Famine & the Fairy Tale I: the relationship of trauma to consciousness

Tony Gerard Dolan
Background note

Below is part of an MPhil thesis shorn of its technical content and with some additional editing. The original title was, The Significance of Mythological Motifs in two Gaelic Fairy Tales of the Nineteenth Century. For brevity, and in light of the results of the analysis, I've abbreviated this to Famine & the Fairy Tale.
Any deletions will be apparent from missing citation numbers and additions by the use of letters in the citation number i.e. xi-a to denote an added citation between xi and xii.

Robert G. Kelly's depiction of an eviction entitled:
A Tear and a Prayer for Erin (1848-51)
Burns Library, Boston College

An investigation of the presence of mythological motifs in the two Gaelic fairy tales: The King of Erin and the Queen of the Lonesome Isle and The Brown Bear from the Green Glen, suggests that stories in which such motifs are found can appear in the wake of societal trauma due to extreme events such as famine, epidemic or war and that the narratives appear to help communities cope with the aftermath. An analysis of the motifs suggests they may be cultural vestiges of thresholds crossed in Homo sapiens rise to consciousness which appear to persist as dynamic patterns in the psyche. A preliminary study of two more variants: The King of England and his Three Sons and the German tale The Water of Life, shows how such tales evolve their motifs so that the original archaic form is no longer obvious.

Index of Sections

Back to Index

The Study of Fairy Tales


The presence of mythological motifs in a certain category of fairy tale of the nineteenth century which appear to play a role in helping communities cope in the aftermath of traumatic events such as famine, disease and war, will be the primary focus of this discussion. The discussion will consist of a detailed analysis of two variants of this type of fairy tale: The King of Erin and the Queen of the Lonesome Isle from Ireland and The Brown Bear from the Green Glen from the West Highlands of Scotland. For the purposes of comparison and further insight, two other variants: the English fairy tale The King of England and his Three Sons and the German The Water of Life will be discussed. For the sake of brevity I will refer to these as the Irish, Scottish, English and German tales respectively.

The analysis will consist of two parts. The first will be to explain the research that led to the hypothesis that the tales are a collective psychological response to trauma; the second to examine why such motifs constellated in the narrative format of fairy tale were of beneficent value to the psychic well being of communities.

The idea has a negative genesis; I was puzzled by two statements made in passing by Joseph Campbell. The first statement concerned a reference to the presence of Bronze Age goddesses in the above mentioned Irish fairy tale. The second, referring to the same tale, mentioned that the hero's retrieval of three flasks of healing water from the flaming well combining the two distinct motifs of the meeting with the goddess and the fire theft. The equating of mythological motifs of great antiquity with events in a near contemporary fairy tale seemed questionable. At the same time, I was alert to the possibility that motifs which had been refashioned many times in mythology over the millennia by successive cultural elites might in the more conservative folk tradition have preserved much of their original form.

While the analysis tries to follow the historic-geographic method of the folklorist ultimately it is closer to the philosophical view of Friedrich Nietzsche when he says: myth communicates an idea of the world, but as a succession of events, actions and sufferings.i


Back to Index Back to Index

Vocabulary of Motifs

For the scholar of cultural history it has to be admitted that most fairy tales are sparse in terms of cultural references and many of the most interesting analyses tend to concentrate solely on their psychological value. In the words of the psychiatrist Marie-Louise Von Franz:

Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. Therefore their value for the scientific investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material. They represent the archetypes in their simplest barest, and most concise form.vii

Joseph Campbell noted in his discussion of the fairy tale that there is a broad category of clever, witty yarns and anecdotes and also, as observed by the Grimm brothers, Max Müller and Andrew Lang, a class of tales that are monstrous, irrational and unnatural, and that these have common motifs with mythology.viii Broadly speaking these are the types tales that this discussion will be concerned with though we do need to keep in mind that exactly because of these qualities many fairy tales and myths have been sanitised of their cruder and monstrous aspects.ix Our interest is primarily in what they tell us about the culture in which they arose but we will include the observations and insights of certain psychiatrists which give an additional perspective. At the outset we note James Hillman's comment on mythology:

Far more important than over simplified and blatant self-recognitions by means of myths is the experiencing of their working intrapsychically within our fantasies, and then through them into our ideas, systems of ideas, feeling-values, moralities, and basic styles of consciousness.x

Fine for the self aware but for the communities in which fairy tales arose, or took root, we will merely try and show the psychological value of the narratives to abreact trauma.xi The works of psychiatrists like Marie-Louise Von Franz and Carl Jung are principally derived from their work with patients in which they've observed similarities between the picture language of dreams and those of fairy tale and mythology. The imagery in dreams they've postulated to be often compensatory to imbalances within the patient's psyche. From the perspective of cultural history though we want to be able to tease out and elucidate how certain motifs took form and subsequently became part of the symbolical vocabulary of human kind. We find that these persist, often in sublimated form, long after the cultural impulses that gave rise to them have faded into the background. As Carl Jung wrote the evolutionary stages through which the human psyche has passed are more clearly discernible in the dream than consciousness.xii He also commented that, In order to do anything like justice to dreams, we need an interpretive equipment that must be laboriously fitted together from all branches of the humane sciences.xiii This observation is easily expandable to the interpretation of both mythology and folklore, and points to the need for an ontology of cultural history which will be grounded in narratives, contrasting with fields like psychology which tend to be grounded in the dynamics and processes of the psyche. It is to be expected that just like there are different schools of philosophy there will be different ontologies of cultural history depending on whether the stress is on external advocacy of ideology in politics or the more introspective task of piecing together the story of the emergence of consciousness in homo sapiens.

There is a large body of mythology and fairy tale that largely follows a pattern that Joseph Campbell mapped out in his earliest introductory work to mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Facesxiv (1949) and the tales that we will examine follow this pattern.xv As the traumas in this instance appear to refer to famine and associated epidemicsxvi , we find that the symbolism is coloured accordingly. In scientific analysis of such work it is often customary to downplay the human element such as is common in modern archaeology and concentrate solely on an analysis of the materials. This however is to ignore the different levels on which the human psyche works and the following observation by Campbell is indicative of the approach that I will take in this discussion:

The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world. The miracle of this flow may be represented in physical terms as a circulation of food substance, dynamically as a streaming of energy, or spiritually as a manifestation of grace. Such varieties of image alternate easily, representing three degrees of condensation of the one life force. An abundant harvest is a sign of God's grace; God's grace is the food of the soul; the lightning bolt is the harbinger of fertilising rain, and at the same time the manifestation of the released energy of God. Grace, food substance, energy: these pour into the living world, and wherever they fail, life decomposes into death.xvii

The appearance of mythological motifs in relatively modern fairy tales suggests that despite the overlay of the sophisticated largely urban driven literary and artistic works of the last five millennia there appears to persist in our subliminal psyche the motifs of the older agrarian and hunter-gatherer cultures. In the current discussion this should not perhaps surprise us too much as the Gaelic speaking cottiers of nineteenth century Ireland and the West Highlands of Scotland followed a way of life that had much in common with their Neolithic and Bronze Age fore-bearers. The Irish and Scottish famines of the mid nineteenth century were the worst famines to ever afflict these countries but we know of historical catastrophes on a similar scale such as the sixth century Plague of Justinian 541-2 ; the Black Death 1346-53 and, in Ireland, the 1650's aftermath of the Crowmwellian Invasion,the Great Frost Famine of 1740-1 and even after the Great Famine ( Gorta Mór), there was the 1879 Gorta Beag (small famine). Smaller scale crop failures also were not uncommon and in Ireland serious failures occurred in the years 1822 , 1831 and on a lesser scale in 1817, 1819, 1834, 1842.xviii So while the exact arrangement of motifs in these tales may well be original the motifs were likely part of a cultural ambient of symbolism, fading into the background when times were relatively stable but then resurgent in the aftermath of greater or lesser societal trauma.

Indeed it is likely the cultural conservatism of the Gaelic communities in Ireland (Catholic) and Scotland (Protestant various) was the principle reason for their extraordinarily inhumane treatment by landlords determined to clear their lands of rent paying subsistent tenants to make way for sheep to provide food and wool for the burgeoning cities where the industrial revolution was in full spate. The remorseless economic dogma of the period was derived from influential works of authors such as Thomas Malthus on population and subsistencexix ; David Ricardo on the increase of population leading to higher rents and George Combe's popular, 1828 work on phrenology On the Constitution of Man which tended to reinforce racial stereotypes. Such works helped create an ethos in which legislation like the penal 1834 Poor Law could be drafted and, in the case of the 1838 Irish Poor Law, without even the provision of a statutory right to relief. The first significant aggression against the poorest classes on these islands under the aegis of the laissez fair economic model though was perhaps evident in the Highland Clearances in the early decades of the nineteenth century .xx xx-a

The origin of Joseph Campbell's approach is in the works of German anthropologists, in particular Adolf Bastian's idea of the Elementargedanke (elementary ideas) and the Völkergedanken (folk ideas). Bastian designated by the former certain elementary ideas that appeared in all cultures and by the latter the particular emphasis and constellation of these ideas in ritual form within each culture (or Volk). As Campbell put it in his outline of mythology as a scientific subject:

The comparative study of the mythologies of the world compels us to view the cultural history of mankind as a unit; for we find such themes as the fire theft, deluge, land of the dead, virgin birth, and resurrected hero have a worldwide distribution - appearing everywhere in new combinations while remaining, like the elements of a kaleidoscope, only a few and always the same.xxi

A view which is complemented by Claude Levi-Strauss' idea of the mytheme:

…the true constituent units of a myth are not the isolated relations but bundles of such relations and it is only as bundles that these relations can be put to use and combined so as to produce meaningxxii

Campbell actually fleshed out and said what these mythemes are and traced their evolution through all the major cultural streams up to about the 12th century in Europe. So although my approach will appear eclectic it is essentially based on the approach to cultural history developed by Campbell most notably in his four volumes, The Masks of God. Levy-Strauss' mytheme though is useful term for to denote the bundles of relationships we will explore.

Before embarking on extensive discussion on mythemes, implicit within which is the idea of the symbol, I should clarify what I mean by this. Campbell put forward the pithy definition: A symbol is an energy-evoking, and -directing, agent.xxiv But what type of energy are we talking about? Most of us will have some familiarity with the many different energy systems put forward by psychiatrists or behavioural researchers: we know of Otto Rank's work on the primacy of the repressed birth trauma and its abreaction when we confront similar crises in our adult life; of Sigmund Freud's work on the Oedipal dynamics of the typical family; of Alfred Adler's on power-dynamics; of Carl Jung's in regard to the metaphysical dimension of the psyche and the process of individuation, and the behaviourist schools with well known figures such as Ivan Pavlov, B.F.Skinner, and AbrahamMaslow with his hierarchy of needs. It is certain that the organs of the body constitute many energy systems and that these are frequently in conflict with each other. Each culture has traditionally inculcated its receptive young with a pattern of sentiments and beliefs, usually religious in nature, which tend to persist into adulthood. Then there is the panoply of experiences that constitute the individual life and as we get older we have, in T.S.Eliot's words, a lifetime burning in every moment. Rank suggests that memories are held in proportion to the emotional intensity with which they were lived, which he suggests, may in turn be influenced by unconscious elements in our psyche.xxv Yet as we stand on the threshold of a new era in the humanities that will be surely be ushered in by the boon of new technologies, it is no harm to demarcate the fault-line between the arts-humanities and the sciences which Campbell touches on in his discussion of the symbol.

…a symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect. We must distinguish, therefore between the 'sense' and the 'meaning' of the symbol. It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable. The term 'meaning' can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs. The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed. It is the province of art which is not 'expression' merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images…xxvi

In the current context, according to Campbell, the mythological motifs or images contained in a fairy tale can evoke in the listener equivalent sentiments and emotional impulses.xxvii

Back to Index

The King of Erin and the Queen of the Lonesome Isle


The Irish tale was collected by the Irish-American scholar Jeremiah Curtin who became fluent in Gaelic and recorded many tales over the course of several trips to Ireland. He published, Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland, in 1890 after his first trip to Ireland in 1887 and later, in 1894, Hero-tales of Ireland. A disappointing facet of his books is that he does not tell us from where, and from whom, he collected the individual tales.

Back to Index

Pig, Sun and Cereal Crops

None of the personages in the tale, The King of Erin and the Queen of the Lonesome Isle, have a name, they all have titles highlighting the fact that they are in fact personifications. The tale opens with the King of Erin being led a merry dance by a black pig. In Celtic mythology it a white hart often that leads the hero into a unexplored part of the forest where he will have a supernatural encounter. In our tale though it is a pig which is referred to as 'she' and instead of a forest it leads the king out into the sea. The king's horse drowns and he is on the point of death when he espies, and manages to swim to, an island. In Ireland the king (or rí) personified the prestige and well being of his community and was wedded to the land at his inauguration. His sacerdotal function was dependent on patronage from the realm of the divine and any physical defect, breach of a taboo or unworthy behaviour would result in the loss of this blessing and a potential blight on the land.xxviii xxix In this first Irish tale the king is not in fact sick, it will be his queen who in a later episode feigns sickness but the Prince of the Lonesome Isle is told by his mother that: A friend of mine is going to be killed to-morrow. The preliminary episode of the king's adventure only occurs in the Irish tale. In the other tales the king is either sick (Scottish and English) or dying (German). It is worth noting that there appear to be two levels of problem, the practical one of war or famine in the kingdom which can be satisfied by a hero yielding the boon of a magic sword and/or cornucopia respectively and a deeper malaise the curse of which can only be redeemed by the water of life (Irish, Scottish and German) or golden apples (English). The source of both is an enchanted castle at the ends of the world inhabited by a queen (Irish), or princess (English and German) or a woman (Scottish).

Ordinary cottiers had no horses and sowed potatoes
in lazy beds tilled using a loy.
Skibbereen Heritage Centre

In mythology the sow typically represents increase and growth and in cultures such as the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas  found in the Balkans  dating to 7,000-4,000BC figurines of pigs are found with wheat grains embedded with the sense that the ears of wheat or barley might take on a fullness like that of the pig which puts on weight with great rapidity.xxx The dominant sense of the black sow in mythology is that it is equivalent to the cereal kernels (or potatoes in later times) that have been sown under the darkness of the soil for later awakening by the sun. To quote Gimbutas:

Sculptures of pigs are known for all parts of Old Europe  and date from every period...The fast growing body of the pig will have impressed early agriculturists; its fattening must have been compared to corn growing and ripening, so that its soft fats apparently came to symbolise the earth itself, causing the pig to become a sacred animal probably no later than 6000BC.xxxi

It is common in mythology that narrative references will be found actualised in ritual practice. Gimbutas highlights how the pig was implicated in the full cycle of cereal crops in her native Lithuania:

  1. Sowing: it was the custom for the farmer to bring a piece of bacon or lard to the fields and to smear the ploughshare with the lard before breaking the first furrow.
  2. Germination: In late April the people used circle the fields in procession. To help the seedlings germinate and grow, the bones of the Easter ham and the shells of the Easter eggs were buried at the four boundaries of the fields.
  3. Harvest: Up until the 17th century a black suckling pig used to be offered to the Lithuanian Goddess of the Earth, Žemyna . The cooked pig was then consumed at a harvest feast presided over by a priestess who would afterwards take a portion of the pig and 3x9 pieces of bread to the storage house where she would pray alone.xxxii

More familiar is the role of sacrificial pigs in the Greek Thesmophoria (from thesmoi – laws by which men must work the land) associated with the goddesses Demeter and Persephone who in turn are associated with the Eleusinian mysteries where the cycle of sowing and harvesting of cereal crops was elevated to spiritual initiation and in which the culminating moment was the revelation by the priestess of a stalk with an ear of wheat. James Frazer in his Golden Bough points out that the pig may be considered an embodiment of Demeter herself as corn-spirit. He sees the casting of pigs and cakes of dough into pits or caverns occupied by snakes during the Thesmophoria as a sacrifice of herself to herself and that any vestiges of the pigs or cakes left were cast on the fields to ensure a good crop.xxxiii The festival occurs in autumn when the sun's power is weakening and the land becomes dormant, or sleeps, as Persephone returns to Hades for the winter months.

In 19thcentury Ireland the pig was very important to the cottier and often accommodated within the humble dwelling alongside people although usually for sale rather than consumptionxxxviv , the potato has replaced the cereal as the staple crop but as Máire MacNeill points out:

For Lughnasa (1stAugust) is in its essence the festival of the first fruits of tilled fields.... it was the day when the sickle was first put to ripened corn, as in later times it became the day when the spade turned up the first meal of potatoes.xxxv

The Gaelic speaking peoples of Ireland as well as their Christian faith maintained many of their pre-Christian beliefs, and superstitions. At this stage I'd merely like to suggest that the sowing of cereal crops is associated in European Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures with the pig as a personification of growth and that the annual waxing and waning in its vitality is in turn associated with the sun. As we know from the myth of Persephone when she was abducted into the underworld by Hades there were the tracks of pigs nearby. I would further like to note the subsidiary role of the snake in the Thesmophoria just as the earth becomes dormant for the winter months. This meaning is not exclusive and as Frazer has pointed out in the Golden Bough the spirit of growth of cereal crops could take the form of other animals such as bulls or horses.xxxvi

In the Irish tale the king arrives on an island and:

When he came to the front of the castle he saw that it had a low door with a broad threshold all covered with sharp-edged razors, and a low lintel of long-pointed needles. The path to the castle was covered with gravel of gold. The king came up, and went in with a jump over the razors and under the needles.
Sun Discs, Boar & swords (rock carving?)
Bronze Age , Östergötland , Sweden (Maria Kvilhaug)

Otto rank has written that the ultimate quest of the hero is to reattain the bliss of the intrauterine state. In mythology this is often associated with the three days when the moon is dark. It is perilous journey, often represented as a labyrinth, and in this instance the entrance is suggestive of the vagina-dentata. Indeed if we take the gold gravel, and later gold bed-spread as a solar associations we might almost think of a structure not unlike an Irish Neolithic passage tomb, or a Bronze Age henge, with their solar alignments. The king spends two days trying to escape the island while the queen/goddess playfully seduces him with her finest apparel which is to say she manifests as ever more beautiful gardens. Even so we note that the razors and pins remain at the entrance of the castle on his return. On the third night the king asks the presence he senses but has not seen, to show herself; taking human form a woman explains that she is the Queen of the Lonesome Isle and that she led him there in the form of the black pig. She explains that she and her two sisters are under a druidic spell which only a child conceived with him can lift. Grasping the state of affairs, the king accedes to the implication and the queen in turn allows him to take his leave the next day. Let us note that we're dealing with three sisters such as are common in Irish mythology in the guise of triple goddesses.xxxvii  What typically differentiates triple goddesses is that one personifies the power of the maiden, one of the mother and one of the hag, mirroring the cycles of the earth as she brings forth, and takes back, flora and fauna alike. In Ireland the hag aspect of the goddess is called the Cailleach, a personification of the earth in her winter guise taking life, the dead and the withered back into her bosom. MacNeill says that the Irish saying, marbh-fháisg ar an gCailligh Rua! (destruction to the red hag) referred to her personification of hunger and famine. It is not appropriate to say we're dealing with Banba and her two sisters Fodla  and Eriu, we could equally be dealing with Áine associated as she is with the sun and the cereal harvest or even Brigid in her triple guise, it is more sensible to think of it as a narrative pattern grounded in human experience of a particular mode of life that for several millenia conditioned the thinking of people. Neither of the above fits exactly but connotations of fertility, sovereignty, the solar round of the year may be associated to a different degree with each. For instance Banba, Eriu and Fodhla are married to MacCuill (son of the hazel), MacGréine (son of the sun) and MacCecht (son of the ploughshare). The hazel too in this context is not just a food stuff but has connotations of wisdom and knowledge as depicted in the myth of the salmon of knowledge fed on the nuts of the nine hazel trees in the sacred well of Segais.xxxviii

Back to Index Back to Index

Famine and Whistling Eels

Vladamir Propp notes how there is always an initial situationxxxix in fairy tales and yet in this tale it takes a while before we hear about the curse and even then no specifics are given as to the nature of the curse and yet the king is already returning from his adventure.

In the morning she went with him to the sea-shore to the boat. The king gave the prow of the boat to the sea, and its stern to the land; then he raised the sails, and went his way. The music he had was the roaring of the wind with the whistling of eels, and he broke neither oar nor mast till he landed under his own castle in Erin.

The allusion to the whistling of eels is interesting. James MacKillop in his Celtic Dictionary mentions that in the West of Ireland it could be a harbinger of famine.xl xli In Irish this phrase might be rendered as glas gaoithe (green or grey wind) suggestive perhaps of an acoustic effect denoting the presence or approach of the eels. In a literary version of such a fairy tale the return journey might be described in terms of dire omens but here we have the subtler roar of the wind and whistling of eels. Eels are known to feast on dead prey and in Irish folklore the two references I've come across have eel like creatures stealing and eating corpses from a nearby cemetery; one associated with Cullen graveyard in West Corkxlii where it is killed eventually by the people and the other with Liscannor in Co. Clare where St. McCreehy puts an end to the monsterxliii . There is though in this motif potentially a very deep allusion. In Campbell's discussion of the 'Monster Eel' he mentions how because of the absence of terrestrial snakes on many Polynesian islands eels took on its mythological role in the myths carried from the original cultural, or mythopoeic, zone of planting cultures that formed an arc around the Indian Ocean with an estimated origin in the period 7,500-5,500 BC. xliv He cites the explicit erotic tale of Hina and Maui which is the origin tale of the coconut palm. Although, like Ireland, it is a secondary zone to which the myths diffused, he cites it as the earliest version of this tale which has long been overlaid in the original zone by the evolution of the culture. One of the challenges facing scholars in comparative mythology, he notes in this context, is that the pig takes on the role of the serpent, which is in turn displaced by the bull and then the horse.xlv I say displaced rather than replaced because the original often lingers on in the background in some auxiliary role such as is observed in the role of the serpent and pig in the Thesmophoria. For the purposes of this discussion I merely want to note the role of the snake/eel in myths relating to the origin of foodstuffs in planting cultures. In Ireland also the eel, as well as the salmon, can be shown by archaeological evidence to have been an important part of the diet as far back as the Mesolithic and so part of the vernacular xlvi

Back to Index

The First Invasion

For the moment life goes on, a son is born to the Queen of the Lonesome Isle who schools him equally in the arts of knowledge and warfare. The years pass until one day the son arrives home to find his mother upset about the imminent danger to. her friend the King of Erin. The son agrees to go to his aid.

With the prince's arrival in Erin we begin to encounter some odd details in the narrative.

He went ashore, and saw the whole land black with the forces of the king of Spain, who was getting ready to attack the king of Erin and sweep him and his men from the face of the earth. The prince went straight to the king of Spain, and said, I ask one day's truce.
You shall have it, my champion, answered the king of Spain.
Request notice by Limavady Union,
1900AD , for Champion Potatoes
Doagh Famine Village

The oddness of this exchange I interpret as follows: the only annihilation Ireland ever faced was during the famine when it might be said that Gaelic Ireland in essence all but died. The colour black had several meanings in this context: it might refer to the withered stalks due to the blight, it could refer to one of the epidemics which literally turned people black such as typhus ( Irish fiabras dubh = black-fever) and scurvy (Irish cos dhubh = black-foot) or it could denote the general catastrophe as in black 47. The only historical references of Spanish landings I know of are after the Armada of 1588 and during the Battle of Kinsale, 1601. MacNeill finds such a reference in Kerryxlvii but it might also make allusion to the potato which the Spanish were the first to introduce to Europe from South America in the 16th century. What are we to make though of the king of Spain addressing him as my champion? Although the Lumper was the main variety of potato used in Ireland mid 19th century there were others; in the famine museum it is recorded that after the Scot's Down, Red Cups and Lumper strains failed a new seed variety called the Rock replaced these and this was in turn superseded by the Champion which was introduced in 1876 and was unaffect by blight in the 1879 widespread crop failure.xlvii-a

This is recorded in verse:

You dirty clown, says the Scotsdown,
How dare you me oppose!
Twas I supported Ireland
When you daren't show your nose.
Outspoke the noble Champion
With courage stout and brave:
Only I happened to sail over here
There'd be thousands in their graves.xlviii

showing the Irish penchant for both personification and versification. We also note the following quotation from Dún Chaoin in Kerry.

Deireach na sean-daoine nárbh fhiú ramhan ar chur fés na seaimpíní go dtí tréis Domhnach Chrom Dubh.xlix
(The old people used to say that it was not worth while putting a spade under the champions (a type of potato) until Black Chrom's Sunday).

The sense of the one day truce may be to let the Prince of the Lonesome Isle enter his father's house although he is not yet aware of this. He is ceremonially armed as their champion along with a fantastic nine edged sword. This would represent a total set, as heroes like Cúchulainn typically were said to have eight minor and one major weapon of each type.xlix-a

Back to Index
Monument erected at the site of mass graves
in Abbeystrowry in 1887 by Eugene McCarthy,
a Skibbereen blacksmith.
T Dolan 2016

Ireland in 1887

The aforementioned references are of interest as they add some weight to the double sense of 'champion' in the tale and also suggested to me that Kerry might be the source of the tale. Cross referencing with Curtin's diary of his 1887 visit to Ireland is not encouraging in this regard. In it he makes reference of travelling down through Ireland via and Cork and then across to visit the locale of his ancestors in Limerick, he later writes of reading myths in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, later still of collecting several tales in Donegal and finally of collecting a 'long tale' in Claddagh in Galway. The question remains open.

I think while we're on the subject of location and Curtin's travel diary, it is interesting to note the fifty two year old scholar's intention in travelling to Ireland.

For many years I had been possessed with the idea that there was a great stock of myths current among the people of Ireland, as well as many of that class of facts which throw light on the history of the human mind. Facts of value to the scientific world. I hoped that there might still remain in the minds of the people of the remote districts of Ireland many idioms useful in explaining the language of the manuscripts preserved in the Irish academy, and myths that would supplement and strengthen recorded mythology. I was going to Ireland to settle that question.l

And also some forty years after black 47 it is interesting to note the observations of this well travelled man on the condition of the people.

Ireland in 1887 was in a deplorable condition. Many laborers received for a long day's work only 'one and three pence' (about thirty-one cents), and with this pittance supported a family of eight or ten children. The poor lived almost wholly on what they called gruel, corn meal boiled in water. When they worked for landlords, they were not given food. They got thirty-one cents and 'found' their own sustenance. Mill girls received twenty-five cents a day. It was only fortunate people who could get plenty of potatoes and salt to eat. Walking one day with Father O'Conner, a priest who had twenty parochial schools under his care, we came upon a family of beggars sitting by the roadside--a man, his wife, and five children. When questioned, the man said he could find no work to do. To get enough to keep his family from starving he was forced to travel around and beg from house to house. 'This,' said Father O'Conner, 'is not an unusual case. I am heartsick over the condition of my people.' A priest afterward told me that out of a parish of 27,000 people 10,000 were so poor as to be reduced to begging on the streets of Cork.li

When we take account of the above and the Vagrancy and Poor Laws that existed in the British Isles during this period and remember the more benign view of alms giving that existed in former times when care for the poor was centred more on monasteries before their dissolution in 1541, we have a sense of just how subject to constant humiliation were the poorest classes of the nineteenth century on these islands.

Back to Index


The description of the battle with the King of Spain might well irritate our modern sensibility:

They fought an awful battle that day from sunrise till sunset. They made soft places hard, and hard places soft; they made high places low, and low places high; they brought water out of the centre of hard gray rocks, and made dry rushes soft in the most distant parts of Erin till sunset; and when the sun went down, the king of Spain and his last man were dead on the field.

and yet from a psychological perspective we're here confronted perhaps with one of the key aspects of the tale. What we have here are essentially a series of enantiodromia which the psychiatrist Carl Jung described as follows:

The symbolic process is an experience in images and of images. Its development usually shows an enantiodromian structure like the text of the I-Ching, and so presents a rhythm of negative and positive, loss and gain, dark and light. Its beginning is almost invariably characterized by one's getting stuck in a blind alley or in some impossible situation; and its goal is, broadly speaking, illumination or higher consciousness, by means of which the initial situation is overcome on a higher level. As regards the time factor, the process may be compressed into a single dream or into a short moment of experience, or it may extend over months and years, depending on the nature of the initial situation, the person involved in the process, and the goal to be reached.lii  

The famine was like a protracted war with crop failure following crop failure and then epidemic following epidemic from 1845-1952 and through all this time was a cruel intent by many landlords to clear their lands of tenants, incentivised by a Poor Law making landlords liable for the relief of the poor.

Back to Index


The Prince of the Lonesome Isle returns to the King of Erin's castle where his queen has already claimed the victory for her elder son. She then takes the real hero, the Prince of the Lonesome Isle, to a private room offers him a sleeping draught and hurls him from the window into the sea below. Instead of trying to find land the prince swims for four days out to sea ending up on a rocky, bladder-wrack skirted, islet. Here he abides for three months while his clothes wear away with nothing to eat except seaweed - in times of great hunger the Irish used to collect the unwholesome dúlamán (Channelled Wrack) and Crother seaweeds for food.liii The prince turns black from the pigment. We might view this interlude as a nadir, or a nigredo . Yet the image is also eloquent of famine, of hunger and perhaps the shame of being naked. For the Irish peasant it was a humiliation not to have proper clothes to attend massliv and the blackness, as already mentioned, is metaphorical of the miserylv of the many maledictions with which the 19th century Irish peasant was familiar.

A ship attempting to land at Lonesome Isle is deflected by a wall of fire and arrives instead at the islet. The captain brings the prince back to Lonesome Island where his mother meets him on the shore. Three years pass before the prince again finds his mother upset. She tells him the new king of Spain has returned with an army to exact vengeance for the death of his father. The prince sets off and is guided by a pleasant wind but again the inauspicious whistling of the eels. The same pattern repeats with a one day truce followed by a day long battle in which the King of Spain and all his troops are killed.

Gathering dulse and carrageen moss using a
scamhadóir (small scythe) Skibbereen Heritage Centre

This time the King of Erin's queen claims victory on behalf of her second son despite manifest cowardice on his part. And so again the victorious prince rather than being welcomed by a feast and the champion's portion is treated instead to the disconcerting spectacle of the queen taking to her bed, feigning sickness and spitting out a gob of chicken blood for dramatic effect. She declares that only three flasks of water from Tubber Tintye (in Irish tobar-tinte – well of flame/flaming well?) can cure her. The simulation of this bronchitis or tuberculosis type symptom does not resonate strongly with us but in nineteenth century Ireland it would have been easily understood. I interpret the Queen of Erin in this context as the diseased land. As the king incarnates the community and kingdom, the queen incarnates the land. The prince insists that the queen's two sons, who hitherto cravenly claimed credit for his deeds, should accompany him and interestingly she agrees. Remembering Hillman's injunction earlier we should not identify with any character but note how it is this apparently malevolent queen who initiates the final task that will resolve situation and it will be the two suspect sons who deliver the healing flasks of water, or apples, in all four variants of the tale.

  If you head east in the early morning the sunrise lights up the sky like a golden bowl and the dew covers the face of the earth, and so the three arrive at the house of the prince's aunt. In human guise she washes her face from a golden bowl ( like Aurora or Eos) and brushes her hair with a golden comb.lv-az

She asks: Is it the misfortune of the world that has brought you here? She tries to dissuade the prince from his hopeless task and asking him to stay with her instead. The prince decides to push on regardless but her descriptions of Tubber Tintye are sufficient to induce the elder son of the Queen of Erin to stay. There is a connotation here too of drúchta dea ( dew of a goddess), a term for corn and milk (icht ocus blicht) which were the most important food staples down through much of Irish history.lv-a

The next the day the remaining duo set out and as the sun falls towards the western horizon and the dew begins to fall, the they arrive at the house of the prince's second aunt who is wetting her head from golden bowl and similarly brushing her hair with a golden comb. This is the oldest aunt and we are in the place like that of the Hesperides on the western edge of the world. She asks: Was it the misfortune of the world that brought you to live under druidic spells like me and my sisters? Again there are no specifics about the nature or author of the curse other than the impersonal misfortune of the world. The next morning the aunt recounts to them the impossible trials they will face.

The queen of the Island of Tubber Tintye has an enormous castle, in which she lives. She has a countless army of giants, beasts, and monsters to guard the castle and the flaming well. There are thousands upon thousands of them, of every form and size. When they get drowsy, and sleep comes on them, they sleep for seven years without waking. The queen has twelve attendant maidens, who live in twelve chambers. She is in the thirteenth and innermost chamber herself. The queen and the maidens sleep during the same seven years as the giants and beasts. When the seven years are over, they all wake up, and none of them sleep again for seven other years. If any man could enter the castle during the seven years of sleep, he could do what he liked. But the island on which the castle stands is girt by a river of fire and surrounded by a belt of poison-trees.

The younger son frightened, says he will go no further. A goddess of remarkable powers their hostess then calls in all the birds of the air for a consultation and discovers the whereabouts of Tubber Tintye from an eagle who has just come from there. Better yet, the eagle reveals that the queen of Tubber Tintye has just fallen into her seven year sleep. The aunt gives the prince a bridle to shake in front of her stables but instead of a stately stallion a lean, shaggy-coated, horse emerges. The miserable looking creature is up to the task and before leaving says to him: Sit on my back, son of the King of Erin and the Queen of Lonesome Island, and so the prince learns of the true identity of his father as he undertakes the most difficult part of his quest. He is then brought safely to Tubber Tinytye.lvi

The prince moves up into the castle past the sleeping leviathans, advances through twelve chambers with their sleeping maidens to arrive finally at the thirteenth golden chamber where the bed and the well at its foot continually rotate. If we consider the three sisters as constituting a cycle of human life (maiden, mother, hag), or the seasonal pattern of sowing, growing and reaping or even perhaps the cycle of battle, strife and sovereignty (Morrígna); the twelve maidens as the twelve lunar months and the queen herself as the continuously cycling solar year we might well ask what it all signifies in the current context.

The well is the World Navel, its flaming water the indestructible essence of existence, the bed going round and round being the World Axis. The sleeping castle is that ultimate abyss to which the descending consciousness descends in dream, where the individual life is on the point of dissolving into undifferentiated energy: it would be death to dissolve; yet death, also, to lack the fire. The motif (derived from an infantile fantasy) of the inexhaustible dish, symbolising the perpetual life-giving, form building powers of the universal source, is a fairy tale counterpart of the mythological image of the cornucopian banquet of the gods. The bringing together of the two great symbols of the meeting with the goddess and the fire theft reveals with simplicity and clarity the status of the anthropomorphic powers in the realm of myth. They are not ends in themselves, but guardians, embodiments, or bestowers, of the liquor, the milk, the food, the fire, the grace, of indestructible life.lvii

It was this paragraph that originally perplexed me and prompted me to investigate this tale and what gave rise to it. There is some evidence in the archaeological record in Ireland to suggest that some such associations did exist from the earliest periods in the Irish psyche. The best excavated site of the Irish Neolithic is at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) with its three great mounds. The sun enters into the passages of each of the mounds at different times of the year: Dowth (southwest chamber) continuously from November-February or the period of seed storage and dormancy of growth;lviii Knowth at the sunrises and sunsets of the equinoxes marking the boundaries of the growing season and Newgrange at the winter solsticelix punctuating the most mysterious event of death followed by rebirth in which the loathsome Cailleach (hag) is typically implicated.lx That the rites carried out at these tumuli, or proto-temples, would have punctuated the ceremonies and rites associated with the calendar of sowing and harvesting of cereals, is suggested by the main artefacts found within which are huge basins, or quern-stones. The archaeologist, Michael O Kelly, commented that much of the fine bone fragments found in Newgrange appeared to be comminuted skullslxi and as cereals are ground to separate the kernel from the chaff so perhaps the skulls of certain sacred personages might have been ritually ground in the quern-stones to release their vital spark that it might take form in the new generations yet to be born. And implicit in such acts would have been a sense of symbiosis between the solar year, the ritual cycle of planting and reaping, and the possibility of attaining new life after having traversed the labyrinth of death.lxii

Back to Index Back to Index

Twelve (Silver) and One Gold

It may be the twelve chambers are lunar months rather than solar months. Irish is derived from the Indo-European family of languages and we note that mī (or month in Old Irish) is derived from the Indo-European root, méh1-, which has a functional meaning of 'measure' while the Irish word for 'eye', sūil, derives from same Indo-European root as sun, séhaul, which gives rise to sol, sun etc which is indicative if not conclusive.lxv More interesting is what we know of the pre Christian corn god, Crom Cruach, associated with rituals of human sacrifice at his place of worship in Magh Slécht in County Cavan; his relationship with the sun goddess is inferred from a Lughnasa related festival in Co. Louth called Domhnach Áine agus Chroim Duibh (the Sunday of Áine  and Chrom Dubh).lxvi Also indicative is what we know of the worship of Chrom Dubh.

On this plain there were twelve stone idols all embossed in silver except Crom who was embossed in gold.lxvii

That human sacrifice formed part of the rites of such a culture is suggested in the following superstition recorded in Dunsany Co. Louth that the three days dedicated to Áine were unlucky as inevitably people would forfeit their lives as as a sacrifice to the relentless Áine.lxviii

The prince of the Lonesome Isle remains six days and nights in the golden chamber with the sleeping queenlxix and gains rest and sustenance from the cornucopia  of food provided on a table that comes and goes. He then completes his mission by taking three flasks from the eponymous flaming well on the seventh day. But interestingly he does not take with him a cornucopia or riches such as occurs in the Scottish (whisky, bread, cheese), English ( tokens: gold watch, handkerchief and garter) and German (rings, sword, bread) tales.

Back to Index

Meeting the Goddess

The ultimate turning point of such tales is typically the meeting with the goddess as queen, princess, maiden or woman in her enchanted castle. The psychiatrists tell us that the priming of our emotional vocabulary occurs in our early years, incorporating already 'bliss'and 'trauma' on our entry into this world, and that the bliss of meeting the goddess is a reattainment of intrauterine bliss we enjoyed and which often precedes, in psychoanalysis after a suitable gestation, a rebirth,lxx or as Jung phrased it, an illumination on a higher level. In three of the tales we note that the lady of the enchanted castle is asleep, her domain is protected by wild animals and there is copious solar imagery often represented by gold. To awaken her, or intrude without invitation, is to be turned into a wild animal as occurred in Greek mythology with the hapless Actaeon who blundering upon the naked Artemis was turned into a stag and savaged by his own hounds. Perhaps the danger suggested here is that of a regression in consciousness and of becoming barbarised. In the current context the Actaeon reference is not too remote in time because if we look closely at the the Circe episode in the high literary work of that period, Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus and his fleet arrive on the Island of the Dawn inhabited by the personage of Circe, daughter of Helios. Her palace is protected by enchanted lions and wolves roaming about; she changes the crew into pigs. When Odysseus shows himself impervious to her deceits, she takes him to her bed and restores his crew who became not only became men again but looked younger and much handsomer and taller than beforelxxi . They stay a year enjoying the endless abundance of her hospitality before asking leave to continue their journey. She agrees and early next morning: Circe finished, and soon after the Dawn enthroned herself in gold lxxii all of which motifs, slightly rearranged, we find in the Irish tale and support the idea that these motifs have their immediate origin in the European Bronze Age, and ultimately, in more elemental form, in the Neolithic period.

Back to Index

Fire in Water

What are we to make though of the flaming-well. Even if Campbell is correct that in the current tale it signifies the coupling of two mythological motifs what does that mean? Similar to the enantiodromia we discussed earlier this paradoxical image may come close the core sense of the tale and Campbell (possibly following Jung who similarly discusses the imagery) compares the symbolism with that of the immersion of the newly lit paschal candle in the baptismal font on Holy Saturday, the interval between crucifixion of Jesus on the Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. The candle is dipped three times ever deeper into the font accompanied by the priest intoning: May the virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into this font. He concludes the ritual with the words:And make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration, And then the people are sprinkled with this water imbued with the sacred fire of the Holy Spirit to symbolise their own renewal. The sexual symbolism is also appropriate as where for Jesus' birth the Holy Spirit descended on his mother, now for his rebirth similar metaphorical imagery is invoked. As Campbell describes it:

The female water spiritually fructified with the male fire of the Holy Ghost is the Christian counterpart of the water of transformation known to all systems of mythological imagery. This rite is a variant of the sacred marriage, which is the source-moment that generates and regenerates the world and man, precisely the mystery symbolized by the Hindu lingam-yoni.lxxiii

T.S.Eliot, a poet familiar with and influenced by Christian imagery, wrote the first draft of the final quartet, Little Gidding, in London in 1941 during the blitz. He vividly captures the period between despair and renewal, between the bleak end of winter and the promise of spring and, to my mind, evokes the sense of the imagery of the renewal brought about by fire in water (lines 1-13):

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat, 
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but Pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing.

While our experience of this phenomenon is not nearly as profound as our rustic fore-bearers, poetry can still evoke and sublimate it in extreme situations such as war when death appears probable and renewal only a faint hope.lxxiv Eliot wrote for the learned; the utterly destitute peasants of the nineteenth Ireland had only their fairy tales and myths which they listened to again and again. In the Irish tradition the blazing sun is the Dagda as Ruad Rofhessa (lord of great knowledge)whose fire imbues Boann(River Boyne) or Danu with imbas, the all embracing wisdom which then incarnates in Fionn (the little sun)lxxiv-a who we will see reincarnate as the wonder-child, Cud, in the final fairy tale in the Irish series.


On his return the shaggy horse tells the prince that it is enchanted and is actually four princes (the four wasted provinces of Ireland, or to be even more elemental, the four quarters) and that he must kill and quarter the horse to release them, which he does perhaps simulating a  horse sacrifice. The horse also tells the prince that his aunts, the three goddesses of Ireland, may now return to Lonesome Island. On their return the elder son of the Queen of Erin snatches the three flasks and takes credit for the exploit. The prince of the Lonesome Isle responds to this affront impassively as before, and returns to the Lonesome Isle his hero task complete. The queen, no doubt with a touch of irony, thanks her eldest son for saving her life. What happens the three flasks we're not told but the fact that there were three suggests they were used to lift the curse on the Queen of the Lonesome Isle and her two sisters. The ambiguity in the tale about both the nature of the druidic curse and what actually constitutes a cure, combined with all the subliminal mythological cues, is indicative that the effective mode of such tales is fascination and subtle catharsis.

Yet things are happening in the kingdom of Tubber Tintye, a son is born to the queen and when she awakens after her seven year sleep, she is surprised, and outraged, to discover she has a six year old son. She is only partly appeased when she finds that the unknown father has left a note. She mobilises her forces and if the curse has been lifted there is yet a reckoning to be had. For a third time the hapless king of Erin and his kingdom is threatened with utter destruction and he is pathetically reduced to commenting that really he has had enough trouble already in his life. Nonetheless the Queen of Tubber Tintye demands that he produce the hero who dared enter her chamber. Continuing his charade as a hero, the older son of the 'evil' queen acknowledges that it was he who entered the chamber. The queen, not impressed by mere words, tells him to mount her gray horse, which he does. It immediately takes to the air, tests the imposter's character and then, finding it wanting, dashes him on the rocks below. A similar fate awaits his younger brother.

Under extreme duress the king sends for the Prince of the Lonesome Island who duly arrives accompanied by his mother and two aunts. The prince is surprisingly non-committal when asked did he enter the golden chamber, but agrees nonetheless to mount the Queen of Tubber Tintye's gray horse.

'Go up now on my gray steed!' said the queen.
He sat on the gray steed, which rose under him into the sky. The prince stood on the back of the horse, and cut three times with his sword as he went up under the sun. When he came to the earth again, the queen of Tubber Tintye ran over to him, put his head on her bosom, and said: 'you are the man.'

For completeness we will now consider this imagery, and the previous quartering of the horse, from the perspective of the Indo-European horse sacrifice.

Back to Index

The Horse Sacrifice

For the most potent magical ritual used in Indo-European culture we use the term Horse Sacrifice even though it is something of a misnomer. The actual meaning of the Sanskrit word, Ashamedha, is horse drunk or horse intoxicated which is similar in meaning to the Gaulish title, Epomeduos), Of interest is that 'medha' derives from the Indo-European root for the alcoholic beverage mead, médhu. The name of the Irish goddess/warrior-queen, Medb, means intoxication in the double sense of inebriated and sexual attraction. Mead is ultimately derived from the Indo-European term, mélit, for honey.lxxv In the context of kings this would be the thirst for power and sovereignty which once achieved in the temporal realm, is consecrated in the spiritual by such a ritual. And despite the crude sexual symbolism inherent in the ritual, it conferred the same legitimacy as the consecration of a king in the Christian era by a pope or church leader. In a discussion on Sacral Irish kingship, Daniel Grey, discusses the sense of ritualised dismemberment of the sacrificial horse in relation to Georges Dumezil's tripartite division of Indo-European society and its many sub divisionslxxvi but the most succinct guide to the full spectrum of metaphorical connotations of the dismembered limbs of the horse is the Brhadãranyaka Upanisad 1.1.1:

OM. The dawn is the head of the sacrificial horse; the sun, its eye; the wind its breath; cosmic fire, its open mouth. The year is the body of the sacrificial horse; heaven, its back; the interspace, its belly; the quarters, its flanks; the intermediate quarters, its ribs; the seasons, its limbs; the months and half months, its joints; days and nights, the feet; stars, the bones; clouds, the flesh. Its yawn is lightening; the shivering of its body, thunder; its urination rain; and its voice, the creative Word....lxxvii

Certainly the Indo-European horse sacrifice was the most important and elaborate sacrifice that an Indian Brahmin could perform for the ritual sacralisation of the dominion and sovereignty of a rajah, or maharajah (great-king). The rajah had to have the sacrifice performed three times in expiation of the kinsmen he killed in gaining his victory.lxxviii

An Irish version of the Indian rite is recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis as occurring at the inauguration of a chieftain in Tyrconnelllxxix and is nowhere near as elaborate but contrasts interestingly with its Indian counterpart. Where the Indian version's sexual imagery is of a black stallionlxxx coupling with one of the rajah's queens of the Shudra caste, in the Irish version it is of the king coupling with a white mare.lxxxi

Horse Sacrifice with chieftain in cauldron of horse broth.
Giraldus Cambrensis The History and Topography of Ireland (1188) p109

One aspect of the Indian horse sacrifice is that the king is supposed to refrain from sexual intercourse with his queens. It is possible the Irish chieftain may have practised a similar period of sexual abstinence during the solar year preceding his inauguration. The solar year, mythologically speaking, can be associated with a sun god riding a horse or a chariot pulling the sun such as we see depicted by the Bronze Age Trundholm Sun Chariotlxxxii .

In Cambrensis' account the king is coupling with a goddess of sovereignty (like Macha). In the Indo-European context it appears to be a literal re-enactment of the coupling of with the horse goddess that gave rise to the Divine Twins, one immortal and one mortal - who must die so that the world can live. Interestingly in the Irish mythology that has come down to us this aspect is not emphasised, it is rather Macha's curse upon the men of Ulster when she is forced to run in a chariot race against the King of Ulster's all conquering chariot team. She wins but the effort induces the pregnant goddess to go prematurely into labour and to give birth to twins in great pain. She then reveals her true self and curses the men of Ulster that they will be afflicted with the labour pains of a woman for nine generations whenever Ulsters is threatened. For this reason the Irish hero, Cúchulainn, has to defend Ulster single handedly in the Irish epic of the Táin Bó Cúailnge. The capital of the men of Ulster was Emain Macha (the twins of Macha). This is unlikely to be an ironic reference to the myth and the curse but rather to the twins as the two horses that pull the war chariots with the associated connotation of the status and prestige of the horse. The continental cognate of Macha is Epona about whom Miranda Green while discussing the fact that Celtic sky and sun gods frequently rode horses writes:

the cults of Epona and the Celtic sky-horseman may have been linked...Even before the Roman period, the solar character of the horse is indicated by the recurrent association of image on the Celtic coins of Gaul and Britain.lxxxiii

We must temper these comments by noting they relate to the province of Ulster, south of which in relation to kingship at Tara we're more familiar with the ritual of the tarbhfeis where a druid, having feasted on the flesh and blood of a sacrificed bull would, during a ritual sleep, see the new king. lxxxiv

If we knew nothing though about European Neolithic, Bronze-Age and Iron-Age cultures what do European psychiatrists tell us about their interpretation of the horse as a dynamic symbol in our psyche based on their experience with the dream imagery of patients.

The horse is one of the purest symbolic forms of the carrying instinctual nature ... But the force [of the horse symbol] constitutes a kind of unconscious health of following unconsciously one's own animal pattern without questioning it in any way. The horse sacrifice therefore means a complete renunciation of all libidinal flow which attaches one to any life impulse; in other words, an artificial, complete state of introversion.lxxxv

It is worth recalling that at the start of the tale the king's horse drowns under him on his way to the Lonesome Isle and there is the possibility that he too will drown. In the Scottish tale we will look at next the young prince sets off on a lame horse and must be abandoned and in the English tale the hero is furnished with a new horse. Psychiatrists influenced by Jung such as James Hillman tend to view medical condition of depression as just such a situation when all extrovert action has failed and a period of purposeful introversion is required to overcome some impasse. He views the process of pathologizing as positive. In his words:

Only in mythology does pathology receive an adequate mirror, since myths speak with the same distorted, fantastic language.lxxxvi

In the context of our tale it continues the preoccupation with the fertility and bounty of the land except with imagery that now shows influence from the horse riding, cattle herding, warriors of the Indo-European cultures who dominate the Irish Iron Age. So in our tale the Prince of the Lonesome Isle rises like a sky or sun god, perhaps evoking the solar round of the year whose imagery we already noted at Tubber Tintye. He strikes the celestial horse, a manifestation of the Queen of Tubber Tintye, three times in symbolic enactment of three horse sacrificeslxxxvii but also his mastery of the horse. In Irish myth, the previously mentioned, Macha tests the youthful Cúchulainn with the Liath Macha (the Gray of Macha) and to be worthy to keep it he had to stay on it, which endeavour takes him around the island of Ireland for a full day suggesting an association with the solar day.lxxxviii The greyness appears to be associated with Midir, whose name is considered an appelative of a grey-haired father-deity, patron of kingship, in opposition to the son (he appears to oppose wooings and abductions of maidens metaphoric of kingship like Etain or Medb). A poetic name for Tara was Liath Druim (grey ridge - gives name to County Leitrim) after the personage Liath mac Laighhne who constructed the ridge which ohogain considers may have been an appellative of Midir. He is sometimes considered to be the father of Macha and so through her and the rite of the horse-sacrifice, a patron of northern kingship.lxxxviii-a

She now interrogates the queen of Erin, using torture, who reveals that her oldest son was conceived with the gardener and her youngest son with the big brewer. The younger son we might identify as of the male lineage of Ireland that used to waste itself in excessive drink (the big brewer – the Temperance movement, initiated by Father Theobald Matthew, was quite active during the late 19th century)lxxxix . The gardener's son may be of the lineage of those who mismanaged the land and let it become a wasteland of death. Although it should be noted that in both cases it is not so much the lineage as the traits of dissimulation and cowardice that are apparently at fault. We might now view the name of Lonesome Isle as descriptive of Ireland after the famine. All the fish had been taken from the rivers, all the birds from the hedgerows and many townlands of the West had been emptied of their inhabitants, leaving only the crumbled or burnt out husks of their dwellings.xc Reports indicate that an eerie silence hung over many districts for decades after.

Ni chluintear in altaibh carlach is ceiliur ar chraobh is nil bric an aill mar ghnach in Oilean na Naomh"
("No bird is heard in the valleys, or singing in the trees, and the trout is not seen in the streams as once was common in the Isle of the Saints.")xci

The Queen of Erin is burned and this may seem harsh but she personifies the sick land and its restoration demands her removal. The Queen of Tubber-Tintye then announces, without consultation, her marriage to the prince, and that of the Queen of the Lonesome Isle to the king. The energies of the land have been re-balanced from a very deep level. There is a sense that the triple-goddess was not able to lift the curse by herself and so a call to a deeper more elemental aspect of herself. And yet the prince having proved himself retires to Tubber Tintye instead of taking over the kingdom. Indeed the prince is acknowledged by the Queen of Tubber Tintye by the maternal gesture of placing his head on her bosom rather than the boon of a kiss for the heroic hero.

Back to Index


This analysis suggests that there maybe some basis for associating aspects of the tale with the aftermath of the famine. We might also conclude that we've shed some light on the first of Campbell's comments about 'Bronze Age goddesses' but we did not address completely the second comment about the double motif of meeting the goddess and fire theft. The comments on the horse sacrifice suggest that this aspect of Irish sacral kingship might reward further research.

Back to Index

The Brown Bear of the Green Glen


The first variant of the Irish tale I discovered was from the West Highlands of Scotland where there was also a devastating famine (1846-57) in which the Gaelic speaking population was decimated. Even if this tale is a variant (or oikotypexcii ) of the Irish tale it has several unique aspects. The Brown Bear of the Green Glen, is much shorter than the Irish tale and may have been truncated and altered somewhat by the travelling tinker, John McDonald, from whom the well known collector of folklores, John Francis Campbell, collected it.xciii In it we know the situation from the start: the king is lame and blind and needs three bottles of the water of the Green Isle that was about the heaps of the deepto be cured. In this instance it is the common fairy tale motif of the youngest son of least worth that will eventually carry out the task while his two brothers lay up in the nearest town and effectively sit out the adventure. Jung in his discussion of fairy tales talked of the structure of the typical psyche consisting of a highly differentiated function, two partially differentiated functions and a undifferentiated function at the level of liminal consciousness which then links with three unconscious equivalents of the differentiated functions, which structure can be graphically represented as two diamonds linked by a common point. Jung notes that this structural arrangement often appears personified in fairy tales and we will observe just such a pattern in this tale.xciv So from the psychological perspective when the conscious mind reaches an impasse it is often by means of this inferior function that a solution, or at least a way through, is found. The drowning of the horse in the first tale and the abandoning of the crippled horse in this tale would be, following Von Franz, illustrative that our normal instincts have failed us and that we're shifting from the field of the personal unconscious to the collective unconscious, and from extrovert action to an introverted state. Although we must keep in mind that when we talk of fairy tales or myths we're always talking about the community not the individual.

Back to Index

The Master-Bear and Fire

For the moment Scotland's archaeological record shows traces of upper Palaeolithic activity it is only from the Mesolithic that a continuous line of culture can be traced and there is no evidence of any ritual activity relating to brown bears which lasted in Scotland into the first millennium.xcv xcvi So any mythological motifs found may have arrived later from the continent where Celtic tribes worshipped a bear goddess called Artio.xcvii

Despite death threats from his two brothers, the youngest son pushes on until:

The night was coming now, and growing pretty dark. John ties the crippled white horse that was under him to the root of a tree, and he went up in the top himself. He was but a very short time in the top, when he saw a bear coming with a fiery cinder in his mouth. 
'Come down, son of the king of Erin', says he.
'Indeed, I won't come. I am thinking I am safer where I am.'
'But if thou wilt not come down, I will go up', said the bear. 
'Art thou, too, taking me for a fool?' says John. 'A shaggy, shambling creature like thee, climbing a tree!'
'But if thou wilt not come down I will go up', says the bear, as he fell out of hand to climb the tree. 
'Lord! thou canst do that same?' said John; 'keep back from the root of the tree, then, and I will go down to talk to thee'. And when the son of Erin's king drew down, they came to chatting. The bear asked him if he was hungry.
'Weel! by your leave', said John, 'I am a little at this very same time'. 
The bear took that wonderful watchful turn and he catches a roebuck. 'Now, son of Erin's king', says the bear, 'whether wouldst thou like thy share of the buck boiled or raw?'
'The sort of meat I used to get would be kind of plotted boiled', says John; and thus it fell out. John got his share roasted. 
'Now', said the bear, 'lie down between my paws, and thou hast no cause to fear cold or hunger till morning'. 
Chauvet Cave:bear skull on rock with traces of carbon
(Bradshaw Foundation)/Wikicommons

Campbell cited the Cave Bear as perhaps the first significant deity in Europe based on Emil Bächler's (1868–1950) excavations at  Wildkirchli, Drachenloch and Wildenmannlisloch in Switzerland and Petershöhle in Germany dating to over 50,000 BC - the 'chapels'belonged to Neanderthal Man.xcviii The Cave Bear, a bit like Neanderthal Man, became extinct about 27,000BC. This was perhaps partly due to its vulnerability during hibernation and how it 'offered' itself passively in winter to the spear points of hard pressed hunting communities. This association appears to have transferred to its cousin the Black Bear, at least in Eurasia. Campbell, discussing the culture of the Ainu of North Japan, describes how they raise cubs for ritual sacrifice and at the feast following the sacrifice the god, in the guise of his head and attached skin, is a guest. Some of his remains are placed before him in a bowl of stew. Campbell goes on to discuss how, to nearly the present hour, when a wild bear is killed in the mountains it is carried into the hunter's house not by means of the door but by the 'gods window' after which it is left to commune with the fire-goddess of the hearth during the night.xcix c Herbert Kühn also, citing various researchers, discusses the evidence of a bear cult in the lower Palaeolithic and the fact that some tribes of East Asia continue(d) such practices until recent times including specific details such as leaving two vertebrae attached to the skull and the grinding down of teeth.ci The most spectacular recent discovery from the Palaeolithic period was Chauvet Cave in Southern France. In the virtual tour, in the tenth of thirteen chambers, The Skull Chamber, which is near the back of the cave, is a block of stone on the edge of which sits the skull of a young female Cave Bear. All over the top of the block are small fragments of carbonised wood thought to be due to a fire being lit on top of it. cii ciii And so I would like to suggest that this interlude in the tale may ultimately be a motif with a Palaeolithic origin. Indeed the mytheme suggests the bear may have in some way been associated with fire and, possibly, the transition from raw to cooked food.civ We note too the way he effortlessly kills the deer which might be suggestive also of his role as a patron of the hunt. This motif therefore may offer some support for Campbell's comment on the fire-theft motif being subtly present in the Irish tale. The existence of a Palaeolithic bear cult at all though is vigorously disputed by archaeologists like Philip Chase.cv But if this mytheme is found to reoccur in other fairy tales it might make sense for archaeologists to be at least aware of it when excavating at Palaeolithic sites.

Back to Index

The Three Thresholds

The bear learns of John's errand and starts advising him on it. In particular he warns him that he will have to travel via the houses of three giants who will not welcome him until he tells them that he has been sent by the Bear of the Green Glen. The giant is indeed hostile:

'Son of Ireland's King', says the giant, 'thy coming was in the prophecy; but if I did not get thy Father, I have got his son. I don't know whether I will put thee in the earth with my feet, or in the sky with my breath'. 

Von Franz views giants as personifying the untameable forces of nature in the pre-Christian period in Northern Europe and as symbols in our psyche as representative of emotional impulses which threaten to overwhelm a person's humanity.cvi

The giant becomes hospitable on learning that the bear has sent John. What are we to make of the reference to the prophesy? Michael Newton's study on the role of prophesy in Gaelic tradition describes its prevalence in Scottish culture right up until the end of the 18th century. Much of the tradition focuses specifically on Thomas-the-Rhymer but Newton indicates that there was an older tradition. He attributes the rise of prophesy to a millenarian foreboding about the end of the Gaelic kingdom of Scotland and the need for a messiah who will restore the Gaelic order. So, as is not uncommon, the historical Thomas took on the attributes of an Arthur, or Charlemagne, who will arise in the future with a great army. Such notions were popular in Gaelic poetry around the time of the Jacobite risings and were invoked to confer validity on them. Of interest too is his observation that Scotland was never personified as a woman to the same extent that Ireland was in the aisling poetic tradition. In some instances of prophesy Alba marries the queen of Eire highlighting this gender contrast.cvii And temperamentally while traditionally the Irish people have tended to be Catholic the Scottish people tend to prefer the Protestant religions that place less emphasis on Mary, the Mother of Jesus. This is of interest because it may help explain the different opening structures of the two fairy tales. In this tale we have the bear and then three male giants contrasting with the three sisters that we have in Irish version.cviii It is of interest also that the device of the prophesy suggests the missing earlier cycle of the king's preliminary adventure which is otherwise omitted entirely from this tale. McDonald skips the second encounter with the giant by saying that it was the same as the first and moves on to John's encounter with the third giant about which, the bear has warned him, I have not much acquaintance and with whom John will have to wrestle. And so it transpires:

They would make the boggy bog of the rocky rock. In the hardest place they would sink to the knee; in the softest, up to the thighs; and they would bring wells of spring water from the face of every rock. The giant gave John a sore wrench or two. 

We note this enantiodromian episode is not as precisely antithetical as in the Irish tale but conveys the same idea. The hard pressed hero calls for the assistance of Mathoncix whose arrival mitigates the giant's hostility and he says: now I know thy matter better than thou dost thyself.cx

'Now, John', says the giant, 'an eagle will come and she will settle on the carcass of this wether, and there is a wart on the ear of this eagle which thou must cut off her with this sword, but a drop of blood thou must not draw'. 

The word 'wart' is used to translate the word 'foinneamh'(?). This is a defect rather than a sickness and we're reminded of the lore relating to kingship where kings must abdicate due to physical defect. A couple of, admittedly tenuous, connections to lore in Irish kingship that may give sense to this odd ritual: Ailill was one name referring to the deity presiding over the institution of kingship. There is of lore there is a 5th century Connacht king called Ailill Molt (Ailill the 'wether') which Ó hÓgáin views as a mythical name that characterised kingship and wealth in terms of sheep herds. He traces this idea from a Gaulish god called Deus Moltinus to an early Leinster king, Augaine (wether conceived), which he suspects is related to Eugan the earliest patronymic of the Eoghanacht sept. Ailinn Olom (Ailinn the 'bare eared') is the ancestor of the Eoganacht sept and he lost an ear when he forced himself upon the goddess Áine (taking sovereignty by force) who bit off his ear.cx-a So our hero's action may be an echo of some ancient ritual testifying to a candidates worthiness to kingship.

The prince performs the feat and the eagle is restored to his regal glory with not even a cut to suggest his former blemish.

Back to Index

The Green Isle

The eagle bring Johns the vast distance to the Green Isle and sets him down telling him to get his three flasks while the black guard dogs are away. John is able to walk on the island as the prince could not in the Irish tale. Yet his curiosity is attracted by a nearby house. He advances through three rooms: one with a bottle of whisky that always remains full; one with a loaf that always remains whole and one with a block of cheese which never diminishes. He takes all three with him. In a fourth chamber he finds a beautiful maiden asleep and cannot resist a kiss. It is worth noting that the cornucopia on offer are derived from the staples of cereal growing and dairy herding which have their origin with Neolithic agriculturists.

On his way back he sells each of the items to the giants on condition that if his first sweetheart should happen along the item should be given to her. In this way he acquires two hundred notes (pounds) , a bridle and a saddle from the first and we may infer horses from the second and cloth (fine clothes) from the third. Having set out on a crippled white horse he now returns dressed in finery, with horses, money, a bridle and saddle.cxi The bridle appears in both the Scottish and Irish tales and, taking the psychological view of the horse as a metaphor for instincts, possibly indicates a regaining of conscious control, or simply composure. John meets his brothers on his way back and shares his wealth. They decide to kill him and dispose of him in a dike.

John was not too long here, when his father's smith came the way with a cart load of rusty iron. John called out,
Whoever the Christian is that is there, oh! that he should help him. The smith caught him, and he threw John amongst the iron; and because the iron was so rusty, it went into each wound and sore that John had; and so it was, that John became rough skinned and bald.

It is interesting in both tales how the sequence of motifs appears to keep chronological order running, more or less, from oldest to newest. In this tale we now have a reference to iron and also an allusion to Christianity. Relatively speaking John has had a much easier time of it so far than the Prince of the Lonesome Isle and the following appears to be his period of social and physical degradation, similar to the seaweed-diet sojourn in the Irish tale. In any case he is disfigured beyond recognition and works in the king's household as a 'gillie' for the smith. However, his sweetheart is awake and disconcerted to discover she has a baby.cxii Her hen-wife soothes her by telling of a bird (we may infer is a cock by the 'he') that will only land on the head of the true father. With the same imperiousness as her Irish counterpart, she wants every man checked out in the kingdom. On her way she meets the three giants and, as they previously deferred to Mathon, they now defer to the young mother from the Green Isle who reclaims her property. All the men of Erin are gathered at the castle of the king yet the father of her child is not discovered. Finally, the smith brings forth his gillie, the cock lands on his head and the young mother of the Green Isle recognises him as the father. The cured but slow witted king recognises that it was he who obtained the flasks and the two brothers are, we infer, summarily killed.

John McDonald finishes the tale on a rather material note.

John married the daughter of the king of the Green Isle, and they made a great rich wedding that lasted seven days and seven years, and thou couldst but hear leeg, leeg, and beeg, beeg, solid sound and peg drawing. Gold a-crushing from the soles of their feet to the tips of their fingers, the length of seven years and seven days.

We note the seven years that the Queen of Tubber Tintye slept is displaced to the wedding feast and we have the very material reference to gold being crushed underfoot. I think the displacement of the gold motif may be due to a contemporary cultural intrusion namely the 1869 gold-rush that took place around Kildonan in Sutherland-shire after Robert Gilchrist a returning prospector from Australia used his experience to systematically pan the steams and rivers. The encampment set up in the area was called Baile an Or (town of gold) showing the Gaelic language was still active at this late date.cxiii Before moving on to a general conclusion John F. Campbell admits that the narrator was very restless and had not the patience to tell the full story. From the outset where the youngest son is given the name 'John', rather than a title, to a couple of self conscious exclamations during the tale Och! is not that a fearful lie?, I judge he probably acquired the tale and added it to his repertoire as a travelling tinker whose welcome was more assured if he brought with him a repertoire of tales.

Back to Index


We cannot say for sure that the Scottish tale is a response to the the West Highlands famine. There is tantalising imagery though moving from the Palaeolithic transition from raw to cooked food, through to the Neolithic/Bronze Age goddess who presided over cereal growing and the dairy and towards the end less emphatic allusions to iron and Christianity.

Back to Index

The King of England and his Three Sons

The English tale offers a interesting perspective on the relationship of the fairy tale to literature, in this instance, to Arthurian saga. The youngest prince on his journey to the castle, in this case to retrieve three golden apples rather than flasks of water, must sojourn at the houses of three very fearsome brothers. At the first house he must passively put up with biting snakes and frogs in his bed.cxiv His horse is replaced and he is given a ball of yarncxv to throw between its hears so he can find his way. When he arrives at the enchanted castle he calls for assistance in the name of the Griffin of the Greenwood and is brought across the surrounding dark waters by swans. The castle's three entrances are guarded by fierce animals who he has been told will be asleep between one and two pm and so it is. He kisses the princess and exchanges tokens of a garter, a handkerchief and a gold watchcxvi . In this instance the castle awakes just as the prince is leaving and he is pursued which is a common motif in both fairy tale and myth. On arriving at the domains of the ugly brothers they each in turn ask him to decapitate them and throw their heads into wells, which act restores them to handsome young men and their dingy houses to beautiful halls and gardens. The brother's ugliness in part stems from their curling long nails, emphasising their oldness. Their renewal by decapitation is a common mytheme associated with origin tales of staple crops.cxvii The Green Knight (takings its beheading motif from Celtic mythology such as Bricriu's Feast) is a sublimated literary form of this where the boon is attained by the feat rather than literal enactment. Campbell's does an interesting discussion on the gradual transition from literal to symbolical enactmentcxviii of such ritual and T.S.Eliot, appropriately enough in his 1922 poem The Wasteland (lines 71-3) alludes to it:

That corpse you planted last year in your garden, Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year? Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

The two brothers manage to switch their apples for the younger brother's and the king is cured but suspects foul intent of his youngest son whose apples were bitter. The king sentences him to death. In this tale the meeting with the bear now takes place after the prince is spared execution and lives in exile in a forest. A bear coaxes the prince down from a tree where he has taken refuge and offers him refreshments. The bear then reveals that he is in disguise and brings the prince back to his encampment of tents which is teeming with maidens. He reveals his name is Jubal which name associates him with the biblical patron of musical stringed instruments.cxix

When the princess of the enchanted castle arrives with her army and demands to know who entered her chamber and exchanged gifts (no mention of a baby) she refers to her castle of Malvales which is very similar to the enchanted castle we find in Arthurian tales under the name Chateau des Merveilles (Chretien de TroyesPerceval circa 1190) or simply Chateau Merveille (Wolfram Von EschenbachParzifal circa 1210). In this tale it appears the Norman-French is Anglicised to Chateau Malvales and we are left to wonder if the ailing and dying king of the last tales may not be an early prototype for the Fisher-King whose suffering is metaphorical of the condition of the wasteland. Before returning to Castle Malvales the prince sends for his Welsh harp which may be the author tacitly acknowledging some such relationship with Arthurian saga.

Back to Index

The Water of Life (Das Wasser des Lebens)

This German tale is equally fascinating even though the Grimm brothers appear to have assembled it from two different fragments.cxx Still we note many of the same motifs, differently ordered, highlighting the difficulty of classifying and transcribing tales. It is classified as Aarne-Thompson type, 551 Supernatural Helpers. The gate to the enchanted castle is guarded by two lions which puts us in mind of the Phyrgian goddess, Cybele, who in invariably depicted flanked by lions, and one of whose many associations is the granary.cxxi The helper in this instance is an ugly dwarf who we typically associate with mining and metalsmithing in German folklore; he presents the questing prince with a magic iron rod (and two loaves) tending to confirm the association. The castle is enchanted and its knights asleep but the beautiful young lady within tells him she is under enchantment and tells him where the water of life is to be found. It is interesting to note from our perspective that the prince on his return with a magical sword and loaf, travels through and cures three kingdoms of the twin pestilences of war and famine. So, following the logic of the tales so far, we might tentatively suggest that such a tale might have become active, or popular, in the aftermath of the terrible period of war and famine such as the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) but as the memory recedes, the tale having fulfilled its function, no longer captures the imagination of the people and fades to a fragment of its former self. Also of interest is that the lady of the castle has a golden road to the castle entrance (equivalent to the golden gravel in the Irish tale) built to welcome the prince back when he returns for her.

Back to Index


We find the Irish and Scottish tale arose in cultures that were traumatised by famine, disease, and the loss of language and identity. The German tale explicitly refers to the returning hero curing kingdoms of war and famine. The English tale is trickier and would require further research to tease out certain aspects. The bear in the English tale suggests a relationship with the Scottish tale and Castle Malvales with the Arthurian saga.

Theses tales appear to be compensatory and in a very condensed way to touch upon some of the most ancient and fundamental motifs in our cultural history. Having lost essentially everything the psyche is of hard pressed communities is grounding itself and taking to an extreme the phenomenon captured by T.S. Eliot in the lines:

We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness. I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations — not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable. T.S.Eliot 1941(The Dry Salvages - II lines 95-102)

And yet precisely because these tales are so interesting we are acutely aware of inadequacies. The Irish tale appears complete but we do not have the original Gaelic version or its exact origin. The Scottish tale we have the Gaelic version but the storyteller appears to have truncated the tale. The English tale may have cross pollinated with literary saga and the German tale has been reassembled from two fragments. And we know too that many of the collectors of such tales cleansed them of any imagery that was considered crude.

A few years ago a preliminary analysis of the Irish tale suggested it might be a response to the Irish famine. The later discovery of the Scottish variant offered some support for this hypothesis. After investigating the four fairy tales I think there is a case for concluding that even at the level of the oral storytelling tradition of the Irish and Scottish cottier such narratives tend to spontaneously appear in the wake of societal trauma as part of a natural process of abreaction.

More challenging is the suggestion that different cultural periods gave rise to mythemes which persist as dynamic patterns that are active in the processes of our psyche and which we may experience when evoked in symbol as meaningful depth. The sequencing of the mythemes in the Irish and Scottish tales almost suggests that they punctuate thresholds, associated with particular modes of life in the cultural history of Homo sapiens, crossed in the evolution of consciousness and that when this is impacted by trauma the psyche's response is to recapitulate this process using impersonal narratives which tap into the preverbal largely visual mode of thinking laid down over hundreds of millennia during which trauma was a given.

Back to Index

Further research

Fairy tales often form part of a sequencecxxii and further research has turned up sequels to the Irish and Scottish tales. The culminating tale in the Irish series has some particularly graphic images evocative of famine and psychological trauma but also, remarkably, of new optimism and beginnings . I will publish interpretations of tale two and three in the Irish cycle near the end of 2016, and tale 2 of the Scottish series in early 2017. Are these definitive sequences? I do not think so, I imagine it is possible to mix and match tales so that different sequences cover much the same cultural and psychological territory. In a sense works like Homer's Odyssey could be viewed as a knitting together of a collection of such narratives into a unified literary work. The Scottish tale collected by J.F.Campbell in Berneray and published as The Celtic Dragon Myth inhabits an intermediate territory, not quite a full blown literary work but certainly an epic fairy tale.

Back to Index



i Claude Mangion, ‘“Nietzsche”s Philosophy of Myth’ (2003) Humanitas, Journal of the Faculty of Arts, Ed. Lydia Scriha, Volume 2, University of Malta Press.’, ed. by Lydia Scriha, Journal of the Faculty of Arts,2, p. 4

ii‘Wilhelm Grimm Did Assemble Some Tales That Were Gathered as Fragments.’

iii Joseph Campbell, ‘The Fairy Tale’, in The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension: Selected Essays, 1944-1968, The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell (Novato, Calif: New World Library, 2002), pp. 1–19 (p. 2).

iv Lutz Mackensen, ‘Geographisch-Historische Methode’, in Handwörterbuch Des Deutschen Märchen, trans. by Walter Anderson (Berlin and Leipzig, 1934).

v Friedrich von der Leyen, Das Marchen (Leipzig, 1925), p. 36.

vi Christine Goldberg, ‘The Historic-Geographic Method: Past and Future’, Journal of Folklore Research, 21.1 (1984), pp. 1–18 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814340>.

vi-za Julien d'Huy, The Evolution of Myths, Scientific American, December 2016, 56–63.

vii Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales (Boston; [New York]: Shambhala ; Distributed in the U.S. by Random House, 1996), p. 1.

viiiCampbell, ‘The Fairy Tale’, p. 19.

ixD.L. Ashliman, ‘Censorship in Folklore’, 1997 <http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/censor.html> [accessed 28 July 2015].

x James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper Perennial, 1992), p. 103.

xi Marie-Louise von Franz, Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales, Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1997), p. 20.

xii C. G Jung, Modern man in search of a soul (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1984), p. 30.

xiii Carl Gustav Jung, ‘The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche’, in General Aspects of Dream Psychology, trans. by R. F. C Hull, Bollingen XX (New York: Pantheon Books, 1960), pp. 277–8.

xiv Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (London: Fontana, 1993).

xv‘Campbell Was Unaware of Vladimir Propp’s 1928 “Morphology of the Tale”  Only Published in English in 1958.’

xvi‘I Arrived at This Opinion a Few Years Ago after a Brief Preliminary Investigation.’

xvii Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bollingen Series XVII, 3rd ed (Novato, Calif: New World Library, 2008), p. 32.

xviii Ciarán Ó Murchadha, The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony, 1845-1852 (Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 25.

xixThomas Malthus, ‘An Essay On the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, With Remarks on the Speculations of Mr Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers.’ <http://studymore.org.uk/xmal1798.htm> [accessed 14 May 2015].

xx Alexander Mackenzie, The Highland Clearances (New Lanark: Waverley, 2009).

xx-a William J. Smith, 'The Creation of the Workhouse System', in Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-52, ed. by John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Michael Murphy (Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 2012), pp. 120–27.

xxi Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology. (London: Arkana, 1991), p. 3.

xxii Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘The Structural Study of Myth’, The Journal of American Folklore, 68.270 (1955), 428–44 (p. 431) .

xxiiiTony G. Dolan, ‘Joseph Campbell’s Use of Mythology as Narrative Superstructure’ (presented at the Study of Myth symposium, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, 2012) <http://www.miotas.org/blog_body.cfm?id=E609A933-B531-10AD-D827DCA504C2F830> [accessed 14 July 2015].

xxiv Joseph Campbell, ‘The Symbol without Meaning’, in The Flight of the Wild Gander : Explorations in the Mythological Dimension : Selected Essays, 1944-1968 (Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2002), pp. 93–138 (p. 143).

xxv Otto Rank, The Trauma of Birth (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 8.

xxvi Joseph Campbell, The Flight of the Wild Gander : Explorations in the Mythological Dimension : Selected Essays, 1944-1968 (Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2002), p. 152.

xxvii Joseph Campbell, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce, ed. by Edmund L. Epstein (Novato, Calif: Joseph Campbell Foundation : New World Library, 2003), p. 3.

xxviii Patrick Gleeson, ‘Constructing Kingship in Early Medieval Ireland: Power, Place and Ideology’, Medieval Archaeology, 56.1 (2012), 1–33 (p. 9) .

xxix James MacKillop, A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 285–6.

xxx Marija Gimbutas, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, 6500-3500 BC: Myths and Cult Images, New and updated ed (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982), pp. 211–3.

xxxiMarija Gimbutas, p. 211.

xxxii Marija Alseikaite Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006), p. 147.

xxxiii James George Frazer, The Golden Bough : A Study in Magic and Religion (London: Papermac, 1992), pp. 460–2.

xxxivÓ Murchadha, p. 3,6.

xxxv Máire MacNeill and Irish Folklore Commission, The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest (Dublin: Comhairle Bhéaloideas Èireann, University College, 1982), p. 66.

xxxviJames George Frazer, pp. 447–62.

xxxvii‘The Juxtaposition of Three Naked Torsos on a Cliff Face at Roc Aux Sorciers, France, Suggests the Motif May Date from Th’.

xxxviii‘The Metrical Dindshenchas’, trans. by Edward Gwynn (University of Cork Celt Project) <http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T106500C.html#p27l#p27> [accessed 3 August 2015].

xxxixPropp, p. 12.

xlMacKillop, p. 173.

xli‘Dr MacKillop Indicated That His Source Was an Elderly Irish Female, in Syracuse, NY circa 1984.’

xliiMacNeill and Irish Folklore Commission, p. 275.

xliiiMacNeill and Irish Folklore Commission, p. 283.

xliv Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology., p. 190.

xlv Joseph Campbell, ‘The Master Bear’, in Primitive Mythology., The Masks of God, IV vols. (London: Arkana, 1991), 334–47 (pp. 190–202).

xlvi Peter Woodman, ‘A Fine Spot for Fishing’, Archaeology Ireland, 29 No.2.112 (2015), p. 27.

xlviiMacNeill and Irish Folklore Commission, p. 137.

xlvii-a John Feehan, 'The Potato: Root of the Famine', in Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-52, ed. by John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Michael Murphy (Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 2012), pp. 28–37 p33.

xlviii‘The Famine Potato | Famine Museum’ <http://www.faminemuseum.com/famine-history/the-famine-potato/> [accessed 19 June 2015].

xlix MacNeill and Irish Folklore Commission, p. 48.

xlix-a Alwyn D. Rees and B. R. Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales (London: Thames and Hudson, 1973), p. 193.

l Jeremiah Curtin, Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin, ed. by Joseph Schafer, Wisconsin Historical Biography Series Volume II (State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1940), p. 385.

liCurtin, pp. 392–3.

lii C.G Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious., 1991, pp. 38–9 <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=929293> [accessed 16 February 2015].

liii Thomas Keneally, The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New (London: Chatto & Windus, 1998), p. 129.

livÓ Murchadha, p. 83.

lvÓ Murchadha, p. 90.

A custom in the West Highlands was to wash your face in the dew on the morning of May Day as a protection against the evil-eye.

lv-az Donald A. Mackenzie, Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk Life - Studies in Race, Culture and Tradition (Read Books Ltd, 2013), p. 279

lv-a Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY; Cork, Ireland: Boydell Press;Collins Press, 1999), p. 111

lvi Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pp. 148–9.

lvii‘There Is Another Other Passage Aligned Due West  with the Equinoctial Sunset.’

lviii‘Although This Neat Triune Relationship Is Not Reproduced at the Other Major Megalithic Sites in Ireland.’

lixTony G. Dolan, ‘Neolithic Brú Na Bóinne’ <http://www.miotas.org/blog_body.cfm?id=2F91B623-A84F-F9C0-0723BC8B12BFB669> [accessed 14 July 2015].

lx Michael J O’Kelly, Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend. (London: Thames & Hudson, 1998), p. 107.

lxi Dolan, ‘Neolithic Brú Na Bóinne’.

lxii Thomas Mann, Joseph and his brothers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), pp. 979–81.

lxiii The Epic of Gilgamish: The Sixth Tablet: Of the Goddess Ishtar, Who Fell In Love With the Hero After His Exploit Against Humbaba, trans. by R.Campbell Thompson, 1928, pp. 34–5 lines 101–111 <http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/eog/eog08.htm> [accessed 25 June 2015].

lxiv Joseph Campbell, The Way of the Seeded Earth. the Middle and Southern Americas Part 3, Mythologies of the Primitive Planters (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 276.

lxv J. P Mallory and Douglas Q Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto Indo European and the Proto Indo European World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 128 <http://site.ebrary.com/id/10271486> [accessed 26 November 2012].

lxvi Michael Dames, Mythic Ireland (New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 1996), p. 100.

lxvii Daragh Smyth, A Guide to Irish Mythology (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1988), p. 34.

lxviiiMacNeill and Irish Folklore Commission, p. 65.

lxix‘ In the German Tale She Is Awake and in All the Tales except the Scottish, the Questing Hero Too Falls Asleep.’

lxxRank, p. 3,5.

lxxi Homer, ‘Book X - Circe’, in The Odyssey, trans. by E.V. Rieu (R&R Clark Ltd, Edinburgh: Penguin Books Ltd, 1954), pp. 155–70 (p. 166) <http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Odyssey12.htm> [accessed 15 July 2015].

lxxiiHomer, p. 170.

lxxiii Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pp. 213–5.

lxxiv‘ Wells Called Toberanna (well of Aíne) Occur in Ireland Combining the Well-Sun, Water-Fire Association in Their Name.’

lxxiv-a Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY; Cork, Ireland: Boydell Press; Collins Press, 1999), p. 122-3.

lxxvMallory and Adams, pp. 261–3.

lxxvi Daniel Grey, ‘Sacral Elements of Irish Kingship’, in This Immense Panorama: Studies in Honour of Eric J. Sharpe, ed. by Carol M. Cusack and Peter Oldmeadow, pp. 106–108.

lxxvii Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God. Oriental Mythology. Vol 2 ([S.l.]: Penguin Arkana, 1991), p. 211.

lxxviii ‘Aswamedha Parva’, in The Mahabharata, trans. by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, 18 vols., Late 19th century, pp. 151–2 <http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m14/m14088.htm>.

lxxvii-a Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland p. 174.

lxxix Giraldus Cambrensis, The History and Topography of Ireland, Penguin Classics, rev. ed (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England ; New York, N.Y: Penguin Books, 1982), p. 110.

lxxxSome Commentators Say White but in the Accounts in the Mahabharata and Ramayana It Says Black.

lxxxi‘Which Raises the Question of Who Would Have Organised and Directed the Ritual?’

lxxxii ‘Trundholm Sun Chariot’, Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 2015 <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trundholm_sun_chariot&oldid=663683321> [accessed 3 July 2015].

lxxxiii Miranda Green, Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art (Routledge), p. 23.

lxxxivMacKillop, p. 65.

lxxxiv-a Elliott B. Gose, Ch. 10: The Ravens of Life, in The World of the Irish Wonder Tale: An Introduction to the Study of Fairy Tales (Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1985), pp. 152-65.

lxxxv Marie-Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (Boston: Shambhala, 1995), pp. 307–8.

lxxxviHillman, p. 99.

lxxxvii‘James Frazer Touches on the Ritual, and Meaning Of,  Horses Being Sacrificed to the Sun (Golden Bough p79)’.

lxxxviiiMacKillop, p. 299.

lxxxviii-a Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland p134-5, 177

xxxviii-b Elliott B. Gose, Chapter 1: Acts of Truth, in The World of the Irish Wonder Tale: An Introduction to the Study of Fairy Tales (Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1985), p. 23.

xxxviii-c Max Fomin, Classifications of Kings in Early Ireland and India, pp. 33–34 http://ojs.tsv.fi/index.php/scf/article/download/7423/5775.

lxxxixÓ Murchadha, p. 19.

xc‘On Being Evicted or Entering a Work-House, a Family’s House Was Destroyed to Prevent Their Return.’

xciÓ Murchadha, p. 82.

xcii‘Carl Von Sydow (1878-1952) Coined “Oikotype” to Describe Variants of a Folktale That Have Developed Their Own Distinctiv’.

xciii John MacDonald, ‘The Brown Bear of the Green Glen’, in Popular Tales of the West Highlands Vol. I: IX., ed. & trans. by John Francis Campbell, IV vols. (Alexander Gardner of Paisley and London, 1890) <http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/pt1/pt113.htm> [accessed 8 December 2014].

xciv C. G. Jung, ‘The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales’, in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, ed. by Herbert Read and others, trans. by R. F. C. Hull, The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, 2. ed., paperback print., reprint (London: Routledge, 1991), 207–52 (p. 238).

xcv James Ritchie, The Influence of Man on Animal Life in Scotland : A Study in Faunal Evolution (London: Cambridge University Press, 1920), pp. 112–5.

xcviRitchie, pp. 112–5.

xcviiGreen, pp. 27–8.

xcviii Joseph Campbell, ‘Chapter 8 Section III: The Master Bear’, in The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology. (London: Arkana, 1991), pp. 334–46.

xcixCampbell, ‘Chapter 8 Section III: The Master Bear’, p. (map of bear and feline cults following Leo Frobenius on p340).

c Rev John Batchelor, The Ainu of Japan : The Religion, Superstitions, and General History of the Hairy Aborigines of Japan (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1892), pp. 173–178 <https://archive.org/details/ainuofjapanrelig00batcuoft> [accessed 13 July 2015].

ci Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology., pp. 344–5.

cii Jean Clottes, Chauvet Cave: The Art of Earliest Times (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003), p. 212.

ciii ‘La Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc - Ardèche, France’, La Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc - Ardèche, France <http://archeologie.culture.fr/chauvet/> [accessed 7 July 2015].

civ‘Although There Is No Evidence of the Fires in Chauvet Cave Having Been Used to Cook Food, or Nicks on Bear Bones Indicat’.

cv Philip G. Chase, ‘The Cult of the Cave Bear’, Expedition, Summer 1987, 4–9 (pp. 4–9) <http://penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/29-2/Cult1.pdf>.

cvi Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, pp. 245–7.

cviiMichael Newton, ‘Prophesy and Cultural Conflict in Gaelic Tradition’, pp. 155–6 <https://www.academia.edu/1005804/Prophecy_and_Cultural_Conflict_in_Gaelic_Tradition>.

cviiiNewton, pp. 144–6.

cix‘In Scotts Gaelic Bear Is “Mathan”, in Irish It Is “Art”, in Welsh “Arth” from Which We Derive the Name Arthur.’

cx‘A Refrain Repeated in the English Tale Suggesting Some Commonality with the Scottish Variant.’

cx-a Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK; Rochester, NY; Cork, Ireland: Boydell Press?; Collins Press, 1999), pp. 181–3.

cxi‘Although the Saddle Was Introduced by the Anglo-Normans; Gaelic Society Used a Thick Cloth Called a Dillat’.

cxii‘It Is  Not without Interest That the Bear Is the Only Mammal That Gives Birth While Asleep during Hibernation.’

cxiii R.M Callender and P.F. Reeson, The Scottish Gold Rush of 1869 (Northern Mine Research Society, April 2008), pp. 12–14 <http://www.nmrs.org.uk/publications/lookinside/BM84lookinside.pdf>.

cxiv‘A Faint Echo Perhaps of the Biblical Plagues of Egypt?’

cxv‘The Ball of Yarn Is Used Here in Stead of a Bridle.’

cxvi‘Note How the Image of the Solar Year Has Been Reduced to a Gold Watch.’

cxvii‘The New Food- Plant Appears Where the Head or Body Is Buried.’

cxviiiJoseph Campbell, 'Chapter 4: The Province of the Immolated Kings', in The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology

cxixJames Hastings, ‘Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics’ <https://archive.org/stream/encyclopaediaofr01hastuoft#page/252/mode/2up/search/AINU> [accessed 13 July 2015].

cxx Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, ‘Das Wasser des Lebens’, Wikipedia, 2015 <https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Das_Wasser_des_Lebens&oldid=141688143> [accessed 15 July 2015].

cxxi James Frazer, The Golden Bough (PAPERMAC), pp. 348–52 <http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Golden_Bough>.

cxxii Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales (Boston; [New York]: Shambhala?; Distributed in the U.S. by Random House, 1996), p. 196.

cxxiii Prof Richard Kearney, Writing Trauma; From Memory to Fiction, The Theatre of Memory Symposium (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 2014)