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The Legends Of Ancient Eire
by [?]

A Reverend and learned professor in Trinity College, Dublin, a cynic and a humorist, is reported once to have wondered “why the old Irish, having a good religion of their own, did not stick to it?” Living in the “Celtic twilight,” and striving to pierce backward into the dawn, reading romance, tradition and history, I have endeavoured to solve something of the mystery of the vast “Celtic phantasmagoria,” I can but echoe the professor. In these legends, prodical of enchantment, where Gods, heroes and bright supernatural beings mingle, are at league or war together, I have found not misty but clear traces of that old wisdom-religion once universal. There are indeed no ancient Irish Scriptures I am aware of, but they were not needed. To those who read in the Book of Life, philosophy and scripture are but as blinds over the spiritual vision. But we today– lost children of the stars–but painfully and indirectly catch glimpses of the bright spheres once our habitations, where we freely came and went. So I will try to tell over again some of these old stories in the light of philosophy spoken later. What was this old wisdom-religion? It was the belief that life is one; that nature is not dead but living; the surface but a veil tremulous with light–lifting that veil hero and sage of old time went outwards into the vast and looked on the original. All that they beheld they once were, and it was again their heritage, for in essence they were one with it–children of Deity. The One gave birth to the many, imagining within itself the heaven of heavens, and the heavens, and spheres more shadowy and dim, growing distant from the light. Through these the Rays ran outward, falling down through many a starry dynasty to dwell in clay. Yet–once God or Angel– that past remains, and the Ray, returning on itself, may reassume its old vesture, remains, entering as a God into the Ancestral Self. Every real scripture and every ancient myth, to be understood truly, must be understood in this light. God, the angelic hierarchies, the powers divine and infernal, are but names for the mightier Adam in whose image man was made and who is the forgotten Self in humanity. Mystic symbolism is the same the world over, and applying it to the old Celtic romances, phantasy and faeryland are transformed into history and we are reading about the ancient Irish Adepts.

Ireland was known long ago as the Sacred Island. The Gods lived there: for the Tuatha De Dannans who settled in Eire after conquering the gigantic races of Firbolgs and Fomorians (Atlanteans) were called Gods, differing in this respect from the Gods of ancient Greece and India, that they were men who had made themselves Gods by magical or Druidical power. They were preeminently magi become immortal by strength of will and knowledge. Superhuman in power and beauty, they raised themselves above nature; they played with the elements; they moved with ease in the air. We read of one Angus Oge, the master magician of all, sailing invisibly “on the wings of the cool east wind”; the palace of that Angus remains to this day at New Grange, wrought over with symbols of the Astral Fire and the great Serpentine Power. The De Dannans lived in the heart of mountains (crypts for initiation), and today the peasant sometimes sees the enchanted glow from the green hills he believes they still inhabit. Perhaps he believes not foolishly, for, once truly occult, a place is preserved from pollution until the cycle returns, bringing back with it the ancient Gods again.

The cycles of the Gods is followed in Irish tradition by the cycle of the heroes. The Gods still mingled with them and presumably taught them, for many of these heroes are Druids. Fin, the hero of a hundred legends, Cuchullin, Dairmud, Oisin and others are wielders of magical powers. One of the most beautiful of these stories tells of Oisin in Tir-na-noge. Oisin with his companions journeys along by the water’s edge. He is singled out by Niam, daughter of Mannanan, king of Tir-na-noge, the land of the Gods. She comes on a white horse across the seas, and mounting with her Oisin travels across the ocean; after warring with a giant Fomor he passes into Tir-na-noge, where for a hundred years he lives with Niam and has all that heart could wish for. But desire for Eire arises within him and returning, he falls off the magic steed, and becomes an old man weary with years. It is purely occult. Oisin, Niam, her white steed, Tir-na-noge, the waters they pass over, are but names which define a little our forgotten being. Within Oisin, the magician, kindles the Ray, the hidden Beauty. Let us call it by what name we will, so that we spare the terms of academic mysticism or psychology. It is the Golden Bird of the Upanishads; the Light that lighteth every man; it is that which the old Hermetists knew as the Fair or the Beautiful–for Niam means beauty; it is the Presence, and when it is upon a man every other tie breaks; he goes alone with It, he is a dying regret, an ever-increasing joy. And so with Oisin, whose weeping companions behold him no more. He mounts the white horse with Niam. It is the same as the white horse of the Apocalypse, whereon one sits called Faithful and True. It is the power on which the Spirit rides. Who is there, thinking, has felt freed for a moment from his prison-house, and looking forth has been blinded by the foam of great seas, or has felt his imagination grow kingly in contemplation–he has known its impelling power; the white horse is impatient of restraint.