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SEANCHAS-L  December 2010

SEANCHAS-L December 2010

Subject:

Re: Star map

From:

Richard Marsh <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

List for Scholars and Students of Gaelic Folk Traditions <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 1 Dec 2010 18:02:49 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (135 lines)

Helen keeps --
"... asking crom=crooked lec=flagstone,
what's crooked about a cromlec?  its all straight stones... could it be
that the crom referred to is Crom the deity?"

Try crom as a verb = bend + lec (leac) = slab / flat stone / grave marker 
(not necessarily a flagstone). Stone circles were also called cromlechs in 
the 19th century, just to confuse matters. The bending element probably 
refers to the curvature of the stone circle and the straight sides of the 
dolmen -- as a piece of cardboard is bent to form a box.

One of my Irish teachers -- a real martinet -- stopped me cold when we were 
practising the future tense. We'd say "Feicfidh mé thú amórach (I'll see you 
tomorrow), and he'd say "leac?" Even after he did this several times, I'd 
wonder, What does a slab of stone, often a grave marker, have to do with 
seeing you tomorrow? Then I twigged (from the Irish tuig = understand): you 
have to follow every expression of future aspiration with the pious "le 
cúnamh Dé" -- with the help of God, God willing, or as it is usually said in 
Irish English, Please God.

I don't think "cromlech" is used by archaeologists these days. The type of 
tomb we're talking about is equally called "dolmen" and "portal tomb", 
preferably the latter, probably to avoid confusion with the 19th-century 
misnomer.

However, to keep matters confusing, the New Oxford Dictionary of English 
(1998) has "cromlech: (in Wales) a megalithic tomb consisting of a large 
flat stone laid on upright ones. Also called DOLMEN. [Origin: Welsh, from 
crom 'arched' + llech 'flat stone'.] (In Brittany) a circle of standing 
stones. [origin: via French from Breton krommlec'h.]"

NODE takes dolmen from Cornish tolmen = hole of a stone "perhaps via 
Breton".

Moving on to someone who knows what he's talking about, Anthony Weir (Early 
Ireland: A Field Guide) says dolmen is from the Breton meaning literally 
table (made of) stone. I learned elsewhere that menhir, a professional term 
for standing stone, comes from Welsh = stone long. In Ireland, standing 
stones are often labeled "long stones", in the same sense that Eamon de 
Valera was The Long Fellow.

Diarmuid's foster father, Aenghus, advised him to sleep in a different place 
each night during the year and a day that Fionn chased him and Gráinne. I 
would guess that some kid asked daddy what the dolmens were for, and, being 
familiar with the D&G saga, daddy said Diarmuid erected a dolmen each night, 
which is why there once were 366 of them. (There are about 175 remaining.) 
So I think the association of D&G with dolmens is simply an opportunistic 
explanation, because daddy wanted to maintain the fiction that he was 
all-knowing. When the kid grew up to be an antiquary (pre-archaeologist) and 
write a book about dolmens, daddy's ad hoc tale was set in stone.

Richard Marsh
Dublin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Helen McKay" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, December 01, 2010 3:42 PM
Subject: Re: [SEANCHAS-L] Star map


Janet said:
> Somehow I never realized that the dolmans had a mound over them
Richard wrote:
>Some say they had, others say no. Possibly some had, but I've never
seen any in Ireland, Wales or Spain that looked as if they ever were
covered with earth. Occam's Razor: if they WERE covered, why aren't
they now?

Thanks for that Syrian dolmen/cromlec Janet.   Richard, I would agree
with your assessment and take it one step further, that there is no
example where a cromlec is still covered with either rocks or earth, and
if they all were so originally you'd certainly expect some at least to still
be covered. By cromlec I mean just the simple single roundish flagstone
raised above the supporting stones, with the highest at the front.  I
love these cromlecs, but I keeping asking crom=crooked lec=flagstone,
what's crooked about a cromlec?  its all straight stones... could it be
that the crom referred to is Crom the deity?  I have this trouble in
Scotland too, there seem to me to be lots of crom placenames that are
perfectly straight... but its not an idea that is received well I have to
admit... :-)

These structures are millenia old.  But there are two things I've been
wondering about, so see what you all think of this?  the first is this all-
present motif in Irish stories about the 'lec', the flat flagstone.  I could
write a book on all the instances of this motif, but in the end, the one
thing that seems to come through is that this flagstone seems to be
able somehow to separate the realms.  Devils and angels are above
and below flagstones, a flagstone can be sailed across the sea by a
saint, and so on.  And the cromlecs somehow hid Grainne and Dairmid
while they were fleeing from Finn, possibly again by somehow
separating them into a different realm?  Well if this is the right way of
looking at a flagstone, then the cromlec would be a place where the
realms of earth and sky are being physically separated for some
purpose.

The other thing that strikes me about a cromlec is its shape when
you're standing in front of it.  Its a doorway.  And the doorway is such
an ancient and powerful symbol for all humanity.  I think the revolution
of housing was perhaps even more powerful to the ways and minds of
humans  than cultivation and weapons even.  And the doorway is the
ultimate symbol of the domestic house.  It also represents the safety
and family of the house, and it represents the civilised as opposed to
the outside wild.   The word for door also remains close to the words for
oak and druid as the celtic languages evolve, which may indicate its
central importance.  And in other cultures we see this 'door' feature as
a powerful symbol of key divinities, for instance, as Janus in Roman
times, the god of the doorway or gateway, not a minor deity but
perhaps the primary one.  But the Roman deities are such an eclectic
mix, we should look backwards into other cultures, and we find other
deities of doorways and liminal spaces, such as Hermes, and, Hecate
the great mother goddess.  Sometimes the goddess is portrayed seated
under the doorway.  And in the Pictish symbols too there is a symbol
with this simple doorway shape.   All of this I think demonstrates that
the doorway was a common human experience which was used to
symbolise a key aspect of existence.   But does it give us any hint of
what or who is or were involved at the cromlecs?

Unfortunately it doesnt even help us with a likely gender of a concerned
deity.  But, if we look for a Irish deity with liminal mythology, then one
stands out, and that is Donn, the god who holds the 'house' Tech Donn
(which is actually today an island in the shape of an arch-doorway)
where all the dead gather before passing on to the west - the the same
quadrant where we find most of the cromlecs.  And oddly enough, some
research has suggested that Donn is the same deity as Crom, as seen
in the western areas in particular of Ireland.  Donn is similar to Hermes,
the Greek god of doorways, in that he too hands over the souls of the
dead as they move from this world to the next.

So I wonder whether the Cromlec is another form of Tech Donn, a
symbolic doorway between this world and the next?  trouble is, how to
take the idea further?

Helen

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