Celtic Myths, Part 2: Isle of Man, Isle of Delights

250px-The_Isle_of_Man.svg   I knew some of my favorite Celtic fairy tales came from the Isle of Man, but I didn’t know where the Isle of Man was. Apparently Ellan Vannin is a small island located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland.

The Ben-Varrey (The Mermaid)

When a distinctive Manx literature began to emerge in around the sixteenth century AD, scholars noted its similarities to the mythology of Ireland. The legendary exploits of Finn Mac Cumhaill (“Fin McCool”) and Ossian, the great Irish heroes, were told and retold here.

“The Ben-Varrey” is a Manx version of a tale which also appears in the Western Isles of Scotland and in Ireland and Brittany. Celtic storytellers are especially fond of this story because it evokes the enchanted menace of the rocky and tempestuous Manx coastline where so many have perished. Continue reading

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Celtic Myths, Part 1: Ireland’s Long Lament

This weeBrian_pig-skin_Millark I’m beginning a series on Celtic mythology. We’ll be looking at some of my favorite stories from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and the Isle of Man.

The Celts lived in England and northern Europe from pre-Christian times. Some scholars believe they migrated from India because of similarities between the ancient Celtic and Vedic languages. Their culture has always been characterized by a fascination with mystery, mysticism, and enchantment, and what I love about Celtic myth is the amount of imagination they put into it, how it seems to expand forever in all directions, constantly revealing new secrets to scare and surprise us. Continue reading

A Menagerie of Magical Creatures (Part 2)

[ This week I’ve been sharing some of my favorite fantastic beasts from the Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. You can go here to see the first half of the alphabet. ]

Nidhoggr

          The dragon of death in the Voluspa, the Niddoghr drinks blood and eats the flesh of corpses. After Ragnorok at the ending of the world it will live in Nidavellir. It gnaws endlessly upon the roots of the world tree Yggdrasil. In later Christian times Nidhoggr was not forsaken, becoming the dragon who tormented the dead in the bowels of hell at the spring of Hvergelmir.

 

woodblock2 O Goncho

          A gigantic white winged dragon from the traditions of Japan. The O Goncho inhabited a particular stretch of water near Yamahiro. Every fifty years it transformed into a golden bird with a cry resembling the howl of a wolf.

 

The Oats Goat

          The name of the spirit of growing oats. Children are warned to stay away from him. Sometimes there are two goats, a man and a woman.

Ogre

          In George Macdonald’s novel Phantastes, the ogre refers to a sinister, pointy-toothed woman who tricks the hero into looking into a certain cupboard by telling him not to.

 

Olgoi-Khorkol

          Also known as the Mongolian Death Worm, the Olgoi-Khorkal is said to live in the Gobi Desert, where it grows up to four feet long, spits corrosive poison, and delivers a devastating electric shock that has been known to kill animals as large as a camel.

 

Polewiki

          In Polish mythology, these are field spirits who have the appearance of dwarves with multi-colored eyes and grass instead of hair. They are usually seen at noon or dusk, vigilantly ensuring that everyone is working hard, tending the fields. They are dressed in white or black, with no other colors. They cause people to lose their sense of direction, and they have been known to ride over sleeping people with their horses. If anyone falls asleep on the job, they may kill him. The way to appease them is to offer them two eggs, a cockerel, a toad, and a crow placed unseen in a ditch.

 

Pombero

          The Pombero is an Elf in Argentinian folklore who can impregnate women with the touch of his hand, but is fond of children and, if you offer him a cigarette, will help you find anything that you’ve lost.

 

Revolving Beast

          In the Irish story “The Voyage of Maelduin,” the travelers land on an island where they encounter a horrific sight: a giant beast revolving itself inside its own skin, contorting its bones and assuming ever-changing shapes so that no one could say what it really was. Rearing from side to side, it caught sight of Maelduin and his men, pursuing them by casting stones as they made their escape.

 

Saehrimnir

          The ever-renewing pig that reappears on a roast every night, fully cooked, in Irish and Norse mythology.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASalmon

          In Celtic tradition, the Salmon of Wisdom is one of the most important magical creatures, having a memory that stretches back to the beginning of the world.

 

Samas

          The Mesopotamian Lion Man, shown as a man above the waist and a lion below, stands upright and carries a staff. He is also called “Uridimmus” or “Mad Lion.”

 

Sylph

          In European magical lore, a sylph is an elemental spirit of the air. The leader of the sylphs, who are invoked in magical workings where the cooperation of the winds is required, is called Paralda.

 

Tan-Tak-Kle-Ah

          This frightening creature, whose name means “Owl-Woman-Monster,” was reported among several tribes of North America, including the Yakama and the Shasta. She is described as an evil old woman who carries a basket and is heard calling out at twilight, “Owl is lost.” Those who follow the sound of her voice meet a terrible end.

 

Toad

          In Japan there’s a story about a little girl whose father had promised to sacrifice her to the Rain Serpent if it made rain come. She, however, killed the serpent.

That same day she met an old woman, who was really the Mother of Toads, and expressed gratitude to the girl for having killed the dangerous Killer of Toads, all of whom were her great-grandchildren. She gave the girl a toad skin, by means of which she could disguise herself in any shape she wished. The girl went to the royal palace disguised as an old woman and was taken on as a cook. In time she revealed herself in her true shape to a prince who fell in love with her and married her immediately.

 

Urus

          The Urus was a huge bull with saw-toothed horns that it used to cut down trees. The only way to capture an Urus was to wait until it accidentally drank seawater, which made it disoriented and confused so that it stabbed the ground with its horns or became entangled in the trees it was attempting to fell.

 

Whist Hounds

          Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, is said to lead a phantom procession of headless hounds that precedes the hearse of the dead.

“His Strong Heart Stirs the Ever-Beating Sea”

Edinburgh_gora_Artura

Today was the first day of this year that actually felt like fall. Like October.

It was a windy day, cool and dark. Half the leaves on our trees are still green, but the other half have already died, and there are brown patches in the yard where the grass is dying. There was no sun. The clouds were a strange color: not quite gray and not quite blue, but somehow both.

This time of year always produces conflicted feelings. So many bad things seem to happen in October and November, and the whole world is graying and mournful. Appropriate, I guess; elegant in its own way; yet also terrible and bleak and unutterably sad.

But it isn’t evil. It feels right, somehow. Right for this time of year. Continue reading