidhe women – Sidhe ministrels and musicians – Social organization and warfare among the Sidhe – The Sidhe war-goddesses, the Badb – The Sidhe at the Battle of Clontarf, A.D. 1014 – Conclusion.
THE People of the Goddess Dana, or according to D’Arbois de Jubainville, the People of the god whose mother was called Dana, are the Tuatha De Danann of the ancient mythology of Ireland. The Goddess Dana, called in the genitive Danand, in middle Irish times was named Brigit. And this goddess Brigit of the pagan Celts has been supplanted by the Christian St. Brigit ; and, in exactly the same way as the pagan cult once bestowed on the spirits in wells and fountains has been transferred to Christian saints, to whom the wells and fountains have been re-dedicated, so to St. Brigit as a national saint has been transferred the pagan cult rendered to her predecessor. Thus even yet, as in the case of the minor divinities of their sacred fountains, the Irish people through their veneration for the good St. Brigit, render homage to the divine mother of the People who bear her name Dana, – who are the ever-living invisible Fairy-People of modern Ireland. For when the Sons of Mil, the ancestors of the Irish people, came to Ireland they found the Tuatha De Danann in full possession of the country. The Tuatha De Danann then retired before the invaders, without, however, giving up their sacred Island. Assuming invisibility, with the power of at any time reappearing in a human-like form before the children of the Sons of Mil, the People of the Goddess Dana became and are the Fairy-Folk, the Sidhe of Irish mythology and romance. Therefore it is that to-day Ireland contains two races, -a race visible which we call Celts, and a race invisible which we call Fairies. Between these two races there is constant intercourse even now; for Irish seers say that they can behold the majestic, beautiful Sidhe, and according to them the Sidhe are a race quite distinct from our own, just as living and possibly more powerful. These Sidhe (who are the ‘gentry’ of the Ben Bulbin country and have kindred elsewhere in Ireland, Scotland, and probably in most other countries as well, such as the invisible races of the Yosemite Valley) have been described more or less accurately by our peasant seer-witnesses from County Sligo and from North and East Ireland. But there are other and probably more reliable seers in Ireland, men of greater education and greater psychical experience, who know and describe the Sidhe races as they really are, and who even sketch their likenesses. And to such seer Celts as these, Death is a passport to the world of the Sidhe, a world where there is eternal youth and never-ending joy, as we shall learn when we study it as the Celtic Otherworld.
The recorded mythology and literature of ancient Ireland have, very faithfully for the most part, preserved to us clear pictures of the Tuatha De Danann; so that disregarding some Christian influence in the texts of certain manuscripts, much rationalization, and a good deal of poetical colouring and romantic imagination in the pictures, we can easily describe the People of the Goddess Dana as they appeared in pagan days, when they were more frequently seen by mortals than now. Perhaps the Irish folk of the olden times were even more clairvoyant and spiritual-minded than the Irish folk of to-day. So by drawing upon these written records let us try to understand what sort of beings the Sidhe were and are.
NATURE OF THE SIDHE
In the Book of Leinster the poem of Eochaid records that the Tuatha De Danann, the conquerors of the Fir-Bolgs, were hosts of siabra; and siabra is an Old Irish word meaning fairies, sprites, or ghosts. The word fairies is appropriate if restricted to mean fairies like the modern ‘gentry’; but the word ghosts is inappropriate, because our evidence shows that the only relation the Sidhe or real Fairies hold to ghosts is a superficial one, the Sidhe and ghosts being alike only in respect to invisibility. In the two chief Irish MSS., the Book of the Dun Cow and the Book of Leinster, the Tuatha De Danann are described as ‘gods and not-gods’; and Sir John Rhys considers this an ancient formula comparable with the Sanskrit deva and adeva, but not with ‘poets (dee) and husbandmen (an dee)’ as the author of C—ir Anmann learnedly guessed. It is also said, in the Book of the Dun Cow, that wise men do not know the origin of the Tuatha De Danann, but that it seems likely to them that they came from heaven, on account of their intelligence and for the excellence of their knowledge ‘ The hold of the Tuatha De Danann on the Irish mind and spirit was so strong that even Christian transcribers of texts could not deny their existence as a nonhuman race of intelligent beings inhabiting Ireland, even though they frequently misrepresented them by placing them on the level of evil demons, as the ending of the story of the Sick-Bed of Cuchulainn illustrates :- ‘ So that this was a vision to Cuchulainn of being stricken by the people of the Sid: for the demoniac power was great before the faith; and such was its greatness that the demons used to fight bodily against mortals, and they used to show them delights and secrets of how they would be in immortality. It was thus they used to be believed in. So it is to such phantoms the ignorant apply the names of Side and Aes Side.’ A passage in the Silva Gadelica (ii. 202 – 3) not only tends to confirm this last statement, but it also shows that the Irish people made a clear distinction between the god-race and our own :- In The Colloquy with the Ancients, as St. Patrick and Caeilte are talking with one another, ‘a lone woman robed in mantle of green, a smock of soft silk being next her skin, and on her forehead a glittering plate of yellow gold,’ came to them; and when Patrick asked from whence she came, she replied: ‘Out of uaimh Chruachna, or” the cave of Cruachan “.’ Caeilte then asked: ‘Woman, my soul, who art thou?’ ‘I am Scothniamh or “Flower-lustre “, daughter of the Daghda’s son Bodhb derg.’ Caeilte proceeded: ‘And what started thee hither?’ ‘To require of thee my marriage-gift, because once upon a time thou promisedst me such.’ And as they parleyed Patrick broke in with: ‘It is a wonder to us how we see you two : the girl young and invested with all comeliness; but thou Caeilte, a withered ancient, bent in the back and dingily grown grey.’ ‘Which is no wonder at all,’ said Caeilte, ‘for no people of one generation or of one time are we : she is of the Tuatha De Danann, who are unfading and whose duration is perennial I am of the sons of Milesius, that are perishable and fade away.’ The exact distinction is between Caeilte, a withered old ancient – in most ways to be regarded as a ghost called up that Patrick may question him about the past history of Ireland – and a fairy-woman who is one of the Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann.
In two of the more ancient Irish texts, the Echtra Nerai or’ Expedition of Nera’, a preliminary tale in the introduction to the T‡in b— Cuailnge or ‘Theft of the Cattle of Cuailnge’; and a passage from the Togail Bruidne da Derga, or ‘ Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel ‘, there seems no reasonable doubt whatever about the Tuatha De Danann or Sidhe being a race like what we call spirits. The first text describes how Ailill and Medb in their palace of Cruachan celebrated the feast of Samain (November Eve, a feast of the dead even in pre-Christian times). Two culprits had been executed on the day before, and their bodies, according to the ancient Irish custom, were left hanging from a tree until the night of Samain should have passed; for on that night it was dangerous to touch the bodies of the dead while demons and the people of the Sidhe were at large throughout all Ireland, and mortals found near dead bodies at such a time were in great danger of being taken by these spirit hosts of the Tuatha De Danann. And so on this very night, when thick darkness had settled down, Ailill desired to test the courage of his warriors, and offered his own gold-hilted sword to any young man who would go out and tie a coil of twisted twigs around the leg of one of the bodies suspended from the tree. After many had made the attempt and failed, because unable to brave the legions of demons and fairies, Nera alone succeeded; but his success cost him dear, for he finally fell under the power both of the dead man, round whose legs he had tied the coil, and of an elfin host: with the dead man’s body on his back, Nera was obliged to go to a strange house that the thirst of the dead man might be assuaged therein; and the dead man in drinking scattered ‘the last sip from his lips at the faces of the people that were in the house, so that they all died’. Nera carried back the body; and on returning to Cruachan he saw the fairy hosts going into the cave, ‘for the fairy-mounds of Erinn are always opened about Halloween.’ Nera followed after them until he came to their king in a palace of the Tuatha De Danann, seemingly in the cavern or elsewhere underground; where he remained and was married to one of the fairy women. She it was who revealed to Nera the secret hiding-place, in a mysterious well, of the king’s golden crown, and then betrayed her whole people by reporting to Nera the plan they had for attacking Ailill’s court on the Halloween to come. Moreover, Nera was permitted by his fairy wife to depart from the sid; and he in taking leave of her asked: ‘How will it be believed of me that I have gone into the sid?’ ‘Take fruits of summer with thee,’ said the woman. ‘Then he took wild garlic with him and primrose and golden fern.’ And on the following November Eve when the sid of Cruachan was again open, ‘ the men of Connaught and the black hosts of exile’ under Ailill and Medb plundered it, taking away from it the crown of Briun out of the well. But’ Nera was left with his people in the sid, and has not come out until now, nor will he come till Doom.’
All of this matter is definitely enough in line with the living Fairy-Faith: there is the same belief expressed as now about November Eve being the time of all times when ghosts, demons, spirits, and fairies are free, and when fairies take mortals and marry them to fairy women; also the beliefs that fairies are living in secret places in hills, in caverns, or under ground – palaces full of treasure and open only on November Eve. In so far as the real fairies, the Sidhe, are concerned, they appear as the rulers of the Feast of the Dead or Samain, as the controllers of all spirits who are then at large; and, allowing for some poetical imagination and much social psychology and anthropomorphism, elements as common in this as in most literary descriptions concerning the Tuatha De Danann, they are faithfully enough presented.
The second text describes how King Conaire, in riding along a road toward Tara, saw in front of him three strange horsemen, three men of the Sidhe :- ‘ Three red frocks had they, and three red mantles: three red steeds they bestrode, and three red heads of hair were on them. Red were they all, both body and hair and raiment, both steeds and men.’ ‘Who is it that fares before us? ‘ asked Conaire. ‘It was a taboo of mine for those Three to go before me – the three Reds to the house of Red. Who will follow them and tell them to come towards me in my track? ‘ ‘I will follow them,’ says Le fri flaith, Conaire’s son. ‘He goes after them, lashing his horse, and overtook them not. There was the length of a spearcast between them: but they did not gain upon him and he did not gain upon them.’ All attempts to come up with the red horsemen failed. But at last, before they disappeared, one of the Three said to the king’s son riding so furiously behind them, ‘Lo, my son, great the news. Weary are the steeds we ride. We ride the steeds of Donn Tetscorach (?) from the elfmounds. Though we are alive we are dead. Great are the signs: destruction of life: sating of ravens: feeding of crows, strife of slaughter: wetting of sword-edge, shields with broken bosses in hours after sundown. Lo, my son !’ Then they disappear. When Conaire and his followers heard the message, fear fell upon them, and the king said: ‘All my taboos have seized me to-night, since those Three [Reds] [are the] banished folks (?).’ In this passage we behold three horsemen of the Sidhe banished from their elfmound because guilty of falsehood. Visible for a time, they precede the king and so violate one of his taboos; and then delivering their fearful prophecy they vanish. These three of the Tuatha De Danann, majestic and powerful and weird in their mystic red, are like the warriors of the ‘gentry’ seen by contemporary seers in West Ireland. Though dead, that is in an invisible world like the dead, yet they are living. It seems that in all three of the textual examples already cited, the scribe has emphasized a different element in the unique nature of the Tuatha De Danann. In the Colloquy it is their eternal youth and beauty, in the Echtra Nerai it is their supremacy over ghosts and demons on Samain and their power to steal mortals away at such a time, and in this last their respect for honesty. And in each case their portrayal corresponds to that of the ‘gentry’ and Sidhe by modern Irishmen; so that the old Fairy-Faith and the new combine to prove the People of the God whose mother was Dana to have been and to be a race of beings who are like mortals, but not mortals, who to the objective world are as though dead, yet to the subjective world are fully living and conscious
O’Curry says :- ‘ The term (sidh, pron. shee), as far as we know it, is always applied in old writings to the palaces, courts, halls, or residences of those beings which in ancient Gaedhelic mythology held the place which ghosts, phantoms, and fairies hold in the superstitions of the present day.’ In modern Irish tradition, ‘the People of the Sidhe,’ or simply the Sidhe, refer to the beings themselves rather than to their places of habitation. Partly perhaps on account of this popular opinion that the Sidhe are a subterranean race, they are sometimes described as gods of the earth or dei terreni, as in the Book of Armagh; and since it was believed that they, like the modern fairies, control the ripening of crops and the milk-giving of cows, the ancient Irish rendered to them regular worship and sacrifice, just as the Irish of to-day do by setting out food at night for the fairy-folk to eat.
Thus after their conquest, these Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann in retaliation, and perhaps to show their power as agricultural gods, destroyed the wheat and milk of their conquerors, the Sons of Mil, as fairies to-day can do; and the Sons of Mil were constrained to make a treaty with their supreme king, Dagda, who, in C—ir Anmann, is himself called an earth-god. Then when the treaty was made the Sons of Mi were once more able to gather wheat in their fields and to drink the milk of their cows ; and we can suppose that ever since that time their descendants, who are the people of Ireland, remembering that treaty, have continued to reverence the People of the Goddess Dana by pouring libations of milk to them and by making them offerings of the fruits of the earth.
THE PALACES OF THE SIDHE
The marvellous palaces to which the Tuatha De Danann retired when conquered by the race of Mil were hidden in the depths of the earth, in hills, or under ridges more or less elevated.’ At the time of their conquest, Dagda their high king made a distribution of all such palaces in his kingdom. He gave one sid to Lug, son of Ethne, another to Ogme; and for himself retained two – one called Brug na Boinne, or Castle of the Boyne, because it was situated on or near the River Boyne near Tara, and the other called Sid or Brug Maic ind Oc, which means Enchanted Palace or Castle of the Son of the Young. And this Mac ind Oc was Dagda’s own son by the queen Boann, according to some accounts, so that as the name (Son of the Young) signifies, Dagda and Boann, both immortals, both Tuatha De Danann, were necessarily always young, never knowing the touch of disease, or decay, or old age. Not until Christianity gained its psychic triumph at Tara, through the magic of Patrick prevailing against the magic of the Druids – who seem to have stood at that time as mediators between the People of the Goddess Dana and the pagan Irish – did the Tuatha De Danann lose their immortal youthfulness in the eyes of mortals and become subject to death. In the most ancient manuscripts of Ireland the pre-Christian doctrine of the immortality of the divine race ‘ persisted intact and without restraint’ ; but in the Senchus na relec or ‘History of the Cemeteries’, from the Leabhar na h-Uidhre, and in the Lebar gabala or ‘Book of the Conquests’, from the Book of Leinster, it was completely changed by the Christian scribes.
When Dagda thus distributed the underground palaces, Mac ind Oc, or as he was otherwise called Oengus, was absent and hence forgotten. So when he returned, naturally he complained to his father, and the Brug na Boinne, the king’s own residence, was ceded to him for a night and a day, but Oengus maintained that it was for ever. This palace was a most marvellous one: it contained three trees which always bore fruit, a vessel full of excellent drink, and two pigs – one alive and the other nicely cooked ready to eat at any time; and in this palace no one ever died. In the Colloquy, Caeilte tells of a mountain containing a fairy palace which no man save Finn and six companions, Caeilte being one of these, ever entered. The Fenians, while hunting, were led thither by a fairy woman who had changed her shape to that of a fawn in order to allure them; and the night being wild and snowy they were glad to take shelter therein. Beautiful damsels and their lovers were the inhabitants of the palace; in it there was music and abundance of food and drink; and on its floor stood a chair of crystal. In another fairy palace, the enchanted cave of Keshcorran, Conaran, son of Imidel, a chief of the Tuatha De Danann, had sway; ‘and so soon as he perceived that the hounds’ cry now sounded deviously, he bade his three daughters (that were full of sorcery) to go and take vengeance on Finn for his hunting ‘ – just as nowadays the ‘good people’ take vengeance on one of our race if a fairy domain is violated. Frequently the fairy palace is under a lake, as in the christianized story of the Disappearance of Caenchomrac :- Once when ‘the cleric chanted his psalms, he saw [come] towards him a tall man that emerged out of the loch: from the bottom of ‘the water that is to say.’, This tall man informed the cleric that he came from an underwater monastery, and explained ‘that there should be subaqueous inhabiting by men is with God no harder than that they should dwell in any other place ‘. In all these ancient literary accounts of the Sidhe-palaces we easily recognize the same sort of palaces as those described to-day by Gaelic peasants as the habitations of the’ gentry’, or ‘good people’, or ‘people of peace.’ Such habitations are in mountain caverns like those of Ben Bulbin or Knock Ma, or in fairy hills or knolls like the Fairy-Hill at Aberfoyle on which Robert Kirk is believed to have been taken, or beneath lakes. This brings us directly to the way in which the Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann of the olden times took fine-looking young men and maidens.
HOW THE SIDHE ‘TOOK’ MORTALS
Perhaps one of the earliest and most famous literary accounts of such a taking is that concerning Aedh, son of Eochaid Lethderg son of ‘the King of Leinster, who is represented as contemporary with Patrick. While Aedh was enjoying a game of hurley with his boy companions near the sidh of Liamhain Softsmock, two of the sidh-women, who loved the young prince, very suddenly appeared, and as suddenly took him away with them into a fairy palace and kept him there three years. It happened, however, that he escaped at the end of that time, and, knowing the magical powers of Patrick, went to where the holy man was, and thus explained himself :- ‘ Against the youths my opponents I (i. e. my side) took seven goals; but at the last one that I took, here come up to me two women clad in green mantles: two daughters of Bodhb derg mac an Daghda, and their names Slad and Mumain. Either of them took me by a hand, and they led me off to a garish brugh; whereby for now three years my people mourn after me, the sidh- folk caring for me ever since, and until last night I got a chance opening to escape from the brugh, when to the number of fifty lads we emerged out of the sidh and forth upon the green. Then it was that I considered the magnitude of that strait in which they of the sidh had had me, and away from the brugh I came running to seek thee, holy Patrick.’ ‘That,’ said the saint, ‘shall be to thee a safeguard, so that neither their power nor their dominion shall any more prevail against thee.’ And so when Patrick had thus made Aedh proof against the power of the fairy-folk, he kept him with him under the disguise of a travelling minstrel until, arriving in Leinster, he restored him to his father the king and to his inheritance: Aedh enters the palace in his minstrel disguise; and in the presence of the royal assembly Patrick commands him: ‘Doff now once for all thy dark capacious hood, and well mayest thou wear thy father’s spear!’ When the lad removed his hood, and none there but recognized him, great was the surprise. He seemed like one come back from the dead, for long had his heirless father and people mourned for him. ‘By our word,’ exclaimed the assembly in their joyous excitement, ‘it is a good cleric’s gift!’ And the king said: ‘Holy Patrick, seeing that till this day thou hast nourished him and nurtured, let not the Tuatha De Danann’s power any more prevail against the lad.’ And Patrick answered: ‘That death which the King of Heaven and Earth hath ordained is the one that he will have.’ This ancient legend shows clearly that the Tuatha De Danann, or Sidhe, in the time when the scribe wrote the Colloquy were thought of in the same way as now, as able to take beautiful mortals whom they loved, and able to confer upon them fairy immortality which prevented ‘ that death which the King of Heaven and Earth hath ordained’.
Mortals, did they will it, could live in the world of the Sidhe for ever, and we shall see this more fully in our study of the Otherworld. But here it will be interesting to learn that, unlike Aedh, whom some perhaps would call a foolish youth, Laeghaire, also a prince, for he was the son of the king of Connaught, entered a dun of the Sidhe, taking fifty other warriors with him; and he and his followers found life in Fairyland so pleasant that they all decided to enjoy it eternally. Accordingly, when they had been there a year, they planned to return to Connaught in order to bid the king and his people a final farewell. They announced their plan, and Fiachna of the Sidhe told them how to accomplish it safely :- ‘ If ye would come back take with you horses, but by no means dismount from off them’; ‘So it was done: they went their way and came upon a general assembly in which Connaught, as at the year expired, mourned for the aforesaid warrior-band, whom now all at once they perceived above them (i. e. on higher ground). Connaught sprang to meet them, but Laeghaire cried:
“Approach us not [to touch us] : ‘tis to bid you farewell that we are here!” “Leave me not!” Crimthann, his father, said: “Connaught’s royal power be thine; their silver and their gold, their horses with their bridles, and their noble women be at thy discretion, only leave me not!” But Laeghaire turned from them and so entered again into the sidh, where with Fiachna he exercises joint kingly rule; nor is he as yet come out of it.’
HILL VISIONS OF SIDHE WOMEN
There are many recorded traditions which represent certain hills as mystical places whereon men are favoured with visions of fairy women. Thus, one day King Muir came forth to hunt on the border of the Brugh (near Stackallan Bridge, County Meath), and his companions left him alone on his hunting-mound. ‘He had not been there long when he saw a solitary damsel beautifully formed, fair-haired, bright-skinned, with a green mantle about her sitting near him on the turfen mound; and it seemed to him that of womankind he had never beheld her equal in beauty and refinement.’ In the Mabinogion of Pwyll, Prince of Dyvet, which seems to be only a Brythonic treatment of an original Gaelic tale, Pwyll seating himself on a mound where any mortal sitting might see a prodigy, saw a fairy woman ride past on a white horse, and she clad in a garment of shining gold. Though he tried to have his servitor on the swiftest horse capture her, ‘There was some magic about the lady that kept her always the same distance ahead, though she appeared to be riding slowly.’ When on the second day Pwyll returned to the mound the fairy woman came riding by as before, and the servitor again gave unsuccessful chase. Pwyll saw her in the same manner on the third day. He thereupon gave chase himself, and when he exclaimed to her, ‘For the sake of the man whom you love, wait for me!’ she stopped; and by mutual arrangement the two agreed to meet and to marry at the end of a year.
THE MINSTRELS OR MUSICIANS OF THE SIDHE
Not only did the fairy-folk of more ancient tunes enjoy wonderful palaces full of beauty and riches, and a life of eternal youth, but they also had, even as now, minstrelsy and rare music – music to which that of our own world could not be compared at all; for even Patrick himself said that it would equal the very music of heaven if it were not for ‘a twang of the fairy spell that infests it ‘. And this is how it was that Patrick heard the fairy music :- As he was travelling through Ireland he once sat down on a grassy knoll, as he often did in the good old Irish way, with Ulidia’s king and nobles and Caeilte also: ‘Nor were they long there before they saw draw near them a scolog or “non-warrior” that wore a fair green mantle having in it a fibula of silver; a shirt of yellow silk next his skin, over and outside that again a tunic of soft satin, and with a timp‡n (a sort of harp) of the best slung on his back. “Whence comest thou, scolog? “ – asked the king. “Out of the sidh of the Daghda’s son Bodhb Derg, out of Ireland’s southern part.” “What moved thee out of the south, and who art thou thyself?” “I am Cascorach, son of Cainchinn that is ollave to the Tuatha De Danann, and am myself the makings of an ollave (i.e. an aspirant to the grade). What started me was the design to acquire knowledge, and information, and lore for recital, and the Fianna’s mighty deeds of valour, from Caeilte son of Ronan.” Then he took his timp‡n and made for them music and minstrelsy, so that he sent them slumbering off to sleep.’ And Cascorach’s music was pleasing to Patrick, who said of it: ‘Good indeed it were, but for a twang of the fairy spell that infests it; barring which nothing could more nearly than it resemble Heaven’s harmony.” And that very night which followed the day on which the ollave to the Tuatha De Danann came to them was the Eve of Samain. There was also another of these fairy timpan -players called ‘the wondrous elfin man’, ‘Aillen mac Midhna of the Tuatha De Danann, that out of sidh Finnachaidh to the northward used to come to Tara: the manner of his coming being with a musical timp‡n in his hand, the which whenever any heard he would at once sleep. Then, all being lulled thus, out of his mouth Aillen would emit a blast of fire. It was on the solemn Samain-Day (November Day) he came in every year, played his timp‡n, and to the fairy music that he made all hands would fall asleep. With his breath he used to blow up the flame and so, during a three-and-twenty years’ spell, yearly burnt up Tara with all her gear.’ And it is said that Finn, finally overcoming the magic of Aillen, slew him.
Perhaps in the first musician, Cascorach, though he is described as the son of a Tuatha De Danann minstrel, we behold a mortal like one of the many Irish pipers and musicians who used to go, or even go yet, to the fairy-folk to be educated in the musical profession, and then come back as the most marvellous players that ever were in Ireland; though if Cascorach were once a mortal it seems that he has been quite transformed in bodily nature so as to be really one of the Tuatha De Danann himself. But Allen mac Midhna is undoubtedly one of the mighty ‘gentry’ who could – as we heard from County Sligo – destroy half the human race if they wished. Aillen visits Tara, the old psychic centre both for Ireland’s high-kings and its Druids. He comes as it were against the conquerors of his race, who in their neglectfulness no longer render due worship and sacrifice on the Feast of Samain to the Tuatha De Danann, the gods of ‘the dead, at that time supreme; and then it is that he works his magic against the royal palaces of the kings and Druids on the ancient Hill. And to overcome the magic of Afflen and slay him, that is, make it impossible for him to repeat his annual visits to Tara, it required the might of the great hero Finn, who himself was related to the same Sidhe race, for by a woman of the Tuatha De Danann he had his famous son Ossian (Oisin).
In Gilla de, who is Manannan mac Lir, the greatest magician of the Tuatha De Danann, disguised as a being who can disappear in the twinkling of an eye whenever he wishes, and reappear unexpectedly as a ‘kern that wore garb of yellow stripes ‘, we meet with another fairy musician. And to him O’Donnell says :- ‘ By Heaven’s grace again, since first I heard the fame of them that within the hills and under the earth beneath us make the fairy music,. . . music sweeter than thy strains I have never heard; thou art in sooth a most melodious rogue! ‘ And again it is said of him :- ‘ Then the gilia decair taking a harp played music so sweet. . . and the king after a momentary glance at his own musicians never knew which way he went from him.’
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND WARFARE AMONG THE SIDHE
So far, we have seen only the happy side of the life of the Sidhe-folk – their palaces and pleasures and music; but there was a more human (or anthropomorphic) side to their nature in which they wage war on one another, and have their matrimonial troubles even as we moderns. And we turn now to examine this other side of their life, to behold the Sidhe as a warlike race; and as we do so let us remember that the ‘gentry’ in the Ben Bulbin country and in all Ireland, and the people of Finvara in Knock Ma, and also the invisible :races of California, are likewise described as given to war and mighty feats of arms.
The invisible Irish races have always had a very distinct social organization, so distinct in fact that Ireland can be divided according to its fairy kings and fairy queens and their territories even now; and no doubt we see in this how the ancient Irish anthropomorphically projected into an animistic belief their own social conditions and racial characteristics. And this social organization and territorial division ought to be understood before we discuss the social troubles and consequent wars of the Sidhe-folk. For example in Munster Bodb was king and his enchanted palace was called the Sid of the Men of Femen ; and we already know about the over-king Dagda and his Boyne palace near Tara. In more modern times, especially in popular fairy-traditions, Eevil or Eevinn (Aoibhill or Aolbhinn) of the Craig Liath or Grey Rock is a queen of the Munster fairies; and Finvara is king of the Connaught fairies. There are also the Irish fairy-queens Cleeona (Cliodhna, or in an earlier form Clidna) and Aine.
We are now prepared to see the Tuatha De Danann in their domestic troubles and wars; and the following story is as interesting as any, for in it Dagda himself is the chief actor. Once when his own son Oengus fell sick of a love malady, King Dagda, who ruled all the Sidhe-folk in Ireland, joined forces with Ailill and Medb in order to compel Ethal Anbual to deliver up his beautiful daughter Caer whom Oengus loved. When Ethal Anbual’s palace had been stormed and Ethal Anbual reduced to submission, he declared he had no power over his daughter Caer, for on the first of November each year, he said, she changed to a swan, or from a swan to a maiden again. ‘The first of November next,’ he added, ‘my daughter will be under the form of a swan, near the Loch bel Draccon. Marvellous birds will be seen there: my daughter will be surrounded by a hundred and fifty other swans.’ When the November Day arrived, Oengus went to the lake, and, seeing the swans and recognizing Caer, plunged into the water and instantly became a swan with her. While under the form of swans, Oengus and Caer went together to the Boyne palace of the king Dagda, his father, and remained there; and their singing was so sweet that all who heard it slept three days and three nights.’ In this story, new elements in the nature of the Sidhe appear, though like modern ones: the Sidhe are able to assume other forms than their own, are subject to enchantments like mortals; and when under the form of swans are in some perhaps superficial aspects like the swan-maidens in stories which are world-wide, and their swan-song has the same sweetness and magical effect as in other countries.
In the Rennes Dinnshenchas there is a tale about a war among the ‘men of the Elfmounds’ over ‘two lovable maidens who dwelt in the elfmound’, and when they delivered the battle ‘they all shaped themselves into the shapes of deer ‘. Midir’s Sons under Donn mac Midir, in rebellion against the Daghda’s son Bodh Derg, fled away to an obscure sidh, where in yearly battle they met the hosts of the other Tuatha De Danann under Bodh Derg; and it was into this sidh or fairy palace on the very eve before the annual contest that Finn and his six companions were enticed by the fairy woman in the form of a fawn, to secure their aid. And in another tale, Laeghaire, son of the king of Connaught, with fifty warriors, plunged into a lake to the fairy world beneath it, in order to assist the fairy man, who came thence to them, to recover his wife stolen by a rival.
THE SIDHE AS WAR-GODDESSES OR THE BADB
It is in the form of birds that certain of the Tuatha De Danann appear as war-goddesses and directors of battle, – and we learn from one of our witnesses that the ‘gentry ‘or modern Sidhe-folk take sides even now in a great war, like that between Japan and Russia. It is in their relation to the hero Cuchulainn that one can best study the People of the Goddess Dana in their role as controllers of human war. In the greatest of the Irish epics, the Tam B— Cuailnge, where Cuchulainn is under their influence, these war-goddesses are called Badb (or Bodb) which here seems to be a collective term for Neman, Macha, and Morrigu (or Morrigan) -each of whom exercises a particular supernatural power. Neman appears as the confounder of armies, so that friendly bands, bereft of their senses by her, slaughter one another; Macha is a fury that riots and revels among the slain; while Morrigu, the greatest of the three, by her presence infuses superhuman valour into Cuchulainn, nerves him for the cast, and guides the course of his unerring spear. And the Tuatha De Danann in infusing this valour into the great hero show themselves – as we already know them to be on Samain Eve – the rulers of all sorts of demons of the air and awful spirits :- In the Book of Leinster (fol. 57, B 2) it is recorded that ‘the satyrs, and sprites, and maniacs of the valleys, and demons of the air, shouted about him, for the Tuatha De Danann were wont to impart their valour to him, in order that he might be more feared, more dreaded, more terrible, in every battle and battle-field, in every combat and conflict, into which he went.’
The Battles of Moytura seem in most ways to be nothing more than the traditional record of a long warfare to determine the future spiritual control of Ireland, carried on between two diametrically opposed orders of invisible beings, the Tuatha De Danann representing the gods of light and good and the Fomorians representing the gods of darkness and evil. It is said that after the second of these battles ‘The Morrigu, daughter of Ermnas (the Irish war-goddess), proceeded to proclaim that battle and the mighty victory which had taken place, to the royal heights of Ireland and to its fairy host and its chief waters and its river-mouths ‘. For good had prevailed over evil, and it was settled that all Ireland should for ever afterwards be a sacred country ruled over by the People of the Goddess Dana and the Sons of Mil jointly. So that here we see the Tuatha De Danann with their war-goddess fighting their own battles in which human beings play no part.
It is interesting to observe that this Irish war-goddess, the bodb or badb, considered of old to be one of the Tuatha De Danann, has survived to our own day in the fairy-lore of the chief Celtic countries. In Ireland the survival is best seen in the popular and still almost general belief among the peasantry that the fairies often exercise their magical powers under the form of royston-crows; and for this reason these birds are always greatly dreaded and avoided. The resting of one of them on a peasant’s cottage may signify many things, but often it means the death of one of the family or some great misfortune, the bird in such a case playing the part of a bean-sidhe (banshee). And this folk-belief finds its echo in the recorded tales of Wales, Scotland, and Brittany. In the Mabinogi, ‘Dream of Rhonabwy,’ Owain, prince of Rheged and a contemporary of Arthur, has a wonderful crow which always secures him victory in battle by the aid of three hundred other crows under its leadership. In Campbell’s Popular Tales of the West Highlands the fairies very often exercise their power in the form of the common hoody crow; and in Brittany there is a folk-tale entitled ‘Les Compagnons ‘ in which the chief actor is a fairy under the form of a magpie who lives in a royal forest just outside Rennes.
W. M. Hennessy has shown that the word bodb or badb, aspirated bodhbh or badhbh (pronounced bov or bav), originally signified rage, fury, or violence, and ultimately implied a witch, fairy, or goddess; and that as the memory of this Irish goddess of war survives in folk-lore, her emblem is the well-known scald-crow, or royston-crow. By referring to Peter O’Connell’s Irish Dictionary we are able to confirm this popular belief which identifies the battle-fairies with the royston-crow, and to discover that there is a definite relationship or even identification between the Badb and the Bean-sidhe or banshee, as there is in modern Irish folklore between the royston-crow and the fairy who announces a death. Badb-catha is made to equal ‘Fionog, a royston-crow, a squall crow’; Badb is defined as a ‘bean-sidhe, a female fairy, phantom, or spectre, supposed to be attached to certain families, and to appear sometimes in the form of squall-crows, or royston-crows’; and the Badb in the threefold aspect is thus explained: ‘Macha, i. e. a royston-crow; Morrighain, i. e. the great fairy; Neamhan, i. e. Badb catha n— feann—g; a badb catha, or royston-crow.’ Similar explanations are given by other glossarists, and thus the evidence of etymological scholarship as well as that of folk-lore support the Psychological Theory.
THE SIDHE IN THE BATTLE OF CLONTARF, A. D. 1014
The People of the Goddess Dana played an important part in human warfare even so late as the Battle of Clontarf, fought near Dublin, April 23, 1014; and at that time fairy women and phantom-hosts were to the Irish unquestionable existences, as real as ordinary men and women. It is recorded in the manuscript story of the battle, of which numerous copies exist, that the fairy woman Aoibheall came to Dunlang O’Hartigan before the battle and begged him not to fight, promising him life and happiness for two hundred years if he would put off fighting for a single day; but the patriotic Irishman expressed his decision to fight for Ireland, and then the fairy woman foretold how he and his friend Murrough, and Brian and Conaing and all the nobles of Erin and even his own son Turlough, were fated to fall in the conflict.
On the eve of the battle, Dunlang comes to his friend Murrough directly from the fairy woman; and Murrough upon seeing him reproaches him for his absence in these -words :- ‘ Great must be the love and attachment of some woman for thee which has induced thee to abandon me.’ ‘Alas O King,’ answered Dunlang, ‘ the delight which I have abandoned for thee is greater, if thou didst but know it, namely, life without death, without cold, without thirst, without hunger, without decay, beyond any delight of the delights of the earth to me, until the judgement, and heaven after the judgement; and if I had not pledged my word to thee I would not have come here; and, moreover, it is fated for me to die on the day that thou shalt die.’ When Murrough has heard this terrible message, the prophecy of his own death in the battle, despondency seizes him; and then it is that he declares that he for Ireland like Dunlang for honour has also sacrificed the opportunity of entering and living in that wonderful Land of Eternal Youth :- ‘ Often was I offered in hills, and in fairy mansions, this world (the fairy world) and these gifts, but I never abandoned for one night my country nor mine inheritance for them.’
And thus is described the meeting of the two armies at Clontarf, and the demons of the air and the phantoms, and all the hosts of the invisible world who were assembled to scatter confusion and to revel in the bloodshed, and how above them in supremacy rose the Badb :- ‘ It will be one of the wonders of the day of judgement to relate the description of -this tremendous onset. 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.’ It is said of Murrough (Murchadh) as he entered the thick of the fight and prepared to assail the foreign invaders, the Danes, when they had repulsed the Dal-Cais, that ‘he was seized with a boiling terrible anger, an excessive elevation and greatness of spirit and mind. A bird of valour and championship rose in him, and fluttered over his head and on his breath ‘.
The recorded or manuscript Fairy-Faith of the Gaels corresponds in all essentials with the living Gaelic Fairy-Faith: the Tuatha De Danann or Sidhe, the ‘Gentry’, the ‘Good People’, and the ‘People of Peace’ are described as a race of invisible divine beings eternally young and unfading. They inhabit fairy palaces, enjoy rare feasts and love-making, and have their own music and minstrelsy. They are essentially majestic in their nature; they wage war in their own invisible realm against other of its inhabitants like the ancient Fomorians; they frequently direct human warfare or nerve the arm of a great hero like Cuchulainn; and demons of the air, spirit hosts, and awful unseen creatures obey them. Mythologically they are gods of light and good, able to control natural phenomena so as to make harvests come forth abundantly or not at all. But they are not such mythological beings as we read about in scholarly dissertations on mythology, dissertations so learned in their curious and unreasonable and often unintelligible hypotheses about the workings of the mind among primitive men.