Art, birds, bull, Cailleach, carving, Celtic, corr, crane, crane bag, cranes, dance, elements, Fionn MacCumhail, Irish, Manannan mac Lir, myth, nemeton, Ogham, talking stick, teanga, three, tongue, Tuatha de Danann
While gathering wood for making Ogham fews (pronounced ‘oh-uhm’ and referring to a form of Irish alphabet), Cliareach Filleadh felt prompted to set aside some pieces of wood for other purposes. The shape of one piece seemed ideal for some kind of carved ceremonial tool, and so began the work of whittling and sanding. It took a few weeks to get a sense of what it was the piece of wood wanted to become; ritual and quiet contemplation in places of natural beauty and inspiration helped facilitate the process.
The main place that seemed to speak to the intent of this piece was the nemeton of Brighid’s Cross / Crane’s Cauldron, and other events of synchronicity that summer further reinforced the connection between the piece being formed to cranes/herons. Since we work mainly within an Irish Celtic-focused practice (with contributions from other Celtic and North Sea cultures), the Irish word chosen was ‘corr‘ (unaccented), said ‘cahr‘ (comparable to the English ‘o’ in its “short” vowel form such as in the word ‘hot’) and meaning ‘crane/heron’, seemed appropriate for part of the naming and carved themes for it.
Other, more physical aspects of the wood piece were reminiscent of cranes/herons also. The upward curve in the middle suggested at a head with a long, spear-like beak, complete with a small knot of wood where the eye would likely be, and the long handle covered in bark seemed to differentiate from the head as perhaps a neck or the lithe body with its long legs. A strong resonance to the body and spirit of crane- or heron-like birds was definitely forming by this point.
Because myths give flesh to a culture’s skeleton of cosmology, the next important step for us in the creative process was to ground these intuitions within the myths of our practice. In this search we found that cranes appear often in Celtic and Gaulish myth, several times in 3’s. For example, in the Irish book of Leinster, Midir, one of the Tuatha De Danann, has 3 cranes guarding his castle that rob any attackers of their will to fight. The Welsh Underworld, called Annwn (said ah-noon), is guarded at the entrance by 3 cranes. Also, the Trier stone and a carving in Paris both represent a bull with 3 cranes perched upon it (two on the back and one over the head in the photo to the left). Other prominent Celtic mythological references to cranes include the sea god Manannan mac Lir’s famous crane-bag, Fionn MacCumhail’s grandmother transforming into a crane to save the child hero from his father’s killers, and the four sons of the hag goddess, the Cailleach, being turned into cranes and only able to be restored by blood from a sacrificial bull.
Cranes are often recognized for their ‘dancing’. After watching several videos of Sandhill Cranes, having chosen this species for its summer presence here in Michigan, there seemed to me to be 3 main positions to these dances: crouch/arch/coil, leap/spring/jump, and bow/dip/plunge. This discernment also aligned nicely with the mythological depictions of cranes in 3’s. Out of curiosity I searched for analogous words to these dancing positions in Irish. For crouching, coiling, or arching I thought the closest Irish translation would be ina stua for ‘arching’ in Irish, said approximately the way it is spelled. Jumping, springing, or leaping had a fairly straight forward translation as léim in Irish, said ‘lame’. The bowing, dipping, or plunging maneuver of the dance most closely appear to match the word tumadh in Irish, said ‘tuh-muh’.
To add the symbols and decoration to the wood itself, we decided on using a wood burning tool kit. Other symbols that we used in addition to the cranes were the Awen, the Tree of Life / World Tree, stars and flames, spirals, and The Twins. We briefly considered adding many attachments such as feathers and beads and whatnot, but we settled for keeping things relatively simple and limited to natural materials such as metal, cloth, and stone as much as possible. In keeping with the theme of 3’s, we obtained three smoothed, spherical beads: one of Blue Kyanite for the ‘element’ of Sky, one of mixed Red and Green Garnet for Land, and one of Lapis Lazuli for Sea. Braiding together red (Land), black (Sea), and white (Sky) threads from sage bundles we had purchased and subsequently burned, we repurposed the threads to tie the beads to the wood and also to protect the edges of the bark from being too badly damaged by handling. The final piece added was a small chain repurposed from a bracelet with a metal fish with a spiral on each of its sides, a couple small beads, and a metal four-looped cross, to represent the Salmon of Wisdom referred to in both Welsh (story of Taliesin) and Irish (stories of Fionn MacCumhail) myth.
All this having been done, the name still did not feel complete nor the purpose of this beautiful new tool established, so it was back to the myths and intuitions we went for guidance. Cranes were associated with messages and warnings; guardians, particularly of the Underworld/Otherworld; grandmothers, crones, and hags; and the druidic wisdom mysteries, all shown in Celtic myths and wider Celtic culture, so we finally settled on its main purpose to therefor be a talking stick to be used either with groups for discussion or for solitary contemplation of Mystery. The full name then was chosen to be ‘Corr Teanga’, said ‘cahr chahn-guh’ and meaning ‘language’ or the physical ‘tongue’, or Crane’s Tongue, and carved into the wood in Ogham letters. The whole process began some time in April 2014 and came to a close some time in August 2014. Compared to the Offering Bowl and Samhain masks, this project had been by far the longest; it took a lot of time and concentrated effort to ‘do everything right’. Some things just can’t be rushed.