Keepers of the Past, Guides to the Future

I’ve lately been very struck by this statement of Arundhati Roy, Indian writer, activist and author of The God of Small Things:

“The day that capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives lowdown on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle everyday to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and rivers protect them.”

 

“The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imaginations—an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but may really be the guides to our future.” (Quoted in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein).

 

I find there is much applicable to pagan polytheism and our reconstructions here. And an understanding of the positive side of traditions that a reconstructionist should hope to cultivate as attitudes/practices/imagination that are an “altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment” and a good way of life that what our mainstream viewpoint of neoliberal capitalism asserts. Whether Celtic—Irish, Welsh, Gaulish, etc.—or Scandinavian, Hellenic, Baltic, etc. reconstruction of our traditions provide tools of imagination and life as we fare into a dangerous future and forging new/old ways of life that are integrated into the great life cycles of our planet, of our biology and ecology and the greater cosmos. They provide us with understandings of reciprocal living in a relational landscape, that we may step out into a sacred intimacy with world.

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Christopher Williams, Ceridwen, 1910. Wikipedia commons.

Chanting Amergin

am gaeth i mmuir

I am a wind on the sea

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am trond trethan

I am a wave of the deep

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am fuaim mara

I am the sound of the sea

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am dér gréne

I am a tear of the sun

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am cain lubai

I am the fairest of herbs

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am bri danae

I am a hill of poetry

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White knees

 

Versions are from A God Who Makes Fire, by Christopher Scott Thompson

 

 

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The fili in a liminal place.

Sacral Kings, Traditions, Defense …

Here are a few thoughts generated by the uproar over Rhyd Wildermuth’s text at Gods and Radicals on Confronting the New Right… While I think that an unnecessary amount of confusion resulted from his lack of providing definitions for the type of Right he is discussing, specifically those who have roots in what is called the Traditionalist school of perennial philosophy, including the thought of René Guénon and Julius Evola in the early 20th century, and even if he painted very widely, there is much merit for us reconstructionist polytheists/pagans to seriously consider his points. And the fact is there is plenty of influence of this school of thought in contemporary polytheism and it is disingenuous to deny it. Just read some of the comments of the people who have crawled out of the woodwork spouting far right nonsense over this article.

 

As Reconstructionists, we, of course, are interested in traditions. The world is deeply wounded and many of us have found much that is healing in traditions that may or not be ancestral. So the slipperiness of language becomes a problem (tradition is like electricity, it can be used positively, negatively or otherwise); it should be clearly noted that “Radical Traditionalism” refers to the Evola/Guenon/de Benoist school and does intersect with fascism and similar far right politics. If some people, want to create universalist neopagan religion that is without roots, well fine. But I ask please be careful not to smear the work of reconstituting traditions, whether they are of nineteenth century fairy faith practices of Ireland, or of archaic Iron Age practices with “Radical Traditionalism”. If one does so, I think they should be aware they are also smearing traditional indigenous people from North American to Hawaii, from Ladakh to Nigeria. Helena Norberg-Hodge, producer and co-director of the film Economics of Happiness and author of the influential book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, is an example of a very different kind of traditionalist. I personally have long been of the mind that ancient traditions and practices are what is needed for human survival as the current unsustainable petroleum civilization breaks down and leaves everyone a ravaged landscape. And the traditions of the Irish, the Scandinavians, the Welsh and many other European cultures all have their place in that. I do have a problem with Rhyd’s damning of ‘tribalism’, but since he capitalized it, he may mean a particular iteration, but that, unfortunately, he didn’t define. The key thing to keep in mind with tribes is that they are not race-related—and that ancient Europeans didn’t even have the concept of race.

 

 

With that said, I think there is much of value to examine from the article. It claims that Reconstructionism is “one of the more significant places where the New Right intersects with Pagan beliefs. Emphasis on returning to ‘reconstructed’ traditions, older (and poorly understood) social forms and hierarchical structures, as well as an emphasis on recovering European heritage are often problematic. Further, nationalistic and racial exclusionist tendencies are often justified as being part of ‘the lore.’ Very strong language, but worth examining…

 

 

From a Celtic perspective, I think one of the most relevant questions here is how do we as reconstructionists of a Gaelic/Celtic emphasis deal with sacral kingship. I haven’t really seen any individuals or groups who really were monarchists and want to revive and live in an actual monarchy but there may be some hoping for such, for all I know. As I know I’ve discussed here and there in the past the Gaelic kingdoms and kings weren’t the monarchs of more recent European and other countries based on the ideology of divine Christian monarch invested by the Church and made by primogeniture (and often were a of a tuath, a tribe of about 2000 people and weren’t even states!), that people usually think of but nevertheless there was the whole very important symbolic concept of the sacred king (I prefer the Irish word rí) who received sovereignty, often as a liquor, from a goddess. And the filidh often played a role in not only inaugurating the king as representative of sovereignty—and even could share the king’s bed, a far cry from most rightist fantasies!

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Some groups create a ceremonial king, others have the role in ritual invested in a chief druid, but there are many possibilities. I wonder if anyone would have a problem with these symbolic kings and their role in ritual? It’s likely kings arose as ritual leaders whose ritual roles eventually carried over into the mundane. There certainly are examples from places that had moved onto other forms of governance that maintained a sacred king for certain rituals, as did the city of Athens in the classical era.

 

I can see that some people would want religions that had no such ‘hierarchical’ roles, even of the symbolic nature, I supposed even not having one chosen for one ritual, and then another for the next. I would hope that they would be tolerant of those who do wish for such ritual reconstructions. And I would also hope that anyone wanting to literally socially recreate an Iron Age based social structure would be laughed out of the community. I know all sorts of crazy does appear in CR-oriented social media these days, but ones that I am familiar with rapidly throw up bars to those who would attempt to fly fascistic flags or assert racist notions of Celtic identity (sadly, not so much or at least not with such quick defense among some devotional polytheist-labeled groups in my experience). I do agree with Rhyd that we need strong immune systems against such intrusions or false claims. Critical thinking absolutely must be a part of reconstructionist approaches and has to be part of our immune-defenses. So this is a valid place, a vulnerable area in reconstructions to beware of people who are actually monarchists with fascist leanings.

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And while I really haven’t seen much that would seem to be the “New Right” per se in a CR setting, an obsession with genetics and attempts at racial (and thereby racist) identities of Celtic identity do show up a lot. Celtic, as has been said so many times, is a linguistic term and the cultures that are based on said languages, and is not a genetic marker. People became Celtic by adopting the culture. Besides that fostering was a key custom, and thereby the continuous establishment of deep familial bonds between genetically unrelated people. Nonetheless, I think the racists who show up are dim enough to not realize that the black person or the Puerto Rican whom they consider an outsider to the traditions might well have more Irish ancestry than they do, those who would bang their chest in false Celtic pride—and have a deeper relationship to the gods.

 

A related area that is very unfortunate and unhistorical relating to all this is there are plenty of people in Gaelic traditionalist groups who believe in a cultural ‘purity’ and believe you can only worship Irish gods or Welsh gods, and the like, usually based on a false belief that cultures are isolated things stored timelessly in hermetically sealed vessels. I think analogous concepts can be found in some other reconstructionist religions, as among some Heathens or even some Hellenes.

 

So these are some points where I think we should set up strong defenses.

 

I’d be very interested in readers’ thought on these issues.

Which Dead?

I’ve been thinking a lot on the Dead of late. Some dead have become ancestors; another sort of the dead are those unloved, those who died far from home and were forgotten, those who suffered great injustices unrectified, the ghosts that the Chinese call hungry ghosts, and that the inhabitants of ancient Rome greatly feared. The inhabitants of that ancient city hunkered down after sundown, often with protective spells and prayers to avert the throngs of restless ghosts their haunted their violent city.

 

I’m hardly the first person to note that there is a miasma of unsatisfied and angry dead over the lands that presently constitute the United States of America. Not that surprising in a country whose government once offered money (bounties) to any who would turn in the severed ears, noses or genitals of its indigenous people. This leads into which dead do we honor or wish to placate? These are choices that we all have to make, and these choices are political, cannot help but be political, as well as spiritual. Some of you are aware I’m sure that some well-known members of current polytheist communities proclaim their complete apoliticalness, while at the same time pronouncing statements that are in support of the status quo. Some would honor Columbus, his genocidal impact notwithstanding, and bracket him in his era, even though his murderous brutality was not something desired by all men of his time and culture. Most importantly, though, is that his operation is still very much in effect in the Americas, not only in the US. Justice has not been done to the descendants of the genocides of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Laws keep people from their sacred lands, from justice on many levels. The Doctrine of Discovery still underlies ‘legal’ justification of land theft. A number of locales have banned Columbus Day celebrations over the years, as more non-Indian people became aware that not only did he not discover America but that as governor of Hispaniola he brutally murdered over seven million Tainos.*

 

Glenn Morris, a member of the Leadership Council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado and professor at the University of Colorado says, “we have to ask the very simple question: why does the holiday even exist? And it exists in part to advance a national ideology of celebrating invasion, conquest and colonialism. And the proponents of the Columbus Day holiday in Colorado and Columbus parades, and so on, make no bones about the fact that they’re celebrating the colonization of the Americas and, in fact, have told us on several occasions, “Look, we’re going to have this celebration. We’re going to have these parades to Columbus. And let’s get one thing straight,” they say to us. “This is not your country anymore. This is our country now. And you’d better get with the program. http://www.democracynow.org/2006/10/6/challenging_columbus_day_denver_organizers_discuss

 

Counter to the argument that Columbus was just a European man of his times, Catholic priest Bartolomé de las Casas (he wrote A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in 1542) who observed the region where Columbus was governor, described Spaniards there as driven by “insatiable greed” — “killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the native peoples” with “the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty” in systematic violence that was aimed at destroying their culture. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing [American] Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades”, wrote Las Casas. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write”.**

 

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Spanish atrocities in Cuba (Wikipedia).

Several states, including Hawaii, Alaska, and South Dakota do not have Columbus Day; Hawaii has a Discover’s Day to celebrate the Polynesian navigators who made the extraordinary ocean voyages of discovery, and South Dakota has Native American Day instead. A number of US cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, starting with Berkeley, California in 1992, now including Santa Cruz, CA, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Seattle, Washington. Various Latin American countries have moved away from this celebration including Venezuela which celebrates an Indigenous Day, and in Argentina, Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural.

 

 

For those interested in the truth of Columbus I recommend Kirkpatrick Sale’s The Conquest of Paradise, and Columbus and Other Cannibals by Native American scholar Jack Forbes.

 

I think it’s very important for polytheists living in countries that have benefited from colonial conquest and exploitation to be very careful about which historical ancestors they choose to honor. There is a vast train of Dead who came from the wake of Columbus’ devastation. They are worthy of honor. I also think it highly important that those of us living in countries like the United States, who want to practice contemporary polytheism as a part of our world today, need to exercise these kind of discernments.

 

 

 

* Ward Churchill. On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.

**Solomon, Norman (October 1995). “Columbus Day: A Clash of Myth and History

Satire, Divisions, the Hound of Ulster

I’m saddened to see all the divisiveness that seems to be spilling over in our communities. Polytheism really doesn’t need the increasing fractiousness that’s taking on almost farcical proportions this year. We all will never agree on everything, but do people really want to tear apart our interconnected communities as they have been growing for the first time in many centuries? A few nights ago I was dreaming of ways to make going to Many Gods West in Olympia possible this year; I had written it off as completely financially unfeasible, but there I was online looking at airfares to Seattle. Dionysos Chthonios! Then I learned about the fiasco that had occurred and the cancellation. If you haven’t heard Dver gives a very good background to it all here:{edited: she’s removed her post}.

 

While I don’t think one could possibly do polytheist practice or any kind of religion without a political context (with the possible exception of if you are doing a private solitary rite and it’s only between you and a god(s) and you never share anything about it with another human), the fact that people are being labeled and excluded is very disappointing. I have long enjoyed Sannion’s satires (to say nothing of his enormous contributions), even if not necessarily agreeing with him. Again we have an example of how American society has less and less ability to comprehend satire as well as inability to avoid polarizing thought. Since satire is a sacred art in my Irish tradition, this is even more greatly a cause for concern to me.

 

On to more positive things: Today is a day when I celebrate Cú Chullain and I wrote this little poem as devotion this morning.

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Cú Chullain Has Taken Up Arms!

Bearing 3 heads, hauling a

stag in the back of your chariot,

after a day of monster slaying,

trailed by a cloud of swans that

light the sky around you

signaling the virulent turmoil of your ‘fury’,

your ríastarad, your warp spasm,

as you returned successful to Emain Macha—

who’d ever seen or will see such a

taking up of arms, O hero of Ulster!

 

 

 

And it is also the Liberalia, a day I find good to remember Ovid (who has also fallen afoul of political divisiveness in at least one elite US university).

From last year: https://finnchuillsmast.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/liberalia/

Catching Wisdom: Nuadhu, Nechtan, Nodens

I’ve decided to share an essay I wrote for Air N-Aithesc (Lughnasadh/Samhain 2015) issue here. This exploration was generated out of my filidecht work which has brought me to this awesome god(s).

Catching Wisdom: Nuadhu, Nechtan, Nodens

The god who is willing to play a high price for justice, for the protection of his tribe, is found in many Indo-European religions. In the Irish pantheon we find Nuadhu, often known as Nuadhu Airgetlam (Silver Hand or Arm). The lore tells us that it was under the leadership of Nuadhu that the gods came to Ireland from the four cities of magic and learning in the north, where they had previously resided. In his most famous myth, He loses his arm in the First Battle of Maige Tuired. He who has held the kingship among the gods, steps down, as the king must be unblemished and whole—steps down of His own accord. The physician gods Dian Cecht and his son Miach come to strife over the replacement: flesh restored by spells (Miach) or a beautiful silver prosthesis (Dian Cecht). With the perfectly usable silver one Nuadhu was enabled to receive the kingship again. The context is the First Battle of Maige Tuired: this divine war puts him into the heart of the Indo-European myth of the battle of the gods, which was probably part of his cultus (Ó hÓgain, Myth 326). There are parallels with the Norse Tyr who lost an arm to the Fenris wolf here (Puhvel 199). Nuadhu’s arm was severed in combat with Sreang, a Fir Bolg warrior; His comrades had intervened and brought him off the battlefield but the next day He was back on it. He entreated Sreang to tie up his right arm so they could resume combat fairly, but the Fir Bolg warrior refused. The Tuatha De Danann stepped in in what They thought would be Nuadhu’s destruction, offering the province of Connacht to the Fir Bolg, which they rejected (Ó hÓgain, Myth 326). Justice, doing the right thing, is a key aspect of Nuadhu but there is much more to Him, and associations with healing and the poetry and the fire in water complex will be explored here.

 

Nuadhu also has important water associations. One of the poetic kennings for the Boyne river is “the forearm of the wife of Nuadhu” (Ó hÓgain, Sacred Isle 136). He appears to be the same as Nechtan who is named as the husband of Boann (and I will precede here from that perspective). This river association is particularly interesting, as the Boyne River was considered the primal river, a source of sacred wisdom. The first reference to it is from Claudius Ptolemaus in the early 2nd century CE who labeled it Buvinda. The Celticist Dr. Dáithí Ó hÓgain says the early Irish form would have been *Bou-vinda, meaning ‘the white lady with bovine attributes’” (Myth 110). She dwelt at the source of the river, a well surrounded by nine hazel trees, whose nuts contained imbas, and when these fell into the water they were consumed by the salmon who in turn held the wisdom in their flesh.

 

In a well known tale1 Boann disobeys Nechtan’s command that only He and his cupbearers can approach the well; if anyone else did, then their eyes would supposedly burst (Puhvel 279). But Boann disregards this and Her transgression ushers a flood as waters gush forth and create the river, which bears Her name. As She fled from the three gushes She was injured, losing a hand, an eye, and a foot as She ran all the way to the sea. While this could be given a misogynistic interpretation, it actually conceals mystery (Carey 170). There is an allusion to the Irish magical practice of closing one eye, standing on one foot, and holding up one hand, hinting at Her agency and intentions in this ‘transgression’. It also references a much wider Indo-European association of wisdom being associated not only with wells/pools, but with eyes. As Carey mentions, the word for eye and spring can be the same in Celtic languages, citing the hot springs of Bath, which were called the Waters of the Eye, that is of the goddess Sulis Minerva (171).

 

Ó hÓgain asserts that Boann would have originally been the sacred cow who gives the milk to an archetypal seer-poet named Find, whom Ó hÓgain states is “an early personification of wisdom, many vestiges of whom are found in the early literature” (Myth 208), whose reflex would be Finn the Poet whom the hero Fionn MacCumhaill goes to learn poetcraft from in the Fenian tradition (Nagy 179). This implicitly associates the river with sacred milk. Indian tradition also names rivers as being the milk that flows from mystical cows (Ó hÓgain, Myth 49). Nuadhu is named as an ancestor of both Fionn MacCumhaill and of Finn or Find the Poet. In Find’s lore, He is also called Nuadha Find-Eces, that is Nuadha the Far-Seer Find who was associated with a wise salmon; Ó hÓgain states that Nuadha’s cultus may well have absorbed the lore of this earlier wisdom figure of the Boyne river valley (Myth 210).

 

All of this has led me to explore His role in filidecht. And right into the problem/situation of Nechtan. Necht may have been an ancient word for water (Ó hÓgain, Myth 326) and comes from a root for washing, with additional meanings of clear, pure, white (eDIL). Alternatively, it may derive from the other meaning of necht, that is nephew, which will be considered later. ÓhÓgain states that Nechtan was a “pseudonym” for Nuadhu who was also known as Nuadha Necht. As we’ve seen, His well was said to be at the source of the Boyne, which we have already seen was considered the ‘archetypal’ river. The salmon that Fionn MacCumhall caught and which illuminated him, was originally ‘intended’ for a seer known as Finneigeas and also as Nuadhu Finnegeas, further associating him with the seer-poet tradition. Fionn is as much a seer-poet as an outlaw warrior; he cooked the salmon of wisdom for his teacher Finnaigeas, who’d already fished seven years for this fish and who asked his new guest/pupil (gilla) to do the cooking. Doing so, Fionn burnt his thumb, and put it into his mouth to suck on and was flooded with imbas (Nagy). The image echoes the Norse Sigurd, the dragon-slayer who while cooking the heart of the dragon burnt his thumb and realized through the resultant illumination that his companion sought to kill him. Ó hÓgain believes that Norse and Irish stories influenced each other in a complicated way during the 10th century (216). There are the well-known parallels with the Welsh Gwion Bach attending Cerridwen’s cauldron and licking the spatters that landed on his skin, and the ensuing chase, transformations, and rebirth as poet/prophet Taliesin (Ford 20).

 

 

Nuadha has a parallel and cognate in Britonnic lore, Nodons or Nodens, a god who had a temple at Lydney in what is now the county of Gloucestershire on the bank of the river Severn near the English/Welsh border. The Roman era temple is located on a bluff over the river, which is famous for its tidal bore, a huge incoming tidal wave that surges far upriver. The temple is believed to have been a site of incubation2 for pilgrims seeking healing, and who would stay overnight hoping for a visionary dream. This god was associated with dogs, evoking the hunt. In the interpretatio Romano, He was synchronized with Mars who besides having war attributes was a god of agriculture and had associations with water (Jones). At Chesterholm in north Britain, an inscription synchronizes Nodens with Neptune. He was syncretized at Lancaster with Mars where two such inscriptions of Mars Nodens have been found (Green, Dictionary 162). Dogs, while symbolizing hunting, also symbolized healing; belief in the healing powers of dogs are widespread (and reappearing in current western medicine). Besides war and water, Mars also was associated with healing, so the dogs could represent both strands. Nine striking canine images were excavated from the temple (Green 162).

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Nodens also has a syncretism at Lydney with Silvanus, a forest and hunting deity (Green, Gods 148). Silvanus was a Roman god of the forest and wild places, boundaries, and with some agricultural attributes, as one of His attributes is the falx, a sickle. Important in terms of Lydney is his association with sight hounds. This fairly elaborate and large temple with its guest house for the pilgrims. The temple has depictions with marine imagery: there is a mosaic in the cella of a marine scene, a bronze relief of a sea god, and a diadem was found that shows a god driving a quadriga (chariot) adorned with tritons and anchors, in other words a Neptune like figure, though Green rather surprisingly states Him to be a solar god (Green, Gods 148).

 

This is a good place to think about synchronization: while this is often thought to be an actual equation of two deities, as is so prevalent in western occultism and Neopaganism, it can just as well be thought that analogical comparisons are being made, that is similes: Nodens is like Neptune, or like Silvanus in some way3. Carefully considering these comparisons made in the Romano-Brittonic practices can shed light on qualities of deities so synchronized (and indirectly of Nuadhu). Neptune might seem an odd one at first, but His earliest role was an association with springs before becoming merged with the Greek Poseidon and thought of as oceanic (even Poseidon appears to have had archaic associations of the chthonic). A lot of coins were found at Lydney; one of them suggestively has a figure catching a salmon (Ó hÓgain, Sacred Isle 136). A reconstructed IE proto-myth as elaborated by Jean Puhvel finds another connection between Nechtan/Nodens and Neptune. The other possible root of the name is the other meaning of ‘necht’, which means nephew, which would prove a philological linkage with the Indo-Iranian deity Apam Napat found in Vedic and Avestan sources and whose name would then share a root with Nechtan and is the ‘Nept’ in Neptunus, as well, argues Puhvel (279). Even Rome had a historicized version of a fire in the waters myth; in its case, the Alban Lake was said to have overflowed its volcanic crater during the war with the neighboring Etruscan city of Veii (Puhvel 279).

 

 

Proinsias MacCana notes the etymological equivalence of Nudd, who would be the same as Nodens and of Nuadhu (69). However, because the god who was worshiped at Lydney and whose temple dates to the 3th century and was renovated in the next (Green, Gods 147), was part of a heavily synchronized cult, he states “that some of these would suggest that the god had strong aquatic associations, and yet these are not noticeably reflected in the legends of Nuadhu and his Welsh congeners” (MacCana 69). However, if we accept Nechtan as Nuadhu, this really isn’t true. The Welsh tradition comes down more blurred, but a parallel is that both Nudd and Nuadhu were portrayed as governing realms threatened by chaotic forces, with Llud’s kingdom threatened by the invasion of the magical people known as the Coraniad in the tale “Lludd and Llefelys”, included in the Mabinogi (MacCana 69). Nuadha/Nechtan/Nodens could have strong ‘functions’ in the primal struggle of chaos/cosmos reflected in the domains of war, medicine, and art.

 

Returning to the Boyne River, which was the body of its eponymous goddess Boann after Her ‘transgression’, or as Christopher Scott Thompson (with whom I agree) sees it, Her tactic to unleash the poetic waters and their wisdom for the world, it is relevant to consider that another of Her names is Segais, according to the Metrical Dinndchensas (93). In the Cauldron of Poesy text4 which provides an arcane guide to the turning of the three cauldrons that are said to be within the human constitution, and provides a guidebook to the practice of the filidh, the Boyne becomes seen as the ‘ur’ river, the original sacred river, which has many manifestations from the Tigris to the Tiber and interestingly enough, the Severn is mentioned as one of them (93) in light of the location of the temple at Lydney). According to the Cauldron text (Thompson’s translation, which incorporates the glosses; see Henry, and Breatnach for original and scholarly translations), the “joy at the coming of poetic ecstasy from the nine hazels of the Well of Wisdom in the otherworld, landing on the Boyne river as thick as a ram’s fleece and flowing against the current faster than a racing horse at the midsummer fair once every seven years. When the beams of the sun strike the plants along the Boyne, it is then that the Imbas bubbles up on them. Whomever eats them then will acquire an art” (Thompson 14). Pushing up river we must go, and like returning salmon to the headwaters, the source, the Well of Segais where Nechtan dwells with his cupbearers. His wife has disappeared into the waters, but there He can be found by the waters of life that bubble with chaos and potentiality. Such is my aisling. As the dweller at the Well of Segais, more of a pool it seems to me, I think Nechtan would Himself be intimately linked with the flow of imbas, with the Cauldron of Wisdom, which is linked with the Well of Segais in the Cauldron of Poesy text, whose nuts are stated as a source of one of the joys that this cauldron affords (Henry 125, Breatnach 67).

 

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Weir on Boyne (by JP–Wiki).

Again flowing out, the rush of the imbas like a stream of milk, like waters bursting a dam, like a tidal bore; the river itself, a river that has held attraction since the earliest times, the river that ran beneath the monuments of the Neolithic Irish, which the Gaels were to repopulate with their own deities as dwellers therein, and whose seer-poets (re)mythologized the rich river valley. Ó hÓgain suggests that the previously mentioned wisdom figure Find, derived from a Celtic Vindos, was thought to dwell there with a sacred cow, the source of inspiration, Bouvindos, and was seen as a bright-haired youth, hence his name, who emerged from the waters (Ó hÓgain, Myth 209). Fionn MacCumhaill in this view was to later absorb this tradition and Find would be echoed in medieval lore in other figures such as Find File, Morann, and Fionntan, the famous seer and lore keeper who had lived through many ages as an eagle, a hawk and a salmon as well as in human form and said to have come to Ireland with Cessair (Myth 224-5). Ó hÓgain writes that His name most likely comes from a “Celtic compound Vindo-senos, which would mean ‘old Find’…that Fionntan was a variant in ancient lore of the great mythical Find” (Myth 224). He suggests that around the 2nd century BCE this cult was influenced by the adoption of the cultus of Nuadhu, who was said to have a sacred salmon in the river (Myth 209). All in all, a vast tangled net of stories and lore but through which swim the central figures of wisdom, which manifests in metrical speech in illuminated states.

 

The etymology of Nuadhu/Nodens remains unsettled with conflicting views. They include ‘cloudmaker’ or ‘wealthy one’ (Green, Dictionary 163). Another is that it comes from an Indo-European root meaning ‘catcher’. Even J.R.R. Tolkien weighed in on this, interested as he was with Lydney Park and consulted by its excavator Sir Mortimer Wheeler (Kennedy). Ó hÓgain found the most likely meaning being catcher, acquirer or fisher, eventually going back to an Indo-European root of *neu-d, meaning to grasp (Pokorny 768), *neud, to make use of, enjoy (Watkins 60). This seems a fitting name for the catcher of fish, the catcher of the salmon, and brings us back in a skein of associations of catching wisdom and those associated with the poet wisdom tradition of filidecht. The catcher is one who is on the chase, and similarly the fisher. So I have found Nuadhu/Nechtan important in my personal practice of filidecht, from knowledge seeking, to healing and to drinking from the waters from which imbas flows. As the catcher and hunter He is one who searches, who looks, who catches. I look for him in the shining knowledge—and at the place of dangerous watery wisdom at the heart of the world where we can find both healing and wisdom. In my own aisling many of these deities work together, as one launches on this river. The gods give us multiple paths to take; often the destinations are surprising and the linkages even more so, and therein lies much change. In my personal work, I approach Nuadhu and Nechtan at different locations, but whether considered as separate or as the same, He warrants the attention and reverence of those of us fishing for imbas.

 

Notes

 

  1. The stories of Boann and the well of Segais can be found in various versions in the Dindshenchas, the place name lore, for example in The Bodleian Dinnsenchas 36, translated by Whitley Stokes, 1892; and The Metrical Dindsenchas 3.26-28 edited and translated by Edward Gwynn, 1913.

 

  1. Incubation, the withdrawing to a dark chamber for the purposes of a healing dream, had a widespread use in the Greco-Roman world. In the Gaelic world, it was a technique used by the poets, the filidh, for vision and composition.

 

  1. According to O’Cathasaighe, the switch to Lludd from Nudd is “owing to assimilation of the initial to that of the epithet Llaw Eraint ‘of the Silver Hand’” (48).

 

 

  1. The Caldron of Poesy is the name usually given to a text found in a 15th century manuscript (Breatnach 46), the oldest layer of which probably dates back to a 7th century original composition (Henry 117).

 

 

 

Works Cited

Breatnach, Liam. “The Caldron of Poesy”. Eriu 32. 1981. Print.

Carey, John. “The Waters of Vision and the Gods of Skill”. Art and the Sacred Kairos

       and the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture. 23 March, 1991. Santa Fe.

Print.

Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL). Arts and Humanities Research

Council. Royal Irish Academy. Queen’s University, Belfast. 2007-13. Web.

Ford, Patrick K. ed. and trans. The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. Berkeley:

U of California P, 1977. Print.

Green, Miranda. The Gods of the Celts. 1986. Print.

—. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992. Print.

Henry, P. L. “The Caldron of Poesy”. Studia Celtica 14/15. 1979/80. Print.

Jones, Mary. “Nodens”. Jones Celtic Encyclopedia. 1998-2015. Web.

Kennedy, Maeve. “The Hobbit Ring That May Have Inspired Tolkien Put On Show”.

The Guardian.com/books. 2 April, 2013. Web.

Lupus, P. Sufenas Virius. A Serpent Path Primer. Anacortes, WA: Red Lotus Library,

  1. Print.

MacCana, Proinsias. Celtic Mythology. London: Hamylyn, 1970. Print.

Nagy, Joseph Falaky. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic

     Narrative Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California Press, 1985. Print.

O’ Cathasaigh, Tomas. Coire Sois: The Cauldron of Knowledge. Notre Dame, IN: U of

Notre Dame Press, 2014. Print.

Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of Irish Folk

     Tradition. London: Ryan, 1990. Print.

—. The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland.

Woodbridge/Cork: Boydell Press/Collins Press, 1999. Print.

Pokorny, Julius. Indo-European Lexicon: Pokorny Master PIE Etyma. Linguistic

Research Center. University of Texas. 13 May, 2013. Web.

Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1987. Print.

Thompson, Christopher Scott. A God Who Makes Fire: The Bardic Mysticisms of

       Amergin. 2013. Lulu.com. Print.

Watkins, Calvert. The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Third

Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. Print.

 

A Book of Celtic Polytheist Prayers

Something that has long been needed in Celtic Reconstrusitionist communities and households are prayers that are easily accessible. Ceisiwr Serith’s A Book of Pagan Prayer was a good pioneering effort, with templates easily adaptable to our needs but many have long-awaited a book of prayers specifically for Celtic Polytheists.

 

An Leabhar Urnaí: A Book of Celtic Reconstructionist Friendly Prayers,  edited by Maya St. Clair and published by Air n-Aithesc remedies that. The book includes prayers in Old Irish and reconstructed Gaulish, as well as prayers in English for Welsh, Irish, and Gaulish deities. There’s a very interesting Gaulish “Geneology of the Gods” by Segomaros Widugeni, prayers for specific occasions, praise poems, and other devotional prayers and invocations. I do have some contributions therein.

Deities include, Sirona, Cernunnos, Rosmerta, Epona, Taranis, Grannus, Lugus, Nuada/Nuadhu, Macha, Nemain, the Morrigan, the Dagda, Lugh, the Brigid’s, Manannan Mac Lir, Rhiannon, Arianrhod, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, Blodeuwedd, Branwen, Ceridwen, and more.

 

Copies, both print and digital, can be purchased at

http://ciannai2.wix.com/air-n-aithesc#!blank/q7plh

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