Faërie Lore, Folk Legends, Gods, visions

Speaking to the Ancestors

Fitzpatrick-Tuan

Tuan  watching “a great fleet rolling as in a giant’s hand”                              (illustration :  J. Fitzpatrick)

 

 

Part of the lore of Ireland tells the story of Tuan who was visited by Saint Finian, hearing that he did not observe sundays or saints days, and wishing to know if the stories about him as a magician were true. Here is part of their conversation:

“Mine is a long pedigree,” Tuan murmured.

Finnian received that information with respect and interest.

“I also,” he said, “have an honourable record.”

His host continued: “I am indeed Tuan, the son of Starn, the son of Sera, who was brother to Partholon.”

“But,” said Finnian in bewilderment, “there is an error here, for you have recited two different genealogies.”

“Different genealogies, indeed,” replied Tuan thoughtfully, “but they are my genealogies.”

“I do not understand this,” Finnian declared roundly.

“I am now known as Tuan mac Cairill,” the other replied, “but in the days of old I was known as Tuan mac Starn, mac Sera.”

“The brother of Partholon,” the saint gasped.

“That is my pedigree,” Tuan said.

“But,” Finnian objected in bewilderment, “Partholon came to Ireland not long after the Flood.”

“I came with him,” said Tuan mildly.

The saint pushed his chair back hastily, and sat staring at his host, and as he stared the blood grew chill in his veins, and his hair crept along his scalp and stood on end.

(from Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens)

How many generations are the ancestors? Do they include the lost tribes, the ones we displaced too long ago to remember? But the land remembers, and some remnant of them may live among us still, quietly marking the passing ages of the world, nurturing the wisdom they cannot pass on to those who cannot own it. As for those who have faded from view, but whose spirits still inhabit the deep recesses of the landscape, the marginal places we have not built upon or shaped for our own purposes,  do they remain among the living presences of the land or fade gradually but inexorably to the Land of the Dead? Even then,  they may leave behind a trace or echo of what they were, so that we might sense them still, if only as an absence, and so a necessary presence, in the world we inhabit.

Some speak of ghosts, some of other world(s) within, beside or beyond our own, of places that are portals, or in which a presence may be felt that is not accounted for in the species lists of natural history and so does not exist in earth, water, fire or air, but which nonetheless has a being with us (t)here.

If we visit such beings, as Finian did, then how should we speak with them, or inhabit their present? If Tuan were to tell us, as he told Finian, of his incarnations as different creatures on land, in air and in water, and the comings and goings of many different peoples over many aeons of time, would we hear the words, as Finian did, with a shiver and a sense of creeping dread? Can we hold such knowledge within us?

The story of Tuan tells: “No-one knows if he died then, or if he still keeps his fort in Ulster, watching all things …”

But if no-one knows , his voice speaks to us still out of the eddies of time, slipping the knots which tie us to the Ship of Time, sailing to the Land of the Dead.

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2 thoughts on “Speaking to the Ancestors

  1. There’s something in that moment of realisation, of hairs rising, of the unravelling of preconceived ideas and of the laws of thisworld that is most uncanny isn’t there? And intriguing? That not knowing. Not knowing what Tuan is or whether live or dead…

    Liked by 1 person

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