Elven World: Return of The Tuatha de Danann

Celtic Mythology, Earth Guardians

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From: Cosmology at Sea and Maritime Archeology

In historical times, starting in the Middle Ages, labyrinths or stone mazes were laid out in the same liminal zone especially along the Baltic coasts of Sweden and Finland, but also in other archipelagos, although more sporadically. Some were accompanied by compass cards made of stones, but compass cards could also be carved into the rock, together with other maritime graffiti, reflecting the visits of sailors. Perhaps the liminal zone is not applied consciously in all cases, but the location is not made by chance. There might even be a psychosocial disposition in maritime culture to leave traces in this zone. After all little else has remained, e.g. of constructions. The period is that of the earliest traditions fixed on paper and the first recorded magic functions of place names at the coasts. The significance to maritime people of such ritual behaviour has presumably been many-layered. John Kraft has characterized the function of the stone labyrinths as a universal medium of magic (Kraft 1982). I think this is basically correct.

Where exactly the border is supposed to go between the liminal and the non-liminal states is enigmatic. But a proposal or in fact a rather sensible answer is suggested by the analyses of the Finnish archaeologist Tapani Tuovinen. His material is the cairns of the Åboland archipelago of SW Finland. There are two main periods, one Late Bronze Age (c. 1000 BC) and Iron Age, in this case appx. AD 500-1000. Tuovinen`s starting point is whether the main view from the cairns faces the sea or inland. There is tendency for a direction inland during the older period and a direction to the sea during the later period. I mean that the border of the liminal state to the non-liminal would be in this cognitive orbit, either with  the cairn visible from the water or with a possible view of the sea from the cairn (Tuovinen 2002). 

The border between any water, including rivers, and the ”earth” is loaded with magic meaning. This is where wisdom can be procured, and where supernatural duels are settled in Celtic (Irish) cosmology (Rees & Rees 1973). It is called flomålet in Norwegian with reference precisely to the tidal area at the seaboard (with very little tide, however), the area where corpses of anonymous outsiders or dangerous evil-doers were buried not to walk the earth inland. Ghosts cannot pass water anyway, according to tradition (Haavio 1947), and drowned sailors are therefore buried on islands as a special precaution. The burial grounds in consecrated graveyards of the archipelagos contain several ritual dimension, not only the official, Christian one.

The liminal state is also found in several other maritime (and other) dimensions. As an example colours are implied. Black is the colour of the land and is therefore taboo in a boat. The prohibition on a boat to wear the black clothes of clerics may be secondary to the assumed nature of the priests as counter-magicians of the land. White is of course to some extent permitted at sea. But really liminal and accordingly safe is grey, the colour between black and white. This is the reason for naming magically loaded island Holmen Grå, `the Gray Island´, and similar names with the element Grå, `gray´. In the case of Holmen Grå and Landet Gode, mentioned above in connection with Jomfruland, the special character of their name is clearly indicated by the inverted position of the adjective.

From All Things Finnish:

There are over one hundred labyrinths in Finland. Many have been found in the archipelago and the west coast and are thought to have been associated with fishing and hunting magic.In the Swedish folklore of western Finland labyrinths were considered a doorway to the underworld.

There is one created at the Brage Open Air Museum that is modeled after one found in Valsörarna. In folk traditions there is a game where a girl and a boy are tied together and must keep the rope from touching the ground while traveling the paths.

This morsiantanssiin/jungfrudans (bride’s dance, maiden’s dance,virgin’s dance possibly recalls ancient pagan hedelmällisyysriiteistä (fertility rites) when a young woman stood in the middle of the labyrinth and a suitor had to find his way through the maze to her.

photo credit: betterphotography.in
                     vaasa.fi

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