Sunday, November 1, 2015

Of Rio Grande Sunsets, Valkyries, Eleusinian Mysteries, and Druids

On October 21, 2015 1742 hrs MDT I took the following picture out my window looking to the west out across the Rio Grande Rift (the crust of the North American continent began breaking apart about 40 million years ago in a roughly south to north line running from El Paso, Texas up through Las Cruces and Albuquerque, New Mexico into southern Colorado; the Rio Grande river began to take advantage of this rift valley beginning about 780,000 years ago, alternately cutting deeper into the land and filling it back up with sediment deposits). [Text continues following the photo.]

The color of the sunset suggested fire to me. The unusual three clouds in the center left of the photograph suggested something supernatural. I thought about the sun sinking into the fire and had in mind somewhat the archetype of the ebb and flow of life in myths involving night and day, winter and spring. It began to come to me that the sun was sinking to temporary imprisonment and would be reborn in the morning, the goddess of the dawn. The three clouds at left center seemed to be flying beings and it was impossible for me not to think of them as Valkyries (the fact that Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries was playing on my stereo at the time seemed a hint as well).

To maintain some thematic or linguistic unity (with the Old Norse valkyrie), I decided to refer to the setting sun as Ostara, the Germanic referent to the constellation of concepts of dawn goddess, morning star, hearth and sun Proto-Indo-European linguistic concepts (e.g., Aurora, Roman goddess of the dawn, Istara in Anatolian dialects, Ostara/Eostre Germanic mythology). The Valkyries were the choosers of the slain, selecting who might die in battle and who might live, taking their chosen to the afterlife hall, Valhalla. In around 1870 Richard Wagner composed his Ride of the Valkyries as part of the Ring Cycle, where Wagner sought to unite the arts of music, poetry and drama to powerful effect. Interestingly, Wagner had in mind a magic fire concept at the close of Die Walkure (the opera containing the famous Ride of the Valkyries) where "Wotan surrounds Brunhilde with shrieking flames in order that their terrors may deter cowards from waking her" (p. 425 A Popular History of the Art of Music, by W. S. B. Mathews).

So, with a brief tale taking shape in my mind and the context seeming to be Old Norse/German, I decided that I should use a form of alliterative poetry common in the ancient literature of those peoples, basically each line consisting of two half-lines or verses with a pause in between, two accented syllables more or less per half line, the first half line alliterates (repeats same beginning word sound)  on the two stressed syllables and with the first stressed syllable in the second half line. The following four lines came to me:

Fall Ostara must to fire; fast the valkyries;
Select they the slain; shine they evermore
Thus done are things; thereafter shown and sung
Onward not the One; Only before, nothing more

The first two lines above I have already discussed (as to their semantic referents). Line three above is drawn from an account of the practice of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Ancient Greece, intended to "elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him" [Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion "The Religion of Eleusis" New York: Columbia University Press, 1947. pages 42–64, cited in a wikipedia article on the Eleusinian Mysteries]. The Greater Mystery participants walked to Eleusis along the Sacred Way and are believed to have taken part in rites inside a great hall (the Telesterion), rites which may have involved "things done" (a dramatic reenactment of the Demeter/Persephone myth, recalling my earlier mention of death/rebirth seasonal cycles), "things shown" (the display and viewing of sacred objects) and "things said" (secret commentaries that accompanied the things shown). I synthesized these ideas in line three above.

Line four above comes from research I was doing in June of 2015 regarding an old Druid song the Viscount Theodore Villemarque published in 1845 in his Barzaz-Breizh collection of old Breton songs he had spent his life compiling. Villemarque laboriously recorded by hand in notebooks the oral tradition songs in very obscure Old Breton dialects he heard from the local peasants in Brittany. This was an old Celtic region, sharing tradition and people with Cornwall, across the channel. The Druids were Celtic mystics, the Celtic word derouyd signifying interpreter of the gods, or one who speaks from the gods. They were suppressed by the Romans and later the Christian church, but some of their songs have been transmitted orally for 20 centuries or more, often as instructive or entertaining chants for their young. Villemarque got the melody and lyrics for one of these Druid songs, known variously as "Les Series" or "Ar Rannou," from a young peasant of the parish of Nizon whose mother had taught it to him ("to form his memory"). My gut feeling as a musician about the score he wrote after hearing the young peasant sing it to him makes me believe the melody he published in 1845 is probably close to the old Celtic melody that would have originally been known pre-Christian era in Brittany/Wales/Cornwall. It is given in the key of Bb, appearing to be used as the G minor scale (the relative minor of Bb) in the song melody given. These lyrics/thoughts have survived the 20 odd centuries embedded in a number chant (the lyrics comprise a dialog between a Druid instructor and his charge), a not uncommon way for the common people to keep alive complex history and thought without writing, i.e., the lyrics given do seem to be Druid era thoughts and memories. To return to the origin of line four in my alliterative verse tale above, the first verse of Les Series/Ar Rannou translates to English from the Old Breton as:
Druid: My pretty, my white child of the Druid, pretty one, what do you want? Of what shall I sing?
Child: Sing to me the cycle of the number one, until I have learned it for today.
Druid: There is no cycle for the number one, only the unique need, Ankou the bringer of death, the father of pain, nothing before, nothing more.

That became my line four above, Onward not the One; Only before, nothing more.