Drinking with the Dagda - A Lesson in the Power of Words
The Dagda is known as 'the Good God' of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Possessed of every druidic art and occult knowledge. He uses his harp to turn the seasons, his cauldron to feed all who come to it, and his club to take and restore life.
All in all, He's kind of a big deal. So let me share with you a story. A personal tale of Dagda work, the layers of the Irish language, the power of words, and the foolishness of a bard.
Many years ago there was a pagan gathering. Not those held in olden times among trees and rocks. No, this pagan gathering was an annual event held in a hotel where folk would gather and speakers would be brought from all over the world to share in the current state of paganism. At this event a tuatha, or some might say warband, regularly host a temple dedicated to The Mórrígan, Irish goddess of poetry, prophesy, battle and fate. Within this reserved sacred space they set aside altars to many other Gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
This particular year the chieftains of these Mórrígan devotees offered a great honor to one who they called friend and recognized for his words. An Scéalaí Beag was offered space to join the ritual of consecration and to use his words to call in The Dagda to the altar that was set aside for him.
Of course our bard was only too pleased to accept their offer, and promised to do them honour with his words. I'm sure we all know that this is the part of the story where things do not, indeed, go as planned.
Within the temple space the rite was enacted. With great solemnity of words and shared intent the ritual built, as voice after voice added their words calling the deities of Ireland to take up their space within the temple. Around they came to the altar of the Dagda and the bard where he stood before it's arraignment.
With their consent he opened the bottle of Irish whiskey which had crossed the ocean with him for just this purpose. Raising his voice he spoke the words they had asked of him, offering tribute to the God he had declared himself to and pouring libation into the vessel upon the altar. Then when it seemed all of the words had been said, others arose and passed the bards lips, unplanned, uncalled, and in the native tongue of his land.
"Nuair a ólann mé, ólann tú."
With that the bard took a sip from the bottle of whiskey feeling its smokey flavour upon his lips and the hot burn of it slide down his throat. Now some of you may know and already have sighed and rolled your eyes at the foolishness of the act, but for those others let me tell you of the danger of words. Especially those offered to a God during ritual, a God known as much for his vast appetite as for his vast power. A God who takes a person's word as their bond, especially when that word is sealed with a drink.
For what the bard had intended was to invite the God to share in the drinking and toasting of those who came to honour him. What the bard had actually said was 'When I drink, You drink'.
As the ritual concluded and the temple was opened, the tuatha began to host a grand evening of celebration, food, drink, stories and sharing. Our bard stepped from the temple space engaging in the chat with the other devotees. It was only when he was asked for a share of his whiskey that he realized he still carried the bottle. The bottle of Irish whiskey he had brought to honour his God, the bottle which should have stayed on the Dagda's table. Making his hurried apologies the bard rushed back to the now deserted and quiet temple space. Kneeling upon the floor before the altar he took a moment to call out to his God and apologise, then reaching up, placed the bottle upon the table. Or at least tried to.
There are many of the old stories of Ireland's folklore that speak of what happened next, but even though the bard knew the stories, he never fully believed they could happen, that was until the moment the bottle stuck fast to his hand.
Try as he might, his fingers wouldn't open, his grip not relax on the bottle. In the quiet space of the temple surrounded by the gaze of his Gods he did what any mortal would. Panic.
His heart began a hammering, blood rushing its way about his body, driving a flush of heat to his skin and causing his mind to race. In a moment that stretched to an eternity but existed as no more than a few rapid breaths the bard experienced a shift in his reality. It was then that he heard the voice of his God, loud and clear in the space that was set for Him, and His God was laughing.
The rumbling chuckle rolled its way down into him, surrounding him with a warmth that stilled his heart and soothed his panic. When at last the bard was at his ease the chuckle faded and his God spoke words to him.
"So we're drinking are we?"
Now don't mistake my meaning in sharing this tale with you. This is no story of higher calling to sacred duty. This is a cautionary tale of the Rightness of words and their power to bind.
For in speaking as he had, Nuair a ólann mé, ólann tú - 'When I drink, You drink', the bard had ritually declared himself not just the Dagda's drinking companion, but in fact, his drinking vessel. The words of the bard had bound him to the God's thirst and the God had chosen his beverage, the newly opened bottle of Irish whiskey.
What followed next is not my story to share for there are many perspectives of every tale, but suffice it to say the bard drank for his God and his God drank deep indeed.
With the end of the bottle came the end of the agreement, relieving the bard of his duty and most of his senses to boot. That he survived what could be considered deity level alcohol poisoning may be less of a feat of mortal endurance and more one of divine intervention.
So dear friends, we come to the end of the tale and I hope the lesson has not been lost to you. Be wary of the Rightness of words - for they have the power to bind when spoken to a God. Be cautious in your dealings with deity - for they will hold a promise more dear than you may consider, and last but by no means least... ALWAYS set aside a separate vessel when you're drinking with the Dagda.
Did you like this tale? Do you share portions with your deity?
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