Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust: Boar

Celtic Totem Animals

The Boar & The Sow

In considering the boar as a totem animal I shall also be looking at the symbolism of the pig, which is closely linked to that of the boar. The strong, wild boar is one of the most important totem animals of the Gaelic Celts. Many bronze statues of boars have been discovered and there are numerous references to be found in the legends that bear testimony to the importance of this fierce, untamed beast. The boar is also the totem animal of the kingdom of Dalriada. There is a carving of a boar on a rock at the fort of Dunadd, in Argyll, the ancient inauguration site of the High Kings of Dalriada.

In the ancient Celtic system the boar is associated with the South and the element of Fire. It is connected with the life giving power of the sun. At the festival of Beltaine pigs bladders used to be carried by the Fool. To our ancestors the wild boar was highly prized in the hunt and this importance applies on all three levels. On the physical level the hunt, if successful, provided nourishment for the clan. The Celts were particularly fond of pork, and valued it above all other flesh. The communal feast was an important occasion for social bonding, at which the 'Champion's Portion', the biggest and choicest cut, was always reserved for the bravest warrior. On the mental level, the importance of the hunt is shown by the courage and bravery of the hunter, who in seeking the wild boar must face the fiercest and most dangerous beast of all. On a spiritual level the boar acts as a guide that leads the warrior- hunter on a quest to the Otherworld. In the voyage of Maeldun, found in 'The Book of the Dun Cow', the tenth otherworld island the voyagers reach is described as 'The Island of the Fiery Swine', inhabited by red pigs that feed on apples (a very Otherworldly food source). The boar is also the traditional food of the Samhain feast, a time when the two worlds meet.

There are many other links between pigs and the Otherworld. The magical pigs of Manannan were killed and cooked each day for the Feast of Age, the Otherworldly feast which the gods partake of. These same pigs were found alive and whole again the next day, symbolising their spiritual nourishment and life-renewing powers. Whosoever ate at this feast would gain the gift of immortality. Manannan's pigs were also known as the 'pigs of Assal', which the sons of Tuirenn had to fetch for Lugh from the King of the Golden Pillars. Another treasure that they were obliged to procure in order to fulfill their eric-fine was the pig skin of Tuis. This pig skin had magical properties; it could turn water into wine for nine days, and it could also cure wounds and restore the sick to health. Here we find another reference to the life giving properties of the pig.

The legend of king Cormac's visit to Manannan's land illustrates further important principles of the pig as a totem animal. King Cormac was welcomed as a guest in the house of Manannan. A fire was kindled and a pig was placed in the cauldron to boil. Manannan told Cormac that he possessed seven pigs, with which he could feed the whole world. These seven pigs represent the seven planes of creation; to the Celts the pig is a symbol of nourishment not only on a physical level, but on all the levels of being. Manannan also explained that the pig would not boil in the cauldron until a truth was spoken for every quarter of it. This is a very important Celtic philosophy worthy of explanation. Truth is a principle held in high esteem through-out all the levels or planes of existence in the Universe. The pig being cooked signifies the receiving of nourishment on all levels. What the legend shows us is that those who speak falsely under oath are not fit to receive the gifts of spiritual nourishment on any level.

In addition to Manannan, several other deities kept pigs. In Celtic times a swineherd held a very elevated social status. At Brugh na Boyne the Dagda kept one pig always alive and one always roasted, ready to eat. Angus Og kept a herd of enchanted pigs, and Bodb Dearg had a swineherd that could provoke bloodshed at whichever feast his pigs went to. This is very interesting for one of the well known shapes that the ancient Goddess of Ireland, Scotland and Wales takes is that of a sow. In this shape she is the hag and also the devourer. Scathach, the Shadowy One, took this shape upon herself when she appeared to Fionn MacCumhal. This does not contradict the totemic significance of the pig as a life giving provider of nourishment, both physical and spiritual, for She who gives life also claims it back at the point of death.

A well known legend that concerns the boar as a personal totem animal is the story of Diarmaid and the Earless Green Boar of Ben Gulbain, which is obviously an Otherworld boar. (This tale is also found in Argyll). Diarmaid had possessed a link since childhood with this boar, which had been charged to one day bring him to his death. When Diarmaid set out to hunt this boar, Fionn told him that he was under geiss (sacred prohibition) not to hunt pigs. Diarmaid then knew that in breaking his geiss he would meet his end soon afterwards. Diarmaid succeeded in killing the boar, but Fionn then ordered him to measure out the length of its skin with his paces. In carrying out this task Diarmaid pierced his heel (his weak point) with one of the bristles, inflicting a fatal poisonous wound.

In this legend we are shown an important shamanistic ritual, undertaken by shamans all over the world in different forms, but retaining the same core element. In shamanism you are required to overcome and 'kill' your totem animal in order to gain its spirit as an ally. However, the spirit of the totem animal will maim, dismember and finally devour you before the link can be forged. This represents a ritual death and rebirth that the shaman must undergo in the Otherworld, but which also includes self inflicted wounding in this world, too. The Tuatha De Danaans were adept at 'shape shifting', a shamanistic practise that consists of the ability to transform into the spirit shape of a totem animal at will. One story that illustrates this concerns a chase between the enchanted pigs of Angus Og and the hounds of Fionn MacCumhal. Angus was holding a feast for the Fianna, and during this time he boasted that the best hunting hounds of the Fianna could not kill even one of his pigs. The Fianna, who could never resist a challenge, assembled their hounds together. They saw coming towards them across the plain a terrible herd of pigs, the size of deer, their leader as black as coal. The hounds killed many pigs and wounded others, but many of the hounds and the Fianna went missing. Fionn realised that they were enchanted pigs. He said they could not leave the corpses of the pigs for they would come to life again the next day. They then tried to burn the pigs but were unable to. Eventually Bran, the Otherworld hound of Fionn, fetched three logs of wood (three types of wood that could combat enchantments) and the pigs were burned on the fire from these logs. Then there was a great sorrow on Angus, for the pigs had been his people, one of them his own son.

Another legend that shows a connection between pigs and the deity Angus Og concerns the foster children of a woman named Derbrenn, who were put under enchantment into the shape of pigs and were sought after for their tasty flesh. They went to Brugh na Boyne, the fairy palace of Angus, to seek his assistance. However, Angus told them that he could not help them until they had: "shaken the Tree of Tarbga and eaten of the salmon of Inver Umaill", meaning that they first had to become like the Tuatha De Danaans, by seeking in the correct manner the magical knowledge that the Tuatha de Danaans had gained. This story indicates that magical knowledge, when used for the wrong reasons, can have damaging results. Equally, the advice of Angus was that we should seek knowledge for ourselves, which we can then use for our own protection, rather than rely on others to come to our aid. It also shows that the learning of knowledge always requires certain challenges and tests to be undertaken.

The connection of the boar with the solar cycle, and the sow with the Goddess and the lunar cycle, has already been noted. One legend that demonstrates this well is known as 'Fionn and the Red Woman'. The Fianna were out hunting on Gleann na Smol one misty morning - mist represents the veil between the worlds and immediately tells us that they are about to embark on an Otherworld journey. On the edge of a wood the Fianna saw a strange beast; it had the head of a boar and the body of a deer. A red woman was following behind the beast and there was a shining crescent moon on each of its sides. Both these factors show its connection with the Goddess.

The Fianna followed after the beast during the day, and during the night, the realm of the Goddess, the moons on its sides shone brightly. At dawn (a magical in-between time, neither day nor night) the beast went into a sidhe mound, Cnoc na Righ (the hill of the king). They saw the red woman again, who struck the hill with her druid rod and a door opened. On entering they found themselves in a great hall "where there was the brightness of the sun and of the moon on every side." In a golden chair sat a king, dressed in gold and green, with a great feast before him. The beast then came in and stood before the king, saying: "I am going on towards my own country now...and the sea is the same to me as the land." This statement brings to mind the magical horse of Manannan that could travel equally on land or sea.

The beast was gone in that instant, and the Fianna made haste after it. At midday, (the mid point of the sun) the beast began to weaken, until finally with the setting of the sun it fell down dead. This clearly shows the boar's connection with the solar cycle, and also with ancient kingship. The red woman told the Fianna that the beast was the king of the Firbolgs (a pre-Gaelic race of aboriginal people who are native to Ireland). The boar and the sow are therefore very ancient totem animals that pre-date the arrival of the Gaels into Ireland. When the first Gaels, the sons of Mil, came close to landing in Ireland, it is said that all they could see of the land was something in the shape of a pig.

It can clearly be seen, then, that the pig and its wild relative, the boar, are probably the most important totem animals of the Gaelic Celts, particularly in terms of their connections with the Otherworld, as providers of spiritual nourishment. When we consider that the Celtic / Gaelic system is in fact two systems, incorporating the 'realms of the moon' and the 'realms of the sun', that have over time merged into one system, we begin to realise why the boar and the sow have become the totem animals par excellence of the Gaelic Celts. They represent the twin forces of masculinity and femininity - the wild, untamed boar, the warrior's challenge, and the sow as the giver of Life and Death.

Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust: Wild Cat of Alba

Celtic Folklore

The Great Wild Cat of Alba

Cats fascinate me. They always have done and I must confess, I find it hard to live without them. From an early age I can recall that I began to 'see' cats, just out of the corner of my eye, even though they were not really there. Or were they? At any rate, they would disappear as soon as I turned my head.

The most exciting encounters I have had with the cat totem have all been since moving to Arran, for this island really is her domain. There are many places here that seem to me to emanate cat energy, the Huntress of the night. A few people have sighted a large, black wild cat about the size of a labrador dog, roaming on the edge of the moor. I myself caught a fleeting glimpse of one such cat last winter, before it disappeared into the forest. I even went over to the spot where I sighted her, on the opposite side of the burn, and discovered some interesting paw prints, the likes of which I had never seen before! I find it really exciting to think that I live on an island where there is still enough wilderness left for such cats to roam freely undisturbed.

Since living on Arran and attuning myself to the natural flow of the land here, I feel intuitively that there were two totem animals of great importance to the ancient people of this island - one is the stag, the other is the cat. There are many references to "Arran of the many stags" in legends and poetry. In particular Arran is famous for its extremely rare white stag. With regard to the cat, however, this is a personal feeling of mine. Even so, cats are to be found in a few important place names here, especially Glen Catacol, a large glen on the North West side of the island.

The reverence and worship of the cat as a tribal totem animal has a long history in Alba. At one time, most of the clans of Alba were of either the boar tribe or the cat tribe. The most important "children of the cat" were the Chattens, MacKintoshes, MacPhersons and MacGillavrays. We can go back even further in time, to the Pre- Gaelic era, where we find that the older races of this land, that we know of as the Fir Bolgs and who some call the Picts, were great cat worshippers. It is in the North of Alba where we find the kingdom of the Caledonii, within which there were many tribes, all of whom were united by an allegiance to the cat. We also have the cat mentioned in the place name Caithness. The Isle of Skye was one of the strongholds of the Caledonii. Here on this island of mist and magic reigned the formidable Celtic Goddess Scatha, whose name means "Shadowy One". She is the Cat Faced Goddess and her clans of old were matriarchal, ruled by women warriors with an apparent cruelty that would shock many of us today.

It is important to point out that the tribes of people I am referring to are Celtic peoples. They are not Gaels, being of a much older, aboriginal racial stock, however they amalgamated with the incoming Gaels from 200 BCE onwards, reaching a culmination in the fifth century CE (Common Era). The main reason for this amalgamation was that both 'races' had similar language, customs, social organisation and religious beliefs, hence we can justifiably call them Celtic.

To return to our cats, there have been many reported sightings of large, catlike creatures the length and breadth of Britain. However, these sightings usually only receive media coverage when the case involves the killing of livestock. Several theories have been put forward to explain them. The most common explanation given is that these cats are former pets of individuals who have released them into the wild when the beasts have become too difficult to manage. The problem with this theory is twofold; firstly, there must surely be only a limited number of people who could keep such pets, for which they would need a licence, and it would be difficult to keep a large, wild cat without drawing the attention of neighbours and so on. Secondly, these large cats have been sighted regularly in remote areas of Britain over the last 400 years - it is difficult to imagine them being kept as pets over such a long period of time.

Another popular theory is that these cats have escaped from zoos and wildlife parks at one time or another, and have survived long enough to breed in the wild. However, if this theory is the case it seems strange that no reports that such presumably highly dangerous animals are missing have been issued to the Authorities. In addition, sightings of large cats have occurred all over Britain, mostly in remote places. Given such large distances involved it seems unlikely that all these cats could have escaped from Wildlife Parks.

A number of people hold to the belief that the great wild cats of Alba do not have a physical existence at all, but are "astral images" retained from long ago in our Celtic racial memory. Such images have been built up over centuries of tribal worship of the cat, and although the tribal ways have long since been abandoned by most, the images remain and can be perceived by those with the "Second Sight". Such astral images are strengthened by clan crests bearing cats, and by our national symbol of the Lion Rampant, associated with the Scottish nation and the Spirit of Her people. The great cat lives on in the hearts and minds of the Celts!

While I find the latter theory the most attractive in the sense that it takes into consideration levels of being other than solely the physical, yet even this cannot offer a full explanation of the cat mystery. In the case of the "Skerray Beast" (The Scots Magazine, April 1979) a great many sightings of a catlike animal were reported in this remote area of North Scotland between 1973 and 1979. Many of these sightings were in broad daylight and always close to the site of a mysterious sheep killing. A number of veterinary 'experts' who examined the kills concluded that they were more than likely the work of a member of the cat family, due to the neatness, swiftness and efficiency of the kill. There was no sign of any struggle on the part of the victim, and the skin had been cleanly removed. A whole assembly of locals gathered to track down this animal, and they all spotted it seated on a hill staring back at them. Could all these sightings really have been just astral images? I think not. And then we have the case of the lynx that was found dead in a fox snare in Orbliston Forest, Moray, in 1975. Where did this cat come from?

And so the mystery of the great wild cat of Alba lives on. My own thoughts on this subject are that while some sightings may indeed be images in the racial memory, the majority of sightings are of real, live cats. For despite all the statements from the established wildlife organisations claiming that the native lynx became extinct centuries ago, I believe that up in those remote glens of Alba the great pulag is still at large.

Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust: Horse

Celtic Totem Animals


One of the Celtic totem animals that is inextricably linked with Goddess worship in ancient times is the horse. This fine, majestic beast has been an important totem throughout Europe for many centuries. A considerable number of horse carvings have been found on Pictish stones, featuring the Goddess seated side saddle, holding mirror and comb, two objects that are sacred to the horse Goddess. We find the same symbolism mentioned with the Gaelic Goddess Etain. Her full title is Etain Echraidhe (echraidhe means horse riding).

The horse Goddess is known and worshipped under many different names, each tribe having its own special title for Her. She is Rhiannon to the Cymric Celts, and Epona to the Gauls. There is evidence of the existence of specific horse cults, such as the 'Epidii', the horse tribe of the Mull of Kintyre. The Isle of Arran, lying just a few miles East of the Mull, in the Firth of Clyde, bears surviving traits of this horse cult in many of its place names, such as: Glen Iorsa - glen of the horses; Glen Shurrig (searrach) - glen of the colts; Coire nan Larach - hollow of the mares; Allt a'Chapuill - glen of the mare; Doire nan Each - grove of the horses.

There are several Goddesses in the Gaelic tradition associated with horses. We have already mentioned Etain. When Niamh of the Golden Hair comes to take Oissin away to the Land of Promise, it is upon a white steed that she rides. Rhian Gabhra is the Rhiannon of the Gaels, also associated with the white mare of the Otherworldly realms. One of the foremost horse Goddesses of Ireland is Macha. She was forced to run a race against the king's horses while pregnant. This represents the ancient ritual of sovereignty, whereby the king claimed the right to rule the land with the consent of the Goddess in her aspect as the white mare. In both the Welsh and Irish traditions the white mare is representative of the Goddess in the Otherworld, She who is the source of the king's sovereign authority and may accept or reject his rule. If she accepts his rule, as the white mare she symbolises the bestowal of divine kingship, meaning that kingship was a sacred office that had to be operative not only in this world, but in the Otherworld too.

When the Tuatha De Danaans arrived in Ireland, they made a great show of comparing their horses and hounds with those of the Fomorians. The beasts of the De Danaans were found to be better. This illustrates the importance that the people of the Goddess Danu attributed to their horses and hounds. Horse racing is to this day still a very popular pastime in Ireland, and horse races take place on the Plain of Fal, which is associated with the Tuatha De Danaans.

The Gaelic sun God Lugh is often credited with being the first to introduce into Ireland the craft of Horsemanship. However, it was from his father Cian that he received his training. Lugh also instituted the festival of Lughnassadh, in honour of his foster mother, the Fir Bolg Queen Tailltu. Horse racing and horse fairs are traditionally associated with this festival. The annual 'Marymass' horse fair, held at Irvine in Ayrshire, is just one of these surviving fairs that are reminiscent of the Lughnassadh festival.

The society of 'Horse Whisperers' is one of a number of ancient crafts or guilds that has survived virtually down to the present day amongst those that work exclusively with horses. This craft is said to have originated amongst the Pictish tribes of North East Scotland. It has retained many elements of the Pre-Christian nature religion, including its own esoteric lore and initiation rites which are not revealed to outsiders. Until very recent times, with the rapid introduction of technological innovations in farming, horses were an integral part of agriculture. They worked with the land and therefore are linked with many of its fertility aspects. One folk custom that embodies this connection with fertility is the practise of rubbing some earth from the plough onto the neck and shoulders of the farm horses. The harness, plough and horses' ears were then sprinkled with water for purification.

The most important association that the horse embodies as a totem animal is that of a magical transporter to the Otherworld. The horse travels freely between the worlds. Around the legendary isle of Emhain Abhlach are the shining horses of the son of Lir. The most famous horse in Irish mythology is the magical horse of Manannan, 'Aonbharr of the Splendid Mane'. This wonderful mare was swifter than the spring wind and could travel equally well on either land or sea. Lugh was riding Aonbharr when the Fomorians first caught sight of him. Any rider of this magical beast would be invulnerable whilst on her back. However, riding this mare was most difficult for mortals. In the Fianna legends we meet up with this mare as the horse of the 'Gille Decair', the Bad Servant, who is Manannan himself in disguise. None of the Fianna succeeded in even getting the mare to move, until eventually she took off at an alarming rate with Conan on her back, whom she took away to the Otherworld. He later had to be rescued by the Fianna. The Gille Decair himself is the only one who can control his horse, for rather than dominating it as the master, he is infact its servant, the servant of the Goddess.

In another legend Ciabhan of the Curling Locks made to depart from Ireland in his curragh. He saw a rider on a grey horse with a golden bridle riding on the waves. He would be under the sea for the length of nine waves and rise above it on the tenth. This was Manannan and he took Ciabhan away to his lands. There are many folk tales of supernatural horses that carry mortals off to the Otherworld. The most famous legend is of Thomas the Rhymer, 'True Thomas', who was carried away to fairyland by the Elf Queen on her white horse:

"She's mounted on her milk-white steed,

She's ta'en True Thomas up behind,

And aye, whene'er her bridle rang,

Her steed gaed swifter than the wind"

As a totem animal the horse is also linked with the Goddess of prophecy and oracular knowledge, as in the well known saying: "straight from the horse's mouth". Macha, the horse Goddess and warrior queen is also strongly associated with prophecy; Cuchulain's horse was named the Grey of Macha. In the legend of the Tain, the chariot of the prophetess Fedelm is drawn by two black horses. She foresees the destruction Cuchulain will cause on the armies of Connaught. At Cuchulain's death, the Grey of Macha came to him and laid its head in his lap.

In Scottish folklore there are numerous tales of supernatural creatures that appear in animal form. With regard to the horse we have the 'cailleach', the old hag of the night who takes the form of the night mare, the horse that is bringer of bad dreams and ill omen. There is also the kelpie (each uisge), a water spirit usually seen in the shape of a young horse around lochs and pools. It would willingly allow mortals to ride upon its back, but would then attempt to drag its rider down below the water. The kelpie possesses a magic bridle, and if you look through the holes in the bridle-bit you will gain the gift of Second Sight. In the mid nineteenth century the Clan MacGregor were said to have such a kelpie bridle in their possession. One Seumas MacGregor, of an earlier generation, was on his way home at dusk from Inverness to Glenlivet, and he sat down to rest on the edge of Loch Slochd. He was just wishing he had his 'auld nag' to carry him home when to his surprise the very beast appeared. He mounted and rode for a while when suddenly the horse took off, heading straight for the loch. Seumas realised then that it was a kelpie and jumped off as the horse plunged into the water, however he managed to retain hold of its bridle.

Loch na Dubhrachan, on the isle of Skye, is famous for having a kelpie. A few kelpie songs have survived, such as the 'Cumha an Each Uisge' (Lament of the Water Horse). A kelpie went into human shape and married an island girl. However, one day she saw sand on his breast and discovering his secret, she fled in horror.

A wonderful Irish tale called 'The Red Pony' from the West coast contains a great deal of symbolism, showing that the links with the horse are far from being forgotten in the hearts of the Gaels. We shall therefore look at it in some detail below:


A poor man had so many sons that he could not maintain them all; so the last one at the door coming home from school he decided to shut out. The lad went away and walked on until he came to a house on the side of a hill, where he was offered shelter for the night. In the morning the man of the house gave him a present, a red mare, with a saddle and bridle. It was a magic pony that could talk and travel over the sea (meaning it was an Otherworldly horse that could travel between the worlds). As he was riding along, the pony advised the boy not to touch anything he saw before him. Along the road the boy saw a box with a light in it and a lock of hair. Despite the warning, the boy took the box with him. (The light signifies illumination gained from knowledge; the lock of hair belongs to a beautiful woman. The story goes on to show that seeking knowledge has consequences that you must be prepared to follow through).

The boy went to work as a stable lad, with eleven other boys. While going out to the stables at night the boys noticed the bright light coming from the lad's stable, and told the king. The king had the box brought to him and found the lock of hair within, and said the lad must bring to him the woman to whom the hair belongs. (The king was always a Druid; he is setting the boy a magical task. It signifies that he must seek the Goddess in the Otherworld first).

So the boy and the red pony went over the sea. They saw the beautiful woman of the lock of hair, who asked for a ride on the pony, and the pony brought her back and took her to the king. Then the woman herself set a task for the boy (his second task, set by the Goddess this time). She told him that she would not marry any man unless he could fetch the bottle of healing water that was in the Eastern world. The pony told the boy that he must kill her in order to carry out the task. So the boy cut the pony open and out flew three ravens. (Three is a very symbolic number, signifying the three levels of body, mind and spirit, and also the Celtic number of completion. The story retains a sort of 'folk memory' of the ancient practises of divination from the entrails of animals and also from the flight patterns of certain birds). Two of the ravens went into the body of the pony and drank its blood, then flew out. When the third raven went in, the boy closed up the pony, and told the ravens he would not set their companion free until they brought the bottle of healing water for him. They came back that evening with the bottle and he let the other raven out. He poured the healing water over the pony and she became well again. (This signifies the Goddess ruling over Life, Death and Rebirth as she continually renews Herself each new moon).

The third task for the boy was to jump in and out of a barrel of boiling pitch without harming himself. He rubbed himself first with the healing water, and was then able to perform the task unharmed. He jumped in and out three times. Then he and the beautiful woman were married, and the wedding lasted three days and three nights. (This test shows the bravery of the warrior who must face Death on three levels and only then was accepted into Manhood). After the wedding, the lad found the bones of the mare and was rather distressed at first. However, it was explained to him that the woman and the mare were one and the same. This echoes the well known theme in legends and folk tales of the transformational nature of the Goddess, from an old hag in the evening who asks the warrior to take her to his bed, and in the morning has become a beautiful maiden.

Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust: Hound

Celtic Totem Animals


Dogs have been faithful guardians, workers and companions for humankind since ancient times. It comes as no surprise, then, to find the dog as an important totem animal in many traditions world- wide, the Celtic tradition being no exception.

The two aspects of the dog that are most frequently encountered in our native traditions are the wolf and the hunting hound. The wolf is one of the shapes of the fearful Morrigan, Gaelic Goddess of war and destruction. She appeared to Cuchulain in the shape of a wolf in order to torment him in battle. February is traditionally known as the 'wolf month' (faoilleach), when the last death throes of winter still retain their grip. In the following Irish folk tale 'The Wolf Maids' we can see that traces of this totem animal, though hunted to extinction in Britain, still survives in popular folk memory. The tale is clearly based on the legend of the three wolves from the cave of Cruachan.

There were once three werewolves that in their human shape had been the three daughters of the 'Lord of the White Fort'. They had been seen coming out of a cave at the shore and were causing a great deal of destruction in the district, and so Cascarach, the elven harper who had the gift of charming, was called upon. If only he would use his magic in some way to rid the village of this terror...Since the three daughters were triplets, born of one birth, they had to be slain with one blow, and in their human shape. Now Caoilte possessed a spear with magical properties. While Cascarach sat at the opening of the cave, luring the wolves with his enchanted playing, Caoilte lay in wait, spear in hand. Cascarach wove a spell that was soothing, calming, lulling the wolves to come forward. As they did so, Cascarach mocked them for being in wolf shape, saying that they would surely appreciate the full beauty of his music in their own human form. The wolves agreed, by this time spellbound by the delightful music, and they shed their wolfskins. In that moment Caoilte acted, throwing his spear through the heart of all three, and thus they were slain.

We move on now to consider the Celtic hunting hounds. These fine dogs are revered in both the Cymric and Gaelic traditions alike. In the Welsh legends of the Mabinogion Pwyll, prince of Dyfed, encounters strange white, red eared hounds chasing a stag, while the Irish Fianna are always accompanied by their hounds on hunting expeditions.

In the Gaelic language the word for dog is 'cu'. The dog is the totem animal of the greatest hero of Ulster, Cuchulain, whose name means 'Hound of Culain'. Culain the Smith was holding a great feast to entertain king Conchobar. The boy Setanta (Cuchulain's childhood name) had gained such a reputation for his incredulous deeds that Conchobar invited him along to the feast. Setanta was busy playing hurley when the party left, but intended to follow on later. Conchobar arrived at the feast but in the midst of the festivities he forgot to tell his host that the boy was arriving later. Culain ordered the enclosure gates to be shut, and his savage hound was put on guard, which was as strong and as fierce as a hundred dogs.

The boy arrived and the hound sprang at him, but the boy grasped the hound by the throat and smashed it against a pillar. Culain was in despair, for there was no other hound like his in the world. Setanta promised to rear for him a pup, and in the meantime he himself would act as his hound and guard his household.

Such an event caught the attention of the druid, Cathbad, who named him Cuchulain and foretold that one day his name would be on the lips of everyone. In this legend we find another example of how a hero is fated to face and overpower his totem animal before it will become his guardian and ally. (See article on the boar).

In the legend of the Tain we find that Cuchulain is known by other names, all of which point to his close totemic link with his namesake, the dog. The prophetess Fedelm calls him the 'Forge Hound' for he serves Culain the Smith. His close friend Ferdia refers to him poetically as the 'Hound of the Bright Deeds', the 'Hound of Ulster', and the 'Hound of the Sweet Discipline'. In battle Cuchulain was likened to a fierce hound, as the 'Cu Roich', the mad dog battle frenzy took him over completely.

The hound is particularly sacred to the Goddess, for it is the guardian of the realms of her Mysteries that only the worthy may enter. Hence we often find dogs featured on examples of Celtic knotwork. It is interesting to note that the Hound of Culain is the only Ulsterman who is not afflicted with the 'pangs of Ulster', the mysterious sickness that periodically overcame the Ulster male warriors as a result of the curse of the Goddess Macha.

We can find many references in our legends to hounds with extraordinary abilities. One of Lugh's famous possessions was a magic hound, brought for him from the king of Ioruaidhe by the sons of Tuirenn. This fierce hound was unconquerable in combat. If it bathed in spring water, it would change it into wine. The hound of Lugh also had power over wild animals, for it was said that: "all the wild beasts of the world would fall down at the sight of her."

A certain Ulsterman named mac Datho owned an incredible hound that could outrun every other hound. Both Queen Medb of Connaught and King Conchobar of Ulster offered a high price of six hundred cows for this hound, and also a chariot and two horses, so great was its value. However, neither of them succeeded in gaining the hound, for such Otherworldly creatures cannot be bought and sold in material goods.

The Gaelic sea god Manannan also kept hounds. They went hunting one time after a pig that was destroying the whole country. When the hounds came upon a lake the legend tells us they were all drowned, and the lake thereafter became known as the Lake of the Hounds.

So why did all the dogs drown? The legend contains deeper meanings that I will briefly outline here. As stated earlier, the hound is a sacred animal of the Goddess. The sea, lakes, pools and so on are all places that epitomize the Feminine principle, they are containers of the waters of Life. Such places are also entrances to the Otherworld, the realms of the Goddess. The dogs 'drowning ' in the lake symbolizes their return to the Otherworld from where they came. In another tale, Fionn's hounds lead him to Slieve Cuillin, where he encounters a woman of the sidhe sitting on the edge of a lake.

The Goddess Aine is strongly associated with hounds. At her stone, Cathair Aine, all the mad dogs of Ireland would gather before going into the sea, to 'Aine's Country'. Again, we find a direct link with water, the Goddess and the hound as her servant.

Fionn MacCumhal, the Captain of the Fianna, kept five hounds called Bran, Sceolan, Lomaire, Brod and Lomluath. The two hounds we hear most of are Bran and Sceolan, who are the children of Tuiren, the sister of Fionn's mother. These white, red eared hounds of the sidhe are Otherworld beasts that guard the Mysteries, but are also guides to the souls of the dead. They are encountered on the journey to the Celtic Lands of Youth. When Fionn's son Oissin goes to the Land of Promise with Niamh he sees many wonders, including a fawn being chased by pure white red eared hounds as their horse rides over the waves.

The men of the Fianna were often being helped by the sidhe folk in one way or another. One time Fionn was given a special hound: "and there was not a colour in the world but was on that hound, and it was bigger than any other." Three young men from Iruath came with the hound, who would get provisions for the Fianna every second night, so long as no mortal men approached their camp after nightfall. The three young men spoke to Fionn, saying:

"It is our wish, Fionn, to send the hound that is with us to go around you three times in every day, and however many may be trying to hurt or to rob you, they will not have power to do it after that. But let there be neither fire nor arms nor any other dog in the house he goes into."

Here we see the hound acting in the role as guardian of Fionn MacCumhal, leader of the Wild Hunt who comes to take the souls of the dead through the veil between the worlds. The reference to the fire and arms show clearly that the hound is of the sidhe, for traditionally the sidhe will not enter a house where there is iron within or where there is a fire that has not been kindled from the sacred hearth flame.

After a year, however, two sons of the king of Ulster became curious and approached the camp of the three young men and the hound during the night. They saw one of the young men watching over the dog, while another held a vessel of white silver to the mouth of the dog. Any drink they asked for, the dog would put into the vessel.

The vessel of silver is obviously connected with the moon and the Goddess, silver being the colour of the moon and the drinking cup being associated with the feminine qualities of nourishment, bounty, inspiration and refreshment for the body, mind and spirit.

The Otherworld hound of the sidhe, servant of the Goddess and guardian of the mysteries, is also associated with death, for the Celts saw death as merely a transition from one dimension or world of existence to that of another. In the chase of Diarmaid and Grania, it is Fionn's hound Bran that warns Diarmaid of Fionn's approach. On the last night of the year (that is, Samhain), the night before Diarmaid met his death, he was kept awake by the eerie sound of hounds howling in the dark. Grania advised him not to follow that sound, for it was unwise to follow after hounds in the night. There are many tales in folklore of supernatural dogs; they are more often heard than seen, especially on stormy nights. These are the 'Cu Sith', the fairy dogs that are the size of a young bull and are considered very dangerous if crossed.

Finally, to return to our hero the Hound of Ulster, we discover the impact his totem animal has on his life, even to the point of being instrumental in his death. Cuchulain meets three old hags by the roadside, each of them blind in one eye. They are roasting a dog on spits of rowan, and they ask him to share their humble feast. At first Cuchulain is overcome by their hideousness and declines the invitation. In doing so he forgets that he is under geis not to refuse a feast. Then Cuchulain takes a share of the meat, but as he bites into it his fighting arm immediately loses all its strength, for his second geis is never to eat of his totem animal. As soon as a warrior has broken his geissa his death will follow shortly after. At Cuchulain's death his blood runs down in a stream, and an otter, a water dog, comes to lap it up.

We can see, then, that the dog is an important totem animal capable of displaying diverse aspects. It is a loyal servant of humankind, guardian of the household and fierce in battle. It is also the servant of the Goddess that guards the entrance to her realms, and the messenger of death that guides us to the Celtic Lands of the Otherworld.

Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust: Salmon

Celtic Totem Animals

The Salmon

The salmon has always been a symbol of great wisdom in the minds of the Celts. In Scottish folklore we find the 'ceasg', the mermaid who has the body of a maiden and the tail of a salmon. If captured by a mortal she would have the power to grant three wishes. In Irish folklore the salmon, trout and eel are all considered to be guardian spirits of wells, pools, streams and so on.

In one Irish folk tale a white trout appears in a village stream, the likes of which had not been seen before. Most people were in awe of it (showing the reverence they still held for the salmon and trout as sacred fish). However, there was a soldier who laughed at them and said he would catch it and eat it for his dinner. (Note the similarity here with the legend of Fionn and the salmon of the Boyne, below).

However, when he had caught the fish, he could not manage to cook it (for it was a sacred fish from the Otherworld). He took out his knife and went to cut it and at that moment it leapt out of the pan and onto the floor, whereupon it transformed into a beautiful woman. She told him that he must throw her back into the river, for she was waiting for her loved one to come by, and if he came while she was away he would hunt the soldier for evermore. The soldier, who was obviously not going to receive the wisdom that Fionn did on account of his thoughtlessness, was so taken aback by all this that he duly obliged and threw her back into the water.

In the legend of Tuan mac Carell, Tuan recounts the history of the invasions of Ireland, through his many incarnations. He goes through many different shapes, the last one being in the form of a salmon. He is captured and eaten while in this shape, and so reborn as a man again. Another character that goes through different shapes is Fintan, survivor of the Great Flood which wiped out Cessair's people. Fintan hid in a cave in the form of a salmon. The salmon of knowledge in Celtic legends is no other than Fintan, who in the same way as Tuan mac Carell observed many different events over the course of many centuries in this shape. Another reference to the salmon of knowledge is to be found in the magical crane skin bag of Manannan, that contains among other things 'the belt from the skin of a great fish'.

The most famous legend of the salmon of knowledge is that of Fionn MacCumhal on the banks of the river Boyne. Fionn had undertaken to learn the arts of Druidism and Bardism from an old Druid named Finnegas. Now Finnegas had sought for many years to capture the salmon that swam in the Boyne, for whosoever ate of this salmon would gain all knowledge and wisdom. The salmon fed on the magical hazel-nuts that fell in the river. One day Finnegas managed to catch the salmon, and ordered Fionn to cook it for him. Fionn accidentally burnt his thumb on the hot fish and thrust it into his mouth to cool it off, and so he immediately gained all knowledge.

In the legends we are told that the Tuatha De Danaans had a well below the sea where the nine hazels of inspiration grew:

"And their leaves and their blossoms would break out in the same hour, and would fall on the well in a shower that raised a purple wave. And then the five salmon that were waiting there would eat the nuts, and their colour would come out in the red spots of their skin, and any person that would eat one of those salmon would know all wisdom and all poetry". What, then, makes the salmon so special? Why is it so closely linked in the minds of the Celts with wisdom and knowledge? The answers to these questions lie in the characteristics of the salmon. Firstly, in order to breed and survive, the salmon must swim upstream, against the flow of the river. It must battle against the river's currents or be swept back to the sea. This can be likened to the path of the warrior as he struggles to overcome obstacles in his quest to reach the Summerlands, the ultimate, eternal life. It is the battle of the soul for life; for if we give up the fight, we condemn ourselves to the downward spiral that can only lead back to chaos and oblivion.

The Celts observed this struggle for life on all levels. The salmon in the pool also represents the male sperm swimming against great odds to reach the womb of the female. Only one out of millions will survive to reach its goal and bring forth life. In the same way, the salmon with red spots on its skin is about to spawn. Yet once it has done so, it dies. Thus Life is born out of Death, and the cycle of Life, Death and New Life continues. This is one of the Mysteries that, like all Mysteries, can only be fully understood through experience, for Death is the greatest initiator of all. It would seem that, like the salmon, we must first embrace the gateway of Death before we can become truly wise.

Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust: Seal

Celtic Totem Animals

The Seal

In Caithness seals were believed to be fallen angels; this is the Christianized version of much older folk beliefs concerning the selkies, the seal people. Many folk stories recount how seals have transformed into humans.

In the Hebrides it was believed that certain families were descended from seals. One such family are the MacCodrums of North Uist that Fiona MacLeod refers to in his story 'The Dan nan Ron'. These families were known as the 'sliocha nan ron'. They were believed to be under the enchantment of the seals and to carry the seal blood within. Once such a person had taken on the form of a seal, they could no longer return to live on the dry land. They would be 'dead' to those that knew them before.

Sometimes mortal men managed to trap selkie women and make them their wives, by hiding their seal skins from them. However, once the selkies find their skins they return to the sea, never to be seen again. Also, selkie men sometimes beget children on mortal women, as in the folk song 'The Selkie of Sule Skerry'. After a period of seven years, the selkie returned to the woman to claim his son, but with tragic consequences.

Often in the Hebrides local people have heard strange, sorrowful music out at sea that would move them deeply. This is the 'Dan nan Ron', the song of the seals, which was greatly feared. And then there is the One Eyed Watcher, who watches and waits for those who are close to Death...

It is possible that these old folk beliefs are the remnants of our ancient racial memory, from a time when Mankind had much stronger empathy with animals. Perhaps we were able to communicate telepathically with them. As the sea is where all Life first began, we have a deep, primeval link with the realms of water and all who dwell in her domain.

Michael Scott has collected many traditional tales from all over Ireland. The following tale concerns a seal woman and her misfortune at the hands of a mortal:

A man named Declan had been catching cockles and crabs all morning on the beach, and lay down to rest for a while. When he awoke, he heard strange music and saw twelve people, six couples, in a circle on the beach, gently swaying and singing, with an old man in the centre. The couples went off separately for their lovemaking, taking off their shimmering cloaks and leaving them on a nearby stone. Declan stole one of the cloaks and would have sold it in the village, for it was very beautiful. He watched as one by one the seal people picked up their cloaks and went back into the sea, all except one young woman. She began searching for her cloak, and then saw Declan, realising he had stolen it. She held out her webbed hand and asked for the cloak in a gentle, lilting voice. He could smell the salt of the sea on her. Declan was not going to give in without getting something in return. He waved his knife in front of her, but she showed no fear, saying that her people were from a past age and had faced the hostility and weapons of his people for generations. She said that they were the last of the Ron, the Seal People who had been banished to the waves. But every hundred years they came onto land to conceive children that would be able to move freely both on land in the shape of humans and also be able to live in the sea. Without her cloak, however, the seal woman could never return to the sea.

Then Declan, a cruel man, decided he would take his pleasure with the woman himself, and he lunged at her. She was struck with terror. At that moment a huge bull-seal came to her aid, striking at Declan with his flippers and sinking sharp teeth into his leg. He was knocked unconscious. The following summer the Ron people got their revenge. Declan went out too far at low tide in search of crabs, slipped on some rocks and was drowned.

Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust: Folk Tales - Honey of the

Wild Bees

Scottish Folk Tales


(A Scottish folktale of Emhain Abhlach - The Isle of Arran)

Three years after Bobaran the Druid poet, surnamed Bobaran Ban, Bobaran the White left Innis Manainn for the isles of the north, word came to him from the Sacred Isle that he was to beware of three things: the thought in the brain of the swallow, the arrow in the tongue of the fish, and the honey of the wild bees.

This word came to Bobaran in the island that was called Emhain Abhlach, Emhain of the Apple Trees where he dwelled with his wards, the two children of Naois and Deirdre: Gaer, a youth already tall, comely and gracious, and lordly as a king's son; and Aevgrain, the Sunlike. The loveliness of Aevgrain was so fair to look upon, that she was held worthy to be the daughter of that Deirdre whose beauty had set all the ancient world aflame.

When Bobaran the White received this message from Manannan mhic Manainn, Lord of the Sacred Isle and of the Isles of the Gall, he was troubled. That high king meant no juggling with words. Manannan knew that the Druid poet had the old wisdom of the symbols; and fearing lest any others might interpret his message, had sent warning to him in this guise. That, he understood. Manannan Mac- Athgno was old, and had knowledge of desires unaccomplished and of things unfulfilled: doubtless, then, he had foreseen some peril or other evil thing for Gaer or for Aevgrain, or for both the hapless children of Naois mhic Uisneach and Deirdre.

Yet of the message Bobaran could make nothing. After long thought, he took his clarsach and went up through the ancient forest and out upon the desert of the great mountain which towers above all others in Emhain Abhlach.

He played gently upon his clarsach as he went, so that no wild thing molested him. The brown wolves howled, and their fangs whitened under their red snouts; but all leaped aside, and slid snarling out of sight. The grey wolves stood silent, watching with fierce red eyes, but did not follow. When Bobaran came to the last tree of the forest, he looked behind him and saw an old white wolf.

He stopped.

"Why do you follow me, O wolf?" he asked.

The wolf blinked at him, and sniffed idly the hillwind.

"Why do you follow me, O wolf?" Bobaran asked a second time. The old white wolf raised his head and howled.

Bobaran took from the hollow at the top of his clarsach nine shrunken red berries of the rowan. Three he threw at the white wolf, and cried: "I put speech upon thine old wisdom". Three he threw into the air above his head and cried: "Tear the mist, O wind". And three he put into his mouth, muttering, "By him of the Hazel Tree, and by the Salmon of Knowledge, let seeing be upon me".

With that he asked for the third time, "Why do you follow me, O wolf?" When the wolf spoke, it was with the tongue of men:

"The spring is come: the red fish is in the river again, the red tassel is on the larch, and the secret thought is in the brain of the swallow".

"There is no swallow yet on Emhain Abhlach, old wolf that has wisdom".

"There is even now a swallow making three flights above your head, and it will fall at your feet".

Bobaran saw a shadow circle thrice before his eyes, and before he could stir a swallow fell dead at his feet.

While it was yet warm he looked into the brain of the bird. Because of the three sacred berries he had swallowed, he saw. Then he was troubled because in that seeing he saw a wild boar turning at bay, and that Gaer the beautiful youth had fallen, and in his fall had broken his spear, and that the boar blinked his red savage eyes and churned the foam between his great tusks, and made ready to rush upon him and slay Gaer the son of the Beautiful One, the king's son who should yet rule the Gaels of Eire.

With that Bobaran struck three shrill cries from his clarsach, and ran headlong westward through the forest. And where he lay upon the ground, Gaer looked and saw a dancing flame before him, and before the boar was a whirling sword that made a continuous bewildering dazzle. And that dancing flame, and that rushing torrent, and that whirling sword, were the three shrill cries from the clarsach of Bobaran the White.

This happened then: that when the Druid ran into the glade where Gaer lay, he took his clarsach and played a spell upon the boar, so that the son of Naois rose, and lifted his broken spear, and strongly bound the two fragments together, and then with a great shout rushed upon the foam-clotted tusks and drove his spear through the red throat, so that it came out beyond the bristling fell, and passed the length of a handsbreadth into the bole of an oak that was behind the boar.

That night, Bobaran and Gaer and Aevgrain had great joy over the fires. Gaer played upon his clarsach, and sang the chant of the death of the boar; and Bobaran sang the long tale of Naois, the first of the three heroes of Alba, and of his great love of Deirdre; and Aevgrain, when the stars were come, and none saw her face in the shadow, sang the love songs of Deirdre, and the love song that was in her own woman's heart.

The two men were troubled by the singing of Aevgrain; Bobaran the White because of memory, Gaer because of desire. When she sang no more, both sighed. "I hear the sound of the sea", said Gaer - "I hear the song of a blind bird" said Bobaran - "I hear silence", whispered Aevgrain to herself, the blood going to her face lest even in that silence the secret thought in her heart should take wing, as the quiet owlet in the dusk.

But Bobaran was well pleased that night when the youth and the girl slept. For he had seen the thought in the brain of the swallow, that of which Manannan of Manainn had warned him. For now belike might the prophecy be fulfilled, that Gaer of the race of Usna and of the womb of Deirdre should become the Ardrigh of the Gaels both of Eire and of Alba. So he slept.

On the seventh day after that slaying of the boar, Bobaran the White walked under the falling snow of the apple bloom, in the shore glades behind the great conical isle that was then called Inshroin, the Isle of the Seals.

He was looking idly seaward, when suddenly he stood as though arrow-fixed. In the bay was a long galley, shaped like a great fish, and with the bows disparted as the mouth of a speared salmon. It was a birlinn of the Innse Gall, and the coming of the sea rovers might well be for evil.

He heard a strange music, but ear could not tell whence it came, for it was as a sweet perplexing swarm of delicate sounds; and was in the spires of the grass, and the blown drift of the thistle down, and the bells of the foxglove, and in all the murmurous multitude of the little leaves.

So by that he knew it was a magic song. He took his clarsach, and played an old rune of the sea, that Manannan of Manainn had taught him: Manannan, the son of Athgno, of the sons of Manannan of the Foam, son of Lir, the great god.

And when he had played, he took nine shrivelled berries of the rowan from the top of his clarsach. Three he threw toward the waves, and cried:

"O element that is older than the ancient earth!

O Element that was old when Age was young!

O second of the Sacred Three in whom the seed of Alldai

In whom the seed of the Unnameable became the spawn of the world, Whence the old gods,and the fair Dedannans, and the sons of men, O Element of the Elements, show me the fish of Manainn,

Show me the fish of Manannan with the arrow in the tongue!"

And when Bobaran had cried this incantation, he took three more of the rowan berries and threw them on the ground, and they were swift red tongues of hounds that bayed against a shadowy deer. Then, when he had swallowed the three remaining rowan berries, he saw Gaer standing by a rock on the shore, now looking toward the galley - whence came, as a swarm of bees, the perplexing sweet murmurous noise - and now back to the woodland where he heard the glad baying of hounds lairing the deer.

But while Bobaran wondered, he saw a beautiful naked woman standing the prow of the birlinn, and striking the strings of a small shell harp, and singing. And when he looked at Gaer, the son of Naois was in the sea, and swimming swiftly from wave to wave, crying the name of her who bore him - Deirdre, flame of love.

But the druid saw that the beautiful woman was an evil Queen, and that in the hollow of the fish mouth crouched a man of Lochlin, with a stretched bow in his hands, and in that bow a great arrow. So once more he cried :

" O element, in the name of Manannan, son of Lir!"

and then he lifted his clarsach, and struck three shrill cries from the strings.

Thus it was that where Gaer swam against the sweet lust of his eyes three great waves arose. The first wave bore him down into the depths, so that the arrow that flew against his breast shot like a shadow through the water. The second wave whirled him this way and that, so that the arrow that flew against his back shot like a spent mackerel through the spray. The third wave hurled him on the shore, amid clouds of sand.

Bobaran flew to the place where he fell, and stood before him, and played a wind against the arrows that now came from the birlinn like rain. Then he played magic upon the sea, so that the three tidal waves became one, and roared seaward in one high, terrible crested, overpowering tumult, and lifted the birlinn, and hurled it upon the rocks of Inshroin, so that all there were swept into the sea and drowned.

Then Bobaran was glad, because he remembered what he had heard in Inis Manainn - that a fair queen of the Innse Gall would seek to lure Gaer the son of Deirdre to his death, because of what Naois and the sons of Usnach had done to her kinsfolk of the far isles.

That night, before the fires, he told of the hero wars of Naois and the sons of Usnach, and of how the queen of the Innse Gall came in her beauty to Naois, and of how Naoise looked at Deirdre, and bade depart the yellow haired woman with the yellow crown. Then because he was a poet he sang of her beauty,and of the infinite bitter sweetness of desire, and of the long ache and continuous unsatisfied longing that is called love.

When he ceased, he saw that neither Gaer nor Aevgrain listened to his singing voice. But in the eyes of Gaer he saw the infinite bitter sweetness of desire, and in the eyes of Aevgrain the ache and longing of unawakened love.

On the morrow, Bobaran was walking, heavy with thought. Peradventure the day was near when another evil would come to the children of Naoise and Deirdre. He feared, too, lest he had lit a fire in the mind of Gaer and in the heart of Aevgrain.

While he was yet pondering what thus perplexed him, he saw three drawing near. One was Aevgrain, sunlike indeed in her lovely beauty, but with strange, grave eyes; and one was Gaer coming as Naois when he was seen of Deirdre in the woods of Conchobar, laughing with delight; and one was a young man, the fairest and comeliest Bobaran the White had ever seen. He was clad in green, with a fillet of fold, with belt clasps of shining findruiney. His hair was long and yellow, yet he was not of the men of Lochlin.

He bowed courteously as he drew near. Bobaran saw that he threw three berries of the mistletoe on the ground, and asked him concerning these, and that doing.

"It is my geas, my vow", said the stranger. "It is one of my geasan that I throw three berries of the mistletoe on the ground before I speak to an honourable one of the druids".

Bobaran accepted that saying, for it was in the manner of his day.

And because that he himself was under geas not to ask a stranger more than two questions, he spoke at once, lest idly he should ask a vain thing.

"Are you of Emhain Abhlach, fair lord?" he asked.

"Yes, I am of the Isle of Apple Trees", answered the stranger, with grave eyes.

"And your name and your father's name, are they known to me?"

"I am Rinn, the son of Eochaidh Iuil"

"Doubtless Eochaidh Iuil is a king in...in..."

"What of your geas, O Bobaran Ban?"

At this the druid bowed ashamedly, for he had broken his geas. He stood amazed, too, that Rinn, the son of Eochaidh, should know what that geas was.

"I am come here," said Rinn, slowly, "because I follow the shadow of my dream". The druid thought he had heard no voice so sweet since Deirdre sang low as she played at chess with Naois.

"That was when Gaer was asleep within her womb" said Rinn.

So, knowing that the stranger could read what was in his mind, Bobaran feared the magic of spells. But when he put his hand to his side, he found that his clarsach was gone; and when he looked, he saw that Rinn had lifted it from the ground; and when he strove to speak, he understood that by the third berry of the mistletoe the stranger had put silence against his lips.

So, with a heavy heart, he turned and followed the three to the pleasant lios which at that season was their home.

At dusk, before the fires, Rinn sang and told fair wonderful tales. And when he had told one tale, Gaer that it was of him he spoke: and of how on the morrow he would cross the sea to Eire and contest with Conchobar, who had been the deathmaker for his love Deirdre and for Naios and the sons of Usnach, for the sovereignty of the Ultonians: and of how he would banish Conchobar to the far surf swept Isles of Orcc: and of how, after a year of sovereignty, and because of the longing of love and the dream of of all dreams, he would return to Emhain Abhlach, and recall Conchobar to be Ardrigh: and of how he would live there till he died, and of how he would know love great as the love of Naois, and beauty great as the beauty of Deirdre.

And in that dream sleep came upon him, and when Gaer slept, Rinn took the clarsach again, and again played. He sang the song of love. Bobaran saw a forest glade filled with moonshine, and in that moonshine was a woman, white and beautiful, and the face was the face of Alveen whom he had loved. His heart rose like a wave: his life swung on the crest of that wave: and as a wave he broke in a flood of longing and desire at the feet of Alveen whom he had loved long, long ago.

And in that dream sleep came upon him, and he knew no more.

When Bobaran slept, Rinn looked at Aevgrain, whose eyes were shining upon him as two stars.

"Play me no sweet songs, O Rinn," she murmured, "for already I love you, O heart's desire, my delight!"

Rinn smiled, but he touched the strings of his harp.

" O heart's desire, my delight!" he whispered.

"O heart's desire!" she murmured, as sleep came upon her. Then her white hands moved like swans through the shadowy flood that was her hair, and she put sleep from her, and leaned forward, looking into the eyes of Rinn.

"Tell me who you are, whence you are" she whispered.

"Will you love me if I tell this thing?"

"You are my heart's desire."

"Will you follow me if I tell this thing?"

Aevgrain rose. The firelight waved a rose of flame into her face. Rinn laughed low, and he put his arms about her and led her deeper into the shadow of the lios.

At sunrise Manannan stood on the shore, and when he looked along the sun track he saw Gaer sailing into the west.

Then he went to the lios. There was no one there: there was no single thing to be seen there save two pale blue shadows lying in the sunway. Then he awoke Bobaran.

"Put that youth-dream from you", he said, "and answer me. Where is Gaer? Where is Aevgrain?"

Bobaran bowed his head.

"What of the wild boar that was the peril of Gaer, that was the thought in the brain of the swallow?"

"It is slain, O Manannan of Manainn."

"What of the white woman and the death shaft that was the arrow in the tongue of the fish?"

"They are in the silence of the sea."

"What of the witching voice of Rinn, the Lord of Shadow, Rinn the son of Eochaidh Iuil, of the Land of Heart's Desire? What of his witching song, that is called Honey of the Wild Bees?"

Bobaran the Druid bowed his head.

"He put spells upon me and upon Gaer. I know no more."

"Gaer you shall see once more, for he will come again to Emhain Abhlach, but he will not know you, for you shall be a grey wolf howling in the waste. But Aevgrain we shall not see again. Farewell, O daughter of Deirdre, desire of my desire!"

And with that Manannan turned, and was hidden in a sea mist, and was in Manainn again, the Sacred Isle.

But already Bobaran had not waited for that going. His fell bristled as he leaped past the lios, and his long howl rose and sank till lost in the silence of the woods.

At sundown on the third day the two shadows in the lios stirred. Sweet clay of the world was upon them again.

"Tell me what you are, whence you are", murmured Aevgrain, her eyes shadowy with love.

"Will you love me if I tell this thing?"

"You are my heart's desire"

"Will you follow?"

Aevgrain strove to rise. The sunflood warmed a rose of flame in her pale face.

"I love you, Aevgrain, because you are beautiful, and because in you I see the shadow of beauty. Await here. It is my will".

"I have no love but you. You are my heart's desire."

Rinn sighed.

"So be it", he said. "I will take with me your love. Overlong have I dreamed this dream. Hark to that great sighing!"

"I hear".

"It is the sighing of the world. It is for me."

"For you..........?"

"I am called Rinn, Honey of the Wild Bees. I am the Lord of Shadow. But here, O Aevgrain, my name is Death".

(Fiona MacLeod, 1910)


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