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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 34

síd. She was daughter of Eogabal, king of the síd of Knockainy, the grass on which was annually destroyed at Samhain by his people, because it had been taken from them, its rightful owners. Oilill Olomm and Ferchus resolved to watch the síd on Samhain-eve. They saw Eogabal and Aine emerge from it. Ferchus killed Eogabal, and Oilill tried to outrage Aine, who bit the flesh from his ear. Hence his name of "Bare Ear." In this legend we see how earlier gods of fertility come to be regarded as hostile to growth. Another story tells of the love of Aillén, {71} Eogabal's son, for Manannan's wife and that of Aine for Manannan. Aine offered her favours to the god if he would give his wife to her brother, and "the complicated bit of romance," as S. Patrick calls it, was thus arranged.234

Although the Irish gods are warriors, and there are special war-gods, yet war-goddesses are more prominent, usually as a group of three—Morrigan, Neman, and Macha. A fourth, Badb, sometimes takes the place of one of these, or is identical with Morrigan, or her name, like that of Morrigan, may be generic.235 Badb means "a scald-crow," under which form the war-goddesses appeared, probably because these birds were seen near the slain. She is also called Badbcatha, "battle-Badb," and is thus the equivalent of -athubodua, or, more probably, Cathubodua, mentioned in an inscription from Haute-Savoie, while this, as well as personal names like Boduogenos, shows that a goddess Bodua was known to the Gauls.236 The badb or battle-crow is associated with the Fomorian Tethra, but Badb herself is consort of a war-god Nét, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who may be the equivalent of Neton, mentioned in Spanish inscriptions and equated with Mars. Elsewhere Neman is Nét's consort, and she may be the Nemetona of inscriptions, e.g. at Bath, the consort of Mars. Cormac calls Nét and Neman "a venomous couple," which we may well believe them to have been.237 To Macha were devoted the heads of slain enemies, "Macha's mast," but she, according to the annalists, was slain at Mag-tured, though she reappears in the Cúchulainn saga as the Macha whose ill-treatment led to the "debility" of the Ulstermen. The name Morrigan may mean "great queen," though Dr. Stokes, {72} connecting mor with the same syllable in "Fomorian," explains it as "nightmare-queen." She works great harm to the Fomorians at Mag-tured, and afterwards proclaims the victory to the hills, rivers, and fairy-hosts, uttering also a prophecy of the evils to come at the end of time.240 She reappears prominently in the Cúchulainn saga, hostile to the hero because he rejects her love, yet aiding the hosts of Ulster and the Brown Bull, and in the end trying to prevent the hero's death.

The prominent position of these goddesses must be connected with the fact that women went out to war—a custom said to have been stopped by Adamnan at his mother's request, and that many prominent heroines of the heroic cycles are warriors, like the British Boudicca, whose name may be connected with boudi, "victory." Specific titles were given to such classes of female warriors—bangaisgedaig, banfeinnidi, etc.242 But it is possible that these goddesses were at first connected with fertility, their functions changing with the growing warlike tendencies of the Celts. Their number recalls that of the threefold Matres, and possibly the change in their character is hinted in the Romano-British inscription at Benwell to the Lamiis Tribus, since Morrigan's name is glossed lamia. She is also identified with Anu, and is mistress of Dagda, an Earth-god, and with Badb and others expels the Fomorians when they destroyed the agricultural produce of Ireland.244 Probably the scald-crow was at once the symbol and the incarnation of the war-goddesses, who resemble the Norse Valkyries, appearing sometimes as crows, and the Greek Keres, bird-like beings which drank the blood of the slain. It {73} is also interesting to note that Badb, who has the character of a prophetess of evil, is often identified with the "Washer at the Ford," whose presence indicates death to him whose armour or garments she seems to cleanse.245

The Matres, goddesses of fertility, do not appear by name in Ireland, but the triplication of such goddesses as Morrigan and Brigit, the threefold name of Dagda's wife, or the fact that Arm, Danu, and Buanan are called "mothers," while Buanan's name is sometimes rendered "good mother," may suggest that such grouped goddesses were not unknown. Later legend knows of white women who assist in spinning, or three hags with power over nature, or, as in the Battle of Ventry, of three supernatural women who fall in love with Conncrithir, aid him in fight, and heal his wounds. In this document and elsewhere is mentioned the "síd of the White Women." Goddesses of fertility are usually goddesses of love, and the prominence given to females among the síde, the fact that they are often called Be find, "White Women," like fairies who represent the Matres elsewhere, and that they freely offer their love to mortals, may connect them with this group of goddesses. Again, when the Milesians arrived in Ireland, three kings of the Tuatha Déa had wives called Eriu, Banba, and Fotla, who begged that Ireland should be called after them. This was granted, but only Eriu (Erin) remained in general use.247 The story is an ætiological myth explaining the names of Ireland, but the three wives may be a group like the Matres, guardians of the land which took its name from them.


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