Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Celts and the Marriage of Heaven and Earth


The Celts and the Marriage of Heaven and Earth
Whether the early Celts regarded Heaven and Earth as husband and wife is uncertain. Such a conception is world-wide, and myth frequently explains in different ways the reason of the separation of the two. Among the Polynesians the children of heaven and earth—the winds, forests, and seas personified—angry at being crushed between their parents in darkness, rose up and separated them. This is in effect the Greek myth of Uranus, or Heaven, and Gæa, or Earth, divorced by their son Kronos, just as in Hindu myth Dyaus, or Sky, and Prithivi, or Earth, were separated by Indra. Uranus in Greece gave place to Zeus, and, in India, Dyaus became subordinate to Indra. Thus the primitive Heaven personified recedes, and his place is taken by a more individualised god. But generally Mother Earth remains a constant quantity. Earth was nearer man and was more unchanging than the inconstant sky, while as the producer of the fruits of the earth, she was regarded as the source of all things, and frequently remained as an important divinity when a crowd of other divinities became prominent. This is especially true of agricultural peoples, who propitiate Earth with sacrifice, worship her with orgiastic rites, or assist her processes by magic. With advancing civilisation such a goddess is still remembered as the friend of man, and, as in the Eleusinia, is represented sorrowing and
rejoicing like man himself. Or where a higher religion ousts the older one, the ritual is still retained among the folk, though its meaning may be forgotten.
The Celts may thus have possessed the Heaven and Earth myth, but all trace of it has perished. There are, however, remnants of myths showing how the sky is supported by trees, a mountain, or by pillars. A high mountain near the sources of the Rhone was called "the column of the sun," and was so lofty as to hide the sun from the people of the south. It may have been regarded as supporting the sky, while the sun moved round it. In an old Irish hymn and its gloss, Brigit and Patrick are compared to the two pillars of the world, probably alluding to some old myth of sky or earth resting on pillars.Traces of this also exist in folk-belief, as in the accounts of islands resting on four pillars, or as in the legend of the church of Kernitou which rests on four pillars on a congealed sea and which will be submerged when the sea liquefies—a combination of the cosmogonic myth with that of a great inundation. In some mythologies a bridge or ladder connects heaven and earth. There may be a survival of some such myth in an Irish poem which speaks of the drochet bethad, or "bridge of life," or in the drochaid na flaitheanas, or "bridge of heaven," of Hebridean folk-lore.
Those gods who were connected with the sky may have been held to dwell there or on the mountain supporting it. Others, like the Celtic Dispater, dwelt underground. Some were connected with mounds and hills, or were supposed to have taken up their abode in them. Others, again, dwelt in a distant region, the Celtic Elysium, which, once the Celts reached the sea, became a far-off island. Those divinities 
worshipped in groves were believed to dwell there and to manifest themselves at midday or midnight, while such objects of nature as rivers, wells, and trees were held to be the abode of gods or spirits. Thus it is doubtful whether the Celts ever thought of their gods as dwelling in one Olympus. The Tuatha Dé Danann are said to have come from heaven, but this may be the mere assertion of some scribe who knew not what to make of this group of beings.