There is a cave at Cruachan. Its small dark mouth yawns at your feet beneath a shroud of hawthorn bushes, and is never lit up by the sun. You can slide your way in, if you dare. The only way is supine on your belly, sinuous as a snake in the thick blackness, or on your back, enclosed so closely that the rock wall brushes your skin as you pass, the weight of the earth pressing on your consciousness, on your lungs, filling you with the fear of rockfalls, of demonic creatures which burst through from the Otherworld, of the terrible Goddess of strife and death we call the Morrigan, of the dread that once inside, you will become trapped, unable to ever return to the surface.
There was no way I was not going in. The mouth of the cave gaped at me, and I watched in trepidation as it swallowed first Treasa, then two more of my companions, and then I plunged in. Now or never.
In Ireland, these magical beings are known as ‘the Sidhe’ (prounounced Shee), also the Aos Sí, and Daoine Sídhe, and in Scottish lore, the Sith. They are named after the mounds which dot the Irish landscape, and which are said to lead to their homes below the ground. In folklore, they are often referred to as ‘the Fair Folk’ (hence fairy), or the ‘little people’, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Well. You know what I mean.
Irish mythology is riddled with powerful women, yet they are quite an enigma. On the one hand, we have feisty Queens like Medb,and fearsome Goddesses like the Morrigan. On the other, we have the helpless heroines such as Etain, Deirdre, and Grainne, who seemingly did little but lure men with their beauty into tragedy and catastrophe. But ancient Ireland also had its fair share of warrior women, and some of them were quite kickass!
The Norsemen were famous for it, the Romans accused the Celts of it, and it seems our Irish ancestors were capable of it too: the strange phenomenon known as the ‘battle frenzy’. Cuchullain’s battle frenzy was known in Irish as the riastradh, now translated as ‘contortion/ convulsion’, but thought to have originally referred to ‘the red rage of battle’ in ancient times.