Crone in Corrogue: Wild Wisdom of the Elder Years

Glorying in the elder years, a time of spirituality, service and some serious sacred activism

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Who is Danu?

I ask myself this as I peruse internet articles based on scholarly attention to the tales preserved by Irish monks.  Long geneologies are reeled off of the early Irish residents, some gods, some mortal.  Ireland was inhabited relatively late in human history - perhaps only as little as 9,000 years.  While modern Ireland exported her residents, the earliest inhabitants of Ireland were all 'blow ins' - that nickname given to incomers not indigenous to Ireland. In the earliest days, Ireland had no indigenous population other than the juniper and elk, bear and bilberry.  Recent DNA studies indicate that today's Irish population is closely related to Britons and Scots, with a strong injection to the gene pool from the Iberian peninsula.

So, too, the goddess Danu may not be properly a 'Celt', even as she is venerated as a Celtic deity. She may have originated on the Indian subcontinent and simply moved westward.  It is suggested that her name is echoed in the rivers Danube and Don (one in Russia, another in Yorkshire), but linguists and philogists might dispute any true connection with rivers or Tuatha dé Danaan to Danu at all.

So what are we left with?

The older I am the more I know that in each generation we tell ourselves the stories we need to hear to nurture our spirit.  I look to the land and try to discern its tales.

How can I speak to this experientially?

When I first moved to this first village on the river Shannon, I looked out upon a mountain which has many names.  It is a karst escarpment that juts out from Slievenakilla. It has an English name on the map - Playbank - where all the other mountains have Irish names, but it has other names used by locals.  It is sphinx shaped, hence it is often known as the Dog Mountain.   I would walk out each evening and face it and ask its true name. 

This is a very ancient, relict landscape where Grace decided to plant me back in 2001. It's bones are made of limestone, sandstone, mudstone; they layer up like some extravagently sculpted cake. In the rocky glens the water pours through and a peat coloured froth is the icing on this 'cake.'

For me, this land is Danu. She is the most ancient one. She is the one who is holding herself secret from any scholarly debate. We can only know her when we have a direct encounter with Her Spirit.   She is full and empty, a white cow in calf and a famine pot.

It may be that you know her by another name. Call her Wildish. Call her the Water of the Badger's Well. That does not matter. She is beyond names and will outlast us all. She simply is.

Perhaps Danu is the true matron of the wanderer, the migrant, the nomad. Perhaps Danu, the ever ancient one with her occult origins, is the keeper of that survivor lore of all those who learn to move on.

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Bee Smith has enjoyed a long relationship with SageWoman as a contributor, columnist and blogger. She lives in the Republic of Ireland, teaches creative writing and is a member of the Irish Art Council's Writers in Prisons panel. She is the author of "Brigid's Way: Celtic Reflections on the Divine Feminine."    


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