Watery gateways to the Otherworld

See my other post: Boand – Water Goddess of the Boyne

In the ‘Metrical Dindshenchas’ entries about Boand, the eponymous goddess/fairy woman of the River Boyne, there is explicit mention of a belief that all rivers run to the Otherworld which is also the world of Creation:

“…Sid Nechtain is the name that is on the mountain here, the grave of the full-keen son of Labraid, from which flows the stainless river whose name is Boand ever-full.

Fifteen names, certainty of disputes, given to this stream we enumerate, from Sid Nechtain away till it reaches the paradise of Adam…

….from paradise back again hither

to the streams of this Sid.”

The ancient Greeks believed exactly the same – all rivers ran into the ‘world river’ Okeanos (the great sea) which bordered the realm of Cronus-Atlantis (Ogygia)  and the Elysium. The Dindshenchas entry actually claims that the River circulates from the Otherworld, back to Sid Nechtain where it arises within the Sid as the magical spring or stream of Segais, before emerging back into the mundane world at the ‘pool of Mochua the cleric’.

This is an important piece of mysticism that explains much about the reincarnation beliefs of the Atlantic peoples, as promoted by Caesar’s Druids.

Boand is famous in the Irish Mythological Cycle as being the mother of Aengus Og, after an illicit coupling with the Stallion-Man-God known as the Daghda. The similarities between her Dindshenchas stories and those of Sinand are marked by allusions to the mystical origins and recirculation of rivers between this world and the next, and back again. Key to this are the mystical Otherworld/underworld wells from which the Boyne and the Shannon arise: described as ‘Connla’s Well’ (Sinand/Shannon) and Segais (Boann/Boyne) – both interchangeable motifs linked to fairy women at sacred hills (the usual site where springs arise). The Irish, ‘Arthurian’ British, Gallician, Germanic and Breton mythologies plus that of Gallia Aquitania and the Pays D’Oc, are full of the motifs of magical men and women riding horses, associated with spring pools, forests, hills and rivers and the Otherworld. They are connected by an important common thread of themes which defies the explanations of Roman and Greek religion and Roman and Greek understandings of Gaulish, German and British religion in the Iron Age.

All text © 2014 The Atlantic Religion, except where stated.

‘The Elucidation’

The following is appended as a (?13thC) prologue to a copy Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval, le Conte du Graal in the French medieval manuscript known as  Mons 331/206 (olim 4568). Taken from Mary Jones’ fantastic website – translated by Sebastian Evans:

…. Now listen to me, all ye my friends, and ye shall hear me set forth the story that shall be right sweet to hearken unto, for therein shall be the seven Wardens that hold governance throughout the whole world, and all the good stories that any hath told according as the writing shall set forthwith;  what manner folk the seven Wardens should be, and how they took unto them chief, and whom they took, for never aforetime have ye heard tell the story truly set forth, and how great nose there was and great outcry, and how for what cause was destroyed the rich country of Logres (AP: the Brythonic lands) whereof was much talk in days of yore.

The kingdom turned to loss, the land was dead and desert in suchwise as that it was scarce worth a couple of hazelnuts.  For they lost the voices of the wells and the damsels that were therein.  For no less thing was the service they rendered than this, that scarce any wandered by the way, whether it were at eventide or morning, but that as for drink and victual he would go so far out of his way as to find one of the wells, and then nought could he ask for of fair victual such as pleased him but in content he should have it all so long as her hand asked in reason.  For straightaway, I wise, forth of the well issued a damsel – none fairer need he ask – bearing in her hand a cup of gold with baked meats, pastries, and bread, while another damsel bore a white napkin and a dish of gold or silver wherein was the mess which he had come for the mess had asked for.  Right for welcome found he at the well, and if so it were that his mess did not please him, diverse other ways they brought him all with one accord served fair and joyously all wayfarers by the roads that come to the wells for victual…

The narrator of the introduction or ‘elucidation’ then comments upon the loss of the pagan religion from Logres (Britain) and the goes on to lament how the ‘women of the wells’ were deposed. It is a fitting introduction to the archetypal Grail romance, and seemingly evokes the spirit of the Seven Streams of Poetry said in Irish mythology to issue from the Otherworld wells (of Connla and Segais, for example). Here the term used is the ‘Seven Wardens’, the mysteries of which are supposed to be revealed within the narrative of ‘Percival’, with its tales of the Fisher King (Manannan), magical cups, and maidens who occupy magical pools of water…

All text © 2014 The Atlantic Religion, except where stated.

Bridget, Croghan Hill and the Bog of Allen

The Bog of Allen (Móin Alúine) with Croghan Hill ('Cruachan Bri Eile') in the background

The Bog of Allen (Móin Alúine) with Croghan Hill (‘Cruachan Bri Eile’) in the background

“Then holy Patrick came to the well called Clébach, on the slopes of Cruachu to the east, before sunrise, and they sat beside the well,  and, behold, the two daughters of king Loíguire (Ed: Mac Néill), fair-haired Ethne and red-haired Fedelm, came to the well, as women are wont to do, in the morning to wash, and they found the holy assembly of bishops with Patrick beside the well. And they did not know whence they were or of what shape or from what people or from what region, but thought they were sidhe men or earth-gods or a phantom; and the maidens said to them: ‘Whence are you and whence have you come?’ and Patrick said to them: ‘It would be better for you to profess our true God than to ask questions about our race.’  The first maiden said: ‘Who is God and where is God and whose God is he and where is his dwelling-place? Has your God sons and daughters, gold and silver? Is he ever-living, is he beautiful, have many fostered his son, are his daughters dear and beautiful in the eyes of the men of the earth? Is he in the sky or in the earth or in the water, in rivers, in mountains, in valleys?’….”

The quote comes from the Book of Armagh and was originally written in the 7th/8thC by the Bishop Tírechán as part of his collected apocrypha about Patrick, collected from across Ireland in his time and before. The Hill of ‘Cruachu’ mentioned here (usually interpreted as being at Rathcrogan in Connaught) might actually have been the magnificent and significant hill of Cruachan Bri Eile/Ele (‘Hill/Rock of Bri Eile’) or Croghan Hill in Offaly in Leinster, which had distinct fairy associations:

Patrick's Well on Croghan Hill - The original Clebach?

Patrick’s Well on Croghan Hill – The original Clebach?

The hill of Bri Eile is referred to explicitly in the fairy-narratives of The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn from the manuscript Laud 610 (folio: 118Rb-121Va), believed to date from the 12thC: In this, after learning poetry through the mystical medium of the Salmon of Knowledge with the druid Finnecas (who lived on the Boyne, Fionn travels to defeat the notorious fairy woman of Cruachan Bri Eile…

“…. Finn went to Cethern, the son of Fintan, further to learn poetry with him. At that time there was a very beautiful maiden in Bri Ele, that is to say, in the fairy knoll of Bri Ele, and the name of that maiden was Ele. The men of Ireland were at feud about that maiden. One man after another went to woo her. Every year on Samain the wooing used to take place; for the fairy-mounds of Ireland were always open about Samain; for on Samain nothing could ever be hidden in the fairy-mounds. To each man that went to woo her this used to happen: one of his people was slain….” (Boyhood deeds of Fion mac Cumhaill – trans. Cross and Slover 1936)

'Old Croghan Man' - A self-sacrificial bog body from near Croghan Hill. 'The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn' state that the fairy woman of Cruachan Bri Eile took the life of a man from the parties that went to her at Samhain... Either she or the Bord na Móna were certainly fierce to him!

‘Old Croghan Man’ – A possibly self-sacrificial bog body from near Croghan Hill. ‘The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn’ state that the fairy woman of Cruachan Bri Eile took the life of a man from the parties that went to her at Samhain… Either she or the Bord na Móna certainly appear to have been fierce to him!

The association of this ancient bog-island with the mystical (and aquatic) is supported in some of the medieval Dindshenchas onomastic texts. Certain of these associate Cruachan Bri Eile with the source of the River Shannon, said to arise in a magical pool there (‘Rennes’ Prose Dindshenchas trans. Whitley Stokes):

59. SINANN.

Sinend daughter of Lodan Lucharglan son of Ler, out of Tír Tairngire (“Land of Promise, Fairyland”) went to Connla’s Well which is under the sea, to behold it. That is a well at which are the hazels and inspirations (?) of wisdom, that is, the hazels of the science of poetry, and in the same hour their fruit, and their blossom and their foliage break forth, and these fall on the well in the same shower, which raises on the water a royal surge of purple. Then the salmon chew the fruit, and the juice of the nuts is apparent on their purple bellies. And seven streams of wisdom spring forth and turn there again.

Now Sinend went to seek the inspiration, for she wanted nothing save only wisdom. She went with the stream till she reached Linn Mná Feile “the Pool of the Modest Woman”, that is, Brí Ele — and she went ahead on her journey, but the well left its place, and she followed it to the banks of the river Tarr-cáin “Fair-back”. After this it overwhelmed her, so that her back (tarr) went upwards, and when she had come to the land on this side (of the Shannon) she tasted death. Whence Sinann and Linn Mná Féile and Tarr-cain.

The implication of this is a connection between the Otherworld and the hill of Bri Eile through water. Connla’s Well is the same donor of Hazlenuts to the same Salmon of Wisdom eaten by Fionn mac Cumhaill in the Boyhood Deeds of Fionn mentioned above. The lore of the Dindsenchas is that she fell and died after emerging from the Otherworld, becoming the River Shannon. In the ‘Metrical Dindshenchas’ (Book of Leinster) Sinand is also described as a ‘daughter of Mongan’ (who might be interpreted as an incarnation of Manannan in the texts appended to ‘The Voyage of Bran’) and donates a magical stone to Fionn. In another eponymous verse, the poet recounts of Sinand that:

Lind Mna Feile, (I speak truly),
is the name of the pool where she was drowned:
this is its proper title inherited from her
if that be the true tale to tell.

This suggests that, in conjunction with the other legends, Sinand and Eile and even Bridget might be one and the same, and we might also interpret ‘Feile’ to be a literary fixation of the indigenous local tribal name ‘Failghe‘. Add local traditions about Aine into the mix and things certainly get more interesting! Are these all the same?

In the Ulster Cycle tales, ‘Eile’ was the ‘other’ daughter of legendary High King Eochaid Feidlech, whose more famous offspring was the fairy Queen Medb of Connaught, who features prominently in the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Medb was associated with another Cruachan – Rathcroghan in Roscommon – which has similar pagan connotations. Both Cruachans were the site of significant pre-Christian cemeteries, making their connection with the Otherworld strong.

Come to think of it, ‘Eile’ and ‘Allen’ seem to derive from a similar root too: In the middle-Irish tale Acallam na Senórach (‘The Colloquy of the Ancients‘), Aillen or Áillen mac Midhna of Sídh Finnachaidh (also the sídh of Lir) is the fairy whose fiery breath burns Tara each year until defeated by Fionn, confirming the link to the Cruachan Bri Eile and the name ‘Allen’. The ‘Hill of Allen’ in Kildare is also associated with Fionn, who was supposed to live there. The Slieve Bloom mountains are the other Fenian location of note – all lying on the periphery of this great midland bog or Eirenn…

Examining the etymology of ‘Eile’ and ‘Allen’ and considering the association with beautiful fairy women and St Bridget, it is fairly obvious that the derivation in álainn – ‘beautiful’. This makes ‘Cruachan Bri Eile’ mean ‘Rock of the Beautiful Brighde’.

Another place in the locality with goddess/fairy legends is ‘Cluain Aine’ (actual location uncertain), said by John O’Donovan in his edition of the ‘Four Masters’ to be near Croghan Hill. He translates ‘Cluain’ as ‘lawn, meadow or bog island’. Aine (‘Awnya’) is, of course, a name of the goddess encountered both in medieval legends and in placenames across Ireland.

'Connla's Well'

‘Connla’s Well’

The local tradition of Bridget being associated with Bri/Brig Eile is used in the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists (17thC):

“S. Maccalleus Episcopus magnus, cujus eccelesia est in Cruachan Brig Eile in regione Ifalgiae, et qui posuit velum candidum supra caput S. Brigidae

Saint MacCaille the great Bishop, whose church was at Cruachan Brig Eile in the district of the Hy Falgae (Offaly), placed the white veil on the head of Saint Bridget”

This may be based upon the following from the Bethu Brighde hagiography of the 8thC:

…On a certain day she goes with seven virgins to take the veil to a foundation on the side of Cróchán of Bri Éile, where she thought that Mel the bishop dwelt. There she greets two virgins, Tol and Etol , who dwelt there. They said: ‘The bishop is not here, but in the churches of Mag Taulach.’ While saying this they behold a youth called Mac Caille, a pupil of Mel the bishop. They asked him to lead them to the bishop. He said: ‘The way is trackless, with marshes, deserts, bogs and pools.’ The saint said: ‘Extricate us [from our difficulty].’ As they proceeded on their way, he could see afterwards a straight bridge there

The hill and its environs was once the stronghold of the powerful ruling Ua Conchobhair Failghe (“O’Connor Faly”), the most significant sept of the Leinster Uí Failghe, from which tribe modern Offaly derives its name.  This seat was at Daingean (Daingean Ua bhFáilghe – formerly Phillipstown) and was a regional capital until the start of the plantations and Flight of the Earls saw its importance decline.

The former power of the historic native rulers is illustrated by annalistic references to the Battle of ‘Tochar Cruacháin Brí Eile’ between the English and the men of Ua Fáilghe, and which took place in 1385 (Source: Annals of the Four Masters). The O’Connor Fáilghe were victorious, destroying and routing the English contingent. The name ‘Tochar’ (causeway) shows that there was an ancient bog trackway here (perhaps the one mentioned in Bethu Brighde), and it must have ‘come ashore’ at the hill or near O’Connor’s castle at Old Croghan village and connected outwards to other destinations. Cruachan Bri Eile was obviously once a powerful and strategic island fortress as well as a religious centre. Archaeological evidence of its importance goes back over thousands of years.

Saint Bridget was said to have come from among these peoples, so it is no surprise that hagiographers describe this as a site where she ‘received the veil’. Another site (of equal pagan importance) also lays claim to this, however: The Hill of Uisneach, visible from Croghan across the sprawling boglands of Allen:

“Mag Teloch, where holy Brigit received the veil from the hands of Mac Caille in Uisnech in Meath.” (Tírechán, Book of Armagh)

‘Teloch’ or ‘Tulach’ means a causeway – many used to criss-cross the boglands in ancient times and there was certainly one at Cruachan Bri Eile. Whatever place you believe the supposed ‘event’ may have happened (and it depends on the tribal loyalties of the writers), you can be certain that it occurred at some place associated with the goddess of the pagan past! The words Brig and Bri seem to link to St Bridget/Brighde, supposedly ‘given the veil’ at Cruachan Bri Eile by a saint whose name sounds suspiciously like a modified form of ‘Cailleach’, and who crops up later associated with the Isle of Man – the other ‘Hy Falga’.

There was once a church dedicated to Bishop MacCaille (said to be a nephew of Patrick) on the slopes of Croghan Hill, the remains of which are still visible on the eastern slopes. The Calendar of Cashel noted that his festival was celebrated there on the 25th of April – somewhat close to Beltain just as the surrounding bog and its pools were being pierced by flowers and new summer growth! The same day was celebrated in the Isle of Man at St Maughold’s Well on an elevated headland over the sea. The well once emptied into a stone coffin-shaped structure in which the ‘saint’ was said to sleep (like Sinand in the Linn Mná Feile at Bri Eile) and Maire MacNeil commented on the Manx Lhunasa celebrations once held there.

Morgan Le Fay and the enchanter Merlin. Even wizards were prone to the charms of the Goddess...

Patrick-MacCaille and Bridget-Eile-Aine?

Other interesting placenames attached to the hill in the medieval Dindsenchas are Magh Dairbhreach and Druim Dairbhreach (‘Plain of the Oaks’ and ‘Ridge of the Oaks’), also on the east side of the hill.

All text © 2014 The Atlantic Religion, except where stated.

Through a mirror – water in the Atlantic religion

It has been well-established (if you’ll pardon the pun) that water played a prominent role in the religion of the ancient peoples of north and west Europe before the establishment of christianity. Even afterwards, and particularly in Ireland (no doubt something to do with its superabundance of moisture), this continued to be the case.

Flag Fen, England - site of a timber trackway and platforms built over water during the Neolithic and Bronze Age, associated with ritual water deposits

Flag Fen, England – site of a timber trackway and platforms built over water during the Neolithic and Bronze Age, associated with ritual water deposits. Anyone seen Grendel’s mother?

Votive deposits of religious artefacts, weapons and artefacts, food such as cheese and even human remains have been discovered in Europe’s wetlands, dating to the Bronze Age if not earlier, and archaeology of these environments has uncovered extensive constructed track-ways and structures to which have been ascribed great religious as well as economic and social importance.

Llyn Cerrig Bach

Llyn Cerrig Bach, Anglesey – Site of Iron Age ritual water-deposits 300BC-100AD

An increasing number of crannogs and related ancient lake structures have been identified in the aquatic (and formerly aquatic) landscapes of Britain, Ireland and the rest of the ancient Celtic world. These are testament to the unique importance of proximity to water in the lives of peoples in the humid and often stormy climes of the Atlantic northwest of Europe: It offered protection, food, a source of power, a medium of transport, and a resource for industry. Coupled with the profound relationship between early (post-‘Theodosian’) Christian churches and religious settlements in northern and western Europe and the older pagan ritual sites at or near wells, springs, lakes, rivers and islands, it can be seen that water was at the heart of religious as well as secular life.

Aubrey Beardsley's depiction of Bedivere consigning the sword Excalibur to the 'Lady of the Lake'

Aubrey Beardsley’s bookplate engraving of Bedivere consigning the sword Excalibur to the ‘Lady of the Lake’

The legendary imagery connecting man with the spirit world through water is found throughout Europe from antiquity, but in particular it remained an active and important feature of the stories and literature of Atlantic Europe in the post-Christian period: From the lake-dwelling ‘Grendel’s mother’ and her role in Kingship in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, to the ‘Lady of the Lake’ (variously known as Nimue, Viviane, Elaine, Niniane, Nivian, Nyneve, and Evienne etc) of later Gallo-Brythonic ‘Arthurian’ legendary romances, the magical female in water pervades mythology.

Breton traditions tell of Malgven or Morgan, her daughter Dahut – the ‘Groac’h Ahez’ and her silver keys to the gloomy underwater realm – the medieval Lai tradition (Marie de France etc) from the region used the theme of beautiful female fairies met at springs and rivers into which they might plunge carrying worthy knights to the fairy realm of Avalon.

In Russia (where magical female spirits inhabiting rivers are called Rusalka), there is a similar tradition of the aquatic otherworld – a medieval epic tale known as Sadko, in which its eponymous hero visits the world of the ‘Sea Tsar’.

Sadko visits the Sea Tsar

Sadko visits the Sea Tsar

Ancient Irish legends (eg – from Dindsenchas) often confer the origin of rivers upon female characters: Sinand, Boand,  Éirne etc. Lakes are created by legendarily careless legendary girls who forget to cap off wells, and Old Women lament the coming of the sea to take them. Christian tales tell of lake and river monsters who vex their saints and heroes, and in the written accounts of pre-Christian legends, the Morrigan appears at critical junctures on river banks to warn, cajole (and occasionally have sex with) the stories’ male proponents…

Newgrange on the Boyne. Horde of poisonous sheep shown for scale!

Newgrange on the Boyne (Boand). Horde of poisonous sheep shown for scale!

In folklore, there are still many more tales involving the aquatic realm and the magical female, not least of which are those of the merrows and mermaids and the continental melusine.

In my next post, I am going to examine one particular sacred ‘aquatic’ landscape in Ireland: The Bog of Allen.

 

Sí People or Sea People?

The Aes Sídhe (Aos Sí) are the group that in Gaelic folkore are known as fairies. Their name translates to English as ‘People of Peace’ or ‘People of the Sid-Mounds’ depending upon our interpretation of Sídhe, for the word ‘Síd‘ and its variants are used in a number of ways in Gaelic literature and tradition:

The Tuatha Dé Danann live in the ‘Síd‘ mounds in Ireland’s legendary fairy bardic romance literature, for example at ‘Síd Nechtain’. The Hymn of Fiacc (6thC?) claimed that the Irish worshipped Sid, possibly suggesting a race of ?gods called ‘Sid’ or that the Irish worshipped actual mounds. Another hagiographic work from the Book of Armagh (Tírechán‘s Collecteana) describes the reaction of some aristocratic women visiting a holy well at Cruachan, where they meet Patrick and his party, and initially believe them to be

‘viros side aut deorum terrenorum aut fantasiam

This can read ‘Sídhe-men or gods of the earth or apparitions’ or ”Sídhe-men: either gods of the earth or apparitions” depending on how you interpret the Latin (aut … aut …). It is possible that the author was unsure of the definition of the terms…

17thC Irish Historian Ruaidhrí Ó Flaithbheartaigh (Roderic O’Flaherty) made this appraisal of the ‘fair folk’:

“The Irish called aerial spirits or phantoms sidhe, because they are seen to come out of pleasant hills, where the common people imagine they reside, which fictitious habitations are called by us Sidhe or Síodha. ”    (Trans. John O’Donovan)

His summation pretty much expresses the continuing Irish belief. However in the other Gaelic cultural and linguistic territories – the Isle of Man and Scotland – the usage of the term is often open to wider interpretation:

The Manx term ‘Shee’ is less commonly found in relation to geographical locations, although Manx fairy tales often involve visits to subterranean places just as in the Irish traditions. Manx fairies are more often found in wild, peaceful and out-of-the-way locations, suggesting the other Manx etymology of ‘Shee’ – peace – which also corresponds to the inverted state of active daily living.  The same goes for Scottish fairy places called Sithean, which can just as well be secluded places as they can be hillocks or ruins of prehistoric buildings. What the Irish would have called ‘Gentle’ places during the 19thC, frequented by ‘Gentry’ – all Anglo-Irish derivations of the Latin words Gens and Gentes, meaning ‘(a) people’ – generations.

A root-analysis of the words sharing the ‘sith-‘ or ‘sid-‘ prefix in the Irish language can be made by taking a quick look at the online version of the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (‘eDiL’), and is quite revealing. For example:

síd (síodh/sídh/sídhe) – a fairy hill or mound:; wondrous, enchanting, charm-  ing, delightful; In pl. = áes síde supernatural beings, fairies:;

síd/sidi – peace, goodwill, peaceableness;  a state of peace;  a period  of peace, a truce;

sith- (prefix) – long;

síthcháin – peace, a state of peace, a compact  of peace; atonement

sithe/sithi; – permanence (?), lastingness (?);

sithithir/sithir – ‘as long  as’;

Of further interest is how eDiL deals with the term ‘Side’ and its variants:

side (sided/sith/sidi)– a blast or gust (of wind); rush, violent onset, swoop (of a bird), spring (of an  animal); Examples given include the usage: sidhe gaoíthe which folklorists believe means ‘fairy wind’.

The intuitive meaning here for me is that all of these words are related to a common root – one of ‘onset’ or ‘springing up’ and ‘persistence’ which fit with the idea of fairies as the ANCESTORS.

Tírechán, in his collected accounts of Patrick, uses the term ‘Viros side’ to describe what some women think the saint and his companions are when they see them at the spring (fontem) known as Clebach. He does not use ‘Gens side’ or similar but explicitly comments upon their masculine sex. Why?

The first clue lies in the location: Cruachan Hill (‘Cruachan Bri Eile’), probably the Hill of Croghan in Co.Offaly,  bordering the Bog of Allen – a location with some interesting legends and archaeology suggesting it was once a significant place in the pagan Otherworld belief system. The second clue lies in what the women are doing – visiting a spring well. Water was seen as a ‘bridge’ to the fairy world – its reflective qualities suggesting the inverted ‘other’ state. Just as in all of the traditional fairy tales of boy-meets-girl – a woman would expect the síd people she met to be masculine in form, hence ‘Viros Side’

The connection with water and the otherworld is a very strong one in ancient Atlantic European mythology. To the Gaels, the otherworld was sometimes conceived as an island west of the great sea. It might seem frivolous at this point to mention the allusion in the title of this post to a similarity between the Gaelic word síd and the English ‘Sea‘ (from Old English ). However, this equation may not be as fanciful as it at first sounds…

The Germanic word ‘see‘ and its variants is very old, and in its original sense it appears to have referred to any standing body of water. The holy lake in which Tacitus (Germania) tells us ‘Nerthus‘ was bathed in her/his chariot before its attendant slaves were drowned there would represent a ‘sea’ by the old definition. Drowning in pools was almost certainly the fate of the high status Iron Age male bog-body retrieved in 2003 from the Bog of Allen, near to where the girls met those reluctant christian ‘viros side’. Given the importance of raths (often with moats) and crannogs in fairy mythology, it is perhaps worth considering if there is a connection between , síd and ‘sea’…

The Celtic Dioskoroi

As the vernal equinox and green Patrick’s day approaches, I thought it appropriate to comment on the spiritual connotations of one of the season’s visible zodiac constellations: Gemini is visible at the zenith of the ecliptic path directly above Sirius as the sun sets on that day… This is, in mythology, a celestial symbol of the legendary ‘twins’ whose bright stars ‘Castor’ and ‘Pollux’ (Greek: Polydeukes) define the asterism, otherwise known as the ‘Dioscuri’/’Dioskouroi’. These ‘lucky’ brother were usually depicted throughout the Greek and Roman world as horsemen, and were strongly associated in tradition with the protection of mariners.

1stC BCE Greek author Diodorus, writing in the Hellenic province of Sicily made the following comment about the Atlantic Celts (presumably those in the Iberian and Gaulish coasts about whom he knew a fair amount): (‘Library of History’ 4. 56. 4  trans. Oldfather)

“The Keltoi who dwell along the ocean venerate the Dioskoroi above any of the gods, since they have a tradition handed down from ancient times that these gods appeared among them coming from the ocean.”

Of course, we must treat this as we would Caesar’s comment on the worship of ‘Dis Pater’ and ‘Mercury’ – a case of interpretation over that ‘barbarian event-horizon’ which Greeks and Romans (perhaps wilfully) were unable to reconcile with their own worldview. The Celts did not actually venerate ‘Castor and Pollux’ as the same twin demi-gods from Diodorus’ classical world, yet there appears to be a similarity of tradition. The famous ‘twins’ were seen as protecting patrons for Greek and Roman seafarers, as illustrated by their role in the Greek epic tale, Argonautica. However, Diodorus is clearly referring to an ancient indigenous tradition of the Celts involving this constellation.

“Coming from the ocean”

Examining Atlantic Celtic mythology, we can see that there are a good number of traditions of spiritual beings (apart from the obvious figure of Manannan) or saints emerging from the sea, and which could possibly associated with the significance of the Dioskouroi constellation.

In Gallicia we have the christian-era legends associated with Finesterre and Santiago de Compostela (an area strongly associated with local Moura legends) – those of St James or a another character – a horseman – emerging from the sea covered in scallop shells (which have since been the symbol of this pilgrimage).

In Brittany there are the legends of King Gradlon whose horse can gallop on the sea, not to mention his oceanic daughter known as Dahut or Ahes who goes into the sea. The medieval Breton Lais of Graedlent (anon) and Lanval (Marie de France) is also about Gradlon – after falling in love with a fairy the hero is carried into a deep river to fairyland where he lives awaiting a return.

In the Isle of Man, it is a magical female Cailleach – the Caillagh y Groamagh who emerges from the sea at Imbolc (or around the vernal equinox), and back in Brittany she was known as the Groac’h Ahes. Her other Manx incarnation was as ‘Tegi-Tegi’ the beautiful sorceress with the white horse who carries men down into the watery realm to death before transforming into a wren or bat and flying to the heavens. Her horse transforms into a dolphin and swims away.

Celtic saints such as Colmán mac Luacháin, Malo, Brendan, Kentigern, Patrick and Maughold to name a few have similar features appended to their individual legends. That of Colmán mac Luacháin is interesting as the Anglo-Norman era ‘discovery’ of his relics at Lann was dated as March 22 (the spring equinox) in the Annals of Ulster.

Diodorus’ asseertion that the Atlantic Keltoi believed in the ‘Dioskoroi’ as gods, is a statement of equivalency. He is almost certainly referring to the legends of aquatic horsemen involved in Celtic otherworld beliefs.

If we re-examine the original Greek myths of Castor and Polydeukes we can see that they were a ‘split pair’ – one with a celestial provenance (Polydeukes was a son of Zeus) and the other (Castor) merely human. Polydeukes demanded of Zeus that he could be reunited with his mortal brother in death, and Zeus arranged for them to share themselves between Hades and Olympus. This raises the distinct possibility that Gemini was a symbol of the mirrored otherworld co-existence of people, gods and spirits which I have discussed elsewhere.

Their significance at an equinoctial point in the year would be an expression of the balance they represent – hence spending alternating days in Hades and Olympus. The Twins were honoured with a ritual known as the Theoxenios – the setting of a feast for them as guests: much like the former Celtic folk-traditions of leaving food and drink for the ‘fairies’ at night.

The half-human, half-divine equation is also a regular feature of Gaelic legendary lore, explaining man’s relationship to skill and knowledge and with the Otherworld: Characters such as ‘Brownie’ and ‘Gruagach’ (Scotland), ‘Phynnodderee’ (Isle of Man) are portrayed as partaking equally of the human and fairy worlds, as do the semi-divine legendary heroes Cuchaullain and Fionn mac Cumhail of medieval romances. Irish kingship was believed bestowed by a figurative ‘heiros-gamos’ with the fairy world, and the Leanán Sidhe figure was a divine muse of poets. The ‘twins’ are also figurative of tradition – the passage of knowledge from one person (or one world) to the next… For instance, the first codified written law tracts of Ireland came with the advent of Christianity in Ireland:

The Senchus of the men of Erin: What has preserved it? The joint memory of two seniors – the tradition from one ear to another, the composition of poets, the addition from the law of the letter (and) strength from the law of nature, for these are the three rocks by which the judgments of the world are supported. (From: Ancient Laws of Ireland (Senchus Mor) trans. John O’Donovan)

The twin stars in Gemini are exalted in the sky at sunset on the vernal equinox… Winter – the season for storytelling and passing of survival knowledge – is over and the land is again pierced with new life…

The ‘Otherworld’ Father, Manannan.

Manannan was the personification of the sovereignty of the Otherworld in literature and folklore of the Gaelic peoples. Like his counterpart, he too had epithets and identities which sometimes make it difficult to identify him in corrupted or obfuscated mythologies.

The otherworld was a realm made of what the ancient Greeks defined as ‘spirit’ or ‘aither’/’ether’ – an extended form of the loftiest of the four mundane elements, Fire, manifesting as light, of which there were two forms: lumen (ordinary light) and lux (spiritual light) being their Latin names. This was believed to cleave to the form of any of the ‘manifest’ elements (water, earth, air and fire) – perhaps making it the mysterious spiritual ‘skeleton’ or framework of the universe, corresponding to a universal divine soul. Such an idea pervades the philosophies and mythologies of the ancient world, and can be examined in works such as Plato’s ‘Dialogue of Timaeus’.

In the Christianisation of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man during the early middle ages, as a lord of the ethereal world, Manannan would not have posed much of a problem of interpolation into the new order. The god of the far-off Israelites was an easy substitution: After all, didn’t the redeeming sun (son) return from the East? Didn’t christianity also offer eternal life? …

Where he occurs as a character in medieval Irish literature, Manannan is not infrequently given an oriental provenance – be it in the Asia Minor province of Armenia (which seemed to the scribes and bards to bear his name, as well as an important early Christian provenance) or even – like the Dionysus of Nonnus – in India where he was said to have aquired a magically fertile and abundant cow. At the conclusion of the tale Serglige Con Culainn (‘Sickbed of Cuchullain’) he arrives from the east to redeem the cast members (including his wife Fand) of their indiscretions, passing out drinks of forgetfulness and shaking his cloak between the unfaithful parties in order that all might be reconciled. A very idealised model of Christian charity and forgiveness, the importance of which would not have been lost on the tale’s audience…

The Ancestral Mother

Tales of the Cailleach from throughout the Gaelic territories generally portray her as a very ancient female to whom is attributed the creation of features in the landscape, the husbandry of flocks and consequently the creation of tribes. Hills and mountains were considered parts of her body, rivers were a part of her essence. Still more mysterious was the manner in which her existence as the land itself became transmuted into the seasonal renewal cycles of the land in each solar year. She combines the consistent foundation-idea of ancient creation with that of annual renewal: as the New Year, the Blossoming Year, the Fruitful Year and the Dying Year. She was the soil that gave birth to generations of semi-divine/wild, semi-human characters in the oral culture's 'time before memory' and from which all ideas of survival-skill and nature-interaction derived down into those generations 'within memory'.

As a 'mother' goddess of nourishment and renewal she was associated with springs and rivers, and therefore the great ocean which received them. Many folk-tales exist about lakes being formed when she forgot to cap off a spring back in the mists of time when she was young. All of the world's rivers were believed by the ancients to flow into a 'world river', called Okeanos by the Greeks. At the limits of this great ocean-river was the spiritual Otherworld – ruled by Manannan in Gaelic myth. To the Greeks and Romans this was sometimes styled Elysium. It was bordered by a great river whose waters conferred forgetfulness to souls who would be reincarnated. The mysterious transition to the spiritual realm at the edge of this great ocean is a transition of water into the 'matter' state of spirit or aether, which ancients believed was the substance of the heavens and the otherworld. The ocean-river can be seen flowing in the heavens in the form of the Milky Way, on whose 'shores' the Cailleach (Orion) and her Bull (Taurus) are seen standing in the winter skies of the north. To complete its great cycle, this ocean-river was re-manifested from the cthonic recesses of the earth as fresh springs – just as spirits re-manifested from the sid mounds in old Gaelic belief. In ancient Atlantic religion throughout these parts of Europe, rivers had godesses – but as the rivers were all part of the same 'world river' these were identical, and the names effectively epithets of the 'one': Boand, Sinand, Seine, Avon, Aine… All one.

Each solar year is a triplicity of the 'three phases' of her earthly generative seasons, followed by a spiritual journey to see her consort in the Otherworld. At Imbolc she is the child (Bride), at Beltain the beautiful Maiden of golden flowers who leads the bull (Bui and Graine are some Haelic epithets), and Lunasa the productive but destructive mother – hunched (crom) like the reapers in the fields. From Samhain she goes to the sea to conduct her flock of 'children' to the next cycle of their existence in the otherworld, where the sun sets in the west. In this guise she is the 'hidden smith' reforging the world under the Earth ready for the epiphany of the new year when she comes again as Bride.

Her greatest mystery? She is a complementary reflection of Manannan in the Otherworld.

 

Gaelic Polytheism? (Opening a can of worms)

It has become conventional to believe that the Gaels practised a polytheistic form of religion which was partly subsumed or wholly supplanted by Christianity at the coming of St Patrick. However, there are a number of problems with such an interpretation that I would like to address.

Firstly, the contemporary sources we have about actual pagan practises in Ireland are almost non-existent, and most of what we know was written long after the establishment of the new religion. The massive efforts to convert the 4thC Roman Empire from fragmenting polytheism to ‘one-over-all’, top-down theocratic rule started with Emperor Constantine I and his immediate successors. This relied upon propaganda and arguments produced by Christian scholars and apologists operating within the polytheist Mediterranean regions of the empire over the preceding 200 years, and which functioned as a model, a ‘manual’ and a ‘road map’ for propagating Roman christianity across the reaches of its contracting Empire and – in the case of Ireland, way beyond. The spread of Christianity was achieved not by proselytizing rhetoric, but by the conversion and alliance of the church with tribal leaders and their elite inner circles. Once this was complete, the worldview of these rulers’ subjects needed to be changed by coercion, propaganda and cultural revisionism. Bearing in mind that we know that early Irish Christian missionaries travelled to the continent and to Rome to receive their instruction, we must consider how the euhemerist ‘continental’ model for replacing polytheism (operating in earnest from the time of the Emperor Theodosius onwards) influenced their reinvention of the pagan past in order to swing people to christianity. The implication that the Tuatha Dé Danann (as opposed to the síd) were believed in as gods should therefore be viewed with suspicion: The ‘Tuatha’ begin to appear in middle-medieval literature presented variously as former gods, ancestors and historic personages (albeit with a very otherworldly countenance) – much in the same way that continental Christians portrayed pagan gods as deified historic humans in order to demote them. They may well have been created as part of a ‘continental schema’ for imposing Christianity.

Secondly, the conversion of Ireland apparently occurred with surprising ease in a country that had showed little signs of being culturally Romanised. This begs the interpretation that the new religion was therefore possibly not such a titanic shift in worldview as it appeared to have been on the continent. In fact it could even have been considered a ‘paradigm-shift’ or evolution of a system to which it had certain similarities, rather than a wholesale replacement of a complicated pantheon. It certainly ‘hit the floor running’, allowing the Irish to lead with confidence in the christianisation and re-christianisation of the rest of northern Europe. If there had been a hugely ‘other’ and complex polytheistic religion in operation this might not have been so easy, especially as Ireland (so far as we know) didn’t have a religious system that – like that at the heart of the Roman empire – underwent an ‘intellectual gravitational collapse’ after absorbing too many external beliefs. Irish legends in the medieval corpus of texts frequently allude to the pagan Irish prefiguring the coming of christianity, a feature I am not aware of from other cultures.

Thirdly, there is little evidence from folk-tales and traditions supporting the theory of the Tuatha Dé Danann being the former gods. The interpretation of a passage in the presumed 5th-6thC ‘Hymn of Fiacc’ (considered to be an early primary source) may account for this:

On the land of Erin there was darkness;
The Tuatha (Peoples) adored the síd;
They believed not
In the true Deity of the true Trinity.

What exactly the síd are or were is complicated and has no satisfactory resolution from the study of  medieval literature alone. The name was later used for burial and ceremonial mounds, fairy mansions and for the fairies themselves. The TDD were ascribed síd-mounds as homes in the later written myths.

Story traditions from Ireland, Scotland and Mann, often focus on An Cailleach, Fionn mac Cumhaill, Manannan and various other giants and spirits who take on some spectacular and god-like properties in mythological accounts. These are joined by legends of their Christian successors – the saints with their often fantastical and god-like properties. Although there is ample archaeological evidence of supra-regional worldview homogeneity since the Neolithic era, the placenames with pagan origin do not back up the theory that the Tuatha Dé Danann were the gods of the Gael. Where we do have surviving traditions of gods, the most notable is Manannán mac Lir who even today is known to Manx people as ‘their’ god. Medieval literary references to the mysterious gods or idols Crom Cruach or Cenn Croithi (both sounding like epithets rather than proper names) and later folkloric ones to Crom Dubh seem to have little relevance to the literary Tuatha Dé Danann traditions, which monks and/or Christian filidh seemed to use in their suspiciously euhemerist historical revision of paganism. These names (Crom Cruach etc) are linked to assemblies at land-loci: particular plains/fields, or hilltop locations.

SO… if there is a chance that the Gaels were not polytheists, then what were they? The resolution of this question necessarily takes us back to understanding what paganism in general was, and the following is my own personal definition:

Paganism is an allegorical system of spiritual and material philosophy informing the art of survival in a given environment, expressed and transmitted through the mnemonic and dialectic mediums of story, song, aphorism, art and dramatic performance.

If Caesar’s Gallic and British Druids were matched by the magi of the Irish, then  philosophy might be the core value at the heart of the religion, an opinion expressed by the writer on philosophers Diogenes Laertius closer to the time of Ireland’s Christian epiphany. Philosophy was to the ancient world what ‘science’ is to the modern: a technical system that described the universe in both material and allegorical/spiritual terms. Philosophy sought to delineate the indescribable, and the arts provided a non-didactic ‘fuzzy’ medium with which higher truths could be defined without the inevitable destruction that occurs with explicitness. The written word tends to ‘fix’ concepts that are otherwise plastic and ever-changing, thus limiting its conceptual usefulness in establishing doctrines. The Mediterranean approach was to assign a god or spirit to these phenomena and to make statuary images of them which expressed this nature. They also tended to write about them. Both processes produced fixed images of ‘gods’ and created the polytheistic pantheon we know so well. However, the pre-Roman Atlantic Europeans apparently shunned this approach. Their devotion was to images and wordly things (‘idola* et inmunda’) according to Patrick himself (Confessio). (*The definition of ‘idola’ being debateable, as it is a latin usage of a greek word ‘eidola’ meaning ‘image’ orapparition‘ and not necessarily meaning ‘idol’ as in ‘statue or graven image’.)

We have to somehow reconcile the folkloric remainders of what appears to be original practical aspects of Gaelic or Atlantic paganism (with its strong traditions about fairies and their leaders, second sight and the ‘evil eye’) with the literary accounts of the middle ages and evidence from archaeology, place names etc. Analysis of the propaganda techniques used to replace the traditions of the old system has revealed a veritable smorgasbord of euhemerisation, demotion, transformation, canonisation/sanctification and demonization permeating the Christian-era literature and folklore of Europe, making a recovery of the reality of the old pagan system through literature and folklore a difficult but always rewarding task.

Returning to my second point above – the apparent rapidity of conversion – it is worth lingering over the prefigurative literature which alludes to some form of continuity between the pagan and christian systems: The hagiographic legends of Patrick from the Book of Armagh and middle Irish tales such as Altrom Tige Dá Medar (from the Book of Fermoy) state that the way was laid for christianity when the druids prophesised a new order before Patrick arrived, or – in the case of ATDM, Manannán himself is the prophet! Charles MacQuarrie (‘The Waves of Manannan’) makes the case for this god as a pagan exemplar of the Bible’s Yahweh/Jehovah, albeit with a perhaps milder and more sympathetic and less judgemental disposition!

In the Isle of Man, where Manannán is still portrayed as a former king and ancestor as well as an actual current popular god we can see how this process reached its important and unfinished conclusion.

So why choose this overlord of the blessed Isles as the ‘next best’ as an exemplar to the christian god? In Altrom Tige Dá Medar he is cast as overlord of the Tuatha Dé Danann (TDD) whose orders they unquestioningly follow. In spite of this, it is actually quite difficult to include him as a member of the TDD, as he seems to stand apart from them in so many ways. That he should have been chosen for such an explicit euhemerisation in Cormac’s glossary and on the Isle of Man suggests a prominence and equivalence that goes beyond that of the TDD. That a belief in him as lord of the fairy otherworld persisted in folk tradition, along with the strong otherworld ‘fairy’ and ‘second sight’ beliefs I have discussed previously, and the recurring theme of a landscape-associated ‘fairy queen’ suggests that these may well have been core parts of Gaelic paganism.

In the Isle of Man, Manannán is ascribed an immanent presence on the summit of the mountain known as South Barrule, where an ancient hilltop enclosure (‘Cashtal Manannan‘) filled with circular stone ‘beds’ or ‘hut circles’ used to be employed by trysting couples at the festival of Luanys (Lunása – 1st August) as a site for proving love, lust and fertility. The mists which frequently crown the mountain as well as shrouding the whole Island are commonly referred to by most locals as ‘Manannan’s Cloak’. It is somewhat surprising then, that there are comparatively few other places in the Isle of Man named after the god, unless you accept that the whole island itself is eponymous with him.

   Perhaps more interesting are the sneaky profusion of ancient place-names here in this special place that allude to a character of Gaelic folklore with a much more typically immanent presence and connection with the creation and husbandry of the landscape – the Cailleach (Manx: Caillagh) and her various incarnations and epithets as the Fairy Queen. From the hill of ‘Cronk y Berry’ (Eng: Hillberry, Ir: Cnoc Bheara) to the promontory of Gob ny Cally in Maughold and the ancient farm estate of Ballacallin in German the island is peppered with places whose names evoke the giant magical female characters also found in Irish and Scots as well as Welsh mythology, albeit often in ancient and corrupted forms: ‘Chibbyr Unya’ (Aine’s Well), the parish of Santan (‘Saint Anne’ = ‘Seatainne’), ‘Lhing Berrey Dhone’ (‘Pool of Ox-Bheara’, Maughold – there is an ancient Manx folksong about an Ox-stealing ‘witch’, in which it appears that the word Donn has been corrupted. She butchered the Ox in this pool by tradition). There is a ‘Caillagh’s (‘Nun’s’) Chair’ coastal feature on the MArine Drive side of Douglas Head, quite close to a mysterious cliff-cave (now bricked up). The ancient originally Brigitine nunnery of Douglas Priory lies in the shadow of the hill – a continuation of the goddess worship in a pagan guise… Another cave known as ‘Lag Eevl’ (after the Irish Fairy Queen, Aoibheal) in Kirk German, and the hill facing Cronk y Berry known as ‘Cronk y Vill’ or ‘Honey Hill’ have a similar provenance. Add to this the similarly-named hills of ‘Ardwhallin’ (pron. ‘Ardcwhullin’) and the mount of Slieu Whallian (‘Slieve Chullain’) which sits above the Tynwald assembly site and you soon get the idea that Manannan’s presence as an immanent former deity of the island might need to be challenged! The Caillagh was believed to be the Sibyl of the Island and was remembered in recorded folk traditions as late of the 20thC as the source of many prophecies, including one prefiguring the TT Races (which charge deosil around the Island’s central spine of hills). Manannan’s Cloak may once (from the profusion of places named after her) have been the ‘Veil of the Cailleach’…

All this has left me considering if the Gaelic pagan religion was in fact effectively dualistic and ancestor-based? My conclusion is that Manannán was the masculine (solar) polarity who presided over the spiritual Otherworld and the future, terminally and cyclically estranged from the Cailleach who was the elemental ancestress-Creatrix whose body is the earth/elements itself, renewed in the annual cycle. Manannán is a Sun god, NOT a Sea god! There is much circumstantial evidence to support this proposition – in fact, so much more than supports a polytheist interpretation that I find it hard to place a pantheon, except as a philosophical ‘exploding’ of the interactions of these two fundamental characters of Gaelic (and Brythonic) traditions (after the model of Plato’s Timaeus, which I will post on soon). From the Second Sight and Otherworld traditions explained by Robert Kirk, Martin Martin etc to the ancestral-creation myths involving the Cailleach and fairy queen(s) of Ireland and the various half-human wild spirits such as Brownie, Fionn, Phynodderee and Cuchullain, all point towards a binary interpretative system that does not in any way efface with a Tuatha Dé Danann ‘pantheon’.

Diogenes Laertius – the Druids and Magi

Diogenes Laertius was a Greek author of late classical antiquity who wrote an account of the history of Greek philosophy. His introduction deals with the history of Philosophy among the Greeks and ‘Barbarians’ in which he seeks to claim that philosophy – as with all other things of virtue – originated with the Greeks. Of particular interest to scholars of the Atlantic religion are his descriptions of the founding beliefs of barbarian philosophers: (Translation CD Yonge)

I. SOME say that the study of philosophy originated with the barbarians. In that among the Persians there existed the Magi,1 and among the Babylonians or Assyrians the Chaldaei, among the Indians the Gymnosophistae,3 and among the Celts and Gauls men who were called Druids and Semnothei, as Aristotle relates in his book on Magic, and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his Succession of Philosophers. Besides those men there were the Phoenician Ochus, the Thracian Zamolxis, and the Libyan Atlas. For the Egyptians say that Vulcan was the son of Nilus, and that he was the author of philosophy, in which those who were especially eminent were called his priests and prophets.

II. From his age to that of Alexander, king of the Macedonians, were forty-eight thousand eight hundred and sixty-three years, and during this time there were three hundred and seventy-three eclipses of the sun, and eight hundred and thirty-two eclipses of the moon.

Again, from the time of the Magi, the first of whom was Zoroaster the Persian, to that of the fall of Troy, Hermodorus the Platonic philosopher, in his treatise on Mathematics, calculates that fifteen thousand years elapsed. But Xanthus the Lydian says that the passage of the Hellespont by Xerxes took place six thousand years after the time of Zoroaster,6 and that after him there was a regular succession of Magi under the names of Ostanes and Astrampsychos and Gobryas and Pazatas, until the destruction of the Persian empire by Alexander.

III. But those who say this, ignorantly impute to the barbarians the merits of the Greeks, from whom not only all philosophy, but even the whole human race in reality originated. For Musaeus was born among the Athenians, and Linus among the Thebans; and they say that the former, who was the son of Eumolpus, was the first person who taught the system of the genealogy of the gods, and who invented the spheres; and that he taught that all things originated in one thing, and when dissolved returned to that same thing; and that he died at Phalerum, and that this epitaph was inscribed on his tomb:

Phalerum’s soil beneath this tomb contains  Musaeus dead, Eumolpus’ darling son.

And it is from the father of Musaeus that the family called Eumolpidae among the Athenians derive their name. They say too that Linus was the son of Mercury and the Muse Urania; and that he invented a system of Cosmogony, and of the motions of the sun and moon, and of the generation of animals and fruits; and the following is the beginning of his poem,

There was a time when all the present world  Uprose at once.

From which Anaxagoras derived his theory, when he said that all things had been produced at the same time, and that then intellect had come and arranged them all in order.

They say, moreover, that Linus died in Euboea, having been shot with an arrow by Apollo, and that this epitaph was set over him:

The Theban Linus sleeps beneath this ground,  Urania’s son with fairest garlands crown’d.

IV. And thus did philosophy arise among the Greeks, and indeed its very name shows that it has no connection with the barbarians. But those who attribute its origin to them, introduce Orpheus the Thracian, and say that he was a philosopher, and the most ancient one of all. But if one ought to call a man who has said such things about the gods as he has said, a philosopher, I do not know what name one ought to give to him who has not scrupled to attribute all sorts of human feelings to the gods, and even such discreditable actions as are but rarely spoken of among men; and tradition relates that he was murdered by women; but there is an inscription at Dium in Macedonia, saying that he was killed by lightning, and it runs thus:

Here the bard buried by the Muses lies,          The Thracian Orpheus of the golden lyre;  Whom mighty Jove, the Sovereign of the skies,          Removed from earth by his dread lightning’s fire.

V. But they who say that philosophy had its rise among the barbarians, give also an account of the different systems prevailing among the various tribes. And they say that the Gymnosophists and the Druids philosophize, delivering their apophthegmns in enigmatical language, bidding men worship the gods and do no evil, and practise manly virtue.

VI. Accordingly Clitarchus, in his twelfth book, says that the Gymnosophists despise death, and that the Chaldaeans study astronomy and the science of soothsaying–that the Magi occupy themselves about the service to be paid to the gods, and about sacrifices and prayers, as if they were the only people to whom the deities listen: and that they deliver accounts of the existence and generation of the gods, saying that they are fire, and earth, and water; and they condemn the use of images, and above all things do they condemn those who say that the gods are male and female; they speak much of justice, and think it impious to destroy the bodies of the dead by fire; they allow men to marry their mothers or their daughters, as Sotion tells us in his twenty-third book; they study the arts of soothsaying and divination, and assert that the gods reveal their will to them by those sciences. They teach also that the air is full of phantoms, which, by emanation and a sort of evaporation, glide into the sight of those who have a clear perception; they forbid any extravagance of ornament, and the use of gold; their garments are white, their beds are made of leaves, and vegetables are their food, with cheese and coarse bread; they use a rush for a staff, the top of which they run into the cheese, and so taking up a piece of it they eat it. Of all kinds of magical divination they are ignorant, as Aristotle asserts in his book on Magic, and Dinon in the fifth book of his Histories. And this writer says, that the name of Zoroaster being interpreted means, a sacrifice to the stars; and Hermodorus makes the same statement. But Aristotle, in the first book of his Treatise on Philosophy, says, that the Magi are more ancient than the Egyptians; and that according to them there are two principles, a good demon and an evil demon, and that the name of the one is Jupiter or Oromasdes, and that of the other Pluto or Arimanius. And Hermippus gives the same account in the first book of his History of the Magi; and so does Eudoxus in his Period; and so does Theopompus in the eighth book of his History of the Affairs of Philip; and this last writer tells us also, that according to the Magi men will have a resurrection and be immortal, and that what exists now will exist hereafter under its own present name; and Eudemus of Rhodes coincides in this statement. But Hecataeus says, that according to their doctrines the gods also are beings who have been born. But Clearchus the Solensian, in his Treatise on Education says, that the Gymnosophists are descendants of the Magi; and some say that the Jews also are derived from them. Moreover, those who have written on the subject of the Magi condemn Herodotus; for they say that Xerxes would never have shot arrows against the sun, or have put fetters on the sea, as both sun and sea have been handed down by the Magi as gods, but that it was quite consistent for Xerxes to destroy the images of the gods.

VII. The following is the account that authors give of the philosophy of the Egyptians, as bearing on the gods and on justice. They say that the first principle is matter; then that the four elements were formed out of matter and divided, and that some animals were created, and that the sun and moon are gods, of whom the former is called Osiris and the latter Isis, and they are symbolised under the names of beetles and dragons, and hawks, and other animals, as Manetho tells us in his abridged account of Natural Philosophy, and Hecataeus confirms the statement in the first book of his History of the Philosophy of the Egyptians. They also make images of the gods, and assign them temples because they do not know the form of God. They consider that the world had a beginning and will have an end, and that it is a sphere; they think that the stars are fire, and that it is by a combination of them that the things on earth are generated; that the moon is eclipsed when it falls into the shadow of the earth; that the soul is eternal and migratory; that rain is caused by the changes of the atmosphere; and they enter into other speculations on points of natural history, as Hecataeus and Aristagoras inform us.

They also have made laws about justice, which they attribute to Mercury, and they consider those animals which are useful to be gods. They claim to themselves the merit of having been the inventors of geometry, and astrology, and arithmetic. So much then for the subject of invention.

VIII. But Pythagoras was the first person who invented the term Philosophy, and who called himself a philosopher; when he was conversing at Sicyon with Leon, who was tyrant of the Sicyonians or of the Phliasians (as Heraclides Ponticus relates in the book which he wrote about a dead woman); for he said that no man ought to be called wise, but only God. For formerly what is now called philosophy (philosophia) was called wisdom (sophia), and they who professed it were called wise men (sophoi), as being endowed with great acuteness and accuracy of mind; but now he who embraces wisdom is called a philosopher (philosophos).

But the wise men were also called Sophists. And not only they, but poets also were called Sophists: as Cratinus in his Archilochi calls Homer and Hesiod, while praising them highly….