I have to agree with you here. It is sometimes possible to track things
from the opposite direction -- finding later survivals of earlier myths
-- Androcles/St. Jerome, for example, but tracking their exact route
through time and space is fraught with problems and only rarely can be
accomplished. Looking for a specific answer is like entering a maze with
the expectation that the exit will be where you think it should be!
The study of lore is really taking a text (or recording) and then
tracking the origins of each if its elements-- its focus is the text,
itself, and the study takes you where it will. This is very different
from looking for very specific answers that have been defined before
starting the search.
For a book, I tried to track some pre-Christian Celtic antecedents to
the later Grail stories, but found that the later elements could easily
have come from a number of different sources. There seemed no clear
evidence as to which, so I had to abandon that whole part of the book.
On 8/1/2010 9:36, [log in to unmask] wrote:
> Hi Bernard,
> I would say, to answer your question, is rather than looking for the
> old religions behind the folklores of the 19th and early 20th
> centuries, you have to think about some history. I would call your
> attention to Walsh, who specifically warns against trying to find
> pagan antecedents to the customs of Martinmasse. Also, see Ronald
> Hutton's The Rise and Fall of Merry England, where he started off with
> the assumption that he could find pagan antecedents to the English
> folkways, but discovered that most of the customs he found were only a
> century or two old.
> I think that the same must be seen for Ireland. Remember, that
> Ireland's culture went through a series of tremendous shocks during
> the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In particular, the reaction of the
> English authorities in the wake of the defeat of the Great O'Neil, the
> depredations of Oliver Cromwell, the penal laws after the Battle of
> the Boyne and, finally, the crushing atmosphere after 1798, led to a
> degradation of Irish culture. Daibhi O'Bruadair (d. 1698) is generally
> seen as the last of the Irish poets. After him, it's back to the oral
> tradition and a time of hedge schools and ignorance among the Gaelic
> During this time, it's easy to see where the folklores that you often
> bring up could have come into existence. Often due to ignorance and
> local custom passed on from generation to generation, you get
> anomalies, corruptions and stories which are far from what is
> considered to be historical truth. This is not the fault of the
> tale-tellers, but should not be taken at face value, even if one uses
> something like Frazer and sees "connections".
> The truth is, that, unless there is a tremendous archaeological find,
> we will know little of what made up the pre-Roman Celtic religious
> milieu. There are bits and pieces which are interesting, but, the best
> we can do is look at what we have in terms of archaeological finds,
> coinage, the writings of the Romans and the stories set down in
> writing by the Irish monks. Trying to interpret the folklore of later
> times and extrapolate a pre-Christian religion is simply a red
> herring, as tempting as that might be.
> "Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?' I dream things that
> never were and say, 'Why not?'" George Bernard Shaw/Teddy Kennedy at
> the eulogy of RFK, 1968
> ---------- Original Message ----------
> From: Bernard Morgan <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: Green Martin
> Date: Sat, 31 Jul 2010 21:46:28 +0000
> >>>I found a very interesting article that you really should read:
> Martin W. Walsh, "Medieval English "Martinmesse": The Archaeology of a
> Forgotten Festival," Folklore, vol. 111, no. 2 (October, 2000), pp.
> I have quoted from Walsh work prior then suggesting that the folklore
> of Martinmass overshadows All Hallow (Samhain) in associated
> traditions. Sadly I have lost my copy of Walsh's "Medieval English
> "Martinmesse": The Archaeology of a Forgotten Festival".
> >>>While mostly focusing on England, he does cover the rest of
> Britain, addresses the origin of the word "mart"and has some good
> footnotes. He also talks about the relationship between St. Martin and
> slaughtered oxen. Apparently, this period in November was
> traditionally the time of slaughtering animals for winter storage...he
> has a 14th c. picture of St. Martin raising an axe to slaughter an ox
> and finds 14th c. references in English documents to "mart" or "marte"
> referring to a fattened ox.
> I find reference that in England the Ox to be slaughtered is also
> called a Martin. The English also have a Calf called a Free Martin,
> its imperfection destines it to be eaten that year.
> For reference, in “Early Irish Farming” by Fergus Kelly there are a
> number of Gaelic names for calfs:
> Lόeg (láeg, laogh), from birth (May?) to the end of October
> Gamain, from the first November in year of birth
> Dartaid/Dairt, from the first May the year after birth
> Colpthach (fhirenn), Two year old
> Fergus gives the example “in Gaelic of South Uist a Laogh becomes a
> Gamhain at the beginning of November (Samhain).” (Quoting from
> McDonald, Gaelic words and expressions.)
> So who is the Irish face behind the Irish tales of St Martin?
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"Numismatics is the window through which I look out on the past."
Derek Fortrose Allen
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