(Eclock Urleer, Eachrais urlair, Creeper on the Floor, Trouble-the-House)
Scottish folkloric figure. This feminine spirit—a BOGIE or WITCH—was believed to live near castles and to provide unspecified, even mysterious, service to their residents. Her name came to mean any domestic servant, but in Highland folklore she is described as having originated not in the human world but in the OTHERWORLD.
Irish heroine. The loyal daughter of the Irish hero DIARMAIT Ua Duibne and his beloved spouse GRAINNE, she attacked her father’s lord, FIONN MAC CUMHAILL, when Fionn refused to help Diarmait as he fought to the death with an enchanted BOAR.
Irish hero. Eadan arrived in Ireland with the MILESIANS, the last wave of invaders and the victors at the battle of Tailtiu over the magical TUATHA DE DANANN, the tribe of the goddess DANU. Among the Tuatha De was FODLA, one of the three primary goddesses of the land, together with BANBA and ERIU. Eadan killed Fodla in battle. Not all of Fodla’s people were killed, however. Many of them moved to an OTHERWORLD, from which they continued to have influence on the world they left behind.
Symbolic animal. This large bird of prey, once relatively plentiful in Celtic lands, is far less so now. Despite its impressive size and fierceness, the eagle did not hold much symbolic power among the Celts, who used it primarily to indicate comprehensiveness in a list of a mythological figure’s alternative identities. Thus Ireland’s one-eyed SALMON of wisdom sometimes appeared as FINTAN, an ancient invader who shape-shifted into many forms, including the eagle; in British legend, a magical PIG named HENWEN gave birth to eaglets as well as bees and WOLVES. Only the Welsh hero LLEU LLAW GYFFES was solely identified with the eagle, into which form he changed after he was treacherously murdered by his wife. The eagle’s appearance was sometimes associated with ORACLES or interpreted as an OMEN of things to come; the eagle could also be a form worn by a SHAPE-SHIFTING magician or BARD.
Apart from mythology, there are folkloric vestiges of a belief in eagles’ might, for they appear in Wales as having the power of DIVINATION. There it was believed that eagles who lived on Mount Snowdon were oracular and had the power to control weather; those whose ancestors had eaten eagle flesh were thought to have extraordinary psychic powers, to the ninth generation.
In one of the THREE SORROWS OF IRELAND, the tale of the SONS OF TUIREANN, Easal was a king who helped the young warriors. Condemned to perform a dozen near-impossible feats as retribution for murdering their father’s enemies, the three men would have died had not Easal given them food from magical PIGS that, killed each day and devoured each evening, were found foraging happily and in fine health the next morning. Eating the flesh of these magical beings also inoculated one against any disease. Easal may have been a reflection of the great god of abundance, the DAGDA, who was also said to possess miraculous self-restoring pigs.
Cosmological concept. In the mythological directions of the ancient Irish, east was the direction of commerce and wealth, opposite to the western province of wisdom. The direction of sunrise, and thus, metaphorically, of beginnings and openings, the east is the location of the PROVINCE of LEINSTER, connected with youthful vigor and enterprise.
Non-Celtic festival. The Christian feast of Easter appears in Celtic lands as a substitute for BELTANE, the spring festival that similarly celebrated resurrection and returning life. The most famous Easter story in Ireland confuses the two festivals, having ST. PATRICK lighting an "Easter fire" on the top of SLANE hill near TARA, in direct competition with the high king’s fire on the latter hill. Since pagan Ireland did not celebrate Easter, the fires must have been those of Beltane. Other spring and Beltane traditions were transferred to Easter after Christianization, including the idea that the sun danced on that day and that holy WELLS hold greater efficacy for cures on that day.
Irish heroine. This obscure mythological character appears in the book of invasions as a healer who went to sleep on a shore called Traig (Tra) Eba, where she was drowned by the rising tide. She may be the same as Abba, the companion of the first settler to reach Ireland, the woman CESAIR.
Eber (Eber, Ebir)
Irish hero. In the book of invasions several characters bear this name, which may be derived from the similarly named Eber (Heber) in the biblical Book of Genesis. The most important was Eber Finn, chief of the MILESIANS and son of the eponymous Mfl Despaine (Mil of Spain or the Spanish soldier). After his people’s defeat of the magical race, the TUATHA DE DANANN, Eber was granted the southern half of the country, while his brother EREMON was awarded the north; Eber, unhappy with the division and believing his portion to be smaller than Eremon’s, mounted an unsuccessful war in which he was killed. Another character of this name, Eber Donn, was Eber Finn’s envious older brother; he played but a small role in Irish myth and was often conflated with the king of death, DONN. The figures are easily confused and may have originally been one.
Irish heroine. Daughter of the evil druid CATHBAD and his wife Maga, Ebhla was the granddaughter of the god of poetry, AONGHUS Og. Her children were the fated SONS OF UISNEACH.
Ebhlinne (Evlinn, Ebliu, Eblenn, Eblinne)
Irish goddess. In Co. Tipperary, near the borders of Co. Limerick in Ireland’s southwest province of MUNSTER, this mountain goddess was honored in the range called the Twelve Mountains of Ebhlinne (also called Slievefelim Mountains, the Keeper Hills, and the Silvermine Mountains). The highest peak in the range is MAUHER SLIEVE (Mathair-Shliabh), the mother-mountain, where MIDSUMMER celebrations in Eblinne’s honor, marking the Celtic harvest feast of LUGHNASA, continued until recent times. As is common with ancient goddesses adapted into a new culture, Ebhlinne was euhemerized into a queen of the region.
From the dindshenchas, Ireland’s geographical poetry, we learn that Ebhlinne was the daughter of GUAIRE, king of the BRU NA BOINNE, the pre-Celtic mound city on the River Boyne in eastern Ireland. Married to the king of Cashel, Ebhlinne eloped with her stepson, but the escaping lovers were drowned in the waters of Lough Neagh. The motif of a woman leaving an older king for a younger man is found frequently in Celtic mythology, the most famous being the love triangles of GUINEVERE, LANCELOT, and ARTHUR in Britain; TRISTAN, ISEULT, and MARK in Cornwall; and GRAINNE, DIARMAIT, and FIONN MAC CUMHAILL in Ireland. Contemporary scholars link such stories to the figure of the goddess of SOVEREIGNTY, who kept the land fertile by marrying consecutive kings.
Irish heroine or goddess. This obscure figure was pictured as a spectral OWL who haunted the region of east Co. Clare, where her sister, the cannibal woman ECHTHGE, lived. It is unclear whether she is the same figure as the similarly named EACHTACH. Some sources have Echtach as Echthge’s rival rather than her sister.
Echthge (Aughty, Echtga, Eghchte)
Irish goddess. In the area around the low, rolling Irish hills called Sliabh na Echthge (Slieve Aughty, mountains of Echthge) in east Co. Clare, the connection of the land’s name to a mysterious goddess of the TUATHA DE DANANN is still remembered. Daughter of the god NUADA of the Silver Hand, Echthge received the lands now named for her as her dowry after she slept with the man who owned them. Little is known of her except epithets or titles—"the awful one" and "awful daughter and terrible goddess"—and a fragmentary legend about her killing and eating her own children.
Because many place-names in her region are derived from the name of the CAILLEACH, the pre-Celtic HAG goddess, the Celtic Echthge may have absorbed or become absorbed into that older divinity. The Slieve Aughty area is best known in recent times as the home of the famous White Witch of Clare, BIDDY EARLY, of whom stories are still spun; much of the earliest published Irish folklore derives from the area, which bordered upon Coole Park, the demesne of Lady Augusta Gregory, near which poet William Butler Yeats wrote of "fair Eghte of the streams."
Irish hero or god. Grandson or great-grandson of the ancestral Irish goddess DANU, Ecne was an early divinity of poetry, WISDOM, and inspiration. He plays little part in myth.
Ector (Ector de Maris, Ector of the Forest Sauvage)
Arthurian hero. Several figures connected with the great knight LANCELOT bear this name. Ector de Maris was Lancelot’s brother and joined him as a knight of the ROUND TABLE; Ector of the Wild Forest was Lancelot’s foster father.
Symbolic animal. Fish do not play much role in Celtic legend, with only the SALMON having a significant mythological association. Almost as frequently, we find the eel, but only in Ireland, where the eel was a plentiful source of food during its annual spring migration. Said to grow out of horsehairs left too long in the water, eels were believed to have the ability to reincarnate themselves; they were sometimes said to travel across land to graveyards, where they slithered underground and ate the corpses. In Co. Clare, near LISCANNOR, a monster eel called an OLLIPHEIST or eascu crawled up from the water to sneak into graveyards and feast. It was pursued across the country by the outraged residents and finally killed near the CAIRN called Conn Connachtach in Kilshanny, some miles distant from the sea.
Eels appear in myth as well as folklore: The fearsome goddess MORRIGAN appeared as an eel to the hero cuchulainn, perhaps in her role as a foreteller of doom; the monstrous CAORANACH fought with saints and heroes from the depths of LOUGH DERG ("dark red lake," called so after her blood shed copiously at her death).
Efnisien (Evnisien, Efnissien)
Welsh hero or god. The evil brother of the hero BRAN THE BLESSED, Efnisien was the cause of the war between Wales and Ireland that forms the centerpiece of the second branch of the collection of epic tales called the mabinogion. When Bran agreed to the proposal of the Irish king MATH-OLWCH to wed their sister, the sweet BRANWEN, Efnisien used the occasion to stir up trouble (his usual role in Welsh myth) by mutilating the Irish HORSES. Such sacrilege—for horses partook of divinity as well as being cherished by warriors for their usefulness in battle—ignited a war between the two previous allies. This resulted in deep unhappiness for his sister, who was held a virtual prisoner in Ireland and forced to endure humiliation and deprivation at her husband’s hands. When Bran heard of this, he marched into Ireland with his armies.
The Irish had a weapon in this war. Because of Efnisien’s troublemaking, Bran had given Matholwch a magical CAULDRON in which dead soldiers could be placed and which would revive them as zombie-like killing machines. Matholwch brought out the cauldron to keep his troops strong against the mighty forces of Bran. Efnisien redeemed himself, however, by leaping into the cauldron. As it could reinvigorate only the dead, his living body caused it to burst apart.
Symbolic object. Eggs appear in the iconography of Celtic goddesses of abundance like SIRONA. An obvious symbol of potential life, they may also have conveyed the promise of rebirth, for they are found among grave goods. Some eggs had magical properties—for example, the crimson eggs of CLlDNA’s birds, which bestowed the power of SHAPE-SHIFTING on those who ate them. A magical egg-shaped object called the SERPENT’S STONE may have represented an egg.
Symbolic bird. Waterbirds were important religious symbols to the Celts, for they lived comfortably in various elements: in air, in water, on land. The egret was the special symbol of the continental Celtic god ESUS, although the CRANE also appears in his iconography.
British mythological figure. One of the Three Enchanters of Britain, this DWARF could escape any pursuer by changing his form into any being of earth, air, or water.
Irish heroine or goddess. In some texts, this name is given as that of the mother of the three goddesses of the Irish land: ERIU, BANBA, and FODLA. As her name is formed from that of Eriu, the titular goddess of the island, it is likely that Eirinn does not represent a real myth but a poetic tradition.
Eiscir Riada (Eisgir Riada)
Irish mythological site. The Irish word eiscir, which means a series of low ridges, has become esker, the internationally recognized term for such relics of the glacial era. Ireland was relatively late in seeing the prehistoric glaciers melt, for until approximately 10,000 years ago, most of the island lay under ice. Because it is a relatively young land, Ireland has many glacial features besides the esker, including drumlins (small, moundlike hills) and erratics (large boulders).
One of the most impressive of Ireland’s glacial vestiges is a band of eskers that divides the island almost exactly in half, running from Dublin to Galway. Called the Eiscir Riada, it marks the mythological border between the lands of the southern king (variously EREMON or EOGAN MOR) and the king of the north (EBER Finn or CONN of the Hundred Battles). In ancient times it formed a road across the boglands. The Esker Riada crosses the Shannon River, the main waterway into the Irish interior, near the hill of UISNEACH, mythologically important as the central point where the land’s four PROVINCES meet.
Eis Enchenn (Ess Euchenn)
Irish heroine. When the great hero CUCHULAINN traveled to Isle of Skye, off Scotland, to learn martial arts from the WARRIOR WOMAN named SCATHACH, he was opposed by three strong men who were no match for the Irish hero. Cuchulainn struck off their heads and proceeded on his journey. On his way back, he had to travel along a narrow road that ran along the edge of an abyss. As he crept along, he encountered a frail HAG who asked him to step aside and let her pass. As there was room for but a single traveler on the narrow road, Cuchulainn obligingly hung out over the abyss, clinging by his toes. But the crone—who was Eis Enchenn, the mother of Bir, Blicne, and Ciri, the warriors that Cuchulainn had killed— stomped on his hands, hoping to send him tumbling to his death. Instead, Cuchulainn did his famous SALMON-leap and struck off Eis Enchenn’s head, killing her.
Irish folkloric figure. Just as FAIRY communities have their FAIRY QUEENS, so they have BARDS that are even more powerful than human poets. Eisirt was one of the OTHERWORLD’s most significant poets, servant of king IUBDAN. He caused trouble when, challenged to make good on his claim that ULSTER was populated by GIANTS, he traveled there and returned with the court DWARF—who was still monstrous by comparison with fairy folk. Fascinated, king Iubdan himself went to Ulster, with his tiny wife BEBO, who attracted much male attention.
Welsh festival. Perhaps the longest-sustained Celtic festival (although that claim is sometimes challenged by Ireland’s PUCK FAIR), this bardic competition is held each year at various venues in Wales, near the ancient feast of LUGHNASA on August 1. Many scholars believe the festival began in Celtic times or shortly thereafter, when BARDS steeped in oral tradition engaged in poetical combats. The current assembly was reestablished in 1860 as a national event, but it can be traced by historical references to 1176. Both poetry and song are featured at the events of the National Eisteddfod, with the Welsh language almost exclusively used.
Scottish folkloric figure. This FAIRY was said to live in the remote and beautiful Glen Etive, a valley that bore her name; she may be a folkloric echo of a land goddess.
Eithne (Ethna, Ethne, Ethne, Annie)
Irish heroine or goddess. This common Irish name, which means "sweet nutmeat," was borne by dozens of queens, heroines, and goddesses in Irish mythology, the most common being:
• Eithne, daughter of BALOR. The king of the monstrous FOMORIANS, Balor of the Evil Eye, had one beautiful daughter, Eithne (sometimes called Eri), mother of the hero LUGH. There are several versions of how she came to conceive. One, apparently older, says that her father had been granted a prophecy that Eithne’s child would kill him. To ensure that the prophecy would not be fulfilled, he shut his daughter up in a tower in his remote kingdom on Tory Island, off the northwest coast of Ireland, assuming that a girl who never sees a man could never have intercourse with one.
Unfortunately, prophecies are not so easily thwarted, and Balor’s own actions led to his undoing. Coveting the GLAS GHAIBHLEANN, the cow who never ceased giving milk and who lived on the mainland in the care of a human named CIAN, Balor stole it. But Cian would not let the magical being escape without a fight. He dressed himself as a woman and, with the help of a woman DRUID named BIROG, slipped into the tower and lived with Eithne until she had borne triplets, including Lugh. Balor, still attempting to outwit the prophecy, threw the children into the sea, but Lugh survived to kill his grandfather at one of the most famous of Ireland’s mythological battles, the second battle of MAG TUIRED.
Myth being nothing if not inconsistent, there are variants to the story: One has Cian’s name as MacInelly; another gives the name of the physician god DIAN CECHT as Eithne’s lover and father of Lugh; yet another names as her lover Mac Cennfaelaid, the brother of the cow’s owner, Gaibhlm, and states that Mac Cennfaelaid fathered the SEAL-people upon Eithne’s 12 handmaidens; yet another says that Eithne, offered by her Fomorian people as a pledge of friendship to their enemies the TUATHA DE DANANN, became the wife of their king NUADA and therefore the ancestress of the hero FIONN MAC CUMHAILL. Some scholars have found early evidences of Eithne as a virginal goddess who lived only on the milk of a sacred COW and was guarded from male intercourse by demons; that hypothetical figure is presumed to have become degraded into the Eithne of folklore. A late legend describes Eithne leaving the Otherworld and meeting ST. PATRICK, only to die a fortnight later; this story seems to confuse the divine Eithne with the quasi-historical princess (below).
• Eithne, wife of ELCMAR, an alternative name for the RIVER goddess BOAND.
• Eithne the Fair, a human woman so charming that she was noticed by FINNBHEARA, king of the MUNSTER FAIRIES, who cast a spell over her, causing her to slip slowly into a sleep from which she could not be awakened. In her dreams she visited the OTHERWORLD, a land so beautiful that upon awakening, she found this world frightful and ugly. Despite a guard placed upon her, Eithne escaped from her husband and traveled to Finnbheara’s FAIRY MOUND at KNOCKMA in Co. Galway, at a place called the Fairies’ Glen. Her pursuing husband overheard the fairies gossiping about how happy Finnbheara was with his beautiful prize and how he could never be thwarted until sunlight entered the center of his mound.
Brokenhearted but persistent, Eithne’s husband set to work digging into the mound. He dug and dug but found nothing, until he heard voices murmuring that he must throw salt upon the ground. As soon as he did so, he could see Eithne in the fairy court, from which he pulled her. But at home, she remained in a comalike swoon, unable to communicate. Finally Eithne’s husband discovered a tiny fairy PIN holding a sash, and when he removed it, Eithne awakened— believing she had been away but one night, when in fact she had been asleep a year.
• Eithne Aittenchaithrech ("having furze hair"), sister of the great queen MEDB and, like all her sisters, wife of king CONCOBAR of ULSTER. She does not appear significantly in legend, being outshone by her sisters.
• Eithne Ingubai, wife or mistress of the hero cuchulainn in occasional texts, although the more common name for his wife is EMER and for his mistress, FAND.
• Eithne of TARA, sometimes called Eithne Thaebfhota or Long-Sides, daughter of king CATHAIR MOR and wife of several kings of Tara, including CONN of the Hundred Battles and his grandson, CORMAC MAC AIRT, to whom she bore a son, CAIRBRE Lifechair; while she reigned at Tara the fields bore three crops each year, showing that she was a form of the goddess of SOVEREIGNTY.
• Eithne Uathach or Eithne the Horrible, a cannibal woman who became more beautiful the more infant flesh she devoured.
• Eithne of CONNACHT, a quasi-historical princess who, with her sister FEDELM, left the great capital of CRUACHAN one morning to bathe in the little spring called OGALLA. There they met white-clad men whom they mistook for DRUIDS. In fact, the men were monks, including ST. PATRICK, whom they asked to explain the new religion. "Who is your god?" the girls asked, "Is he manly? Does he have beautiful daughters? Is he the sea and the sky?" Patrick, cleverly ignoring the question about god’s daughters, converted the girls, who instantly died in order to go to heaven with unstained souls. This transparent piece of Christian propaganda is interesting in the questions that the princesses put to Patrick, which reveal the animism of the Celts before Christianity.
Elaine (Elayne, Elain, Elane)
Arthurian heroine. In the room where she was held captive by a curse, Elaine of Astolat (the Lady of Shalott) wove magnificent tapestries that permitted her to see the events of the outer world without leaving her castle. On one of those tapestries a handsome knight appeared, and Elaine fell in love with him. Finally she could bear it no longer, and although she knew it would mean her death, she set off in a boat for CAMELOT and the handsome LANCELOT, dying along the way of her love for him. This powerful and evocative story was the invention of Sir Thomas Malory in his Morte D’Arthur, but, like so much Arthurian material, it was derived from earlier Celtic legend.
The original Elaine may have been the siren of Scotland’s Clyde River. There she lived on a rock-built castle on the rock of DUMBARTON, staring into a magic mirror in which she could see all that went on in the world—a mirror that has been interpreted to mean the waters itself, whose mirroring surface could be "cracked" by storms. She may be related to the Welsh FAIRY ELEN.
Another Elaine had what her namesake desired: She slept with Lancelot and bore his son, GALAHAD. Daughter of the FISHER KING, Elaine arranged to have accomplices get Lancelot so drunk that he thought he was sleeping with his beloved GUINEVERE; thus he remained pure despite his physical adultery. Yet another figure of this name Elaine of Garlot, played a very minor role in Arthurian legend as a half sister to king ARTHUR; unlike two other sisters, MORGAN and MORGAUSE, who turned against the son of their mother’s deceit, Elaine assisted Arthur by marrying one of his enemies, NENTRES, thus forging an alliance.
Elatha (Elada, Eladha, Elotha)
Irish hero. The first residents of Ireland, the FOMORIANS, were terrifying monsters, say the early Irish texts. But there were a few upon whom one could look without loathing; a few were even beautiful. EITHNE, daughter of the Fomorian king BALOR, was such a beauty. So was the king Elatha, whose name means "craft" or "skill," who mated with the land goddess ERIU, whose people, the TUATHA DE DANANN, ultimately displaced the Fomorians from their Irish lands. She was already married, but who could resist a golden-haired man wrapped in a cloak all embroidered with gold thread? (In some variants, it was Eithne who received Elatha in this fashion.)
After their tryst, Elatha gave Eriu a golden ring and prophesied that she would bear a son. And so she did, but their son BRES mac Elatha was not popular among the Tuatha De, and so Eriu sought help among Elatha’s people. Her liaison finally led to the famous battle of MAG TUIRED, when the Fomorians were evicted from Ireland, for the half-Fomorian Bres, elected king, proved a stingy and unreliable one, and he was ousted by the Tuatha De king NUADA. Some read these complex myths as encoding the continuing struggles between various waves of Celtic immigrants to Ireland’s shores, who had to jockey for rulership with the island’s earlier residents.
Irish god or hero. This shadowy figure appears in legends connected with the famous bru na boinne, the neolithic monument on the banks of the River Boyne in north central Ireland. He was said to be the husband of the RIVER goddess BOAND (sometimes, in this context, called EITHNE) who cuckolded him with the DAGDA; variants have it that Boand’s husband was NECHTAN or NUADA. When the son of Boand and the Dagda, AONGHUS Og, was born, he evicted Elcmar from the Bru by reciting a charm at a feast his father was hosting—the same charm used to expel the early mythological race called the FIR BOLG from Ireland by the TUATHA DE and, in turn, by the MILESIANS who drove the Tuatha De into the OTHERWORLD.
Symbolic tree. In most Celtic lands, it was considered very unlucky to burn the wood of an elder TREE (genus Sambucus), because the spirits of FERTILITY were thought to live within it. If a desperate situation arose that demanded use of elder wood, it was important to ask permission of the tree and its spirits; even with appropriate begging, the branches might bleed when you cut them. The tree’s name hints at a connection with the ELF people; it was called the eller tree in the north of Britain where, until quite recent times, rags were offered to these trees to bring good luck. In the Cotswolds, elders were associated with WITCHES; an elder tree might be a transformed sorceress or carry malign power, so it was avoided in building furniture, especially cradles. In Ireland and on the Isle of Man, the elder was one of the trees most often connected with the FAIRIES and with GIANTS. Despite its frightening reputation, the elder tree was used to make berry wine and flower tea.
Irish heroine. One of the lesser-known sisters of the great queen and goddess of Ireland, MEDB, Ele’s name seems to indicate that she was of the FAIRY or elfish race.
Elean nam Ban (Eilean nam Ban Mora)
Scottish folkloric site. Highland folklore tells of an "Isle of Women," located somewhere off the coast, on which a green WELL marked the edge of the world. Such mysterious ISLANDS, not tied down in time or space, are a common motif in Celtic folklore and represent portals to the OTH-ERWORLD. Sometimes the island is called Eilean nam Ban Mora, the Island of the Big Women, suggesting that the residents were GIANTS; the name was sometimes applied to an actual island, the Isle of Eigg.
Elen (Elen of the Hosts, Ellen, Helen, Ellyll, Ellyllon)
Welsh heroine or goddess. Scores of churches in Wales are dedicated to St. Helen, mother of the emperor Constantine. What was a Roman matron doing in Wales? Folklore claims that she was Welsh herself, daughter of COEL Hen, "old King Cole." The Welsh pseudo-saint Helen was a Christian version (or conversion) of the earlier Welsh mythological figure Elen, whose name seems to mean "sprite" and who was the wife of the great magician MERLIN. Elen also appears in the Welsh Dream of Maxen: The epic’s conquering hero became emperor of Rome but returned to Wales to seek the lovely maiden of his dreams; marrying Elen, he fortified the country with the help of her brothers and returned to Rome to conquer it once again. Yet another—or perhaps the same?—Elen appears as a builder of magical highways that she used to transport her armies across the country when they were needed, for which she was dubbed Elen of the Hosts.
Elen’s name may be derived from the Welsh word for ELF or ghost, ellyll (pl., ellyllon), which in turn recalls several Irish FAIRIES who bear the name Aillen. The small, transparent ellyll was usually a SOLITARY FAIRY, but the ellyllon sometimes gathered under the rulership of their queen, MAB, to dance about as TROOPING FAIRIES. Often the ellyll acted like a BROWNIE, working around the house until discovered, at which time it instantly took its leave. But they were also creatures of great magic who lived in wild areas, eating toadstools for dinner.
Elf (elves, elven, elfin folk)
This name for the people of the OTHERWORLD came into Britain from Scandinavia with Viking raiders and immigrants; it soon became naturalized and is found as often as such words as FAIRY and BROWNIE.
Folkloric motif. When a FAIRY visited a sleeping human, he or she often dreamed of a blissful romantic encounter. But the one seduced in dream awakened to find that his or her hair was hopelessly tangled, impossible to comb out. Such mischief was common when fairies and humans interacted whether in sleep or waking life.
Folkloric motif. When fairies attacked a beast or a person, they had more than magic to use as a weapon. They also had tiny arrows that they flung with great force so that, despite being almost invisible, they caused great damage. A single elf-shot could bring down a COW, so folklore tells us. Those injured by these darts fell into partial or full paralysis, still called by its old name of FAIRY STROKE.
Welsh hero. Many stories are told of people who have gone to FAIRYLAND, but few are as famous as that of this man, recorded in the 12th century by the Welsh geographer and historian Giraldus Cambrensis. As a child, Elidyr encountered two little men who took him to the OTHERWORLD, where he lived in ease and joy. All was beautiful there—bountiful land, beautiful people, endlessly sunny weather. Elidyr stayed for a few hours and then realized his mother would be worrying over his absence and so, regretfully, departed for home.
It was a squalid poor home, and when he told his mother of the lovely land he had visited, she sent him back to get something they could use. Back he went, into the hole on the riverbank where he had descended before. And the Otherworld was just as he remembered it. Remembering his errand, he found a little gold ball that he thought no one would miss. No one, however, can steal from the FAIRIES, so when Elidyr attempted to leave he was caught by the fairies, who were angry and disappointed at his actions. They did not punish him but allowed him to go back to the surface world, free and safe. But thereafter, no matter how he sought, Elidyr could never find that riverbank entrance to fairyland.
Irish hero. There are many mythological and folkloric versions of the Irish story of the GLAS GHAIBHLEANN, the magical COW that gave forth milk so abundantly that no one who owned her ever went hungry. The cow belonged to a SMITH, who was sometimes said to be the god GOIBNIU, other times described as a mere man, Elin Gow (Elin the smith). Despite his lowly status, Elin had attempted to marry the daughter of the king of Spain, who owned the Glas at the time. To earn the princess’s hand, Elin had to tend the magical cow—which was difficult, because the cow moved so fast that no one had ever been able to keep up with her for a single day. If Elin failed, as so many had before him, he would not only lose the cow and the princess but his life.
To everyone’s amazement, the Irish smith managed what no man had done before him, keeping pace with the cow for seven whole years. But when he brought the cow (nothing more is said about the princess) back to Ireland and hired a man named CIAN to care for it, his helper grew weary and went to sleep, allowing the cow to be stolen by the evil FOMORIAN king BALOR. If all’s well that ends well, the story has a happy ending, for not only did Cian get the cow back, but he stopped for a tryst with Balor’s imprisoned daughter EITHNE and left her pregnant with the hero LUGH.
Symbolic tree. As with other sacred TREES, the Irish and British alike believed it would bring misfortune to cut down elms (genus Ulmus), trees with a graceful vase-like form that must have appealed to the aesthetic sense of the Celts as much as to people today, who plant elms by the hundreds in cities despite the tree’s vulnerability to disease. There is evidence that the kind of blight that destroyed most American elms in the last century occurred in the history and prehistory of Celtic lands, for there are periods when the pollen record lacks elms, while at other times they are plentiful. It is possible that the folklore regarding protection of standing elms recognizes their genetic fragility.
Welsh hero. The foster father of the legendary great Welsh poet TALIESIN was a bumbling sort of fellow who tended to get into trouble. His own father recognized that when he discovered that Elphin was spending his inheritance with no concern for the future. Elphin’s father sent him down to a fish-weir, telling him that his fortune would thereafter have to come from the water. That very day the reborn Taliesin—who as a servant boy in the home of the goddess CERIDWEN had accidentally sipped a magical fluid that made him incomparably wise—was hauled out of the sea, where he had been thrown at birth. Elphin took the child home and raised him tenderly, and Taliesin repaid him with filial devotion. But Elphin never completely reformed and occasionally needed to be rescued by his foster son, who willingly obliged.
Emain Ablach (Eamhain, Emhain; Abhlach)
Irish mythological site. One of the greatest Celtic visions of the OTHERWORLD was that of Emain Albach, the Isle of Apples, a beautiful place of everlasting summer whose handsome residents danced the sun-drenched days away. It was to Emain Albach that the hero BRAN mac Febail traveled, lured there by a dream-woman who left him a silver branch that tantalized him with memory of her loveliness. When he finally reached it, he found her there and lived happily for uncounted years until he grew homesick for earth. His lover, NIAMH of the Golden Hair, reluctantly let Bran leave for home, together with a group of other visitors to her land. But when they reached the shores of Ireland, one sailor was so moved that he leaped ashore. In the Otherworld, time passes more slowly than does ours, and the eager man could not endure the transition to earthly time; all his years caught up with him, and he died and faded to dust within an instant. Bran, saddened by the choice between death and exile, sailed away again; presumably he still sails between this world and the other.
Albach was said to lie somewhere off the coast of Scotland or Ireland; many such entrances to the Otherworld were depicted as seagirt green ISLANDS. Its capital was Cruithm na Cuan, and its king MANANNAN MAC LIR, the Irish god of the sea for whom the Isle of Man was named; occasionally that real island was called Emain Albach. The name may have been the origin of AVALON, the Arthurian Otherworld.
Emain Macha (Emania, Navan Fort)
Irish mythological site. A late Bronze Age HILLFORT in Co. Armagh, identified with the mythical capital of the ancient PROVINCE of ULSTER. The name of Armagh in today’s Northern Ireland derives from ard Macha, "the heights of MACHA." A goddess of the magical race called the TUATHA DE DANANN, Macha came to this world to live with a farmer named CRUNNIUC. As long as she lived with him, he was blessed with ample crops and fine health among his herds—suggesting that Macha was acting as the goddess of SOVEREIGNTY. Despite his new wealth, Crunniuc grew restless and decided to attend the Assembly of Ulster at the court of king CONCOBAR MAC NESSA. Macha strongly advised against it, but when she saw he was determined to go, she begged him at least to keep her presence in his life a secret. Off he went, giving her the promise she desired.
Once he got to the Assembly, Crunniuc forgot his promise. Indeed, he did just the opposite, bragging that his wife was such a speedy runner that not even the king’s best horses could win a race with her. Hearing the boasts, king Concobar grew infuriated and demanded that Crunniuc prove that he spoke truly. Brought forth from her home, Macha implored the king to let her be, for she was heavily pregnant. Hoping that her pregnancy would slow her steps, Concobar commanded the race to begin.
Quick as a flash, Macha was around the course, but as she crossed the finish line her labor pains began. So hard and fast did they come on that Macha died from the tearing pain and loss of blood. Before she died she cursed the men of Ulster, promising that, every time the land was invaded, they would fall down writhing with pangs like hers (see DEBILITY OF THE ULSTERMEN). Macha died giving birth to TWINS, from which the place of Assembly was henceforth called Emain Macha, supposedly meaning "the twins of Macha."
Another etymology is also provided in Irish myth. Once again the central character is Macha, but this time Macha Mong Rua, "red-haired Macha," a WARRIOR WOMAN who went to war against her father’s colleagues when they refused to honor her ascension to the throne to replace him upon his death. She killed one of her opponents, CIMBAETH, but his five cowardly sons ran from the battlefield. She pursued them across Ireland to the rocky Burren, where she found them camped out under the stars. Disguising herself as a loathy HAG, she crept near them, and despite her effective and revolting disguise, every one of them in turn attempted to rape her. As they did, she overpowered them and tied them up, dragging them back to Ulster and using a brooch from her neck (eo-muin) to mark out a vast hillfort that she forced them to build for her.
That mythological fort still stands, not far outside today’s Armagh city. The ancient sacred-ness of the place is still apparent from the unusual number of churches in the town, for the early Christians often built their churches on ground that had already been held sacred by the Celts. Called Navan Fort, the Hillfort is an archaeological dig and heritage site, equivalent in stature to the other great capitals of ancient Ireland, such as CRUACHAN in CONNACHT, TARA in MEATH, or KNOCKAULIN in LEINSTER.
Research at the site has dated it to 700 B.C.E., rather earlier than the time of the first Celtic invasion; either Emain Macha was originally a settlement of the pre-Celtic peoples, or Celtic Ireland must be moved back 300 years from its current beginning point. Over the next 800 years, nine rebuildings took place, with less than a century between each. This could indicate a land in the grip of war, or regular rebuildings for other reasons (ritual or cultural), or a mixture of destruction and rehabilitation. One structure of log and stone seems to have been built specifically for the purpose of being burned and buried. Emain Macha continued to be an important political and cultural capital until approximately 500 B.C.E.
Only Tara figures more importantly in Irish myth than Emain Macha, which in turn is followed closely by Cruachan. It may be that Emain Macha is so well remembered because the ULSTER CYCLE (also called the Red Branch Cycle for the hall of treasure at Emain Macha) is the best-preserved sequence of stories from ancient Ireland. Emain Macha was the palace of king Concobar and the place where the exploits of the hero cuchulainn occurred and were retold; it was toward Emain Macha that the great queen MEDB marched her armies on the cattle raid described in the epic tain bo cuailnge. Perhaps myths as extensive as these originally existed for the other capitals of Ireland, but only the Ulster Cycle remains to suggest what glorious narratives might have been lost.
Emer (Eimher, Emer Foltcham, Emer of the Fair Hair)
Irish heroine. For almost two millennia, the name Emer has been synonymous with the ideal of womanhood, for she possessed in equally high measure each of the six gifts of femininity: a sweet voice, fine speech, beauty of form and feature, wisdom, chastity, and skill in needlework. This paragon of femininity became the wife of the epitome of masculinity, the hero CUCHULAINN—although not as quickly as either of them could have wished. Cuchulainn found his way to Emer’s side after his king, CONCOBAR MAC NESSA of ULSTER, became concerned that so many of the women of his household had become obsessed with the handsome hero. He sent off to find the best woman in the land for Cuchulainn to marry, figuring that the hero’s marriage would quell the lustful feminine fires (it did not, neither for them nor for him). After a year and a day, the men returned to Emain Macha, capital of Ulster, with the news that they had found no one perfect enough for the hero. So Cuchulainn himself set off, for he had heard that FORGALL MANACH had a daughter whose wisdom and beauty all admired.
When Cuchulainn arrived, he found Emer teaching needlework to all the women of the house. He exchanged some riddling words with her, and she matched him, word for word and wit for wit. "I am," she told him, "a TARA among women, the whitest of maidens, one who is gazed at but gazes not back; I am the untrodden way." Almost immediately the well-suited pair fell in love, but Forgall placed two things in opposition. One—the fact that Emer’s older sister Fial was not yet married—was beyond Cuchulainn’s control, but the second—that he was not yet well enough trained in the manly arts—he could do something about.
So Cuchulainn set off for Scotland, to learn from the greatest teacher of the arts of war: a WARRIOR WOMAN named SCATHACH. As they separated, Emer and Cuchulainn vowed to be true to each other. She was; he was not. Within a short time he had conceived a son with Scathach’s daughter (or sister, or double), AIFE. And that was not the only affair the hero would have, while Emer remained invariably monogamous.
As the ULSTER CYCLE, to which the story of Emer belongs, was transcribed by Christian monks, it is likely that the figure of Emer was tamed, if not created, by them to model behavior expected of Christian women, for mythological Celtic women of earlier periods were as ready to act upon their desires as their men were, with the goddesses of the land being especially fickle in their relationships with human kings. It is impossible to say if the figure of Emer was derived from a more self-sufficient earlier goddess or if she was always a human woman.
After his return from Alba, Cuchulainn naturally expected to marry Emer. But Forgall continued to refuse, and he imprisoned Cuchulainn in the fortress of Lusca (now Lusk, Co. Dublin). But he did not realize how much Cuchulainn had learned from Scathach, for the hero made his improbably high SALMON-leap and freed himself, killing several dozen men along the way. Forgall himself leapt to his death while Cuchulainn departed with Emer and other treasures of the house—several cartloads of gold and silver—to his own home at DUN Delgan (now Dundalk).
As he had before their marriage, so Cuchulainn acted afterward, taking lovers when he willed. But Emer knew her own worth and refused to be jealous of any woman whom the hero bedded. Only once did Emer become concerned, and that involved no human woman at all but FAND, one of the greatest of FAIRY queens, wife of the sea god MANANNAN MAC LIR. FAIRY LOVERS took their mates away to another realm, leaving them impotent to love the merely human.
When Cuchulainn had been gone a month with Fand—which must have seemed like moments in the OTHERWORLD—Emer decided that she had no recourse but to murder Fand. She hid herself near where the illicit couple was making love, ready to spring and kill. When she saw how tender and beautiful their desire was, she decided to leave them to each other and to their pleasures. Fand, however, discovered Emer and, realizing how much Emer loved her husband, returned to the Otherworld while the human couple drank a potion of forgetfulness. Emer, loyal to the last, died with Cuchulainn on the
Pillar Stone to which he affixed himself so that he would die standing upright after his last battle.
Arthurian heroine. In several Arthurian romances, Enid appears the epitome of womanly virtue, one of the THREE SPLENDID WOMEN of CAMELOT, together with DYFR and TEGAU EURFRON. To prove his worthiness to marry the beautiful Enid, the knight Erec set off on a series of adventures, one of which involved hunting for a mysterious white STAG. Having proven his strength and bravery, Erec retreated to the joys of Enid’s company—which soon proved so delightful that he retired utterly from his knightly duties. After a time, courtly gossip that Erec was no longer worthy of his wife, because he had grown lazy with too much love, reached Enid’s ears. Afflicted to her soul by the rumors, Enid arranged that Erec should overhear them. Outraged, Erec set out to redeem his reputation—this time bringing Enid along for company. The two had many adventures and returned to court successful and renowned. In the Welsh version of the same story, Enid’s over-attentive husband is called GEREINT. References to Enid as the model of perfection in a wife appear from time to time down to the present.
Eochaid (Echid, Eoachaidh, Echuid, Echaidgh)
Irish hero. Irish mythology knows innumerable heroes and kings of this name, which means "horseman." The various figures of this name may ultimately derive from the same original and represent mythological beings, or some originally human men may have been absorbed into the ancient divinity, a hypothesized sun god. The most important figures with this name are:
• Eochaid Airem, "horseman plowman," was husband of the queen of TARA, ETAIN, of whom Ireland’s most beautiful love story is told. Wishing to ascend to the position of Tara’s king and with enough successful combats to show his worthiness, Eochaid scheduled his INAUGURATION. But the people of Ireland would not accept a king without a queen to represent the SOVEREIGNTY of the land. So he set out to find the most beautiful woman in Ireland and found her in Etain— who was the reincarnated lover of the FAIRY king MIDIR.
In many incarnations after being cursed by a jealous rival, Etain had forgotten her identity, so she went willingly to Tara to become Eochaid’s wife, but Midir had not forgotten. He wagered with Eochaid and won Etain back, taking her to his great palace under the hill at BRI LEITH. Etain was pregnant before leaving Tara, and she gave birth to a daughter whom Eochaid unwittingly married (see ESA); their own incestuously conceived daughter, MESS BUA CHALLA, became the mother of king CONAIRE. It has been argued that incest motifs hide myths of origin, for in the beginning of time, incest would have been the only way to populate the globe. Thus this complex myth may describe a time of world creation.
• Eochaid Fedlech, king of Tara and father of superlative daughters: MEDB, CLOTHRA, eithne, ELE, and MUGAIN. He had four sons as well: Furbaide and three boys, all named Finn, who went by the collective name of FINN Emna. Having brothers with the same name seems to have been a family trait, as this Eochaid was the brother of Eochaid Airem, above. He may actually have been the same person, since both were said to have been married to Etain.
• Eochaid Iuil, god of the OTHERWORLD and, in some texts, husband to the fairy queen FAND.
• Eochaid mac Eirc, husband of the goddess TAILTIU and ideal king of early legend during whose realm the land bore abundantly, rain fell so softly as to seem like dew, and no man ever lied. It may have been he, or Tailtiu’s next husband, Eochaid Gargh, who established the LUGHNASA fair at TELTOWN in her honor. A member of the early race called the FIR BOLG, he fought the arrival of the magical TUATHA DE DANANN but was killed at the first battle of MAG TUIRED.
• Eochaid Garbh, second husband of the land goddess Tailtiu and probable founder of the famous Lughnasa fair at Teltown.
• Eochaid Mugmedon, quasi-historical king and father of NIALL of the Nine Hostages by the British princess CAIRENN; he is one of the great ancestral figures of Irish history, from whom several ruling families traced descent.
• Eochaid Ollathair, "all-father," a name for the DAGDA.
Irish hero. Several quasi-historical Irish kings bore this name, which means "yew tree," including:
• Eogan mac Neill (mac Nefll No^giallaig), son of the great king of TARA, NIALL of the Nine Hostages and himself the founder of the kingdom of Tyrone (Tir Eogan) in the PROVINCE of ULSTER; he is said to have established a kingship at the impressive stone fort of GRI-ANAN AILEACH in the fifth century C.E.
• Eogan of CONNACHT, a king who asked to be buried upright, facing the land of his enemies, so that his spirit could continue to defend his land; but his enemies exhumed his body and buried it facing the other way.
• Eogan Mor (Eogan Ta^dlech, Eogan Fitheccach, Mug Nuadat), quasi-historical king of the southwestern province of MUNSTER and husband of BEARE, the legendary Spanish princess who gave her name to the Beare peninsula and who probably disguises an ancient goddess of the land. Eogan waged unrelenting war upon CONN of the Hundred Battles at the border of their two lands. When Conn invaded, Eogan fled to Spain; he returned to fight again, but he was again defeated and finally slain by his longtime enemy Conn.
• Eogan, son of AILILL Olom, grandson of Eogan Mor and legendary founder of the historical Eoganacht (Owenacht) dynasty of southern Ireland. Eogan was resting once with his foster brother, LUGAIDH mac Conn, when they heard marvelous music. They traced its source to a yew tree (the meaning of Eogan’s name) where a harper, FER ^ (which also means "yew"), eluded their attempts to speak to him. From that moment, despite the hypnotic harmony of the music, the brothers were at war. Lugaidh’s manservant Do Dera took his master’s place in the field and was killed by Eogan, who believed momentarily that he had killed his brother; but then he saw familiar legs fleeing and realized that Lugaidh had escaped. The brothers met again later, and that time Lugaidh brought with him a DRUID, Dil Maccu Crecga, who enchanted Eogan. With the foresight that druids were known for, he first arranged that Eogan should make love to his daughter, Moncha, knowing that her children would then become kings of Munster. After fathering a son on Moncha, Eogan was killed in the battle.
• Eogan mac Durthacht, the man who killed the romantic hero NO^SIU in the tragic story of DEIRDRE of the Sorrows, one the THREE SORROWS OF IRELAND and a centerpiece of the ULSTER CYCLE of stories. When king CONCO-BAR MAC NESSA finally realized that the beautiful Deirdre would never willingly be his, he angrily gave the heroine to Eogan, from whose chariot she threw herself, preferring suicide to life without her lover. Eogan appears in several other legends in supporting roles.
Irish god. This obscure figure was the father (or perhaps grandfather) of two goddesses or FAIRY QUEENS of the southwestern province of MUNSTER, AINE and GRIAN, who were not raised by Eogabal but by the sea god MANANNAN MAC LIR.
Continental Celtic and British goddess. Among people whose vision of divinity was so polytheistic that the same name of a god or goddess is rarely found more than once, Epona is an exception, for statues and altars to her have been excavated across continental Europe, the center of her worship, and in Britain—more than for any other god or goddess of the Celts. Yet little is known of this goddess except that she was connected with HORSES. Her name means "horse," from the Gaulish epos, and she was depicted astride a horse (usually a mare), surrounded by horses, or even occasionally lying naked on the back of one.
The greatest concentration of inscriptions to Epona are found in Roman Gaul, especially in Burgundy, and in the Metz-Trier and Meuse valley regions of Germany, where great numbers of images and altars have been found. She was worshiped in Britain as well, but that expansion of her domain may have occurred after Roman occupation, for she was a popular goddess with the legions, who may have brought her across the North Sea with them. The soldiers also brought Epona back to Rome, for she is the only Celtic goddess granted a feast day (December 18) there. She is, however clearly not Roman, for there were no such equestrian goddesses in their pantheon. Often Epona carried a plate, called a patera; sometimes she bore symbols of abundance, like sheaves of wheat and ears of grain, a SERPENT, or a CORNUCOPIA.
Such a prominent goddess, adopted wholesale by the invading armies, was likely to have been associated with prestige and power; it is believed that her worship was especially strong among the horse-riding warrior elites, whom others may have wished to emulate. As kings typically rose from this class, Epona may have had a regal association.
Epona’s worship may have been spread by soldiers, but her appeal was considerably broader, for small personal altars to Epona have also been found, presumably made for the home. Many of these show Epona as a maternal force, either feeding horses from her hand or accompanied by a mare suckling her foals. She is also shown surrounded by unsaddled horses; indeed, any depiction of horses with a goddess points to Epona in her role as goddess of the FERTILITY of the land and of the animals that graze upon it. Occasionally she is referred to in the plural, as the Eponas, emphasizing her reproductive powers.
Yet Epona was not herself an animal power, like CERNUNNOS the stag god; she was rarely herself shown embodied in a horse but only riding or accompanied by them. And although that emblematic horse was forceful and vigorous, Epona was sometimes linked, like other MOTHER GODDESSES, with images of death. She was depicted with the funerary bird, the RAVEN, or with that OTHERWORLD creature, the DOG; or she carried KEYS, suggesting her power to open the entrance to the Otherworld. She may have been seen as a companion or guardian on the trip to the next world.
As Celts commonly associated horses with the SUN, this connection of abundance and death could refer to the sun’s daytime powers of increasing vegetative growth, on which the herds rely, and its evening journey beneath the earth, often called the night-sea-journey. Such an interpretation is supported by her connection with hot SPRINGS, believed to be warmed by the sun’s passage on the earth’s nether side; as goddess of thermal springs, Epona was connected with APOLLO and SIRONA.
Popular as Epona was on the Continent and in Britain, there is no evidence of her in Ireland and little in Wales, where, however, we find the horse goddesses MACHA and RHIANNON respectively. Apparently similar divinities were often found among the insular and continental Celts, with images found nearest Rome and myths and legends found furthest away. Such is the case with the horse goddesses: We have images of Epona from the Continent and stories of Macha and Rhiannon from Ireland and Wales. It is unclear how closely connected such figures might be; scholars argue about how best to interpret the connections among them.
It is similarly debated how and whether to connect Epona with the mare that figures in an ancient rite of the INAUGURATION of kings, as described by Giraldus Cambrensis, who claimed it was practiced in Ireland in Celtic times. The man to be inaugurated, he said, had to eat a stew made from the meat of a freshly slaughtered mare and drink a broth made from her blood; only after engaging in that ritual was a man believed to be wed to the land goddess. This appears to echo an Indo-European rite from India, where horses also figure in a marriage-inauguration ritual that solidified a king’s SOVEREIGNTY over the land.
The most famous horse monument of Britain, the 360-foot-long WHITE HORSE OF UFFINGTON, has been dated to the Celtic era by archaeologists, who nonetheless hesitate to connect the flowing white chalk figure with Epona. Whether named Epona or not, the White Horse is thought to have been first carved into its hillside on the Berkshire downs in 50 B.C.E., after Celtic settlement but before the Roman invasion that brought Epona’s worship to Britain. Since there is no evidence for a male divinity of horses among the Celts, the White Horse, if not Epona herself, may represent a British corollary whose name was lost with the arrival of the popular Gaulish goddess. Vestiges of such a horse goddess can also be traced in the folkloric figure of Lady GODIVA and the mysterious white-horse-riding woman of Banbury Cross who appears in nursery rhymes.
Calendar feast. The Celts did not celebrate the solstices, the year’s longest and shortest day, nor the equinoxes, those two days (approximately March 21 and September 21) when day and night are of equal length. Instead, the Celtic calendar focused on the points between those solar indicators (see IMBOLC, BELTANE, LUGH-NASA, SAMHAIN). However, pre-Celtic people in Celtic lands did note the equinoxes and solstices, as the great megalithic sites like the BRU NA BOINNE, LOUGHCREW, and STONEHENGE indicate (see MEGALITHIC CIVILIZATION). Some vestiges of their calendar feasts may survive in festivals like NOLLAIG (which may, however, be derived from the Christmas holiday of the birth of Jesus) and St. John’s Day or MIDSUMMER.
Historical people of Ireland. In the late centuries of the last millennium B.C.E. a Celtic people that the ancient geographer Ptolemy called the Iverni settled in southwestern Ireland; these people are generally called the Erainn. They were not Ireland’s first settlers, the unknown people of the MEGALITHIC CIVILIZATION; nor were they the last to migrate there, for the Lagin and Feni peoples followed. Scholars have suggested that the mythological FOMORI-ANS and FIR BOLG people, who preceded the magical TUATHA DE DANANN on Irish soil, may be a memory of these early people.
Irish hero or heroine. A number of minor characters in Irish mythology, both male and female, bear this name, which means "salmon" or "speckled." One was a WARRIOR WOMAN who fought with the great hero FIONN MAC CUMHAILL as one of the members of his band, the FIANNA. Another was the brother of the loving ACHALL; she died of grief at his murder.
British goddess. An obscure goddess, called the "mother of earth," Erce is known from early British verbal formulae called CHARMS; her name has been interpreted to mean "exalted one." She may have been Germanic rather than Celtic, although the distinction is difficult to make where those historical peoples lived and worshiped closely together.
Eremon (Heremon, Eremon)
Irish hero. The MILESIANS or Sons of Mil were the last wave of invaders of Ireland, according to the book of legends called the book of invasions. Leading the invasion were two sons of Mil himself, Eremon and EBER Finn, who fought the magical forces of the TUATHA DE DANANN for control of the island and were victorious; their myth is thought to encode real historical memory of a final wave of Celts who, arriving in Ireland, took political control from earlier Celtic and indigenous non-Celtic peoples.
After their victory the two brothers disagreed on who should rule the land, so the wise poet AMAIRGIN divided it in two along the low glacial hills that stretch from today’s Dublin to Galway, the EISCIR RIADA, with Eremon getting the north, Eber Finn the south. Eber Finn remained disgruntled and waged unrelenting war upon Eremon until the latter was forced to kill his brother. Now king of a united Ireland, Eremon established the kingship at TARA, naming the sacred hill after his wife, TEA.
eric (eric, eraic, dire-fine, log n-enech)
Irish legal tradition and mythological motif. "Honor-price" is the usual translation of this word that describes an ancient Irish legal demand for recompense for crimes according to the social standing of the victim. In Celtic Ireland, there was no police force or court of law. Rather, each person had an honor-price according to rank, due upon murder or injury to the TUATH or tribe. If one man murdered another, for instance, the murderer and his kin would owe an eric of gold, cattle, slaves, and other valuables to the victim’s kin, according to his rank. Other crimes, such as slander and rape, were also punished with the eric. As the entire kinship group was responsible for such debts, the legal requirement had an inhibiting effect on hotheaded youth most prone to violence.
Many Irish myths revolve around the collecting of an honor-price, as when the SONS OF TUIREANN had to perform impossible feats as punishment for killing their father’s enemy CIAN. "Every eric is evil," stated the senchas mor, the great collection of legal documents and commentaries, on the grounds that it almost inevitably led to more bloodshed.
Eriu (Eire, Erin)
Irish goddess. The green island at the far western periphery of Europe bears the name of its earth goddess, Eriu. That we do not call Ireland FODLA or BANBA is explained by the myth that, when the final wave of invaders, the MILESIANS, arrived on Ireland’s shores, they encountered three sisters, all goddesses of the land, each of whom asked that the island be called after her. The sorceress Banba made her demand from the top of her favorite MOUNTAIN; so did Fodla, when the invaders arrived at her mountain. Each stalled the Milesians in their attempt to reach the center of Ireland, and to each the same promise was given. But at the center the invaders found the resplendent Eriu, who made the same demand as the others. Because Eriu promised greater prosperity than did her sisters, the chief BARD of the Milesians, AMAIRGIN, decided to call the island after Eriu (Erinn being the genitive of her name, meaning "of Eriu"). The names of Fodla and Banba are still sometimes used as poetic names for Ireland.
It was at the sacred central mountain, UIS-NEACH, that Eriu greeted the invaders. One, Donn mac Mfled, replied to her demands with insults, and Eriu calmly sentenced him to death; he drowned shortly thereafter, indicating that Eriu had control over the seas as well as the land.
She may have been a cosmic goddess, for she is described as decked in rings, while her name, which derives from the word for "round," suggests that she originally may have been a solar or lunar goddess whose domain included the sky. Usually seen as a massive woman, Eriu was sometimes a long-beaked gray CROW. She was also embodied in her sacred mountain, which slowly grew as she aged.
As goddess of the center, Eriu was the one who ceremonially married the king in the INAUGURATION rite, the banais righe, that tied his fortunes to those of the land. She established the OENACH or festival at Uisneach every BELTANE (May 1), which involved markets and games as well as more sacred events, including the lighting of TWIN fires on the hilltop.
A member of the magical TUATHA DE DANANN, Eriu is described in different texts in various relationships to the other divinities: as daughter of ERNMAS, a mother goddess; as the mother of the half-Fomorian king BRES mac Elatha; as the wife of the obscure god MAC GREINE (son of the sun), also called Cethor; as the lover of ELATHA, to whom she bore Bres; and as the queen of SOVEREIGNTY who is mistress to the hero LUGH. Like so many other deities of the Tuatha De Danann, she was killed at the fierce battle of TAILTIU by the very Milesians she had welcomed. Her grave on Uisneach hill is marked by the STONE OF DIVISIONS, a huge glacial boulder that reputedly shows the map of Ireland on its cracked surface.
Irish heroine or goddess. The place-name poetry of Ireland, called the dindshen-chas, records the story of how the important RIVER Erne and the LAKE from which it rises gained their names. A noblewoman named Erne—described as "chief among the maidens of CRUACHAN," the great capital of the PROVINCE of CONNACHT—traveled there with a group of women, all of them frightened away from their own home by the sound of a gigantic voice issuing from the tiny opening of the cave called OWEYNAGAT or Cave of the Cats. Taking with her the COMB (symbol of feminine potency) of her mistress, the great queen MEDB, Erne took her party northward to a lake in which they all drowned. The motif of the woman drowned in an important water-source usually indicates an ancient goddess of the watershed.
Irish goddess. This relatively obscure Irish MOTHER GODDESS is best known for her offspring, the three goddesses of the land, FODLA, BANBA, and ERIU; the name of this goddess is also given in some ancient texts as Eirinn. Ernmas also appears as the mother of the triple war goddesses, MACHA, BADB, and the MOR-RIGAN; her name is connected with the modern Irish word embas ("death by iron" or "death by weapons").
Continental Celtic and British god. Inscriptions in Gaul describe this deity, connected by the Romans with their god of commerce, MERCURY; in England horned gods like CERNUNNOS have been linked with this obscure figure.
Esa (Esa, Ess)
Irish heroine. A minor figure in Irish mythology, Esa was the daughter of the beautiful ETAIN, a FAIRY woman reborn as a mortal, and the human king of TARA, EOCHAID Airem. When Etain’s first love, the fairy king MIDIR, came from the OTHERWORLD to reclaim her, she was pregnant with Eochaid’s daughter Esa. Eochaid later unwittingly married this same daughter, having been tricked into imagining Esa to be Etain. The daughter of Esa and Eochaid Airem was the madwoman and later queen, MESS BUACHALLA.
Continental Celtic god. Not much is known of this Gaulish god, whose name has been translated as meaning "strength" or "rapid motion" or even "anger." There is the provocative mention in the Roman author Lucan of "uncouth Esus of the barbarous altars," who was worshiped with human sacrifice in which DRUIDS read the future from the streams of blood running down victims hung in trees. Comments from other early authors link Esus to the Roman gods MERCURY and MARS, presumably indicating that he was a god of merchants and warriors.
We have as well inscriptions and altars showing Esus in the company of BULLS and CRANES or working as a woodcutter. And there are names that seem to derive from his: the Breton town of Esse, thought to have been a center of his worship; the people called the Esuvii in the same region of France; and the personal names Esugenos, "son of Esus," and Esunertus, "strong as Esus." Evidence of his cult has been found in England and Switzerland as well as France.
From this scant information—some coming from the pens of Celtic enemies and therefore suspected of the taint of bias—scholars have attempted to reconstruct the character and worship of this clearly important continental Gaulish divinity. That his victims were hung in TREES, taken together with images of Esus cutting wood, suggests a deity of vegetation whose powers were to be seen in the strong trees of the forest. The suggestive similarity between his name and that of the Christian Jesus, as well as the image of a victim hung on a tree, has led to some imaginative interpretations, most recently in the popular novel Daughter of the Shining Isles by Elizabeth Cunningham.
Welsh heroine. The original of ISEULT, the romantic figure of Arthurian legend, Esyllt was described as the wife of king March (who became king MARK in the Arthurian cycle) and the lover of his nephew TRYSTAN (who similarly became TRISTAN). Her name is believed to derive from a phrase meaning "the one gazed upon" and may be Germanic rather than Celtic in origin. But the story of her elopement with a young man, leaving behind her aging husband, recalls Celtic myths of the SOVEREIGNTY goddess.
Etain (Etaine, Aideen, Edain, Edain, Achtan)
Irish heroine or goddess. The many Irish mythological figures who bear this name are easily confused, because their myths so often involve reincarnation, disguise, and false identification. They may, indeed, all ultimately descend from or be connected with a single early source, possibly a sun goddess. The meaning of her name ("swift one") and the early epithet Echraide ("horse-rider") connect her with such equine goddesses as the continental Celtic EPONA, the Welsh RHIANNON, and the Irish MACHA. The Celts connected HORSE with the SUN, pictured as a steed that no one could outrun. There are several mythological renderings of this goddess, most notably:
• Etain, lover of MIDIR, was an OTHERWORLD woman whose affair with the FAIRY king Midir aroused the ire of his wife FUAMNACH, a DRUID and sorceress, who turned Etain into a fly. In this miserable form she flew about the world for many years until she fell into a cup of wine held by an ULSTER princess who, drinking down the cup with the insect-Etain within it, became pregnant. (Impregnation by drinking insects is a common motif in Irish mythology.) The princess gave birth to a girl whom she named Etain and who grew up to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland. When EOCHAID Airem wished to be king at TARA, he was unable to proceed with his INAUGURATION until he married, for part of the inaugural festivities demanded a queen to enact the part of the goddess of the land. Searching through the land for the most appropriate mate, he found the beautiful Etain, who had forgotten her earlier life and agreed to marry him. Their wedding and Eochaid’s inauguration were celebrated in high style, and nothing seemed to suggest a happy future would not unfold.
But if Etain had forgotten Midir, Midir remembered Etain. First he came to Tara disguised as AILILL Anglonnach, her husband’s brother, feigning illness and claiming that only the touch of Etain’s hand could soothe him. Etain reluctantly agreed to make love with him to save his life. The tangled story sometimes describes Midir as only taking on Ailill’s identity to spare Etain’s honor while having access to her. In most versions Midir is ultimately rejected by the honorable Etain.
He then conceived of a new plan to win back his love. Coming to Tara in his own identity, he challenged Eochaid to play fidchell, a game like cribbage. Eochaid believed himself to be a fine player, but he had never played against the forces of the Otherworld—or of true love. Midir won. They wagered again, and this time Eochaid’s determination to win was so strong that he put up Etain as the prize. Midir won again, and when he kissed Etain, all her memory of their former life together returned. Transforming themselves into beautiful SWANS, they flew out through the skylight at Tara, once again together in love.
The king pursued them as they fled to CRUACHAN, the capital of CONNACHT, where Etain’s maid CROCHAN gave birth to the great goddess and queen MEDB (often described as a double of Etain). Then they went to Midir’s home, the FAIRY MOUND at BRI LEITH, which Eochaid stormed in an attempt to get his wife back. But Midir was not about to lose Etain again. He sent out 50 enchanted women, all looking exactly like Etain, and dared Eochaid to chose the right one. Most of them were fairies but there were some humans among them, and Eochaid chose one of them. To his sorrow, it proved to be his own daughter, ESA, with whom Etain had been pregnant when she fled with Midir. Eochaid did not, however, find this out until he had sired a granddaughter on this daughter. While some variants say that Etain broke through the fairy GLAMOUR herself and returned to Eochaid, most versions of the tale end with her living happily ever after with her fated love Midir.
• Etain, lover of Eochaid Fedlech, was the daughter of the king ETAR. She bore Etain Og to the brother of EOCHAID Airem, whose name was Eochaid Fedlech. Such duplication of names is not uncommon in early Irish literature.
• Etain Og, daughter of the Etain above, married a king, Cormac, and bore him a daughter, for whom she had great ambitions. Because Cormac had a baby daughter from an earlier relationship, Etain Og arranged to have the baby killed. The warriors assigned to do the dire deed were, however, so charmed by the child that instead of killing her, they abandoned her in a cowshed, hoping that she would be found. And indeed, the cowherd who used the shed adopted her, and so she was called MESS BUACHALLA, the herdman’s fosterling. In some variants Mess Buachalla is the daughter of ESA rather than of Etain Og.
• Etain, lover of EOGAN Mor, was a FAIRY woman who rescued her lover, the king of MUNSTER, after his defeat at the hands of CONN of the Hundred Battles. Her home was Inis Grecraige or Beare Island in Bantry Bay; there she took care of her lover and his men until they were recovered enough to return to the fray.
• Etain of the Fair Hair (Fholtfhild), a fairy woman who lived within the Hill of Howth near Dublin, called BENN ETAIR after her father, ETAR; married to a mortal, she died of grief when he was killed. The same name was given to another fairy woman whose domain was the sea, where she lived with her father, the sea god MANANNAN MAC LIR, and her sister, CL^DNA of the waves.
• Etain, mother of CORMAC MAC AIRT; usually called ACHTAN. When the Irish hero ART MAC CUINN, lodging with a SMITH on the night before a battle, was told that any child of this Etain was fated to be king at TARA, he slept with the girl in hopes of conceiving such a son. Leaving instructions that any child conceived should be fostered by a friend in the distant province of CONNACHT, Art went to battle and to his death. Etain did conceive and, as instructed, traveled to Connacht to give birth in the foster father’s home, but a great storm forced her to take cover, during which her labor began. Wandering off to find help after giving birth to Cormac, Etain returned to find the child gone, for a female WOLF had adopted him. Cormac’s wolf-mother raised him to boyhood, and he and Etain were reunited when he claimed the throne of Tara.
Irish goddess. Often confused with ETAIN, this name identifies a goddess of crafts, daughter of the healer god DIAN CECHT and wife of OGMA, god of eloquence. Several other minor figures, including a mistress of the hero CUCHU-LAINN, also bear the name.
Etar (Etair, Eadar)
Irish hero. A minor figure in legends of the beautiful romantic heroine or goddess ETAIN, Etar is sometimes described as Etain’s father in her human reincarnation. In other versions of the story, she is conceived immaculately by a queen who drinks up a worm in her wine, and Etar is her stepfather or foster father. Etar gave his name ("great") to the Hill of Howth near Dublin, called in Irish BENN ETAIR. He is said to have been the mate of AINE, the sun goddess who was daughter or lover of the sea god, MANANNAN MAC LIR. For her wedding gift to him, Aine gave Etar a golden chain that protected him both against drowning and against human weapons. He was not protected against dying of love, however, and when he died of a broken heart after Aine rejected him, he was buried at Howth. In some texts, Etar appears as a woman who similarly died of love, but whether this indicates another being or an original androgynous god is not known.
Anbuail Irish hero. The father of the romantic heroine CAER, beloved of AONGHUS Og, the god of arts, Ethal Anbuail was described as a FAIRY king of CONNACHT.
Arthurian symbol. The most famous sword in European history, Excalibur belonged to king ARTHUR of CAMELOT, to whom it was given by the mysterious and magical LADY OF THE LAKE. Excalibur is often confused with the unnamed sword that Arthur, as a youth, extracted from a massive rock in which it had been magically embedded by the great magician MERLIN. A prophecy that the man who could withdraw the sword would become Britain’s king brought many knights to make the attempt, but all failed until the young Arthur withdrew it as easily as though it had been in butter. When he later broke that sword in combat, Arthur was given Excalibur, made by the magical SMITH WAYLAND. The special property of Excalibur was that its scabbard protected its possessor from all wounds.
But Arthur’s sister MORGAUSE (sometimes, MORGAN), in league with his son/nephew and enemy MORDRED, stole the scabbard from Excalibur, leaving Arthur vulnerable. Wounded in his final battle, Arthur heaved the sword into a lake, from which a mysterious womanly hand emerged, presumably that of the Lady of the Lake. Should Arthur reappear to lead his land again, it is said that the great sword will be ready for his hand.
The name Excalibur is a corruption of the Welsh Caladfwlch, which became Caliburn and, through a false connection with Latin, finally Excalibur. Connections have been drawn with CALADBOU, or "hard fighter," the sword wielded by the great Irish hero FERGUS mac Roich.
Symbolic object. Some cultures have believed that the soul could exist outside the body: in a stone, for instance, or a tree. Several Celtic myths allude to this belief: The queen CRED fell upon and crushed the soul of her beloved CANO MAC GARTNAIN; the hero CUCHULAINN killed his rival CU ROI by catching a SALMON that hid his soul. In addition, folklore describes moths or butterflies—and occasionally, BEES—which appear after a person’s death and which hold their escaping soul.
Symbolic object. A common and complex symbol, the eye has spiritual significance both around the world and in Celtic lands. An earlier (probably Neolithic or New Stone Age) European cult surrounding an Eye Goddess is detected behind the carved eye-like spirals that peer from rocks throughout the Celtic lands; that pre-Celtic goddess may have influenced the conception of the CAILLEACH, noted for her single eye. Many such one-eyed beings are interpreted as solar powers. As a SUN goddess, the Cailleach would represent the weaker sun of winter, for she is invariably associated with the storms of that season; her alternative form is found in Scotland as Bride, the summer maiden, but whether that figure is connected with the Irish goddess of spring’s awakening, BRIGIT, is difficult to determine. The evil-eyed FOMORIAN king, BALOR, is similarly associated with the winter season, when his single eye blighted vegetation.
Irish Brigit’s connection with the eye, and therefore potentially with the sun, is greatly strengthened by the dedication of many Irish holy WELLS to her. While offering HEALING powers against many diseases, the wells were held to be especially effective in curing eye diseases. While the ritual varied slightly from region to region, typically one was to rise at dawn, perform the well’s PATTERN or prescribed ritual actions, then bathe the eyes in the well’s water. Diseases that might cause blindness, such as glaucoma and diabetes, were equally likely to be cured by the water of holy wells.
Irish belief in the magical powers of sight included SECOND SIGHT, the ability to see things at a distance or before they happened, and the evil eye, in which a spiteful person could curse another merely with a glance. The envious could, it was believed, gain possession of an object by looking at it with ill intent. Squinting—common among the nearsighted—was sometimes interpreted as casting a CURSE. Precautions against the evil eye, including verbal CHARMS and protective gestures, were common in rural Ireland into the 19th century. In Scotland, too, there was a fear of the power of the evil eye, which was believed to result from covetousness or envy; someone looking upon another’s fortune with resentment could destroy that good luck. "Envy splits the rocks," a Scottish proverb warned. Healthy animals could die, people be struck down by an illness impossible to diagnose, houses burn to the ground—all from a mere glance. To assure oneself of protection against such ill fortune, Scottish people took precautions: not allowing animals into the barn with full bladders, putting sixpence in a bowl of water, wearing RED thread around the neck.