In the ancient Celtic world the Goddess was the One who expressed Herself through the many. Grainne is such a one. She is both Winter Queen/Dark Goddess, nurturing seeds through winter, and Solar Sun Goddess, welcoming the rebirth of spring. She is Aine’s sister or another aspect of Aine. She, like Aine, was honored at the summer solstice and the first grain harvest of early August with bonfires and torchlit processions on top of her sacred hill at Leinster, Ireland. Remnants of these festivals are still found in folk ritual today.
Grainne is a part of the triple goddess formed by Herself and Her two sisters, Fenne and Aine. Both Grainne and Aine were seen by locals as beautiful, golden-haired goddesses who visited their fields and hilltops to protect and nurture the land, people and animals.
A Sun Goddess and master herbalist, Grainne rules herbs, knowledge, the sun, and fire.
Today Grainne is most known from the elopement story of Diarmaid and Grainne, with a similar theme to the later Welsh story of Trystan and Iseult and to the even later tale of King Arthur and Guinivere. These tales portray the unhappy love triangle of two men who both love one woman. Usually the woman is married to or promised to the older, more powerful man yet is in love with the younger man. In theses tales it is the woman who chooses the man, compelling him to act as she desires. The woman’s choice of the younger man is reminiscent of the Sovereignty Goddess who chooses youth over an ailing king.
Although, according to scholar P. MacCana, the elopement of Grainne and Diarmaid echoes the earlier proto-Celtic story in which Grainne, the bright Sun Goddess, embraced the darkness with her love of Donn, God of the Underworld, bringing together the duality of opposites through love. Their union brought the gift of grain to the people. This joining of opposites is seen in the elopement story – Grainne says in Her sleep-song for Diarmaid “To separate us two is to separate children of one home, it is to separate body from soul…”
Diarmuid, also called Diarmuid Donn, would suggest that he was the son of Donn, God of the Underworld. This similarity of names is another link indicating Grainne’s more ancient association with Donn.
The earliest fragments of the elopement tale date from the tenth century. Grainne, daughter of the High King of Ireland, Cormac Mac Art, had scorned all her possible suitors. Finn Mac Cumhal, the Fianna’s aging commander, wanted a suitable wife. His companions suggested Grainne, the most beautiful woman in Ireland. In an older version of the story Grainne tried to avoid marriage to the older Finn by setting him an impossible task. In newer versions she accepted the offer merely as a marriage of convenience.
At the pre-wedding feast, Grainne began to doubt Her decision to marry the elderly Finn. She cast her eyes about, hoping to find one who would warm her heart.
Diarmaid, one of Finn’s strongest and most loyal warriors was also at the feast. But Diarmaid was know for more than his fighting skills. He was also called the master and charmer of women. For he had been born with a magical spot, the Bol Sherca, in the middle of his forehead that caused all who saw it to fall in love with him. Diarmaid, wanting to avoid trouble, tried to hide the spot by covering it with his hair.
As Grainne continued to look around the room, her eyes fell on Diarmaid at the exact moment that he tossed back his head, revealing the magic spot. Instantly She fell in love with him, resolving to run away with him.
Grainne gave a sleeping draught to everyone with the exception of Diarmaid and three of his friends. First she asked those three if they would go with her. They refused. When she asked Diarmaid he could not refuse because he was under a geis, (a sacred vow/magical obligation) to never refuse a woman with particular circumstances which Grainne fulfilled.
Diarmaid, though loath to betray Finn, could not violate his geis. So the two left together. Aengus Óg, the God of Love who had given sanctuary to Etain, offered his help. He told them that “where they had slept once, never to sleep again.” They would have to keep moving to avoid Finn and the Fiana.
The two lived roughly, taking shelter in great beds of stone all the while pursued by Finn. Today these stones are known as Giants’ Graves or Giants’ Beds. As legends grow with time, these stone beds became known as spots which could endow fertility on barren women and cement love between lovers.
Much time passed in this way. Diarmaid refused to make love to Grainne, wanting to remain loyal to Finn. He always left raw meat at their stone beds as a token of his abstinence. But finally her charms convinced him and the two came together in love.
The chase continued for many years during which the couple had four sons and a daughter. Finally Aengus Óg negotiated peace between Finn and the lovers. Grainne and Diarmaid were able to settle down and raise their family. A few years later another geis entered into the story – Diarmaid’s geis to never hunt boar. Diarmaid, while hunting with Finn, was gored by a wild boar. Finn could have saved him. But Finn remembered Diarmaid’s betrayal and lingered too long with aide.
Some versions of the story recount that Grainne mourned Diarmaid for the rest of her life. Others say that she reconciled with Finn and married him.
When Grainne calls your name, know that you have the power to make your own choices, to claim your sovereignty. Trust that your soul choices, though sometimes difficult, will bring abundance. Feel the truth of the unity from which our world of duality springs.
Sources: Celtic Heritage by Alwyn Rees & Brinley Rees, http://www.shee-eire.com/Magic&Mythology/Myths/FinnMacCool/Diarmuid-and-Grainne/Page1.htm, http://www.cassandraeason.com/magick/druidry/index.htm, http://merganser.math.gvsu.edu/myth/giant.html, http://mirrorofisis.freeyellow.com/id228.html, http://bardmythologies.com/diarmuid-and-grainne/, Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore – Patricia Monaghan.
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Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork. She continues to be inspired by the Divine Feminine in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and teaches part-time. She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website.