I think I have figured out my problem with writing the journal entries, especially for the Celtic portion of the class. I am so accustom to writing in this very formal, dry tone for my clergy classes, and I am really wanting to just let loose and blather on here. So, I’ma gonna blather, mmm kay?
I am still feeling a love/hate thing with The Tain. When it is good, it is brilliant. This is one of the most amazingly quotable books ever written. Seriously, these are better comebacks than you will find at a Dean Martin roast. There is this deadpan humor that absolutely floors me. The things people say when they are dying are bizarre, I can’t even tell if they are supposed to be humorous or not. When he kills Ferdia, Ferdia actually says, “That is enough now. I’ll die of that”. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or not. On the one hand, the scene is very serious and poignant, as Cuchulainn is killing his foster brother by Scathach. On the other hand, what a weird and wonderful thing to to say. The death of Etarcomol is gruesome, but so extreme and outrageous it’s hard to see it as less than extremely gory slapstick. It’s like a Monty Python skit. The sheer volume of effortlessly brutal slayings in this book is absurd, even by mythological standards. I find the non-stop onslaught of hyperbolic narrative of Cuchulainn’s deeds extraordinary. In almost every hero myth I have ever encountered we are reminded how exceptional and superhuman the hero is, but Cuchulainn edges into the realm of the Tall Tale. He doesn’t just kill men, he obliterates them. In the words of my husband, “I’ma gonna kill ya, swim across the River Styx, and kill ya again! All without mah water wings!” (My husband does the best redneck battle taunts you have ever heard. Of course, he also once chased a friend’s abusive boyfriend through the soft North Carolina night while brandishing a trident, so yeah, he is no stranger to the warp spasm. I have no idea where he got a trident, however, if nothing else it. worked as a psychological deterrent and the guy stopped hurting his girlfriend). He is the ultimate in swagger, capable of “feats” and stunts that aren’t even superhuman, they defy all laws of natural reason.
I wanted to add that I was a bit befuddled at his encounter with The Morrigan. I am wondering if there will be more on that later, but it was a bit of a head scratcher for me. What does she want? Why? The only way we know it is specifically her is the fact that the title of the chapter mentions her. I know from outside reading that she is associated with cattle as well as war, but I guess I am stuck in the Norse paradigm of fate being something already determined, so her attempts to change the course of battle are hard for me to understand. I do find the overlap between her and the valkyries fascinating. She is a chooser of the slain in her own right, and associated with crows and ravens. I also find it telling that the Celts, who were a pastoral culture prone to cattle raids, would combine their Cattle Goddess (usually the Cow Goddess is a nurturing, life affirming figure) with their War Goddess. She’s like a mythical Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, two great tastes that taste great together. I must learn more about this…
I feel like I really need a stronger background in this subject matter to fully appreciate it. I should have spent this past week studying this, but I was wrapped up in working on my research paper, practicing the ukulele, catching up on housework, and getting ready for Yule. Now I just feel like a chump, since we are almost done with the book and I don’t have nearly the depth of understanding I would like to have. Of course, it’s taken years to have the modest level of understanding I have of Norse mythology, so I am probably expecting way too much of myself. It’s more than just knowing the stories, it’s knowing what the stories are about, what they most likely meant to the people who told them. I just don’t have the broad spectrum of knowledge behind it to feel confident in how I am interpreting the story.