January 2018 – The Death of Cuchulainn

By | March 12, 2018

The session covered:

Culchulainn’s links to the supernatural and the gods. Tales of him show his ability to move between one world and another, so showing god-like characteristics.  Some tales show him to be descended from the sun god and there are references in the Phantom Chariot to him sailing west for many days.

The three tales in the session covered some common recurring themes and references as such as birds which feature in Celtic mythology.  Bird migration was explained by them moving to the other world and they are seen as messengers and emissaries for the gods.  Green is the colour of the gods.  Water being the delineation between this world and the supernatural, so tales are based on lakes, trips to islands, the magical properties of fords.

The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn, this appears in a manuscript of the book of the Dun Cow from 1100’s which covered a story from oral form from long before it was written down. It takes place at Samhain a magical time of year.  Whilst feasting 2 beautiful birds linked by a red/gold chain sing and all who hear it are lulled to sleep.  Cuchulainn awakes and goes to hunt the birds.  They turn into women who whip him until he is nearly dead and leave.  He stayed in bed for a year and then awoke and told his story and goes back to where he was whipped.  The story goes on to involve Fand, the most beautiful woman in the world and abandoned wife a of Manannan Mac Lir the sea god, who wants Cuchulainn and then does not and the story is finally resolved with a drink of forgetfulness so he and Emer (his wife) can go on again as if nothing had happened.

The Phantom Chariot, a story which involves the other world and enchantment and many of the common themes.  It is an epic tale of a raid on a mysterious island where they encounter all manner of mystical beasts which Cuchulainn overcomes eventually coming home with gold.

The Death of Cuchulainn.  Treachery had to be involved as no one could beat him.  Queen Medb had never forgiven him for the cattle raid and she gathered an army against him.  She brought in the triplet daughters of Calitin.  Calitin was a wizard that Cuchulainn had killed along with his 27 sons before the triplets had been born.  They had been raised as witches

There were signs and portents and the Druids tried to keep Culculainn away.  His horse the Grey of Macha refused to be bridled and cried tears of blood.

Three old women cooking a hound on wooden spits invited Culculainn to eat with them.  He was honour bound to do so despite the hound being his totem animal.  This caused serious damage to his strength and fighting ability with half his body paralysed.  He saw his enemies and asked three druids for the three spears he had with him.  These were Medb’s men and they gave them to him by hurling them at him, fatally wounding him and killing Laegh Mac Riangabra his faithful charioteer.  He died after tying himself to a stone pillar so he could die standing.  With his death the glory of the Red Branch of Ulster passed.

Last Updated on March 12, 2018