- Tralee Mother, Photo © S. Geoghegan. All rights reserved.
In This Issue
Tlachtga: Earth Spear
Irish legends tell us that Tlachtga lived in a cave at Inis Dairbe on Valentia Island with her father, Mogh Ruith, son of Fergus. They lived a secluded life, as Mogh Ruith was hated and feared by the church of the time. His name means Devotee of the Wheel, and he is often labeled as the last remnant of the earlier deity Ruith, the god of the wheel. His wheel represents the sun and the great cycle of seasons and years.
ogh Ruith, a blind man, taught his daughter Tlachtga all his skills. Together they worked with all the best masters of magical knowledge in Ireland and Scotland until they exhausted the teachers and students available to them on the islands and traveled to the east for further study.
Arriving in Italy, they placed themselves under the tuition of a powerful wizard named Simon Magnus, a new testament character (Acts 8) who tried to buy the power of the holy ghost to use for his own ends. In this story, we find them living in the city of Samaria where Simon had convinced local city dwellers that he was god by demonstrating his sorceries to them over a long period of time.
The Bible tells us that when Peter arrived in Samaria, Simon became quite impressed with the miracles Peter performed in public and attempted to bribe Peter so that he could learn the secret of performing these miracles also. Simon's attempted bribery resulted in his being accused of what came to be known as simony, which, in those times, was regarded as a grave offense. For this, Simon received the wrath of clerical writers.
edieval Irish writers found no difficulty in identifying the sorcery of Simon Magnus with the magical powers of Mogh Ruith and used the parallel to discredit the pre-Christian religion of the area. In a curious blend of biblical lore and Irish mythology, we are told that Mogh Ruith in his adventures with Simon Magnus was the man who wielded the axe that cut off the head of John the Baptist.
It is said that Tlachgta, Mogh Ruith and Simon Magnus constructed a fabulous flying wheel named Roath Ramach, a machine they used for sailing through the air, a demonstration that their power was greater than that of the apostles. Tlachgta brought the flying wheel with her to Ireland and it was said to be made from two pillars of stone. She made the Rolling Wheel for Trian, the Stone in Forcathu and the Pillar in Cnamchaill (Cnamchaill means bone damage). These devices were dreaded by all and stories were told for generations that anyone who touched them died, any who saw them were blinded, and any who heard them were deafened. Some speculate that these stones were lightening rods and the dread associated with them a result of bolts of lightening conducted upon them.
The alliance between these three had tragic consequences for Tlachgta. She was raped by the three sons of Simon Magnus on the Hill of Ward and died there giving birth to three sons. Her sons were named Doirb, Cumma and Muach and gave their names to three regions of Ireland. It was said that as long as their names were remembered in Ireland, vengeful strangers would not visit the land. The great earthworks seen on the Hill of Ward were raised over her grave after her death and a festival was held each year in her honor. She was closely associated with Munster and has come to represent the aspect of nature and fertility allied with Samhain at the dying time of the year. The Hill was considered to be owned by Munster because it was part of the reward that Mogh Ruith claimed in return for helping King Fiacha.
The number three, associated with Tlachgta and her three children, is a mystical number, considered by some to represent past, present and future. It may have spatial significance -- left, center, right -- and a third consideration is that of male, female and progeny. It is clear that the number three represented the whole world of person, place and time.
Tlachtga's story is similar to the Irish stories of triple goddesses Talitiu and Macha, who both had multiple births that resulted in death, had mounds/forts raised over their graves, and had festivals held in their donor. Like Macha and Talitiu, Tlachgta is a tutelary goddess on whose protection the tribe depended. Her rape and death may represent an allegorical telling of the eclipse or the suppression of her cult at this period in time.
In Gaelic, tlacht means earth and gae means spear, so Tlachgta means the 'Earth-Spear'. She gives her name to the Hill of Ward, near Athboy, County Meath. It was here that the fires of Samhain were lit in early November when, by custom, the tribes gathered to offer tribute to the ancestors. Many interpreters of Irish history state that the Hill of Ward was the assembly point for druids in Ireland, though the word druid is not found in the Irish language until much later. There are more details of the magical battles of these times. It's interesting to note that in the old texts in which these stories are recorded there are apparently blank spots where Mogh Ruith's spells would have been repeated, probably because they were considered too dangerous to write down.
Walking across this plain in the biting chills of wind mixed with rain on a late October afternoon, I remember how only a few members of a recent travel group braved the walk to visit Tlachgta's grave. Those of us who did so walked in reverence, silently spreading out in all directions to commune with the energy of the landscape. I remember Tlachgta's courage, fierce and filled with unspoken kindness toward the men in her life who, according to an older story that lingers still in our midst, were blinded by power.
In the stillness of the shadows I can almost see the Hill of Tara and imagine a fire burning there, connecting it to this ancient hill site. I remember how our group gathered at the solitary stone pillar, how her flame kindled bright sparks within us as, hand to hand and heart to heart, we remembered her wisdom. A song rose from within us in remembrance, a prayer for her spirit, reverence for her story and hope for deep peace.
As we repeated these words together, they rose up into her resting place and spiraled out and over the lands she once walked upon.