Monday 15 February 2016

The name ‘Nodens’ by JRR Tolkien

This is a rare and hard to access example of Tolkien's detailed philological reasoning, of the same kind which he applied to the Old English word Earendil, and which led to the Silmarillion legendarium.

In this piece he begins with a single Latin word derived from a Roman inscription, and – by multiple comparisons with other languages, inferences concerning sound changes, and a deeply informed and scientifically-disciplined use of creative imagination, links this word to a range of historical and mythical associations.

In other words, beginning with a word, he ends with a god and the nature of the society in which he was worshipped. I have edited this version for the general reader – so it is not word by word an accurate transcription – I have changed the punctuation, left out pronunciation accents, and added or changed the occasional word to clarify or join-up sentences.

I have also cut about a half of the length, to focus on Tolkien’s argument rather than the supporting philological evidence, which includes a lot of ancient languages and phonological script – and which, anyway, I do not remotely understand. 


The Name 'Nodens' by JRR Tolkien

The name Nodens occurs in three inscriptions from the excavation, and may also have occurred in a mosaic. The inscriptions most probably represent a Keltic stem inferred to be 'noudent'.

Now this is precisely the form required as the Old and Middle Irish form of mythological and heroic name Nuada. Nuadu was Argat-lam – King of the Silver Hand who ruled the Tuatha de Danann – the possessors of Ireland before the Milesians. 

The Tuatha de Danann may with some probability, amid the wild welter of medieval Irish legend, be regarded as in great measure the reduced form of ancient gods and goddesses. Although it is perhaps vain to try and disentangle from the things told of Nuada any of the features of Nodens of the Silures in Gloucestershire, it is at least highly probable that the two were originally the same.

That figures of British origin could intrude into Ireland is not impossible. Cuchulinn (Setana) himself is suspect. But the fact that outside Ireland (where the name figures largely) Nodens-Nuada occurs only in Britain, in the west, in one place, and nowhere else in the Keltic area, never in Gaul, has led to the more likely conjecture that Nodens in a Goidelic god, probably introduced eastward into Britain, unless one can believe that the Goidels reached Ireland by way of Britain and left his cult behind him.

It is possible to see a memory of this figure in the medieval Welsh Lludd Llaw Ereint (‘of the Silver Hand’) – the ultimate origin of King Lear – whose daughter Creiddylad (Cordelia) was carried off, after her betrothal to Gwythyr vab Greiddawl, by Gwynn vab Nudd, a figure having some connexions with the underworld.

Concerning Creiddylad there appears anciently to have been told a tale of an everlasting fight, which has often been cited as a parallel to the legend in Old Norse of the endless battle of Hethinn Hjarrandason and King Hogni over Hogni’s daughter Hildr whom Hethin carried off. Gwynnvab Nudd and Gwythrare to fight for Creiddylad every first of May until doomsday, when the final conquerer shall win her.

It is conceivable that Lludd (father) and Gwynn vab Nudd (suitor) both owe something, in the late confusion of traditions, to a common ancestor. Certainly the normal Welsh form of Nuada-Nodens would be Nudd. The fixing of the father’s name as Lludd may have owed something to alliteration with his surname.

In the Scandinavian story, the father (Hogni) is one of the pair of everlasting combatants. But even if this is true, and Lludd Llaw Ereint is related to Nuada Argat-lam, it of course proves nothing concerning the place from which this legendary figure came ultimately into Britain.

Of Nuada Argat-lam it is told that he was at war with both Firbolg and Fomorians. He lost his hand in the first battle, and the royalty passed with it for seven years to Bress, chief of the Fomorians. The Tuatha de Danann made a new hand 'with full motions of a hand' for him. Hence his surname. For twenty years he regained his royalty, but finally perished in battle against the Fomorians. 

Other Nuadas appear in Irish. These may be in part scattered memories of an originally single mythological figure, though this is not a necessary conclusion, since in other cases 'divine' names are found later surviving as ordinary personal names. 

There was Nuada son of Tadg (Teague), supreme druid of Cathair the Great, king of Ireland in the second Irish epic cycle, and ancestor of the Ossianic line of heroes. This cycle purports to refer to events of the second century AD, when Nodens was already, presumably, worshipped in Britain; but the cycles are not reliable history. The Coir Anmann ('Fitness of Names) is a manuscript of circa AD 1500 in Middle Irish, but it is some centuries older than its hand, and contains much very ancient tradition...

Of Nuada Airgetlam it says: Streng mac Senghainn cut off Nuada's right hand in combat at the battle of Mag Tured Cunga, when the Tuatha de Danann invaded Erin. The leeches of the Tuatha de Danann put on Nuada a hand of silver with the complete motion of every hand. '

If not an established certainty, it is, then, at least a probable theory that there was a divine personage of whom the chief later representative is the Nuada of the Silver Hand in Irish tradition, and that this Nuada is the same as the Nodens which occurs in curious and suggestive isolation in these British inscriptions. 

Linguistic considerations unaided by other data can do little, usually, to recall forgotten gods from the twilight. The form of this name is, however, favourable.  In Gothic, the earliest recorded language of the Germanic group and preserved in a form spoken at a time when Nodens' temple possibly still had votaries, clear traces remain of an older sense. There gu-niutan means 'to catch, entrap (as a hunter)'. 

Whether the god was called the 'snarer' or the 'catcher' or the 'hunter' in some sinister sense, or merely as being a lord of venery, mere etymology can hardly say. It is suggestive, however, that the most remarkable thing about Nuada was his hand, and that without his hand his power was lost. 

Even in the dimmed memories of Welsh legend in Llaw Ereint, we still hear an echo of the ancient fame of the magic hand of Nodens the Catcher.

Reference: Appendix One of the Report on the excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and post-Roman sites in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. 1932. Volume 50, Number 1. Oxford University Press: London, pages 132-7.

Monday 8 February 2016

Owen Barfield's linkage of the historical evolution of consciousness with personal reincarnation

The idea of an evolution of human consciousness throughout history has been a part of spiritual thinking for more than a century - I know it mainly through considering the work of Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield and William Arkle over the past couple of years.

(I encountered the idea over thirty years ago summarized in the work of Colin Wilson, but did not then pay much attention.)

The idea of an historical evolution of consciousness seems to go-with a belief in reincarnation, because reincarnation allows each person to participate in the different stages of evolution that are aiming-at a fully divine form of consciousness.

Steiner and Barfield describe this aimed-at state in some detail - in essence it combines on the one hand a direct involvement with, and participation in, reality such as was characteristic of early man and remains characteristic of early childhood; with, on the other hand, a fully alert, self-aware, purposive and analytic consciousness which is characteristic of the adult consciousness and the modern phase of Western history.

So, the idea is that I am personally experiencing the distinctive modern, alienated consciousness now - including the knowledge and aspiration towards a future state; however, in earlier lives I have also personally experienced, and benefited from, earlier phases of human consciousness. At some point later this life, and perhaps further lives, I may incrementally, a step at a time, learn how to combine the positive qualities of all phases. This aimed-at fully divine conscious state is what Barfield calls Final Participation.

According to Steiner and Barfield, these earlier life phases include non-incarnated lives - lives when we were conscious but had no body. So the theory is really one of multiple lives, rather than re incarnation.

Therefore the human spirit or soul (i.e. that entity which is reincarnated) is here conceptualized as undergoing an educational process toward which each life is contributing.

Repeated lives, many lives, seem to be necessary in order to allow for the very large amount of experience and learning required to bridge the gap between being a man and becoming a god. Certainly, one mortal life seems grossly inadequate for this, especially given that most human lives in history were terminated either in the womb or in early infancy - a small minority of humans have reached adulthood, and even fewer of these have had a full experience of marriage, family, maturity and growing old etc.

So, evolution of consciousness and reincarnation seem to make a neat package. However, this package is, if not incompatible with Christianity, at least somewhat alien to the structure of Christianity; which places a great deal of emphasis on the individual life which we are experiencing now, and sees 'this life' as having potentially decisive consequences for eternity.

And certainly, while reincarnation seems to described in the Bible - most notably in the case of John the Baptist apparently being a reincarnated Prophet Elijah - there isn't any scriptural description of a scheme of reincarnation as the norm. And especially not of multiple lives.

My interpretation is that ancient Christianity saw reincarnation as true, but as an exceptional possibility, done in exceptional cases and for specific purposes - rather than as the standard procedure for the majority of people.

Does an exclusion of reincarnation then rule-out the evolution of consciousness throughout human history? No, but denial of reincarnation with multiple lives does limit the role of evolution of consciousness in the lives of individual spirits or souls - it breaks the link between the evolution of consciousness in history and the evolution of my consciousness and the specific consciousnesses of every other individual.

Put differently, the arguments which (in particular) Owen Barfield makes for different types of consciousness in human history, such as his insights into the changing scope and meaning of words, may well be true; but they lose their relevance to the evolution of my consciousness and your consciousness if we were not present (in earlier lives) actually to experience the several stages of this historical evolution.

In sum, the historical evolution of consciousness is a matter of historical but not personal interest, if we ourselves were not present during that history.

My own belief is therefore that I accept Barfield's description of human consciousness having changed throughout history and in broadly the way he describes; and I also accept that we are meant (or destined) to achieve that mode of consciousness Barfield terms 'Final Participation'. But I do not accept that the two are causally linked - for instance I do not believe that I have, myself, personally participated in the historical phases of the evolution of consciousness during previous lives.

Rather, I see the evolution of consciousness as a sequence which is recapitulated in different scales in different situations: e.g. through human history, in each person's individual development from childhood to maturuty, and also in the largest cosmic scale of our salvation and divination across eternity.

I therefore would modify the Steiner/ Barfield model, since I regard this evolutionary sequence of consciousness as a basic and necessary process in terms of Man as a whole and also individual men working towards fuller divinity. And I think it is because the process is basic and necessary that we see it appearing and re-appearing here and there throughout reality; operating at many scales and across many time-frames.