Divine Enmity And Punishment

THE gods were sometimes hostile to men, not always for obvious reasons, as is curiously illustrated in the Echtra Nerai, or Adventures of Nera, an introductory tale to the Tain Bo Cualnge. Here the gods are regarded as demons appearing with great power on Samhain Eve (Hallowe'en). King Ailill offered a reward to anyone who on that night would tie a withe round the foot of a captive hanged the previous day; and several tried, but were afraid. Nera was bolder, but his withe kept springing off the corpse until it told him to put a peg in it, after which the dead body asked him to carry it on his back to the nearest house for a drink, because "I was thirsty when I was hanged." The house was surrounded by a fiery lake, and into it and a second, surrounded by a lake of water, they could not enter. In a third house the corpse found water and squirted it on the faces of the sleepers so that they died, after which Nera carried the dead body to the gallows. This part of the story is connected with the vampire belief. Nera returned to Ailill's fort, but found it burnt, and a heap of human heads lay near it. He followed a company leaving it and thus came to the sid of Cruachan, where its king sent him to a woman in one of its dwellings, bidding him bring firewood daily to the royal house. At this task he noticed a lame man carrying a blind man to a well, and daily the blind man asked, "Is it there?" to which the lame man answered, "It is indeed; let us go away." The woman told Nera that they were guardians of the king's crown in the well, and when he described his adventures and the destruction of Ailill's fort, she explained that this was merely the glamour of an elfin host (sluag siabhra), but that it would happen, unless he warned his friends. When he returned, he would find them as he left them — a clear proof that he was in a timeless region. They must watch next Samhain Eve, unless they first destroyed the sid, and as proof of his statement he must take from the sid fruits of summer — wild garlic, primrose, and golden fern. Before his people came to destroy the sid, he must warn her so that she with his cattle and the child she would bear him might not lose their lives. Nera returned and obtained the reward, and Ailill resolved to destroy the sid. Meanwhile the woman carried the firewood, pretending that Nera was ill; and when he came to warn her, she bade him watch the cattle, one of which was to be his son's after his birth. The goddess Morrigan stole this cow while Nera slept and took it to the bull of Cualnge, by whom it had a calf. Cuchulainn is now introduced pursuing Morrigan and restoring the cow; and on its return the woman sent Nera back to his people — a reduplication of the first sending back. The .mi-folk could not destroy Ailill's fort until next Samhain Eve when the sid would be open, and Nera now told his people of the wonderful sid and how its dwellers were coming to attack the fort. Ailill bade him bring anything of his own out of the sid, and from it he fetched the cattle, including his child's bull-calf which now fought the famous Findbennach, or white-horned bull. Warned to beware of its sire, the bull of Cualnge, Medb swore by her gods that she would not rest until her bull fought it. Meanwhile Ailill's men destroyed the sid, taking from it the crown, Loegaire's mantle, and Dunking's shirt; but Nera was left in the sid and will not come thence till doom — like other mortals, he has become an inhabitant of the gods' land.1 Here also, as in the story of Etain, mortals wage successful war with hostile divinities. Nevertheless the deities survive, and only the outer works of their sid are destroyed.

The hostility of Morrigan to the hero Cuchulainn is seen in the Tain Bo Regamna, or Cattle-Raid of Regamon. In his sleep he heard a great cry, and setting off with his charioteer Loeg to discover its meaning, they came to a chariot drawn by a one-legged horse, the chariot-pole passing through its body and emerging from its head. On it was a red woman, clad in red, and near it marched a giant in a red tunic, carrying a spear and a huge forked branch, and driving a cow. Cuchulainn maintained that all the cows in Ulster were his, but the woman denied this, and when he asked why she spoke for the man, she announced that his name was Uar-gaeth-sceo Luachair-sceo. Then the giant cried out that her name was Faebor beg-beoil cuimdiuir folt scenbgairit sceo uath. Irritated at this gibberish — an instance of the well-known concealment of divine names — the hero leaped into the chariot, placing his feet on the woman's shoulders and his spear at her head, and demanded her true name, to which she replied that she was a sorceress and that the cow was her reward for a poem. Cuchulainn begged to hear it, and the woman consented, provided that he would retire from the chariot. After the poem was recited, Cuchulainn prepared to leap again into the chariot, when woman, giant, cow, and chariot vanished; but on the branch of a tree was a black bird — the woman changed to this form. Now he recognized her as Badb or the Morrigan, the battle-goddess, and she told him that for his conduct she would pursue him with vengeance. She was carrying the cow from the sid of Cruachan, that it might be covered by the bull of Cualnge and when their calf was a year old, Cuchulainn would die. She would attack him when facing his opponent at the ford during the foray of Cualnge, and as an eej she would twine round his feet. "I will crush thee against the stones of the ford, and thou wilt never obtain healing from me," answered Cuchulainn. "As a she-wolf I will bite thy right hand and devour thee," she replied. "I shall strike thee with my lance and put out an eye, and never wilt thou obtain healing from me," he returned. "As a white cow with red ears I will enter the water, followed by a hundred cows. We shall dash upon thee. Thou wilt fall, and thy head will be taken." "I shall throw a sling-stone at thee, and thy heel shall be broken, and no help wilt thou get from me," cried Cuchulainn; and with that Morrigan disappeared into the sid of Cruachan.2

In a variant of this tale (where the cow-driving incident is perhaps the one which is mentioned in the Echtra Nerai) a different reason for this hostility is given. Morrigan appeared as a beautiful woman offering Cuchulainn her love, her treasures, and her herds, but he replied that the opportunity was not fitting, since he was engaged in a desperate contest, and contemptuously refused her help. She uttered threats as in the previous version; and when he was fighting at the ford, he was overturned by an eel which he crushed in his hand, and again as a wolf and a heifer Morrigan was defeated. Now no one wounded by Cuchulainn could be healed save by himself, and Morrigan therefore appeared as a lame and blind old woman milking a cow with three teats. Cuchulainn asked for milk, which she gave him from each teat, and at every draught he pronounced the blessing of "gods and not-gods"3 upon her. At each benediction one of her wounds was healed, and now she revealed herself, but was told that, had he known, she would never have had healing from him.4 Perhaps because of this healing, or because of a subsequent reconcilement, before Cuchulainn went to the last fatal fight, the goddess broke his chariot, "for she liked not his going to the battle, knowing that he would not come again to Emain Macha." 5 The story also shows how divinities have the gift of shape-shifting, though it does not always avail them against the prowess of a hero.

The idea that gods punish neglect of their worship or commands, or avenge other sinful actions, is found in most religions, and some stories seem to be derived from it, as when Welsh legend knows of Nynnyaw and Peibaw transformed to oxen for their sins by God — a probable substitution for a pagan divinity.6 Instances of the destruction of corn and milk hi—6

by divinities have been cited, and these perhaps signify punishment for neglecting the gods, seeing that, in the case of the Milesians with Dagda, this was followed by a compact made with him — the equivalent of the fresh covenant made with God by His careless worshippers in the Old Testament. Possibly stories like that of Aillen mac Midhna of the Tuatha De Danann, coming out of the sid every year to burn Tara,7 point to the same conception. The gods even punished members of their own group for wrongdoing, as in the case of Aoife, who was transformed by Bodb; and Becuma was banished from the gods' land because of her sin with Manannan's son. She came to earth in a self-moving boat and by spells bound Conn, high king of Ireland, to do her will and to banish his son Art; but while she remained in dalliance with Conn for a year, there was neither corn nor milk in Ireland — a direct divine punishment, for it was held that an evil king's reign was marked by famine and destruction. The Druids told Conn that nothing would avail save the sacrifice of "the son of a sinless couple," i. e. the son of the queen of a divine land, whom Conn brought thence. To rescue the boy his mother came with a marvellous cow, which was accepted as a sacrifice, while the queen told Conn that he must renounce Becuma, else Ireland would lose a third of its corn and milk. Later, when the iiif-folk stole the chess-men with which Becuma was playing with Art, she put spells on him not to eat until he had brought Delbchaem from a mysterious island, intending thus to cause his death. He sailed till he reached an Elysian island, whose fair women taught him how to escape the dangers before him and to find Delbchaem; but when he brought her to Tara, Becuma in disgust left Conn for ever.8 Punishment of a divine bei'ng is also seen in the story of Manannan's slaying Fer Fedail because of his misdeed, which resulted in the drowning of Tuag.9 Con-chean slew Dagda's son Aed for seducing his wife, and though Dagda did not kill him, he made him carry the corpse until he found a stone as long as Aed to put upon his grave.10

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