A God of Love and an Exploration of Love
Oenghus awoke one night to find in front of him the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was moving towards him and he leaned towards her holding out his hand. But then she vanished. When he woke up the next day there was no sign that the woman had been there. He was disturbed, listless and could not eat. He went to bed that night eager to see the woman again. And sure enough she appeared only this time she was carrying a harp on which she played wonderful music until he went to sleep. Again he woke feeling wretched and with no energy and unable to banish the beautiful woman of his dreams. This was to carry on for a year, night after night. He was tormented and distracted and unable to function.
Eventually his health deteriorated and his state of mind became ever more troubled. He was not eating either and no physician was able to tell him what was wrong. Finally the King’s doctor was called. He was said to be able to tell from the smoke coming from a house how many were sick in the dwelling and just by looking he could tell from a man’s face what ailed hm. He immediately saw what ailed Oenghus, ‘it is for the love of a woman that you are wasting away’. Oenghus nervously agreed and told the physician about his nightly visitations.
The doctor told him that he was ‘destined to make a match with this woman’. He then called for Oenghus’s mother, Boinn, who was naturally very concerned, that she was to search throughout Ireland for this mysterious woman of the dreams. But Boinn was unsuccessful. The physician was called again. This time the Daghda was called. Daghda’s response was ‘why tell me, I know no more than you’. The doctor reminded the Daghda that he was King of the Tuatha de Danann and that he should summon Bodhb Dearg, the King of the Munster Sídhe.
The knowledgeable Bodhb Dearg agreed to the search, but asked for a year to carry it out. At the end of that time he sent a message to the Daghda to say he had found a woman with all the attributes Oenghus had described and that she was at Lake of the Dragon’s Mouth in the Galtee Mountains. Oenghus was called to come and see if this was the same woman.
Oenghus went to Bodhb Dearg’s Sídhe where they feasted for three days and nights. He was told that Bodhb Dearg did not have the power to give the woman to him only to show her. They travelled to the distant lake. There Oenghus saw three times fifty women each linked by a silver chain. But one woman stood out as head and shoulders above the rest and because she had a gold and silver necklace. She is Caer, Bodhb told him and she is the daughter of Ethal Anbuail from the Sídhe in Connacht. Because Bodhb Dearg had no power to grant his wish, Oenghus returned to his parents with a heavy heart. Bodhb advised the Daghda to go to visit Ailill and Medb in Connacht because the Sídhe was in their Kingdom.
So a party of sixty chariots set out for Connacht and they were welcomed with a week-long feast. Ailill asked the Daghda why he had come. The Oenghus story was told again. Who is she? Ailill asked. Ailill said he also did not have the power to give Caer to Oenghus. The suggestion was that Ethal Anbuail be called. Her response was that she would not come and nor would she give her daughter to the son of the Daghda.
When this message was conveyed back, the King Ailill and the Daghda set off to attack the mound of Ethal Anbuail. They did attack and destroyed the whole fort along with many warriors. Ethal was asked again but she said she could not and that Caer had more power than her. She is enchanted, she said and is a swan one part of the year and human the other. Ailill asked which year she was a bird. When she refused to respond, Ailill threatened to behead her. She then revealed that the next Samhain she would be in swan form at Lock Dragon and if Oenghus went he could see her there.
This information was passed on to Oenghus. He duly went to the lake and called out to Caer. From the flock of swans came a voice ‘I will come if you swear to let me back to the lake’. Oenghus agreed.
Caer came to him and they fell asleep in the form of two swans. They awoke and flew three times around the lake in order that the promise was not broken. The music relayed by their singing was so beautiful everyone slept for three days and nights. Caer stayed with Oenghus and a great friendship grew up between him and Ailill and Medbh of Connacht.
The Connections and insights from Participants on the Brendan Voyage
This is a record of the connections made by the participants to the story telling and insights.
Connection 1 – The Irish “God of Love”
It was news to some participants that the Irish have a ‘god of love’. The Greeks have the archetype of Aphrodite brought to life by Botticelli’s famous picture ‘The Birth of Venus’. However, Aphrodite has more of a feel of lust and sex than is evident in the Oenghus story. Caer also was mentioned too as representing the ‘goddess of love’.
Connection 2 – Hand Fasting
The Caer story had an element of the idea of ‘hand fasting’ which was the old Irish way of being married. Essentially you could turn away after a year and say ‘no’. This echoed the Caer time of waiting and being in one state and another.
Connection 3 – What is the type of love
In the way Chaobang told the story it was of a concept of love that hurts nobody and leaves nobody behind. It was felt that this style of love was echoed in the character of the swans. This was not the concept of love that tends to rule in modern society, but a love that is airy, wonderful and light.
Connection 4 – Mental States? Psychotherapy?
Was the state of listlessness and paralysis that Oenghus was in after the night visits an articulation of a mental state, a form of depression. And is the story a form of ancient psychotherapy and is this all about mental health. It is also a description of a familiar state “lovesickness” where we can’t eat or sleep. We go around in a dream.
Connection 5 – Different Nuances of Love
The story triggered a discussion about difference nuances of love and how they can be described in subtle ways in language: fraternal love, paternal love, material love, universal love, unconditional love.
Connection 6 – Love as Verb
The idea that love is a verb, implying that love is a process rather than a noun, love as a destination.
Connection 7 – The Early Story of Oenghus Og
The story of the Daghda and Boinn conceive a child and want to keep it secret. Daghda’s power causes the sun to go dark for nine months until the child is born. And that is the way of humans too. We are all born out of nine months of darkness.
Connection 8 – Perfection and Betrayal
Oenghus Og is greatly loved by his parents and in turn becomes a loving child and is beloved by all who know him. This is the case for many young children. But the day comes when Oenghus Og realises his father didn’t leave him any land – Oenghus has to resort to trickery. He asks his father to allow him to stay for a day and a night in Bru na Boinne and he managed to take over as his own. In our early lives at some stage innocence is lost, our expectation of the perfection of our parent’s love is shattered.
Connection 9 – Oenghus – A Study of Love
This is an exploration of love, love which cannot really be explained, something that just comes, out of our control, hitting us out of the blue. While we can meet people with the same qualities love is a place beyond reason. And once experienced love never leaves us. It continually enriches. And as it matures, it grow and expands and in the way Chaoibang said it, ‘love hurts no one and leave no one behind’.