Academic journal article Contemporary Psychoanalytic Studies

One: Stories from the Bog: On the Underworld, the Underconsciousness, and the Undertaking

Academic journal article Contemporary Psychoanalytic Studies

One: Stories from the Bog: On the Underworld, the Underconsciousness, and the Undertaking

Article excerpt

It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.

- Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces


...and she lives in Connemarra, the province of memory; you know, the province where the old language, ancient customs, and timeless narratives remain most alive. They say that she rules over the mountain range that stretches from the Dingle peninsula up along the coast to Moher where, on a clear day, you might catch glimpses of her silhouette on Hag's Head (Ceann na Cailleach), the most southerly of the cliffs of Moher. And if you travel in the region around Gort, you'll find the greatest concentration of sites named after her, the most legends about her, and the landscape most clearly carved in the stark features of her image (Monaghan, 2003). She lives in many different forms and guises: as Bronach in the lonely, windswept hills of the Burren; as Sionann, the reckless maiden, in rivers like the Shannon; and, as the healer Brigit in county Kildare. She is the Cailleach Bheirre, The Veiled One, the Mother Goddess of all other gods and goddesses; she is the old one, the hag, the witch, the rock-faced crone. She came to this island long before the time of the ancient Celts and their traditions, even before the time of written documents and records. She is over six thousand years old and underlies all myth, tale, and tradition in Ireland. ' least, that's what they say.

In the oral traditions of Ireland, pUce and storytelling are inseparable. Each place in Ireland is steeped in history and myth; each place is wrapped in a narrative context that tells its story in song and poetry. They say that Ireland is the land of the poems of place-lore (dindshenchas) that tell the mythic meaning of her hills and crossroads, her dolmens and holy wells (Monaghan, 2003). Her poem-stories are forms of memory within the Irish culture. The power oí place resides in the Irish character and spirit, renewing itself through each storytelling experience. Furthermore, neither place nor storytelling can be separated from she who is the Mother Goddess of Ireland. The rock- faced crone remains alive through the stories that speak the sacredness of her land: She is the place of the cave, the rocks, and the cliffs as well as the womb, the bride, and the gaunt old Hag. Ireland is a she and her national consciousness is closely tied to the sacred places of her landscape. Of those places that are of her, the bog is one of the holiest. They say that if you follow the Old Bog Road that crosses Roundstone Bog in Connemara, you walk on one of Ireland's most sacred of places where the Old Cailleach remains palpably alive. least, that's what they say.

In Finders Keepers, the Irish poet Seam us Heaney (2002), winner of the Nobel prize in literature, speaks to the magical power and cultural memory that resides in the bog in his poem, The BogUnd. "We have no prairies...," the poem begins, referring to the frontier and the West as an important myth in the American consciousness, "...but we have bogs," becomes the answering Irish myth. Indeed, much of Irish history is discovered in the material text and remembrances of the bog. The bog remembers and preserves all that it might envelope: bog butter, bog animals, and even bog people are perfectly preserved for centuries under the peat of the bog. ...Bog people, you might ask? They were the people who were part of the ritual sacrifices to the Mother Goddess. The gaunt old hag desires new bridegrooms each winter with whom she can sleep and make love in the hidden places of the bog. When she receives their love, she suddenly and unexpectedly transforms into a beautiful young woman; the Old Cailleach is a shape-shifter. …

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