Archive for the ‘folklore’ Category
THE CROOKED GOD
It may seem strange to refer to a god as ‘crooked’, but gods of the underworld were generally considered crooked in some way. Priestesses wore one sandal when invoking them. Apollo, the bright and handsome sun god of Greece both brought plagues (with hot and feverish weather) and cured them (as god of healing). He was visualized both as shooting plague arrows into cities, and shooting creatures that brought plague. In this role he presided over the sacrifice or expulsion of scapegoats and was titled ‘crooked’. Apollo was the patron of all those cast out from the community, including those who went off to found colonies.
The Irish Crom Dubh is ‘Black Crooked One’ or ‘Black Bowed One’, also called Crom Cruach or Cenn Cruaich (‘the Bowed One of the Mound’) and was a sacrificial god associated with the beginning of August. His importance may be discerned from the fact there are far more stories of Crom Dubh connected with Lughnasa than there are of Lugh. Though many Irish people have never heard of the festival of Lughnasa they have certainly heard its alternate name Crom Dubh’s Day (or Sunday).
Crom Dubh’s Day is the occasion for a pilgrimage up a high hill or mountain such as Croagh Patrick. This was a holy hill in Pagan times, taken over by Saint Patrick, possibly considered a natural harvest mound or Goddess womb in the manner of Silbury Hill.
The 11th century Book of Leinster states ‘In a rank stand twelve idols of stone; bitterly to enchant the people the figure of Crom was of gold.’ This is thought to refer to a circle of standing stones at Magh Sléacht near Killycluggin (the plain of Tullyhaw in County Cavan) in the sacred number of thirteen- the sacred king and his twelve companions.  It may be that in ancient times a human sacrifice was made here, perhaps selected in the games. It seems likely that the sacrifice would have been haltered and lamed, actually or symbolically. Crom Dubh, the god who presided over the sacrifice was also ‘crooked’. He is thought to belong to the religion of the ancient Irish. The earliest written account of him refers to an idol at Magh Sléacht worshipped by King Tignermas and his followers, at which human sacrifices were made. This statue is said to have sunk into the ground after St Patrick demolished it, and indeed, the stone circle stands in ruins. In most of the folklore he is called Crom Dubh, characterized as the ‘dark croucher’ or the ‘old bent one’ and was identified with the devil.
It may be that after the sacrifice the victim was identified with the god, becoming a ‘crooked one’ and believed to be dwelling in the mound with the god as king of the dead.
In later ages Crom Dubh’s human sacrifice may have been substituted with a bull. On the north shore of Galway there is still a tradition that a beef animal must be roasted to ashes in honor of Crom Dubh on his festival day. It is possible that the bull was an avatar of the god, and that there was a yearly sacrifice of this bull with the substitution of a new bull, in the manner of the Egyptian Apis. In various versions of the story Patrick is said to have overcome or converted a Pagan called Crom Dubh, in some versions by resuscitating his dead bull.
According to another Lughnasa story Crom Dubh was buried up to his neck for three days and only released when the harvest fruits had been guaranteed. Crom is associated with the ancient mounds as an old agricultural god of the earth who caused the crops to ripen, as are the sidhe (‘people of the mounds’) or fairies of folklore who are the descendants of such gods. They also have to be offered regular sacrifices in the form of milk. Crom is possibly an underworld god, like the Greek Hades (Roman Pluto) who captured Persephone (Proserpina). Hades/Pluto was both the guardian of underworld treasure (the minerals of the earth) and grain, which sprouts in the underworld.
In many parts of the world the festivals celebrated around our Lughnasa period relate to the effects of the Dog Days which make vegetation brown and wither, signaling the death of summer.
The Dog Star Sirius, called Alpha Canis Majoris by astronomers, is one of the brightest in the night sky and can even be seen in the daylight. Sirius is three times the mass of our Sun and ten times as bright. In mid-May Sirius sets in the west just after sunset, then is no longer visible for seventy days. It then appears rising in the east at sunrise and this is known as the heliacal rising of the star, occurring in late July and early August. The ancients believed that it added its own heat to that of the sun, causing very hot weather and exerting a baleful influence- dogs became mad, people became listless or ill,  streams and wells dried up, while plants withered and turned brown. It signaled the end of the period of growth, and therefore the end of summer. It seems that Lughnasa was celebrated at the end of this period (12th August) and marked the first day of autumn.
In the tale of Lugh we encounter his enemy and grandfather Balor, a tyrant who must be defeated. He is described as having a single baleful eye that poisons and withers all it looks upon. Dr. Ó HÓgáin reconstructs the original name of Balor as *Boleros, meaning ‘the flashing one’ from the ancient root *bhel meaning ‘flash’.  The name of Sirius comes from a Greek word meaning ‘sparkling’ as it radiates a blue-white light, but when it is low on the horizon it can shimmer with all the colors of the rainbow. Balor is also titled Bailcbhéimneach (‘strong smiting’) and Balar Biirug-derc (‘piercing-eyed’). 
Ancient classical writers, including Ptolemy and Diodorus Siculus, associate him with a promontory called Bolerion in Cornwall, England. This was most probably Land’s End, to the southwest of the country. Balor is said to have died at Carn Ui Neit (the ‘Cairn of Net’s Grandson’), Mizen Head in County Cork, Ireland- again the furthest south west point of the country. This association with south-western promontories is generally taken to indicate that Balor is some kind of deity associated with the setting sun- which sets in the west- but the south-west is also the setting point of Sirius.
Balor tried to trick Lugh into placing his head on top of Lugh’s own, and this may be a metaphor for the effect achieved when Sirius rises with the sun. Another one-eyed tyrant caused the death of King Conaire, who died with a raging thirst in his throat, perhaps a reference to the effects of the Dog Days.
Lughnasa is the time of year associated with the sacrifice of the sacred king or the death of the corn god, marked with wakes and funeral games. In many legends the dog is considered to be a psychopomp- a creature that conveys souls to the Otherworld. The Egyptian jackal/dog headed god Anubis, for example, is concerned with conveying the dead to the afterlife. In Greek myth the three headed dog Cerberus guarded the entrance to the Underworld. It can be no coincidence that the constellation of the Dog appears at the end of summer to convey the soul of the sacrificed sacred king/vegetation god to the Otherworld.
 Janet and Stewart Farrar, Eight sabbats for Witches, Hale, 1981
 Most cases of tarentella are reported at this time of year.
 Dáithí Ó HÓgáin, The Sacred Isle, The Collins Press, Cork, 1999
 Daithi O HOgain, Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of the Irish Folk Tradition Prentice Hall Presss 1991
I survived, though whether I’m actually a changeling now remains to be seen! I’ve written very briefly about my experience on my weekly column at Patheos Pagan, A Sense of Place : A Night In The Mound
As you can imagine, a 1000 word column doesn’t allow more than a scratch of the surface for an experience like that, while still including substantive background information. One concept I wanted to speak more about is the unequivocally Ancestral focus of the mounds. Yes, they may have significant alignments (solar, lunar, and stellar); yes, they were actively engaged with by their living communities (ritual use); yes, folklore sprang up regarding them because their original function slipped from active use and memory to nostalgia (fairy), but they remain first and foremost Ancestral.
This YouTube video, while all over the shop with its focus, and anglophilic tone, does correlate the Stones, themselves, to the Ancestors in a direct and literal way, which is how I interact with them as well. It is also a view expressed by more than one presenter at The Archeology of Darkness conference last hear at Sligo IT (I promise, I will post those notes eventually). Have a look:
I was struck most, on the day, by the elusive Otherness of the mounds and the way they were sited on the land. They slipped in and out of view, in unexpected ways. As you walked along the trail, a mound would suddenly appear before you. A few steps later, it vanished from sight. Some mounds were visible while standing in front of a certain cairn, that were unseen when you moved to another. The necropolis is home to an estimated 14 passage cairns, which are oriented differently. I stayed in one that opens to the North.
In the recess, or side ‘bed’, where I slept, I had a sense of downward momentum. You do crawl down to enter the cairn, and it is a tight fit before opening first to the somewhat larger antechamber, then to the main chamber with its tall corbeled roof (you can easily stand in there). In cruciform shaped cairns, there are three recesses off the main chamber–small side ‘rooms’, if you will. I only spent time in my western recess, as my intention was to become familiar with a specific energy (I have a feeling each recess was used for different functions and has different energy). The western recess, where the Reek stone is, had its own mini corbeled roof. Because I know Croagh Patrick is sacred to Crom Dubh, that chthonic deity was on my mind heavily.
At one point I strongly felt an underground presence, specifically looking for sacrifice. I won’t say anymore about that here.
I slept more easily than I imagined I would. With nothing but rock for cushion, I thought I would toss and turn. I also thought I would be awake longer: drinking, feasting, being With the Ancestors, but I was asleep by 21:00! My sleep did seem to happen in cycles though, and each time I woke I had a sense of light in the cairn and found myself disoriented as to the source of the light, i.e., I thought I knew the source, which in hindsight could not have been the case. I also did not wake until almost 11! And even then, it took longer to gather my things and leave, than I thought it did. Time was distorted. I think I could have easily spent 3 days and nights there! It was a very ‘sleepy’ –pulling you down–energy.
When I left though, I had an amazing sensation of lightness. As though my atoms were effervescent. The experience was very like a sensory deprivation chamber (another point made during the Archeology of Darkness symposium). I would like to see descendants of these wonderful ancestors visiting these sites to commune with their dead in a real way. However, some prohibitions:
I’m going to spend a night on the mound. If I don’t come back, I’m dead. If I do, I may be mad…. or a poet.[youtube http://youtu.be/NFZcblhvDzQ]
My partner is from Ulster, but that’s not why I’m traveling there.
Many wonderful archeological sites, and areas of beauty are in Ulster, but they don’t precipitate my visit, either.
No, I’m journeying North to sit through TWO DAYS of academic discourse on the Ulster Cycle of Tales!!!! Be still my wild, Cú Chulainn heart! As before, I will share my notes (and strive to be well rested, so as not to do any presentation a disservice).
MANX RECIPE – HERB BEER
The herb vervain, known as ‘vervine’ or ‘yn lhus‘ in the Isle of Man, has always been credited with magical properties by the Manx people. A tall plant with spiky leaves and small mauve flowers, it has been said to cure eye, throat and respiratory diseases, liver complaints and feverish conditions.
When the fishing industry ran up against hard times, a “Fairy Doctor” was sometimes called in. One of his remedies was to take a bunch of vervain, boil it in a little water in a boat’s cooking pot and sprinkle the water on each net as it was cast.
This apparently, was sure to bring up the nets brimful of herring. In the same belief, vervain was sometimes put in the buoys which floated the nets.
Take one handful each of Vervain, Nettles, Yarrow, Wild Carrot, St. John’s Wort, Centaury, Marsh Mallow and either Horehound or Hops. Boil together in two gallons of water for half an hour.
Strain off the liquid and add to it one pound of sugar. Let it stand until lukewarm.
Then add two ounces of fresh yeast, or one ounce of dried yeast, cover and let the mixture “work”.
Skim and bottle.
Leave for three days or more.
from As Manx As The Hills, Facebook
recipe compiled by Suzanne Wooley in her book – “My Grandmother’s Cookery Book”
Apologies for my tardy completion of these conference notes. it seems with May, comes activity.
David Stifter (NUI Maynooth) presented the final paper of the conference. Professor Stifter made news last year with his ground-breaking translation of one of the oldest written passages in Old Irish. His comprehensive translation of the third of the three charms in the Stowe Missal – a ninth century mass book, or pocket book – contributed greatly to the understanding of these important passages. This book was one of practical use, to be used by the priest in tending to his daily tasks. Those tasks would undoubtedly have included tending the sick. The performer of the charm speaks in the first person singular, the patient in the second person singular, and the supernatural power in the third person. The structure of the charms is of heading, spell, and historiola.
The three charms:
Against the red eye
I invoke the bishop of Ibar who heals.
May you be saved!
May the blessing of God
and the protection of Christ heal your eye.
[with an eye with him, with his vision with him?]
The sight of your eye is whole.
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay of the spittle
and rubbed the clay over his eyes
and said to him:
‘Go and wash yourself in the pool of Siloe’
(which means ‘sent’).
He then went away and washed himself and he came seeing.
Against a thorn
My splendid spittle, it presses out a thorn.
May it not be a blister, may it not be a blemish,
may it not be a swelling, may it not be a disease,
may it not be bloody gore,
may it not be a grievous hole.
My charm, the splendour of the sun,
heals a swelling, smites a disease.
Against urinary disease
Let it flow like a camle lets it flow,
Give a liquid like excellence (?) gives liquid,
run like streams run.
Let forth a gush.
three pigs went into their aí,
It should be there where one goes.
Let if flow what has not flown,
Give your unrine into an aí.
Your strength and your health.
May a healing of health heal you.
I wondered just who Iber was, as the Carmina Gadelica mentions an “Ivor” in connection with Brighid:
The Feast Day of the Bride,
The daughter of Ivor shall come from the knoll,
I will not touch the daughter of Ivor,
Nor shall she harm me.
My notes make a connection with the Old Irish for Yew, and a pre-patrician saint. Four of these saints are listed: Ailbe, Ciaran, Declan, Iber (who was associated with Ulster and the Beggerin Island, and perhaps also Aran, Kildare, Meath and Munster).