The Ritual of the Crane Dance Curse in Irish mythology. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
The Ritual of the Crane Dance Curse in Irish mythology.
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

I was most intrigued when researching the Mythological Cycle of Irish mythology, I came across a reference to a strange rite performed by Lugh, God of Lightning, prior to the Second Battle of Moytura.

Lugh was heartening the men of Ireland that they should fight the battle fervently so that they should not be any longer in bondage. For it was better for them to find death in protecting their fatherland than to bide under bondage and tribute as they had been. Wherefore then Lugh sang this chant below, as he went round the men of Erin, on one foot and with one eye closed.

Here is a translation of the poem (known as a roscanna) which he is said to have recited. Note that there are various versions, and this is just one of them.

A frenzy of battle invites you to embrace death.
Our hosting in this conflict will defeat the foreigners who have destroyed the prosperity of the land.
Oh people of the Sídhe, defenders of the land, ravens will come upon our enemies with doom!
May the foreigners be hindered, may fear be heard among them and be their shared torment!
They are sad and doomed.
Ninefold brightness is upon us!
Victory or defeat!
Faugh! Sod of Death!
Death Measure! Rod of Aspen!
Circling leftward I curse them!
Oh you my glorious ones!
The gods will sustain you from the clouds of the sky, in the beauty of the land, and through the powerful skills of Druids.
My battle fire will not falter until the victory is won!
What I ask of you is not the work of cowards, in the dealing of death to the enemy, in the burning fields of battle.
The shadow of death has taken form.
Death goes before us to the foe.
Before the people of the Sídhe,
Before Ogma I swear!
Before the sky and the land and the sea, I swear!
Before the Sun and the Moon and the stars, I swear!
Oh warrior band, my host of battle,
My troops here, the greatest of hosts like the sea,
Mighty waves of golden, powerful, boiling fires, and battle lust
Are created in each of you!
May you seek out your foe upon the field,
Embracing death in a frenzy of battle!

Stirring stuff, but I wondered what it could possibly mean. There he was, giving his men the great battle victory speech, when suddenly he starts hopping around them on one foot, chanting, with one eye closed… what was that about?

I ignored it at the time, and moved on; it seemed a bit unlikely, a bit comical even, and there’s lots of wacky stuff in the old stories which makes no sense to us today.

But as I continued with my research, I came across other similarly strange behaviours; the cor deiseal, the imbas forosnai, the tarb-feis, and so on. I realised that Lugh’s strange behaviour must be some type of ritual.

And indeed it is, as I discovered recently. It is known in Irish as the corrghuineacht, and is a form of magic-working, the power of which is intensified when practised standing on one leg, with one arm outstretched, and with one eye closed. The ritual position itself is known as glám dícenn. (meaning ‘sattire which destroys’). It was thought that the open eye was able to look directly into the magical Otherworld, whilst standing on only one leg indicated being present in neither one world or the other.

Corr is the Irish word for ‘crane’, a bird which features a great deal in Irish mythology, although it is not a native of Ireland. To our ancient ancestors, birds were seen very much as celestial messengers between the Otherworld and the physical world, with magic powers related to their own particular characteristics. A similar bird which is native to Ireland, and which I have seen many of in the area in which I live, is the grey heron, also known in Irish as corr réisc. Perhaps it has been mis-translated over the years.

"Graureiher Grey Heron" by Andreas Trepte - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org
“Graureiher Grey Heron” by Andreas Trepte – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org

The grey heron lives in wetland areas, and feeds on fish, eels, frogs, small mammals and insects. It stands up to 1m tall, and can weigh between one and two kilos. It is known for standing still for long periods in an upright stance, often on a single leg, as it waits for its prey to wander within striking distance of it long, deadly bill.

The crane (or perhaps the grey heron) was thought to have associations with the moon, and was sacred to the Triple Goddess. It was thought to represent magic, shamanic travel, learning and keeping secrets, reaching deeper mysteries and truths. In later Christian times, it was believed that cranes were humans paying penance for wrong-doing during their lifetime.

This bird was revered by our early ancestors because it was seen to be equally at home in flight, on land, and in water, which made it a particularly magical creature. Due to the fact that it stood upright, it was associated with shape-shifting, usually in feminine form, and it was probably for this reason that the eating of its flesh was considered taboo.

In Irish mythology, Aoife, daughter of Daelbeth, and Luchra, daughter of Abhartach, both fell in love with Illbreac, who was a son of the great Sea God, Manannán mac Lir. Illbreac only had eyes for the beautiful Aoife, however. In a fit of jealous rage, Luchra turned Aoife into a crane, whereupon she flew to the lands of Manannán and lived there for 200 years. When she died, Manannán was so sad, he used her feathery skin to make the crane-skin bag in which he kept all his magical treasures.

I know, this seems rather a gruesome thing to do, but these items were powerful sacred and magical objects, perhaps hard won by Manannán, and thus the use of her skin to protect them may have been seen as honourable.

This same bag later turned up in the possession of Cumhall, father of the legendary Irish hero, Fionn mac Cumhall. Cumhall was killed by Goll mac Morna, and the craneskin bag was stolen and given into the care of Lia, chieftain of Luachar in the province of Connacht. One of the first tasks undertaken by Fionn as an adult was to avenge his father’s death; he killed Lia and retrieved the treasured craneskin bag, returning it to his uncle for safekeeping. Clearly, it was considered a talisman of great importance.

Midir was a son of the Dagda of the Tuatha de Danann. In the ‘Guesting of Athirne’, (Aigidecht Aitherni in Irish) it is told that Athirne, a miserly poet, came to Midir’s house in Brí Léith and fasted against him. This is a legal procedure mentioned in the Brehon Law were a complainant could sit outside a person’s house refusing food and drink, thus shaming him into putting right the complaint. I don’t know how Midir wronged him, but in recompense he gave Athirne his three magical cranes which stood outside and guarded his house.

But what of the one legged crane dance curse?

Lugh was not the only person to use this position (like the crane) in which to invoke magic. The Goddess Badb also assumed this stance when she cursed High King Conaire Mór for breaking his geisa (vows) in the story of the ‘Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’ (Togail Bruidne Dá Derga in Irish).

The Morrigan assumes this position when she forecasts Cormac’s doom in Togail Bruidne Dá Choca. 

Parthelon and his people invaded Ireland and fought a magical battle in which they were successful against the Fomori people which involved all the warriors standing in positions of power on one leg, with one arm behind their backs and one eye closed.

One last little nugget of interest; a new theory has been proposed for the use of an ancient style of bladed weapon known as the halberd. Archaeologists claim it looks to have been a weak and ineffective weapon, and now think it could have been used in ritualised dance. Why? Well, pretty much because it looks remarkably like the beak, head and neck of a crane.

*

Further reading;

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

http://amayodruid.blogspot.ie/2010/09/animals-in-celtic-cultural-belief.html

http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T301017A/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_heron

http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/IrelandsBirds/GreyHeron/

http://bardmythologies.com/partholon2/

http://www.merciangathering.com/otherworld.htm

http://www.mombu.com/religion/druid/t-corrghuineacht-lugha-god-esoteric-reality-prayers-aspects-18636569-new.html

http://irisharchaeology.ie

http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T300011.html

 

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55 thoughts on “The Ritual of the Crane Dance Curse in Irish Mythology

  1. Hi Everyone,

    A thoroughly enjoyable article!

    Just to clear up some confusion; the term Halberd as it is applied to the Bronze Age weapon is somewhat imprecise and bears no relationship to later Medieval/Renaissance Halberds that were used to do everything from pulling knights off of horses, cutting reins and tackle straps, and as a can opener for armor. These were long (6 foot and longer) and the bladed heads were forged from steel.
    The Bronze Age weapon is very different – here is a link to a picture of one made by a friend:

    And authentic ones for comparison:
    http://www.lda-lsa.de/en/state_museum_of_prehistory/permanent_exhibition/early_bronze_age/
    These are from Germany, and have a cast bronze socket; the wood shaft has not been preserved.
    The Halberd, in the Bronze Age context, has been found throughout western Europe, but it seems to have been very popular in Ireland, and may have originated there. It is more like a dagger blade mounted perpendicular to the handle. There was one found in Ireland that had the Ash wood shaft preserved – total length was about a meter (39 inches). This would have been used with a pecking motion more lie a pick than an axe. It could also be used to hook around shields, arms and legs.
    There is a scholarly paper: http://researchrepository.ucd.ie/handle/10197/5898 which examines in depth the ceremonial and effective weapon aspects. The short answer is that it is probably both. It most certainly is an effective weapon for the time it was used in, capable of inflicting terrible trauma. The idea that it was not, is based on “armchair” archaeologists who pontificate and don’t actually attempt to replicate and test artifacts through a process of archaeology by experiment. It also bears witness to the well known archaeological fall back position of naming something a “ritual object”, which simply means, “We don’t know what it is and there is no funding to find out.”

    Steven

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Steven, I loved that last para! You did make me smile, I have often thought the very same thing! 😁 That is not to belittle the valuable work that archaeologists do at all, but they forget sometimes that ancient civilisations comprised human beings, with all the same needs and wants and emotions that we experience today. I hate that unknown objects are classed as phallic or ritualistic. These people were far more sophisticated than that. Thank you for all the info. That link took me to an interesting museum page but no halberd replica, but there was a picture of some that had been recovered. I will be reading that paper tonight. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us. 😊

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      1. Thanks Ali.

        Not to hijack the thread, but there is a mildly amusing, apocryphal story regarding “ritual Objects” that you and others here may not have heard.
        This supposedly happened at the Butser Iron Age Farm Project in the early 70’s. The farm was laid out under the direction of Dr. Peter J. Reynolds, and was based on layouts observed from known Archaeological excavations – ie., the roundhouses were created using the pattern of excavated post holes, etc. The fields systems/gardens were planned and planted with food/fodder crops known to have been used during the Iron Age in Britain. A similar effort was made regarding the livestock on the farm; Soay Sheep instead of the familiar farm breeds.
        During excavation at a number of sites, what at first glance appeared to be a post hole in the center of the entryway into the roundhouses was discovered. Unlike the post holes though, this feature was shallow, no more than 10 cm/4 inches deep and about 30 cm/12 inches in diameter. It wasn’t deep enough to be the center post for a double door either.
        So the speculation was that this is where libations were poured to consecrate the building/appease deities, etc.
        The farm was up and running for about a year, and good insights into the day-to-day operation of a Iron Age farm were made throughout the year. As the story goes, Dr. Reynolds made a check-up visit and was being escorted around the, now, productive farm by the site manager. As they passed the entryway to the roundhouse, Dr. Reynolds noticed that, right in the center of the doorway was a shallow pit of the familiar dimensions. With some excitement he mentioned that this feature had been found, but there was no explanation for it other than as a ritual function.
        The site manager looked at him, and with a straight face (presumably) said, “That’s where the chickens dust off coming in when it rains.”

        Even if this is not true, either in toto or in part, it still points up this fallibility.

        There was something similar that actually was filmed as part of a documentary on Otzi, The Ice Man. Otzi was found with a copper bladed axe that reset the advent of metal usage in Alpine Europe about 500 years earlier. In the documentary, there is an armchair Archaeologist (literally, he was seated in one) going on about how the axe wasn’t functional, but a object of status. The documentary used a split screen; on one side was the Archaeologist pontificating on the unsuitability of soft copper as a useful tool, on the other a group of experimental Archaeologists casting, polishing/sharpening and hafting the axe, and finishing with cutting down a tree with it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I know. I always thought of it as an oriental bird… it features in a lot of Oriental art. I think in Irish mythology it is more obscure, but it’s definitely there. Our ancestors didn’t miss a thing… if the crane was passing through on its migrations, they must have wondered about it. And made stories about the mysterious visitor.

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  2. And there’s my new fave name! U so did that on purpose! :p

    The crane dance – nothing like being proper random the Irish!

    Do u know what I love – the fact that all the myths interlink dadga (for some reason thought it was magda) jumping in there!

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  3. The ‘poem’ or ‘invocation’ is in all probability ‘pied’, that is, the lines are given in the wrong order… many of the poems in the old texts are… rearranging the lines often throws light on the context and content of the stories…
    for example the lines which start with ‘Before’ would make more sense at the opening of the ‘song’…
    It has long been poetic convention to ‘call on’ or ‘call up’ the ‘gods’ or ‘muses’ in order to hear the poetical offering or plea at the commencement of the ‘work’, or in magical terms to state the intent of the ‘rite’ before one starts…

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  4. Another fascinating bit of legend, Ali! Though I would think hopping around like a crane with one’s eye closed would take a fair amount of skill, as well as looking a bit odd. However, if it was a recognised position of power as you say, I’m sure it was met with the respect it deserved. Quite an effort though, especially with shouting out a long poem as well! 🙂

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  5. I’m pretty sure we have Cranes down here in South Wales. I took a photo of one a few weeks ago but because it was too far away I zoomed in and the photos were rather fuzzy. I ended up deleting them. I wish I had kept them now so I could have shown them you, Ali. My partner thought it was a Heron, so I could be wrong.

    A captivating read although not so sure about making a bag out of somebodies skin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They may well have been cranes, Hugh. I think you do get them over there, just they arecnot native over here. But they do stop off here on their migrations to rest, apparrantly. They must have made quite an impression on our ancient ancestors.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. So do I. And we don’t give it a moments thought, that we are lacing the skin of an animal around our feet. Or slinging an animal skin over our shoulder when we pick up a handbag. The most comfy pair of shoes I ever owned was a pair of pigskin sandals when I was kid. When constant wear put them beyond use, my mum threw them away and I dug them out the bin and continued wearing them. Until she caught me! But I still have fond memories of those shoes forty years later! In Morrocco, they use camel skin to make leather, I saw them being treated in a very ancient prehistoric looking tannery. Pour ancient ancestors made use of everything, nothing was wasted, they couldn’t afford it, it was survival. So it may have been normal to cure a bird skin for use as leather, I don’t know. Aside was dead, she didn’t need her crane body anymore, especially if she went on to be reincarnated, as I think they may have believed. Sorry, Hugh, I’m thinking aloud here…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh, no problem, Ali. On our way back to Hove today, I was listening to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2. Part of his show covered British acts of parliament still being written on Veal Skin! Apparently it still happens today and costs the tax payer about £60,000 a year to store all these documents as well as use veal skin to write them on.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. you are a great detective as well as a wonderful storyteller. Great tales as always- so interesting – the heron and the magic of the “glam dicenn.” The world is still so full of magic and thanks for helping keep it alive!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The halberd’s shape supposedly made it ideal for prying metal armor apart. It’s supposed to work live a lever – much like you’d open a crab to get to the tasty bits.

        Then again, I’ve never actually used one, thank goodness 😀

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  7. Another really, really interesting post! I can see where the gray heron, which populates the marshy coastal areas of NC, could be mistaken for a crane if it weren’t a native bird. I love watching them “fish'”

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    1. Haha! Well they are a bit of a strange looking weapon, aren’t they? Perhaps they were more ceremonial than practical, although if that was the case you’d expect them to be highly decorated, wouldn’t you?

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    1. Thanks! I have to admit, I do remember looking at a picture of a halberd once and thinking “Really?” but dismissed it because I am not an expert on ancient weapons, or any weapons actually… although I can shoot a gun quite well!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. More cranes! I wonder if their flight habits didn’t fascinate the ancestors, the way they fly in arrow formation and every now and then, for no apparent reason, the formation breaks up and they mill about aimlessly, making a great racket, as if they’ve lost the plot before regrouping and carrying on.

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    1. Haha! Do they really? I’ve never seen cranes other than in japanese paintings. I think they do pass through Ireland on their seasonal migrations, but theyre not native. Maybe their antics on route did make an impression.

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  9. Fascinating! And so timely – I’m just about to write a retelling of the battle and the crane curse and pose will work beautifully! Thank you! (And thank you again because one thank you just doesn’t cut it!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brilliant! Is it for a book? I’d be interested to read it. I told the story of the first battle, and found it very hard to do while staying true to the mythology. Its on the blog if you’re interested. And one thanks is far more than required lol! It should be me thanking you for reading… so thank you! 😁

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    1. Thanks Faythe! I have a habit of getting lost in my research and following links and not taking notes and then forgetting where I read things lol! I know I have read more instances of this pose in the old stories, but for the life of me cant remember where! I also have a very leaky memory! 😂

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    1. Yes. Apparently rock art has been discovered depicting what looks like two men with halberds engaged in some kind of dance. Well, its open to interpretation of course, but having seen it, it does look quite likely. Follow the link I posted to the Irish archaeology site and take a look. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

      Liked by 1 person

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