Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the afternoon was how the questions session at the end of the talk developed into a conversation about the current state of Ireland and how the myths and monuments could contribute to our understanding of the crisis and perhaps to our recovery from it.
|Newgrange (Síd in Broga), one of the many places where the Tuatha Dé
Danann are said to have retreated after the Milesian invasion.
In short, I said that Irish people had been dispossessed of their traditional spiritual beliefs, and their faith in the political system. But most importantly, many people had been dispossessed of the power to govern and finance their own lives. I suggested that, once you lose that power, the political system ceases to have any relevance or hope for you. If you take away a person's power to earn a living, and to own a property, and to raise a family in comfort and dignity, then you have taken everything away from them, and you leave a void that cannot be filled. Politics ceases to have anything to offer.
But, not to sound like the whole affair was one of despair, we discussed how there was something that could be learned from our ancient myths and sacred sites.
For instance, our invasion mythology relates how the Tuatha Dé Danann willingly "gave" the country to the Milesians. Without any significant war or major battle taking place (there were some skirmishes, according to myth, but nothing along the lines of the Battles of Moytura with the Fomorians) the Tuatha Dé agreed to hand over Ireland to the Milesians, while they (the gods) retreated into the sídhe, the mounds, where they would live on in the otherworld.
Like the Tuatha Dé Danann, we have ceded power and sovereignty to foreign interests (also from Europe). But the question is, do we have the power to return to proper self governance, with our own integrity, and maintaining control of our sovereignty?
The folklore of the Tuatha Dé is full of prophecy about their return. They will come back, so say the legends, at some future time of great strife, to help Ireland at a time of great need. They will come thronging from the sídhe, racing back from the otherworld for a marvellous battle. And it’s a battle that they will win, restoring glory to Éire once again. So says the folklore.
I am of the view that the Tuatha Dé Danann represent aspects of our psyche, our consciousness as a people, that deepest part of who we are and what we hold to be dear. We are hurting as a people right now because we have been forced by circumstances to retreat from normal life and to find shelter in the sídhe. We are not designed to live in caves, whether they be physical or metaphorical. And we can only go to the otherworld when we die. While we are still alive, we wish to have the power to influence the sort of lives that we lead.
I told the clan gathering that one of the most painful things for any Irish person was the specture of eviction - to be dispossessed of one’s own home. We are facing the possibility of a wave of evictions as a result of changes in legislation which allows banks to put more pressure on families struggling to pay mortgages. Are we going to find ourselves in the same situation as the Tuatha Dé Danann? Are we going to be forced to retreat from our lives into some cave?
What practical support does mythology, or indeed a sacred site like Newgrange, offer us, apart from some idealistic notion?
People are trying to reconnect with the past. That might be due, in part, to some romantic notion that somehow life was better back then, less complicated. It’s called “numenism”. We find ourselves enraptured by a visit to an ancient sacred monument, and we imagine that life must have been blissful and ecstatic for the people who built it. We wish for that same bliss to encompass our own lives. Is that such an unhealthy thing to do? Is it altogether futile to go to Newgrange, or the Hill of Tara, or any one of a thousand ancient sites in Ireland, and to imagine that we can share in some magic which we associate with that site? Personally, I don’t think hope is a futile exercise.
As Andy Dufresne said in Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies’.
The rising interest in ancient monuments might also be because we see in Newgrange a monumental declaration of a people’s place in the world, an edifice that describes a time when people were united in spiritual belief. More important, in my opinion, is the fact that Newgrange represented the grand expression of a “cosmic vision”, one that saw our existence as being at one with the world and the universe.
Right now, we are calling on the Tuatha Dé Danann to return. And that’s because we are the Tuatha Dé Danann. They represent a magical and empowering aspect of ourselves, an attribute of Irish people that has become dormant time and time again during the long years when we found ourselves under occupation. It seemed that when we were invaded literally, we behaved as the invasion myths describe – we metaphorically retreated into our caves.
Deep down, do we not possess the magical powers of the Dagda, and Manannan, and Bóinn, and Aongus, and Lug Samildánach, and the host of the Tuatha Dé? Do we not yet possess the power to call them back from the sídhe to help us?
To be continued . . .