Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Dragon Reborn Read-through #4 : Celtic Roots and the Stone of Tear

Tara and the Stone of Destiny

by Dominic

The culture of Tear has a distinct Hispanic flavour. But like the Crescents of Tear may be a nod to Spain's Muslim heritage, there are traces of Iberia's antique Celtic roots still to be found in Tear.

Some key Tairens characters have Celtic parallels. Siuan (pronunciation Swan, which gives us the key to her parallel as a Fairy/Swan Maiden), the 'Fairy Queen' of the Aes Sedai is one of them. The name itself is derived from the Aes Sidhe, ie: the Fairies of Celtic Folklore, who were derived from the ancient Irish deities, the Tuatha Dé Danaan or People of the Hills - Jordan transformed that name into his Tuatha'an and gave the translation to the people who are obviously Da'shain Aiel descendants in Seanchan: The Hill Tribes. The character of Juilin the thief-catcher has roots in the Fenian Cycle and becomes a companion of the 'Fenian hero' figure of the series, Mat.

In the topology, the river Erinin, which mouth is in the nation of Tear and that flows through Tar Valon, evokes one of the poetic names of Ireland : Erin. Tear itself could be a derivation from the Hill of Tara, on the west coast of Ireland, near the mouth of the Boyne river. Tara was the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland (High Lords of Tear here) and the site of a great citadel even in myth. The most ancient name for the area of Tear, the nation of Essenia, may be linked to the town of Essé, famous for its Roche aux Fées (Fairies' Stone or Rock), "the finest megalithic monument in any Celtic country [where] a low ceilinged corridor […] opens to a large, high compartmental room" [dcm]

The central point of interest for us is the Stone of Tear itself, built with the One Power shortly after the Breaking. The primary Celtic association is with the Arthurian legend of the Sword in the Stone but an older Irish parallel exists with the Lia Faìl, the Stone of sovereignty found at the heart of the fort at Tara that was part of the kings' ascension ritual and sang, shrieked or cried under the lawful ruler or the right candidate for kingship. Christianized legend had the Stone break according to prophecy at the moment of the birth of Christ (symbolizing that Christ was the King of Kings and ended the power of the pagan kings). In The Wheel of Time the Stone fell for the Dragon and the ground shook with a terrible noise when Rand drove Callandor back into the Heart of the Stone.

The ancient Irish used Tara as a ritual meeting place and in myth and legends this is often where the heroes or gods assemble. In The Wheel of Time Tear was the last time (so far) our three ta'veren were reunited, and around them a unique meeting of all the main supporting players (with the exception of Min, no complete meeting of the full main cast has taken place in the series at this point, but in Tear we came closest) : Lan, Moiraine, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Aviendha, Thom Merrilin - even Lanfear and Ishamael, the main 'evil couple', showed up.

The Lia Faìl translates as "Stone of Destiny", a nickname that could fittingly be applied to the Stone of Tear as the events there in TDR and TSR were a crucial early turning point for so many characters. Rand, Mat, Moiraine, Egwene and Aviendha got a call from fate to go to the testing ground of the Waste Lands, for all of them it's a spiritual and personality changing quest with overtones in Arthurian Legend, specially the old and very spiritual version of Chrestien de Troyes, rooted in esoteric christian symbolism. We will return to this association of Rhuidean with the Castle of the Fisher-King during the read-through of The Shadow Rising.

Perrin got in Tear the Hammer of the Wolf-King that links him symbolically to two Celtic-inspired predecessors : Luthair the Hammer and Artur Hammer of the Light; there his two incarnations of his 'Sovereignty Goddess' clashed - Berelain the Hawk - a second connection to the Paendrags - and Faile the Falcon whose name may well derive from Faìl, "destiny" (Faile, second in line to the throne of Saldaea is also widely speculated to confer on Perrin political kingship eventually, the wolves likely conferring him a spiritual one as Wolf King).

For those unfamiliar with the goddesses of sovereignty, I will summarize it briefly. A more complete explanation of this concept will be found in an upcoming essay by our good friend Marcia (MJJ Sedai) exploring the Arthurian roots of the series: For the ancient Celts, the King was one with the Land and the people through a spiritual wedding to a goddess of the land that confers Sovereignty on him. These goddesses came in triads, studied by the French scholar of Indo-Europeanism George Dumézil, and associated to three aspects of the same woman: the Warrior-Maiden, The Queen and The Crone. This concept is central to Jordan in the creation of Rand's character (Aviendha the Warrior-Maiden, Elayne the Queen, Min the Seer/Crone), and carries in more subtle variations to Mat and Perrin. The concept is also reflected, of course, in the belief that 'The Dragon is One with the Land', in the Arthurian 'Three in a Boat' foretelling and its mentions of the warrior-maiden (The Dedicated Spear), the Queen (the Lion Sword) and the Crone (She who Sees Beyond) . The wedding of the King and the Goddesses (who are the Land, Mother Earth) gives birth to the People.

For the Celts, hawk and falcon were two solar birds linked to sovereignty - a symbolism more frequently assigned to the Eagle (following Imperial Rome) in other western cultures. Perrin has in fact the full triad of these sovereignty birds with the Red Eagle of Manetheren. As a wolfbrother (and shape shifter in the World of Dreams) capable of entering battle frenzy, Perrin is a kind berserker figure associated to important Celtic heroes, most of all Cuchùlain.

For the Celts, the fourth bird of sovereignty denotes the warrior, instead of ruling, aspect of kingship : it's the Raven or Crow of Battle that belongs with Mat and Tuon. The Stone of Tear was also a turning point for Mat's destiny. With his first 'companion' Thom in tow from Tar Valon, he met at the Stone future hero-companions in Juilin and some key figures of what would become the Band of the Red Hand; Mat accomplished his first "knightly" deed with the rescue of the girls and saw his first association with the solar power of explosives in a warfare context; Mat also had a crucial encounter in the Underworld of the Aelfinn to set him on his path toward his own sovereignty goddess : Tuon, who by marrying him would make him a Prince of the Ravens. The Band itself has very strong Celtic associations, not only to the Bloody Severed Hand of the O'Neils which inspired the banner (and probably its origin in Manetheren) but also to the similar Celtic bands of Heroes, like the Fianna Ered that ties Mat to the Celtic trickster and warrior Hero Fion MacCumhail (We will also return to this in a later book's read-through).

Most of all, Rand - more often associated to - or trapped with - lunar powers in the first two books of the series - got his first solar hero attribute with Callandor that to the world proclaimed him the rightful Dragon Reborn; he met Aviendha, a solar 'goddess of sovereignty' who came to Tear with the People of the Dragon and his second solar goddess, Elayne, declared her love to him with the blessing of his previous lunar consort Egwene. Mirroring Egwene's attitude, Lews Therin/Rand, associated to the naive but virtuous Welsh hero Llew Law Gyffes best known from the Mabinogion, met openly in Lanfear his malevolent mother Arianrhod, queen and moon-goddess of renown beauty (and the almost certain source for the name Tel'aran'rhiod, that Lanfear claims as her domain). Arianrhod had cursed her son Llew thrice. He was to have no wife of any race known on earth (with Lanfear, no consort but herself), he would have no name unless she gave it to him (Lanfear insists to use the name Lews Therin for Rand) and he would bear no arms unless she equips him (Lanfear's insistence that only she could provide Rand with a teacher so he could learn to defend himself from attacks from the other Forsaken, and who try to tempt him with using with her the combined Choedan Kal). The episode of the same Branch of the Mabinogi where Math and Gwydion make Blodeueed the magical flower-woman for Llew is even evocative, in the typical way Robert Jordan likes to twist details of the legends, of the failed attempt of Rand to make a "magical flower" of feathers and the One Power for his lover Elayne in Tear. Rand/Lews Therin also made a grand display of his magnified solar-sky god powers during the attack sent by Sammael.

The Irish "Book of Invasions" offers two explanations for the origin of the Stone of Destiny, both of them relevant. One says that it was brought to Tara by the god-king Nuadu, along with his shining-sword of great power. Nuadu, who is a maimed-king and an analog of Rand (especially after the events of Knife of Dreams), the second explanation is that the Stone of Destiny was brought to Tara from Spain (thus Tear, twice) by the Gaels (We will explore this further during The Shadow Rising's Read-through).

In the Irish oral tradition, the phallic Stone of Destiny is also called "Fergus' penis", an allusion to the great virility of yet another Rand Celtic analog, the Ulster hero Fergus MacRoich who needed not three but seven lovers to satisfy him. Beside providing this name for the Stone at Tara, Fergus is known as the owner of the Lightning-Sword called Calandbog, a very likely source Callandor, like it's Welsh cognate Caledfwlch that belonged to Arthur in the Welsh tradition and, according to scholars, both are prototypes/predecessors to the better known Excalibur.

[DCM] James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, 1998


Linda said...

How beautifully the Celtic parallels tie in with the Ancient Egyptian ones. Osiris is locked into a box by Set and thrown into the Nile (Rand has a couple of nasty experiences with boxes), and is found by Isis. Then Seth has another go, this time dismembering Osiris. Isis and her sister Nephthys retrieve all but one of his body parts. The missing one, his penis, is replaced with one of gold...

Sorcha said...

Two points here about Irish connections - one is that the Hill of Tara is in the east of Ireland, about an hour or so north of Dublin, not the west. The other is about Siuan's name: it looks like it is based on the Irish female name Siun, which is pronounced 'Schoo-unn' (two syllables). I was really surprised to read that it's supposed to be pronounced 'Swan' (one syllable), because it reads so obviously otherwise to me!

Linda said...

Sorcha: Siuan doesn't only have Celtic parallels though. As a swan and the fisherman's daughter she is a Rhine Maiden, a Valkyrie.

As well as the Spanish influence in Tear there is an Oriental one and the name Siuan is also supposed to look Oriental.