The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 156

amours with mortals. They show descent from deities—Camulogenus (son of Camulos), Esugenos (son of Esus), Boduogenus (son of Bodva); or from tree-spirits—Dergen (son of the oak), Vernogenus (son of the alder); or from divine animals—Arthgen (son of the bear), Urogenus (son of the urus).1211 What was once an epithet describing divine filiation became later a personal name. So in Greece names like Apollogenes, Diogenes, and Hermogenes, had once been epithets of heroes born of Apollo, Zeus, and Hermes.

Thus it was a vital Celtic belief that divinities might unite with mortals and beget children. Heroes enticed away to Elysium enjoyed the love of its goddesses—Cúchulainn that of Fand; Connla, Bran, and Oisin that of unnamed divinities. So, too, the goddess Morrigan offered herself to Cúchulainn. The Christian Celts of the fifth century retained this belief, though in a somewhat altered form. S. Augustine and others describe the shaggy demons called dusii by the Gauls, who sought the couches of women in order to gratify their desires.1212 {356} The dusii are akin to the incubi and fauni, and do not appear to represent the higher gods reduced to the form of demons by Christianity, but rather a species of lesser divinities, once the object of popular devotion.

These beliefs are also connected with the Celtic notions of transformation and transmigration—the one signifying the assuming of another shape for a time, the other the passing over of the soul or the personality into another body, perhaps one actually existing, but more usually by actual rebirth. As has been seen, this power of transformation was claimed by the Druids and by other persons, or attributed to them, and they were not likely to minimise their powers, and would probably boast of them on all occasions. Such boasts are put into the mouths of the Irish Amairgen and the Welsh Taliesin. As the Milesians were approaching Ireland, Amairgen sang verses which were perhaps part of a ritual chant:

"I am the wind which blows over the sea,

I am the wave of the ocean,

I am the bull of seven battles,

I am the eagle on the rock...

I am a boar for courage,

I am a salmon in the water, etc."1213

Professor Rh[^y]s points out that some of these verses need not mean actual transformation, but mere likeness, through "a primitive formation of predicate without the aid of a particle corresponding to such a word as 'like.'" Enough, however, remains to show the claim of the magician. Taliesin, in many poems, makes similar claims, and says, "I have been in a multitude of shapes before I assumed a consistent form"—that of a sword, a tear, a star, an eagle, etc. Then he was created, without father or mother. Similar pretensions are common to the medicine-man everywhere. But from another {357} point of view they may be mere poetic extravagances such as are common in Celtic poetry.1216 Thus Cúchulainn says: "I was a hound strong for combat ... their little champion ... the casket of every secret for the maidens," or, in another place, "I am the bark buffeted from wave to wave ... the ship after the losing of its rudder ... the little apple on the top of the tree that little thought of its falling." These are metaphoric descriptions of a comparatively simple kind. The full-blown bombast appears in the Colloquy of the Two Sages, where Nede and Fercertne exhaust language in describing themselves to each other. Other Welsh bards besides Taliesin make similar boasts to his, and Dr. Skene thinks that their claims "may have been mere bombast." Still some current belief in shape-shifting, or even in rebirth, underlies some of these boastings and gives point to them. Amairgen's "I am" this or that, suggests the inherent power of transformation; Taliesin's "I have been," the actual transformations. Such assertions do not involve "the powerful pantheistic doctrine which is at once the glory and error of Irish philosophy," as M. D'Arbois claims, else are savage medicine-men, boastful of their shape-shifting powers, philosophic pantheists. The poems are merely highly developed forms of primitive beliefs in shape-shifting, such as are found among all savages and barbaric folk, but expressed in the boastful language in which the Celt delighted.