The Book of Invasions

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  • #9698
    david poole
    Participant

    I have spent some time studying the Mabinogion, and some time studying the Irish legends as well. I sort of stumbled across the Irish stories by accident, but was very glad that I did. This story is extremely martial in its nature, concerning as it does a war between the Children of Danu or Tuatha De Danaan and the Fomorri, a race of giants led by Balor of the Evil Eye. He acquired his poisonous eye when he went too close to a toxic brew being made by the druids, it got into his eye and his gaze became so deadly that it would incinerate anyone who he happened to gaze upon. Not very nice as you might imagine. Certain characters become very prominent within this story, some I recognised very well. Lugh is the leader of the warriors, brave and courageous. There has already been debate within another thread as to what difference there might be between gods and warriors. Is there a difference or have warriors become deified through legend? The Dagda is another very prominent figure. The Dagda is very earthy indeed, but also a figure of fun. Many jokes are made about the size of his girth, his eating habits, his flatulence and comments made on his potential impotence. He does perform a sacred marriage every year, so he can’t be that bad. The use of the magical club surprisingly does not come into this story, but falls within the Mythological Cycle, which is a completely different set of stories (Chuchaillain is also mentioned there). The Dagda’s magical harp does figure however. The Morrigan or Badbh the Battle Crow figures. There are some more important characters, I cannot remember all of them. I am not sure whether Fionn and the Salmon is part of this story, I think it may feature somewhere else. I cannot remember all of the developments but it is an epic story and well worth a look.

    #9699
    Dowrgi
    Participant

    Evening David.

    I hope you’re keeping well.

    Fionn and the Salmon is found in the Macgnímartha Finn (Boyhood Deeds of Finn) and is part of the Fiannaíocht (Fenian/Ossianic) Cycle, whereas the Book of Invasions or Lebor Gabála Érenn is part of the so-called Mythological Cycle. However, there is such an enormous corpus of Irish literature that it is hard to remember which cycle and where everything comes from! And to think how much may have been lost too!

    As for the Dagda, it is indeed odd that the “Good God” would be portrayed in such unflattering ways in the mythology, isn’t it? Was this perhaps a way of saying that the truth isn’t always pretty or that good medicine isn’t always nice to taste? Or was it perhaps that the Christian monks who were writing down these tales were keen on portraying the Dagda as a primitive, barbarous divinity, i.e. they weren’t going to cast him in such a serious or positive light given their own beliefs. Although the manuscripts we have usually date to the 11th-12th centuries, they may have been written down earlier, when pagan Norsemen were attacking Irish monasteries, so the monks, who would not have held anything pagan in such a good light anyway, may have been even more scathing. However, this is yet again the realm of conjecture. A much more flattering portrayal of the Dagda can be found in the Cóir Anmann (The Fitness of Names).

    Just how divine were these figures? It’s hard to tell, but I think that we have to try and imagine how they might have been conceived by the ancient, pre-Christian Irish, rather than with our own modern view. What is apparent is that these superhuman figures are certainly larger than life and yet they are very human in their “failings” and have their own weaknesses and mortality too – Nuada loses his hand in battle, Cermait is killed by Lugh and so on.

    As for Balor, I’ve read one interpretation that sees him as being the negative aspect of the sun, interesting that he is killed by his grandson Lugh, possibly the “Shining/Bright One”, who might represent the positive aspects of the sun. That etymology of Lugh is disputed, however, it is still interesting in that Lugh is the grandson of a Fomóire. It makes you wonder if we haven’t a deeper reading here, with ideas of cycles of birth and death going on – very fitting for solar mythology.

    Anyway, just some of my thoughts and input. Make of it what you will.

    Keep well.

    Bennathow.
    /|\

    #9700
    Dowrgi
    Participant

    Hi again, I’ve had a quick look for the quote from the Cóir Anmann for you.

    Cóir Anmann 150. Dagda.i. dagh dé .i. día soinemhail ag na geintíbh é, ar do adbradbáis Tuatba Dé Danann dó, ar bá día talmhan dóibh é ar mhét a chumachta.

    Cóir Anmann 150. Dagda, that is dag dé ‘fire of god’. He was a beautiful god of the heathens, for the Tuatha De Danann worshipped him: for he was an earth-god to them because of the greatness of his (magical) power.

    Here’s the source, in Irish, English and German:
    https://archive.org/details/irischetextemite00stok/page/n4/mode/2up

    What’s interesting is that the Tuatha Dé also worshipped him. The “fire god” etymology is disputed in favour of the etymology of good or bright, but fire is both bright and good if you live in cold, northern Europe, is it not?

    Beannachtaí.
    /|\

    #9707
    david poole
    Participant

    Thank you for that response Dowrgi. I remember some of those stories better now, like Nuada losing his arm. There is another story about the Dagda that I now recall, of how he gave two gold coins to a man who then died and how he was held responsible until being acquitted, or something like that. Then there was another story which I heard in which he used his club to bring some dead men back to life. There is a major battle in the Book Of Invasions, or maybe more than one; in this story, each of the gods, druids and heroes pledge to bring certain qualities or gifts to the battle. They each say what they will do to help the Children of Danu. I can’t remember what the Dagda pledges, but I can’t remember him using his club during this particular sequence of stories. Maybe he got the club at some later stage. I think that he has to pledge the sun, the moon and the stars in order to get it. In my telling of the story of Fionn and the salmon of wisdom I used a number of different sources and tried to combine them together to use all of it. I don’t know if that was a faithful approach; the original tale may have been quite different. I interpreted it as it were, so it should not be taken as reliable, just as an exercise in storytelling craft. Isn’t the Cerne Abbas giant supposed to be the Dagda, he does wield a club. I remember something about the leadership being supposed to be for men who were physically fit, hence Nuada not being able to be the king after losing his arm. In some of the later stories I can remember a distinctly Christian element such as mention of the White Christ, and Enya converting to Christianity. I thought that dagda was a word that could be applied to anyone who was extremely good at what they do, hence the Dagda is the good god because he is supposed to be extremely good at what he does. He is famous for being extremely large and extremely hungry, the cauldron which he carries produces food. One story concerns a peasant who tries to take away some of the Dagda’s pigs because he thinks the Dagda is too large. I think the Dagda is supposed to possess a staff but I can’t remember what if anything is said about that, but then I have only read a fraction of the stories so far so can’t claim to know anything like the whole story.

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