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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 28

The strife of Fomorians and Tuatha Dé Danann suggests the dualism of all nature religions. Demons or giants or monsters strive with gods in Hindu, Greek, and Teutonic {58} mythology, and in Persia the primitive dualism of beneficent and hurtful powers of nature became an ethical dualism—the eternal opposition of good and evil. The sun is vanquished by cloud and storm, but shines forth again in vigour. Vegetation dies, but undergoes a yearly renewal. So in myth the immortal gods are wounded and slain in strife. But we must not push too far the analogy of the apparent strife of the elements and the wars of the gods. The one suggested the other, especially where the gods were elemental powers. But myth-making man easily developed the suggestion; gods were like men and "could never get eneuch o' fechtin'." The Celts knew of divine combats before their arrival in Ireland, and their own hostile powers were easily assimilated to the hostile gods of the aborigines.

The principal Fomorians are described as kings. Elatha was son of Nét, described by Cormac as "a battle god of the heathen Gael," i.e. he is one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and has as wives two war-goddesses, Badb and Nemaind. Thus he resembles the Fomorian Tethra whose wife is a badb or "battle-crow," preying on the slain. Elatha's name, connected with words meaning "knowledge," suggests that he was an aboriginal culture-god. In the genealogies, Fomorians and Tuatha Dé Danann are inextricably mingled. Bres's temporary position as king of the Tuatha Déa may reflect some myth of the occasional supremacy of the powers of blight. Want and niggardliness characterise his reign, and after his defeat a better state of things prevails. Bres's consort was Brigit, and their son Ruadan, sent to spy on the Tuatha Dé Danann, was slain. His mother's wailing for him was the first mourning wail ever heard in Erin.190 Another god, Indech, {59} was son of Déa Domnu, a Fomorian goddess of the deep, i.e. of the underworld and probably also of fertility, who may hold a position among the Fomorians similar to that of Danu among the Tuatha Dé Danann. Indech was slain by Ogma, who himself died of wounds received from his adversary.

Balor had a consort Cethlenn, whose venom killed Dagda. His one eye had become evil by contact with the poisonous fumes of a concoction which his father's Druids were preparing. The eyelid required four men to raise it, when his evil eye destroyed all on whom its glance fell. In this way Balor would have slain Lug at Mag-tured, but the god at once struck the eye with a sling-stone and slew him. Balor, like the Greek Medusa, is perhaps a personification of the evil eye, so much feared by the Celts. Healthful influences and magical charms avert it; hence Lug, a beneficent god, destroys Balor's maleficence.

Tethra, with Balor and Elatha, ruled over Erin at the coming of the Tuatha Dé Danann. From a phrase used in the story of Connla's visit to Elysium, "Thou art a hero of the men of Tethra," M. D'Arbois assumes that Tethra was ruler of Elysium, which he makes one with the land of the dead. The passage, however, bears a different interpretation, and though a Fomorian, Tethra, a god of war, might be regarded as lord of all warriors.192 Elysium was not the land of the dead, and when M. D'Arbois equates Tethra with Kronos, who after his defeat became ruler of a land of dead heroes, the analogy, like other analogies with Greek mythology, is misleading. He also equates Bres, as temporary king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, with Kronos, king of heaven in the age of gold. Kronos, again, slain by Zeus, is parallel to Balor slain by his grandson Lug. Tethra, Bres, and Balor are thus separate fragments of one god equivalent to Kronos. Yet their {60} personalities are quite distinct. Each race works out its mythology for itself, and, while parallels are inevitable, we should not allow these to override the actual myths as they have come down to us.


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