Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crom Cruach

   One of the more interesting non-Tuatha De Danann deities that some people choose to honor today is Crom Cruach, synonymous according to scholars with Cenn Cruiach, and likely also the same as Crom Dubh (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006; MacNeill, 1962). Crom means bent, stooped or crooked; cruach has a wider array of meanings including stack of corn; rick; heap, conical pile, gory, bloody; high-coloured; bloodthirsty, slaughter, wounding, carnage. The meaning of Crom Cruach's name is uncertain but many people seem to read it as either "bent bloody one" or "crooked heap". Cenn Cruiach may mean "head of the hill" (MacNeill, 1962). Crom Dubh may mean "Black stooped one" or "dark croucher" and Daithi O'hOgain believes all the different iterations of Crom are actually derived from Christian imagery of the anti-Christ (O hOgain, 2006). In contrast Daragh Smyth sticks with the literary suggestion that Crom was the primary God of the pagan Irish before the conversion (Smyth, 1988).
   In modern folklore many Lunasa celebrations center on the defeat of Crom by saint Patrick, often on the last Sunday in July or first in Sunday August which is called Domhnach Chroim Duibh - "Crom Dubh Sunday" (Smyth, 1988). Marian MacNeill believes that these stories likely reflect older pagan stories which would have pitted Lugh against Crom, where Lugh must secure the harvest for the people, but that after Christianization the Catholic saint replaced the Tuatha De Danann God (MacNeill, 1962). Crom at Lunasa represents the primal force that is either trying to steal the harvest or keep the harvest and with whom a hero must contend to secure supplies for the community. Many of the myths relating to Lugh and Crom Dubh, who is sometimes called Crom Cruach, involve Lugh battling and outwitting Crom and thus insuring the safety and bounty of the harvest; in some cases this theme is given the additional layer of the defeat, sacrifice, consumption, and then resurrection of Crom’s bull which may argue for an older element of bull sacrifice on this day (MacNeill, 1962).For the three days of Lunasa the Goddess Aine is Crom's consort, and she herself takes on a more fierce aspect to match him (MacNeill, 1962).
  Besides Lunasa Crom is strongly associated with Samhain when it was said he was honored at Mag Slecht with offerings of the firstborn of every living thing in exchange for a good harvest of corn and milk. According to the Rennes Dindshenchas 3/4 of the people who bowed down to him died:
’Tis there was the king-idol of Erin, namely the Crom
Cróich, and around him twelve idols made of stones; but he
was of gold. Until Patrick’s advent, he was the god of every
folk that colonized Ireland. To him they used to offer the
firstlings of every issue and the chief scions of every clan. 

’Tis to him that Erin’s king, Tigernmas son of Follach, repaired
on Hallontide*, together with the men and women of Ireland,
in order to adore him. And they all prostrated before him, so
that the tops of their foreheads and the gristle of their noses
and the caps of their knees and the ends of their elbows broke,
and three fourths of the men of Erin perished at those prostrations.
Whence Mag Slecht ‘Plain of Prostrations
  (Stokes, 1895)
In the Metrical Dindshenchas we are told of saint Patrick's destruction of Crom's statue at Mag Slecht:
  "Here used to stand a lofty idol, that saw many a fight, whose name was the Cromm Cruaich; it caused every tribe to live without peace.
Alas for its secret power! the valiant Gaedil used to worship it: not without tribute did they ask of it to satisfy them with their share in the hard world.
He was their god, the wizened Cromm, hidden by many mists: as for the folk that believed in him, the eternal Kingdom beyond every haven shall not be theirs.
For him ingloriously they slew their hapless firstborn with much wailing and peril, to pour their blood round Cromm Cruaich.
Milk and corn they asked of him speedily in return for a third part of all their progeny: great was the horror and outcry about him.
To him the bright Gaedil did obeisance: from his worship—many the crimes—the plain bears the name Mag Slecht.
Thither came Tigernmas, prince of distant Tara, one Samain eve, with all his host: the deed was a source of sorrow to them.
They stirred evil, they beat palms, they bruised bodies, wailing to the demon who held them thralls, they shed showers of tears, weeping prostrate.
Dead the men, void of sound strength the hosts of Banba, with land-wasting Tigernmas in the north, through the worship of Cromm Cruaich—hard their hap!
For well I know, save a fourth part of the eager Gaedil, not a man—lasting the snare—escaped alive, without death on his lips.
Round Cromm Cruaich there the hosts did obeisance: though it brought them under mortal shame, the name cleaves to the mighty plain.
Ranged in ranks stood idols of stone four times three; to beguile the hosts grievously the figure of the Cromm was formed of gold.
Since the kingship of Heremon, bounteous chief, worship was paid to stones till the coming of noble Patrick of Ard Macha.
He plied upon the Cromm a sledge, from top to toe; with no paltry prowess he ousted the strengthless goblin that stood here.
"  (Gwyn, 1924)
  According to another story in a late version of saint Patrick's life the saint overthrew Crom, possibly under the name of Cenn Cruiach, whose statue of gold-embossed stone was at Mag Slecht surrounded by 12 silver-embossed statues (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006). In some versions he ordered Crom's statue to be buried after destroying it. Of course given the shifting that MacNeill speculates occured at Lunasa between Lugh and saint Patrick battling Crom one does wonder if perhaps it wasn't Lugh who originally confronted and destroyed Crom's statue at Mag Slecht, but that's pure speculation. Several scholars, including MacNeill and Smyth suggest a possible connection between Crom and Lugh's Fomorian grandfather Balor. 
   Crom Cruach is associated with Samhain not only in the Dindshenchas but also in several other sources.
According to the Annals of the Four Masters:
  "M3656.2 It was by Tighearnmas .... At the end of this year he died, with the three fourths of the men of Ireland about him, at the meeting of Magh Slecht, in Breifne, at the worshiping of Crom Cruach, which was the chief idol of adoration in Ireland. This happened on the night of Samhain precisely. It was from the genuflections which the men of Ireland made about Tighearnmas here that the plain was named."
 Which is reiterated by Geoffrey Keating:
  "And it was at Magh Sleacht that Tighearnmhas himself died and three quarters of the men of Ireland with him on the eve of Samhain while they were in the act of worshiping Crom Cruaidh, the chief idol of Ireland. For it was this Tighearnmhas who first instituted the worship of Crom Cruaidh (as Zoroastres did in Greece) about a hundred years after they had come to Ireland; and it was from the prostrations of the men of Ireland before this idol that that plain in Breithfne is called Magh Sleacht*." (Keating, 1854).
Unlike the two Dindshenchas versions neither of these suggest a direct connection between Crom's worship and the deaths of 3/4 of the men honoring him at Samhain. Keating is unusual in that he explicitly says that it was the pseudo-historical kingTigernmas who introduced Crom's worship to Ireland, placing that occurrence around 1200 BCE (Keating, 1854).
    In the later stories Crom is recast as a human pagan who goes to saint Patrick to be saved or is otherwise converted by him (MacNeill, 1962).
  I am aware of some modern Irish pagans who see Crom as a pre-Celtic agricultural God. They choose to honor him as a bringer or protector of the harvest rather than see him as a cthonic or chaotic force that must be fought against. In this view he is placed alongside the older Gods like the Cailleach as reflecting what could possibly be an echo of neolithic paganism, but of course this is impossible to prove. 

*  Samhain
* Generally understood as a form of sléchtaid meaning "bowing down, kneeling" and you'll often see Mag Slecht translated as the "Plain of Prostration" however its worth noting that slechtaid (without the fada over the e) means cutting down, slaughtering which in context would also fit equally well and would make the name of the plain "Plain of Slaughter". At the least I'd suggest this is a good example of the type of double meaning we see so often in Old Irish that should be appreciated more in English. 

Stokes, W., (1895) Rennes Dindshenchas
Smyth, D., (1988). A Guide to Irish Mythology
MacNeill, M., (1962) Festival of Lughnasa
O hOgain, D., (2006). The Lore of Ireland
Gwyn, E., (1924). Metrical Dindshenchas
Keating, G., (1854) The History of Ireland

1 comment:

  1. I believe that Crom Cruach referred to a labyrinth--a "crooked" + "mound". This is based on another article's suggestion that Crom comes from the Pomorian (Fomorian) Slavic god, Dabog. Dabog is connected with the triune god Triglav, and is a sun/weather/dying fertility god as well as an underworld god. The labyrinth was an underworld symbol, but also a sun symbol. The Slavic gods often have twisted circle symbols such as those, though the Crom Cruach's snake has much simpler spirals.

    The symbology of the labyrinth is that the center is where god is..or death (like the Minotaur)..or birth (as in Hopi coming of age rituals, the young man had to reach the center of the maze to reach the ladder that led up to the sun). If your suggestion that the Sun god Lugh was supposed to fight the monster god of the netherworld before some sort of resurrection took place, that would be an interesting combination of all those ideas.

    Typically we assume the fertility god (or his human stand in) is sacrificed, as part of the cycle of life. Perhaps instead, the god is supposed to fight and sacrifice the monster god instead. Makes you wonder if St Patrick volunteered to be the sacrificed god, then insisted he had banished the snake god forever..