Celtic Myth Cycles
In August 2001, I went on a 2 week holiday to Ireland. Wet and cold mostly, but beautiful scenery, wonderful music and a great mythology. Here we go...
Upon entering the first museum bookshop, I idly lifted a book from the shelf: a dictionary of Celtic mythology. I flicked through it and to my disbelief, began to find many names from that award-winning game, I don't know if you've heard of it, I think it's called Myth...er, maybe? Or is it Myst?...aaargh, nooo!
So, I obviously continued searching and found many more. I bought the book, along with another which recounts the major tales of the Celtic Myth Cycles. What's that, cycles? Hmmm, sounds very interesting. This sparked off an obsessive interest in this wonderful mythology and by the end of this trip, I had gathered a good collection of references from which I have based my research for this article.
Now, originally I thought that these four cycles might correspond to the four ages in "Myth" (with a capital to denote the game). So, I manically flicked through my books and found that it sort of fit in, but...not really. So I more or less discarded that idea and concentrated on finding the similarities between the character's names and personalities, and believe me, there are quite a few. I have posted a number of the main ones which I have found thus far on the Asylum.
NOTE: Throughout this article, I will only use information from Myth 3 or GURPS if it fits in well and does not contradict the first two games. This is because I have been informed from inside sources that MJ will not be drawing form Celtic mythology to make up their story or character names.
The Celtic Year
One of the volumes shows the importance of the cyclic nature of the Celtic world and how it influenced their lives. It started off as a means of farming but developed into the idea of rebirth of heroes and gods and of the new day and year.
The Celtic year is divided up into the four seasons, with each having its own festival: Imbolc/Brigantia, Beltane, Lughnasa, Samhain. The year was divided into Winter and Summer, or Light and Dark.
Beltane marked the end of the winter (dark) and the beginning of the summer (light), while Samhain heralded in the period of darkness that was winter and ending the light period of summer.
Notice anything interesting? Well, there's more. At these two festivals, the hours of light and dark are equal for a brief moment. Samhain was considered a strange and dangerous time since it stood on the boundary between the two halves of the year and was unaffected by the laws of time. Therefore, the spiritual barriers between the real world and the supernatural were thin and the spirits of the Otherworld could move from their resting places the sídhe into the land of the living and the living could visit the sídhe. As expected, it was seen as a time of strange occurrences and several reoccurring and outstanding events took place:
- Every year the High King of Ireland was killed by being wounded, then burnt and finally being drowned. This made way for the new ruler and the new year.
- The Saviour being killed making way for the new era
- Every year, the goblin Aillen burnt down the seat of the Kingship of Ireland at Tara until he was killed by the hero Fionn MacCumhaill.
- Muirthemne being razed to the ground by the Leveller.
- Fire is also closely linked to this festival and also Beltene. Fires were lit to honour the gods of light and the ash was used to fertilise their soil for growing crops.
- Tharsis erupts every thousand years raining volcanic fire and ash to signal the rise of the light or the dark.
Using this evidence, it is easy to see a parallel cycle between Celtic tradition and Myth already forming.
|Samhain: Fires are lit to plea to the sun and light gods||Tharsis erupts|
|The High King is killed||The previous light hero dies/is killed|
|Aillen sets fire to Tara||Dark||The Leveller destroys Muirthemne, etc.|
|The period of winter is heralded in and light gives way to dark||A period of darkness is heralded in by the Leveller|
|Half a year passes||A thousand years pass|
|Beltane: Fires are lit in honour of the sun and light gods||Tharsis erupts|
|The period of summer is heralded in and dark gives way to light||Light||A period of light is heralded in by the Saviour|
|Half a year passes||A Thousand years pass|
Repeat twice to get a four era cycle.
This brings me nicely onto my next point.
Celtic mythology is told in a series of Myth Cycles. These are: The Mythological Cycle, The Ulster Cycle, The Fenian Cycle and the Kingly/Historical Cycle.
In my opinion, these are not representative of the Four Ages but of four distinctive periods in the history of Myth. These I shall explain in the following section.
The Celtic Myth Cycles
The Myth Cycles were four sets of tales, recounting the stories of the heroes and gods of ancient Celtic Myth. These, books if you like were overlapping so events and characters from the end of one, appear in the beginning of the next.
The Mythological Cycle
This represents the Trow Era and revolves around the original settlers of Ireland and two major battles for dominion over the country.
The Invasion Myths
The original invaders were the Partholanians who came from the paradise in the West. They settled and eventually came into conflict with the Fomorians, whom crop up frequently in Irish myth. They were a huge, violent race of giants who represented evil. The Partholanians were eventually defeated by the Fomorians and all died. The next group came from the east and were know as the Nemedians. They too, came into conflict with the Fomor and were slaughtered. The Fomorians could then rule Ireland from their stronghold in the north. The Trow too ruled the world from the north after obliterating any race coming from East or West. They continue to conflict with future races but lose their complete tyranny after the coming of the next race.
The Partholanians are the Callieach and the Nemedians are the Oghres for they both come into conflict with the Fomor/Trow and the Partholians all die in one place simultaneously like the Callieach at The Great Devoid.
The Firbolgs (meaning the bag-men or men of the belly) came from the West and settled in Ireland. I haven't found any real connection between them and the hot-shots of the Ermine. Anyway, I think they are like the Myrkridia for the following reasons. They were defeated by the Tuatha Dé Danaan (here: Connacht and his army) at the first battle of Mag Tuiread which means The Plain of the Towers because of the sepulchral monuments which litter the ground there and were banished to another area. In Myth, it is another world, the Tain.
The Tuatha Dé Danaan were a race of supernaturals who came from paradise. They were known as the sídhe-folk or fairy people. They ruled Ireland for a long time and when they were defeated, they lived on in their sídhe mounds and could visit the earthly world on certain occasions, much like a divine intervention. So, they could roughly be seen as the Saviours or Levellers or their spirits. Thus, Connacht as the Saviour defeats the Myrkridia in this cycle.
But things get better. The second people to come into confrontation with the Tuatha Dé Danaan are the Fomorians led by Balor who had a single eye which killed anyone it looked at. The decisive battle which ended this war was the second battle of Mag Tuiread. This is more evidence to suggest that the Fomor are the Trow since they are "imprisoned" in their stronghold in the north. The Trow were also led by Balor in the Sword Age
Anyway, this cycle is concluded by the Tuatha Dé Danaan being defeated and driven underground into their sídhe homes by the Gaelic people as the age of Light under the Saviour is ended by the Darkness.
This cycle seems to be repetitive. A race fights off invaders from the east and west, then a second race fights off the first race and another race of settlers. So the Trow are the Fomor and the Oghres/Callieach are the Partholanians/Nemedians with newer races such as the Firbolg representing the Myrkridia and the Tuatha Dé Danaan coming into the picture as the newcomers to the age, i.e. the humans led by Connacht.
Ireland in MythWorld
Before they were defeated, the Fir Bolg split Ireland into four provinces: Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht. I see Ireland as the inspiration for the East and France as the West. Ulster or the North is similar to the Trow Kingdom since the Fomorians and the Trow were imprisoned and banished in them respectively; Leinster is The Cath Bruig Empire since they both contain the seat of the main ruling power: Tara and Muirthemne (there is also a place called Muirthemne in Leinster incidentally which features later on); Connacht is the area of the Great Devoid since this is where Mag Tuiread and The Valley of the Red Seal (I think) are (the sites of two major battles). Munster, I'm not sure about, but it could be the Ghôl's and/or the Dwarven Kingdom. These also fit in with their geographical positions.
The Ulster Cycle
The second myth cycle, along with the third, represents the Four Ages of Man and concerns King Conchobor's warriors of the Red Branch such as CúChulainn and Fergus. It includes the most well known of all Celtic tales, the Taìn Bo Cuailnge - The Cattle Raid of Cooley which features in the Book of Dun Cow and shows some key similarities with Homer's Iliad... and also Myth.
Since we know little of the goings on in the first few eras, I will mainly concentrate on the most recent ones though some stuff on everything may pop up.
Conchobor and CúChulainn
The cycle starts with the birth and coming to power of Conchobor whose mother, Nes, deceives the present king, Fergus Mac Roth into giving the young child his kingship in return for a night of Love.
Now, if we take the recent theory that The Deceiver was instrumental in bringing Alric his glory, then this fits in rather nicely. The young prince Alric is soon to have full power, but Mauriac, like Nes, acts for him. Nes gave Fergus a promise of love while The Deceiver, through the head, promised the Avatara victory so that Alric could be the one true ruler after their inevitable deaths.
In this next story, I consider Conchobor as being purely the light since it involves his hero CúChulainn whom I consider to be Connacht (then later Balor) who was not the hero of Alric.
The similarities in his early life are few, other than the fact that he is a great warrior who gains much honour and glory very quickly and kills many of his king and nation's dangerous enemies, much like Connacht did in ridding the world of the Myrkridia, Moagim, The Watcher, The Trow, etc. The real similarities arise during the Cattle Raid of Cooley, where he takes on a more Balor-esque personality. He has two great weapons given to him by divinities: his spear and his armour while Balor had divine armour and his sword is pretty magical in an all-destroying sort of way.
In the Taìn, the kingdom of Ulster is at war with the kingdom of Connacht, led by Queen Medb. There is a great hatred between Medb and CúChulainn and the Queen is constantly trying to trick him so that she can gain the upper hand since if he dies, Ulster have lost their main fighting force. In this way, you can see the Alric in her, trying to find a way to get at Balor so he can win the war by trickery and deception.
A trait of CúChulainn's is his aptitude in battle, this is mainly due to his war frenzy which renders him "invulnerable to attack and tireless in battle", now where have I heard that before? Balor's skill in battle is clear and it seems his magical armour is like CúChulainn's frenzy. It is also like the frenzy the Myrkridia go into since he cannot distinguish between friend and foe during this time.
He also has a destiny that he will die young but gloriously and is somewhat of a tragic hero like Achilles in the Iliad. Connacht has the cycle revealed to him (apparently in Myth 3) and that his destiny is to be reborn as the Leveller. CúChulainn was also reborn before he became the great hero and what's more, in his final life, he changed his name from Setanta to it's present one.
Interesting facts about him: he has se7en pupils in each eye and se7en toes on each foot. Seven is a very magical and important number, along with three in Celtic Mythology and there are many sevens to be found in almost every story.
Anyway, onto the meaty stuff, his death. This is very much like the Last Battle in Myth TFL. For a start, Medb throws all her army at him who he destroys utterly. Then, she lures him into a trap. She carries it out by sending three sorcerers at him who taunt him until he throws his spear at them. They all die, but after the third is killed, a hero picks up the spear and throws it back at CúChulainn, fatally wounding him. This I will explain. In the Last Battle, I think Balor comes at you three times with three groups of thrall, etc... then on or after the third time, he thinks he's won and blasts you with fetch but Alric comes out of the blue with his Eblis Stone. There are similarities there, if I'm correct about the number of waves.
So, CúChulainn is being surrounded but to die an honourable death, he must be standing up, so he ties himself to a stone and is killed. Much like Balor being immobilised when he dies. They then decapitate him.
His death is symbolised by the battle-crow, Badb an incarnation of the Morrigú - the trinity of battle furies. Crows, like with Soulblighter are very symbolic of death and in general throughout Celtic Myth.
Back to Conchobor, it seems that he is more like Soulblighter during the Taìn and in Myth, the two characters of Conchobor and CuChúlainn are swapped in their role as leader and lieutenant but they keep their characters. I believe that Soulblighter, being the chief Fallen Lord, had a certain power over the rest of Balor's lieutenants, this power comes from his origin as Conchobor, the King.
In later life, he is a treacherous man and many turn against him, such as Ferghus and his own son, Cormac. This bears a resemblance to Myrdred turning against his boss along with Phelot (like his son because he "created" him again with his binding dream). He later comes into battle with Ferghus who nearly kills him - Myrdred battling Soulblighter then stealing his crow.
That kinda sums up this cycle. Now, onto the next...
The Fenian Cycle
This cycle deals with a succession of rulers who become gradually more human as opposed to god-like during the cycle. This cycle is seen as more historically accurate and with a richer store of information about the characters involved. The four ages also deal with a succession of rulers of each age who are more human than the older races: the Trow, the Oghres, the Callieach, etc. It is also the period in history which MythWorlders know the most about and so they give it the most consideration.
Fionn Mac Cumhaill
The main tales revolve around the life of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his people the Fianna or Fenians who give the cycle its name. This is the second cycle which corresponds to the inhabitants and events of Myth during the four ages.
Finn's name means "white" in Irish and he is often associated with the champion and sun/light-god of the Túatha Dé Danaan, Lugh who killed his own grandfather, the Fomorian king, Balor of the Baleful eye. Finn too kills a one-eyed monster (hehe).
In this cycle, the story of Diarmuid and Gráinne also features prominently. Gráinne's name means "ugliness", which isn't actually the case for her but works better for the Myth connection. Gráinne becomes Finn's betrothed but she has no love for the aged man, so, she runs off with his right hand man and chief fian, Dermot.
Now, there is a theory that a love interest between Soulblighter and Shiver is apparent, maybe started when they were Damas and Ravanna, Connacht's lieutenants. I think that Connacht could have originally fancied the look of her but she preferred a bare chested man with a long pole (hehe). Maybe the two had a minor falling out over it but it wasn't anything serious. This is why Soulblighter resurrects her first and foremost and Myrdred says something about "strange bedfellows". Anyway, it's not too important (I'm just trying too hard to make everything fit in well).
The, Fianna, an elite war band are carefully selected through extreme initiation tests for their strength and valour and were bound to the king, much like the Heron Guard of the Cath Bruig. They were extremely loyal men, bound by an intense code of honour as well as being superb fighters and immortal.
Finn bears a resemblance to many characters from Myth as he goes through various stages in his life. As a young lad, he rises to power out of nowhere as a prodigious fighter and leader much like Connacht emerging from Gower. He was raised by a druidess and a female warrior in the forrest to be a great hunter and his skill quickly developed into that of a great warrior.
The story of Finn's upbringing is an interesting one. When his mother was pregnant with him, his father was slain by Goll and his brothers. To protect him, his mother secreted him away since the murderers would attempt to kill him before he could exact revenge on them. So, like Connacht, Finn goes into the wilderness to avoid the gaze of his father's murderers who can be translated into Myth as the spirit of the Leveller.
Then, at the end of his rule, Connacht becomes the Leveller and Finn is attacked by Goll and his clan and finally killed so both are defeated by their dormant enemies.
The Historical Cycle
This can be seen as the most recent period in Myth history, i.e., the Alric/Balor/Soulblighter episode. It is the mythical cycle which is believed to be the most historical accurate since it is the most recent, much like the Sword Age.
It deals with the conversion of Ireland to Christianity and includes the exploits of St. Patrick and the tales told by the Oìsin and the Ossianic poets and an immortal fian, Kielta who survived into the time of modern history (like the Heron Guards who know the stories of Connacht). These tales were then recorded and became the modern-day myths. They include stories which should logically be in the previous cycle, but as I mentioned earlier, these cycles overlap.
One character who appears in the cycle is Maeldun. Bungie were a bit lazy on this one, using a precise quote from the Voyage of Maeldun for one of the warrior flavour texts which reads as follows:
"Maeldun's only words on returning exhausted to Tyr from a long campaign in the East to find half the city burning after a raid by pirates from Leix were 'Show me the way to Leix.'"
Now, who was this Maeldun and where was he from? Who are the Leixians?
I have the answer right here:
Aillill of the Edge-of-Battle was one of se7en Owen brothers living on the Aran Islands of Ireland. He was on an expedition with his king when he happened to just rape a nun (by accident of course). Anyway, he payed for this disrespect and was soon slain by reavers (I think another name for pirates) from...yep, you guessed it, Leix. They then burned down his city, Doocloone.
Anyway, this nun gave birth to a boy and named him Maeldun. She gave him to a queen to rear up to be a good warrior, and she succeeded. Anyway, one day, he had beaten a friend in practice when he was taunted because of his ignorance of his family.
So he pestered his foster-mother and eventually found out who his real family were. So he returned to them and they welcomed him back...happy happy joy joy.
So one day, he's having a stone-pitching contest with his mates at Doocloone and a monk tells him that instead of throwing stones over his father's grave he should avenge his death. Maeldun asks for an explanation. When the monk tells him that the Leixians killed him, he exclaims something along the lines of "Show me the way to Leix".
He then proceeds to go on an adventure to find these pirates which takes him to many islands along the way. In the end, he eventually just feasts with them and forgives them. What a disappointment.
I have already mentioned the Taìn Bo Cuailnge as the most well-known and loved tales of Irish myth since it tells the story of their most honoured hero, CúChulainn. It seems appropriate then that this relic forms the basis of the Tain of Myth. This integral part of Irish mythology is surrounded by mystery and legend as is the Tain of Myth. The main focus of origin comes from the Irish legend, "The Recovery of the Taìn" which involves a group of heroes setting out to recover the long lost tale from its original author, Fergus Mac Roy.
The chief bard of Ireland, Seanchan Torpest along with his sons Murgen and Eimena were the brave souls who undertook this task. Murgen finds the grave of Fergus Mac Roy and summons him from the dead. Fergus then takes him back and recites the epic poem to him so that he may commit it to memory. The following morning, Murgen returns to pass on his tale to Seanchan who writes the recital down word for word. When Fergus finds out that his life work has been committed to paper and has thus lost its power, he exacts vengeance on Murgen, killing him and destroying the manuscript.
The relevance of this story is apparent as Murgen was one of the Nine who was first trapped in the Tain by Soulblighter. He then discovers the secret of escaping from it but does not survive its destruction. The importance of the bard Seanchan is less obvious but ties in with a further section below about Warlocks.
In Myth 2, the Deceiver, a long ally and some say leader of the Warlocks is sent by Alric to retrieve the Tain shard. I believe the Celtic bards are the equivalent of the Warlocks of Myth. This is shown most prominently in the Warlock hero Seanchaidh. The ancient Irish name for bard was just that, seanchaidh. Seanchan is based off this word and here I see him as our old friend Myrdred.
St. Patrick and the Druids
In Celtic Ireland, around the time of the Roman Empire, a group of religious gurus known as druids acted as the local priests and prophets. They were said to be the followers of Crom Cruach.
Crom Cruach. Now where have heard that name before? Oh, yeah, he's that dude the Ghôls worship.
Well, it turns out that he was a fertility god who was recognized by a king ruling around 1000BC called Tiernmas. He was the last king to control this cult of followers before they were wiped out by St. Patrick along with a stone idol to Crom Cruach. This reminds us of Balin's victory in Myrgard and the destruction of the Ghôl godhead of Crom Cruach.
They were the advisers to the High King Laoghaire and they warned him of St. Patrick's coming. This was a bad thing because they were pagans and Patrick came and converted Ireland.
This could be seen as similar to Alric coming and defeating Balor or a similar situation in a previous age. In which case, maybe the Ghôls of Myth played a bigger part in advising the Levellers and Forces of the Dark than we may have originally thought. After all, they know the names of all the dark gods.
I picked out Alric in particular because he came and supposedly broke the Cycle bringing light into the land forever. When Patrick came, he brought Christianity into Ireland forever. Alric beat Balor, converted the world and then killed Soulblighter and maybe the Ghôls afterwards just like Patrick converted Ireland, killed their last pagan king and got rid of the druids.
Alric's breaking of the cycle could be likened to the Celtic cycle of rebirth and regeneration being forgotten after Christianity. Although, in fact the Christians just absorbed it into their own religion which allows for the theory that Alric has not broken the cycle but just changed it's principles a bit.
The druids were known to carry sickles to cut their mistletoe (you've all read Asterix, right?). And what is the Ghôls favourite weapon? It is called a cleaver, but it's obvious that it is in fact a sickle, all be it a very large one. A cleaver is more rectangular.
Druids were also present in Britain, Wales and France. The name for France during the Age of the Roman Empire was Gaul. This and the name of the Irish people at the time, the Gaels are both very close to Ghôl though some argue this.
The Journal Writer
In the first two Myth games, we are told the story by the Journal writer of the Legion who documents his travels and events but most importantly, he copies down the stories he hears. This is similar to the way in which the Christian scribes copied down the ancient Irish Myths as they heard them. Just as our Journal Writer fails to understand many of the stories he hears from wizened Heron Guards in his company, the scrtibes also failed to see the true meanings as told to them by surviving fianna such as Kielta and Oísin. The bards of the ancient world believed that if they wrote down the tales they told, the stories would lose their power. This is why no documents date from before the christian period and possibly the reason in Myth why no one seems to know about the history of their world and no documents predating the Sword Age really exist otherwhise MythWorlders would know more about the Myrkridia and the dark.
Mythological Name Origins
Here is a list of the names from Myth which correspond to Celtic mythological either exactly, by name only or by similarities of character, position.
|Myth Names||Irish Names|
|Alric||St. Patrick/Queen Medb|
|Bards (The Seanchaidh)||Warlocks|
|Cath Bruig Empire||Leinster|
|Connacht||Fionn Mac Cumhaill|
|Crom Cruach||Crom Cruach|
|Dwarven Kingdom/Ghôl Lands||Munster|
|Fir Bolg||The Fir Bolg|
|Heron Guard||The Fianna|
|Journal Writer||The Christian Scribes|
|Leveller||The Goblin Aillen/Goll and Clan Morna|
|Myrdred||Seanchan Torpest/The White Cow/Ferghus|
|Saviour||The High King of Ireland / Tuatha Dé|
|Sword Age||The Kingly Cycle/The Ulster Cycle|
|Tain||The Taìn Bo Cuailgne|
|Trow||The Fomorians/Tuatha Dé Danaan|
|Trow Golden Age||The Mythological Cycle|
|Watcher / Bah'lal||The Brown Cow|
|Wolf Age||The Fenian Cycle|
Here is a list of Celtic names which may be difficult to pronounce.
|Fionn Mac Cumhaill||Finn MacCuall|
|Taìn Bo Cuailgne||Toyne Bo Coolney|
|Tuatha Dé Danaan||Tooatha Dje Donnun|