An tEasga Ùr: On the New Moon

Ghlòir dhuit fein gu bràth,
A ghealach gheal, a nochd ;
Is tu fein gu bràth
Lòchran àigh nam bochd.

This is a quatrain from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica. Its translation runs literally “Glory to yourself until judgment, O bright luminary, tonight; you, yourself, until judgment are a happy torch for the poor.” The word gealach now is accepted as the same as ‘the moon,’ but it isn’t. It is an adjective that means literally ‘possessed of brightness’ (hence the repetition of geal in gealach gheal). The proper word for the moon, easga (Old Irish, ésca), faded from collective memory in Scotland during the eighteenth century. Dwelly notes in his dictionary that it was still used in Braemar at that time and the poetic term teasga is probably the same word with the initial ‘t’ petrified since with the article it would have been called an t-easga.

I noticed last night the new moon. Of course, we’d had so much rain and cloud over the last week that we are well on the way to the waxing quarter, but it occurred to me that today would be a most propitious time to mark down one aspect of heavenly veneration that has coalesced for me over the last few months. You see, it was customary in Scotland (and Ireland for all I know) for the people to go out and ‘take the air’ in the evenings, primarily to see what was going on in the heavens. Carmichael talks about this, but it was hardly a Celtic thing since Tolkien has his hobbits doing it in The Fellowship of the Ring. In my mind, this was a last vestige of an age-old custom of seeing what is happening in the world. After all, when your religion is consisted of divinity clothed in the land and blossoming into time, to ‘go for a walk’ regularly would become not only a means of personal devotion but also a way of seeing what the gods are up to. Greetings like the one above are part of a landscape of religious observation that kept people in touch, in tune and in step with the divine.

From Carmichael’s explication in his books, it is clear that the people of Scotland saw the new moon, a’ ghealach úr, as a particularly propitious time, perhaps even more so than the full moon,  an làn-gheallach. There are numerous poems addressing the new moon when it was first spotted, but very few address the full moon. From Carmina Gadelica, it is fairly clear that light was of especial significance. The full moon was also an solas lán, full light, and the waning moon was ré dorcha, the dark period. These are only a couple of terms for the different phases and states of the moon. It was clearly of great concern to the Gaels of Scotland, and there is no shortage of devotional poems. Here are a few of my favourites:

Ta mi togail duit mo làmh,
Ta mi bogadh dhuit mo chinn,
Ta mi tabhairt duit mo ghràidh,
Àilleagain àigh nan linn.

Ta mi togail duit mo shùil,
Ta mi cromadh dhuit mo chinn,
Ta mi tiubhradh dhuit mo run,
A ghealach ùr nan linn !

It should be noted here that the older  is preserved in these quatrains, where the modern language uses tha, so “ta mi togail” in modern Scots Gaelic would be tha mi togail. These literally translate as:

  I lift to you my hand,
I bow to you my head,
I give to you my love,
O happy jewel of the ages.

I lift to you my eye,
I bend to you my head,
I extend to you my innermost intention,
O new moon of the ages.

Gràdh and rùn are both used interchangeably these days for ‘love,’ but there is a distinct difference between them. The first implies affection and trust, while the second implies secrets and desires. Rùn is the same word as that which gives us the Norse-derived word, rune, so there is also a kind of magical inner-meaning here.

One of the longer pieces runs as follows:

Fàilte dhut, a ghealach ùr,
Àilleagan iùil na bàidh!
Ta mi lùbadh dhut mo ghlùn,
Ta mi curnadh dhut mo ghràidh.

Ta mi lùbadh dhut mo ghlùn,
Ta mi tiubhradh dhut mo làmh,
Ta mi togail dhut mo shùil,
A ghealach ùr nan tràth.

Fàilte dhut, a ghealach ùr,
A mhuirneag mo ghràidh!
Fàilte dhut, a ghealach ùr,
A mhuirneag nan gràs!

Tha thu siubhal ‘na do chùrs,
Tha thu stiùradh nan lán;
Tha thu soillseadh dhuinn do ghnùis,
A ghealach ùr nan tràth.

A rioghainn an iùil,
A rioghainn an àigh,
A rioghainn mo ruin,
A ghealach ùr nan tràth!

This invocation clearly follows the same pattern as above, but it extends the sentiment further:

Welcome to you, New Moon,
Jewel of guidance, of kindliness
I bow to you my knee,
I place in you my love.

I bow to you my knee.
I extend to you my hand.
I lift to you my eye.
O new moon of the seasons.

Welcome to you, O new moon,
O darling, my love,
Welcome to you, O new moon,
O darling of graces.

You travel in your course
You direct fullness.
You illuminate for us your face.
O new moon of the seasons.

O queen of guidance,
O queen of happiness,
O queen of my innermost intention,
O new moon of the seasons.

It is actually quite difficult to communicate the tenor of this poem and the complexities of meanings here, there is much more to say. This must suffice for now, though, and I will finish this with more on the Moon and Sun later.

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One response to “An tEasga Ùr: On the New Moon

  1. Pingback: De Dumhain à Ríur | Scáthcraft·

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