Sunday, 27 May 2012

More notes from the library...

The next lot of notes should be a bit shorter...Promise...

The Christianization of the Early Irish Cosmos?: muir mas, nem nglas, talam cé (Blathm. 258)
Liam Mac Mathúna
ZcP Volume 49-50 (1997)

Most folks who've been in the CR scene for a while have probably come across Mac Mathúna's article on the three realms in the Celtica journal (if not, it's really worth a read). I think it's safe to say that this article should be considered to be a companion piece to that one: although this article was published earlier than 'Early Irish Perceptions of the Cosmos,' it begins by referencing that article as establishing the Irish concept of "a three-fold division of the cosmos" as fact.

This article covers some of the same ground as the Celtica article and provides more examples of the three realms concept, but takes a different tack, ultimately proposing the idea that eventually the idea came to be articulated in a pair of words: nem (heaven - or sky) and talam (incorporating both land and sea). Or, as Mac Mathúna puts it - "From being confined to one corner of the nem - muir - talam conceptual triangle, where it shared the horizontal plane with muir, talam may now occupy the whole horizontal, subsuming muir, and finding in nem its sole contrasting opposite."

So. Now you know.

It also provides a wider context for the line muir mas, nem nglas, talam cé ("the beautiful sea, the blue heaven, the present earth") given in the Celtica article:
Ba deithbir do dúilib Démuir mas, nem nglas, talam céco imro-imchloítis a ngnéoc coíniud a ngalgaite. 
"It would have been fitting for God's elements, the beautiful sea, the blue heaven, the present earth, that they should change their aspect when keening their hero." (Blathm. 257-60)

Some Heathenish and Superstitious Rites: A Letter from Lewis, 1700
Domhnall Uilleam Stiúbhart
Scottish Studies: The Journal of the School of Scottish Studies Volume 24 (2000-2006)

This is a lengthy article so I'm just going to pick out a couple of bits I found interesting and potentially important; it's an examination of a letter "Ane Accompt of some heathenish & superstitious rites used in the Isle of Lewis given by a frend to Mr Alan Morisone Minister of Ness 15 April 1700" and there are several bits that prove interesting from a folklore perspective, describing certain customs and rites associated with various occasions and festivals that give details I've not otherwise seen before.

First up, there's probable mention of the practice of making offerings to Shony. The letter tells us:
"Others contribut a quantity of Corn & make malt of it, & brew it into ale, and drink it in the kerk [church] pouring the first coigfull into the sea, that they may have fish the better that yeir and sea ware for there land, And all the town will joyn in this work but now its abolyshed, they called this kynd of sacrifeceing Shion, but the Etymology of that word I know not.  Others killed ane heiffer or bullock and threw the blood of it into the sea wt certane rites and ceremonies promiseing to themselves therby the more abundance of fysh and sea ware to be brought ashore to them." (205-206)
This is a slightly different account to the one Martin Martin gives, and unlike Ronald Black, who links Shony to John the Baptist (Seonaidh) and, ultimately possibly Manannán, Stiúbhart suggests the name is evidence of Norse practice, from the Old Norse word son-, which means an atonement or sacrifice. An alternative explanation might link the word with the Lewis name for fairies, muinntir Fhionnlaigh.

The next bit I want to pick out from the letter relates to Là Fhèill Brìghde. The letter describes the making of the leaba Brìde (the bed of Brìde), made "in a Seive wt a little straw and clean cloaths," into which the icon of Bride was placed. The letter goes on to say:
"Then every persone in the family man woman and child put in something wch he daily wor into the bed, and after all was compleet for the service, all the familie fell on thr faces and wt high voices cryed ndanig briid, gun di riist." (206)
This is interesting in that I've never seen mention of clothes being but into the bed (that I recall!), and presumably it's for blessing, just like the practice of putting clothes outside for Brigid to bless in parts of Ireland. Clearly the bolded words are an attempt at articulating Gàidhlig, which Stiùbhart gives as '[Gu]n tàinig Brìd, gun dì [i] rithist.' Martin describes the ritual as well giving the words as "Briid is come, Briid is welcome." Stiùbhart suggests this is a mistranslation, when it should be as above - "Bride is come; may she come again." That has some implications for reconstructionist ritual, no doubt.

One final thing to note is that Stiùbhart mentions in his notes that Ronald Black is currently working on a book about the Gaelic year. All I can say is, YAY.

OK, I'll finish there for now, since I have to leave the house today. I hope you find these useful!

Notes from the library

I thought I'd make some notes on some of the articles I got from the library yesterday, in case anyone might be interested in getting hold of them. I'll stick to the more interesting ones I got, and try to keep the waffle to a minimum...

The first one is an article by John Carey that has some good food for thought in relation to origin or creation legends of Ireland. I've been compiling as many "creation" tales as I can find over at Tairis Tales, and Carey makes some interesting points here:

'Origin and Development of the Cesair Legend'
John Carey
Éigse Volume 22 (1987)

Cesair is typically credited as being the first settler of Ireland, according to the Lebor Gabála Érenn. Sent west by her grandfather (Noah) in an the hopes of escaping the imminent Flood, she arrives with a bevy of women and only three men to go round. The women are divided between the three men, Cesair herself marrying Fintan mac Bochra. Eventually the Flood comes and those who haven't died already succumb to it - all except for Fintan.

The Lebor Gabála itself is an eleventh century tale but earlier versions of the invasion story can be found in other sources. The lost manuscript of Cín Dromma Snechta, which dates to around the eighth century, lists Banba as the first woman to settle Ireland (lending her name to it). The Chronicon Scotorum, meanwhile (drawing on an eighth or ninth century descendent of the 'Irish World Chronicle'), lists the first woman as 'Eriu or Berba or Cesair.' A version of Lebor Gabála in the Book of Lecan also glosses Cesair's name with .i. Eriu. All this means: earlier versions from around the eighth century probably had the name as Banba or Ériu (or Berba, who Carey later associates with the River Barrow), which then became associated with Cesair.

Carey then goes on to discuss the significance of the legend, with two different theories proposed by other academics being influential: On the one hand, Cesair isn't mentioned in some invasion schemes at all (e.g. Historia Brittonum), suggesting she was added in at a later date - perhaps in order to give Ireland's origin story Biblical roots. On the other hand, Macalister (who translated the LGÉ) and the Rees brothers suggested that Cesair is pagan in origin, her story being 'a tattered fragment of a Flood myth' (i.e. a native Flood myth, not related to the Bible), and that Cesair and Fintan are a 'cosmogonic pair'; part of a native creation story, in which the Flood occurs during the process of the world's manifestation.

In a wider context, Carey notes that there are several different flood stories associated with women (such as the Wave of Clidna) to be found in the dindshenchas tales, and that Cesair's story could have had its origins in a local legend that was adopted and adapted into a broader context for the purpose of the LGÉ. This is the crux of the argument, and so Carey partially agrees with Macalister and Rees in that there are pagan origins for the story, but "it should be emphasized that the story appears to be a local legend, with no necessary connection to traditions either of world deluge or of primeval migration - in other words, I am led to agree with those who see its presence in the invasion sequence as an artificial and secondary development." (p46)

The final point for consideration is the location of the tale: if Cesair's story did start out on a local level, then as it exists today doesn't really help to pinpoint the location. Carey suggests that the tale has undergone a lot accretion, which muddies the waters somewhat, but it ultimately has its origins in a Leinster legend - "in which Ladru and his two companions stole Berba, with the host of her attendant maidens, from the Otherworld. They returned to Ireland and divided the women into three companies at Commar na Trí nUisce, but were overwhelmed by an avenging flood-wave from the sea. The three groups of women were very possibly linked with the three river which meet at that spot." (48)