11 September 2010

Tuatha de Danann and Immortality

"The Faerie Grove" by Howard David Johnson
Part of this entry is a blurb about a book, and part of it draws from my inner (and not so inner) nerdy fascination with history, and in particular, Ancient Rome. You’ve been warned.

I’m currently reading Amber Wolfe’s book Druid Power: Celtic Faerie Craft & Elemental Magic. I’m not very far into it yet--as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve had a lot going on lately--but what I’ve read thus far has intrigued me, particularly a section concerning the Tuatha de Danann not as pure myth or archetype, but as a Celtic tribe in a historical, even human sense. Wolfe takes the stories of the Children of Danu and presents them in a realistic light, rather than a mythological realm distant and separate from historical humanity, which is how I’m accustomed to encountering them in reading (excluding the fabulous and fictional Sevenwaters Trilogy and other of Juliet Marillier’s Celtic-history-inspired works). Wolfe traces the Tuatha de Danann as human--although powerful, clever, and ahead of their time--ancestors of modern Celts, weaving their mystic lineage throughout the blood of their descendents by mingling with the Milesian Celts who took the physical realm of Ireland from them. However, while relegated to guardianship of the elemental powers of the Earth, they did not fade with time, and this may have been entirely intentional; Wolfe proposes that “pioneers of any sort invariably have that star quality that often leads them to become legends, even in their own time. This is particularly effective when it is planned, and [she believes] the de Danann planned their own legends” (49). Of course, this is all conjecture on Wolfe’s part, which she admits at the outset, although she appears to have done her research. I’ll see how I feel about it at the end of the book.

Thinking about this whole concept--humanity in history approaching divinity in myth and legend--reminds me of my studies of Latin from high school. I know, I’m a nerd. I’ve never been ashamed of that fact nor attempted to hide it. Regardless, I devoted a lot of years to the Latin language and Roman history and culture, and one of the things I learned that stuck with me most was the Roman concept of immortality: one would never truly die, provided that one was remembered. As long as someone alive, somewhere in the world, remembered your name and who you were, you were immortal. Thus, by the Roman definition, the Tuatha de Danann, among many others throughout history, have reached a state of immortality. The irony that the Children of Danu were said to be immortal in myths surrounding their exploits is not lost on me either. This concept has colored--maybe even tainted--my thinking in other areas, and I apply it to my work with my deities and my approach to other religions. Provided that their names and aspects are remembered, even if only as folklore, the gods never died. They still exist. They’re out there, waiting to be worshiped. However, this also leads me to the thought that a god is only as powerful as his followers. Deities can live through memory, but can only become potent through belief. It’s a thought I’ve been entertaining for a while now, and reading about the Children of Danu and other ancient Celts inspired me to blog about it.

The Roman definition of immortality seems to have permeated their culture; just look at the great lengths their generals would go to in order to win fame, the epic works recorded by poets like Virgil, Martial, Catullus (my personal favorite, although he wasn’t an epic-writer), the emphasis of recording everyone and everything. As long as your name and a poem was prescribed on a wall somewhere, and someone read it, your spirit was alive. You were immortal. Caesar, Pliny, Cato, Cicero, Pompey, Marcus Aurellius, Octavian: all names remembered, all now immortal. Just something to think about and mull over as Autumn continues to creep in, preparing the way for Winter, and the surface of the Earth begins to fade and die. However, while not all things in nature are immortal, the cycle’s promise remains that all things will be reborn on the other side.

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