Saturday, March 26, 2011

NIAMH AND OISIN AND THE LAND OF TIR NA N'OG



"Oisin and Niamh of the Golden Hair" by P.J. Lynch
(A set of Irish postal stamps is based on this illustration!)

At least twice this past week, I found myself wishing I was somewhere far away from North Dakota. One time was Tuesday afternoon, when I was fighting my way home during the second blizzard in 11 days. Another was the next morning, when I got stuck in the parking lot at work and it took three guys to push me out. They were nice enough to blame not bad driving on my part but on my "light, little" Sunbird for getting me into trouble.

Anyway, I was wishing I was somewhere bright and warm, where you don't have to go out and earn a living. Somewhere with no health or money worries and no nasty people to deal with. Some place like .... Tír na nÓg.

Tír na nÓg (pronouced Tear na Noge) is the most famous of the otherworlds in Celtic mythology. The name roughly means "Land of Youth." When the last generation of Tuatha Dé Danann (the gods and goddesses who ruled ancient Ireland) were conquered in battle, they were allowed to stay in Eire - if they went underground. Some retreated to live under the hollow hills and thence became known as the sidhe - or fairies - of ancient Celtic myth. Others went to Tír na nÓg.


Artist Unknown

Tír na nÓg was considered to be a place beyond the edges of the map, located on an island far to the west of Ireland. It could be reached by either an arduous voyage or an invitation from one of its fairy residents. This otherworld was a place where sickness and death did not exist. It was a place of eternal youth and beauty. Here, music, strength, life, and all pleasurable pursuits came together in a single place. Here happiness lasted forever; no one wanted for food or drink. It is sometimes considered to be  the Irish equivalent of the Greek Elysium, or the Valhalla of the Norse.

However, Tír na nÓg was not a place where souls went after death. The island was only inhabited by fairies and elves. Only a few mortals had even seen the island and their journies there often ended unhappily.


Greg and Tim Hildebrandt
Tír na nÓg is perhaps best known from the tale of Oisín (O-Sheen), one of the few mortals who ever lived there, and a fairy goddess, Niamh (Neeve).

Oisin was one of the great warrior poets of ancient Ireland. He was a member of his father Fionn’s band of legendary heroes, the Fianna. One day while Oisin was out hunting, a beautiful maiden approached him. She was Niamh of the Golden Hair, one of the Tuatha De Danann and the daughter of Manannán mac Lir, the god of the sea. Naturally, Oisin fell in love with her. She chose him to be her lover and live with her in Tir na nÓg.


"Niamh, Oisín and Embarr", Artist Unknown

They traveled to the Blessed Realm on a magical horse named Embarr, able to gallop on water. There they were married and lived happily together in that enchanted fairyland. Nobody - including Oisin - ever grew old or sick in Tir na nÓg. But even the land of eternal youth couldn’t banish memories and he began to miss his people and his home terribly. Niamh understood his need to visit the mortal world again and see his friends. She provided him with a fairy horse to take him there. She warned him, however, that he must not set foot on the earth – if he did, he would never be able to return.

Arriving back in Ireland, Oisin was devastated to learn that 300 years had passed in Ireland since he had been with Niamh, though it seemed to him only one year. His father and his men were long dead and the Fianna were the stuff of legends. Oisin decided to return to Tir Na nÓg and his beloved Niamh. On his way back he came across some men trying to lift a heavy rock and bent down to help them. Tragedy struck when he slipped from the saddle. Falling on mortal soil, Oisin was instantly transformed into an old blind man.

Oisin wandered Ireland for many years before St. Patrick took him into his house and tried to convert him to Christianity. Oisin told St. Patrick all of his tales of the Fianna and of The Land of Dreams. He eventually died without ever again setting eyes upon Niamh and Tir Na Óg.
 
 

"Oisin and St. Patrick", by P.J. Lynch

Sunday, March 20, 2011

HAPPY OSTARA - OR SPRING EQUINOX!


"OSTARA BLESSINGS" by Angels Creations

The vernal - or spring - equinox occurs in my time zone about 6:30 this evening. As I have done in the past few years to honor this date, I am posting pictures showing beautiful spring goddesses. The goddess Ostara - or Eostre in Germanic languages - is honored at this time of year.

After publishing so many spring goddess paintings over the past few spring equinoxes, I was afraid that I wouldn't find any new images. But I did find a number of lovely ones to choose from, picking the most beautiful and rejecting any that I thought unattractive. There was one of Eostre with a face half human and half hare. Although the hare is a strong symbol of the vernal equinox, I found the image rather off putting. I also rejected any that showed nude women. Not that I found them unattractive, but I thought some readers might be offended.


"BELTANE", Mike Nichols
I hardly need to explain the vernal equinox. It is one of the two times of the year when day and night are of equal length. It is one of the eight major holidays of the Celtic Year. The Celtics called this day Alban Eiler.

In my time zone, the sun at this time of year comes up about 8:00 am and sets about 8:00 pm. Here in America we switched over to Daylight Savings Time a week ago today. It is lovely to have light late into the evening, but it is so hard to get up in the morning.

I had gotten used to - and had been happily - rising in daylight, but after the time change I found myself out of sorts all week. Many people say this feeling is because of the loss of one hour as we spring forward, but that is nonsense. It's the loss of light in the morning that throws us for a loop.


Paulina Stuckey-Cassidy
The Christian Easter holiday is derived from the pagan holiday Eostre or Ostara, as can easily been by the name. Many times, Ostara and Easter occur relatively close to each other, but this year it is not the case, as Easter will take place on April 24, almost the latest date it can occur. Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is tied to the lunar calendar rather than a specific date - and can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25. Therefore, I tried to avoid using images that featured goddesses holding baskets of Easter eggs!

So here are my 2011 Ostara/Eostre paintings/images. I am sorry that so many are unattributed. I try hard to attribute all paintings I find on the web, but I find many on what I call "secondary sites", those which have already "borrowed" the paintings/images and not bothered to credit the artist.


"READING ABOUT EOSTRA" by Trudi Doyle

Incidentally, I recently received a very formal e-mail from an artist whose work I had used once. She had the absolute gall to send me a CONTRACT which would enable me to show her work on my site. Of course, I would have had to pay a healthy fee to do so. What nerve! I promptly removed her image from that particular post and will never, ever use her again.

I have actually received e-mails from a few wonderful Celtic fantasy artists who are so thrilled that I use their art. I even devote entire posts to my most-admired artists. As often as I can, I include their website, although this is not really necessary, given that any reader can Google an artist's name and easily find their website. I find that most artists are truly thrilled and pleased to learn that I have given their work a wider audience. Not that I am a very widely-read blogger, but every little bit of publicity helps an artist sell his or her work, right?

(Note added April 9: I received an e-mail comment from Trudi Doyle, the artist whose painting is shown above. She asked me if I would mind adding a link to the print of this painting, which is for sale in her Etsy shop. Trudi, I'd be delighted to! Here's the link: http://www.etsy.com/listing/63497712/art-print-reading-about)



"SPRING EQUINOX" by Holly Zollinger

I also make it a practice to purchase prints or cards by these artists. For example, I found the work above on Etsy today. Although I am too late for the holiday this year, these would make great gifts for next spring equinox.


Artist Unknown

It is not truly spring here, although it is trying to be. March came in like a lion. The frigid Arctic air and fierce Alberta Clippers were unwilling to give up their hold over the state well into the middle of the month. Finally this week we have experience a slow melt. A slow melt is good for flood-weary ND folk who endured some really terrible flooding just two years ago in 2009. Even Bismarck, usually flood-free because of the Garrison Dam, had flooding problems that year in the southwest portion of the city because of a massive local ice jam.


Artist Unknown

March can be a very deadly and serious month for weather problems in ND. A week ago Friday, a terrifying late spring blizzard sprang up with very little warning and closed down virtually all highways in the state. About 800 people were stranded on the roads during this vicious storm, including state highway troopers and one pregnant woman who feared she had gone into labor. Fortunately, ALL were rescued, with only minor injuries. This is almost a miracle.

The next day, newspapers carried stories of the notorious blizzard of The Ides of March, March 15, 1941, in which many people lost their lives. The trouble with these late wubter blizzards is that the day starts out just fine. People, fooled by the mild weather, would travel to town and then be caught in a tempest on their way home. Such was last Friday's blizzard. As I drove to work that morning, it was mild and featured blue skies. By 10:00 am it was snowing and by 3:00 pm they sent us home, with the Interstate highways already closed off.



"GODDESS OF SPRING" by Alayna


Today, the streets are clear and the gutters are running with water. Our massive snowbanks are shrinking, but they are dirty, covered with sand and black dirt. All the detritus of winter has now been revealed - loose papers, pop cans and bottles, stray shoes (how do people lose one shoe?), etc. It is truly quite ugly, but even so, we are not as depressed as we were in the frigid, seemingly endless days of winter.


"OSTARA FAY" by Jenna Prosverina

I have blogging friends in the Southern US and in England. I read their blogs with pure envy. WE don't have blooming daffodils, primroses and crocus. Our willow catkins won't be out for another month. Our fruit trees won't bloom until May. Our grass is dead and brown. But now, we have HOPE, hope that spring will indeed come as it has for millenia, just when we began to despair that it ever would come again.


"OSTARA" by Nicole Samlinski

I love this Ostara painting which features a full moon. Did you see last night's supermoon, in which the moon was closer to earth than it was in the last 18 years? (The last full moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March of 1993.) Supposedly it was a full moon of rare size and beauty, but because of cloud cover we were not able to see it.

Full moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the moon's orbit. It is an ellipse with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee). Nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of its orbit.

Well, we still have tonight, when to my unscientific eye the moon will still appear full on this, the spring equinox. Will it still be a supermoon? I don't know, but I do hope to see it. It will add to celebration of spring arrived at long last.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S - NO, HAPPY ERIU DAY!


"ERIU" by Nicole Cadet

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Erm - let's make that Happy Ériu Day instead. I like honoring an ancient Celtic goddess more than an upstart Catholic saint on this, Ireland's day.

The names Ériu, Éire and Erin for Ireland are national personifications -  or anthropomorphizations - of a nation. In Ireland's case, they are all feminine, although this is not always true. (England has John Bull and the U. S. has Uncle Sam). However, they are all well-recognized symbols or emblems of a country.

In Celtic mythology, Ériu was the matron goddess of Ireland. (The modern name for Ireland comes from the name Ériu and the word "land".)

With her sisters, Banba and Fódla, Ériu was part of an important triumvirate of goddesses of sovereignty. She was one of the queens of Ireland when the Milesians from Galicia invaded. All three sisters made deals with the Milesians that their names would be given to the defeated country. This was granted to them, although Ériu/Éire became the chief name in use (Banba and Fódla are still sometimes used as poetic names for Ireland.)


"KATHLEEN NI HOULIHAN", Sir John Lavery, 1923

Another, more modern and more political personification of Ireland is Cathleen (or Kathleen) Ni Houlihan, a symbol of Irish patriotism (especially of an independent and separate Irish state). During times of trouble, especially war, Cathleen walks across Ireland to gather the support of men and boys to aid her in battle. As she gathers her supporters, she has the appearance of an old woman. Yet when she has gained her followers, she takes the shape of a fresh, high-spirited young woman.

The help of young Irish men willing to fight and die to free Ireland from the tyranny of colonial rule often resulted in the men becoming martyrs for this cause. However, their deaths were not be looked upon as tragic or needless, because they died as heroes and they will always be remembered as giving their life's blood to Ireland.

The great Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, along with Lady Augusta Gregory, wrote a famous eponymous play about Cathleen Ni Houlihan - who is also sometimes called the Old Woman or Mother Ireland - in 1902.

It is set in a peasant cottage in the Irish village of Killala on August 22, 1798, the place and date where French troops landed to support the United Irishmen's revolution against England. Indicative of the symbiotic relationship between literature and politics, the play was performed just before the famous 1916 Irish Easter Rising against the English.

Here is the script of the play: http://cathleen-ni-houlihan.blogspot.com/