Archive for the ‘Celtic myth’ category

All the Myths I Stole

April 1, 2013
Cú Chulainn in battle, from T. W. Rolleston, Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911; illustration by Joseph Christian Leyendecker

Cú Chulainn in battle, from T. W. Rolleston, Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911; illustration by Joseph Christian Leyendecker

In this week’s installment of the Shadow of the Sun Read-Along, nrlymrtl posed me this question:

The ancient Irish myth of Cuchulain is woven into the ancient history of this book. Are there other, specific myths that you pulled from in creating this work?

The short version of the answer is that I stole all of Irish mythology, and then went rooting around in the rest of the human mythology tradition for additional toys.

The Irish Myths

As nrlymrtl observes, I snagged Cuchulainn* from the Táin Bó Cúailngethe greatest of the ancient Irish myths. But once I got there, I didn’t stop with him. Cuchulainn is only one small part of that sweeping epic, and I am also using the overarching war in which Cuchulainn is a late entry: notably the story of Fergus.

I also pilfered the Conquest of the Sons of Mil, in which human men conquered Ireland. This is one of my favorite parts of the Irish myth-set, especially for the wonderful wizard Amergin–who, remarkably, I have not (yet!) co-opted to my tale. From this myth came the tale of the goddess Eriu, who in my story is the founder of Letitia’s ancestral line.

Not content with those thefts, I moved on to the First and Second Battles of Maige Tuireadh, which are two of the wars of conquest of ancient Ireland. In the First Battle, the Tuatha De Danaan  conquered Ireland, wresting it from the control of the Fir Bolg. In the Second, the Danaan, having fallen under the oppression of the Fomorians, fought to free themselves. From these tales came the tale of the many-talented hero Lugh of the Long Arm and that of the great healer Dian Cecht, whose magical cauldron could bring the dead back to life. His “technology” is the basis of the Basghilae, the undead warriors in The Shadow of the Sun. And Lugh’s unstoppable Spear, the Gae Assail, became the great treasure of Fiana.

But of course I didn’t stop there. By now you will recognize that I am an intellectual kleptomaniac. I started thinking bigger: I moved on to

The Atlantis Myth

If you dig deeply into the myths of the Tuatha De Danaan and Atlantis, eventually you will begin to notice certain overlaps. The names of the Danaan realms, for example: my Fiana/Finias, Faill/Failias, and Muir/Morias are lifted straight out of that area of overlap. The nation of Banbagor should properly have been named Gor for correct correspondence with the original myth, but early readers noted that the seeming reference to the Conan stories was a distraction, so I wedded that name to the name of the goddess Banba of Irish myth.

Likewise Hy-Breasail: this is one of the multitude of names of Atlantis in ancient myth, and I stole shamelessly from sources attempting to locate that place.

The Gods

Oh, I stole gods. The Irish/Celtic ones are easy to spot, notably Dana, Beal and Esus. But you can’t swing a dead cat in my story world without bumping up against a god or something named for a deity, and many of them are pilfered from elsewhere: notably just about every body of water, which follow the Celtic tradition of naming them for goddesses that supposedly inhabit them. But it wasn’t just Irish/Celtic gods I stole. I had my way with the Germanic and Greek pantheons and some of their myths as well.

The Afterlife

I stole not one but two of these myth-sets: the Irish, including the paradisal House of Donn; and the Greek, albeit with considerable embellishment. Of the veritable buffet of after-life options in the novel, most of it began, er, life elsewhere.

*

Why did I steal all these things so brazenly? Now that you see the framework of the amusement park ride I have created, what does it mean?
Those questions are left as an exercise for the reader. 🙂

*Did you notice I spelled it differently than nrlymrtl did? Neither of us is exactly right, as far as I can tell. There seems to be a lot of variation in people’s attempts to render the old Irish as English. I’ve been typing it that way for too long to stop now, which only means I had my formative experience of him with a different source than nrlymrtl.

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For ancient religion geeks

May 25, 2008

Wynette and I were discussing recently how difficult it is to write works that touch on ancient Celtic culture, particularly Celtic religion. There Be Dragons there: that area of study is a battleground among academics, and those of us who have other flavors of attachment to that tradition tend to have a difficult time separating what truths we can glean of that tradition from the fantasy-movies that popular culture has overlaid them with. I have found a better flavor of understanding, not to mention some emotional peace on the topic, from digging into academic source materials. In the course of preparing for this series I went so far as to spend months (really, months!) reading academic works on Irish archaeology and actually dragged Mark all the way across The Pond to walk those sites myself.

Turned out to be a religious experience, ironically enough. But I digress, as usual.

Presently, I am reading a book loaned to me by Ron: The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light: Mythology, Sexuality & the Origins of Culture by William Irwin Thompson (ISBN 0-312-80512-8) which essentially picks up where Frazier left off with The Golden Bough – with stunning results. I am going to buy this book; it is one I will find necessary to re-read fairly often.

In the section I am reading now, Thompson engages in a lengthy footnote on the topic of the original One World Religion (of the Great Mother, of course) and where Sumer, with its ultimately masculine tradition that became the backbone of the Etruscan, Roman, and Greek religions diverged from the continuing Mother Goddess trad of Western Europe, and recommends these books, which I am also going to hunt down, as context on that divergence:

Time Stands Still: New Light on Megalithic Science by Keith Chritchlow (London, Gordon Fraser, 1979)

-and-

The Silbury Treasure by Michael Dames (London, Thames & Hudson, 1976)

The Avebury Cycle by the same guy & publisher, 1977

It was this week, as I was reading Thompson’s book, eating my lunch, absorbing his discussion of the Great Mother as both womb and tomb and how that perception is reflected in Neolithic tomb-sites e.g. Newgrange (though he doesn’t mention Newgrange but rather Bryn Celli Ddu in Wales, and shows that picture)—when, because I’ve been following Thompson’s argument and have passed through the narrow tunnel into the inner sanctum of Newgrange myself, I suddenly saw what would have been obvious to anyone who breathed that religion: the entrances to those barrow-tombs are models of the vagina of the Great Mother, which in that way of thinking is a two-way street. But this is only one of many insights I’ve had into the profoundly male-female, always-about-fertility-and-yet-always-about-something-more, nature of that religion. So if ancient Celtic culture and religion are on your radar, do yourself a favor: pick up those books.