Dispater and Aeracura (?)

Dispater was the great Celtic god of the underworld (see p. 9) and is here represented holding a hammer and a cup (for the hammer cf. the deity Sucellos, Plates XIII, XXVI, and see Plate IX, B; the cup suggests the magic cauldron of the Celtic Elysium; cf. pp. 41, 95-96, 100, 109-12, 120, 151, 192, 203-04 and see Plates IX, B, XXV). If the goddess beside him holding a cornucopia (cf. Plate IX, A) is really Aeracura, she probably represents an old earth goddess, later displaced by Dispater. From an altar found at Oberseebach, Switzerland.

Ler, went from the Land of Promise to behold it. Above it grew hazels of wisdom, bearing leaves, blossoms, and nuts together; and these fell into the water, where they were eaten by salmon — the salmon of knowledge of other tales. From the well sprang seven streams of wisdom, and Sinend, seeking understanding, followed one of these, only to be pursued and overwhelmed by the fount itself. Sometimes these hazels were thought to grow at the heads of the chief rivers of Erin.14 Such a fountain with five streams, their waters more melodious than mortal music, was seen by Cormac beside Manan-nan's house; above it were hazels, and in it five salmon. Nuts also formed part of the food of the gods in the story of Diar-maid and Grainne, and in a tale from the Dindsenchas they are said to be eaten by the "bright folk and fairy hosts of Erin." 15 Another secret well stood in the green of Sid Nech-tain, and none could approach it without his eyes bursting save Nechtan and his cup-bearers. Boann, his wife, resolved to test its power or, in another version, to prove her chastity after adultery with Dagda, and walked round it thrice wither-shins; but three waves from it mutilated her, she fled, and was drowned in the pursuing waters.16

Goddesses sometimes took the form of birds, like the swan-maidens of universal myth and folk-tale; and they sang exquisite, sleep-compelling melodies. Sweet, unending bird-music, however, was a constant note of Elysium, just as the song of Rhiannon's birds caused oblivion and loss of all sense of time for eighty years. In the late story of Teigue's voyage to Elysium the birds which feasted on the delicious berries of its trees are said to warble "music and minstrelsy melodious and superlative," causing healthful slumber;17 while in another story the minstrel goddess of the sid of Doon Buidhe visited other side with the birds of the Land of Promise which sang unequalled music.18

The lords of the sid Elysium were many, but the chief were Dagda, Oengus, and Midir, as Arawn in Brythonic story was king of Annwfn. In general, however, every sid had its own ruler, and if this is an early tradition, it suggests a cult of a local god on a hill within which his abode was supposed to be. Manannan is chief, par excellence, of the island Elysium, and it was appropriate that a marine deity should rule a divine region including "thrice fifty isliands." In that land he had a stone fort with a banqueting-hall. Lug, who may be a sun-god, was sometimes associated with the divine land, as the solar divinity was in Greek myth, and also with Manannan; and he with his foster-brothers, Manannan's sons, came to assist the Tuatha De Danann, riding Manannan's steed before "the fairy cavalcade from the Land of Promise." 19 He also appeared as owner of an Elysium created by glamour on earth's surface, where Conn the Hundred-Fighter heard a prophecy of his future career,20 this prophetic, didactic tale doubtless having an earlier mythic prototype.

The Brythonic Elysium differed little from the Irish. One of its names, Annwfn, or "the not-world," which was is elfydd ("beneath the world"), was later equated with Hades or Hell, as already in the story of Gwyn. In the Mabinogi of Pwvll it is a region of this world, though with greater glories, and has districts whose people fight, as in Irish tales. In other Mabino-gion, however, as in the Taliesin poems and later folk-belief, there is an over-sea Elysium called Annwfn or Caer Sidi — "its points are ocean's streams"—and a world beneath the water — "a caer [castle] of defence under ocean's waves." 21 Its people are skilled in magic and shape-shifting; mortals desire its "spoils" — domestic animals and a marvellous cauldron; it is a deathless land, without sickness; its waters are like wine; and with it are associated the gods. The Isle of Avalon in Arthurian tradition shows an even closer likeness to the Irish Elysium.22

Thus the Irish and Welsh placed Elysium in various regions — local other-worlds — in hills, on earth's surface, under or oversea; and this doubtless reflects the different environments of the Celtic folk. With neither is it a region of the dead, nor in any sense associated with torment or penance. This is true also of later folk-stories of the Green Isle, now seen beneath, now above, the waters. Its people are deathless, skilled in magic; its waters restore life and health to mortals; there magic apples grow; and thither mortals are lured or wander by chance.23 The same conception is still found in a late story told of Dunlang O'Hartigan, who fought at Clontarf in 1014. A fairy woman offered him two hundred years of life and joy— "life without death, without cold, without thirst, without hunger, without decay" — if he would put off combat for a day; but he preferred death in battle to dishonour, and "foremost fighting, fell." 24

The parallel between Celtic and early Greek conceptions of Elysium25 is wonderfully close. Both are open to favoured human beings, who are thus made immortal without death; both are exquisitely beautiful, but sensuous and unmoral. In both are found islands ruled by goddesses who sometimes love mortals; both are oversea, while a parallel to the jid Elysium underground may be found in the later Greek tradition of Elysium as a region of Hades, which may have had roots in an earlier period.26 The main difference is the occasional Celtic view of Elysium as a place where gods are at war. This may be due to warrior aspects of Celtic life, while the more peaceful conception reflects settled, agricultural life; although Norse influences have sometimes been suggested as originating the former.27

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