Celtic Cauldrons at the Wake
A Celtic artifact found in Denmark
At its core, Finnegans Wake is something of a magical vessel, containing, transforming and sharing one of the Wyrd-est and deliberate renderings of ancient Celtic and Irish lore ever attempted.1 And as such, it’s not at all surprising to find in the fecund Celtic matrix of the Wake some very significant presentations of one of the most iconic accoutrements used by the ancient Celts--the magical cauldron.
One of Joyce’s most important sources for Celtic and Irish lore in the Wake is his “namesake,” Dr. P.W. Joyce; and P.W. Joyce observes that cauldrons were essential and highly esteemed objects used throughout ancient Ireland. In the house of every noble and every chief, and in the domicile of every Irish family who could afford one, was at least one cauldron, or coire (P.W. Joyce II.124). Appreciated for the high cost of the materials used in its construction (bronze, iron or even silver), prized for its craftsmanship (many cauldrons were skillfully riveted, beautifully constructed, and richly decorated), and esteemed for its wonderful capability for providing life-sustaining nourishment and bounty for many people, cauldrons, as P.W. Joyce explains, were “highly valued as a most important article in the household…. Everywhere we meet with passages reminding us of the great value set on these cauldrons” (II. 124). But the most valued properties of the ancient Celtic cauldrons were beyond their impressive physical attributes; as Dr. Joyce notes, some of the ancient cauldrons “were believed to possess magical properties” (II.125). And in the mythological lore and rituals of the ancient Celtic Irish, the passages recounting magical cauldrons indicate that these hallowed vessels certainly played many varied and valued roles:
--In some of the primordial Celtic myths regarding poetic, psychic and shamanistic abilities--abilities highly regarded by the ancient Celts--magical cauldrons and similar sacred vessels are instrumental in both the acquisition and the practice of these abilities.And Finnegans Wake contains, recreates and presents all of these hallowed and archaic cauldrons.
In the mythic traditions of both the Brythonic and Goidelic Celts, cauldrons and cooking vessels have strong associations with visionary, shamanistic, and poetic capabilities. And both traditions share a similar myth regarding the acquisition of shamanistic powers: the Welsh story of Gwion (“Shining”) and the Cauldron of Cerridwen, and the Irish tale of Finn (“Shining”) and the Salmon of Wisdom. These two myths are so similar that most Celtic scholars believe the two are derived from a much earlier single source that predates the division between the Brythonic and Goidelic Celts. This primordial myth about sacred vessels and visionary powers has strong resonance with Finnegans Wake.
The Brythonic version of this primal myth is found in Hanes Taliesin. The goddess Cerridwen, in her guise as a shape-shifting shamanka, possesses and carefully maintains Amen, a magical cauldron containing Otherworldy sustenance capable of awakening psychic and shamanistic abilities. Cerridwen prepares Amen and its contents with the intention of initiating her hideously ugly son, Morfran. Cerridwen orders her young servant, Gwion, to attend to the cauldron.
The cauldron Amen was kept by Cerridwen at the bottom of Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid), a sacred locus (nemeton) of the powerful Ordovices. That Amen is kept at the bottom of Bala Lake suggests its Otherworldy connection; its association with this power spot indicates the sacrality of the vessel and a primary reason why it is a means for awakening Awen, visionary and poetic abilities.[Cerridwen] began to boil the cauldron, which from the beginning of its boiling might not cease to boil for a year and a day, until three blessed drops were obtained of the grace of Inspiration…. It chanced that three drops of the charmed liquor flew out of the cauldron and fell upon the finger of Gwion Bach. And by reason of their great heat he put his finger to his mouth, and the instant he put those marvel-working drops into his mouth, he foresaw everything that was to come, and perceived that his chief care must be to guard against the wiles of Cerridwen, for vast was her skill. (qtd. in “Awen”)
According to Joyce, Finnegans Wake “signifies at once the wake and the awakening of Finn” (Letters III, 473). And the awakening of the shamanistic and poetic abilities of Finn is much like the experience of Gwion Bach. In the Goidelic version of this primordial myth, Young Finn (whose name is “Demne”), is, like Gwion, ordered by an old and cantankerous shaman to prepare a magical meal intended for someone else; like Gwion, Demne/Finn is fated to ingest this magical sustenance and thus awaken his own visionary capabilities.
Demne, the “holy child of Coole” (531.33), travels to Tara, the sacred capital of Ireland, to claim the position as leader of the Fianna formerly held by his father. On his quest, Demne is guided by the goddess Ana, in her manifestation as the River Bo-Ann, the River Boyne. Young Demne meets an old and stern Fili named “Finnecces” (literally, “Finn the poet”). The "finnecies of poetry” (377.16-17) lives on the banks of the Boyne searching for Fintan (“the ancient Finn”), the Salmon of Wisdom, the “foyneboyne salmon” (41.26-27) in the “Salmon Pool” (174.28). It has been prophesied that whoever eats this salmon will acquire The Three Illuminations: imbas forosnai (“incantations on the palms,” “knowledge that enlightens”), teinm laegda (intuitive perception, “knowledge from the pith,” mantic utterance), and dichetal do chennaib (the ability to recite and recall by using the fingers). Finnecces catches Fintan and orders Demne to cook it. While cooking the Salmon of Wisdom, Demne inadvertently burns his thumb and, like Gwion, quickly places it in his mouth, and thereby acquires The Three Illuminations. Realizing the ancient prophecy has now been fulfilled, Finneces gives both his name and identity to the youth; Demne is now “Finn,” the “Bright,” the one who possesses “bright” knowledge. Finn is now a Fili and can attain insight into any situation, compose poetry, and recall past events by reenacting the ritualistic thumb-chewing of teinm laegda: we know Finn to have used as "chaw-chaw" (36.2-3) his own muscle and bone, flesh and blood (36.2-3); Finn will "sing thumb bit" (625.16), then "wise your selmon" (625.16) on it; Finn “bit goodbyte" (73.16) to his thumb (73.16).
In this Irish myth describing the acquisition of poetic abilities are several themes fundamental to the Wake. The elder Finn (Finnecces) and the young man who becomes Finn are mystically the same person. Youth supplants age; but in the great cycle of birth/life/death/ricorso, the rivals share the same identity. The cycle completes itself on the bank of a sacred river--for both the pagan Irish and James Joyce, the ultimate symbol and locus for cyclical renewal; and for both, the animate river is itself the guide and Anima for the hero. In the Wake, as in the above tale, The Three Illuminations are awakened as part of the process of psycho-spiritual integration. In Jungian terms, Demne represents the ego, Old Finn suggests the Shadow, the Salmon of Wisdom symbolizes the Self, and the goddess Ana, as the river Bo-Ann, acts as the Anima and guide. Appropriately, both the Shadow Figure (Finnecces) and the Symbol of Self (Fintan), carry the same name, “Finn.” And it is when all four aspects of his psyche are integrated that Demne acquires his new identity as “Finn” and awakens The Three Illuminations within.
Associated with these mythic tales of Gwion and Finn is a divinatory rite, performed by Finn and other Celtic seers; the rite involves a cauldron or basin--an allusion, perhaps, to the magical cauldron of Cerridwen. The Colloquy describes the ritual: “Then a basin of bright gold was brought to Finn, and he washed his white hands and his ruddy bright face. He put his thumb under his tooth of knowledge, and the truth was revealed to him then, and falsehood was concealed from him” (qtd. in Nagy 22).
Finn’s activity involving the golden basin--washing his face before performing a rite involving teinm laegda--is recognizable as a seer’s rite: the washing suggests a ritual purification prerequisite to shamanistic divination, and reflects “the archaic metaphorical connection between light/brightness and supernatural knowledge” (Nagy 22). In The Colloquy passage cited above, the verb usually translated as “washes” (niamaid) literally means, “brightens.” Significantly, the name “Finn” itself means “Bright,” (as does “Gwion”), and comes from the same Indo-European root from which derive various Irish words meaning “to know,” “knowledge,” and “knowledgeable”; the name “Finn” thus designates a possessor of “bright” knowledge who himself becomes resplendent with it (Nagy 22).
Finn, with his occasionally "Stuttering Hand” (4.18), attempts to perform this very rite in the opening episode of the Wake: one yesterday, he sternly stuck his head in a tub (4.21-22), to "watsch the future of his fates” (wash the features of his face; watch the future of his fates [4.22]). But HCE/Finn finds that all the water in his ritualistic basin has “eviparated” (4.24). Unable to either wash the features of his face (as a prelude to divination) or watch the future of his fates (through cauldron divination), HCE begins to lose the bright knowledge--a dire portent and the prelude to his fall, and appropriately perceived through one of the visionary vessels of the ancient Celts.
One of the most famous cauldrons in Irish mythology was in the possession of Eochaid Ollathair (“Father of All”), also known as the Dagda, the “Good God,” (because he was very good at many different endeavors in the arts, magic, the military and statesmanship). The cauldron of the Dagda was magical and talismanic; one of its abilities was similar to that of a cornucopia, in that the cauldron provided unlimited food and sustenance to the followers and friends of the Dagda. The Dagda’s cauldron was not wrought in Ireland; rather, it is one of the four sacred objects brought to Ireland by the Tuatha De Danaan, as explained in “The Second Battle of Moytura”:
(1). The Tuatha De Danaan were in the northern isles of the world, learning lore and magic and druidism and wizardry and cunning, until they surpassed all the sages of the arts of heathendom. (2). There were four cities in which they were learning lore and science and diabolic arts, to wit, Falias and Gorias, Murias and Findias. (3). Out of Falias was brought the stone of Fal, which was in Tara. It used to roar under every king that would take (the realm of) Ireland. (4). Out of Gorias was brought the Spear that Lugh had. No battle was ever won against it or him who held it in his hand. (5). Out of Findias was brought the Sword of Nuadu. When it was drawn from its deadly sheath, no one ever escaped from it, and it was irresistible. (6). Out of Murias was brought the Dagda’s cauldron. No company ever went from it unthankful. (57-59)
After the victory of the Tuatha De Danaan over the Fomorians at The Second Battle of Moytura, the Tuatha De Danaan made Tara their new religious and political capital. To Tara they brought their four ancient talismans, and the four sacred objects of the Tuatha De Danaan became important ritual objects for the Irish Celts. These four talismans were essential accoutrements during rituals conducted at Tara, especially during the Rites of Tara, where they were ceremoniously displayed to bestow divine sanction upon ritual events and, in some instances, used in the rituals themselves.
At the Wake, the cauldron of the Dagda is ceremoniously presented at the beginning of the Mime, displayed to sanction the Mime’s archaic riddling contest, paganistic deosil circle dance, and to resonate with the Mime’s themes of renewal, marriage and fertility; and Joyce, very deliberately, locates the Wakean Mime at Tara as well. The Mime is performed under the "distinguished patronage” (219.9-10) of the “Elderships the Oldens” (219. 10) from the four corners of “Findrias, Murias, Gorias and Falias” (219.11). The sacred objects of the Tuatha De Danaan are ceremoniously presented in the Wake at the beginning of the Mime, with the Assembly, the queen, and the high king of Ireland looking on: “Clive Solis” (Glave of Light), “Galorius Kettle” (Cauldron of Plenty), “Pobiedo [Russian, 'Victory'] Lancey" (Spear), and "Pierre Dusort" (Stone of Destiny) (219.11-12). In his “Notebooks,” Joyce carefully worked out the correspondences between the sacred talismans, the cities of their origin, their designated cardinal points, their corresponding elements, and their related Celtic deities:
N--solid Falias Midyir Stone of Destiny
The “Galorious Kettle" of the Dagda is thus an essential accoutrement to rituals performed at ancient Tara and at the Wake. The cauldron is displayed to bestow divine sanction on the Mime ritual. And the presentation of the “Galorius Kettle” at the beginning of the Mime places the event squarely at Tara; the themes of renewal, marriage and fertility, along with the riddling and deosil dance, make the Mime an accurate, if somewhat playful, rendition of one of the archaic fertility rites of Irish paganism.
At the Wake, perhaps the strangest and most surrealistic episode involving Irish cauldrons is “Shaun’s Dialogue with the People” (403-428). In this episode, Shaun, along with the ass associated with the Four Elders, present themselves in a bizarre public performance, both engaging a huge crowd of Irish gathered specifically for this strange public event. In the center of this spectacle, and central to the episode itself, is a huge Irish cauldron.
At the beginning of the episode, Shaun is dressed in all of the "correct wear” (404.16-17); his “correct wear” is the seven articles of different colored clothing, the defining attire of the kings of ancient Ireland and the ubiquitous apparel of HCE. By assuming this traditional dress, Shaun is attempting to claim the role of his father, or, as William York Tindall states, “Shaun is becoming the new H.C.E.” (223). In front of the crowd, a colorfully clad Shaun gathers his strength (405.29-30) through a cauldron meal, a “stockpot dinner” (406.1) of “Irish stew” (406.11), “saddlebag steak” (406.10), with copious amounts of “broth" (406.13) in the mix (406.13-14). After publicly gorging himself on meat and broth, the candidate Shaun engages the Irish crowd. Shaun attempts to convince them of the legitimacy of his claim as successor to HCE. He asserts that he has the “permit” (409.10) as well as the “order” (409.10) to succeed HCE as the new royal messenger. Shaun claims to act through divine authority, stating "there does be a power coming over me . . . from on high" (409.36-410.1). The Irish multitude is not convinced; and the episode takes the form of a test, with Shaun employing various strategies to convince the crowd of his claim as successor. Shaun explains that he is thinking from the "prophecies” (412.2), that he knows the sacred teachings of Ireland (409.27-28), and that he is the true royal successor, the next “tarabred” (411.22).
Much of this episode is related by Shaun’s curious and close associate in this chapter, the ass or donkey that belongs to the Four Elders. After viewing Shaun in his royal clothing, the animal comments on the archaic nature of the scene (“What a picture primitive!” [405.3]), and introduces himself as the "poor ass" (405.6), the "dunkey" (405.6-7) associated with the four tinkers (405.6-7). The ass notes that Shaun, in proper person, stood before him (405.9-11); and the donkey then becomes integral to the entire interrogation of Shaun. The ass, now a plaintive “we,” joins with the voice of the assembled Irish (404.07) to ask Shaun, “Who gave you the permit, the authority, to decree yourself ‘king of the hill’ and ‘prophetic message bearer’?” (Gordon 222). The ass now assumes the roles of both speaker and interpreter for the remainder of Shaun’s interrogation before the Irish throng.
Joyce’s odd choice of a donkey as narrator has generated critical speculation on its role and purpose. The donkey, always in extremely close proximity to the young royal candidate, is an aspect of Shaun; Shaun’s ass, as many have noted, is obviously a part of Shaun himself. In “The Complex Ass,” Ian MacArthur notes that, although acting as both narrator and interpreter, the ass actually presents itself more as a spirit, a totemic presence, or a “familiar” (94). William York Tindall suggests an underlying association of the donkey with a pagan deity: the “Ass” associated with the Four is the Danish as, or “god” (330). Joyce himself comments on the donkey twice in the Buffalo Notebooks, where he calls it the “totem/ass” (VI.B.14.142), and, the “ass=caricature of a horse” (VI.B.41.123).
“Shaun’s Dialogue” presents several important structural and thematic elements: cooking and eating, a claimant to a throne, a mystical or totemic ass or horse connected with both the claimant and the Four Elders, and an Irish crowd witnessing the entire event. The most notable structural detail in this episode, however, is that the entire event occurs with Shaun, along with his ass, standing near--or even in--a vat or large Irish cauldron half-filled with liquid. Shaun calls this vessel a barrel (414.13), and later identifies his barrel as the “holy kettle” (426.29) and himself in it as the “waterlogged king of Eire" (414.20). Shaun’s appearance before the Irish multitude, his feast of meat and broth, the entire argument for his claim as successor, and the narration of the ass all occur while the two are in or near the “holy kettle.” And as surrealistic and bizarre as this episode is, it has a very close correlate in a cauldron ritual performed in ancient Ireland, especially at pagan Tara.
In ancient Ireland, Tara was the seat of the high kings and the location for their investiture. And in the series of investiture and inaugural rites conducted at ancient Tara, one of the most colorful of these events dramatized the magical connection between the royal candidate and the horse, the totem animal of Irish kings, through a ritual “cooking” of the man and beast. Cooking renders that which is raw, unusable, wild, and even dangerous into that which is accessible, usable, nourishing and safe. Cooking, especially when done in a magical vessel, is thus a transformative act, capable not only of changing the nature of that which is cooked, but also capable of merging or blending that which was separate and immiscible when “raw.” “Cooking”--in the sense of a magical process of metamorphosis--plays a key role in the making of an Irish king.
The candidate, a “raw” mortal, must be rendered into a suitable vessel for the god Eochu (also known as “ECH”), "The Great Horseman,” who will invest the human with the authority of divine kingship.2 The young candidate must also blend with the totem animal of ECH, the horse. If the “raw” candidate fails to unite with the horse deity, he cannot be king. Accordingly, a “cooking” test involving a large cauldron is used to determine the legitimacy of the candidate’s claim to royal succession.
In front of the Irish crowd assembled for the test, a large cauldron is positioned. A horse is led in, slaughtered, and the parts placed in the cauldron and cooked. Then, the young male claimant to the throne comes before the four Druids (known as the Four Elders) and the assembly, and he too is placed into the holy kettle. While standing in the warm liquid, he then gorges himself on this “stockpot dinner”--the meat and copious broth of his totem animal--and merges with the spirit of the horse. As Shaun describes it, “there does be a power coming over me . . . from on high”; and it is this power--the totemic horse spirit--that speaks through him now. If the candidate fails the test, he is rejected as the prophetic messenger from the Otherworld. If successful, he may become the next “waterlogged king of Eire.”
This exact ritual is described by Giraldus Cambrensis (named in the Wake as old "Marcellas Cambriannus” [151.31-32]), the Welsh chronicler and anti-Irish propagandist, who compiled his Chronicle of Ireland in the late twelfth century. Touring Ireland circa 1185, Giraldus claims to have witnessed the Irish perform “a most barbarous and abominable rite in creating their king” (138). In his short descriptive essay, titled “Of a New and Monstrous Way of Inaugurating Their Kings,” Giraldus first apologizes for the “filthy story” he is about to relate, and then explains, “what is shameful in itself may be related by pure lips and decent words” (138). Giraldus then goes on to describe the very same “filthy story” presented by James Joyce in “Shauns’ Dialogue”: the assembly of paganistic Irish, the holy kettle placed before them, the presentation of the young candidate for kingship, the totemistic horse associated with Four Elders, the “cooking” of both man and horse in the cauldron, the feast of meat and broth, the “unrighteous rites” necessary to determine the legitimate succession (138).
Within the course of the last century, however, most Irish scholars reviewing Giraldus have reached a consensus that this report was not the eyewitness account that Giraldus claims, nor did this rite even occur during his tour of Ireland, and should therefore be considered spurious at best. Nonetheless, R.A.S. Macalister argues that there is a foundation of truth in the old account, and the basis for the tale can be found in the inaugural rites at Tara. Giraldus, according to Macalister, reports strictly “from hearsay evidence, and has erred in assuming that the rites were still maintained in his own time” (Tara 131). Even so, the inauguration rite as Giraldus reports it is “too complete, too much in accordance with similar practices elsewhere, necessarily unknown to Giraldus, to have been the fruit of his not over-nice imagination”(Tara 132). The conclusion Macalister presents is that Giraldus actually reports a ritual conducted not in his lifetime, but an investiture rite practiced much earlier--at pagan Tara. Shaun’s “holy kettle,” along with his entire surrealistic performance, is thus a strikingly accurate reenactment of one of the strangest of the inaugural rites from ancient Irish paganism.
In the archaic Celtic and Irish traditions, many of the mythic cauldrons and magical vessels are associated with transformation. The cauldron associated with Gwion/Finn, for example, contains nourishment that facilitates psychic and spiritual transformation. Other cauldrons, such as the Irish vessel described by Giraldus Cambrensis, have the capability to transmutate that which is placed within it. This alchemical cauldron can take that which is useless or dangerous or immiscible and transform it into that which is useful and even valued.
A parodic example of such a mythic vessel and its transformative powers is presented in Book I Chapter 7 of the Wake (pages 185-186), when the Irish poet and forger, Shem the Penman, uses an ancient vessel of transformation to produce a very valued product from very valueless raw material. First, the Penman collects his own scatological “scatterings,” and carefully places this “in vas olim honorabile tristitiae posuit” (“into an urn once used as an honored mark of mourning” [185.19-20]). Then, the Penman performs an invocation and a chant mixed with the “sweetness of Orion” (185.25). The urn and its contents are heated and then cooled (185.25). The result of this urn ritual is the transformation of the contents into indelible ink (185.26). As ridiculous as it is, Shem’s performance clearly exemplifies the transformative powers ascribed to some mythical Irish vessels.
In ancient Ireland, one of the important concluding events in the inauguration of the king was a sacramental baptism (Baisteadh Geinntlidhe), the ritual immersion of a newly made king in a sacred vessel, well, river or spring identified with the Sovereign goddess of Ireland. These baptismal rites were “regenerative as they took place at the critical times of seasonal transition,” and were “central to the rite of inauguration of kings that ritualized the periodic renewal of the earth as divine mother and queen of the king” (Brenneman 22).
The mythic paradigms for this baptism can be found in the inaugural myths associated with the kings of Tara. In Baile in Scál, Conn of the Hundred Battles unites with Dergflaith, the drink, the great cauldron that is its source, and the beautiful goddess who proffers the sacred liquid to the future king. Niall, before he is the famous “Niall of the Nine Hostages” (or as Joyce calls him, “Mrs. Niall of the Nine Corsages” [96.4-5]), travels deep into a forest during a hunting trip to fetch water. He finds a sacred well, but a loathly crone owns it and guards it carefully. She offers a cup of her water to Niall on the condition that they engage in sex. Niall complies with her demand, and during this act she transforms into a beautiful goddess. The goddess offers her cup of liquid to Niall. She identifies herself as the Sovereign and proclaims Niall the next high king of Ireland. Sovereignty and sexuality converge at and through the sacred vessels of the goddess who bestows kingship.
A third inaugural myth, as told in “The Second Battle of Moytura,” emphasizes the acts of sexual union and ritual immersion. In this myth, the Dagda finds the Morrigan straddling her river. Significantly, her hair is braided into nine distinctive tresses. The Dagda approaches the river goddess and, while immersed in the river, the two engage in sex. The Dagda thus becomes the prototype of Irish high kings, and this key moment of union between the All-Father and Mother Ana is “the model for the inauguration ritual of chieftains that occurred at the center of the world (Tara) with the guardian of the spring, the lady” (Brenneman 31-32). The straddling of the river by the goddess symbolizes the waters of life flowing from her womb, thus presenting her as the source, or the spring, as well as the mother goddess. The nine tresses identify her as the supreme form of the Celtic Triple Goddess and correspond to the nine hazel trees of Segais, the well at the center of the Otherworld. The thrice-three tresses also indicate that she is possessor of the complete wisdom and power of the Triple Goddess, Maiden, Mother, and Crone (Brenneman 31-32).
This nine-fold power of the goddess, known as the Toradh of Ana, is especially potent in wells, springs and sacred vessels, such as cauldrons. The specific components of the Toradh are described in “Nine Gifts of the Cauldron”:
The immersion in water sacred to Ana--her springs, wells, rivers and sacred vessels--unites an Irish king with the Sovereign, allowing him to receive the nine gifts of Ana, the ultimate power of Sovereignty, the Toradh.The Cauldron of Life-Work
The ritual components comprising the Baisteadh Geinntlidhe of an ancient Irish king--the union of male and female energies, the immersion in waters sacred to the goddess, the use of sacred vessels, the nine-fold power associated both with the goddess and the water--are all reenacted at the Wake.
The immersion in the nine-fold Toradh of Ana occurs in the Ricorso, where, as William York Tindall notes, Saint Kevin plays the role of “the regenerated HCE” (315). HCE, in a sacred cauldron filled with “translated” ([606.3-4] sanctified) water, immerses himself in nine different bodies of water--the nine waters of the goddess.
The goddess, in her “well understanding” (606.1), fills her sacred cauldron, the "tubbathaltar” (606.2), to its mid height (606.1-2); and therein, the blessed HCE is “ninthly enthroned" (606.3) in the center of the sanctified and translated water (606.1-4). In this “sate of wisdom,”(606.6-7), and through the primal sacrament of ritual baptism (606.10-11), the renewed king continuously meditates on the regeneration of all mankind through ritual "affusion" (606.11) in sanctified water (606.6-12).
Simon Evans, in “The Ultimate Ysland of Yreland,” demonstrates that Kevin/HCE, while immersed in his “tubbathaltar,” is actually in the center of a series of concentric circles of water--all feminine, all manifestations of the goddess--and the pattern of concentric water circles is nine-fold, hence the “ninthly enthroned” (605.03) baptism of the regenerated HCE (6). If Kevin’s water is “translated” into pagan terms, his baptism, his immersion in the sacred vessels of the goddess, is a very accurate account of immersion and union with the Toradh of Ana.
Early in the proceedings at the Wake, Joyce explains his method used to create (or recreate) the Wake. First, Joyce gathers a multitude of diverse and strange materials (bones, pebbles, ram skins [20.05]), all resonant with meanings related to antiquity, nature, science, archaic lore and history. Then, Joyce, deliberately and thoroughly, reduces these variant and rich materials to their essence, cuts them up “allways” (20.06). The fragments of diverse and archaic lore are then transformed, allowed to “terracook” (20.06) in his “muttheringpot” (20.07).
“Muttheringpot” contains several significant meanings. “Mutter” is a German term for the prototype mold used in printing text (McHugh 20). “Muttering pot” suggests a vessel containing mutterings, fragments of obscured languages. “Mothering pot” suggests a maternal vessel, perhaps like the Irish mother goddess Ana or her reincarnation as ALP. The mothering muttering pot that is a prototype mold is, of course, the cauldron-like matrix of Finnegans Wake itself.
In Joyce’s “muttheringpot,” a transformation occurs. Through the skill of the Fili James Joyce and the magical properties of his Wakean cauldron, the archaic fragments are terracooked and rendered into new forms with magical meanings: “every word will be bound ever to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined” (20.14-16).
One important characteristic of Joyce’s toptypsical muttheringpot is its Wyrd microcosmic quality. As decades of readers have observed, the Wake is something of a strange and synchronistic microcosm, intended to contain the world and invoke the presence of the universe and its component parts. Joseph Campbell refers to the Wake as the “macro-microcosm” (4). Adaline Glasheen, in her first Census, describes the Wake as “a simulacrum of the world” (ix) and a “model of our universe” (xviii). James Atherton identifies the Wake as the “microcosm . . . to God’s macrocosm” (16). Very purposefully, and for reasons never divulged, Joyce included in the Wake collections, fragmentations, reductions and compilations of everything; literally, every subject, and “all kinds of more or less complete sets of different kinds of objects” can be found within the Wake (Atherton 45). But as Atherton, among many others, has also noted, “nobody has ever been able to suggest what purpose is served by this inclusion” (45). Decades after these early observations, the microcosmic construction of the Wake is a truism in Wakean lore, while the reason underlying this intentional design remains elusive.
One important result of the Wake’s microcosmic design is its extraordinary ability to provide meaning--if not some kind of sustenance and support--for all readers regardless of their personal or professional interests, psycho-spiritual development, or social identities. The universality of the Wake virtually guarantees that all participants will find in it some resonance with their own beliefs; John Bishop observes that “any reader can go into Finnegans Wake and discover everywhere within it whatever he or she wants or already knows” (xii). And as Bishop emphasizes, this deliberate and “infinitely accommodating” quality is “part of the glory of Finnegans Wake,” because “it invites the participation of all” (xii). And as with so many of the Wake’s other great features and themes, Joyce’s magical muttheringpot has its correlate in ancient Irish myth.
According to The Tale of the Ordeals, during the ancient Rites of Tara, (which had their basis in the original Irish wake), Irish from all provinces are gathered in the Central Hall when a divisive problem arises. The situation deteriorates to the point that “each man again encroached” on the other. Seeking a means of resolution, acceptance of diversity, and mutual respect among those assembled, the high king initiates the tradition of the Coire Aisic, the Cauldron of Restitution, which became the symbol of the Rites of Tara itself. The cauldron was positioned in the middle of the Central Hall. In it was placed every form of sustenance used by the Irish. Further, “lords and poets and wizards”--representatives of all the sciences and arts--each performed an obscure and muttered incantation over the cauldron, instilling it with all the knowledge of their particular subject. The Cauldron of Restitution then worked its magic. After the Bards and Druids muttered into the pot, this feminine vessel sacred to the goddess Ana reduced this knowledge “allways” to its very essence. The fragments of all knowledge, with meanings related to antiquity, nature, science, archaic lore and history were terracooked at Tara, the center of Terra, the world. The Cauldron of Restitution, the ancient muttherhingpot at the center of the world, contained the entire worldview of the Irish. Each component of the universe was magically rendered into the microcosmic mix--blended in the cauldron through the skill of the Filidh.
During the Rites of Tara, every participant was invited to partake of the cauldron. Because of its special nature, it was infinitely accommodating: “it was called coire aisic, ‘cauldron of restitution’, because it used to return and deliver to every company their suitable sustenance” (qtd. in Matthews 269). Every participant could derive meaning for himself, support for his beliefs, and affirmation of his identity. The Cauldron of Restitution, through its microcosmic magic, consistently provided the appropriate sustenance for each, always according to the personal and professional interests, psycho-spiritual development, and social identity of the participant: "Now each in turn was brought to that caldron, and every one was given a fork thrust out of it. So then his proper portion came out to each. ... Wherefore in that assembly his proper due fell to each" (qtd. in Matthews 269).
The Cauldron of Restitution--symbol of the universality and the infinitely accommodating properties of the ancient Rites--is a most appropriate emblem for the mutterhingpot of Finnegans Wake. Once again, each participant is invited to partake of the magical sustenance at the Wake--infused with the universe through the magic of the Fili, James Joyce. As with the Coire Aisic at Tara, once again we are all invited to the magical cauldron feast--each of us guaranteed to find therein our proper portion and our proper due.
1. For a full discussion of the Irish and Celtic lore and mythology in Finnegans Wake, see Wake Rites: The Ancient Irish Rituals of Finnegans Wake, by George Cinclair Gibson.
2. R.A.S. Macalister identifies the primordial name of the Irish All-Father as “ECH” in his essay, “Temair Breg: A Study of the Remains and Traditions of Tara,” page 331.
Atherton, James. The Books at the Wake: A Study of Literary Allusions in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. New York: Viking, 1960.
“Awen.” “Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia.” The Celtic Literature Collective. Ed. Mary Jones. 31 Mar. 2009. 20 May 2009.
Bishop, John. "Introduction" to Finnegans Wake. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Brenneman, Walter, and Mary Brenneman. Crossing the Circle at the Holy Wells of Ireland. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.
Campbell, Joseph, and Henry Morton Robinson. A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake. New York: Viking, 1968.
Evans, Simon. "The Ultimate Ysland of Yreland." A Wake Newslitter. Occasional Paper. No. 2. (1983): 5.
Gibson, George Cinclair. Wake Rites: The Ancient Irish Rituals of Finnegans Wake. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.
Giraldus Cambrensis. The Historical Works. Thomas Wright, Ed., and Thomas Forester, Trans. New York: AMS, 1968.
Glasheen, Adaline. A Census of Finnegans Wake: An Index of the Characters and their Roles. London: Faber and Faber, 1956.
Gordon, John. Finnegans Wake: A Plot Summary. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986.
Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. New York: Penguin, 1967.
------. The Finnegans Wake Notebooks at Buffalo. V.Deane, D. Ferrer, G. Lernout, Eds. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 2000.
Joyce, P.W. A Social History of Ancient Ireland. Volumes I and II. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968.
Macalister, R.A.S. Tara: A Pagan Sanctuary of Ancient Ireland. London and New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1931.
------. “Temair Breg: A Study of the Remains and Traditions of Tara.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. 34 C (1919): 231-399.
MacArthur, Ian. "The Complex Ass." A Wake Newslitter. New Series. Volume XIII. No. 5. (1976): 92-94.
Matthews, Caitlin and John Matthews, Eds. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. Shaftesbury: Element Books, 1994.
McHugh, Roland. Annotations to Finnegans Wake. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Nagy, Joseph Falaky. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985.
"The Second Battle of Moytura." Whitley Stokes, Trans. Revue Celtique XII, (1891): 52-130.
Tindall, William York. A Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996.