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Cauldron of Creation

Posted January 6th, 2011 at 07:49 AM by chas
Updated January 6th, 2011 at 08:18 AM by chas
"Well goodbye Mick and goodbye Pat
And goodbye Kate and Mary
The anchor's weighed
The gangway's up
I'm leaving Tipperary
There's the steamer blazin' up
I can no longer stay
For I'm bound for the New York City, boys
Three thousand miles away
Ha Ha Ha!
--I'm Leaving Tipperary, De Danann

If you look out of the corner of your eye just at dusk, you can see the entrance to The Undying Land, where the People of the Goddess Danu keep the Cauldron. To the Finns, it was the Sampo, the magical mill which ground out all the good things you could ever want. To the Norse, it was Mjolnir, The Miller, which you may know as the Hammer of Thor, a sacred fetish used to officiate at weddings. The blarney of my Irish friends with names like McPartland, Slack, Murphy, Buckley, and Kennedy could activate this cornucopia just a bit by speaking The Blarney, an echo of the sacred tongue which then called The Mill to ground out Wonder, or The Cauldron to bubble up with life. And just as Snorri Sturluson in Iceland or Elias Lonrot in Finland preserved the old tales, Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats kept some of the old Irish legends alive for us, just when the old professional story tellers were dying out, and the rural folk forgetting their Old Ways.

The goddess Brigit kindled the sacred fire on her birthday on the first day of spring on a mountaintop, and when it was seen, sacred fires were lit across the land until the island was ablaze; reborn. She also appeared in the hearth of each home, dispelling the windowless darkness with the Blessing of the Kindling, which may have originally been started by a Druid named Hamm (Miller), and kept now by each housewife in the land every morning, when the windowless dark of ancient houses was broken by the presence of The Golden Goddess.

But if you want to hear life bubbling for yourself, you can journey to The Emerald Isle at the edge of the world--Ireland, where the old ways are kept as a national treasure, as they are in those other last pockets of Celtic memory, in Galicia (Spain), Brittany (France), on The Isle of Man, and in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland--the Celtic Fringe.

The three main roles of the Druid in Celtic society were The Priest, who channeled glory from the gods, The Brehon or judge of the laws--who often the ruler, and The Bard or storyteller who preserved orally all the culture of the people. Never insult a bard, or he'll lampoon ya!

I travelled alone, since Cousin Jim's schedule did not match mine, but with a small tour group based on my college alumni association, who I had never associated with before. But it seemed fit to have companions, and to meet them on the trip, as I had known none of them previously. I journeyed noble myself, as I'd spent a bit more than I usually did to travel in style. We stayed for a week in an old hunting manor in rural Killarney, and a week in Dublin, that smallish, friendly, comfortable city founded by the Vikings.

In Killarney we rode by bus or once by pony cart over the old misty glacial hills, and in small open motor launches over the waters of the lakes, when I would pass around a bottle of mead to keep my fellows warm. At night we'd have visits by Celtic artists in storytelling or song, or I'd sit down in the tiny private pub and exchange our own impressions with our fellow travellers, and I'd share what I knew as well. In the town of Killarney itself nearby, thoroughly modern technology was cradled within an old settled way of village life thousands of years old, so different from the rootlessness and atomization of much American urban life. Outside our window, sheep grazed on the green, green grass, undisturbed.

Dublin is a center of revived Celtic culture. The ancient Book of Invasions relates a series of peoples--the Tuatha De Danaan overcame the Firbolgs, and were driven underground to become gods by the ancestors of the Celts themselves. In modern memory, the English destroyed the ruling classes of the Celts, occupied much of the land, and outlawed their culture. But like the Mayans under Spanish rule, who hid their household gods under the hearth while openly praying to Christ, or the Jewish "converts" after 1492 when they were exiled from Spain, those of a Celtic temperament survive to rebuild their heritage as they like, from the inside out as artists.

In the local Irish pub in my own Brooklyn, the love of words is evident in a poster showing famous Irish writers. My Jewish grandfather loved words in their way, and would spend hours reading the entomologies in the dictionary (there was a Jewish mayor of Dublin once). When I have to check up a word during my own writing before a final computerized spellcheck, its back to the old print reference. When I worked in a bookstore years ago I got my parents a huge old dictionary, almost too heavy to lift, which I will inherit. I used it this year when playing Scrabble with my 88 year old Dad.

In the Southwest of Erin we visited the old primitive structures of the Culdee, whose independent Christian faith (priests married as they wished) which knew no allegiance to the Roman state or The Pope, and in fact kept the religion alive at a time when it was dying almost everywhere else in Europe after the Fall of Rome. So the Celts are often seen by romantics like me as those who lived a vital life without the bureaucracy and centralization of oppressive central governments, from the Romans who never reached its shore, to more modern incarnations of bland standardization, which is alright for a form, but not as a lifestyle.

You need to know that the Guinness in a Dublin pub tastes much better than that we pour on our side of the Atlantic--even in New York. In that city you can see Celtic gold and Viking weapons at the National Museum. We passed the site of Clontarf, now overrun by the city's growth, where Brian Boru created an Irish kingdom that would keep the Vikings from taking over the whole country. And in an old fashioned tourist restaurant, we heard a variety concert with fiddle, bodhran, accordion, and song, that was irresistible, even for one steeped in the music.

Undaunted by the practice of keeping the Book of Kells open to only one page a day, I bought a facsimile book, just as I had for the Bayeaux tapestry in Normandy. This unimaginable intricate book, the equal in its own way to the miniatures art of Persia, symbolizes a crossroads of pagan and Christian sensibility,with the natural world and the world of faith intertwined in its magnificent illustrations, themselves the beloved work of lifetimes by the monks who worked on them.

Just as immigrants escaped The Famine by coming over to America, you can travel backwards to a land that reflects The Source of All. Like John Wayne's Sean Thornton in John Ford's movie The Quiet Man, "just a poor man who wants to forget his troubles," you can travel back to reconnect with the old ways, whatever they mean for you. Or if you are lucky enough to just unintentionally bump into The Other World, as Peter Riegert's Mac does in the Celtic Scotland of Bill Forsyth's more modern film Local Hero, you might realize the importance of the connection for you. Its there. Waiting. Underpinning what you know as Reality. Which, I assure you, is a purely local phenomenon.
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