Friday, February 10, 2012

PBP - C is for Celtic Cosmology Part 2

     Last week's PBP post was an introduction to the Celtic Three Realms; where they come from and why they are so important. This week, we'll take a look at each individual realm more closely, starting with Land.

Land (Talam)

     Land is the stabilizing force between the sky and sea. It is the part of the universe that nurtured, fed and housed the Celts; it was home.
     Before Christianity, the land was connected with the goddess who could bless or curse those who owed her tribute. Each territory had its own goddess, sometimes encountered on mountain tops or by lakes. As long as she was honored, she would bless the people with prosperity and protect them if attacked. The land itself was thought to be imbued with power. Each landmark had its own energy, identity and mythical associations, and sometimes humans encountered deities at these places. Because they were considered so powerful and sacred, these areas were not used to ordinary purposes but instead set aside to be used for ritual.
     Harmony and balance were also maintained in a territory through the relationship between the goddess of the land and the king. As long as the king acted "rightly the Land and people would live in peace and plenty. Infact, an integral part of the King's inauguration was his symbolic marriage to the land over which he ruled. This contract was expressed in terms of a marriage between him and a sovereignty goddess who personified the land. Examples of such a goddess would be Macha, Eiru and Medb.

Sky (Nem)

   In many ways, the sky was the most mysterious of the three realms. Land was the natural home of the Celts and they might venture out to sea though it could prove to be risky, but sky could not be accessed at all. However since mountain tops were the closest to the sky they were sometimes the sight of rituals. In Ireland and Brittany, celebrations marking the beginning of the harvest included processions to the tops of mountains.
     Circling sunwise has long been an important part of Celtic ceremonies. Kings asserted control over their realms by circling sunwise, ordinary people took posession of new homes sunwise, and many rituals today include sunwise circling.
     Birds were also very important as well. There is clear evidence that birds were considered divine messengers from the gods, with birds such as ravens, crows, swans and cranes being considered especially important. Their appearance in myths and legends all held particular meanings that something was amiss, especially for those travelling on any kind of journey. For example, the sight of a heron, especially facing away frmo the person who saw it, was though to be one of the worst signs.
     Ravens in Irish myth are often portrayed as malevolent or evil, though they weren't always looked at negatively - a cheerful crow in front of a traveler meant a prosperous journey, for example.
     All in all, there is an Otherworldly theme running through the wind, weather and birds bringing Otherwordly messages, telling the future or letting the Gods speak through them.

Sea (Muir)

     The realm of Sea actually includes all bodies of water from rivers and lakes to springs and wells. It is a key element in The Book of the Taking of Ireland, which describes how Ireland was settled by five waves of people before the Sons of Mil took over and became the ancestors of the Irish people. It's significant because the people are not shown to be indigenous to the land itself; they all came from over the sea.
     The great rivers of Ireland are all said to have an Otherworldly source and according to Irish stories, some rivers were thought to originate in wells in the Otherworld and flow into this one carrying the power and knowledge of the Otherworld. This knowledge could be acquired by eating special salmon that lived in certain wells or rivers or by drinking from certain places.
     Perhaps the most memorable tale of knowledge and water is that associated with the goddess of the river Boyne. One tale regarding the origin of this river tell us of the Well of Segais being owned by a man named Nechtan. He was very possessive of this well and wouldn't let anyone near it because if anyone drank from it they would gain all the knowledge of the world. However one day his wife, Boann, approached the well and three waves sprang up and disfigured her:

They came each wave of them against a limb,
they disfigured the soft-blooming woman;
a wave against her foot, a wave against her perfect eye,
the third wave shatters one hand.”

     Ashamed, Boann ran to the sea to drown herself and the water followed her wherever she went which formed the river.

No comments:

Post a Comment