Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/403

This page needs to be proofread.


Reviews. 367

is held to have worked upon the Orphic doctrines widely spread in his day (as Plato did when " he bestowed upon Orphic teach- ing concerning immortality, new life, fresh spirit, and complete expression " in Maass' words). Now the chief ritual of the Orphic sectary was connected with the story of Dionysos-Zagreus (a myth known to Onomacritos in the sixth century B.C., and told at length to us by Nonnos in the fifth century a.d.), and the Dionysos cult was an agricultural ritual of sacrifice, such as existed among the Celts, in Ireland at Mag Slecht, and in Gaul on the island Sena among the priestesses of the Namnites (as described by Posidonios), and was by the Irish associated with the Tuatha De Danann.

The beliefs held by the Irish respecting this divine clan are next examined. The evidence is of five kinds, or rather springs from five sources, the Dinnshenchas compilers of the eleventh and twelfth centuries working on all kinds and stages of myths, the euhemeristic Annalists of the tenth and eleventh centuries, the tellers of the heroic cycles, the romantic tales related to the Annals, and the present beliefs of the Irish peasantry. In this evidence, when sifted and examined and cleared of its euhemeristic twist, one finds a Rabelaisian element, a Gargantuan smack, one finds " the Folk of the Goddess Danu in the role of protectors, fosterers, inspirers of vegetable and animal life ; and when this role is found [as it is] connected with the practice of ritual sacrifice, the conclusion as to the true nature of the Tuatha De Danann seems inevitable " — to wit, that they are the agricultural deities of a great sacrificial cult {dei terreni as the Book of Armagh scribe styles them) and survive to this day as the Fairy folk. " Down to the introduction of Christianity the Irishman was in the position of the Greek to whom participation in the Thargelia, or the rites of the Eleusinian mother, and the public reading of the Homeric poems, the recitation of the epinician odes, the performance of the crowned tragedy, were all acts of kindred nature having the like intent and sanction. After the introduc- tion of Christianity his rude substitutes for Homer, the ode, or the drama still retained their sway over him, but his Dionysos, his Demeter, had to creep back to the peasant's hut, their earliest home, to forfeit the pomp and circumstance of kingly and sacer- dotal display ... I think I may venture," Mr. Nutt goes on, " to assert that nearly the whole of Irish fairy lore can be inter-