IN the beginning was the boundless Lir, an infinite depth, an invisible divinity, neither dark nor light, in whom were all things past and to be. There at the close of a divine day, time being ended, and the Nuts of Knowledge harvested, the gods partake of the Feast of Age and drink from a secret fountain. Their being there is neither life nor death nor sleep nor dream, but all are wondrously wrought together. They lie in the bosom of Lir, cradled in the same peace, those who hereafter shall meet in love or war in hate. The Great Father and the Mother of the Gods mingle together and Heaven and Earth are lost, being one in the Infinite Lir.
Of Lir but little may be affirmed, and nothing can be revealed. In trance alone the seer might divine beyond his ultimate vision this being. It is a breath with many voices which cannot speak in one tone, but utters
itself through multitudes. It is beyond the gods and if they were to reveal it, it could only be through their own departure and a return to the primeval silences. But in this is the root of existence from which springs the sacred Hazel whose branches are the gods: and as the mystic night trembles into dawn, its leaves and its blossoms and its starry fruit burgeon simultaneously and are shed over the waters of space. An image of futurity has arisen in the divine imagination: and Sinan, who is also Dana, the Great Mother and Spirit of Nature, grows thirsty to receive its imprint on her bosom, and to bear again her offspring of stars and starry beings. Then the first fountain is opened and seven streams issue like seven fiery whirlwinds, and Sinan is carried away and mingled with the torrent, and when the force of the torrent is broken, Sinan also meets death.
What other names Connla's Well and the Sacred Hazel have in Celtic tradition may be discovered later, but here, without reference to names, which only bewilder until their significance is made known, it is better to explain with less of symbol this Celtic Cosmogenesis.
We have first of all Lir, an infinite being, neither spirit nor energy nor substance, but rather the spiritual form of these, in which all the divine powers, raised above themselves, exist in a mystic union or trance. This is the night of the gods from which Mananan first awakens, the most spiritual divinity known to the ancient Gael, being the Gaelic equivalent of that Spirit which breathed on the face of the waters. He is the root of existence from which springs the Sacred Hazel, the symbol of life ramifying everywhere: and the forms of this life are conceived first by Mananan, the divine imagination. It throws itself into seven forms or divinities, the branches of the Hazel; and these again break out endlessly into leaves and blossoms and fruit, into myriads of divine beings, the archetypes and ancestral begetters of those spirits who are the Children of Lir. All these are first in the Divine Darkness and are unrevealed, and Mananan is still the unuttered Word, and is in that state the Chaldaic oracle of Proclus saith of the Divine Mind: "It had not yet gone forth, but abode in the Paternal Depth, and in the adytum of god-nourished Silence."
[paragraph continues] But Mananan, while one in essence with the Paternal Lir, is yet, as the divine imagination, a separate being to whom, thus brooding, Lir seems apart, or covered over with a veil, and this aspect of Lir, a mirage which begins to cover over true being, is Dana, the Hibernian Mother of the Gods, or Sinan in the antique Dinnshenchus, deity first viewed externally, and therefore seeming to partake of the nature of substance, and, as the primal form of matter, the Spirit of Nature. Mananan alone of all the gods exists in the inner side of this spirit, and therefore it is called his mantle, which, flung over man or god, wraps them from the gaze of embodied beings. His mantle, the Faed Fia, has many equivalents in other mythologies. It is the Aether within which Zeus runs invisibly, and the Akasa through which Brahm sings his eternal utterance of joy. The mantle of Mananan, the Aether, the Akasa, were all associated with Sound as a creative power, for to the mystic imagination of the past the world was upsung into being; and what other thought inspired the apostle who wrote, "In the beginning was the Word"?
Out of the Divine Darkness Mananan has arisen, a brooding twilight before dawn, in which the cloud images of the gods are thronging. But there is still in Lir an immense deep of being, an emotional life too vast, too spiritual, too remote to speak of, for the words we use to-day cannot tell its story. It is the love yet unbreathed, and yet not love, but rather a hidden unutterable tenderness, or joy, or the potency of these, which awakens as the image of the divine imagination is reflected in the being of the Mother, and then it rushes forth to embrace it. The Fountain beneath the Hazel has broken. Creation is astir. The Many are proceeding from the One. An energy or love or eternal desire has gone forth which seeks through a myriad forms of illusion for the infinite being it has left. It is Angus the Young, an eternal joy becoming love, a love changing into desire, and leading on to earthly passion and forgetfulness of its own divinity. The eternal joy becomes love when it has first merged itself in form and images of a divine beauty dance before it and lure it afar. This is the first manifested world, the Tirnanoge or World of Immortal Youth.
[paragraph continues] The love is changed into desire as it is drawn deeper into nature, and this desire builds up the Mid-world or World of the Waters. And, lastly, as it lays hold of the earthly symbol of its desire it becomes on Earth that passion which is spiritual death. In another sense Angus may be described as the passing into activity of a power latent in Lir, working through the divine imagination, impressing its ideations on nature in its spiritual state, and thereby causing its myriad transformations. It is the fountain in which every energy has its birth, from the power which lays the foundations of the world, down through love and every form of desire to chemical affinity, just as Mananan is the root of all conscious life, from the imperial being of the gods down to the consciousness in the ant or amba. So is Dana also the basis of every material form from the imperishable body of the immortals to the transitory husk of the gnat. As this divinity emerges from its primordial state of ecstatic tenderness or joy in Lir, its divided rays, incarnate in form, enter upon a threefold life of spiritual love, of desire, and the dark shadow of love; and these three states have for
themselves three worlds into which they have transformed the primal nature of Dana: a World of Immortal Youth: a Mid-world where everything changes with desire: and which is called from its fluctuations the World of the Waters: and lastly, the Earth-world where matter has assumed that solid form when it appears inanimate or dead. The force of the fountain which whirled Sinan away has been spent and Sinan has met death.
The conception of Angus as an all-pervading divinity who first connects being with non-being seems removed by many aeons of thought from that beautiful golden-haired youth who plays on the tympan surrounded by singing birds. But the golden-haired Angus of the bards has a relation to the earlier Eros, for in the mysteries of the Druids all the gods sent bright witnesses of their boundless being, who sat enthroned in the palaces of the Sidhe, and pointed the way to the Land of Promise to the man who dared become more than man.
But what in reality is Angus and what is Dana, and how can they be made real to us? They will not be gained by much reading of
the legendary tales, for they are already with us. A child sits on the grass and the sunlight falls about it. It is lulled by the soft colour. It grows dreamy, a dreaminess filled with a vague excitement. It feels a pleasure, a keen magnetic joy at the touch of earth: or it lays its head in a silent tenderness nigh a mother or sister, its mood impelling it to grow nearer to something it loves. That tenderness in the big dreamy heart of childhood is Angus, and the mother-love it divines is Dana; and the form which these all-pervading divinities take in the heart of the child and the mother, on the one side desire, on the other a profound tenderness or pity, are nearest of all the moods of earth to the first Love and the Mighty Mother, and through them the divine may be vaguely understood. If the desire remains pure, through innocence, or by reason of wisdom, it becomes in the grown being a constant preoccupation with spiritual things, or in words I have quoted before where it is better said, "The inexpressible yearning of the inner man to go out into the infinite."
Of Dana, the Hibernian Mother of the gods, I have already said she is the first
spiritual form of matter, and therefore Beauty. As every being emerges out of her womb clothed with form, she is the Mighty Mother, and as mother of all she is that divine compassion which exists beyond and is the final arbiter of the justice of the gods. Her heart will be in ours when ours forgive.