Tuatha de Danaan Magic

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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Magic—Draoideachta—was attributed to the Irish Tuatha, and gave them the traditional reputation for wisdom.

"Wise as the Tuatha de Danaans," observes A. G. Geoghegan, "is a saying that still can be heard in the highlands of Donegal, in the glens of Connaught, and on the seaboard of the south-west of Ireland." In Celtic Ireland we read—"The Irish worshipped the Sidhe, and the bards identify the Sidhe with the Tuath de Danaan.—The identity of the Tuath de Danaan with the degenerate fairy of Christian times appears plainly in the fact, that while Sidhes are the halls of Tuatha, the fairies are the people of the Sidhe, and sometimes called the Sidhe simply."

The old Irish literature abounds with magic. Druidic spells were sometimes in this form—"I impose upon thee that thou mayst wander to and fro along a river," &c.

In the chase, a hero found the lost golden ring of a maiden:—

"But scarce to the shore the prize could bring,
When by some blasting ban—
Ah! piteous tale—the Fenian King
Grew a withered, grey old man.

Of Cumhal's son then Cavolte sought
What wizard Danaan foe had wrought
Such piteous change, and Finn replied—
'Twas Guillin's daughter—me she bound
By a sacred spell to search the tide
Till the ring she lost was found.

Search and find her. She gave him a cup—
Feeble he drinks— the potion speeds
Through every joint and pore;
To palsied age fresh youth succeeds—
Finn, of the swift and slender steeds,
Becomes himself once more."

Druidic sleeps are frequently mentioned, as—

"Or that small dwarf, whose power could steep
The Fenian host in death-like sleep."

Kennedy's Fictions of the Irish Celts relates a number of magical tales. The Lianan might well be feared when we are told of the revenge one took upon a woman—"Being safe from the eyes of the household, she muttered some words, and, drawing a Druidic wand from under her mantle, she struck her with it, and changed her into a most beautiful wolf-hound." The Lianan reminds one of the classical Incubi and Succubi. Yet Kennedy admits that "in the stories found among the native Irish, there is always evident more of the Christian element than among the Norse or German collections."

The story about Fintan's adventures, from the days of the Flood to the coming of St. Patrick, "has been regarded as a Pagan myth," says one, "in keeping with the doctrine of Transmigration."

In the Annals of Clonmacnoise we hear of seven magicians working against the breaker of an agreement. Bruga of the Boyne was a great De Danaan magician. Jocelin assures us that one prophesied the coming of St. Patrick a year before his arrival. Angus the Tuath had a mystic palace on the Boyne. The healing stone of St. Conall has been supposed to be a remnant of Tuath magic; it is shaped like a dumb-bell, and is still believed in by many.

In spite of the Lectures of the learned O'Curry, declaring the story to be "nothing but the most vague and general assertions," Irish tradition supports the opinion of Pliny that, as to magic, there were those in the British Isles "capable of instructing even the Persians themselves in these arts." But O'Curry admits that "the European Druidical system was but the offspring of the eastern augurs"; and the Tuaths came from the East. They wrote or repeated charms, as the Hawasjilars of Turkey still write Nushas. Adder-stones were used to repel evil spirits, not less than to cure diseases. One, writing in 1699, speaks of seeing a stone suspended from the neck of a child as a remedy for whooping-cough. Monuments ascribed to the Tuatha are to be seen near the Boyne, and at Drogheda, Dowth, Knowth, &c.

According to tradition, this people brought into Ireland the magic glaive from Gorias, the magic cauldron from Murias, the magic spear from Finias, and the magic Lia Fail or talking coronation stone from Falias; though the last is, also, said to have been introduced by the Milesians when they came with Pharaoh's daughter.

Enthusiastic Freemasons believe the Tuatha were members of the mystic body, their supposed magic being but the superior learning they imported from the East. If not spiritualists in the modern sense of that term, they may have been skilled in Hypnotism, inducing others to see or hear what their masters wished them to see or hear.

When the Tuatha were contending with the Firbolgs, the Druids on both sides prepared to exercise their enchantments. Being a fair match in magical powers, the warriors concluded not to employ them at all, but have a fair fight between themselves. This is, however, but one of the tales of poetic chronicles; of whom Kennedy's Irish Fiction reports—"The minstrels were plain, pious, and very ignorant Christians, who believed in nothing worse than a little magic and witchcraft."

It was surely a comfort to Christians that magic-working Druids were often checkmated by the Saints. When St. Columba, in answer to an inquiry by Brochan the magician, said he should be sailing away in three days, the other replied that he would not be able to do so, as a contrary wind and a dark mist should be raised to prevent the departure. Yet the Culdee ventured forth in the teeth of the opposing breeze, sailing against it and the mist. In like manner Druid often counteracted Druid. Thus, three Tuatha Druidessess,—Bodhbh, Macha, and Mor Kegan,—brought down darkness and showers of blood and fire upon Firbolgs at Tara for three days, until the spell was broken by the Firbolg magic bearers—Cesara, Gnathach, and Ingnathach. Spells or charms were always uttered in verse or song. Another mode of bringing a curse was through the chewing of thumbs by enchantresses. Fal the Tuath made use of the Wheel of Light, which, somehow, got connected with Simon Magus by the Bards, and which enabled the professor to ride through the air, and perform other wonders. We hear, also, of a Sword of Light. The magic cauldron was known as the Brudins.

Some of the Tuath Druids had special powers,—as the gift of knowledge in Fionn; a drink, too, given from his hands would heal any wound, or cure any disease. Angus had the power of travelling on the wings of the cool east wind. Credne, the Tuath smith, made a silver hand for Nuadhat, which was properly fitted on his wrist by Dianceht, the Irish Æsculapius. To complete the operation, Miach, son of Dianceht, took the hand and infused feeling and motion in every joint and vein, as if it were a natural hand. It is right to observe, however, that, according to Cormac's Glossary, Dianceht meant "The god of curing."

Finn as elsewhere said, acquired his special privilege by accidentally sucking his thumb after it had rested upon the mysterious Salmon of Knowledge. He thus acquired the power of Divination. Whenever he desired to know any particular thing, he had only to suck his thumb, and the whole chain of circumstances would be present to his mind. The Magic Rod is well known to have been the means of transforming objects or persons. The children of Lir were changed by a magic wand into four swans, that flew to Loch Derg for 300 years, and subsequently removed to the sea of Moyle between Erin and Alba.

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