Dark Beings of Lughnasadh Jul 31, 2016 3:33:27 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Jul 31, 2016 3:33:27 GMT -5
Dark Beings of Lughnasadh
Lengthening shadows are an indication the days are slowly growing shorter as the Wheel of the Year turns. Twilight is now rife with legends of darker ones who stalk the long nights. The faeries of English and Scottish folklore have been classified in a variety of ways. Two of the most prominent categories, derived from Scottish folklore, are the Seelie Court and Unseelie Court.
The Unseelie Court. The Seelie court – “The Shining Throne,” “The Golden Ones” and “The Summer Court” – are giving way to The Unseelie Court (above), which is made of darkly-inclined fairies. They appear at night and are said to assault travelers, often carrying them through the air, beating them and forcing them to commit unsavory acts. The time of the Seelies has ended, their reign begins with the Imbolc light and ends at Midsummer, the shortest night of the year. But the Unseelie thrive in darkness and grow more powerful until Samhain, their finest hour. It starts now, with the first Harvest, as darkness quickens upon the air around us.
These darker beings are faeries that go bump in the night. Members of the Unseelie Court generally dislike humans and when they play their tricks, they would rather harm than help. Passion conquers love. Dark rules over light. The Unseelie way is passionate and pragmatic. They stand for the principles of constant change and impulsive action and have a reputation for fostering war and madness. They despise the weak and value freedom and wild abandon and scoff at chivalry. The Unseelie consider themselves radical visionaries, bringing about vital change and transformation.
In Norse mythology, Light elves were beautiful creatures considered to be “guardian angels.” The god Freyr, was the ruler of Alfheim, the home of the light elves. Light elves were minor gods of nature and fertility who could help or hinder humans with their magical powers, and inspired art and music.
Dark Elves. These were the opposite of the Light Elves and resided in Svartálfheim. The Dark Elves hated the sun and it’s light because if they were touched or exposed to sunlight, they would immediately turn into stone. They loved to annoy and threaten humans and it was believed these dark beings produced nightmares. The Dark Elves would sit on a sleeping person’s chest and whisper bad dreams into his ear to haunt him. They could also haunt animals, especially horses.
The Sidhe. The pronunciation of Sidhe is shee. It is the Sidhe are a distinct race, different from human beings, but who have had contact with mortals throughout the centuries. Belief in this other race of beings who possessed powers beyond those of man to move quickly through the air and shape-shift at will were once prevalent in rural Ireland and Scotland.
The Sidhe of subterranean mounds were once believed by the Irish to be the descendants of the old agricultural Earth gods – one of the most important being Crom Cruaich, the Crooked One of the Hill. These gods controlled the ripening of the crops and milk yields of cattle, therefore, they required frequent offerings. In the Book of Leinster, we learn that following conquest, the Tuatha De Danaan took revenge on the sons of Mil by destroying their wheat and the goodness of the milk. The sons of Mil were thus forced to enter into a treaty with the Sidhe and since that time, the people of Ireland have honored this treaty by leaving offerings of milk and butter for the “Good People.”
Crom Cruach, the other Wicker man. Crom Cruach, also called “Crom Dubh,” was a god of pre-Christian Ireland. The festival for Crom Cruach was called Domhnach Crom Dubh (Crom Dubh Sunday). According to Christian history, he was propitiated by human sacrifice and worship of this particular god was ended by Saint Patrick. The references in the 12th century dinsenchas poem regarding sacrifice in exchange for milk and grain suggest that one of Crom’s functions was that of a fertility god. The description of his image as a gold figure surrounded by 12 stone or bronze figures has been interpreted by some to represent the sun surrounded by the signs of the zodiac, suggesting he was also a solar deity. Human sacrifices to Crom Dubh were necessary to ensure a rich harvest and fair weather.
The legend of Crom Cruach is a sinister one. The ancient texts of the Metrical Dindshenchas claim the people of Ireland worshiped the god by offering up their firstborn child in return for a plentiful harvest in the coming year. Crom Dubh, the “dark, stooped one,” who lived in the underworld, emerged around the time of what is now August 1 to claim the “first fruits,” in the form of Eithne the corn maiden, and then carried her on his back – hence his stoop – down to the underworld. He enjoyed unreserved worship in Ireland and other Celtic countries before the church and tribal wars brought about the cultural and ethnic genocide of old Europe.
The Burry Man. Every August in Queensferry, near Edinburgh, the Burry Man is the primary figure in an annual ritual in which a local man is covered from head to foot in thistle burrs. He is paraded through the town at a snail’s pace supported by two assistants. For almost nine hours, he is required to remain in costume, often in sweltering heat, and can lose close to 14 pounds in body weight. He must drink through a straw and is sustained by a few wee drams and lots of water.
The significance of the ceremony has been lost in the mists of time, but could been a ritual to seek good fortune for the harvest or community. Warding off evil spirits, connecting with nature and celebrating local identity could lead one to believe the man in costume is suffering some sort of medieval punishment, but actually, it is considered a great honor to be the Burry Man. Another suggestion is that the Burry Man is a scapegoat figure with the burrs representing the guilt of the village being collected and driven out.
Odin. It was also in August that the god Odin sacrificed himself on the World Tree to gain knowledge of the runes. He hanged there for nine days and nights, staring into the abyss, pierced by a lance and losing one of his eyes in the process.
Blood and Bacchus. The grape harvest also begins at Lughnasadh. Bread is considered the body of the sacrificed god and wine is his blood. The ancients believed the inebriated state induced by wine was sacred. In the myth of Dionysus (Bacchus), Hera would attempt to smuggle him as a child and later in his life, drove him insane. His festivals were the Bacchantia, celebrated by those who used alcohol to overcome inhibitions that social mores would not normally permit. Dionysus was a god that defied social order, broke taboos and customs and gained knowledge through divine madness. He was attracted to the night and dark places.
Scathach. Scathach was a warrior queen whose name meant “The Shadowy One.” She lived in Western Scotland and operated a training academy for young warriors. A strong and fiercely independent woman, respected and revered by the warrior society, she is an otherworldly character and her granting of the Gae Bolga to Cuchulainn is strongly reminiscent of the Lady of the Lake’s granting Excalibur to Arthur. Through Scathach, Cuchulainn became the champion of all Ireland while she was famous for her skills and magic. Described as a witch and prophetess, she was gained the title Amazon Witch Queen. She knew all the arts of war and every weapon, every trick and every strategy. She was also a Druidess and mistress of the arts of magic, prophecy and shape-shifting.
Banshees. Though seldom seen, the mourning call of the banshee is heard by many, usually at night. In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seeress, or banshee, who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. There are records of several human banshees or prophetesses attached to the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. The banshee is usually clad in a grey hooded cloak, winding sheet, or robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman. Her name is connected to the mythologically-important tumuli or “mounds” that dot the Irish countryside, which are known as síde in Old Irish. The banshee is often described in Gaelic lore as wearing green, or sometimes red, and she usually has long, disheveled hair and appears as an ugly, frightful old hag. Banshees are sometimes seen standing on the branches of trees in the eerie light of a full moon.
* * *
Witches of the past sometimes learned their magic from the fairies, meeting them in the woodlands and at fairy mounds that most people avoided. It is said these otherworldly beings provided herbs, potions and the secrets of the craft.
Source: Danette Wilson - Outside the Circle, Patheos, July 28, 2016.