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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 30

{61} the struggle once more. Myth spoke of this as having happened once for all, but it went on continuously.196 Gods were immortal and only seemed to die. The strife was represented in ritual, since men believe that they can aid the gods by magic, rite, or prayer. Why, then, do hostile Fomorians and Tuatha Dé Danann intermarry? This happens in all mythologies, and it probably reflects, in the divine sphere, what takes place among men. Hostile peoples carry off each the other's women, or they have periods of friendliness and consequent intermarriage. Man makes his gods in his own image, and the problem is best explained by facts like these, exaggerated no doubt by the Irish annalists.

The Tuatha Dé Danann, in spite of their euhemerisation, are more than human. In the north where they learned magic, they dwelt in four cities, from each of which they brought a magical treasure—the stone of Fal, which "roared under every king," Lug's unconquerable spear, Nuada's irresistible sword, the Dagda's inexhaustible cauldron. But they are more than wizards or Druids. They are re-born as mortals; they have a divine world of their own, they interfere in and influence human affairs. The euhemerists did not go far enough, and more than once their divinity is practically acknowledged. When the Fian Caoilte and a woman of the Tuatha Dé Danann appear before S. Patrick, he asks, "Why is she youthful and beautiful, while you are old and wrinkled?" And Caoilte replies, "She is of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who are unfading and whose duration is perennial. I am of the sons of Milesius, that are perishable and fade away."197

{62}

After their conversion, the Celts, sons of Milesius, thought that the gods still existed in the hollow hills, their former dwellings and sanctuaries, or in far-off islands, still caring for their former worshippers. This tradition had its place with that which made them a race of men conquered by the Milesians—the victory of Christianity over paganism and its gods having been transmuted into a strife of races by the euhemerists. The new faith, not the people, conquered the old gods. The Tuatha Dé Danann became the Daoine-sidhe, a fairy folk, still occasionally called by their old name, just as individual fairy kings or queens bear the names of the ancient gods. The euhemerists gave the Fomorians a monstrous and demoniac character, which they did not always give to the Tuatha Dé Danann; in this continuing the old tradition that Fomorians were hostile and the Tuatha Dé Danann beneficent and mild.

The mythological cycle is not a complete "body of divinity"; its apparent completeness results from the chronological order of the annalists. Fragments of other myths are found in the Dindsenchas; others exist as romantic tales, and we have no reason to believe that all the old myths have been preserved. But enough remains to show the true nature of the Tuatha Dé Danann—their supernatural character, their powers, their divine and unfailing food and drink, their mysterious and beautiful abode. In their contents, their personages, in the actions that are described in them, the materials of the "mythological cycle," show how widely it differs from the Cúchulainn and Fionn cycles.198 "The white radiance of eternity" suffuses it; the heroic cycles, magical and romantic as they are, belong far more to earth and time.

Footnote 153:(return)

For some Highland references to the gods in saga and


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