The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 170


Some of the Elysium tales have been influenced by Christian conceptions, and in a certain group, the Imrama or "Voyages," Elysium finally becomes the Christian paradise or heaven. But the Elysium conception also reacted on Christian ideas of paradise. In the Voyage of Maelduin, which bears some resemblance to the story of Bran, the Christian influence is still indefinite, but it is more marked in the Voyage of Snedgus and MacRiagla. One island has become a kind of intermediate state, where dwell Enoch and Elijah, and many others waiting for the day of judgment. Another {389} island resembles the Christian heaven. But in the Voyage of Brandan the pagan elements have practically disappeared; there is an island of hell and an island of paradise. The island conception is the last relic of paganism, but now the voyage is undertaken for the purpose of revenge or penance or pilgrimage. Another series of tales of visionary journeys to hell or heaven are purely Christian, yet the joys of heaven have a sensuous aspect which recalls those of the pagan Elysium. In one of these, The Tidings of Doomsday, there are two hells, and besides heaven there is a place for the boni non valde, resembling the island of Enoch and Elijah in the Voyage of Snedgus. The connection of Elysium with the Christian paradise is seen in the title Tir Tairngiri, "The Land of Promise," which is applied to the heavenly kingdom or the land flowing with milk and honey in early glosses, e.g. on Heb. iv. 4, vi. 15, where Canaan and the regnum c[oe]lorum are called Tír Tairngiri, and in a gloss to 1 Cor. x. 4, where the heavenly land is called Tír Tairngiri Innambéo, "The Land of Promise of the Living Ones," thus likening it to the "Land of the Living" in the story of Connla.

Sensuous as many of the aspects of Elysium are, they have yet a spiritual aspect which must not be overlooked. The emphasis placed on its beauty, its music, its rest and peace, its oblivion, is spiritual rather than sensual, while the dwelling of favoured mortals there with divine beings is suggestive of that union with the divine which is the essence of all religion. Though men are lured to seek it, they do not leave it, or they go back to it after a brief absence, and Laeg says that he would prefer Elysium to the kingship of all Ireland, and his {390} words are echoed by others. And the lure of the goddess often emphasises the freedom from turmoil, grief, and the rude alarms of earthly life. This "sweet and blessed country" is described with all the passion of a poetical race who dreamed of perfect happiness, and saw in the joy of nature's beauty, the love of women, and the thought of unbroken peace and harmony, no small part of man's truest life. Favoured mortals had reached Elysium, and the hope that he, too, might be so favoured buoyed up the Celt as he dreamed over this state, which was so much more blissful even than the future state of the dead. Many races have imagined a happy Other-world, but no other race has so filled it with magic beauty, or so persistently recurred to it as the Celts. They stood on the cliffs which faced the west, and as the pageant of sunset passed before them, or as at midday the light shimmered on the far horizon and on shadowy islands, they gazed with wistful eyes as if to catch a glimpse of Elysium beyond the fountains of the deep and the halls of the setting sun. In all this we see the Celtic version of a primitive and instinctive human belief. Man refuses to think that the misery and disappointment and strife and pain of life must always be his. He hopes and believes that there is reserved for him, somewhere and at some time, eternal happiness and eternal love.

Footnote 1231:(return)

Nutt-Meyer, i. 213.

Footnote 1232:(return)

Joyce, OCR 431.

Footnote 1233:(return)

D'Arbois, ii. 311; IT i. 113 f.; O'Curry, MC iii. 190.

Footnote 1234:(return)

Nutt-Meyer, i. 1 f., text and translation.

Footnote 1235:(return)

LU 120a; Windisch, Irische Gramm. 120 f.; D'Arbois, v. 384 f.; Gaelic Journal, ii. 307.

Footnote 1236:(return)

TOS iv. 234. See also Joyce, OCR 385; Kennedy, 240.

Footnote 1237:(return)

LU 43 f.; IT i. 205 f.; O'Curry, Atlantis, ii., iii.; D'Arbois, v. 170; Leahy, i. 60 f.

Footnote 1238:(return)

"From Manannan came foes."

Footnote 1239:(return)

Joyce, OCR 223 f.

Footnote 1240:(return)

O'Grady, ii. 290. In this story the sea is identified with Fiachna's wife.

Footnote 1241:(return)

Joyce, OCR 253 f.

Footnote 1242:(return)

IT iii. 211 f.; D'Arbois, ii. 185.

Footnote 1243:(return)

O'Curry, MS. Mat. 388.

Footnote 1244:(return)

A similar idea occurs in many Fian tales.

Footnote 1245:(return)

Evans, Welsh Dict. s.v. "Annwfn"; Anwyl, 60; Gaidoz, ZCP i. 29 f.

Footnote 1246:(return)

Loth, i. 27 f.; see p. 111, supra.

Footnote 1247:(return)

Pp. 106, 112, supra.

Footnote 1248:(return)

Guest, iii. 75; Loth, i. 29 f.

Footnote 1249:(return)

Skene, i. 264, 276. Cf. the Ille tournoiont of the Graal romances and the revolving houses of Märchen. A revolving rampart occurs in "Maelduin" (RC x. 81).

Footnote 1250:(return)

Skene, i. 285.

Footnote 1251:(return)

Pp. 103, 116, supra.

Footnote 1252:(return)

Chretien, Eric, 1933 f.; Geoffrey, Vita Merlini, 41; San Marte, Geoffrey, 425. Another Irish Liban is called Muirgen, which is the same as Morgen. See Girald. Cambr. Spec. Eccl. Rolls Series, iv. 48.

Footnote 1253:(return)

William of Malmesbury, de Ant. Glaston. Eccl.

Footnote 1254:(return)

San Marte, 425.

Footnote 1255:(return)

Op. cit. iv. 49.

Footnote 1256:(return)

Joyce, OCR 434; Rh[^y]s, CFL i. 170; Hardiman, Irish Minst. i. 367; Sébillot, ii. 56 f.; Girald. Cambr. ii. 12. The underworld is sometimes reached through a well (cf. p. 282, supra; TI iii. 209).

Footnote 1257:(return)

Le Braz2, i. p. xxxix, ii. 37 f.; Albert le Grand, Vies de Saints de Bretagne, 63.

Footnote 1258:(return)

A whole class of such Irish legends is called Tomhadna, "Inundations." A typical instance is that of the town below Lough Neagh, already referred to by Giraldus Cambrensis, Top. Hib. ii. 9; cf. a Welsh instance in Itin. Cambr. i. 2. See Rh[^y]s, CFL, passim; Kennedy, 282; Rev. des Trad. Pop. ix. 79.

Footnote 1259:(return)

Scott. Celt. Rev. i. 70; Campbell, WHT Nos. 38, 52; Loth, i. 38.

Footnote 1260:(return)

Curtin, Tales, 158; Rh[^y]s, CFL i. 230.

Footnote 1261:(return)

Nutt-Meyer, i. 159.

Footnote 1262:(return)

In the Vedas, Elysium has also a strong agricultural aspect, probably for the same reasons.

Footnote 1263:(return)

D'Arbois, ii. 119, 192, 385, vi. 197, 219; RC xxvi. 173; Les Druides, 121.

Footnote 1264:(return)

For the text see Windisch, Ir. Gram. 120: "Totchurethar bii bithbi at gérait do dáinib Tethrach. ar-dot-chiat each dia i n-dálaib tathardai eter dugnathu inmaini." Dr. Stokes and Sir John Rh[^y]s have both privately confirmed the interpretation given above.

Footnote 1265:(return)

"Dialogue of the Sages," RC xxvi. 33 f.

Footnote 1266:(return)

Tethra was husband of the war-goddess Badb, and in one text his name is glossed badb (Cormac, s.v. "Tethra"). The name is also glossed muir, "sea," by O'Cleary, and the sea is called "the plain of Tethra" (Arch. Rev. i. 152). These obscure notices do not necessarily denote that he was ruler of an oversea Elysium.

Footnote 1267:(return)

Nennius, Hist. Brit. § 13; D'Arbois, ii. 86, 134, 231.

Footnote 1268:(return)

LL 8b; Keating, 126.

Footnote 1269:(return)

Both art motifs and early burial customs in the two countries are similar. See Reinach, RC xxi. 88; L'Anthropologie, 1889, 397; Siret, Les Premiere Ages du Metal dans le Sud. Est. de l'Espagne.

Footnote 1270:(return)

Orosius, i. 2. 71; LL 11b.

Footnote 1271:(return)

D'Arbois, v. 384; O'Grady, ii. 385.

Footnote 1272:(return)

TOS iii. 119; Joyce, OCR 314. For a folk-tale version see Folk-lore, vii. 321.

Footnote 1273:(return)

Leahy, i. 36; Campbell, LF 29; CM xiii. 285; Dean of Lismore's Book, 54.

Footnote 1274:(return)

O'Curry, MC ii. 143; Cormac, 35.

Footnote 1275:(return)

See p. 187, supra; IT iii. 213.

Footnote 1276:(return)

See Gaidoz, "La Requisition de l'Amour et la Symbolisme de la Pomme," Ann. de l'École Pratique des Hautes Études, 1902; Fraser, Pausanias, iii. 67.

Footnote 1277:(return)

Rh[^y]s, HL 359.

Footnote 1278:(return)

"The Silver Bough in Irish Legend," Folk-Lore, xii. 431.

Footnote 1279:(return)

Cook, Folk-Lore, xvii. 158.

Footnote 1280:(return)

IT i. 133.

Footnote 1281:(return)

O'Donovan, Battle of Mag Rath, 50; D'Arbois, v. 67; IT i. 96. Dagda's cauldron came from Murias, probably an oversea world.

Footnote 1282:(return)

Miss Hull, 244. Scath is here the Other-world, conceived, however, as a dismal abode.

Footnote 1283:(return)

O'Curry, MC ii. 97, iii. 79; Keating, 284 f.; RC xv. 449.

Footnote 1284:(return)

Skene, i. 264; cf. RC xxii. 14.

Footnote 1285:(return)

P. 116, supra.

Footnote 1286:(return)

Guest, iii. 321 f.

Footnote 1287:(return)

See pp. 103, 117, supra.

Footnote 1288:(return)

For the use of a vessel in ritual as a symbol of deity, see Crooke, Folk-Lore, viii. 351 f.

Footnote 1289:(return)

Diod. Sic. v. 28; Athen. iv. 34; Joyce, SH ii. 124; Antient Laws of Ireland, iv. 327. The cauldrons of Irish houses are said in the texts to be inexhaustible (cf. RC xxiii. 397).

Footnote 1290:(return)

Strabo, vii. 2. 1; Lucan, Usener's ed., p. 32; IT iii. 210; Antient Laws of Ireland, i. 195 f.

Footnote 1291:(return)

Curtin, HTI 249, 262.

Footnote 1292:(return)

See Villemarqué, Contes Pop. des anciens Bretons, Paris, 1842; Rh[^y]s,