The Edinburgh Reference Set and Some Leads in Indo-European Studies

For the first time in a long time I managed to spend almost a full working day in the library. I am working on an article regarding Midir in Irish literature and was sifting through the Journal of Indo-European Studies for anything useful I might find. I sometimes take a day to review through a journal’s entire run of volumes, looking for anything that might be useful, so yesterday, leis an áthas tóraíochta orm, I found a number of really enjoyable ideas that I would like to focus on once I get this article finished up.

Of great interest to me was Emily Lyle’s work out of the University of Edinburgh on something she calls ‘the Edinburgh Reference Set:’ a structure to be applied to the study of Indo-European cosmology with particular reference to deities. Taking inspiration from ‘the Cambridge Reference Set’ used in the study of mitochondrial DNA, her structure is an attempt to move past reliance on Dumézil’s tripartite functions while maintaining their usefulness alongside other structures found in IE society. The basic structure looks like this:

Dumézil’s functions are divided into numbers 1–4 and 9–10, with 5–8 being reserved for the male and female, tri-functional roles noted by other scholars. She is thinking specifically in terms of comparing pantheons across cultures, so in this aspect the structure looks for pantheons of ten deities, each with specific attributes. Odd numbers indicate ‘light’ associations while even numbers indicate ‘dark’ associations. Section 7, for example, would correspond to the sovereignty goddess in her role as the bestower of kingship while section 8 would correspond to her role as the giver of the deoch báis: the drink of death.

Her focus is on Vedic and Classical literature, so Celtic and Norse literature is peripheral (so far as I can tell from her publishings in the JIE: I’ve not had the chance yet to chase down her other publications, particularly her more recent work noted below). There is a lot of opportunity for explorative study, though, and I am very much looking forward to getting into this more.

As a last note, the following list of articles represents some of the leads that I intend to follow over the next month or so. I have organized them according to topics that I will be focusing on, but their titles will perhaps suggest some other directions for them as well. This list is not exhaustive nor exclusive to JIE (as there is at least one article from elsewhere), but it is a start. Finally, I only list the beginning page number for each article.

Relating to the Gods & Calendration

N.J. Allen, ‘The Heimdall-Dyu Comparison Revisited,’ JIE 35 (2007), 233.

Karen Bek-Pedersen, ‘Oppositions and Cooperations in the Baldr Myth, with Irish and Welsh Parallels,’ JIE 34 (2006), 5–26.

Henrik Birnbaum, ‘Poseidon as a Reflex of the Indo-European ‘Source of Waters’ God,’ JIE 1 (1973) 423.

Bridget Drinka, ‘Evidence for the Space-Time Hypothesis: The IE S-Aorist,’ JIE 16 (1988), 253.

Marija Gimbutas, ‘Perkūnas/Perun — the Thunder God of the Balts and the Slavs,’ JIE 1 (1973), 466.

Alexander A. Gurshtein, ‘Did the Pre-Indo-Europeans Influence the Formation of the Western Zodiac?’ JIE 33 (2005), 103.

Ronald Hicks and Laura Ward Elder, ‘Festivals, Deaths, and the Sacred Landscape of Ancient Ireland,’ JIE 31 (2003) 307.

Carol F. Justus, ‘Numeracy and the Germanic Upper Decades,’ JIE 24 (1996), 45

Emily Lyle, ‘Narrative Form and the Structure of Myth,’ Folklore (Tartu) 33 (2006), 59 – 70. [ISSN 1406-0957]

Emily Lyle, ‘The Importance of the Prehistory of Indo-European Structures for Indo-European Studies,’ JIE 34 (2006), 99.

Garrett Olmsted, ‘The Use of Ordinal Numerals in the Gaulish Coligny Calendar,’ JIE 16 (1988), 267

William Sayers, ‘An Archaic Epithet of the Dagda, Cernunnos and Conall Cernach,’ JIE 16 (1988), 341

Udo Strutynski, ‘Germanic Divinities in Weekday Names,’ JIE 3 (1975), 363.

Maria Magdolna Tatár, ‘The Myth of Macha in Eastern Europe,’  JIE 35 (2007), 323.

On the Etymology and Sacrality  of the Horse and Other Animals

Enrico Campanile, ‘Meaning and prehistory of Old Irish Cú Glas,’ JIE 7 (1979), 225.

Michiel de Vaan, ‘The derivational history of Greek ‘ιππος and ‘ιππευs,’ JIE 37 (2009) 198.

Martin E. Huld, ‘Proto-Indo-Europeans and the Squirrel, Sciurus Vulgaris,’ JIE 37 (2009)  130

Bruce Lincoln, ‘The Hellhound,’ JIE 7 (1979), 273.

(There are a great many more in this category, but it occurred to me to start recording these quite late in the day.)


Ronald Hicks, ‘Cosmography in Tochmairc Étaíne,’  JIE 37 (2009), 115.

Boris Oguibénine, ‘Cosmic Tree in Vedic and Tamil Mythology: Contrastive Analysis,’ JIE 12 (1984), 367

John Shaw, ‘A Gaelic Eschatological Folktale, Celtic Cosmology, and Dumézil’s “Three Realms”,’ JIE 35 (2007), 249.

Beer & Magic

Edgar C. Polomé, ‘Beer, Runes and Magic,’ JIE 24 (1996), 99


7 responses to “The Edinburgh Reference Set and Some Leads in Indo-European Studies

  1. Since you mention the Campanile and Lincoln articles, are you familiar with the book Werewolves, Magical Hounds, and Dog-Headed Men in Celtic Literature by Phillip Bernhardt-House? There’s a lot of further references in there that might be useful to you, particularly since you’re doing a lot of Gaelic…

    • Wait! I misremembered! It wasn’t Bernhardt-House’s book that I was thinking of! I saw it go by — almost bought a copy at Kalamazoo — but I’ve not read it. I was thinking of Kathryn Edwards’ ‘Werewolves, Witches and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe’ and got confused. Sorry about that!

  2. It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but I am familiar with it. This represents an afternoon looking through the JIE, so there’s a lot of material — a LOT of material — that isn’t represented here … in fact, everything not in the JIE and even a few in there (hence my parenthesis the sacrality of horses and other animals). Lyle’s article in Folklore is my one departure as I wanted to learn more about the Edinburgh Reference Set. Ann Dooley also has some good stuff on werewolves in Ireland. It’s a whole other topic. Jan Ziolkowski and Andy Orchard also talk about dog-headed men in their books, but maybe those references are a little out of date. I’ve not kept up as well as I should …

    • I’d always heard that Ann Dooley would be writing on werewolves (it’s mentioned in a footnote or two of her other articles), but never found anything by her on that subject, and when I asked her about it a few years ago, she said she’d missed the deadline on the publication where it was supposed to have been done. Do you have a more up-to-date reference on that, perhaps? I’d be very interested…

      I’m not familiar with Jan Ziolkowski either–and, as I’m editing a volume for Bibliotheca Alexandrina on cynocephalic deities (mostly Egyptian, but not exclusively…), I’d be interested in knowing more about that for the bibliography as well.

      • Oh no! You have more information than I then. She was working on it last I knew, and had no idea that it fell through. Ah well.

        As for Ziolkowski and Orchard, I’m thinking of their respective books Talking Animals and Pride and Prodigies, though if memory serves the former has more than the latter. There are some other titles that were significant, but they elude me right now. I’m sure you’d have them anyway.

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