Our World is full of myths and creation stories that shape Pagan beliefs. These tales speak of the very origins of existence and explore the tales of the divine and their roles in the creation of our world. Many pagans look to these creation stories to gain insights into the interconnectedness of nature, humanity, the divine and the essence of existence itself. Yet the question remains where are the Irish Pagan Creation Stories?
In the Beginning.
Every story has a beginning for it is from there that we must start. For Christians it’s the tale of six days of effort and one of rest for their deity. For the Norse it is the emergence of Odin from his progenitor Ymir, the subsequent slaying of whom creates the world. Across our planet there are a whole variety of tales which speak to the very beginning of our world. Some academics have tried to categories these tales by theme resulting in six types of creation:
- creation by creator
- creation through emergence
- creation by world parents
- creation from the cosmic egg
- creation by Earth divers
- creation by corpse transformation
So into which of these categories do the Irish Pagan Creation Stories fall? Well interestingly they fall into none of these recognisable themes. Not because they are somehow at odds with the rest of the world’s view of creation. They cannot be categorised because, unfortunately, they no longer exist.
Tale as Old as Time…or Older Still.
We currently measure the origins of the existence of everything in our known universe to approximately 14 billion years ago in accordance with the widely accepted cosmological theory of the Big Bang. Given what we know and can measure of our expanding universe it is believed that time began for everything all at once in the eruption of a great singularity. All the energy which would become existence exploded into being.
Yet, though this is the beginning of time, the specific measurement of time began a lot later. We know that in ancient Egypt some time before 1500 B.C.E. they were using sundials to measure the passage of the day. Although we can say for sure that the annual solar passage was being monitored in the passage tomb in Newgrange built in 3200 B.C.E.
These feats of intellect and creativity could never have happened without communication between our ancient ancestors and so we know that complex and detailed language must have driven this understanding and of course where there is language there is always story.
The oldest records of primitive Irish language can be dated between 300 to 500 C.E. but we know from the cultural and societal structures recorded in the great works of the early mediaeval period, such as the Book Of Kells, the Book of Fermoy, and the Book of the Dun Cow, that prior to written record, Ireland existed as an oral society. In this tribal structure there were those tasked with remembering, with holding the recollection of lineage, judgments, and the oldest tales of the peoples. These were the bards.
The Mythical Cycle of Ireland
In the lore of Ireland there are four cycles of stories, the oldest being the cycle covering Ireland’s myths. It is here that we find the stories speaking of Ireland in its earliest times. These tales were documented by early christian monks and its possible that here is where we hit our first stumbling block in the pursuit of Irish Pagan Creation Stories.
The tale of Ireland becomes intertwined with the mythology of christianity and though in many places it is easy to see where the christian influence was pasted over the original tales, there are some fundamentals which we fear must have been lost.
According to these old stories, Ireland existed well before the mythical flood spoken of in the tale of Noah and his ark. In fact there is mention of ancient tribes coming into Ireland and finding it abundant and beautiful. The stories carry on down through generations speaking time and again of peoples coming into Ireland, their descendents leaving its shores, only for their descendents to return once again. Through all of these tales of immigration and immigration, Ireland remains, almost always described as beautiful and bountiful.
We can date the linguistics of these stories from Old Irish (700s to 800s CE) through to Middle Irish (900s to 1100s CE) but given what we know of the occupation of the island from archaeology, and the oldest linguistic records of primitive Irish (300 to 500 C.E.) it might be fair to assume that there are some tales lost to us, not just by christian influence, but lost to time itself.
The Lost Irish Pagan Creation Stories
Is this it? Is this the end of our journey on the topic? Must we just resign ourselves to sadness and frustration?
Well, I for one will keep going, keep on exploring what we have and pondering what it might tell us about what we have lost. I will continue in seeking insights into the interconnectedness of nature, humanity, the divine and the essence of existence itself, and here I will share a few of my own personal suppositions based on what I have found.
Creation myths all revolve around elemental forces or primordial beings and how these are tamed, or slain, or transformed to create the world in which we live. So with this in mind I have trekked the tales of the past seeking these themes and believe I have some tantalising clues to our lost Irish pagan creation stories.
The first and though some might say easiest to spot is no less frustrating for all of that. Ireland is an island nation and we have many tales about that which surrounds it, the sea. From tales of magical mists, nine waves, and even a deity, we learn a name and unfortunately not much more, Lir. Many fantastic and fascinating stories there are about Manannán, known as the Mac Lir, or son of Lir, yet there is nothing of Lir themself. For many Manannán is simply son of the sea, fulfilling many a role in the Irish Lore, but what if there were older tales now lost? Would not the primordial power and ever present yet shifting nature of the seas around the island not inspire the earliest tribes to speak of it? Tribes which we know came out of other distant lands, or islands, each with deities of the oceans themselves? Is Lir, simply a word or is it all that remains as the name of Ireland’s primordial ocean God?
Next on my list of fascinations is of course the land itself. We have many tales of the naming of the land known collectively as Dinnshenecas, or the ‘Lore of Names and Places’. These tales come from the mythical cycle as tribes come into the island and shape it to make it their own. Everything from hills named for the first person to be buried there, to rivers and plains called for the folk who first cleared the ancient forests, or breached the lakes to draw the waters forth. Yet it is to the creation of the land itself that I look, not the names that were later put upon it. Here is where we find many themes of transformation across creation stories. From bodies becoming the ground and how all life grows from some central, often coded female, figure. It is in this manner that I can’t help but think of the Cailleach. The word now means hag, crone, or in some ways witch, and though there are many stories concerning one cailleach or another, there is one tale that for me fits our theme of land creation. This of the Cailleach and her apron full of stones. It was said that she would leap from place to place across the land and that on occasion some rocks would fall from her apron. These rocks were said to become the very hills and mountains of Ireland. Might not these tales of land shaping speak less to the mythical and more to the primordial? Might the Cailleach and her works form the very foundations of the island and not just its heights?
The last frustrating fascination on our potential primordial exploration is none other than Crom Cruach. References to Crom are made in a few places but most famously in the stories about St’ Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. It is said that Crom Cruach was a hunched and wizened figure surrounded in mists, yet also shining brightly and warmly as the sun. Tales are told of sacrifices to Crom to ensure good and plentiful harvests all of which came to an end when St. Patrick struck down an idol to Crom Cruach and banished the ‘demon’ that lived within it. There are some older references to the God Lugh, stealing the secrets of good harvest or maybe even immortality from Crom Cruach. When we look at these themes and how they connect to tales of Crom Cruach are we not exploring the power of life, growth, abundance and in many cases continued existence for the peoples of the island? Could Crom Cruach fit the primordial role as life bringer into an island created from stones surrounded by the sea?
Alas who can say for sure. Suffice to say that as of now there are no Irish Pagan Creation Stories. Yet when we have so many ancient Irish manuscripts with all of their varied stories and translations, who is to say that there are not some older tales as yet to be discovered, recovered, or translated amidst the aged pages of vellum stored around the world. For me I will keep an open mind and carry on exploring.
Where To Now?
If you think that Irish Paganism as we teach sounds interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: