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Posts Tagged ‘Crom Dubh’

 THE CROOKED GOD      

It may seem strange to refer to a god as ‘crooked’, but gods of the underworld were generally considered crooked in some way. Priestesses wore one sandal when invoking them. Apollo, the bright and handsome sun god of Greece both brought plagues (with hot and feverish weather) and cured them (as god of healing). He was visualized both as shooting plague arrows into cities, and shooting creatures that brought plague. In this role he presided over the sacrifice or expulsion of scapegoats and was titled ‘crooked’. Apollo was the patron of all those cast out from the community, including those who went off to found colonies.

The Irish Crom Dubh is ‘Black Crooked One’ or ‘Black Bowed One’, also called Crom Cruach or Cenn Cruaich (‘the Bowed One of the Mound’) and was a sacrificial god associated with the beginning of August. His importance may be discerned from the fact there are far more stories of Crom Dubh connected with Lughnasa than there are of Lugh. Though many Irish people have never heard of the festival of Lughnasa they have certainly heard its alternate name Crom Dubh’s Day (or Sunday).

Crom Dubh’s Day is the occasion for a pilgrimage up a high hill or mountain such as Croagh Patrick. This was a holy hill in Pagan times, taken over by Saint Patrick, possibly considered a natural harvest mound or Goddess womb in the manner of Silbury Hill.  

The 11th century Book of Leinster states ‘In a rank stand twelve idols of stone; bitterly to enchant the people the figure of Crom was of gold.’  This is thought to refer to a circle of standing stones at Magh Sléacht near Killycluggin (the plain of Tullyhaw in County Cavan) in the sacred number of thirteen- the sacred king and his twelve companions. [32]   It may be that in ancient times a human sacrifice was made here, perhaps selected in the games. It seems likely that the sacrifice would have been haltered and lamed, actually or symbolically. Crom Dubh, the god who presided over the sacrifice was also ‘crooked’. He is thought to belong to the religion of the ancient Irish, before the time of the Celtic invaders. The earliest written account of him refers to an idol at Magh Sléacht worshipped by King Tignermas and his followers, at which human sacrifices were made. This statue is said to have sunk into the ground after St Patrick demolished it, and indeed, the stone circle stands in ruins. In most of the folklore he is called Crom Dubh, characterized as the ‘dark croucher’ or the ‘old bent one’ and was identified with the devil.

It may be that after the sacrifice the victim was identified with the god, becoming a ‘crooked one’ and believed to be dwelling in the mound with the god as king of the dead.

In later ages Crom Dubh’s human sacrifice may have been substituted with a bull.  On the north shore of Galway there is still a tradition that a beef animal must be roasted to ashes in honor of Crom Dubh on his festival day. It is possible that the bull was an avatar of the god, and that there was a yearly sacrifice of this bull with the substitution of a new bull, in the manner of the Egyptian Apis. In various versions of the story Patrick is said to have overcome or converted a Pagan called Crom Dubh, in some versions by resuscitating his dead bull.

According to another Lughnasa story Crom Dubh was buried up to his neck for three days and only released when the harvest fruits had been guaranteed. Crom is associated with the ancient mounds as an old agricultural god of the earth who caused the crops to ripen, as are the sidhe (‘people of the mounds’) or fairies of Celtic lore who are the descendants of such gods. They also have to be offered regular sacrifices in the form of milk. Crom is possibly an underworld god, like the Greek Hades (Roman Pluto) who captured Persephone (Proserpina). Hades/Pluto was both the guardian of underworld treasure (the minerals of the earth) and grain, which sprouts in the underworld.

In many parts of the world the festivals celebrated around our Lughnasa period relate to the effects of the Dog Days which make vegetation brown and wither, signaling the death of summer.

The Dog Star Sirius, called Alpha Canis Majoris by astronomers, is one of the brightest in the night sky and can even be seen in the daylight. Sirius is three times the mass of our Sun and ten times as bright. In mid-May Sirius sets in the west just after sunset, then is no longer visible for seventy days. It then appears rising in the east at sunrise and this is known as the heliacal rising of the star, occurring in late July and early August. The ancients believed that it added its own heat to that of the sun, causing very hot weather and exerting a baleful influence- dogs became mad, people became listless or ill, [33] streams and wells dried up, while plants withered and turned brown. It signaled the end of the period of growth, and therefore the end of summer. It seems that Lughnasa was celebrated at the end of this period (12th August) and marked the first day of autumn.

In the tale of Lugh we encounter his enemy and grandfather Balor, a tyrant who must be defeated. He is described as having a single baleful eye that poisons and withers all it looks upon. Dr. Ó HÓgáin reconstructs the original name of Balor as *Boleros, meaning  ‘the flashing one’ from the ancient root *bhel meaning ‘flash’. [34] The name of Sirius comes from a Greek word meaning ‘sparkling’ as it radiates a blue-white light, but when it is low on the horizon it can shimmer with all the colors of the rainbow. Balor is also titled Bailcbhéimneach (‘strong smiting’) and Balar Biirug-derc (‘piercing-eyed’). [35]

Ancient classical writers, including Ptolemy and Diodorus Siculus, associate him with a promontory called Bolerion in Cornwall, England. This was most probably Land’s End, to the southwest of the country. Balor is said to have died at Carn Ui Neit (the ‘Cairn of Net’s Grandson’), Mizen Head in County Cork, Ireland- again the furthest south west point of the country. This association with south-western promontories is generally taken to indicate that Balor is some kind of deity associated with the setting sun- which sets in the west- but the south-west is also the setting point of Sirius.

 Balor tried to trick Lugh into placing his head on top of Lugh’s own, and this may be a metaphor for the effect achieved when Sirius rises with the sun. Another one-eyed tyrant caused the death of King Conaire, who died with a raging thirst in his throat, perhaps a reference to the effects of the Dog Days.

Lughnasa is the time of year associated with the sacrifice of the sacred king or the death of the corn god, marked with wakes and funeral games. In many legends the dog is considered to be a psychopomp- a creature that conveys souls to the Otherworld. The Egyptian jackal/dog headed god Anubis, for example, is concerned with conveying the dead to the afterlife. In Greek myth the three headed dog Cerberus guarded the entrance to the Underworld. It can be no coincidence that the constellation of the Dog appears at the end of summer to convey the soul of the sacrificed sacred king/vegetation god to the Otherworld.

[32] Janet and Stewart Farrar, Eight sabbats for Witches,  Hale, 1981

[33] Most cases of tarentella are reported at this time of year.

[34] Dáithí Ó HÓgáin, The Sacred Isle, The Collins Press, Cork, 1999

[35] Daithi O HOgain, Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of the Irish Folk Tradition  Prentice Hall Presss 1991

 

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