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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 40

Cóir Anmann adds that the Britons and the men of Erin deemed him god of the sea. That position is plainly seen in many tales, e.g. in the magnificent passage of The Voyage of Bran, where he suddenly sweeps into sight, riding in a chariot across the waves from the Land of Promise; or in the tale of Cúchulainn's Sickness, where his wife Fand sees him, "the horseman of the crested sea," coming across the waves. In the Agallamh na Senorach he appears as a cavalier breasting the waves. "For the space of nine waves he would be submerged in the sea, but would rise on the crest of the tenth without wetting chest or breast."306 In one archaic tale he is identified with a great sea wave which swept away Tuag, while the waves are sometimes called "the son of Lir's horses"—a name still current in Ireland, or, again, "the locks of Manannan's wife."307 His position as god of the sea may have given rise to the belief that he was ruler of the oversea Elysium, and, later, of the other-world as a magical domain coterminous with this earth. He is still remembered in the Isle of Man, which may owe its name to him, and which, like many another island, was regarded by the Goidels as the island Elysium under its name of Isle of Falga. He is also the Manawyddan of Welsh story.

Manannan appears in the Cúchulainn and Fionn cycles, {88} usually as a ruler of the Other-world. His wife Fand was Cúchulainn's mistress, Diarmaid was his pupil in fairyland, and Cormac was his guest there. Even in Christian times surviving pagan beliefs caused legend to be busy with his name. King Fiachna was fighting the Scots and in great danger, when a stranger appeared to his wife and announced that he would save her husband's life if she would consent to abandon herself to him. She reluctantly agreed, and the child of the amour was the seventh-century King Mongan, of whom the annalist says, "every one knows that his real father was Manannan." Mongan was also believed to be a rebirth of Fionn. Manannan is still remembered in folk-tradition, and in the Isle of Man, where his grave is to be seen, some of his ritual survived until lately, bundles of rushes being placed for him on midsummer eve on two hills.309 Barintus, who steers Arthur to the fortunate isles, and S. Barri, who crossed the sea on horseback, may have been legendary forms of a local sea-god akin to Manannan, or of Manannan himself. His steed was Enbarr, "water foam or hair," and Manannan was "the horseman of the manéd sea." "Barintus," perhaps connected with barr find, "white-topped," would thus be a surname of the god who rode on Enbarr, the foaming wave, or who was himself the wave, while his mythic sea-riding was transferred to the legend of S. Barri, if such a person ever existed.

Various magical possessions were ascribed to Manannan—his armour and sword, the one making the wearer invulnerable, {89} the other terrifying all who beheld it; his horse and canoe; his swine, which came to life again when killed; his magic cloak; his cup which broke when a lie was spoken; his tablecloth, which, when waved, produced food. Many of these are found everywhere in Märchen, and there is nothing peculiarly Celtic in them. We need not, therefore, with the mythologists, see in his armour the vapoury clouds or in his sword lightning or the sun's rays. But their magical nature as well as the fact that so much wizardry is attributed to Manannan, points to a copious mythology clustering round the god, now for ever lost.

The parentage of Lug is differently stated, but that account which makes him son of Cian and of Ethne, daughter of Balor, is best attested. Folk-tradition still recalls the relation of Lug and Balor. Balor, a robber living in Tory Island, had a daughter whose son was to kill her father. He therefore shut her up in an inaccessible place, but in revenge for Balor's stealing MacIneely's cow, the latter gained access to her, with the result that Ethne bore three sons, whom Balor cast into the sea. One of them, Lug, was recovered by MacIneely and fostered by his brother Gavida. Balor now slew MacIneely, but was himself slain by Lug, who pierced his single eye with a red-hot iron. In another version, Kian takes MacIneely's place and is aided by Manannan, in accordance with older legends. But Lug's birth-story has been influenced in these tales by the Märchen formula of the girl hidden away because it has been foretold that she will have a son who will slay her father.


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