Blog Post 2

The story of the Táin Bó Cuailnge is a war story about the battle between the King and Queen Ailill and Medb and the warrior Cú Chulainn.  The beginning calls back to the birth of Cú Chulainn, and that story has a part that feels like it was added in later.  The myth tells that the King of Ulster, Conchobor, helped to rear a young boy with the help of his sister Deichtine, until the boy died of an illness.  Wrought with grief, Deichtine asked for a drink, and it is said that in that drink was a small creature that passed through her lips and vanished as she swallowed it.  In a vision reminiscent of the appearance of the Angel David about the birth of Christ, she is visited in a dream by a man who introduced himself as Lug mac Ethnenn.  Lug is a very prominent Irish god, however in this story he is not introduced as such, he merely says his name and that Deichtine was now pregnant with his son as a result of that creature in the drink.  The absence of mentioning he is a god struck me as interesting and is something that I mention again later with The Morrigan.

 

Deichtine was then told by Lug that she would bear him a son and name him Sétanta.  As she grew more visibly pregnant, people began to rumor that Conchobor accidentally slept with her when he was drunk, and so Conchobor gave her hand in marriage to a man named Sualdam mac Roich.  Deichtine, however, felt ashamed at consummating the marriage while she was already pregnant, and got sick with nerves as she went to go to bed with him.  In her sickness, the fetus died, and she became pregnant again with Sualdam’s child, who she did then name Sétanta.

 

What interests me about this part is the emphasis on how Deichtine is once more ‘virgin and whole’ after her pregnancy with Lug’s baby is terminated.  The quick turnaround between the termination of her pregnancy and then her becoming pregnant again with Sualdam’s child is very fast and feels like a way to merely get rid of the idea that the child was conceived through unnatural means.  Despite that Sétanta, who later earns the name Cú Chulainn, is thought of as Lug’s son, it was clear in this myth that his godly heritage was erased in a way that seemed very hasty.  If I assume that this was, indeed, an edit by Christian scribes to erase the pagan deities, then the reasoning behind this edit would be that the only child of a god that would be allowed is the child of God.  No other ‘demigod’ besides Jesus would be allowed to have stories told about him, as that would lessen the importance of Jesus’s godly status.

 

There is also the note of the erasure of Lug’s godly status.  Both Lug and The Morrigan, who are mentioned in the Táin Bó Cuailnge, are not introduced as deities.  If one is not privy to the prior knowledge that they were deities, then it would seem as though they were merely magical, or perhaps unhuman but not on the level of a god.  For The Morrigan I found this especially interesting, as she has always been one of the more interested Celtic deities to me.  As the goddess of war, fate, and death, she has been described as three sisters and also as one figure.  She is a shapeshifter, and is known to choose who will die in battle, including the eventual demise of Cú Chulainn.  To erase her goddess status is to reduce the importance of her appearance during the Táin Bó Cuailnge, where she appears to try and seduce Cú Chulainn and when he refuses, she attempts to interfere with his next battle and lead to his death.  Not knowing that The Morrigan, or Mór-Ríoghain in modern Irish, is a goddess, merely makes her seem like a powerful woman with magical ability, and it loses the omen of her appearing to Cú Chulainn during his battle.  This shows the effect that even small omissions can have on the meaning of a story, as it is likely that the diminished importance could be the doing of Christian scribes.

Comments

  1. kgkowalski says:

    Hi Rory,

    Wow, this project looks so interesting! I’m not all that familiar with Celtic mythology, but this story is so intriguing. Do you think this myth could have contributed to the popularity of Christianity in Ireland, since they were already familiar with the idea of an immaculate conception? There’s so many other parallels, too– the dream visitation, still managing to marry the woman off despite the scandal of her pregnancy, raising the child as another man’s (at least for a time). I’m also curious if the emphasis on virginity was a new addition by a Christian scribe, like the “termination” of the demigod child, or whether that was also a part of Irish culture prior to Christianity. Mary’s pregnancy was exceptional not only due to the baby’s divine father, but to her “virginity,” whereas in Greek mythology, for example, women impregnated by gods were not considered virgins any more than those impregnated by human men– would Deichtine have been considered a virgin by the Irish who worshiped Lug, or was that irrelevant?

    -Kate Kowalski