Saturday, 10 May 2014

Scathach, the Irish Brynhild

A few years ago I became more acquainted with the Celtic saga material and in particular that of the Ulster Cycle and was greatly impressed by the Nordic physical and spiritual characteristics of the various Gods and divinely born heroes, so much so that I could tell little difference between them and the Germanic sagas and myths. One mythical figure in particular who I found to be impressive was Scathach nUanaind.

According to Peter Bereford Ellis:

"Also known as Scathach Buanand (victorious). Daughter of Ard-Greimne of Lethra. She is the most famous of female warriors. Living on Scathach's Island (scathach, 'shadow'), which is thought to be Skye, she ran a military academy at which the heroes of Ireland received their training in the martial arts from her. Her most famous pupil was Cuchulainn, to whom she taught his famous battle leap and also gave the Gae-Bolg, the terrible spear. Cuchulainn trained with her for a year and a day, during which time her daughter, Uathach, was his mistress. Later she joined Scathach in her battle against her sister Aoife, reputed to be the strongest of female warriors. Cuchulainn defeated Aoife in combat and she became his lover and bore him a son, Connlai." (Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, 1992) 

Scathach is clearly a Valkyrie figure, similar to the Germanic shield maidens. Indeed one could go further than this and consider Her to be a Goddess as does Gudmund Schuette in his Our Forefathers. The Gothonic Nations Volume II. Whilst discussing the etymology of Scandin-auia (Scandinavia) he states:

"This interpretation probably conceives Scandin-auia as the 'island of shadow', referring it to Goth. skadus 'shadow', Gr 'darkness'. Cp. the Irish goddess Scath in a northeastern kingdom of shadows; she may have some connection with the eponymous Skadi, the goddess of the Scandinavian winter sports."

Some Internet commentators wrongly remark that there is no similarity between the Irish Scathach and the Germanic Brunhild, arguing that the first taught martial arts whilst the latter taught magic. By making this specious and superficial argument they demonstrate their lack of knowledge of the available mythical material and scource texts. The Old High German Nibelungenlied portrays Brunhild as the Queen of  Iceland and as a shieldmaiden, trained in the deadly arts of war:

"Over the sea there dwellt a queen whose like was never known, for she was of vast strength and surpassing beauty. With her love as the prize, she vied with brave warriors at throwing the javelin, and the noble lady also hurled the weight to a great distance and followed with a long leap; and whoever aspired to her love had, without fail, to win these three tests against her, or else, if he lost but one, he forfeited his head." (Chapter Six, translation by A.T. Hatto)

The Icelandic Volsunga Saga likewise portrays Brynhild as a shield maiden:

"Sigurd now rode a long way, until he came up on Hindarfell; then he turned south toward Frakkland. Ahead of him on the mountain he saw a great light, as if a fire were burning and the brightness reached up to the heavens. And when he came to it, there stood before him a rampart of shields with a banner above it. Sigurd went into the rampart and saw a man lying there asleep, dressed in full armor. First he removed the helmet from the man's head and saw that it was a woman. She was in a coat of mail so tight that it seemed to have grown into her flesh," (Chapter 21)

In the Sigrdrifumal of the Poetic or Elder Edda Brynhild is presented as the shield maiden Sigrdrifa ("bringer of victory") and here as well as in the Volsunga Saga she initiates Sigurd into the secrets of Rune Magik. This aspect is absent in the Nibelungenlied. This may in part be due to the xtian influence present in the latter work. However the German Brunhild is most certainly presented as a more martial figure than her Scandinavian counterpart. Richard Wagner in his epic Der Ring des Nibelungen fused elements of both the German and Scandinavian material together to form his Brünnhilde.

In the Thidrek Saga Brynhild lives in a castle called Segard and according to Jessie L. Weston the name idicates that it was situated on a coast if not an actual island itself.

"This dwelling of Brynhild's is either in or near Bertangaland, which is generally identified as Britain." (Legends of the Wagner Drama)

This is interesting as we know that Scathach resided in the Isle of Skye. Could this be another name for Segard? Could Brynhild in fact be Scathach? Furthermore Weston also related Brynhild to the German Goddess Isa:

"With this closely agrees the Nibelungen-lied, which represents the princess as ruling over Island and dwelling in the castle of Isenstein on the seashore. (Rassmann identifies Island as derived from Isa, a goddess of the under-world, probably the same as Holda, and not Iceland.) (Weston)

The above observation is significant as the island of Scathach means 'shadow'; in otherwords a land of darkness, an underworld. Furthermore Weston equates the Isolde of Celtic legend and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as being not an Irish but a Germanic Viking princess from Dublin, a city founded by the Vikings.

"German scholars give as the derivation Isolde, Iswalt or Iswalda (Eis-walterin=ruler of the ice), which explains the fact that the early German form seems to be Isalde, as in Wolfram, and not Isolde. The heroine then is no Celtic maiden, but a child of the north, a Viking's daughter; hence the legends always represent her as fair and golden-haired-she is 'die lichte' in the Northern versions, as distinguished from 'die schwarze', the rival Isolde." (Weston)

No comments: