To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Outsider Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (20): The Cauldron of Poesy by Amirgen White-knee (Old Irish)

Translated with Commentary by Rowan Eryn Laurie

My true Cauldron of Incubation
It has been taken by the Gods from the mysteries of the elemental abyss
A fitting decision that ennobles one from one's center
that pours forth a terrifying stream of speech from the mouth.

I am Amirgen White-knee
pale of substance, gray of hair,
accomplishing my incubation
in proper poetic forms
in diverse color.

The Gods do not apportion the same to everyone --
tipped, inverted, right-side-up;
no knowledge, half-knowledge, full-knowledge --
for Eber and Donn,
the making of fearful poetry,
vast, mighty draughts of death-spells
in active voice, in passive silence, in the neutral balance between,
in the proper construction of rhyme,
in this way it narrates the path and function of my cauldron.

I sing of the Cauldron of Wisdom
which bestows the merit of every art,
through which treasure increases,
which magnifies every common artisan,
which builds up a person through their gift.

Where is the root of poetry in a person; in the body or in the soul? They say it is in the soul, for the body does nothing without the soul. Others say it is in the body where the arts are learned, passed through the bodies of our ancestors. It is said this is the seat of what remains over the root of poetry; and the good knowledge in every person's ancestry comes not into everyone, but comes into every other person.

What then is the root of poetry and every other wisdom? Not hard; three cauldrons are born in every person, i.e., the Cauldron of Incubation, the Cauldron of Motion and the Cauldron of Wisdom.

The Cauldron of Incubation is born upright in a person from the beginning. It distributes wisdom to people in their youth.

The Cauldron of Motion, however, after turning increases. That is to say it is born tipped on its side in a person.

The Cauldron of Wisdom is born on its lips (upside-down) and it distributes wisdom in every art besides (in addition to) poetry.

The Cauldron of Motion, then, in every other person is on its lips, i.e., in ignorant people. It is side-slanting in people of bardcraft and strophes (mid-level poetry). It is on its back in the "great streams" (highest poetic grades) of great wisdom and poetry. On account of this not every mid-level person has it on its back because the Cauldron of Motion must be turned by sorrow or joy.

Question: How many divisions of sorrow that turn the cauldrons of sages? Not hard; four. Longing, grief, the sorrows of jealousy and the discipline of pilgrimage to holy places. It is internally that these are borne although the cause is from outside.

There are then two divisions of joy that turn the Cauldron of Wisdom, i.e., divine joy and human joy.

In human joy there are four divisions among the wise. Sexual intimacy; the joy of health untroubled by the abundance of goading when a person takes up the prosperity of bardcraft; the joy of the binding principle of wisdom after good (poetic) construction; and, joy of fitting poetic frenzy from the grinding away at the fair nuts of the nine hazels on the Well of Segais in the Sìdhe realm. They cast themselves in great quantities like a ram's fleece upon the ridges of the Boyne, moving against the stream swifter than racehorses driven in the middle-month on the magnificent day every seven years.

The Gods touch a person through divine and human joys so that they are able to speak prophetic poems and dispense wisdom and perform miracles, as well as offering wise judgment and giving precedents and wisdom in answer to everyone's wishes. But the source of these joys (the Gods) is outside the person although the actual cause of the joy is internal.

I sing of the Cauldron of Motion
understanding grace,
accumulating knowledge
streaming poetic inspiration as milk from the breast,
it is the tide-water point of knowledge
union of sages
stream of sovereignty
glory of the lowly
mastery of words
swift understanding
reddening satire
craftsman of histories
cherishing pupils
looking after binding principles
distinguishing the intricacies of language
moving toward music
propagation of good wisdom
enriching nobility
ennobling non-nobles
exalting names
relating praises
through the working of law
comparing of ranks
pure weighing of nobility
with fair words of the wise
with streams of sages,
the noble brew in which is boiled
the true root of all knowledge
which bestows after duty
which is climbed after diligence
which poetic ecstasy sets in motion
which joy turns
which is revealed through sorrow;
it is lasting power
undiminishing protection
I sing of the Cauldron of Motion

What is this motion? Not hard; an artistic turning or artistic after-turning or artistic journey, i.e., it bestows good wisdom and nobility and honor after turning.

The Cauldron of Motion
bestows, is bestowed
extends, is extended
nourishes, is nourished
magnifies, is magnified
invokes, is invoked
sings, is sung
preserves, is preserved
arranges, is arranged
supports, is supported.

Good is the well of measuring
good is the dwelling of speech
good is the confluence of power
which builds up strength.

It is greater than every domain
it is better than every inheritance,
it brings one to knowledge
adventuring away from ignorance.

NOTE. During the 7th century CE, an Irish fili or sacred poet composed a poem on one of the mysteries of the Irish wisdom tradition. This poem is preserved in a 16th century manuscript, along with the glosses in 11th century language explaining some of its more obscure references. When it was finally "discovered" by modern scholars, it was named "The Cauldron of Poesy" for its references to poetry being created in three internal cauldrons.

Three translations of this text exist, published by the Celtic scholars P.L. Henry and Liam Breatnach, and by the well-known occultist Caitlin Matthews. I am aware of two other discussions of the text in the Pagan press, one by the Canadian druid Sean O'Tuathail and the other in my own work under the name Erynn Darkstar. [In the preceding], I offer my own translation of the poem and commentary, along with some theories and suggestions for working with the internal cauldrons as a path to poetic and magical achievement.

There is some debate in the scholarly community about whether the filidh were a subclass of druid, or an independent order of poets and magicians. Fili is cognate with vates, a Gaulish religious functionary, and ovate, a similar British station. The highest ranking filidh were called ollamh . The word fili probably means "seer." The word derives from the Archaic Irish *weis by way of the Insular Celtic word *wel- which had the original imperative meaning "see!" or "look at!" and is related to the Irish verb to be. Their work included divination, blessing and blasting magic, creating praise poetry for their patrons, the preservation of lore and genealogies, and occasionally the rendering of judgments. Cormac's Glossary derives fili from "fi, 'poison' in satire, and li, 'splendor' in praise, and it is these variously that the poet proclaims."

The early Irish filidh wore cloaks of birds' feathers called tugen and were sometimes ecstatic hermits known as geilta, composing their poetry and seeking mantic visions through various techniques involving incubatory darkness, liminal times or places such as dawn and dusk or doorways, and the ingestion of raw substances such as the meat of sacrificed animals. The chewing or eating of raw flesh is apparently a link to the Otherworld, for spirits and the inhabitants of the Sídhe mounds are said to eat raw foods. By the 14th century, the filidh were divided into seven grades of achievement, requiring at least twelve years of study to attain the highest grades. During the eighth year of study, mantic and divinatory techniques began to be taught, and those capable of practicing them were known as ollamh . This title is still in use in Ireland to denote a university professor.

During the time of the Christianization of Ireland, the druids were repressed or absorbed, and the filidh subsumed many of their social functions and status in Irish society. Filidh were often associated with monasteries, and this association was maintained until at least the 17th century, when the English began earnest attempts to destroy Irish Catholicism.

[The full text with extensive and admittedly personal commentaries can be found at (J.R.)]

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