Saturday, 9 June 2012


Seeing as I got a few encouraging comments on the notes I did the other week I thought I could make it into an occasional "I'm-bored-and-I-have-nothing-better-to-do" feature. The kids are away for the weekend and I find myself in just such a position (though I'm not bored; I'm procrastinating), so how about we do this? I'm sure I'll come up with a pithy and imaginative title for such posts at some point...

I've created a new page at the top to make a list of all the articles I've written up so far, imaginatively titled "Notes." I'll also tag everything under that label. At the moment the list is in the order I've done them, but at some point as the it starts to get a little unwieldy I might organise them by subject instead. If you know of any articles that you think might be worth looking up, feel free to give me a prod, I'd really appreciate it!

Anyway, onto today's article.

Bendacht dee agus andee fort, a ingen (Táin Bó Cúalgne 2111, O' Rahilly)
David Rankin
Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie Volume 51 (1999)

This is an article that proved useful when I was doing writing up some thoughts on the dé ocus an-dé or 'gods and un-gods' a while ago. The Irish in the title of the article translates as "A blessing of the gods and ungods on you, o woman!" and it comes from an episode in the Táin between Cú Chulainn and the Morrígan, where Cú Chulainn unwittingly heals the Morrígan with these very words.

Rankin argues that the formula and the context it's given in is significant, suggesting that it may be from an actual healing rite that may be of pre-Christian origin (although it doesn't come to us unchanged - 'Bendacht' is an Irish word that's been borrowed into the language from Latin, so it's clearly a Christian word). As far as that goes the idea is interesting - there are some actions and symbolism that are pointed out, like the cow have three teats, milk being involved, the formulaic blessings and responses given between the wounded and the healer...Rankin concludes: "We may have an archaic ritual in which one party contributes formulae and the other performative (and possibly verbal) responses. Also relevant is the profound ritual power of milk in ancient Irish culture. Milk as it flows may restore eloquence, and a trench filled with milk was said to have restored slain warriors." (118) It's not something that can be proved conclusively one way or another, but as these things go it certainly offers something to chew on. Maybe it's not a description of an archaic ritual as such but the symbolism and actions do seem to draw on plenty of cosmological ideas.

The main meat of the article discusses the meaning of the phrase itself, and in particular explores who the an-dee (an-dé, or in modern Irish, an-déithe) might actually be. Rankin points to other sources that mention the dé ocus an-dé, like Lebor Gabála Érenn, and casts a wider net and looks at possible avenues of comparative evidence too - the deva and adeva of the Rig Veda, and so on  (I've tried to cover the main points in my discussion over on the 'Gods and Spirits' article so there's no point going into it here again).

Rankin also makes a note of the fairly neutral wording of the statement - no specific gods or ungods are mentioned - and he argues that this itself is deliberate. On the one hand, the statement is far more all encompassing and so allows an appeal to as many different kinds of supernatural beings as possible. On the other hand, it might reduce the risk of causing any offence to those who would otherwise get left out with more specific phrasing. Then again, there are formulas like tongu do dia tonges mo thúaith ("I swear by the gods my people swear by") that seem to deliberately avoid naming any names for other reasons. Words and names have power, and so perhaps the names of one's gods (or certain kinds of gods) were kept secret - to a certain extent at least. In theory, if your enemies know the names of your gods, they might appeal to them and get them on their side instead of yours. That idea in itself is fodder for a whole other article; after all, plenty of Irish deities seem to be referred to by epithets than actual names - the Dagda, the Morrígan, the Badb...

There's not a lot that can be said for certain here, but there's definitely a lot of food for thought as far as considering how it all might apply in a Gaelic Polytheist context. It's definitely an article worth reading.

The Paisley Curse, or, "We don't believe in this stuff, honest!"

My husband brought this one to my attention because he remembers the story being told in hushed tones when he was a lad; he grew up not far from Paisley in the 70s, so it was something that was still fresh in people's minds.

Anyway, the story goes that - back in the good old days of 1696 - a girl from a wealthy family in Paisley began to complain that she was being plagued and tormented by all kinds of supernatural and frightening things. Eventually the finger was pointed at several people; in the end, around 30 people were involved once things got a bit hysterical and accusations began to fly and it was quite a big story in its day...

Some might say the poor girl really was the victim of witchcraft or supernatural goings on. Others tend to be of the opinion that the story was an excuse to deal with a wee problem of industrial espionage going on. Whatever the case, the upshot of it was that four women and three men ended up sentenced to death - to be garroted, burned, and then interred in a mass grave.

This is where the curse bit comes in to the story, for it is said that one of the women didn't go quietly. Instead, she screamed out a curse on all of the people who were present, their descendants included. Being cautious types, the townsfolk decided to bury the ashes of the convicted 'witches' together, as planned, but sealed with a horseshoe to stop the curse from getting out of the grave. All was fine and dandy in the town of Paisley until the 1960s, when the roads were dug up to remove the tram lines. During the work, the grave was disturbed and the horseshoe was removed. And so, according to the article over on the Beeb:
"Of course in the 1960s, during road works, the horseshoe was lifted," explained Liz Gardiner from Renfrewshire Witch Hunt 1697.

"Now, we know it was coincidence, but from that point on Paisley's fortunes did decline. Last month it was declared the town with the highest number of empty shops of any high street of any town in the UK.

"We know it's a myth. But it's a powerful myth."

The horseshoe was restored four years ago, but since then it's apparently come loose and has now had to be fixed again - hence the article, hailing a new era of prosperity for the town. It may just be a myth (albeit a powerful myth), but...It can't hurt trying, right?