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 A druid stood on the shore of Ireland, and recited a poem.

The Celts had recently arrived in Ireland, and were preparing to battle the mythic race of the Tuatha de Danaan for the island. After calming a sea storm sent by the sorcery of the Tuatha De, Amhairgin, druid of the Celts, came ashore and recited a poem known as the Song of Amhairgin. This “poets boast” is a series of I am statements, such as: I am Wind on Sea, I am Hawk on Cliff, I am Roar of Sea, and more. This was followed by an incantation which invoked the land to provide an abundance of resources, what he called a “fishful sea.”[1]

His verse could be a battle cry, a blessing, statements of oneness or domination, or the raving of a druidic ego gone wild. Considering the cultural worldview from which the story sprang, the meaning and symbolism of myth, the context of the poem, and the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves, it is ultimately a mythic celebration of a possible evolution in our relationship with nature.

The representation of nature in Irish mythology can best be described as mystical, broadening it to something more than natural, yet not quite supernatural. Nature is a place in-between, often seen as a doorway between this world and the otherworld. All of Irish mythology is informed by a known and familiar world, but one simultaneously unknown, where anything is possible. This otherworldly image allows a broader selection of setting, plot, and characters, and ties the temporal, sensual world to the sacred, making the story more powerful, symbolic, and universal.

The ancient Celts were closer to nature, and more at the mercy of its whims than we are today. Their culture was pastoral and agricultural, and survival depended on the success of hunting, farming, and animal husbandry. They were well aware of their dependence on nature, and to ensure survival, they used magical and religious rituals, such as the fertility rite of the sacred marriage between the king and the Goddess of the land. Story was a critical part of Irish culture, and to ensure their way of life, the druids were tasked with preserving and passing wisdom on through myth and verse. Poems and incantations were a common form of magic for druids, who underwent long years of training to memorize and master various forms of poetry. Since survival depended on nature, it played a central role in their repertoire, usually as a prop to support the wisdom passing function.

Druids were also known to be shape-shifters, and in the Song of Amhairgin, the otherworldly representation of nature is reflected in Amhairgin actually being that of which he sang, such as the hawk on the cliff. In this merging of nature and humankind, he foreshadows the resolution of the coming conflict with the Tuatha De, and provides a glimpse of a resolution to the conflict between our contemporary dominance of and inherent enchantment with nature.

To place the Song of Amhairgin in context, we should first know that the battle at hand was not the first time the Tuatha De had fought for Ireland. To understand the song in a broader sense, we look now to one of the central myths in Irish mythology, The Battle of Magh Tuireadh, the story of a great battle between the Tuatha De and their predecessors, the Fomorians.

The name Tuatha De Danann is often translated as “People of Dana.” Dana is the goddess of the land, so in this we see the Tuatha De as one with nature. The Fomorians, whose leader, Balor, had a single eye that destroyed all that it looked upon, were the epitome of man’s destructive forces on nature.[2] The Tuatha De won this battle when Lugh cast his spear through Balor’s eye, pushing it out the back of his head and destroying the Fomorians with its gaze. The destructive force ultimately destroyed itself, and the Tuatha De became rulers of Ireland, until the arrival of the Celts.[3]

It becomes clear that the Song of Amhairgin was more than just a lyrical exercise of an oversized druidic ego. It had meaning; it used nature to convey nature. As part of the storyline, it is simply a war cry, but in the wider context of the story, the poem goes far beyond that; all of the Celtic worldview seems to be encapsulated in the song. The greatest strengths of mythology are symbolism and multiple layers of meaning, which begs the question – what could the song mean, especially for us today in face of an ecological crisis?

The Book of Invasions is a collection of stories which chronicle the successive conquerors of Ireland, culminating with the defeat of the Tuatha De by the Celts, but it is important to note that the victory of the Celts was not really a defeat for the Tuatha De. A mutual agreement decreed that the Celts would inhabit Ireland, and the Tuatha De would inhabit the land as spirits, eventually to be known as faerie. This was a merger of two disparate entities that brought a recognition and incorporation of the values and worldviews of each of the cultures. This blending enhanced Celtic myth with the view of nature as sacred, infused with life and spirit, and it is through this agreement that both cultures evolved and became equal parts in a single reciprocal ecology.

With this representation of nature, we can begin to formulate a realistic vision to move away from our being solely a culture of exploitation (Fomorian), and toward a reciprocal sustainability with the earth (Celtic/Tuatha De). In the first part of his song, Amhairgin said I am, not I am like. His shape-shifting was recognition of his oneness with nature. In the second part of the recitation, he called on the land to provide, which at first glance seems to be dominant and exploitative. It is his oneness with the land though, that demonstrates his reciprocity. He is nature, thus he is also the one that provides. He had invoked the human-nature oneness. If we can remember this same oneness, we will evolve and re-assume our authentic place in a single ecology with nature, and enjoy the “fishful sea” of which Amhairgin sang.

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NOTES

[1] Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of Invasions.” Academy for Ancient Texts. Ancient Texts Library. Web. 22 May

2011. <http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/lebor5.html&gt;.

[2] Kirkey, Jason. The Salmon in the Spring: the Ecology of Celtic Spirituality. San Francisco: Hiraeth, 2010. Print. pp. 28; 53-54

[3] Gregory, Lady Augusta. “Gods and Fighting Men.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. Web. 22 May 2011. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/gafm/&gt;.

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