Thinking on Boann

The River Boyne, Wikipedia.


The rivers, the streams, the creeks, the rills, and brooks ultimately flow from the well at the center of the world, known as the Well of Segais in Irish myth. The flow of Boann, the milk of the cow goddess, she who was dismembered and so gave inspiration to humanity, enabled the sharing (forbidden to approach the well by its guardian Nechtan, her husband, she did anyway and it overflowed, rushing to the ocean and dismembering her in the process)*. She is in the waters. According to the Metrical Dinndchensas (irish place lore) one of her names is Segais.


We can travel up that river, heading for the source, and slipping between worlds, in trance, or by falling asleep and dreaming true, aligning ourselves with the salmon struggling back upstream to their source, to our source. To that place where the hazel trees shelter the pool, and the salmon, fat and speckled, chew on the nuts dropped in those seething waters, a brew of primordial nature.


Or if in a desert without knowledge of water one could go out into the night, and look up at the heaven, and see her cosmic river, the Milky Way, and remembering we are on the edge of this vast river, drink inspiration there, finding imbas, awen.


The river runs in flood, the river dries in cruel droughts, yet the water can be smelled, the waters will refresh and overflow the cauldrons and run back down into the lands of the world. The medieval writers of place lore in Ireland (the Dinndchensas) glossed the rivers that they knew that ran from the well of Segais, the Boyne becomes the original sacred river, which has many manifestations from the Tigris and Euphrates, to the Nile, the Thames and Severn to the Tiber. Essentially, all of them.


Maybe one morning you remember that in the night you drank from that well and a song or a story pours from your lips, your tongue, your fingertips unbound. Water trickling down the cliff face of the mundane, silver waterfalls seen on your commute never revealed before….and maybe you remember to thank Boann. Or you type in a wind that blows through your windows and light candles and pour libations afterwards.


Boann had been told do not approach the well, yet she persisted. From her sacrifice, from her transgression we can take heart, we can seek our visions….


a road of ancient days was laid over the other abyss,

the one far above our heads, sky curbed,

a spill of cosmic milk of unfathomable proportions

high above this cluster of houses, above the trees, a

mirror of eternal return, beginnings and ends

and beginnings again pouring in floodtide of evolution,

of fish wriggle and frog spawn,

furry mammal ancestors in trees darting and leaping

across the synapses of deep space, planet to planet,

star to star in wounded glory and fury, ever subsiding and flowing again.

Drinking fermented milk from the white cow, he dreamed onward

through turmoil and froth to the still pools, punched in bedrock.


The flows may drive you mad, may lead you to rave in the night or sing sweet love songs leaning over the waters, but those who drink live. Boann is quiet, even absent from one line of perception, but from another she is the clamor in all this; just be receptive to all these rapids and pools, to the eels and the salmon, the nuts splashing and the inundations when the bank is over overwashed and the wrecked cars dislodged.


The thing is inspiration—(and I don’t mean that pastel washed out thing that you can find in a million facebook memes) is available whether we follow the creek upstream, or go down to the coast and watch it bubbling in the rocky cauldrons of the shore or lie on our backs at night under the canopy of stars (most likely you will have to get out of the city), but we do have to make the effort. But it was unleashed for us by Boann’s sacrifice, so why are we wasting the possibilities? And it’s not like Nechtan went away. And he talks. Forging far upstream it’s possible to reach his pool. Nechtan, whose name may mean water. Up there in the clouds and mists, at the headwaters of truth.



* In a well-known tale Boann disobeys Nechtan’s command that only he and his cupbearers can approach the well; if anyone else did, then their eyes would supposedly burst. But Boann disregards this and Her transgression ushers a flood as waters gush forth and create the river Boyne, which bears her name. As she fled from the three gushes she was injured, losing a hand, an eye, and a foot as she ran all the way to the sea.

Jaan Puhvel. Comparative Mythology.

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