This was a competition submission with the Irish Post and Rathcroghan in Co. Roscommon. It was highly commended. I offer it to you now with love and blessings. S.V.
“And he went through the bed of the river Shannon that is called Bandea…”
Eyes the colour of sea foam observed, as the smoke in the distance rose from the hill of sacred fire, which sat watching over the river, tracing the language of air in its grey-white ascent. On the twin to that hill, both of which appeared like the breasts of Éiru, bared as if she were reclining by the flow, sat the great Bilé of the Connacht Gatekeepers, the ‘tree of the ancestors’. The ancient oak drew down through its mighty trunk, the river of stars that flowed above, a divine confluence, an axis-mundi between the river of heaven and the earthly river that ran beside it. It was the sacred point where the elders, the ancestors, the gods, the rivers above and below, and the tribes met, to gather wisdom and to imbibe the land with power.
Sinann was four miles off on the Hill of Clear Sight in Béal Locha, the ‘Way’, guarded by the jealous fingers of the river, reaching out from its banks to wrap around the plains that fanned out from her hallowed channel. In this liminal space, the river mixed her magic with the luminous power of Lugh, Lord of Light and his bright Golden Lady, Bui. They were the beloved celestials who bring the summer and the crops to fruition, who watch over the cattle and provide nourishment and bounty. The river and the gods, forever in a ceaseless dance of life, death and rebirth. It was here in this place, where the people lived, where they tended the crops, the cattle, and guarded the ‘Way’. They only came to the ford at times of ritual or pilgrimage, as the land around the ford was sacred, the domain of the Drui, and the Gatekeepers who guarded the entrance to the western realm where royal Rathcroghan rose out of the earth and united the kings of the tribes under mighty Queen Maeve, who ruled over them all.
As she spurred her white mare on, Sinann’s dark brown hair flowed like the very water of the river itself, while the blue of her dress that whipped the flanks of her horse, was like the sky reflected in the dark waters rippling with waves stirred up by the restless wind. The crimson cape woven with the tartan of the Connachta, the venerated descendants of Conn, was like a flame above the waters and she, Sinann, was pure alchemy. The gold torc around her neck marked her status as one kissed by the gods, a Bandrui, she was seer, poet, wisdom keeper, and mouthpiece of the river. It was she who could weave the mists, call on the rains and speak to the ancient ones when they rose from the depths. Her blood beat with the legacy of water, for she was born from the sea, granddaughter to the Sea King Mannanán mac Lir, she was destined to follow the mystery of water and journey between form and formlessness. Here in the sacred landscape where gods resided, she was the inspiration of the river and the keeper of the sacred Áth of Lugh, the ford that allowed men to walk upon water and bridge the worlds between east and west.
Sinann drew toward the twin hills beside the dancing liquid light, that caught the glittering diamonds of Lugh and carried them to the sea. She marvelled at the gold of the shimmering light upon its surface. A flock of swans flew past her, trumpeting news of her return. She felt chills of pleasure as the river was welcoming her back into her watery arms. Arms that were bursting with life all along its banks, where birds and beasts resided, where people gathered life-giving water, found solace, enlightenment, came to die. Bursting with life in the hidden depths where the fish swam and the spirit of the river flowed through reeds and over rocks and silt, blood and bone. Sinann took a deep breath, savouring the heady essence of the ever-flowing water. Her destination was close now, she could see the fort that held the sacred fire of veneration that was lit in honour of the river. The ancient road she travelled, ran straight to the fort which sat on a rocky outcrop overlooking the flow. It was ringed by the Bilé trees of those the Connacht warriors had vanquished, those they had crushed, and those they had subjugated. The trees had been carried by the victorious to this place. Planted upside down with the roots to the sky, the wisdom and power of the enemies filled their land and fortified them against the ancestors in the ether who might seek revenge for their kin. The roots planted in the terrain of air, turned the otherworld upside-down and vengeful spirits no longer had a gateway to earth. Reaching out to each other, the roots formed an intricate weave around the the outer edge of the fort, it was an imposing sight whether you approached from the ancient road from the kingdom of Connacht, or came from the east to the watery bed, seeking passage to the west. Sinann, guided her horse up the small incline and approached the wooden gates where a warrior greeted her, speaking the ritual formula;
“Is the goddess returned?” he asked. Sinann reared her horse up, its ornate bronze bridle clanging out a gentle clarion call, as the last rays of the sun glinted upon its shining metal.
“I am Bandrui Uisce,
Keeper of the River, from source to sea,
Granddaughter of Mannanán mac Lir,
I am Sinann, Bandea, Senae,
the one wise in the old ways.”
“Beannachtaí Bandea.” He bowed to her and proceeded to open the gate.
The water forever called to her she thought, as she passed into the sacred centre. Here she would hold conference with the Lady of the Living Waters, seeking her wisdom and her knowledge. For her mistress wielded life and death. She was the sacred liquid element of the earthly terrain, its lifeblood, and as such, worshipped for her regenerative force. But Sinann knew her darkness too, for the river was capricious, dangerous, and treacherous, and she demanded respect. When she was hungry she fed, claiming life even as she gave it. So they venerated her, fed her sacrifices of flesh, of food, of gold, of weapons, symbols of their strength in swords, the armbands they wore, spears, all surrendered to their goddess in return for benefaction. The Drui worshipped the river and the sun here at the Áth, for the ford was a bridge of liquid light. Sinann as Bandrui of this river, was her living voice as she spoke to other gods and goddesses and negotiated the prosperity of her people. She and the river were one, and from her form sprung the wisdom of the Lady of the Living Waters who rises from the heart of the earth, many miles away at the Shannon Pot. The sacred pool where the river emerged from the earth, was overlooked by mighty Sliabh Cuilcagh. Here grow the nine sacred hazels, thick ancient trunks straight and true, boughs rich with nuts. Here too, swim the blessed Salmon of Knowledge, silvery and fat on the wisdom of the hazels upon which they feasted. Sinann felt her essence being drawn back to that sacred water source that flows through the land of Blessed Ones, where the Tuatha de Danann landed in the mists atop the Sliabh na Iarainn, the Iron Mountain. Where the water of life fills the well of Dein Cecht, the great healer of the Shining Ones, who are said to still reside under the mountains. As Sinann dismounted her horse, she herself moving like liquid, she could feel the ever present pull of the river, and heard the call of the Fair Ones who waited for her to join them across the shimmering threshold between worlds. A large stone basin had been filled with the blessed water of the river, and had been left to charge under the light of the moon the previous night. As Sinann peered between the inverted trunks, she could see the moon in all her glorious fullness rising above the land and turning her sacred waters to silver in the twilight. Sinann stripped off her cloak and dress, leaving only her torc and her armbands and began to rinse her pale skin with the charged waters. She felt her form tingle as the water caressed her. Her voice was resonant and clear as she bathed.
“From the mother waters I sprang,
Fed on the river of milk that
flows in the heavens of night,
I was bathed in the ocean of fire,
that is the dawn Sun.
Oh moon soothe my skin and shine my soul,
and let the sky pierce my eyes with truth.
Let breath give form to the words
the wisdom waters speak. ”
Pouring water over her head, Sinann spoke the the last line to the sky, imploring the gods to grant her clarity and inspiration. She heard drums sound behind her as another woman, dressed in white, came over to her with a white robe of her own. Slipping into the clean, crisp linen of her ceremonial dress, the woman beside her placed a crown of flowers atop her long dark hair. Sinann turned to face the fire. The drums began to pulse in her blood and she was handed a small golden cup of water from her beloved river. She would drink and return to the source of all. She imbibed the sacred liquid, wherein contained the mystical intelligence of her Lady of the Living Waters. As it filled her dry cells giving them life, she became water and began to move, dancing the sacred dance until she, Sinann Bandrui, was no more, bursting the limiting confines of her form to become the river. She broke through the shimmering veil, flying across the land to return to the place from which all knowledge flows to find herself once again among the nine sacred hazels.
She became a leaping salmon and
partook from each of the hazel trees,
until she was the knowledge of the nine pillars,
the nine branches of wisdom in the cosmos,
whereupon she dived,
into the pool
seeking to the depths
seeking into ancient wisdom
and the knowledge of ages,
she dived until she felt the life waters
carry her away from Lug na Sionna,
for the watery hollow could no longer hold her within its confines,
and she flowed through the land,
across the boundary of the natural world,
bursting forth into the super-natural.
She flowed ever westward to become one
with the limitless sea,
returning to the realm of her
grandsire, Mannanán mac Lir,
who hails from an fharraige thiar,
the Western Sea, where sank the golden city of Atlantis.
Here she found the inspiration of truth,
for she was boundless, infinite, free.
In a voice as loud as a flood, she spoke so all the land could hear,
“I am Sinann. I am River. I am Goddess, abhainn beannachtai na Sinann, the Blessed River Sinann.”
“Abhainn beannachtai na Sinann,” came the echoing cry. “Abhainn beannachai na Sinann!”
Nothing existed but the drums that pounded out the beat of the rushing, flowing power in her veins. The blessed River Sinann broke beyond the hollow, beyond the river, beyond the sea, beyond the earth, the sky, breaching the firmament to flow toward the river of stars above, until she was one with the Milky Way. She was the river between the gods and men, she flowed with the wisdom of the universe, watery maiden, nourishing mother and wise old crone. She was truth-teller, story-keeper, life-giver, death-bringer. Gentle blessing and raging hunger.
The River Sinann. Goddess of heaven and earth.
And when she spoke, it was the voice of the waters of Éire.