Celtic Well

Death and Destruction

From: "J M Coburn" jeffcob@uwclub.net
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2005 13:27:23 -0000
Subject: ~Celtic Well some dumb questions

Oral tradition tells of the souls of passed-on people traveling to Tech Duinne, known as the large rock in the SW waters of Ireland with a passage portal running through it. Is there a Deity/Entity that transports the souls there, and do they go anyplace after that? To where? Are they escorted there by anyone?

You might find the following of interest:

  1. Müller Lisowski, K. (1945), "Contributions to a Study in Irish Folklore", in Béaloideas XVIII, 142-199.
  2. Dáithí Ó hÓgáin (1999), "The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland", Collins, Cork; 54-59.
  3. Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, "The Mystical Island in Irish Folklore" in "Islanders and Water-Dwellers" (1999), Proceedings of the Celtic-Nordic-Baltic Folklore Symposium held at University College Dublin, 16-19 June 1996; Dublin; 247-260.

The fishermen of Kerry sometimes spoke of seeing the spirits of the dead, on some moonlit nights, heading over the Skellig rocks for Tir na Nog, Rir na mBeo and Tir na mBuadh (Müller Lisowski 149). (The Skelligs are, I believe, about 18 miles from Tech Duinn). There's no mention of anyone escorting the spirits.

Donn was the Irish god of the dead. Ó hÓgáin makes particular mention of a 9th century poem by Máelmuru, which describes how Donn was supposed to have called to his followers: "Cucum dom thig tíssaid uili íar bar n-écaib!" ("to me, to my house, you shall all come after your deaths!"). There doesn't seem to be any mention of any other destination. -- Regards, Jean Kelly.

From: teuthos66@aol.com
Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2006 23:56:05 EST
Subject: ~Celtic Well End of the World

Hi everyone. Here are some further thoughts on the nature of time as perceived by the pre-Christian Celts. First of all, any discussion of the creation or end of the world, or of cyclical versus linear modes of thought, in Celtic mythology and religion, has to be seen in the context of what Strabo says in Geography 4.4.4. Namely, that the Druids (and others) say:

aphthartous ... tas psychas kai ton kosmon, epikratesein de pote kai pyr kai hydor.
the soul and also the universe are incorruptible, but fire and water sometimes rule over them.

One could probably play around with the translation to get something a little more eloquent. Anyway, this has been interpreted as meaning that, according to the Druids, the universe was eternal, but would be periodically overtaken by disasters involving fire and water (probably floods).

Now, it is often said, and all too often by serious scholars, that there are no descriptions of either the end of the beginning of the world in Celtic tradition. This is simply not true. You will find some references to the end of the world in the file I linked to in my last E-mail. More importantly, however, there is more than one extended description of the end of the world in Celtic literature. There is a very long one near the end of the Colloquy of the Two Sages. Despite some lines which refer to churches or the church, most of the lines do not have any blatant references to Christianity and the whole obviously has pagan roots. One may note, for instance, reference to the cessation of sacrifices, and to neither god nor man being worshipped, both of which are portrayed as bad things. The whole text describes the unraveling of the unified social/natural order that was an important part of pagan ideology, the idea behind such texts as Audacht Morainn. The whole cosmic order becomes unraveled: people are wicked, there are leaves in winter and no flowers are to be seen in spring. Another description of the end of the world, similar but shorter, is to be found at the end of the Second Battle of Moytura.

As long as we are talking about the end of the world it is worth bringing up the various floods and destructive waves in Celtic mythology (e.g. the flood at the Battle of Tor Conaind) and in Greek/Roman references (eg the statement attributed to Ammianus Marcellinus (Res Gestae 15.9.4) who attributes it to Timagenes who attributes it to the Druids, that the Gauls were driven to their present homeland by great flooding). There was an essay about a flooding river at the end of the world in Welsh sources IIRC:

Toby D. Giffen, 1995, 'Aber Perydon: River of Death,' Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, vol. 15 (1995).

Also, see Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish law pp. 60 for a reference to a statement by Tirechan to the effect that the Druids believed in a Day of Judgment.

For the texts I mentioned above, see:

Gray, Elizabeth A. 1982 Cath Maige Tuired. London: Irish Texts Society.

Guyonvarc'h, Christian J. 2002 The Making of a Druid: Hidden Teachings from The Colloquy of Two Sages. Rochester: Inner Traditions.

Stokes, Whitley 1905 'The Colloquy of the Two Sages,' Revue Celtique 16, pp. 4-64