Irish Myth Cycles
The myths and legends of a people are central to it's religion. It is from these stories that we derive our attitudes towards people and nature, and understand our deities. The famous and infamous deeds of a people's past, human and divine, provide a sense of continuity and oneness within a culture, and teach us that which we need to learn.
Irish mythology contains five major myth cycles. Within each major cycle are more cycles, and each of the four ancient provinces of Ireland has some indigenous mythology. This opulent lore provides the main source for the goddesses, gods, and celebrations integral to the Wittan religion. The ordinary human invaders of Ireland also impacted the lives of the Irish people. The Celts, the Norse, the early Roman Church, and refugees from the Spanish Inquisition each contributed their beliefs and practices to the native religion.
Most Irish myths were recorded between 500 and 800 c.e., though they were many centuries older. Surprisingly, many were recorded by Christian monks seeking to preserve Irish history. Others were written down by native pagans. Many of the stories have been by the patriarchy who recorded the them, and it is apparent in the style and content of the lore. Other legends survived through oral tradition and were not recorded until centuries later. In modern Ireland, the role of the minstrel is still a part of rural life. Many of the native myths and legends, like society itself, been changed by the dominant cultures who had much to gain by the alterations. Wherever a god is dominant over a goddess, or a hero has power independent of a heroine, it is generally indicative of a later tale or an alteration in the original story. Wittans saw a balance between the male female aspects, and the stories that do not reflect this are suspect.
The Book of Armagh, the Book of the Dun Cow, the Yellow Book of Lechan, the Book of Leinster are the primary writings in which the Irish myths were recorded. These can be found in translation in some college libraries or through Irish booksellers. Books on Irish mythology are abundant and condensed forms of the myths can be purchased almost anywhere there are books for sale. Even easier to find are collections of stories based on these books.
The Irish invasion myth cycles have five components and involve a several invader races of faery-like folks and deities who conquered the land. They were the Partholans, the Nemed, the Firbologs, the Tutha De Danann (who had the most profound effect on the Wittan religion), and the Milesians, a relative of the Celts.
The Celts believed themselves to be descendants of the Goddess and God of the underworld, Dealgnaid and her consort Parthalon. They came to Ireland from the west, the recognized home of the dead. The Partholans were believed to have carved the face of Ireland out of the bareness and created the lakes, rivers, and green groves, and brought with them the animals and fish.
First came Formorians who brought a plague to Partholan and his legions. The Formorians, who were in essence sea creatures, soon left Ireland empty for further occupation; partially due to their conflict with Finn MacCool, a giant who inhabited and protected Ireland. Today the Formorians are sea monsters or faeries who rove the Irish coast.
The second invader race was the Nemed, named for their leader, a cousin of Partholan. The Nemed were a dark people who came to Ireland from the south (many scholars believe they may have been would-be invaders from the Iberian Peninsula in what is now Spain). Sadly for the Nemed, they were unsuccessful and the Formorians killed all but thirty men. The Nemed's greatest contribution to Irish paganism was belief in the Morrigu, a fierce triple goddess which consisted only of crone aspects. The names of the Morrigu are Babd, Nemain, and Macha.
The Firbologs came next. Another faery invader race they play a very small role in the mythological history of the Ireland, and are often considered inferior. The Firbologs were inept warriors, and apparently failed so miserably in their endeavor that even the few remaining Formorians did not bother with them.
Then came the Tutha De Danann, the last faery race of Ireland, with them came most of the goddesses and gods of the Irish pantheon. Arriving at Bealtaine, they had defeated the remaining Formorians and the inept Firbolgian fighters by the Summer Solstice. Their goddess, Dana, became the first Great Mother goddess of Ireland. Dana, later renamed Brigid, was the goddess of childbirth, poetry, music, creative endeavors, smithing, crafting, metallurgy, animal husbandry, and agriculture.
Unlike the Partholand, Nemed, and Firbologs, the Tutha De Danann came from the heavens, the direction of the elusive fifth element, spirit. In the form of a circle, the Tutha created four great cities, each presiding over a separate race of fey: Falias, Finias, Gorias, and Murias. Eventually, they too were defeated and went underground where they remain today as the faery folk of Ireland.
It was the Tutha who gave the right of ruler ship to the high kings. The Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny, was stood upon by the kings at coronation. This stone did exist, and was used in Scotland as late as the tenth century to crown Scottish royalty; it can still be seen if one travels to Perth. This myth implies the much earlier concept that it was Dana who was the true giver of royal authority. The idea that a king must have a queen to rule comes from the ancient belief that all things, living or inanimate, were born of the Great Mother deity.
The last of the invaders were the Milesians, a cousin of the Celts. From them were born the first human legends of Ireland culminating in heroic tales of the warrior Queen Madb of Connacht and the most revered high king of Ireland, Brian Boru.
Suggested Pdf Resources
- Irish Mythology in the Arthurian Legend
- with Irish mythology, it shows its themes and motifs as well as the division of the stories into four cycles.
- The Lebor Gabála Érenn at a Glance: an Overview of the 11th
- The LGE is one of the primary sources of information about the earliest period of Irish mythology, the so-called Mythological Cycle.
- Rhetoric of Myth, Magic, and Conversion: Ancient Irish Rhetoric
- myths and the three major cycles of Irish legend.
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- Irish myths and legends. The ancient tales of Ireland are usually divided into four cycles, or groups of related stories: 1. The Mythological Cycle.
- Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore
- Monaghan, Patricia. The encyclopedia of Celtic mythology and folklore / Patricia Monaghan. ..
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Suggested Web Resources
- Irish Mythology, Mythological Cycle, Ulster Cycle, Fenian Cycle, Folk
- Irish mythology page about the Mythological Cycle, Ulster Cycle, Fenian Cycle, Irish Folk tales and legend.
- Amazon.com: The Irish mythological cycle and Celtic mythology
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