Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jul 22nd - Jul 28th, 2005

The Ring of Power

Columns Archive

      There are few today who are not familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Among those who have read the books or seen the movies, many are aware that the author dipped deep into the wellsprings of both tradition and legend while writing his series. One of his central motifs is the Ring of Power. According to the story line, it is from this one ring that the authority for all the others derive. If we look closely we can see this notion emerging directly from out of Irish tradition.

The Ring of Power

The Ring of Power

  Irish myth tell tales of the sky and time which are in use to this day. These represent the origins of many of the concepts found in astronomy, astrology and the calendar. For instance, in the Irish manuscript, Senchus Mor, we read that the pre-Celtic Irish culture divided the firmament above the earth into seven divisions (in what has also been called the Babylonian order), of Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This is simply the relative speed of the planets through the sky as seen from the Earth. In a theme which hearkens back to the epoch when the Vernal Equinox was moving through the constellation Gemini, when the art of Central Europe regularly depicted birds and eggs, the Irish believed that the firmament of the stars wrapped the Earth 'as a shell... about an egg'. Time was divided by the equinoxes and solstices, and this quartering was halved again to yield an annual division of eight. The cross quarter days fall between the equinoxes and solstices, and are extremely important for the rhythm they lend to the seasonal cycle, having a very practical application in the agricultural calendar. While the equinoxes and solstices mark the balance and extremes of the Sun's journey, the cross-quarter days define spring, summer, fall and winter and serve to announce times for planting, harvesting and movement of domestic animals. Nevertheless, even with this yearly division of eight (and the holidays which went with them), the mythological and megalithic Irish also followed the twelve lunations or months of the year.

Celtic Torque 1000-800 BC

Celtic Torque, 1000-800 BC

  All of these ways of looking at time are still in use today. As the Vernal Equinox (Spring) left the constellation of the Twins, it entered Taurus, the Bull. During this period, civilization was cultivated by a belief in bovine authorship, and for these megalithic peoples 'Baal' or 'Bel' became another name for the Sun. These names are found in various locations, such as Bel-ain, 'Bel's ring' or 'the Sun's circuit'. All of the stars of heaven were thought to be linked to the Divine Bovine, the leader of the heavenly parade. For instance, in a poem called 'The Mystery of Amergin' (a Druid), possibly the oldest Irish poem, the lines literally read,

      'Who calleth cattle from the House of Tethys?
On whom do the cattle of Tethys smile?'

      This might more easily be translated as 'May the stars rising out of the sea smile upon you.' From his book, Early Irish History and Mythology, Thomas O'Rahilly calls the emblem of the sun a circle or ring. He translates the Modern Irish term for dawn, fainne an lae, which literally means 'the ring of light on the skyline at day break', and he traces the symbol back to the most ancient of literature. He states that, 'One of the attributes of the sun-god was the healing of disease, and in this belief we have one of the reasons of the importance attached in ancient times to the wearing of rings or other solar emblems, which were primarily amulets and only secondarily ornaments. Sometimes the ring became a miniature wheel, and thus suggested not only the shape of the sun but also its motion. Hence we find the word roth, "wheel", applied to a kind of circular brooch. The sun itself was the great celestial wheel; compare roth greine, the sun, like Lucretius' solis rota. So we find God referred to not only as ard-Ri grene, "supreme King of the Sun", but also as ard-Ruiri ind roith, "supreme King of the wheel" which means the same thing.' It is, therefore, from this 'Lord of the Rings' that dawn, the ecliptic and all the offspring of heaven derive their power.

      -Notes taken from 'The Stars and the Stones', by Martin Brennan, pp. 10-17.


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