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The questions asked on this course are an opportunity for you to clarify your thoughts and writing can help in that process. You will remember things better if you write down what you’ve learned in your own words. Use a digital or paper journal for your answers and for any notes you need to make.
Questions to consider . . .
The first question is always the easiest, the last the most difficult. You don’t have to answer them all but I encourage you to try!
When seeking to interpret a symbol it’s worth asking who it’s connected to?
In this Irish tale, it appears to be a drink that’s in the possession of the Goddess, and is something that she shares with the king, a type of gift.
What else does the Goddess share with the king?
Does the drink symbolise a part of her nature that she shares with the king?
What part of herself is that?
Very often the trick is to break down a big question into smaller ones, not necessarily to jump straight into trying to find the big answer. Look at the context of a symbol. Ask yourself who does what with it and why?
This is the first step in the practice of interpretation, and how we get to really understand what myths mean.
You can read many scholarly articles and papers for free on jstor.org, all you need do is sign up for a free account. Some papers do require a paid subscription but shorter subscription packages are reasonably priced.
The paper linked below discusses the different aspects of Danu, perhaps the earliest Mother Goddess of Ireland that we know of. Danu is essential to our understanding of the sovereignty archetype, giving important insights into the nature of other goddess’ discussed on this course.
Notes and References
That aspect of a story or myth that reflects how people behaved in a particular society.
One day Conn was in Tara, . . . Early in the morning he went up onto the royal rampart of Tara, before sunrise, together with his three druids, . . . and his three filid, . . . It is onto the rampart that he used always to go; and he chanced upon a stone beneath his feet and trod upon it. The stone cried out beneath his feet, so that it was heard throughout all Tara, and throughout Brega.
Then Conn asked his druids why the stone had cried out, what was its name, whence it had come and whither it would go, and why it had come to Tara. The druid said to Conn that he would not name it to him until fifty-three days had passed. When that number was complete, Conn asked the druid again.
Then the druid said: “Fáil [destiny] is the name of the stone. . . . It is in Tara . . . that it will remain until the Day of Judgment. And it is in that land that there will be a festive assembly for as long as there is kingship in Tara; and the ruler who does not find it . . . on the last day of the assembly will be a doomed man in that year. Fáil cried out beneath your feet today,” said the druid, “and prophesied. The number of cries which the stone uttered is the number of kings that there will be of your race until the Day of Judgment. It is not I who will name them to you,” said the druid.
Then they saw a great mist around them, so that they did not know whither they were going because of the greatness of the darkness which had come upon them. They heard the noise of a horseman coming towards them. “Woe is us,” said Conn, “if he brings us into an unknown land!” Then the horseman made three spear casts at them, and the last cast came to them more quickly than the first. “He is setting out to wound a king,” said the druid, “whoever makes a cast at Conn in Tara!” Then the horseman ceased his casting, and came up to them, and bade Conn welcome, and invited him to come with him to his dwelling.
Then they went on until they came into a plain, and a golden tree was there. There was a house there with a ridge-pole of . . . a white alloy, thirty feet in length. They went into the house, and saw a young woman there, and a crown of gold was on her head. There was a silver vat with hoops of gold around it, full of red ale. There was a dipper of gold on its lip, and a cup of gold before her. They saw the . . . phantom himself in the house, before them on his throne. There was never in Tara a man of his size or his beauty, on account of the fairness of his form and the wondrousness of his appearance.
He answered them and said, “I am not a phantom nor a spectre. I have come on account of my fame among you, since my death. And I am of the race of Adam: my name is Lugh son of Eithliu son of Tigernmas. This is why I have come: to relate to you the length of your reign, and of every reign which there will be in Tara.”
And the girl who sat before them in the house was the Sovereignty of Ireland, and it was she who gave Conn his meal: the rib of an ox and the rib of a boar. The ox rib was twenty-four feet long and eight feet between its arch and the ground. When the girl began to distribute drinks she said, “To whom shall this cup be given?”; and the phantom answered her.
When he had named every ruler until the Day of Judgment, they went into the phantom’s shadow, so that they saw neither the enclosure nor the house. The vat and the golden dipper and the cup were left with Conn. And hence are the stories “The Phantom’s Dream” and “The Adventure and Journey of Conn”.
Medb daughter of Conán of Cuala.
Source: Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage (Thames and Hudson 1991), 75-6.