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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 164

Some writers have maintained that Elysium is simply the land of the dead, although nothing in the existing tales justifies this interpretation. M. D'Arbois argues for this view, resting his theory mainly on a passage in the story of Connla, interpreted by him in a way which does not give its real meaning.1263 The words are spoken by the goddess to Connla, and their sense is—"The Ever-Living Ones invite thee. Thou art a champion to Tethra's people. They see thee every day in the assemblies of thy fatherland, among thy familiar loved ones." M. D'Arbois assumes that Tethra, a Fomorian, is lord of Elysium, and that after his defeat by the Tuatha Déa, he, like Kronos, took refuge there, and now reigns as lord of the dead. By translating ar-dot-chiat ("they see thee," 3rd plur., pres. ind.) as "on t'y verra," he maintains that Connla, by going to Elysium, will be seen among the gatherings of his dead kinsfolk. But the words, "Thou art a champion to Tethra's people," cannot be made to mean that Tethra is a god of the dead. It means simply that Connla is a mighty warrior, one of those whom Tethra, a war-god, would have approved. The phrase, "Tethra's mighty men," used elsewhere, {375} is a conventional one for warriors. The rest of the goddess's words imply that the Immortals from afar, or perhaps "Tethra's mighty men," i.e. warriors in this world, see Connla in the assemblies of his fatherland in Erin, among his familiar friends. Dread death awaits them, she has just said, but the Immortals desire Connla to escape that by coming to Elysium. Her words do not imply that he will meet his dead ancestors there, nor is she in any sense a goddess of death. If the dead went to Elysium, there would be little need for inviting a living person to go there. Had Connla's dead ancestors or Tethra's people (warriors) been in Elysium, this would contradict the picture drawn by the goddess of the land whither she desires him to go—a land of women, not of men. Moreover, the rulers of Elysium are always members of the Tuatha Dé Danann or the síd-folk, never a Fomorian like Tethra.1266

M. D'Arbois also assumes that "Spain" in Nennius' account of the Irish invasions and in Irish texts means the land of the dead, and that it was introduced in place of some such title as Mag Mór or Mag Mell by "the euhemerising process of the Irish Christians." But in other documents penned by Irish Christians these and other pagan titles of Elysium remain unchanged. Nor is there the slightest proof that the words used by Tuan MacCaraill about the invaders of Ireland, "They all died," were rendered in an original text, now lost according to M. D'Arbois, "They set sail for Mag Mór or Mag Mell," a formula in which Nennius saw indications of a return to Spain. Spain, in this hypothetical text, was the Land of the Dead or Elysium, whence the invaders {376} came. This "lost original" exists in M. D'Arbois imagination, and there is not the slightest evidence for these alterations. Once, indeed, Tailtiu is called daughter of Magh Mór, King of Spain, but here a person, not a place, is spoken of. Sir John Rh[^y]s accepts the identification of Spain with Elysium as the land of the dead, and finds in every reference to Spain a reference to the Other-world, which he regards as a region ruled by "dark divinities." But neither the lords of Elysium nor the Celtic Dispater were dark or gloomy deities, and the land of the dead was certainly not a land of darkness any more than Elysium. The numerous references to Spain probably point to old traditions regarding a connection between Spain and Ireland in early times, both commercial and social, and it is not impossible that Goidelic invaders did reach Ireland from Spain. Early maps and geographers make Ireland and Spain contiguous; hence in an Irish tale Ireland is visible from Spain, and this geographical error would strengthen existing traditions.1270 "Spain" was used vaguely, but it does not appear to have meant Elysium or the Land of the Dead. If it did, it is strange that the Tuatha Dé Danann are never brought into connection with it.


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