I suffer a serious case of sleep apnoea. The treatment is to sleep with the aid of a CPAP machine. I love my CPAP. I have named her Caer Ibormeith (Kyr-or Keer-Eebormay) because after I had suffered months of bad sleep and horrendous nightmares caused by the apnoea , she breathed into my nostrils the gentlest of rest and the sweetest of dreams. She transformed my life.
Caer Ibormeith, daughter of Ethal Anbuail of the Tuatha de Danann, lived in Sidhe Uamuin in Connacht. Caer was known as “Shapely Yew Berry” or “Yew Berry”. She was a shapeshifting goddess who spent part of the year as a woman and part as a swan.
Accompanied by 150 handmaids and servants, she underwent a transformation every year on Samhain, a liminal time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest.
Caer Ibormeith was an independent woman of the old way. She had the right as all women did then, to choose her own man. The man she chose was Aengus Óg, son of the Goddess Bóann of Brugh na Bóinne (Newgrange ) and The Dagdha, father of the Tuatha de Danann.
When Aengus lay sleeping one night he was visited by a beautiful young woman who sang to him and called his name. When he woke he knew he was in love, but he did not know with whom, or what to do about it. He told no one about it for a whole year during which every night the maiden visited Aengus in his dreams. She sang and played sweet music. Aengus lost his appetite and fell ill. He wanted only to return to sleep to be with his mysterious love in the world of dream.
A physician was called. He divined the cause of Aengus’ illness and told Bóann, Aengus’s mother, to find the young woman of Aengus’ dreams. Bóann searched for a year but to no avail. Then they asked his father, the Dagdha, for help. For another year he searched with no result.
The Dagdha then asked Aengus’ brother, Bodb, king of the Sídhe of Munster to seek the maiden. After a year Bodb returned to report he had found a woman who fitted the description Aengus had given. He took Aengus to a lake where, just as beautiful as Aengus had dreamed, she was bathing on the shore with one hundred and fifty maidens, who were her servants and handmaids. She was Caer Ibormeith, the daughter of Ethal Anbuail, a Faery King.
With the support of Medb and Aillil, whose territory was Connaught where Caer’s sidhe was located, they visited Caer’s father, Ethal Anbuail, and requested the hand of his daughter in marriage for Aengus. He told them he could not grant such a favour. Caer was her own woman and her power was greater than his own. He offered to help, however, and confided that Caer would change in shape from woman to swan every Samhain. If Aengus wished to win her he must be at the Loch Bél Dracon on the morning of Samhain and call to her by name. If he could recognize Caer among her swan companions and call to her she might come to him of her own free will. Whether she answered at all would be up to her entirely.
Aengus went. He found 150 swans swimming along the shore of the lake, all with silver chains around their necks. They gathered around him. He despaired of recognising Caer amongst them all. As he was about to give up and turn away, he spied one swan with a gold chain. She seemed more regal and graceful than the others. He called to her by name; “Caer Ibormeith”. The swan swam to the shore and before him transformed into the beautiful woman of his dream, wrapped in a cloak of snow white feathers. She reproached him and asked why it had taken him three years to answer her call.
(I really love this bit – I can just see this beautiful woman asking “What took you so long?”)
Aengus replied he had become confused and lost when he was not with her in his dreams. He asked her to come with him and be his wife. She said she would agree if he swore to allow her to return to the water at her will. To show he agreed wholeheartedly, he became a swan himself and joined her in the water. Caer and Aengus embraced in swan style, entwining their necks around each other, and swam around the lake three times singing a love song of such sweet transcendent beauty that it cast an enchanted sleep, lasting three days and three nights, onto all who heard it.
After their honeymoon, they became human and returned to Aengus’ home at NewGrange, where they lived together in love and joy, half a year in human form, and half as swans.
I do love “Happy Ever After” stories.
In mythology, Aengus came to personify Love, Youth and Poetic Inspiration, his wife Caer Ibormeith the Goddess of Sleep, Dreams and Prophecy.
When the new tribes arrived in Ireland it is said the old Gods and Goddesses became the Faery Kings and Queens and retreated to underground mounds called sidhes.
Swans in Celtic mythology, are associated with love, purity, the soul, and music.
Swans are often linked with a goddess and will wear a gold or silver chain around their neck. Swans of Samhain are said to act as guides to the Otherworld.
A chance reference regarding Tolkien made me believe that Goldberry, wife of Tom Bombadil, may have been modelled on Caer Ibormeith or Yew Berry.
Justin Noetzel wrote a paper “Beorn and Tom Bombadil: Mythology, Narrative, and The Most (Non) Essential Characters in Middle-earth”. In it, Noetzel suggests an association of Tom Bombadil with the Celtic Otherworld and tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann. This is an interesting proposition because I read somewhere that Tolkien disavowed any Celtic origins to his tale. This despite the fact there may be a Celtic association at least in that the name “Gollum” was inspired by a place he visited in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland; Poll na gColm (pronounced Pole na Gollum) “cave of the rock dove”.
In The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Tolkien describes Goldberry as the seasonal changes in nature, and Tom Bombadil as the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.
I have a feeling that Goldberry and Yew Berry are at least related. Both are associated with water, and both had beautiful singing voices. Goldberry’s voice was “as young and as ancient as spring, like the song of a glad water flowing down into the night from a bright morning in the hills.”
Odd too that Bombadil was the embodiment of song and music, and Aengus of poetic inspiration.
Bombadil and Goldberry represent the ancient water/land – feminine/masculine principles and so, it seems, do Caer Ibormeith and Aengus.