Posts Tagged ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’

A Sonnet: “When Cu Chulainn Courts Emer”, and Chapter 26 of “Devil’s Revenge”, and a bit of Celtic Mythology.

February 18, 2015
"Viriditas", wc, janekohut-bartels, 2000

“Viriditas”, wc, janekohut-bartels, 2000

"Winter Into Spring", watercolor, janekohutbartels, 2006

“Irish Shore”, 2007, Jane Kohut-Bartels, wc.

The  sonnet below was written when I was doing research into Celtic mythology for “Devil’s Revenge”.  Though the chapters posted haven’t spoken to this element, Celtic mythology is deeply part of the middle of this novel. And also it gives a push to the discovery of various issues in this book.  Celtic mythology can be overwhelming, and I will post only a few parts of this history as I go here.

Lady Nyo

When Cu Chulainn Courts Emer

“In that sweet country, I’ll rest my weapon”

Said Cu Chulainn to beauteous Emer

And a war spasm came upon him fast

With face distorting, hair stood upended

Teeth barred in anger, cock a rigid mast

His body whipped around, his knees unbended,

And sweet Emer prayed his luck would last.

Her father, King Lug, Celtic God of Light

Set her swain to tasks and toil unending,

While Bricru the Poison Tongue cries in fright:

“The Hound of Ulster, Irish unbending,

Leads in battle for comes he in his might!

And Emer waits with patient love the day

When Cu Chulainn comes near and claims his right!

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010

“Devil’s Revenge”, Chapter 26


Madame Gormosy has made herself scarce. This is welcome because I can spend just so many hours playing faro and waving a fan. The Demon disappears behind his books during the day, and frequently leaves the house, returning by dusk. I am left to myself.  I fill my hours trying to finish the novel, the event that brought me to this place.

We have an unspoken agreement. I will not trespass on his time with his books. He will not bother me when I am writing. I now see that regardless how I end the book, things have spiraled out of control, and there are forces at work far beyond what I have imagined.

This dream of Cernunnos bothers me for more than what is obvious. Perhaps this ‘fancy’ was not so random. Perhaps it has a deeper meaning, unrevealed, and it was ‘placed’ there by some unknown force, hopefully leading somewhere. Although the Demon claims control, I think he is unaware of what it portends.

Madame is a tricky devil. She claims the demon comes from a royal line, and is no common demon. I have called him a ‘demon’ because I have no other way to define him, my knowledge of mythology scant. Of course, magic confuses the picture, and devils are known for their trickery. Perhaps that is the seat of the confusion?

As the Demon left the house, I went into the library and looked for some clues. There are enough books, all of them old. I thought about the libraries at Alexandria, destroyed by barbarian hordes. There, surely, with the combined knowledge and wisdom of Persian and so many cultures, would be the answers I seek. But that is dust and this is just dusty, and I am left to find what answers I can.

As I removed books from a high shelf over my head, one large book was unbalanced, and fell at my feet. I stooped to pick it up. It was of Celtic Mythology. I was not one who was superstitious, but this seemed as good a place as any to start.   The dream of Cernunnos ran parallel to this book in my hand. Upon opening it, the first words I read expressed a dichotomy that was alive in my present life.



It seems to Bran a wondrous beauty

In his curragh on a clear sea

While to me in my chariot from afar

It is a flowery plain on which I ride


What is a clear sea

For the prowed craft in which Bran is,

Is a Plain of Delights with profusion of flowers

For me in my two-wheeled chariot


Bran sees

A host of waves breaking across a clear sea

I myself see in Magh Mon

Red-tipped flowers without blemish


Sea-horses glisten in the summer

As far as Bran’s eye can stretch

Flowers pour forth a stream of honey

In the land of Manannan son of Ler


Speckled salmon leap forth from the womb

Of the white sea upon which you look;

They are calves, bright-coloured lambs

At peace, without mutual hostility


It is along the top of a wood

That your tiny craft has sailed along the ridges,

A beautiful wood with its harvest of fruit,

Under the prow of your tiny boat.


Here is my confusion. Here is an answer, though only a piece of it. The Demon and I came from separate worlds, but now occupy the same. He floated through mine, and I stepped into his. This poem was spoken by the Otherworldly Manannan, attempting to explain to the mortal Bran how their differences in perception lie at the root of their divergent realities.

This spoke to the bafflement that ran through our life together. This spoke to my frustration.

As I read on, I began to understand the symbolism of the dream, as it was reflected in the world of the Celts. The natural world surrounded these people on all sides. They were aware of its presence and their dependence on its balance and fertility for their basic nurture and comfort.   Nothing bypassed this dependence, whether the soil, their crops or the animals. The hunters went out to the forest, to bring food for their families. The wolves and bears stalked the settlements for their own. Nature, in fang and claw, in blood and gore, would have shaped days and nights and filled dreams. It would have seeped into every hope and fear. The satyrs were symbols of the fusion of humankind and animals, and part of the magic and religious system that they carried in belief. And Cernunnos? He was the embodiment of the fertility that was necessary for the seasons to turn and mankind and all else to survive. I was, in that dream, very much part of that ritual of life. I could have been a vessel for that seed, from Cernunnos’ loins, planted into the soil, to be fruitful and nourish new life.

There was much more of this same theme as I read on. The foundation, the building stones of what I was reading, and this Celtic culture, was called animistic thinking.   I came across a dramatic example of this in the poem Cad Coddeu, or “The Battle of the Trees”. A mythical battle between two forces, one mortal against the forces of the chthonic deities, dwelling beneath the earth, where a wizard Gwyddion transformed a forest of trees into a writhing, hostile army.

“…Alder, pre-eminant in lineage, attacked first

     Willow and rowan were late to the battle

   Thorny plum greedy for slaughter,

   Powerful dogwood, resisting prince….

…Swift and mighty oak, before him trembled heaven and earth…”


Perhaps the Demon, though, at times I could no longer think of him such, would call forth a similar army.

This was a time, a period, and a culture, where shape-shifting was part of it all. It was part of the ‘DNA’ if you will, of a culture remembering the totemistic myths of previous ancestors. Clans seemed to arise around a particular animal. There might be bird-people, or wolf-people, oak-people or river people. Each clan would feel a strong kinship to a particular animal or element. It would be taboo to violate these totem creatures in any way. These spirits, these ancestral spirits protected the clan from disease and violence. To harm any member of the clan would provoke the wrath of this daemonic spirit. I thought perhaps, considering his courting manners, that the demon Garrett, …was part of the Goat Clan.

The more I read, the more I became convinced what I was witnessing here, between Garrett and Obadiah, was a magical conflict that battled though out an early history. In the myth/song, Tain Bo Cuailgne, the rivalry of two bulls, in separate regions, became a war of many transformations for the bulls. In fact (if that word can be used in mythology!) the two bulls were rival druid priests. They transformed themselves for their conflict into ravens, otters, and ‘screeching spectres’ and many other creatures, before they transformed themselves into grains of wheat, to be devoured by cattle and reborn as the two great bulls, Finn, The Light One, and Dub, The Dark. I could find no termination in their feud. But it was a story of kidnapping of each other’s consorts, mates, and enslavement for revenge. All within an animistic frame of reference.

There is comfort in knowing your dreams and illusions are shared by others. Small comfort, but not to be ignored. But why had I framed Garrett and Obadiah in the Christian mythology? Because it was the only one I knew. Though not a practicing Christian, and for a few years interested in pagan religions, I had Christian culture surrounding me from birth. It seeped into the brain and consciousness and formed my only reference for myth. But here, within the Celtic myths, was a culture with dark and light, perhaps good and bad, and this was easy to understand.   Religion stripped of its saints and devils harkened back to the first companions of mankind, the animals. This I could embrace. It felt natural.

I read further. There seemed to be three consistent parts to the Celtic mythology. The conception by magical means, the divine descent through amours of a divinity, and finally, rebirth.

Garrett had no knowledge of his parentage. Like Etain, who forgot her former existence as a goddess, new and mortal now. So it was with Cuchulainn, of great significance in Celtic myth, reborn as his father Lug. From the Father Lug, to the son, Cuchulainn, to be reborn again as the Father, Lug. It sounded like the Christian Trinity to me. But what was the Christian Trinity in Ireland, but Christianity covering the myths and religions of thousands of years before? Garrett had no knowledge of his parentage. He was like Etain, Cuchulainn, and so many others caught up and born in the fog of myths. But I had the clue he was of royal blood. His powers were too significant to auger mere magic. There was something of the supernatural to him. Perhaps these Celtic myths pointed the way, as readily as a compass held in the palm of the hand did.

And as I read further, I found more of interest. As mankind in his settlements achieves greater ascendancy over his environments, the gods and goddesses change to reflect his powers, mortal though he be. The gods showed more increasingly human characteristics. They had fallacies, weaknesses, had a connection with mankind. They bred with mortals, populated the earth with their seed. These half mortals have powers, and they are the heroes of their tribes and regions. They are represented by their fathers as numerous as the stars in the heavens. For different tribes had different Gods and Goddesses. There are tremendous parallels with what I know of the Greeks and other similar cultures.

I came across the experiences of the bard Taliesin in the Cad Goddeu :


I was in many shapes before I was released: I was a slender, enchanted sword – I believe it was done,


I was a rain drop in air, I was a star’s beam,

I was a word of letters, I was a book in origin,

I was lanterns of light for a year and a half;

I was a bridge that stretched over sixty estuaries,

I was a path, I was an eagle, I was a coracle in the seas…



Shape-shifting among these immortals seems to be of two powers. One that was applied to oneself only, and other higher power, where it was possible with self and others. Garrett had shown his ability with the second. I remember the ride in the carriage, where he had transformed my face and form to an elderly, repugnant woman. I thought of his powers of flight, where he transformed distance into mere seconds. Even this snapping of his fingers and his ale appears, and my tea. He calls it ‘common, vulgar magic’. To me, there is wonder and awe in it. He talks vaguely of many transformations, and I have come to well believe him. He is arrogant with the power of knowledge and experience. He seems some sort of god to me. Or close enough.

Something that intrigued me, that focused my attention sharply, was the reading of relationship of king (god) to queen (goddess) to the land. In the embrace of a true king, the land would be fertile, for the role of goddess (queen) would be to do so. In the embrace of a false king, the land would suffer, the seasons harsh and long, the harvests thin, and births were either deformed or infrequent in both humans and animals. The queen, the goddess, would languish, until a proper consort was found. Until the false king was overthrown, was sacrificed either through war or death. Vanquished so the land could become fecund again. I thought about Garrett and Obadiah, such opposite forces. Surely they would represent the true and false kings. And I? I was to remain the constant, though I believed myself barren. Already, my Demon has stirred my womb and I bleed. He protects my ripening fertility, he says, from all others. And yet, did he have control over Cernunnos? If I bred, would I carry Cernunnos’ seed or was that seed on my thigh Garrett’s? And if Obadiah would kidnap me away, would I breed to him for the same purpose? Is this what Garrett hinted in his words to me? I would have ‘power’ in his dimension…I would have prestige besides him as his consort.

There were no answers here, only pointers in many directions. But enough to start me to construct my own dimension with what I had read. Perhaps the dream gave a hint where Garrett was from. Perhaps this book, heavy and dusty and almost crushing my foot, had fallen for a purpose. Perhaps it was as much of a compass sitting in my lap as if I had held one in the small of my palm.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015



%d bloggers like this: