Posts Tagged ‘Tir na nog’

As noted in yesterday’s post, possible inspirations for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Avalon is a fairly extensive topic. While I knew of several mythic islands or lands with Otherworld associations or magical elements, a little research quickly revealed a lot of places in the Classical and Celtic world that fit the bill.

So to focus the coverage, I decided to start with Irish mythical places. Welsh, Classical, and any others will be covered later.

Despite a lifelong interest in Irish heritage and lore, many of these Irish Otherworld places were new to me. Of course, Tir na nOg and Mag Mell are familiar. In The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, lists a number of Irish Otherworlds – some well known and others obscure:

“In Irish manuscripts, the Otherworld beyond the Ocean bears many names. It’s Tir-na-nog, ‘The Land of Youth’; Tir-Innambeo, ‘The Land of the Living’; Tir Tairnigire, ‘The Land of Promise’; Tir N-aill, ‘The Other Land (or World)’; Mag Mar, ‘The Great Plain’; and also Mag Mell, ‘The Plain Agreeable (or Happy).’”  (pg 334)

A couple others include Emhain Abhlach and Hy-Brasil. But before we look at the myths of individual places, today let’s look at the Celtic Otherworld in general.

Evans-Wentz explains how, unlike Christians, the ancient Celts did not place their Otherworld in a non-terrestrial space. Instead, their Otherworld was on Earth and was said to appear in many different places, depending on the writer. The description of it would also change from author to author. Evans-Wentz points out that it was sometimes described as a place underground, like the fairy mounds that house the Tuatha De Danann (now known as the Faerie folk) after they were defeated and run off of Ireland proper. He goes on to describe the other Otherworld manifestation:

“More frequently, in the old Irish manuscripts, the Celtic Otherworld was located in the midst of the Western Ocean, as though it were the ‘double’ of the last Atlantis . . .” (Evans-Wentz, pg 333)

In Celtic Heritage, Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees also describe the subjectivity of the Irish Otherworld:

“To the questions: ‘Where is the Other World?’, ‘Is it one or many?’, the answers furnished by myth are contradictory. It is the ‘lower’ half of Ireland, the land under the earth or the sid-mounds. It is also ‘the land under wave’, an island, or a whole series of islands, beyond the sea. Yet it can manifest itself in other places. A mist falls upon us in an open plain, and lo, we are there witnessing its wonders.” (pg 343)

Some may wonder why I’m including Otherworld lands in addition to islands. As we have seen, the Celts had no problem thinking of the Otherworld as migratory, so I see no reason to ignore land-locked mythic places despite Geoffrey’s description of Avalon as an island.

Additionally, the physical place most often considered the best contender to be the location of Avalon is Glastonbury, England. Before the waters were redirected, this area was known to flood, creating an island effect. However, it was not a true island and most who describe its flooded state said it was not completely surrounded by water.

And finally, it is well known in literary and historical circles that Geoffrey mixed and mangled history and myth, so I don‘t think we have to take his every word as gospel.

So where to start? In the next post, we’ll look at Emhain Abhlach and Mag Mell. Both of these places have strong associations with the Irish god of the sea and of Otherworldly islands, Manannan mac Lir. I find this especially of interest because of the possible link between Manannan and Barinthus, the bargeman to Avalon that Geoffrey briefly describes in The Life of Merlin (a subject that will be covered more in the future, probably in October).

So what do you think of the possibility of mythic Otherworlds as the inspiration for Avalon? Do you think it makes Avalon more realistic – or less so?

Until next time, bright blessings!

Thistle

Addition: Check out Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

 

Sources

Evans-Wentz, W.Y., The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, New York: Citadel Press, 1994.

Rees, Alwyn, and Brinely Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Jones Celtic Encyclopedia. www.maryjones.us/jce/emain/html

The Temple of Manannan. www.manannan.net/library/godofthecelts.html

© 2011 PJ Graham

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