Children of Lir
Irish heroine and heroes. Their story is called one of the three sorrows of ireland. Happily married to king lir, the magician’s daughter aeb gave birth first to a twin son and daughter, Aed and fionnuala. Her next pregnancy was less fortunate however, and she died giving birth to a pair of twin sons, fiachra and conn. Orphaned when their beloved mother died, the four children of king lir fell into the care of their aunt aife who, filled with spite and envy, bewitched the children into swans and cursed them to live nine hundred years in that form. The children kept their human emotions and senses and were given hauntingly sweet singing voices. When their enchantment ended, they aged and died and turned to dust, all within moments.
Children of Llyr
Welsh heroes and heroines. The second branch of the Welsh mabinogion tells the story of a war between Wales and Ireland.
British folkloric figure. In rural Somerset, a child born after Friday midnight but before dawn on Saturday was believed to have the second sight and to be a healer.
Irish heroine. In the legends of the heroic fianna, we find a queen much harassed by the powers of the otherworld. Time after time a long hairy arm would reach into her home and steal one of her children, and the queen could do nothing to stop it. She required the hero fionn mac cumhaill to make a geis, a sacred vow, to help her. He stayed up all night to catch the witch Chlaus Haistig upon the roof, reaching down to steal the queen’s children; holding the witch hostage, Fionn gained the release of the other boys and girls.
As Celtic religion was polytheistic in the extreme, the arrival of monotheistic Christianity might have meant the extirpation of Celtic practices. And indeed, the loss of much continental Celtic material can be traced to Christian campaigns such as that of idol-smashing Martin of Tours in what is now France. Yet religious practices proved harder to break than sculptures, although a series of edicts emphasized the need to eliminate traditions such as that of honoring stones and trees. The Edict of Arles (452 c.e.) proclaimed that "if any infidel either lighted torches, or worshiped trees, fountains or stones, or neglected to destroy them, he should be found guilty of sacrilege." A century later the Council of Tours recommended excommunication for those found guilty of the same practices. After another century, ancient traditions still held, so that the Decree of Nantes (658 c.e.) encouraged "bishops and their servants" to "dig up and remove and hide to places where they cannot be found, those stones that in remote and woody places are still worshiped."
Clearly people were continuing to find their way to the old sites of worship, some of which had been taken over by the Celts from pre-Celtic people and therefore had been in use for millennia. Finally the church took a clue from earlier Roman invaders and proposed a version of the interpretatio romana. In the words of the seventh-century Pope Gregory, "Take advantage of well-built temples by purifying them from devil-worship and dedicating them to the service of the true God. In this way, I hope the people will leave their idolatry and yet continue to frequent the places as formerly, so coming to know and revere the true God."
This new attitude meant that ancient practices continued under the rubric of church ceremonies. Even with this expanded definition of Christian worship, pagan ceremonies seem to have continued in some areas, for the Church of Scotland appointed a commission in 1649 to eliminate "druidical customs" (see druid) still practiced in certain areas. More often, Celtic traditions were absorbed into Christianity, so that ancient Celtic festival days became Christian feasts, churches were built on old holy sites, and pagan divinities were "canonized" as saints.
In Ireland the same general pattern was followed, with ancient sites being consecrated to Christian uses. A difference between Ireland and the other Celtic countries rests in the role of monks and other literate Christians in sustaining the ancient traditions. The earliest written works of Irish literature we have, including the tain bo cuailnge, were transcribed by Christian religious men. While it is likely that some motifs and beliefs in most flagrant discord with Christian values were altered or suppressed, without the monks’ work even more of Celtic religion may well have been lost. Christianity therefore exists in a complex relationship to Celtic religion, as both preserver and destroyer.
Ciabhan (Keevan of the Curling Locks, Ciabhan)
Irish hero. Briefly a member of the fianna, the band of heroes led by fionn mac cumhaill, Ciabhan was asked to leave the heroic band because of his womanizing. So he set sail to the west, toward the fairyland of tir tairngiri, the Land of Promise, where he astonished observers with his juggling abilities. The fairy queen clidna took him as her lover but lost her life because of their affair: She drowned while awaiting his return from a hunting expedition.
Cian (Kian, Cian mac Cainte)
Irish hero. When balor, king of the fomorians, was told that he would be killed by his grandson, he thought he could outwit the prophecy because his only daughter eithne was still a virgin. So he locked her in a high tower, where she would never meet a man and therefore never bear a child.
Balor proved his own undoing, for he coveted the magically abundant cow, the glas ghaibhleann, which was in the keeping of Cian, a man from the mainland. Some tales say that Cian was the cow’s owner, while others say that he was merely the cowherd, the owner being a magical smith. Sailing over from his home on Tory Island, off the northwest coast of Ireland, Balor stole the cow and brought her back to his distant home. Unwilling to lose such a splendid beast, Cian went secretly across the waters, where he found a greater prize: the fair Eithne. Helped by a druid woman, birog, he decked himself in women’s clothes and took up residence in the tower, where he seduced Eithne. She gave birth to three sons, two of whom were drowned by their grandfather; the surviving child was the hero lugh. In variants of the story, Cian is called Kian or MacInelly; he is also said to have impregnated Eithne’s other 12 handmaids, all of whom gave birth to seals.
In some stories, Cian is described as a son of the physician god, dian cecht, which would make him one of the tuatha de danann, the people of the goddess danu. He died when three brothers, the sons of tuireann, ambushed him because of enmity between Cian and their father. To his humiliation, he attempted to avoid the encounter with the armed warriors, turning himself into a pig and pretending to scour the forest floor for acorns, but the brothers saw through the shape-shifting and turned themselves into dogs to bring Cian down, only permitting him to return to human form just before death. The great earthwork called the Black Pig’s Dyke is said to be his petrified body or to have been dug by him while in pig form.
Irish heroine. This obscure figure is named in the book of invasions as one of the five wives of the hero partholon, the others being Aife, Elgnad or dealgnaid, Nerbgen, and Cerbnat. She is otherwise unknown.
Celtic god. An obscure god whose name seems to mean "great protector," he was worshiped in central Europe where inscriptions to him from Roman times—calling him a form of the warrior god mars—were found. He may be the same as the protector god apollo Anextiomarus. His consort was the goddess litavis.
Welsh heroine or goddess. In the third branch of the Welsh mabinogion, this woman became the wife of pryderi, son of the goddess rhiannon and her consort pwyll. After her husband became strangely entrapped with his mother in a magical fairy mound, Cigfa lived chastely with Rhiannon’s second husband, man-awydan, until the latter was able to find a way to break the enchantment on their spouses.
Welsh hero. The father of the hero kulhwch, he encouraged his son to ask for assistance in finding his true love, olwen, by traveling to the court of his cousin, king arthur of camelot.
Irish hero. With two other ulster kings, aed Ruad and dithorba, this legendary ruler agreed that each in turn would rule for seven years. The agreement, overseen by a committee of poets, nobles, and druids, worked until Aed Ruad was killed. When his daughter macha Mong Rua (Red-Haired Macha) took his place, both Cimbaeth and Dfthorba opposed her claim in battle. However, she was the stronger and won, afterward wedding Cimbaeth and killing Dfthorba.
Irish heroes. The followers of the great hero fionn mac cumhaill were called by this name, especially when they fought against the followers of the one-eyed goll mac morna, who were called after him the clan morna. The two rival clans eventually joined to form the fianna.
Irish heroes. This name is used to describe the followers or tribe of the great warrior goll mac morna, traditional enemies of the clan baiscne who served the hero fionn mac cumhaill. After numerous skirmishes the rival clans joined to form the fianna.
Arthurian heroine. In some texts, this is the name given to king arthur’s sister, although it is unclear whether she is the same individual as the one otherwise known as morgause.
Arthurian heroine. Sister of a knight of the round table, gawain, Clarisant was the daughter of king Arthur’s half-sister morgause and the king of the remote northern island of Orkney. She lived in an enchanted castle with her lover, Guireomelant.
Clas Myrddin (Merlin’s palace, Merlin’s enclosure)
Arthurian site. The entire island of Britain was said to be the palace of the great magician merlin, who served as its guardian.
CHdna (Cleena, CKodna, Cliodna, CKona, Clidna Centfind)
Irish heroine or goddess. In every series of nine waves, Irish legend maintains, the ninth one is the largest; it is still called CKdna’s wave, Tonn CKodhna, for a goddess of the tuatha de danann who was the world’s most beautiful woman, called CKdna of the Fair Hair. Especially associated with the southwestern province of munster, she is sometimes called its fairy queen, although that title is also claimed by aine and aeval. CKdna lived in the fairy hill in Cork called Carrig Cliodna; she is also associated with offshore rocks called Carrigcleena; thus like other fairy queens she may have originally been a goddess of the land.
Many romantic tales are associated with CKdna. In one, she was courted by ciabhan, the womanizing outcast of the heroic band called the fianna, who won her hand in her homeland of tir tairngiri, the Land of Promise. Unlike most mortal lovers of fairy women, Ciabhan traveled back and forth between this world and the otherworld safely. While he went hunting on the Irish mainland, he took CKdna along to Glandore ("golden harbor"). CKdna’s lover went ashore as she stole a nap in their boat. But a huge wave crashed over the boat, drowning the beautiful CKdna.
Despite this report of her watery demise, CKdna managed to live on to have more romantic adventures. She fell in love with a man named John Fitzjames, who already had a human lover named Caitileen Og; this girl followed CKdna into the Otherworld, angrily demanding the return of her man. Although she came close to persuading CKdna to let her sweetheart go, even the witty tongue of Caitileen Og was ultimately ineffective against CKdna’s desires.
CKdna is connected with several important Irish families; she had affairs with Earl Gerald Fitzgerald of the Desmond Geraldines (son of the fairy queen aine) and with Caomh, ancestor of the O’Keeffes. Cladna served as banshee to the MacCarthys, to whom she told the secret of the blarney stone, that touching it with the lips would make anyone eloquent—a superstition that lasts to this day. Her connection with nobility suggests that CKdna was goddess of the sovereignty of sea-lapped Munster.
Clipping the church
British ritual. In England some village churches were sites of a ritual wherein children performed a circle dance around the churchyard, touching ("clipping") the church’s walls as they cavorted. As churches were often erected on ancient holy sites (see christianity), this rite has been seen as reflecting a ritual once conducted beside or inside a stone circle, where the stones were touched by passing celebrants. In the Cotswolds the rite was celebrated when the yews in the churchyard were clipped around the autumn equinox.
Ritual object. A clootie is a rag, ribbon, or strip of cloth tied to a sacred tree or bile growing near a holy well or other honored site in Ireland and Scotland. Typically the rag was touched to a part of the body in need of healing before being tied to the tree; this practice continues to the present. In the case of one tree beside a well in Scotland, tens of thousands of ribbons deck the surrounding trees and shrubs.
Clota (Clud, Clutoida)
Scottish goddess. The eponymous goddess of Scotland’s River Clyde and of the fertility of its watershed, Clota also appeared on the Continent as the spring nymphs called the Clutoida.
Irish heroine or goddess. The legendary Irish king eochaid Fedlech had four impressive daughters: medb, eithne, mugain, and Clothra, as well as three sons, all named Finn and collectively named the finn Emna. Clothra bore a single son to her three brothers, lugaidh Riab nDerg, whose body was divided into three parts by red stripes, each section having been fathered by a different brother. Clothra then lay with her son Lugaidh, by whom she conceived the hero crimthann Nia Nair, who was born posthumously, for Clothra was killed by her jealous sister Medb. This sequence of incestuous matings suggests an ancestral goddess, as does Clothra’s appearance in many Irish genealogies.
Symbolic object. The four-leafed clover was said to be magical or lucky because it alone could break through the glamour that fairies used to disguise the reality of their surroundings. Holding up such a clover would permit one to see things as they really were: a cave where a cottage appeared, a toothless old man where a handsome one had stood seconds before. The oil of the four-leafed clover may have been the main ingredient in fairy ointment.
Cluricaune (cluricane, cluracan)
Scottish and Irish mythological being. Whereas his kin, the leprechaun, was an industrious little fellow, this solitary fairy was quite the opposite, preferring to lounge about and primp his handsome clothing: his silver-buckled shoes, cap with golden lace, and suit of red—the typical color of the Solitary Fairy; trooping fairies, by contrast, wore green. Fond of tippling, the cluricaune would steal into wine cellars, especially those belonging to alcoholics, to steal a few bottles. He was hard to exterminate, for if an owner tried to move, the cluricaune would simply travel along inside a cask.
The name cluricaune was most often used of this fairy being in Co. Cork; in nearby Co. Kerry, he was the Luricaune; in Tipperary, the Lugirgadaune; in Ulster, the Loghery Man. One cluricaune named Little Wildbeam, who haunted a Quaker family in Cork, was most helpful if a servant left a bit of beer dripping from the cask; he shrank and wedged himself into the spigot so that not a drop was lost. If the maids did not feed him well, the fairy came out at night and beat them senseless. This all became too much for the family, and when the cluricaune would not vacate the premises, they packed up and moved, only to unpack and find their annoying helper had made his way to their new home.
Continental Celtic god. His name has been translated as "the crippled one," but little is known of this god to whom inscriptions have been found in Celtic regions of Germany and Austria. The Romans connected him with their protective warrior god mars; he has been linked by scholars with such wounded kingly figures as the Irish nuada.
Irish heroine. This obscure Irish heroine or goddess was said to have been the nurse of conn of the Hundred Battles. She died of a fever and was buried by her father, Connad, in the area near Dublin called Castleknock in her honor.
Irish hero. Harpist of fionn mac cumhaill; see dwarf.
Irish hero. This cruel king forced his young brother, labhraigh Lore, to eat mice, whereupon the child was frightened into muteness. He is sometimes described as Labhraigh’s uncle. He killed Labhraigh in his lust for the throne of the province of leinster.
Irish heroine. She was the daughter of the king of tara, cathair mor, and mother of the romantic hero diarmait Ua Duibne. She also gave birth to Diarmait’s nemesis, the great wild boar named donn ua duibne. She had betrayed Diarmait’s father with a shepherd who had magical powers, and when she gave birth to a boy, Diarmait’s father killed it. The shepherd waved a hazel wand over the child’s body, restoring him to life. It was not a human life that Cochrann’s child lived, however, for he awakened from death as a boar. From then on, he lived to confront his half-brother and exact his revenge for his unfortunate state.
British god. The Romans associated this northern British god with their war god mars, but despite being favored by soldiers, Cocidius’s horns suggest that he was probably originally a hunters’ god, as the alternative identification with silvanus also suggests. One inscription from Britain connects Cocidius with an otherwise obscure Celtic god named Vernostonus, although the significance of that linkage is not clear.
Symbolic animal. Although domestic chickens were more utilitarian than religious, the cock or rooster drew some superstitions to itself. Possibly because of its harsh call, the cock was believed to protect against danger that might approach from an unanticipated direction; this power was especially strong in March. Black cocks were viewed as lucky, while white cocks were just the opposite.
Coel (Coel Hen)
British god. "Old King Cole was a merry old soul," the nursery rhyme says, but Coel was not actually a king at all—he was an ancient Celtic god, "old Coel," euhemer-ized or diminished into a mere human. His name remains in the town of Colchester.
Irish folkloric object. Irish mermaids wore this little cap, which allowed them to swim beneath the waters of lakes and sea without danger. Should her cap be lost or stolen, however, the mermaid henceforth was forced to remain landbound.
Mythic theme. This term, which means "a fifth," was used to describe the ancient provinces of Ireland. The four geographical provinces were leinster in the east, munster in the southwest, connacht in the west, and ulster in the north. The fifth province, mide, or Meath, was not so much a geographical as a cosmological concept, representing the true center, sometimes defined as the hill of uis-neach or, more specifically, the rock called the stone of divisions on that hill. In historical times, the province of Meath was established near the center of Ireland’s landmass, but the mystical connotations of the island’s provincial divisions were never lost.
Irish heroine. This warrior woman was put under a curse of death if her daughter delbchaem should ever wed, so she challenged every suitor who came seeking the maiden’s fair hand. Coinchenn usually won her battles with the suitors, placing their heads on poles around her house to form a macabre fence and hiding her daughter in a high tower. One man was stronger than she, and then only with fairy help: the king of tara, art mac cuinn, who eventually gained Delbchaem’s hand.
Symbolic object. The Celts had no coinage before the Roman invasions; the means of their economic exchange is not entirely clear but seems to have been based on barter. Metal coins were a revolutionary invention; prior to the widespread acceptance of money, goods themselves had to be transported to market and goods gotten in exchange carried back. Early Roman-era coins show some Celtic designs, indicating that local craftspeople were finding ways to create appropriate coins. Ultimately, coins substituted for images of afflicted parts of the body in rituals at holy wells; throwing coins in fountains is still superstitiously practiced today, the result of such offerings being a vaguely described "good luck."
Arthurian hero. This knight of the round table played a minor role in the story of owein and the lady of the fountain, for he was the first knight to encounter the fountain’s guardian, the mysterious Black Knight who was the lady’s husband. Defeated by him, Colgrevance returned to camelot with the tale, which spurred Owein to attempt to win over the Black Knight.
Celtic site. At this archaeological site in southeastern France, an artifact was found that has been very important in Celtic studies. The bronze fragments of the Coligny Calendar document five years, dividing time into a 12-month lunar or moon year with 355 days and inserting a 30-day month after every 30 months to bring the calendar back into sequence with the solar or sun year. The calendar was found in a shrine to the Romano-Celtic mars and is believed to have had a ritual function. It is the only Celtic calendar known to archaeology.
Colloquy of the Elders (Colloquy of the Sages or Ancients, Acallam na Senorach, Agallamh na Seanorach)
Irish mythological text. An important Irish narrative text, source for many of the legends of the fianna, the Colloquy of the Elders was composed in the 12 th century, presumably by Christian monks. It tells of two members of the Fianna, oisin and cailte, who after a long stay in fairyland met with st. patrick and engaged him in a discussion of religion and values. They traveled with the Christian monk, pointing out the holy sites and telling stories connected with them (see dindshenchas). Despite being composed during Christian times, the text is satirical toward Patrick and reverent toward the two aging survivors of pagan Ireland.
Symbolic object. The comb is associated with the mermaid, who was thought to sit on a rock combing her lovely hair, the better to lure sailors to their deaths. Invoking the principle of sympathetic magic—like attracting like— Scottish girls were warned not to comb their hair in the evening when their brothers were at sea, because it might draw the energy of a dangerous mermaid to their ship. Combing one’s hair on a Wednesday would result in sterility, although the reason for this belief is unclear.
In Ireland, the comb was especially associated with the goddess-queen medb, whose sexual potency was legendary. The comb appears to represent the feminine force, especially in its malevolent form, a motif that appears in Scottish lore that described bad girls as combing fleas and frogs from their hair, while good girls would release gold and jewels.
Conaire (Conare, Conaire Mor, Conaire Mess Buachalla)
Irish hero. Born from the union of his mother, mess buachalla, with the bird god nemglan, Conaire was the grandson of the great goddess or fairy queen etain. His story points up how vital it was that every sacred vow or geis required of the ruler be followed. Conaire attained the throne of tara after divination (see bull-sleep) revealed that he was its rightful king. With inauguration came a series of demands, including the stipulation that he must never stand between two competing vassals. He did so, however, inserting himself into an argument between his brothers.
As he returned to Tara from that expedition, he was forced to break other vows, letting red riders pass him on his horse, riding with Tara on his right hand, and entering a hostel after nightfall. A fearsome hag appeared at the door and demanded entry, but Conaire clung to the last of his geasa, that no woman should be alone with him at night in Da Derga’s hostel (see da derga). At that, she cursed him while standing in a magical position, and he was stricken with an unquenchable thirst even as the hostel burst into flame. His inauguration had made him the spouse of the lady of the land’s sovereignty, and the fearsome hag who threatened him as his life ended may have been her in vengeful form.
Early Irish History and Mythology. Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1946, p. 124.
This ancient name, often anglicized as
Connell and meaning "wolf," is born by a number of heroic figures.
• Conall, son of Eochaid, whose sons were turned into badgers by the goddess grian after they attacked her fort on the mountain of knockgraney. In retaliation, he fought Grian. Neither was able to gain an advantage until Grian sprinkled him with fairy dust, whereupon Conall stumbled away and died.
• Conall Cernach, "victorious Conall," hero of the ulster cycle, son of the poet amairgin and queen findchoem, foster brother to the hero cuchulainn. He appears in several texts, in which he performs amazing feats like swallowing a boar whole. He killed many men, often brutally. He was the only warrior to survive the holocaust at the hostel of da derga, where his king conaire was killed.
• Conall Gulban, son of niall of the Nine Hostages and founder of the ancient kingdom of Tfr Chonaill in Co. Donegal. His name, corrupted into Bulben, was given to a famous mountain in Co. Sligo (see ben bulben), where he was said to have been killed while attempting to release the fair eithne from the hands of a kidnapping giant. Many folktales revolve around this figure, who appears as a hero second only in popularity to fionn mac cumhaill.
Irish hero. Common in Irish mythology, this name means "wolf’ and was born by many minor figures in the heroic cycles, most importantly Conan mac Morna (Conan Maeol), a comic blusterer sometimes called "Conan of the Bitter Tongue," who has been compared to the Scandinavian trickster Loki. Bald and usually attired with a black fleece wig, he was a tubby buffoon who nonetheless was great friends with the heroic fionn mac cumhaill. Another hero of this name was Conan Muil or Conan the Bald, Fionn’s son, who lost his scalp when swallowed by the great monster caoranach.
Irish goddess. This obscure goddess was mother of three magician daughters who, lusting after the great warriors of the fianna, set out to ensnare them—literally, for they spun a magical web that trapped the heroes. All three were killed by the warriors; see irnan. Sometimes Conaran is described as a male figure, a prince of the tuatha de danann.
Concobar mac Nessa (Conchubar, Concho-bhar, Conachar)
Irish hero. A great king of ulster, he figures in many of the tales called, the ulster cycle. Concobar bears a matronymic, for he is named for his mother nessa, a studious gentle girl who became fierce and warlike after being raped by the druid cathbad, who may be Concobar’s father, although his father is also given as Fachtna Fathach, king of Ulster. It may have been neither: Nessa drank a drink containing a magical worm that may have impregnated her by supernatural means.
After being widowed, Nessa was courted by the great king fergus mac roich, who gave up his throne at emain macha for a year upon her request, so that Concobar’s children might claim royal descent. When Fergus wanted his throne back, he found that Nessa prevented his reas-suming power; angrily, he left Ulster to take up with connacht’s queen medb, a former wife of Concobar who later launched a cattle raid on Concobar’s territory (see tain bo cuailnge).
Like the other men of Ulster, Concobar suffered from debilitating pains whenever an invasion threatened, because of a curse put upon the region’s warriors by the dying goddess macha. Concobar may himself have been responsible for that curse, for he demanded that the pregnant goddess race against his fastest horses (in some tellings, the blame is placed upon Macha’s boastful husband crunniuc). Fergus came close to killing Concobar at the end of Medb’s cattle raid, but the Ulster king lived until hit with a ball made of calcified brains that ultimately felled him.
In addition to Medb, Concobar was married to all her three sisters: eithne Aittenchaithrech, clothra, and mugain; his sons and daughters figure in many Irish legends. He also lusted after other women, most notably deirdre, whom he attempted to raise to become his concubine but who escaped with her true love; the sad conclusion to the tale shows Concobar as a scheming vindictive person, far from the ideal king of Celtic legend (see kingship).
British god. The shrines of the minor water deity Condatis were situated at the confluence of rivers.
Welsh heroine. In some legends, she was the wife of the heroic king pere-dur and mother of their son Lohenergrain.
Irish hero. Several important Irish figures go by this name, including:
• Conn of the Hundred Battles (Con Cetchathach, Conn Ceadchathach), one of the great legendary kings of Ireland. He was the first to be recognized by the magical stone lia fail, which screamed when he approached it. So designated as the true king, he walked the ramparts of tara each day to assure that his people’s enemies, the monstrous fomori-ans, would not catch him unawares.
Before becoming king at Tara, Conn controlled the northern part of Ireland, with a strong rival named eogan Mor ruling over the southern part; the division between them was a row of glacial hills called the eiscir riada. Conn was not happy to remain in his sector, invading Eogan’s region and defeating him. Eogan fled and then returned with additional aid, but to no avail, for Conn once again won over him at the battle of Mag Lena, where Eogan Mor was killed. These and other wars won Conn the epithet "of the hundred battles" or "fighter of hundreds."
Many of the stories regarding Conn emphasize the need for the king to remain in right relationship to the land so that it might be fruitful. Offered the cup of sovereignty by a beautiful unknown woman, he took as his queen the virtuous eithne Taebfhorta. The land, well pleased under such good kingship, bore three harvests every year. But when he married be chuma, who had been evicted from the otherworld for her disreputable ways, Conn found the land did not agree with his actions, for not a cow gave milk until the fairy woman was sent away.
Conn is a major figure in stories from the fenian cycle, for it was during his reign that the great hero fionn mac cumhaill was born. Some stories tell of Conn’s execution of Fionn’s father, cumhall, for kidnapping and raping his mother, murna; despite this, Fionn was a friend to Conn. Conn’s children include art mac cuinn and connla. • Conn mac Lir (son of Lir), one of the children of lir who were turned into swans by their jealous stepmother aife.
Connacht (Connaught, Connachta)
Irish mythological site. Ancient Ireland was divided variously into four or five provinces, called in Irish coiced. The most westerly was Connacht, named in some legends for king conn of the Hundred Battles; the others were ulster, lein-ster, munster, and, sometimes, mide. The first syllable in Connacht means "wisdom," and so the province is traditionally connected with that attribute, while its site in the west connects it with the fairy people who were thought to prefer that direction. Ancient associations with Connacht were education, stories and histories, science, eloquence, and all forms of learning. The capital of ancient Connacht was cruachan.
The counties of Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, and Roscommon make up modern Connacht, smallest of Ireland’s provinces and one of its poorest. It has long been considered a bastion of traditional culture, for invaders tended to push the Irish "to hell or Connacht," in Oliver Cromwell’s memorable phrase. Many Americans derive their heritage from this region, for its poverty led to massive emigration during the 19th-century famine years.
Connla (Conla, ConM, Conle)
More than a dozen Irish mythological figures bear this name, some of them minor and several major.
• Connla, son of CUCHULAINN (Finmole). In one of the most tragic of Irish myths, the boy Connla was conceived by the warrior woman aife from her encounter with the hero-in-training Cuchulainn, who had come to study with Affe’s mother scathach. Cuchulainn left a ring with Affe as a token, should she conceive, of her child’s parentage. When the boy had grown and wished to seek his father, Affe gave him that ring and sent him to Ireland. Challenged to give his right to enter the court of ulster by Cuchulainn, Connla refused to give his name. The two fought, and Connla was killed by his own father.
• Connla Coel, a fairy king.
• Connla of the Golden Hair, son of conn of the Hundred Battles. Earthly power held no appeal for this son of the king of tara once he had met a woman of the fairy race upon the mystical hill of uisneach. He traveled with her, according to the Adventures of Connla, to her land, where he was offered eternal life and pleasure. He was never seen again on this earth.
Connla’s Well (Coelrind’s well)
Irish mythological site. It is not known for whom this well is named, whether fairy or mortal. Nor is it known where the well is located, whether under the sea, in the otherworld, or somewhere in Tipperary. The well could be recognized by the nine hazel trees that hung over it, dropping nuts into the water, and by the fat salmon (or trout) that fed off the nuts, each nut staining the fishes’ skin with mottled spots. If you found the well, you could eat the nuts yourself, or drink the water, or even catch the salmon and eat them; any of those actions would bring you wisdom and inspiration. The river goddess sinann was one of those who found the well, but she paid with her life for succeeding at her quest.
Irish heroine or goddess. This obscure figure gives her name to a wooded region of Co. Sligo in Ireland’s northwest. When some of her favorite hunting dogs were killed by a wild boar, she buried them and raised a ceremonial mound over their bodies.
Arthurian site. The name of the castle of the fisher king may derive from the Latin words for "blessed body."
Corc mac Luigthic (Conall Corc, Conall mac Luigthig)
Irish hero. This heroic Irish king was inaugurated into the throne of Cashel, in the southwestern province of munster, by his fairy mother fedelm; in the process of his inauguration, his ear was magically singed red. He traveled to Scotland to meet the king of the Picts but had been treacherously set up for murder, for his shield had been blazoned with ogham letters calling for his death. An ally altered the message to one of welcome, however, and Corc wound up marrying the king’s daughter and returning to Ireland to establish a dynasty.
British hero. This ancient warrior defeated the monstrous giant named gog or Gogmagog; little else is known of him.
Cormac mac Airt (Cormac mac Art)
Irish hero. Among the dozens of Irish characters who bore the name of Cormac, the most important was Cormac mac Airt, king of tara. The land’s prosperity was contingent upon the rectitude of its sovereign, and in Cormac’s time salmon practically leapt out of the rivers, the land was heavy with grain, and the cows gave so much milk there were not enough pails to hold it. fionn mac cumhaill, the great warrior and leader of the band of fianna, lived during Cormac’s reign.
As is typical of heroes, Cormac’s conception and birth were marked by mysterious signs and portents. When his father, art mac cuinn, was traveling toward his death at the battle of Mag Mucrama, he stopped overnight at the home of a smith who prophesied that any child conceived by his daughter achtan would become a king. Art slept with Achtan, leaving her instructions that any resulting child should be fostered in connacht. As she neared the time for her child’s birth, Achtan traveled across Ireland to satisfy Art’s request, but she went into labor during a thunderstorm and gave birth to the new king under a hedgerow. Suckled by a wolf that adopted him while his mother sought for help, Cormac survived and thrived in the wilderness,growing up to take the throne as predicted. First he had to wed medb Lethderg, the sovereignty figure who was also said to have been married to his grandfather and father.
Although tempted away from his realm by the otherworld beauties offered him by the sea god manannan mac lir, Cormac resisted their blandishments and came back to this world bearing a magical golden cup that broke whenever lies were spoken in its presence but mended itself when truth was told. As great a king as he was, he was ultimately forced from the throne after being disfigured when another king came to Tara furious because Cormac’s son cellach had raped his daughter. In the fight that ensued, Cormac’s eye was put out. As a blemished king was unacceptable, Cormac stepped down in favor of his son cairbre Lifechair.
Corn Dolly (Corn Maiden)
Scottish and Irish folkloric symbol. A roughly human-shaped figure constructed from straw at harvest time, the Corn Dolly was often crafted from the last sheaf cut at harvest-time. Its origins are obscure but clearly mythic or ritual. The Dolly is associated with two figures of arguable antiquity: the cailleach or hag, and brigit or the Bride, who may have been the hag’s maiden form. Often the Corn Dolly was stored in a house or barn from fall until spring, when it played a role in sowing or other rituals associated with new life.
Breton mythological site. This Breton kingdom was famous in myth and legend as the home of the dissolute princess dahut; it was also the land to which tristan brought the fair iseult at the beginning of one of Brittany’s most romantic tales.
Mythic symbol. From the Mediterranean came this horn of plenty, an emblem of fertility that was embraced by the Celts, to whom the concept of abundance was a central part of religion. Although most commonly associated with goddesses such as Arecura and epona, the cornucopia was sometimes graven with the image of gods, including cernunnos.
British god. Little is known of this Celtic god honored at Suffolk; the invading Romans connected him with their war god mars.
Corp Criadh (Corp Creagh)
Scottish ritual object. In the Highlands until the 19th century, clay dollies were sometimes fashioned by those who wished to work ill upon their neighbors or revenge themselves upon false lovers. This object was stuck with pins or cut, then placed in a stream where the running water would slowly dissolve the clay. When the image was entirely gone, the intended victim—having suffered from the pricks and cuts inflicted on the Corp Criadh—would die. Should anyone see the dolly before its final dissolution, the spell was broken and the victim would recover.
Irish heroine or goddess. The sky demon defeated by st. patrick on the top of the mountain that now bears his name, croagh patrick, drowned in Lough Corra at the base of the mountain after Patrick threw his silver bell at her and brought her down from the air. Other versions of the legend say that Patrick chased her across the country until she drowned in lough derg, where the monster serpent cao-ranach (a related name) also lived; this may have given rise to the tale that Patrick drove the snakes from the isle, when in fact they never lived there (see serpent). Corra has been interpreted as a mother goddess whose power was broken by the arrival of patriarchal Christianity.
Irish hero. The dindshenchas, the poetry of Irish place-names transcribed in the 12th century, say that Coincheann was the murderer who killed the god dagda’s son, aed minbhrec, for seducing his wife. He was then sentenced to carry his victim’s body on his back until he found a stone of equal size beneath which to bury it. He finally laid his burden down at the famous hillfort of grianan aileach.
Celtic philosophy and spiritual wisdom was neither written down nor constrained by text but conveyed instead through oral narrative, poetry, art, and ritual. Thus scholars must piece together Celtic belief from archaeological and textual evidences often widely separated in time and place. What makes the study of Celtic religion even more complicated is that most texts derive from Ireland, which has few graven images; most images derive from the Continent, where there are few known Celtic texts. Because continental and insular Celts lived in lands where indigenous beliefs may well have been different and had varying impacts on Celtic life, comparison of text and image is difficult. Does a horned god found in France mean the same as a horned figure mentioned in an Irish text? How can one be certain?
An added difficulty arises because of the astonishing polytheism of the Celts. Few Celtic divinities appear in text or inscription more than once (see celtic pantheon). Whether this means that the Celts had a vision of ultimate divinity of which the multiple forms were only aspects, or whether there was no such abstract concept of divinity, we cannot know. Finally, many Celtic texts were written by Christian monks; we have no way to know whether, how, and how much they may have altered texts to bring them into congruence with their own beliefs.
Scholars have, despite these difficulties, attempted to find common threads among Celtic religious texts and artifacts. They speak of the Celtic worldview as based in the concept of an otherworld, a land of perfect if somewhat sterile beauty to which humans have occasional access. Such access comes at certain sacred times (such as beltane and samhain) or in liminal places (bogs, islands). Residents of the Otherworld could pass into our world more readily than we could pass into theirs, and they commonly made raids on this world to acquire things and people they desired. bards and musicians were frequent visitors to the Otherworld, from which they brought back beautiful poems and songs.
The Celts were not dualistic in their view of the world, preferring to speak of balance rather than conflict between winter and summer, male and female, night and day. The goddess of sovereignty symbolized abundance and prosperity, although she also had a dark aspect, in which she brought death and destruction. The heroic human king was her consort, hemmed about with sacred vows that kept the land fertile and the people safe (see kingship).
Despite arising originally from a nomadic background, Celtic religion was deeply rooted in place, with hundreds of divinity names known for springs and rivers, hills and promontories. Whether this is the result of coming into contact with nonnomadic people cannot be determined, but the sense of humans as guardians of the earth’s sanctity was reflected in a belief that people and place were deeply connected.
Scottish and British folk-loric motif. There is a common story told of the stone circles erected by the pre-Celtic peoples of Britain: that one cannot ever correctly count the number of stones in the ring. Bad luck was said to afflict anyone who even tried to count the stones, especially the stones of stone-henge and of Stanton Drew. In some tales, a baker decides to break this spell by putting a loaf of bread upon each one of the stones in turn, but the loaves disappear as he continues around the circle, so that the stones remain uncounted.
Breton folkloric figure. The courils were evil, or at least mischievous, fairies who congregated around ancient stone circles, especially those of Tresmalonen, where they enjoyed dancing all night. Should a human wander near them in the darkness, they captured him and kept him dancing until he died of exhaustion. Or, if the hapless wanderer was a young woman, they enjoyed her favors and left her pregnant with a half-fairy child.
Literary and historical movement. In the lands of the continental Celts, a cultural movement began in the Middle Ages that glorified the service of a knight to a married woman (whose husband was sometimes the knight’s lord). The knight pledged himself to his lady and then, through heroic service, tried to win the right to her heart—and presumably, to other parts of her as well although intercourse was forbidden to the courtly lovers. Courtly love existed primarily as a literary movement, with traveling poet/singers called troubadours and later trouveres praising the relationship between knight and lady, but there were also "courts of love" in the palaces of such notables as Eleanor of Aquitaine, where women heard the complaints of those who felt their lovers had not acted in keeping with the elaborate rules of courtly love. Other famous "courts" were those of Eleanor’s daughter, Marie of Champagne; the countess of Flanders, Elizabeth de Vermandois; and even the queen, wife of Louis VII, Alix de Champagne. The movement, with its emphasis upon at least spiritual and sometimes physical adultery, was never condoned by the Christian church but has been tied to ancient Celtic myths in which a younger lover gains the heart of a queen from an older king.
Court tomb (court cairn)
Mythological site. Relics of the pre-Celtic megalithic civilization found throughout the Celtic lands include these early burial structures. Typically a paved semicircular courtyard stands in front of a cairn or stone mound, which covers a small interior chamber whose entrance faces east. The courtyard at the impressive court tomb at Creevykeel in Ireland’s Co. Sligo could easily have held 50 people. Archaeologists speculate that, if the mounds were indeed gravesites, the courtyards could have been used for funerary ceremonies.
British goddess. Known from sculptures found at a sacred well in Northumberland, Coventina was portrayed as a reclining woman pouring water from an urn, or as a woman surrounded by plants, who emptied her water-vessel onto them. Although primarily a British goddess, especially ruling the Carrawburgh River,
Coventina has also been found in Spain and France with titles like Augusta and Sancta, "high" and "holy," that emphasize her importance. She may, like other Celtic water goddesses, have had a healing aspect. cow Symbolic animal. bull and cow were significant Celtic symbols for the feminine and masculine powers, the bull representing warrior strength, the cow indicating abundance and prosperity. Used in ancient Ireland as a way of calculating wealth, the cow was a provider of milk and butter, two vital foodstuffs. Many goddesses were associated with cows, including brigit, boand, and the morrigan. But the cow itself could be divine, as in the case of the glas ghaibhleann (in Scotland, Glas Ghaibhnann), a magical white cow spotted with green who walked about the land, providing milk from her inexhaustible udder to anyone who wished it. Wherever she passed, the grass grew greener and sweeter, the farmers grew wealthier. These associations indicate to many scholars a connection with cow-cults in other Indo-European lands.
All cows in Ireland were said to be the descendants of the otherworld cows that arose from the western ocean at the beginning of time: bo find, the white cow, and her sister Bo Ruadh and Bo Duh, the red and black cows respectively. Cows were, not surprisingly, associated with women, not only in legend but in reality, for women did the milking, made the butter, and tended the cows in their summer pastures.
Irish and Scottish folkloric figure. Just before or after someone died, an exact replica was often seen walking about. A woman on her deathbed might be seen at church, or a recently deceased man at his own wake. These co-walkers were sometimes described as twin souls, freed with the approach of death, but they were also spoken of as fairies disguised as the person who stood on the edge of the otherworld. It was important never to speak to these shades or fairies, who would ultimately depart and not be seen again, although it is unclear whether the danger was considered to be to the deceased or the living.
Irish heroine. Near Doneraile in the southwestern province of munster, a sacred tree was dedicated to this woman who, when confronted with the demand that she marry, tore out one of her eyes, hoping that her disfigurement would drive away her potential groom. The tree was an ash, one of Ireland’s magical trees. Another tree nearby was said to possess the power of keeping people afloat; anyone who carried the slightest shaving of its bark or wood could never drown. It is not clear whether the local people envisioned Craebhnat as a fairy or as one of the saints.
Craiphtine (Craftine, Cratiny)
Irish hero. One of those credited with the invention of the musical instrument most connected to Ireland, the harp, this musician appeared in myths of the hero labhraigh, whose fitful sleep he eased with his melodies. So powerful was Craiphtine’s music that he was able to send entire armies to sleep with it, making him very useful to his ruler in times of war.
Arthurian hero. This minor character in the legend of king arthur of camelot was one of the early opponents to Arthur’s rule.
Symbolic animal. The Celts believed that birds, like trees, stood in two worlds,belonging to the otherworld as well as this one. Birds like the crane—at home not only in air and on land but also in the water—were especially magical. Cranes typically represented the feminine force, especially when they appeared in threes; because they stand upright, they were imagined to have originally been human. In folklore cranes represent bad will and miserliness.
One of the most significant Irish myths involving cranes is that of flonnuala and her brothers, the children of lir, in which the evil sorceress stepmother aife transformed the children into swans and was herself cursed to become a crane. A strange crane-like stance, in which a person stood on one leg while holding out one arm, was used in cursing; the goddess badb assumed this position at da derga’s hostel when she cursed king conaire for breaking his sacred vows. An ancient Irish taboo on eating crane’s meat has suggested to some that the bird once had a totemic function, as an ancestral divinity or symbol.
Irish mythological symbol. Texts disagree as to whether the aife of this tale is the same as the evil stepmother of the story of the children of lir. Some describe the jealous sorceress Aife, after being turned to a crane for her malevolence in turning the children of Lir into swans, flying away to live on the sea, the domain of manannan mac lir; other tales appear to describe another woman of the same name. Despite her wickedness, she lived to the ripe age of 200 and died of natural causes, whereupon Manannan crafted a bag from her feathery skin in which to hold treasures, items of worth that had been lost in shipwreck. Another story has it that Aife fell in love with a man named Ilbhreac, the beloved of the sorceress Iuchra, who cursed her rival and condemned her to become a crane.
Attempts to gain possession of the crane bag form the basis of several hero tales, including ones centered on fionn mac cumhaill.
Archaeological site. Early settlements in Celtic lands were often built on artificial islands in lakes and were made of brush and surrounded by wattle fences; the lake provided protection for the residents of the crannog as well as the necessary life-giving liquid. There is some evidence that the building of the circular dwellings on such lake settlements was invented in pre-Celtic times; they were used into the early Christian era, and indeed in some cases as late as the 17th century c.e. Some restored crannogs can be seen at historical parks, notably Cragganowen, near Ennis, Co. Clare, in Ireland.
Cosmological concept. Most cultures have a myth that describes the creation of this world, usually from the chaos of an earlier world by a divine power, often a goddess. The Celts are among the few people who lack such a myth. Although several ancient authors including Strabo and Caesar refer to a Celtic cosmology, its creation myth either has been lost or never existed. Both Ireland and Scotland know creation stories centering on the great hag, the cailleach, who created the earth by dropping things (pebbles that became boulders, and the like) from her apron, but the Cailleach, although absorbed into the lore of the Celts, appears to have been pre-Celtic.
Irish heroine. Two famous breast-shaped mountains, the paps of danu in the southwestern province of munster, are associated with this fairy queen or legendary heroine, who demanded that, to become her lover, a man had to compose a splendid praise-poem describing her heavily guarded palace—without ever seeing it. cael, a seer as well as a poet, penetrated her defenses with his inner vision, composed the requisite poem, and won Cred’s love. "Wounded men spouting heavy blood would sleep to the music of fairy birds singing above the bright leaves of her bower," were the words that won her heart. To protect her beloved, Cred made him a magical battle-dress; nonetheless he was killed in the service of his king, whereupon Cred threw herself into his grave and died. Cred was a poet herself, and one of her songs is included in the colloquy of the elders.
Either the same figure or another heroine of the same name was the daughter of legendary king guaire and ancestral mother to the O’Connors. She too died tragically when, although married to another king, she fell in love with the warrior poet cano mac gartnain. Cano was visiting from Scotland, where his home was once so cheery that 50 fishing nets were rigged so that whenever fish were caught the bells chimed out. His father had been murdered, however, and Cano had escaped to the court of Cred’s husband, where he was smitten with the queen. Cred, similarly stricken, gave everyone a sleeping potion except Cano, to whom she revealed her desire. Out of pride Cano refused to consummate his love with Cred until he had regained his patrimony. He gave her his external soul—a stone containing his essence—as a pledge of his love. The meddling of Cred’s stepson brought such torment that Cred killed herself, crushing the stone of Cano’s soul as she did so; Cano died several days later.
Creiddylad (Cordelia, Creudylad)
Welsh goddess. The springtime feast of beltane was dedicated in parts of Wales to Creiddylad, in whose honor a great contest was held between two contenders for her hand, gwythyr fab greidawl and gwynn ap nudd. Such May contests between winter and summer are known in other Celtic lands as well. Creiddylad was transformed into Cordelia, daughter of Lear in Shakespeare’s play, but in Welsh mythology she was not the daughter of llyr the sea god but of the the hero lludd; Shakespeare, who drew on the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth in writing his play, confused the two.
Irish god. One of the artisan gods of the magical race called the tuatha de danann, Creidne "the brazier" specialized in precious metals like bronze and gold. Together with goibniu and luchtar, he was one of na tri dee Dana, the three craft gods of the Tuatha De. Danann Creidne made the weapons his people used in their battle against their terrifying enemy, the fomorians. Some tales claim he was the smith who crafted the silver hand for king nuada when the latter was injured in battle while other tales credit dian cecht. Legend says that Creidne was drowned while attempting to import gold from Spain. Another Creidne was one of the warrior women who fought with the famed fianna.
Crimthann Several kings of Ireland were called by this name, as was the Christian saint who became the missionary scholar Colum Cille. The most important figures named Crimthann were:
• Crimthann of Tara, fosterling of king diar-mait; his charms caught the eye of queen becfhola, but his unwillingness to travel on Sunday, when she was available for a tryst, ended their affair prematurely.
• Crimthann Mor mac Fidaigh, brother of the supernatural mongfhinn and father of the cannibal woman eithne Uathach, was recorded as a historical king of tara but exists at the margin between myth and history, as his relatives indicate.
• Crimthann Nia Nair, whose father was the striped man lugaidh Riab nDerg, and whose mother was also his grandmother, the incestuous clothra. Probably the incest motif here points to Clothra’s position as goddess of sovereignty, married in turn to each of the kings of her land. He lost his life in the battle of the intoxication of the ulstermen, as did his fierce foster mother, the satirist richis.
Irish mythological site. In the west of Ireland, in Co. Mayo, a dramatic triangular mountain rises from sea level to 2,500 feet. Often wrapped in clouds, the mountain has been sacred for millennia, for pre-Celtic ruins have been found on its summit that date to the Neolithic period. It was once called Cruachan Aigle after aigle, a man who died there after carrying rocks in his pockets up its slopes; it now goes by the name of Croagh Patrick, after the saint who Christianized Ireland. It was there that st. patrick fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in emulation of Christ’s desert sojourn, then wrestled with the powers of pagan Ireland and finally defeated them in the form of corra, a demon who drowned in a lake at the peak’s base.
The powers of paganism did not stay thoroughly defeated, however, for the ancient festivals reemerged in new, albeit Christian dress. Such was the case with lughnasa, the ancient harvest festival that was converted to the still-extant Christian ritual of climbing Croagh Patrick, locally called The Reek, on the last Sunday in July. As many as 60,000 pilgrims— including, on one occasion, Princess Grace (Kelly) of Monaco—annually ascend the mountain, some barefoot, some on their knees. Climbing hills on Lughnasa was standard Celtic practice. More remnants of paganism cling to the festival in its local name, Domhnach Chrom Dubh or crom dubh’s Sunday, after another pagan divinity that Patrick defeated in his struggle for Ireland’s soul.
Crobh Dearg (Crove Derg)
Irish goddess. "Red claw" was an Irish goddess of the southwestern province of munster, sometimes said to be the sister of latiaran, a Christianized goddess of the region, as well as the important local saint Gobnat. Possibly a form of badb, Crobh Dearg is associated with a holy well on or near the famous paps of danu. Local tradition involved visiting the well and its nearby fairy mound, Cahercrovdarrig, on beltane; cattle from the vicinity were driven there for purification until recent times.
Irish heroine or goddess. The pregnant servant of the runaway queen of tara, etain, Crochan gave birth to the great queen and goddess medb in a cave in connacht called variously oweynagat, the Cave of the Cats, or S^d Sinche, the fairy mound of Sinech (an otherwise unknown personage whose name means "large breasts"). Although the cave looks like a hole in the earth, Crochan saw the mystical site as a beautiful fairy palace and lived there even after her daughter built a palace on a rath or hillfort and named it cruachan in her honor. Her name means "vessel"; she is sometimes called Crochan Crocderg or Croderg, "the blood-red cup."
Scottish mythological animal. The Highlanders of Scotland believed that, out in the ocean deeps, the fairies kept hornless supernatural cattle that could come ashore to mate with mortal cows, bettering the herds of earth. They were often red, like many fairy creatures, but they were also sometimes seen as gray or dun.
Crom Cruach (Crom Cruaich, Cenn Cruaich, Cromm Cruaich)
Irish god. There is no known narrative regarding the activities of this deity, but he is recorded in several ancient sources as the primary god of the ancient Irish. He was worshiped, it is said, in the form of stone idols to which children were sacrificed. King tigernmas worshiped Crom Cruach in this way every samhain, smashing the heads of first-born children against his ghastly image—believed to be the Killycluggan Stone with its scowling face, now on display in the National Museum of Ireland. Such stone images of the divine were said to have been destroyed by st. patrick, following in the footsteps of such continental exemplars of piety as St. Martin of Tours, who demolished hundreds of Celtic and Roman statues in his attempt to purify the land of pagan influences. Many standing stones, stone circles, and other sacred images nonetheless escaped uninjured. Some have connected Crom Cruach to the dagda, the "good god" who provided abundance to his children; the early Irish scholar Vallancey claimed Crom-eocha was a name of the Dagda.
In the dindshenchas, the place-poetry of ancient Ireland, Crom Cruach is described as a war-inducing idol, at the base of which the blood of first born children had to be poured. So long as one-third of all children were sacrificed to him, the cruel deity would provide milk and corn for the surviving people. The place where his gold idol stood, ringed by twelve fierce stone figures, was called Mag Slecht, believed now to be in northeast Co. Cavan.
Irish god or hero. This obscure figure appears in legends of st. patrick as a pagan king who grew angry at Patrick for failing to sufficiently thank him for the gift of three bulls; the saint had only said "thanks to god" with the arrival of each gift. When Patrick wrote his words on three slips of paper and had their weight calculated against that of the bulls, they were revealed to be identical, and Crom Dubh immediately was converted. Crom Dubh’s name remains current as the title of the annual celebration at Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo. Patrick’s kingly adversary is sometimes called crom cru-ach, suggesting that the "king" was a humanized version of an ancient god.
Irish goddess or god. Obscure ancient Irish divinity mentioned in several texts as "the swarthy one" or "the dark one" and connected with a giant serpent, perhaps the one also known as caoranach. She was said to live in an enchanted valley called Cron’s Glen.
Irish hero. Despite an impressively ugly appearance, this otherworld piper from the fenian cycle played marvelously, and when morning light struck his features, he was transformed into a handsome man who could pass for a king.
British folkloric spirit. Travelers to the Derwent River in the English Peaklands were cautioned to beware of this haunting spirit.
Folkloric motif. In some Celtic lands, including on the Isle of Man, it was believed that fairies could not cross running water; thus if one were pursued by the wild hunt, running across a stream offered protection. Standing water was no substitute, as fairies were often said, especially in Ireland, to live on islands in or under the waves of lakes.
Symbolic animal. One of the most mythologically significant birds of Celtic lands, the black-feathered crow was usually connected to the goddess in Ireland, although in Wales it is the god/hero bran the blessed who bears a crow-name, for Bran means raven or "carrion crow." Black-winged morrigan and the scald-crow badb both took crow forms, as did the continental Celtic cathubodua; all were connected with battle, and some have described the shrieking black-robed druid women of anglesey as enacting the part of the crow goddess as battle raged. War, death, and foreboding were associated with the crow goddess, who flew over the battlefield searching for carrion rather like the Scandinavian Valkyries.
Perhaps because they hover over dying beasts as though predicting death, crows were believed to have premonitory or divinatory powers (see divination). Continental Celts believed that crows could reveal where a town would best be situated. They could be trusted to settle disputes wisely; complainants had only to set out similarly sized piles of food and let the birds either eat or scatter one claimed in advance by the more truthful contender. In Ireland it was considered ill-fortune to have a crow look down your chimney, for that would indicate a coming death.
Cruachan (Crogan, Rathcrogan, Cruachain, Cruachu, Rathcruachain, Bri Ele)
Irish mythological site. In the eastern part of the western province of connacht was its capital, Cruachan, the seat of its great queen and goddess, medb. Now anglicized as Rathcrogan and close to the tiny town of Tulsk in Co. Roscommon, Cruachan was one of Ireland’s most important ancient sites, the regional equivalent of emain macha in ulster and tara in meath. Replete with earthworks and antiquities, some 49 in all, it can still be visited today.
The land around it rises gradually, so that even the relatively small raths and other earthworks on the site command a grand view over the province and out to the midlands. The central rath (see hillfort) after which the complex is named, rises to 4 meters in height and is 88 meters in diameter. Other earthworks in the area include Daithi’s Mound, topped with a tall standing stone; avenues that resemble those at Tara; and most important, the cave of the cats, oweynagat.
The figure most closely associated with Cruachan was Medb. She was born there, in the cave of Oweynagat, to a woman named crochan Crocderg who gave her name to the entire area. At Cruachan Medb lived with her husband ailill. Nothing remains of Medb’s supposed fort except the unexcavated steep-sided rath near the center of the archaeological site, ringed about by five concentric circles. Also on the two-mile-square site are the Rath of the Bulls, whose name recalls the most significant story set at Cruachan, the tain bo cuailnge or Cattle Raid of Cooley, an expedition that set out for ulster from Cruachan on samhain. Samhain was also the time of the other great epic set at Cruachan, the Echtra Nerai, the Adventures of nera, in which one of Ailill’s men descended to the otherworld through Oweynagat.
Arthurian hero. When the Jewish merchant joseph of Arimathea arrived in Britain bearing the grail, the cup that Jesus Christ had used at his Last Supper, he was met by the pagan king Crudel, who imprisoned the visitor until he was released by Christian warriors.
Crunniuc (Cronnchu, Crunnchu)
Irish hero. A mortal man selected by the goddess (or fairy queen) macha, who lived with him on his farm, bringing prosperity and wealth to man and land. When Crunniuc announced his intention of traveling to the Assembly of ulster, a pregnant Macha attempted to dissuade him, but to no avail; he would brook no opposition. So she settled for a promise that he would not discuss her with anyone, nor even mention her presence in his life.
Crunniuc was unable to keep his promise and, even worse, boasted that Macha was faster than the king’s swiftest horses. A race ensued, which Macha won. She collapsed at the finish line, however, giving birth to twins as she died and cursing the entire region with the famous debility of the ulstermen. Nothing is said of Crunniuc after his wife’s death, although he cannot have been a popular person thereafter.
Irish mythological sites. This lush peninsula juts out into the Irish Sea on the east coast of Ireland, just below Carlingford Lough, a narrow bay named for a Viking called Carling who plundered the area in historic times. The name of the peninsula is now usually anglicized to Cooley. To the north, across the bay, rise the blue-gray Mountains of Mourne, while along the spine of the Cooley peninsula run the low forested Cooley mountains. The region is famous in Irish myth, for it was to this narrow strip of land, home to the magical bull donn cuailnge, that the great tain or cattle raid was launched by queen medb from her stronghold in cruachan.
Cuchulainn (Cuhullin, Cu Chulainn, Cuchul-lin)
Irish hero. Irish legend has no hero to match him, nor any stronger or more renowned in battle, although the mighty fionn mac cumhaill comes close. Cuchulainn appears most prominently in the ulster cycle, which tells how he was born magically when his mother, dechtire, drank water with a worm in it; the same magical conception story is told of Cuchulainn’s king concobar mac nessa, so the two are mythic doubles. Concobar was either Dechtire’s brother or father, and when the unmarried woman began to show her pregnancy, rumors circulated that the child was the result of incest. Dechtire married, but her shame caused Cuchulainn to be born prematurely; he lived nonetheless, bearing the name of setanta.
All the heroes of Ireland argued over who would foster the brilliant young man, but his mother decided that each should offer a special gift. Thus Cuchulainn gained all the best ancient Ireland had to offer: the poetry of amairgin, the eloquence of Sencha, the wealth of BM Briuga. The powerful fergus mac roich served as his tutor in the manly arts, while kindly findchoem nursed him; conall cernach was his foster brother and Concobar, his foster father.
Variants claim Cuchulainn was the son of sualtaim mac roich, an otherwise unknown ulster chief usually called his foster father; or of the god lugh, conceived when Dechtire was in the enchanted form of a bird. All the tales agree that Cuchulainn showed his warrior nature early. At five years old, he went along to the great court at emain macha, challenging all the boys there to a contest with child-size weapons, which he won handily.
When king Concobar traveled to cuailnge— a place that would play such an important part in Cuchulainn’s later life—the boy Setanta was left behind playing. He caught up with the royal party at the home of the smith, culann, which was guarded by a vicious dog that Cuchulainn easily killed in order to enter. The host deplored this wanton killing, but the gracious seven-year-old promised to serve as Culann’s hound until he found a suitable replacement. Thus the boy earned his adult name, for Cu means "hound," and the hero was the "hound of Culann."
We next hear of the boy hero when he grew furious at his hurling companions and brained them all, going into such a contortion of fury that he became virtually unrecognizable. He raged back to Concobar’s fortress, still swollen with fury—for when he fought, Cuchulainn went into what was called the "warp-spasm,"with one eye retreating into his skull while the other protruded, and with columns of blood and light projecting from his head. It took several huge vats of water to cool his fury.
When he grew old enough to court a woman, Cuchulainn settled upon the fair emer, who had all the finest attributes of womanhood as he did of manhood. Emer’s father, forgall manach, did not approve of the match and sent Cuchulainn on what he thought was a fool’s errand: to study with the warrior woman scathach in Scotland. There Cuchulainn convinced the skilled warrior to teach him her secrets, which resembled the kind of astonishing feats seen today in martial-arts movies. One impressive maneuver, however, he seems to have invented himself: the salmon-leap, a kind of frisky pounce that made Cuchulainn virtually unstoppable in battle.
While in Scotland, and despite his promise to be true to his intended Emer, Cuchulainn had a dalliance with the warrior aife, who conceived a son by him. When he was grown to young manhood, Aife gave their son connla Cuchulainn’s ring and sent him to Ireland. The boy refused to identify himself to his father, and so Cuchulainn unknowingly and unwittingly killed Connla. Despite ultimately marrying Emer, Cuchulainn had many affairs, including one with the fairy queen fand, who stole him away from human life. None, however, resulted in another son.
Cuchulainn’s most famous adventure was his single-handed defense of Concobar’s Ulster against the cattle raid initiated by queen medb. His chief weapon was his spear, gae bulga. As Cuchulainn was not actually an Ulsterman, he did not suffer the debility brought on by the dying curse of macha, wherein the men of Ulster would fall down in something resembling labor pains for four days and five nights whenever their land was attacked. While the Ulstermen were writhing in pain, Cuchulainn fended off one hero after another, killing them all in single combat, including his beloved foster brother ferdiad. (For a complete description of Cuchulainn’s feats in that epic battle, see tain bo cuailnge.)
Cuchulainn died when he violated his geis or sacred vow never to eat dog meat. Various versions of his death are given in ancient texts, but one constant is his refusal to meet death in any other way than standing. To assure that he would do so, Cuchulainn had himself chained to a pillar, where he was attacked by javelins and other weapons even long after his death. Only when the carrion crows, servants of the goddess badb, flew down to peck at his eyes, was the hero acknowledged to be gone.
Cuchulainn has inspired much literature after the heroic period. Yeats wrote several plays about him, including The Only Jealousy of Emer, about his affair with the fairy queen Fand, and On Baile’s Strand, about his unwitting murder of his only son. Morgan Llywelyn’s historical novel Red Branch details the Cuchulainn saga.
British goddess. An obscure goddess, found in Cirencester, ancient capital of the Celtic Dobunni tribe; she was depicted seated and holding an egg, apparently a symbol of fruit-fulness and potential.
Cuilenn (Cullen, Culann)
Irish hero. This fairy king gave his name to a unique feature of the Northern Irish landscape, the Ring of Gullion, a huge circle of mountains created by ancient volcanic action. A mountain in the center, slieve gullion, was said to be his home— although local folklore also named the cail-leach as the occupant of the mountain, living beneath the cairn that crowns its summit. Near the summit of the mountain is a lake, said to turn gray anyone who swims in it.
Fionn mac cumhaill tried his luck by swimming there, having been challenged by the fairy queen aine’s lustful sister milucra to do so. Because Aine had pledged never to sleep with a man with gray hair, and because she wanted Fionn for himself, Milucra set about making him unattractive to her sister. She built and bewitched a little lake on the summit of the mountain, where she tricked Fionn into swimming. He emerged silver-haired, aged, and bent. His men, the fianna, captured Milucra and forced her to give their leader a restorative potion from her golden cornucopia, but in doing so she made sure his hair remained silver. Some texts say it was Cuilenn came to Fionn’s rescue by offering him a drink from a golden cup, which also endowed the hero with wisdom.
Irish hero. A smith who forged the weapons for cuchulainn’s foster father, con-cobar mac nessa, he was entertaining the men of ulster when the boy setanta arrived late and wantonly killed his favorite dog. Culann was angry, and Setanta offered to serve in the hound’s stead until a canine replacement could be found, thus becoming Cu Chulainn, "hound of Culann." Some texts conflate Culann and Cuilenn, who may be the same or derived from the same figure.
Cumhall (Camall, Camhall)
Irish hero. Father of the great hero fionn mac cumhaill, whom he sired upon the unwilling murna, after abducting her from her father tadg mac Nuadat and causing enmity between his family, the clan baiscne, and hers, the clan morna. Although legends of Cumhall’s death vary, he is commonly held to have been killed by Tadg’s ally, conn of the Hundred Battles, king of tara.
Welsh hero. In some mythological texts, this man is one of the original settlers of Wales, who arrived with his eight sons to found the Celtic kingdoms there. The dynasties of Gwynedd were named for him.
British hero. The figure upon which Shakespeare built his tragic hero Cymbeline was a southern British warrior whose 40-year leadership of the Catuvallaunians ended with the invasion of the Romans.
Cunrie (Kundrie, Kundry)
Arthurian heroine. The name of the loathy lady in some Arthurian texts; she is a form of the goddess of sovereignty.
Irish hero. As cuchulainn was the great hero of ulster, the northern province of Ireland, so was Cu Roi to munster in the southwest; possibly the hero stood at the center of a lost epic cycle of which only tantalizing bits remain. Even the meaning of his name is unknown—the first part means "hound," a common name for heroes, but the last part is unclear, as is his connection to the mythological ancestor dire, of whom he was sometimes said to be the son but sometimes appeared to be the double. Similarly, Cu Rofs relationship to the various figures named lugaidh is confusing, although the latter is sometimes mentioned as the former’s son.
Like Cuchulainn, Cu Ro^ first revealed his prowess as a child, becoming a fighter at a precociously early age. After reaching maturity he embarked upon many adventures and campaigns, being king at tara according to some texts and therefore subject to the kind of geis that such kings as conaire also endured. He was said to have traveled to the otherworld in the company of Cuchulainn to steal away its treasures, including the magical woman blathnat, three Otherworldly cows, and a cauldron of abundance. The agreement was that the booty would be evenly split—how three cows can be evenly divided among two heroes is not revealed, though the parallelism of woman and cauldron is notable—but Cuchulainn reneged on the deal. Cu Rof in retaliation, buried Cuchulainn so that only his head stuck out of the ground, then shaved his erstwhile companion entirely bald and covered him with cow dung.
Blathnat became Cu Rofs queen, but she betrayed him by conspiring with Cuchulainn, whom she had taken as a lover, to reveal the circumstances that would permit her husband to be killed: If a salmon, his external soul, was killed, Cu Ro^ would meet his doom. And indeed, upon the slaying of the magical salmon, Cu Ro^ lost his strength and was easily killed. Cu Ro^ was avenged when his loyal poet ferchertne grabbed the traitorous woman and leapt off a cliff to his death—causing hers at the same time.
Cu Ro^ had many adventures before that unfortunate end, including one in which he disguised himself as a herdsman to create dissent among Cuchulainn and two other heroes, conall Cernach and loegure buadach. Urging them each to cut off his head, in return for which he would cut off theirs, Cu Ro^ was twice decapitated and twice rejoined head to body, but both Conall and Loegure refused to fulfill the entire bargain. Only cuchulainn offered his own neck after the third decapitation and miraculous recapitation, and so Cu Ro^ announced him as the chief of all heroes.
Unlike his human Ulster counterpart, Cu Ro^ appears to have been originally a deity transformed into a hero, for he lived in a rotating otherworld fortress whose entrance disappeared after sunset; the site is variously locked in the Slieve Mish mountains of Co. Kerry or at Temair Luachra, an untraceable place that probably refers to tara in Co. Meath. Within that castle he kept his magical cauldron, so huge that 30 oxen fit inside it; thus he resembles the fertility deity called the dagda. Some have found in Cu Ro^ an ancestral deity of Munster, others a figure of the sacred king who brings good fortune with an honest reign (see sacral kingship).
Cosmological concept. The Celts, because they believed fiercely in the power of the word, took both blessing and cursing very seriously. A special power and responsibility of the bard was to ensure that the king was generous and responsible. Should a king prove stingy, as was the case of bres mac Elatha, it was the poet’s job to level a sufficiently dreadful curse upon him that he would become physically blemished. Since a blemished king could not retain the throne, such a curse would bring new leadership.
Other famous curses in Celtic mythology include the one that aife, stepmother of the children of lir placed on her stepchildren, which turned them into swans; the retaliatory curse leveled upon her by the children’s grandfather, the magician bodb derg, which turned Affe into a crane; and the curse of macha that brought down the men of ulster every time they were invaded (see debility of the ulster-men). Curses were not easily undone, for they required someone more powerful than the original speaker to change their outcome. They could also be long-lasting; Affe’s curse on the Children of Lir lasted almost a thousand years.
Humans as well as divinities employed verbal curses. In Ireland a person visited a designated spot—a holy well or cursing stone—and spoke the words, sometimes while engaging in some ritual, such as turning round stones against the sun (counterclockwise). The interruption in the expected order would be carried forth together with the words to bring destruction to the victim. In Cornwall pins stuck into apples or potatoes caused harm to the intended victim, and it was believed that verbal curses became ineffective if spoken aloud rather than muttered in a low tone.
Irish ritual object. Around Ireland, one can still find stones that are reputed to carry curses farther and faster and to make them stronger than if the same curse is uttered without the help of the stones. Typically they are small round stones in a graveyard or other sacred site. Often a specific ritual is attached to the use of the cursing stones. In Ballysummaghan and Baroe, in Co. Sligo, for instance, one has to be barefoot for the curse to work. Undoing the curse is difficult, if not impossible. In the Sligo case, the cursed person has to agree to be temporarily buried while charms against the curse are recited. In Co. Clare, at Kilmoon between Killeany and Lisdoonvarna, some famous cursing stones led in the 18th century to a murder after the victim was believed to have been "turning the stones against" the attacker.
Scottish mythological being. Unlike other fairy creatures, the Highland fairy dog was neither black (see black dog) nor red with white ears, but dark green and the size of a small bull. It made enormous footprints, the size of a large man’s, and always moved in a straight line as it traversed the world hunting for prey, including other dogs.
Welsh hero. This minor figure in the story of kulhwych and olwen was the herdsman to Olwen’s father, the giant yspad-daden penkawr.
c’wn annwn (cwn annwfn)
Welsh mythological beings. The hounds of the otherworld of Welsh mythology were, like many other fairy creatures, red with white ears, although they could also look like normal beagles. But they did not act like normal dogs, ranging through the world baying in terrifying voices. Their presence was believed to portend death.
Cycle of the Kings (Historical Cycle)
Mythic story sequence. There are several major sequences of Irish mythology, centering on different figures, geographic areas, and eras. The ulster cycle revolves around the heroes of that province, cuchulainn and concobar mac nessa, as well as fergus mac Roich, who joins their great opponent medb. The fenian cycle centers on fionn mac cumhaill and the band of warriors he leads, the fianna, including oisin and diarmait. The mythological cycle includes stories of the gods themselves, including the great divinities of the tuatha de danann.
The historical cycle, sometimes called the Cycle of the Kings, includes tales of the kings of tara, including conn of the Hundred Battles and niall of the Nine Hostages, as well as art mac cuinn and the mad king suibhne. Many of the myths incorporated in this cycle focus on the king’s righteousness or lack thereof and its results. Some of the kings are known to historical record, but the stories told of them are exaggerated and magical. Like other Irish mythological texts, these tales reveal something of the past, but exactly what is highly questionable.
Welsh heroine. A Welsh giantess and wife of the similarly gigantic llassar llaesgyfnewid, she owned the cauldron of regeneration that gave rise to much of the action of the second branch of the mabino-gion. She herself gave birth to innumerable armored warriors, once every six weeks; her name has been translated as "big bellied battler."
Welsh hero. He plays a minor role in the story of owein, the hero who married the lovely lady of the fountain, for he set Owein’s quest in motion when he unsuccessfully fought against the Black Knight who was beleaguering the lady’s domain.
Welsh term. The people of Wales were not originally called Welsh, which means "strangers" in the tongue of their British neighbors. In their own language, still in use, the people are called "brethren" or "friends." Cymru is the land, Cymri the people, and Cymric the language they speak.
Welsh hero. The brother-in-law of the quasi-historical king maxen, Cynan helped Maxen become the western Roman emperor. He was rewarded for his service by being allowed to take control of Brittany, where he mutilated the local women by cutting out their tongues, in order to preserve his own warriors’ Welsh language by eliminating any potential competition. Like Maxen, Cynan is probably fictional rather than strictly mythological, invented to serve a political purpose rather than linked with ritual and worship.