Stories are told and retold. Tales and legends are borrowed. Heroes and their heroic deeds are transferred from culture to culture, their names changed and the symbolic meaning of their story adapted.
Stories were for teaching as much as for entertainment. Their lessons had to be specific to the culture of the teller. Stories told in the oral tradition passed on knowledge from generation to generation in cultures where where only the very wisest knew the magical mysteries of medicine, writing and mathematics, engineering and metallurgy.
The blacksmith, and the healer with his or her herbs, were magicians because of the arcane knowledge they had and which they kept to themselves and passed on only to chosen apprentices.
The old folk stories we have to work with are all written, which means they come from a time when writing became more common, therefore they are mostly of medieval origin, which in turn means they are coloured by the culture of that time and tainted by the Christian values of the day.
Over the generations before they were collected and written down they would have been changed as they were told, retold, borrowed and conflated, then told and retold again. Similar themes and even identical stories arise in every culture’s folklore. These are the clues I find fascinating to read and compare.
The story of the Welsh goddess Cerridwen with her cauldron, and the imagery of rebirth and regeneration that it represents (the womb) I postulate, could be a re-imagining and retelling of a story older than written records. And the story carries, I believe, a forgotten lesson about the changing nature of the relationships and roles of men and women in a changing culture even before the advent of Abrahamic religion supplanted worship of the Goddess.
As an aside, or perhaps not – who knows? – consider the Síle na gCíoċ or Sheela na Gig. Though mostly of medieval 11th and 12 century origin, and mostly found on buildings such as churches these carvings suggest they originate from some much older tradition, and probably not Irish. Could there have been much older versions, perhaps small and portable, of the nature of the famous Venus of Willendorf?
Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Could some long lost paleolithic version of this carving, damaged, or worn with handling, or perhaps just misinterpreted, given rise to the belief that the women of the Fir Bolg had teeth in their vulva?
I’m just exploring ideas.
Where I am going with this I have no idea. Well, I do, but it is just forming.
So much to learn. I should have started 50 years ago.