A widow and her little boy lived in a cottage near Rothley, Northumberland. One Winters night the child was very lively and would not go to bed as he wished to sit up for a while longer, "for," said he, "I am not sleepy." The mother finding remonstrance in vain, at last told him that if he sat up by himself the faries would most certainly come and take him away.
The Nimble Men or Merry Dancers were the names given by Highlanders to the Aurora Borealis. In SCOTTISH FOLK LORE AND FOLK LIFE, by Mackenzie, gives a good account of the tradition about the Fir Chlis (Merry Dancers), distinguishing their 'everlasting battle' from the more hurtful activities of the Sluagh. He himself was told of the 'Nimble Men' engaging in fights between the clans of two chiefs, rivals for the possession of a fairy lady.
Stachys is a genus of about 300 species of annual and perennial herbaceous plants and shrubs in the family Lamiaceae. The distribution of the genus covers Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia and North America. Common names include Heal-all, self-heal, woundwort, betony, lamb's ears, hedgenettle, Stachys betonica, lousewort, purple betony, bishopwort, bishop's elder, spiked betony, and St. Bride's comb. There are five species of Stachys growing wild in England - the once much-valued Betony (S. Betonica); the Marsh Stachys, or Clown's Woundwort (S. palustris); the true Woundwort (S. Germanica), a doubtful native, occurring occasionally on limestone soils in England, but very common on the Continent, where the dense covering of its leaves was at one time in rustic surgery employed in the place of lint for dressing wounds, the low-creeping Field Stachys (S. arvensis); and the Hedge Stachys, or Hedge Woundwort (S. sylvatica), perhaps the commonest of them all. This plant can still be found growing wild in New York and Massachusetts, but it is protected some places, like in Northern Ireland.
The blackthorn has a long and often sinister history, associated with witchcraft and murder, but it is also associated with the concept of the cycle of life and death and protection not to mention its practical physical uses. Prunus spinosa. Deciduous. Family Rosaceae (the large rose family).
Book of Invasions
The Irish book of Invasions was compiled in the 12th century and alludes to several successful waves of mythical invasions of Ireland The narrative assembled under the title "Lebor Gabala Erenn" meaning The Book of the Taking of Ireland or the Book of Invasions are the literary embodiment of Ireland's own impressions regarding the history of her population. For the early Irish they served somewhat the same functions as the accounts of the wandering of Aeneas did for the Romans.
Translated as meaning 'hostels', the bruidne of ancient Ireland are depicted as centres of hospitality where all were welcome. A great cauldron maintained in each bruiden would feed everyone, no matter how many; feasting, drinking and general merriment were the order of the day. The bruidne were, in fact, temples and mystical centres of certain ancient religions.
The cauldron was the prime female symbol of the pre-Christian world. Among the Celts, the Three Matriarchs kept the Magic Cauldron of Regeneration at the bottom of a lake, until it was brought up by Bran the Blessed to resuscitate men slain in battle. This Celt god moved on into the Grail cycle of myths, as Bron the Fisher King, and his cauldron became confused with the Christian version of the lifegiving, blood-filled vessel. There can be no doubt that the cauldron represented the womb of the Great Goddess, who was often a trinity. It is certain also that men used to believe their reincarnation and rebirth depended upon entering such a uterine vessel to be reconstituted by its magic. Celtic cauldrons of regeneration came from the Land Beneath the Waves because the Sea Goddess was held to be the universal birth-giver. The god Cernunnos was dismembered and boiled in a cauldron in order to rise again from the dead. A boiling cauldron gave rebirth and/or magic power to Taliesin.
Cauldrons continued to be worshiped as symbols of the universal womb even into Christian times, as long as pagans met together to carry on their religion.
In ancient Celtic myth there were several cauldrons dispensing variously the properties of life, death, inspiration and wisdom. It is generally understood that these gave way in time to the image of the Holy Grail and became incorporated into the Hallows of Britain. Arthur went in search of such a cauldron to the very gates of Annwn. Bran possessed a cauldron which re-animated dead men. In the story of Taliesin, Ceridwen owned a cauldron which gave inspiration.
Up until 150 years ago a baby had only an even chance of living past its 5th birthday, because so much of child birth was bound to death there are many superstitions and magical practices linked to childbirth, also many omens were used to provide future well being for a child by its parents.
To resolve the paradox of the Celtic Birth Myths, they must be regarded as symbols of the transcendental meaning of birth, of what birth is from the point of view of the unseen world. From an earthly standpoint a child is conceived inadvertently during the course of its parents' conjugal relations, without the intervention of any other agency. But from the point of view of the supernatural world, the child's birth is destined, the parents are chosen, the time and place are ordained, and the earthly life of the child is 'pre-figured' before he is conceived.
Some accounts speak of how the Celts would roar and bang on their shield taunting their enemies prior to rushing into the battle. (The Celts believed in what was called "furor" or a spiritual frenzy while in battle) They were known to be barbaric but also excellent warriors. It was once said that the Celts could be seen going into battle naked. This can be found in Roman texts about the Celts.
A version of the story of the Fairy Widower, which appears in Robert Hunt's, Popular Romances of the West of England, pages 120-126. It is very closely allied to 'Jenny Permuen', also to be found in Hunt. 'Cherry of Zennor' is a curious story, and throws a number of side-lights on fairy beliefs. Sometimes one is tempted to believe that the story had a naturalistic foundation, and that it is an unsophisticated girl's interpretation of a human experience. On the other hand, it gives one quite a picture of the real traditions of underground Fairyland, such as that which was entered by True Thomas.
Corpse candles and other related phenomena
A Corpse candle or light is a flame or ball of light that is seen to travel just above the ground on the route from the cemetery to the dying person's house and back again. A Corpse Fire is very similar as the name comes from lights appearing specifically within graveyards where it was believed the lights were an omen of death or coming tragedy and would mark the route of a future funeral, from the victim's house to the graveyard.
Corpse roads provided a practical means of allowing the transport of corpses to cemeteries that had burial rights. In Britain, such routes can also be known by a number of other names: bier road, burial road, coffin road, coffin line, lyke or lych way, funeral road, procession way, etc. Such "church-ways" have developed a great deal of associated folklore regarding wraiths, spirits, ghosts, and such-like.
An idol set up on the plain of Magh Slécht, 'Plain of Adoration', near the present village of Ballymagauran, in County Cavan. It was created by King Tigernmas. Known as 'Lord of Death', Tigernmas is credited with the introduction of gold mining and of silverwork to Ireland. Some authorities have it that Tigernmas was a renegade Roman legion commander; this may be supported by the nature of the cult of Crom which has strong Eastern connections. Crom is notable in that children ('first-born') were sacrificed to him at Samhain, amidst general mayhem and orgiastic activities. In a very old legend, found in the Dinnsenchus in the Book of Leinster, it is related that many centuries before the Christian era, King Tigerumas [Teernmas] and crowds of his people were destroyed in some mysterious way, as they were worshipping it on Samain Eve - the eve of the 1st November.
Cú Chulainn is confronted by swans once again as a man, at the great feast of Samhain, which is being celebrated by the Ulster men beside a loch. A flock of beautiful birds alights on the water, Cú Chulainn demonstrates his skill by capturing all of them and giving them to the women, who desire to wear a bird on each shoulder. Only Cú Chulainn’s wife does not get any birds and she is greatly incensed by this. Her husband promises her two of the finest swans he can find.
CUCHULAIN, THE BOYHOOD DEEDS OF
Among the most striking of the many narratives dealing with CuChulain is a group of episodes from his childhood. The incidents in the selection brought in Cross and Slover's ANCIENT IRISH TALES not only serve to illustrate his precocity, a trait which is widespread among heroes of the folk, but also to exemplify the conditions of child-fosterage among the ancient Irish. This and other tales of CuChu-lain's youth are incorporated in the great Ulster epic 'The Cattle-Raid of Cooley', where they are represented as told to King Ailill and Queen Medb of Connacht by several of the Ulster exiles enlisted in the Connacht army. They form a body of tradition which was probably old at the time when the epic was composed.
Sailors dreaded the melancholy cry of a curlew, for they believed that it was a warning from a drowned friend. In parts of Scotland the bird is called a whaup, and it is associated with a long beaked goblin who carries of evil doers at night.
Ó hÓgáin gives an account of the Mythological Cycle, a collective term applied to the stories in Irish literature which describe the doings of otherworld characters. The central theme was concerned with the successive invasions of Ireland by supernatural clans. These series of invasions are described in the Lebor Gabála or Book of Invasions.These stories do not form as strong or cohesive a narrative tradition as do the Ulster and Fenian Cycles, but they all center on the Túatha Dé Danan
This is considered by some to be older than the tales of the Ultonian (Ulster / Red Branch) cycle, as the main occupation is that of hunting. The Fenian Cycle, or Ossianic cycle, recounts the exploits of Finn Mac Cumhail , whose name means 'the Fair One', and his companions and deals with the cult and institution of warriors, The Fenians, or Fianna.
There are many tales to explain the origin of the spectral wild hunt, this one is from the Parish of St Germans in Cornwall. It explains how a priest with low morals became a demon huntsman.
In the medieval period the priest of the parish of St Germans was called Dando. Dando was not a figure of priestly virtue but abused his powers to enjoy earthly delights.
The belief that fairies were elementals - creatures made only of earth, fire, air or water - seems to have been common amongst medieval magicians, who devised complex spells and rituals for raising them and using there powers. One ritual recorded in an early 15th century manuscript now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, involves stripping the bark from three hazel wands, writing the fairies name on the wood, and burying the wands ‘under some hill whereas you suppose fairies haunt’. The fairy will come if she is called on the following Friday, after the wands have been dug up.