Sophia in Ireland: Eight

Deep within the well on the Hill of Tara, the Storyteller continues her tale:

At the end of the seven years Fuamnach had begun her search for the purple fly, and when she found the sun bower, and discovered the honour and the love that the Mac Og bestowed upon Etain, her hatred deepened, and with cunning, she went to Midir. “Let Angus come and visit you for a while,” she said,” for the love between you is deep.”

And Midir, in his loneliness, welcomed the thought, and sent messengers to bid the Mac Og come to Bri Leith.

Angus left the Brugh and the sun bower with a heavy heart, and as soon as he had come to the Fair Mound of Bri Leith, and he and his foster-father were closeted together, Fuamnach, by devious and secret ways came to his House, and entering into the sun bower, she raised the same dread fury of wind and swept Etain with violence through the window and away from the Brugh, to be driven and buffeted, hither and yon, for seven more years, over the length and breadth of Ireland.

When Angus returned to the Brugh and found the crystal sun bower empty, he followed Fuamnach’s tracks, and he came up with her at the House of the wizard Bresal, and he shore off her head.

Etain, seven years to the day of the second great wind of Fuamnach, tired and spent, small and pale, lit upon the roof of Etar’s House. Etar was an Ulster warrior.

There were feasting and celebration within, and as the wife of Etar was about to drink, Etain, exhausted, dropped from the roof and fell into the golden beaker, and the woman swallowed the purple fly with the wine that was in the goblet. And Etain was conceived in the womb of Etar’s wife, and afterwards became her daughter.

When she was born, she became Etain, daughter of Etar, and it was one thousand and twelve years from the time of her first begetting by the Fairy King, Aylill until her conception in the womb of the wife of Etar.

Here the first part of the tale of “Wooing of Etain” ends. Before the Storyteller continues, let’s pause to look at our own life-journeys. When have we, like Etain, found ourselves reduced to a “pool of water”, then discovered a new way of being that blessed us and others? Have we known times of being buffeted by winds, unable to find a place of rest? Have we, like Etain, been swallowed, returned to a womb-like state, where we must wait and wait until our transformed self might finally emerge newborn?

These patterns of life/death/life repeat through our lives in different ways, and yet with wisdom, we come to know that darkness yields to light, night to dawn, dying to old ways leads us to rebirth of new life and joy.

How would you tell the tale of your transformations?

Now the Storyteller continues her tale:

Eochaid (pronounced yeo’hee), King of Ireland, in the year after his succession, commanded that the great Feast of Tara be held in order to assess the tribute and the taxes. But the people assembled and talked together, and they refused to pay tribute to a King who had no Queen, and they would not hold Festival at that time. So it was that Eochaid, without delay, sent envoys to the North and to the South, to the East and to the West, to seek the fairest maiden in Ireland to be his bride.

As the months passed and, one by one, the messengers returned to Tara, each had audience with the King. He listened to them and conferred with his men of wisdom, and his poets, but his heart did not leap within him until, late on an evening, he was alone on the terrace of Tara and a young envoy asked leave to speak with him.

The King bade him draw near, and eagerly, the messenger spoke:

“Fifty beautiful maidens there were, O King, bathing in the estuary near to the house of Etar, in Ulster, and one more beautiful than all the others, at the edge of a spring, with a bright silver comb ornamented with gold, washing her hair in a silver bowl with four golden birds on it, and little flashing jewels of purple carbuncle on the rims of the bowl… There were two golden yellow tresses on her head; each one was braided of four plaits, with a bead at the end of each plait. The colour of her hair seemed … like the flower of the water-flag in summer, or red gold that has been polished.

john-william-waterhouse-sketch-for-a-mermaid

 

“She was loosening her hair to wash it… her wrists were as white as the snow of one night and they were soft and straight; and her clear and lovely cheeks were red as the foxglove of the moor. Her eyebrows were as black as a beetle’s wing… Her eyes were blue as the bugloss; her lips red as vermilion; her shoulders were high and smooth and soft and white as the foam on the wave… The bright blush of the moon was on her noble face… She was the fairest and loveliest and most perfect of the women of the world that the eyes of men have ever seen… She is Etain, daughter of Etar, and there is pride on her brow and radiance in her eyes, and it is said, ‘All are fair till compared with Etain.’ I thought her to be out of a Fairy Mound.”

(to be continued)

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