How the Story of the Tain Was Lost & then Found Again
Written by a Member of the Irish Gurdjieff Group
Sometime in the
7th century AD – about 150 years after the coming of Christianity – the Druids
in Ireland were going through a deep crisis.
The Church had a secret policy to destroy the power and influence of the Druids, and this policy had been so successful that entire orders of druids had taken themselves off to Brittany for reasons of safety.
The most powerful of these orders had been Na Fili Seanchais – the keepers of the oral tradition, which included the Tain.
Within this order there was a secret group called Na Goban Saoir, who preserved the Druids’ ancient knowledge of magic.
The head of this secret group – Senchan Torpeist by name – chose to remain in Ireland because he was old and ill.
One day, wishing once again to hear the story of the Tain, he gathered his last few remaining pupils around him and asked each in turn to recite it.
Not one of them knew the complete story.
So he decided to send some of his pupils immediately to Brittany to bring back the story of the Tain.
He had already decided that he would then get a well-disposed Christian monk to write the story down so that it would be kept forever in Ireland.
The next day, three young druids set out for Brittany.
The druids travelled down south-east from Magh Eo (Mayo), intending to cross the Shannon (Sionann) at Ath Luain.
On the second day of their journey, they stopped for the night at Enloch, near Ros Camain.
At Enloch there was a great hanging stone (Cromlech) which marked the burial place of Fergus Mac Roich, one of the great heroes of the Tain, who was also a famous druid.
Senchan Torpeist had secretly instructed one of the three druids – who was a member of the Goban Saoir – to stop at this sacred burial ground and to invoke the spirit of Fergus Mac Roich, who would then relate to him the full story of the Tain.
Sending off the other two young druids to find a suitable place to spend the night, the young Goban Saor immediately went to the burial ground.
First, he swept the ground in front of the Cromlech with a freshly-cut birch branch.
Then, he went to a certain tall stone at the edge of the burial ground, and he stood on top of it, gazing across the flat plain far below, watching the red sun sinking down the western sky.
At a certain moment, he raised his arms and extended them straight out sideways from his body.
Then he began to breathe in and out deeply in a certain way, invoking the powers of the air, which soon began to enter through the very top of his skull, down his neck, and along his arms.
It seemed to him as always that he was turning to stone but he knew that he must not move an iota until the sun slipped below the horizon.
As it did, he knew that his body held all the power he needed.
He climbed down and immediately lit a fire of oak and holly in front of the cromlech.
Then he sat on a certain flat rock, completely still, in the ancient posture of the Goban Saoir. Now he was facing due north, so that the fire was between him and the cromlech.
As the sky darkened, yellow and red flames spurted from the logs.
The druid rose, and taking a certain powder from a little leather pouch, he sprinkled some on the flames.
Immediately, a strong, pungent fragrance rose up and the flames turned blue and yellow and orange, flickering white images on the surrounding rocks.
Then the druid began to intone an incantation in the ancient language of the Imbas Forasnai (Light of Foresight)and to make magical passes with his hands – which were known only to the Gobain Saoir – until the sky was black as ink.
Seated again on the flat rock – which was a place of power – he began to put himself into a deep trance.
But before he did, he fixed his intention – which was first to invoke the spirit of Fergus Mac Roich, and second to get him to recite the Tain.
As the druid was sinking down, down into deeper levels of his being, a strange thing happened which had never happened before :
He was getting to the point in his trance-state when what the Gobain Saoir called ‘the Watcher at the Gate Between the Worlds’ was about to emerge from the buried depths of his being.
This ‘watcher’ was a being who stayed wide awake and was aware of everything that happened in ‘the World of the Inside Hearing’ and ‘the World of the Outside Senses’.
But suddenly, a kind of dream was put into his head – even though the ‘watcher’ in him was wide awake.
And instantly, in this dream, he was being whisked at tremendous speed across the surface of a grey-green sea.
And suddenly, he was travelling – again at tremendous speed – down, deep, deep down into the depths of the sea.
And he realised that he could breathe normally as he could on the surface of the Earth.
In his hand he felt a weight and when he looked down, he saw that it was a lamp, which lit up everything around it.
When he looked again, he saw that he was sinking, now more slowly, down into a city half-buried in the floor of the sea-bed below.
Then he realised that there was no sound in this place. Only a deep, deep silence where giant creepers or sea-weed moved gently like great curtains, obscuring the city below.
As he approached the city he felt drawn to one particular building and the instant he felt this pull in him he was somehow magically whisked inside.
When the light from the lamp illuminated the house, he realised that it wasn’t ruined at all.
As soon as he wished it, he was visiting all the rooms at the speed of light. And the rooms were somehow perfect, and full of treasure.
Immediately he realised that once he had lived here, but he couldn’t remember anything clearly.
Outside he saw a school of dolphins playing. One of them swam up to him and he immediately recognised him, yet he didn’t know who he was.
Then he heard a great commotion, and above him in the sky he saw a flock of eagles, chasing each other and filling the dome of the heavens with noise and movement.
One eagle detached itself and flew down in great circles before finally settling on the gable end of the house.
As soon as the eagle gripped the stonework in his great talons, the young druid felt it – as if the eagle had sunk his talons into his shoulders near the base of his neck – and yet he felt no pain.
Then the bird looked down, and as soon as the druid looked into his blank, staring eyes, he recognised him, yet he didn’t know who he was.
Then he knew that the eagle was his mind, and the dolphin his feelings, and the house itself was his body.
The eagle took a long time to stop fidgeting and moving, but finally he settled down.
Then the dolphin too swam into his own place and settled down.
And these four – the druid, the dolphin, the eagle and the house – although they had no common language – felt such a love and peace and communication between them that no language was necessary.
So peaceful and quiet was it in that place that the young druid felt that he never wanted to move from there, but gradually – because the ‘Watcher’ in him would not let him sleep like the others – a strange feeling began to overtake him.
Now he knew who the dolphin was – but the dolphin only wanted to be happy and never thought of tomorrow.
Now he knew who the eagle was – the eagle was only interested in his restless games in the sky.
He knew now also who the house was – and the house only wanted to be looked after.
That was when he realised that he himself had to look after all the others.
But who was he, the druid?
He tried to turn and look at himself, as he had at the others.
He tried and he tried, but he didn’t even know how to begin to turn. And even in the midst of his happiness to be with the others, he felt a loneliness and an emptiness – a feeling almost of despair – that he couldn’t see himself.
At this dark moment, he seemed to see the image of his teacher – Senchan Torpeist – coming towards him silently through the green darkness under the sea, and he seemed to hear his voice saying : ‘Remember the double-faced Goban..remember..’
And suddenly the young druid saw again the ancient stone head above the hallowed burial ground on a rocky hill. A head with two faces, back to back.
And Torpeist had made him sit there in front of it on a flat stone of power – for hours and hours – until suddenly he felt the eyes looking at him.
He experienced terror as never before in his life but he was bound by his teacher not to move.
Gradually he felt that the eyes were not looking at him but through him.
Hours later, when he felt that he must expire, it seemed to him that the eyes were now looking beyond him, perhaps into eternity, or another world.
Just before dawn, he realised that such was the power locked up in that stone image, that for the stone he himself, the druid, did not exist.
He experienced utter despair and then passed out.
And now – remembering this image at the bottom of the sea – he felt hope that he could somehow succeed in looking at himself without losing sight of the dolphin, or the eagle, or the house.
And he began somehow to do it, but he only managed it in glimpses.
As he was making this attempt, he thought he heard a voice – maybe a human voice – calling him from very far away.
He listened, and it seemed to him that the call was coming from above, perhaps from above the surface of the sea.
And the voice was calling his name. And he remembered that he had a name –Domhnaill.
Is that who he was? A person called Domhnaill? Who was a druid?
Maybe that’s who he was – just one of the pupils of Senchan Torpeist?
The voice was calling him again, using just that name his mother had called him:
..’Domhni …Domhni !!’
And suddenly he was being whisked at tremendous speed up through the grey-green sea, across the surface, and in a moment he was back in front of the Cromlech – the burial place of Fergus Mac Roich.
It was night.Pitch-black darkness, cold and damp.
The fire he had lit was cold and dead as if he had lit it days before.
And yet he felt that all he had experienced at the bottom of the sea had only taken minutes!
As these thoughts were going through his head, he saw a little puff of mist or smoke coming out of the centre of the great hanging rock in front of him.
The mist grew and grew until it shrouded everything – himself, the cromlech, and the countryside around in a deep, white, cold mist that froze on his skin.
And it entered into his body and seemed to freeze the very soul within him.
And when he thought he must surely expire, he saw another small puff of mist coming out of the centre of the rock.
The puff of mist grew and grew and solidified in front of him like a rock hanging in the air just above the ground.
Then he saw a pair of feet materialising at the base of this shape.
The feet were shod in sandals of bronze, and gradually the entire figure of a man materialised.
A fine, noble figure of a man, richly dressed like a king.
He had sallow skin, reddish-brown hair and strange green irises around dark eyes.
His whole body vibrated or quivered with light like a living flame. His lips were moving but no words came out. But the young druid heard everything because the words echoed silently as if in his chest or around his heart.
As soon as he began to speak, the young druid knew that this was Fergus Mac Roich and that the story he was relating was that of the Tain.
As the story ended, the figure disappeared back into the rock, the mist began to clear and the young druid thought he heard someone calling his name : ‘..Domhni ….Domhni..!!’
It was the other two druids. And when they found him, he was lying on the ground, like a foetus in the womb, and he didn’t know where he was, nor hardly who he was.
‘..We searched for you three nights and three days in this mist without finding you..’ they said ‘…We thought you were dead..’
‘..Yes, I was dead ‘ said the young druid ‘..but now I’m alive again..’
They returned straight away to their teacher, Senchan Torpeist, who immediately called a Christian monk to come.
The young druid related the story of the Tain and the monk wrote it down.
That’s how the story of the Tain – which was lost – was found again.