The Crane (III/III) - the Celtic crane
It would be really silly to try and do something better when it already has been done once perfectly so this text is actually this article, only spaced and written in another typeface as the original one is very beautiful but also hard to read. And the bold is also done by us to highlight certain aspects of the text.
The crane, or heron, is one of the four most frequently mentioned birds of the ancient Irish and British tradition the others being the raven, swan and eagle. Since it was a sacred bird, to eat the crane’s flesh was taboo. The crane was said to be one of the first birds to greet the sunrise and was accorded the ability to predict rains and storms.
The association of the crane with knowledge comes not only from its link with the sunrise and therefore the East, the place of knowledge, but also from its association with Ogham, the tree alphabet of the Druids. Ogham was given to humanity by Ogma Sun Face who purposely intended it for the use only of the learned. Since it was known only to the Druids, the term ‘Crane Knowledge’ came to be used to denote knowledge of the Ogham in particular and of arcane science in general. As Druidry gave way to Christianity, the term ‘Crane Cleric’ came to be used to signify a high level of wisdom in certain priests, such as St. Columba of Iona. An early Irish text tells how the sea-god Manannan mac Lir possessed a bag made from the skin of a crane. In this crane-bag he carried his own shirt, a strip from a whale’s back, the King of Scotland’s shears, the King of Lochlain’s helmet, the bones of Assail’s swine and Goibniu’s fish hook. Some say that the crane-bag became the Druid’s medicine-bag in which he carried his Koelbren lots, the carved Ogham-sticks used for divination.
Cranes often appear in threes. In the Irish Book of Leinster, a god of the Tuatha De Danann, Midir, has three cranes guarding his castle. They had the magical ability to rob any attacker of the will to fight. Three cranes protect the entrances to Annwn, the Underworld; three cranes stand on a bull’s back in Gaulish carvings. All these symbolise the triple-aspected Goddess: the Three Muses, the Three Fates, the Sisters of Wyrd. The association of the crane with the bull is reinforced in the Irish tale The Hag of the Temple. In it the hag’s four sons have been turned into cranes and can only become human if the blood of an enchanted bull is sprinkled over them.
In other stories the crane is a symbol of the dark aspect of the Goddess and like the raven, it became a bird to be feared as a harbinger of death or bad luck. With its harsh and raucous cry, it came to typify the nagging, scolding hag and to be associate with mean and unpleasant women. Here the association is with the Cailleach, the crone or Hag, but a more positive representation of this aspect of the Goddess is depicted in the Irish tale which tells of Fionn falling over a cliff when a child. His grandmother saves him by turning into a crane and breaking his fall. As a bird of the Cailleach, the crane is a bird of old age and hence longevity and is also a guide in the Underworld after death. This symbolism is found both in the West and the East: cranes are shown on church carvings sucking the spirit from dying people to carry it safely away and in China the soul of the dead was represented as riding on the crane’s back to the ‘Western Heaven’. In the Celtic tradition the soul would have been taken to the ‘Isles in the West’.
Cranes dance in circles and the ancients associated this ring dance both with the movement of the sun and with the crane’s role as Underworld guides, leading souls out of incarnation and back again to birth. Ritual crane dances were known in China, Siberia and Greece and were enacted by Druid shamans, using nine steps and a leap as a basic theme, weaving in and out of a maze or labyrinthine pattern to symbolise the journey of the soul.
More about Cailleach here.