Excerpt – Cattle Raids – 1

EXCERPT From Keltria Journal - Issue #42

Book of the Valley: Story One -- “Cattle Raids”

— Caillean ap Gwynedd

Tales are woven of love and sorrow, of adventure and magic, a little truth and a little laughter. Great are the deeds done and many of them true, and many more which grow in the telling, and who now may say which is which? Listen, Cymry, and I will tell you tales from the Book of the Valley, tales of the first great Cattle Raid....

Photo of Ewes Lookat at Camera by Lisa Jarvis [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ewes looking at Camera

Long had the day stretched, and how long exactly is difficult to kin for time spent in the Valley passes not as time passes elsewhere in the world. Fleet had been the warriors and cunning the battles, and many the cattle won and lost and won again. More than cattle alone were traded that day, and upon that hinge will the door of this tale swing shortly. Twilight at last called the Celts to their Tribe fire, there to let the sweat dry from their bodies and the heat to cool from their weapons, and to watch the shadows wage timeless war of their own with the sunlight, winning night with the knowledge that the battle would be lost or won again come morning.

Logs thrown on the past night's embers startled sparks into the darkening skies like fiery bats loosed in hunt for lightning bugs, and the Cymry eagerly settled into their accustomed places to partake of the evening's entertainment. For it is truly spoken that no Celt loves aught so much as a well-crafted story, and so it is told in days past Aonghus Bleidd ap Fainne was beat about the ears by his wife for composing a lusty song celebrating their lovemaking ere the latest lovemaking was quite complete. Any road, the listeners in place and the míd horns full to brimming, the first of the tellers of tales rose to stand in the fire's light.

Iarwain this was, he who it is told was visited by one of the Lords of the far north who traveled from those storm gray lands on a task which is quite a tale in its own right, and who brought rain and thunder to the Valley one summer's afternoon (and other things as well....). And so the first tale was told of the Sun God's love for the Dark Lady, and how the very laws of the Universe were altered for one evening only so that the two (who travel each in hir own...

[Continued in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick - Issue #42.]

Keltria Journal #42 - Storytelling

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Storyteller, Mythology and the 21st Century

EXCERPT!

Storyteller, Mythology and the 21st Century

— Mary Gavan

Statues of man reading stories to wife and children.

The Story Teller
(Eugene, Oregon)

As a Celtic storyteller, my preference is for triads.  The triad I consider is storyteller – mythology - 21st Century.

Regarding the 21st Century; the media disseminates news of injustice, poverty and war that befall mankind in its search for civilization.  Much less reported are peace, progress and prosperity. Even less reported is the innate goodness of people. Where does the truth of the 21 Century lie?  Which myths are perpetuated?  What events does a storyteller highlight?

Storytellers resemble the media myth makers of the 21st Century.  We both use the same treasure chest of tales, technique and thoughtfulness.  We both carefully craft according to our agenda. The difference lies in the outcome.  In brief, the outcome is the personal story versus the product advertising.  Advertising is backed by substantial money and clout.  Paradoxically, hope for a better future in 21st Century exists where traditional storytelling prevails.

As a storyteller, my art form demands researching, crafting and sharing.  My research is to look into print resources and to listen to ordinary people. As a committed user of public transport, I acknowledge that listening in transit provides wee gems; for example, a Mexican couple recounted the repatriation and respectful burial of their compatriot, Julia Pastrana, after 153 years.

Storytellers listen.   I listen as life unfolds diverse stories afore my eyes and ears.  I listen to the foibles and frustrations of ordinary people for these are the stories I tell.  To paraphrase Chekhov, my stories witness people, not judge them. My work is to find the details necessary for truth telling and craft them into a story so that others can hear the beauty and the angst of humanity and thereby experience the range of their own humanity.

The details of Pastrana’s story came to light in a New York Times article.  In that one article, I saw two interwoven stories:  Firstly, the story of 19th Century Julia Pastrana who, in life and death, toured Europe touted as the ugliest woman until her corpse came...

[Continued in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick - Issue #42.]

Keltria Journal #42 - Storytelling 

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From the Editor – Keltria Journal #42

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick - Issue #42

From the Editor - Tony Taylor

Tony preparing for a handfasting.

Tony preparing for a handfasting.

When I think about spring and summer all sorts of wonderful activities come to mind. Weddings, festivals, conferences, and eisteddfods all contribute to the excitement of these seasons.  The contributions of those who follow the bardic path enhance all these activities and are an important part of Keltria. For example, during Keltrian weddings and handfastings, we often practice the art of storytelling as part of the ceremony. It is great fun and enjoyed by everyone assembled. We weave the usually mundane story of couple’s meeting into a Celtic wonder tale completely blown out of proportion and peppered with innuendo. For example, the bride is the not so-helpless-princess and the groom is a knight who rescues her anyway. The “best woman” and “best man” tell the story then dissolve into an argument as to whether or not the groom is worthy of the bride and vice versa.

With hands on hips, the best man paces back and forth critically eyeing the bride while extolling and exaggerating the virtues of the groom. The groom is subjected to the same scrutiny by the best woman. Each attempts to top the other’s story. These tall tales always contain a bit of truth, as a Celtic boast should. For example, in reality the bride may have cooked a roast beef dinner for her family, but the boast might be that she single-handedly slaughtered the last aurochs when it threatened the tribe. She ate its heart, which gave her the beast’s strength and bravery. Then, she cooked the carcass in a huge cauldron, cast by her own hands, which fed her entire tribe for many days. Ultimately, the dueling duo agree they will allow the wedding to proceed and heartily shake hands.

At gatherings, and particularly at eisteddfod, there is a time and a place for the bards assembled to tell stories and enthrall the audience with their skills. We appreciate the opportunity these events provide us to hone our storytelling abilities.


Cover - Keltria Journal #42

Keltria Journal #42

The theme for this issue of Keltria Journal is storytelling. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds and share different perspectives. We begin with Jenne Micale, who, like many of us, comes from a family that did not speak of their history. She carries us along on her personal journey of discovery.

Isolde Carmondy and Chris Thompson, the Story Archaeologists, lead us through three different tales of the past demonstrating why telling the stories of places (dindshenchas) is important today. They emphasize that tales of time and place provide a connection and continuity, which explains our place in the universe.

Daphne Bishop associates the authors and film makers of today, such as J. K. Rowling, J. R .R. Tolkin, and George Lucas, with ancient storytellers. She challenges us to modernize the ancient Celtic lessons, imbuing them with relevancy to our times, thereby keeping them alive.

Mary Gavan, a professional storyteller, describes the characteristics of an effective raconteur beyond the mere telling of the tale.  If we follow our personal convictions and succeed against all odds, we become the inspiration for the storytellers of the future. However, stories are more than just the content. The successful storyteller captivates the mind, body and the spirit of the audience, creating an aura of wonder.

Finally, in the 1990’s many members of the Henge of Keltria were actively creating new mythology. Inspired by “The Power of Myth” the idea of  “MYTH” (Make Yourself The Hero) Keltrians staged “cattle raids”  at several festivals. The concept was to capture participants’ “cattle icons”, i.e., stuffed toys, by making imaginative plans and implementing them using guile and skill rather than brute force. At the evening’s campfire, tales were told of the day’s exploits in the form of the Celtic boast.

The results were marvelous. Twenty years ago, Beltaine 1993, we published “Cattle Raids”, the first of several stories from “The Book of the Valley”, as an example of how a tale can grow in the telling to become a Celtic wonder tale.  Elements of truth weave through the story but Celtic exaggeration runs rampant.  The story is clearly among the “Best of Twenty Years Ago.” Enjoy.

Send your thoughts and opinions regarding this issue, future themes, or other comments to letterstotheeditor@keltria.org. Be sure to indicate if the letter is publishable.

Note: Keltria Journal Issue #42 is available on the Keltria Member Webpage until Issue #43 releases.

Mother of Waters: Boann and River Goddesses

The Druid's Path

Mother of Waters: Boann and River Goddesses

by Jenne Micale

Photo of Jenne Micale

Jenne Micale

The mighty Susquehanna courses through the land where I live. Sometimes placid, brown-faced and slow, sometimes she roars to the drumming of the downpour, tearing away streets, homes, livelihoods, lives. She has many moods and many tributaries, fertilizing the farm fields with her floods, drawing human communities to her banks in the days of water transportation.

I especially honor Boann of the Susquehanna in early springtime when – in a normal year – the ice cracks and breaks, freeing her flow from winter’s prison. It’s a treacherous, exciting time, one that can often lead to ice jams that flood neighborhoods.

Rivers are goddesses in Celtic tradition, which is why I refer to the Susquehanna with a female pronoun. It’s an old association, with roots that span Indo-European cultures. Witness, for example, some of the river goddesses of India: Yamuna, Ganga of the Ganges, and Sarasvati, whose river dried up in ancient times but who lingers as the matron of the arts and learning. Goddesses were connected with rivers and springs in both Gaul and the British Isles, which were often the site of healing shrines: Sequana of the Seine, Coventina, Sabrina of the Severn, Brigantia of the Brent, and Sinann of the Shannon, to name a few. James Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabelle, the personification of the River Liffey in Finnegan’s Wake, is a modern example.

Worshiped today as the Earth Mother, Danu may have originally been a river goddess, linked to streams such as the Danube, Don, Dneiper and others (Rees, 53). Sanskrit literature includes a river goddess of the same name (MacKillop 9), who is the mother of the serpent Vrtra, the adversary of Indra who holds back the waters of heaven (Rees 53).

The river goddess most prominent in Keltrian lore is Boann or Boand, the great lady of the Boyne, considered in some circles to be the Ganges of Ireland. In my own practice, I view Boann as the goddess of all rivers, albeit in localized forms; I invoke Boann of the Susquehanna and Boann of the Chenango, for example. She is the goddess not only of the physical river, but of the celestial river above, the Milky Way and the wheel of time.

Boann’s name is frequently assumed to be derived from Bo Finn, or “White Cow”; an alternate translation would be “Great Cow” (Rua 24) or “She who has white cows.” In some tales, however, her name is also given as Eithne, “sweet nut meat,” perhaps a reference to the hazelnuts that grow around the Well of Segais; Patricia Monaghan believes Boann to be the same as Eithne who is the daughter of the Fomhoire Balor, and who lay with Cian and conceived Lugh (183). Boann has a sister – the goddess of childbirth Bébinn – and even a dog, Debilla (MacKillop 13).

Akin to the connection between rivers and goddesses, the connection of cows with water also has cross-cultural roots.  A Vedic hymn describes Danu laying down with her son “like a cow with her calf” (Rig Veda 150). The Rig Veda, one of the oldest texts in the Indo-European tradition, consistently refers to  the waters released by the storm-god Indra as cows (151), who may be synonymous with the “seven rivers” (161).

In Ceisiwr Serith’s reconstructed Proto-Indo-European pantheon, the ur-deity that becomes Boann is the cow goddess Gwouwinda, a “completely benevolent character” who functions as a wife, mother and bestower of abundance upon her worshippers (67).  Cow-goddesses in other cultures include the Roman Juno; the Greek Hera with her epithet of Bopis, or cow-eyed; and, of course, the many bovine goddesses of India, including the spirits of the waters, the aforementioned Danu and Sarasvati herself (67-68). As one Vedic  hymn states: “Your inexhaustible breast, Sarasvati, that flows with the food of life, that you use to nourish all that one could wish for, freely giving treasure and wealth and beautiful gifts – bring that here for us to suck” (RV, 81). The goddess gives both water and milk, the substance of life itself, the sustenance that becomes fertility and wealth.

For Aedh Rua, Boann isn’t just the goddess of the river; she is the goddess of the moon, who is allegedly referred to as a cow in Irish folk-speech (24). Rua also suggests that she is the river of heaven: the Milky Way, or the “Way of the White Cow.”  In Irish, that equates to Bealach na Bó Finne (Ellis). Interestingly, this also recalls the Greek myth of the Milky Way as milk from Hera’s breasts that spilled as she nursed Heracles.

Tales of the river

In Irish myth, Boann is the wife of Elcmar or Nechtan, who are sometimes believed to be synonymous with Nuada; both the names Nechtan and Nuada are believed to be connected with the Gaulish Nodens. Scholar Jaan Puhvel also links Nechtan linguistically with the Roman Neptunus, the Indo-Iranian Napat and ultimately with the Vedic Apam Napat, the “Offspring of the Waters” who contains a sacred, hidden fire (277-280).

Photo of Anna Livia Plurabelle

Anna Livia Plurabelle

While her husband is away, Boann lays with the Dagda and conceives Aonghus Mag Og, the Young Son associated with love and springtime. To conceal her adultery, she – or, in some versions of the tale, the Dagda -- stops time, making nine months appear as a single day.  His birth thus concealed, Aonghus is given to his half-brother Midhir to raise.

Boann and Sinann, the goddess of the River Shannon and daughter or granddaughter of the sea-god Lir, share an identical myth. The goddess goes to the forbidden well of knowledge and circumambulates it widdershins, whether to gain its power for herself or to cleanse herself of the adultery that conceived Aonghus. Offended, the waters rise up and pursue her. She flees to the sea – giving up her physical body in the process, and becoming the goddess of the newly created river. Interestingly, the creation of the river through death has echoes yet again in India, where Yami -- the twin sister of the death god Yama and the first woman – ultimately becomes the Yamuna.

Boann in particular is believed to be the mother of many of the world’s prominent rivers, with her stream passing underground at various locations and ultimately returning to her source at Nechtan’s well (Puhvel 279). Her interaction with the well isn’t just an act of transgression; like the Vedic Indra, Boann “releases the water for all people – a fact which is acknowledged in most poetic texts, since it is Boand, not Nechtan, who is remembered as the source and patroness of the fertile imagination of poets,” according to Caitlin and John Matthews (17). She is the source of inspiration in other ways as well, since she is believed to be the mother by Dagda’s harper Uaithne of the three strains of music : lamentation, joy and sleep (Matthews 327).

Plucking the strings of my harp, I sing to honor the Mother of Waters both above and below, she who bestows abundance and wisdom hard-won:

White cow
White river
Flower of wisdom
Mother of love
White moon
White foam
Mother of the Waters

 

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Ellis, Peter Berresford. “Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument.” First published in Réalta vol 3 no.3 1996. Retrieved March 10, 2012 from http://www.radical- astrology.com/irish/miscellany/ellis.html.
  • MacKillop, James. Myths and Legends of the Celts. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
  • Matthews, Caitlin and John. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. Rockport, Mass.: Element, 1994.
  • Monaghan, Patricia. The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003.
  • Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.
  • Rees, Alwayn and Brinley. Celtic Heritage: Ancient tradition in Ireland and Wales. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.
  • The Rig Veda. Trans. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.
  • Rua, Aedh. Celtic Flame: An Insider’s Guide to Irish Pagan Tradition. New York: iUniverse, 2008.
  • Serith, Ceisiwr. Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2007.

Note: You can hear me sing the chant above on my album, The Twisted Book, available at
 www.kwannon.net.