Transformations into Animals

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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Transformations, especially into animal forms, have been implicitly believed in by the peasantry. Some perceive in this the system of Totemism. Prof. Rhys was led to recognize a Dog-totem in Ireland from the number of dog-names. Conaire, son-of-bird, must not eat bird; and Cuchulainn, the hero, named after a dog, was told not to eat of dog; he was ruined by breaking the order. "The descendants of the wolf in Ossory," we are told in Wonders of Erin, "could then transform themselves into wolves." The wolf was the totem of Ossory.

Druids, as tradition relates, could change men into animals or trees. Dalyell's Darker Superstitions of Scotland gives a number of such transforming stories. Thus Minerva changed Ulysses, for fear of his enemies:—

"She spake, then touched him with her powerful wand;
The skin shrunk up, and withered at her hand:
A swift old age o'er all his members spread,
A sudden frost was sprinkled on his head."

An Indian changed himself to a mouse to catch a fairy dancer. So many Irish tales relate to transformations, though more for war stratagem than love beguilements.

Andrew Lang, referring to Cupid and Psyche, equally applicable to other superstitions, observes, "We explain the separation of the lovers as the result of breaking a taboo, or one of etiquette, binding among men and women as well as between men and fairies."

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