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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Rosc - Spoken Spells in Druidic Magic

  In studying the Druids and wider Celtic folk magic one particular type of magic is commonly found - the rosc. Rosc is defined as a rhetorical composition or chant, although the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) suggests that the original term in Old Irish may have been rosg, because rosc cannot be traced further back than late medieval documents (eDIL). It appears in early manuscripts as rosg catha, referring specifically to battle magic, and later as rosc catha with the same meaning; interestingly rosc also means "eye" (eDIL; O Donaill, 1977). The plural of rosc is roisc, although in modern Druidic vernacular it appears as roscanna; roisc do not generally rhyme but rely on alliteration instead (eDIL). Examples of roscanna are usually seen as battle magics, where the speaker is in a conflict and is using the chant to overcome the enemy in some way; however there are also examples of roscanna used for other purposes such as blessing or sleep. In mythology Druids are said to be able to create illusions, heal, find the truth of a situation, advise, interpret dreams and curse with the use of roscanna (O hOgain, 1991).
   Reciting a rosc may be accompanied by specific actions, such as when we see Lugh reciting a rosc for his army, while circling them with one eye closed, one arm behind his back, and on one leg, a type of ritual pose known as the corrguineacht. The corrguineacht itself is usually associated with cursing, perhaps relating the pose to the Fomorians who are sometimes described as having one leg, arm, and eye, although the name corrguineacht is sometimes translated as Crane Posture. O Tuathail translates it as Crane Prayer (O Tuathail, 1993).
   Rosc are also generally spoken in the present tense, a clear difference from most modern magical chants which tend to use the future tense. Generally the speaker of the rosc states what they want as if it already is. When a rosc does use the future tense the person speaking is not asking for something to come to pass but stating that it will come to pass. For example when Amergin invokes the bounty of Ireland he says:
    "Fishful the ocean,
     prolific in bounty the land,
    an explosion of fish,
    fish beneath wave
    in currents of water
    flashing brightly,
    from hunderfolds of salmon
    which are the size of whales,
    song of a harbour of fames,
    an explosion of fish,
    fishful the sea." (O Tuathail, 1993).

    This demonstrates not only the use of tense but also two other qualities of roscanna: the emphasis on descriptive terms and the repetition of the first line, or a variation on it, as the final line. The descriptive nature of roscanna works with the alliterative pattern; along with the repetition of specific lines this reinforces the poetic nature of these chants. Some roscanna, such as Amergin's Invocation of Ireland also follow a pattern of repeating the end of one line as the beginning of the next line (example below).
   Roscanna also rely on the speaker's own personal power, rather than appeals to higher powers or forces. Someone reciting a rosc is using their own energy and will to enforce their words. We can see this in an exerpt from the rosc Mogh Ruith recites against the King's Druids:
   "I turn, I re-turn
    not but I turn nuclei of darkness
    I turn verbal spells, I turn speckled spells,
    I turn purities of form,
    I turn high, I turn mightily,
    I turn each adversity,
    I turn a hill to subside...." (O Tuathail, 1993)
O Tuathail suggests that "turn" in this context means transform, which seems logical. We can see the same pattern of invoking personal power in the "Song of Amergin" whose opening section begins each line with the phrase "I am". Although a rosc can also be used to invoke the power within an object this is still generally done with an emphasis on the speaker's own personal power calling to what they are invoking. Several examples of this are:
  Amergin's Involcation of Ireland
 "I request the land of Ireland
  coursed is the wild sea
   wild the crying mountains
   crying the generous woods
   generous in showers..." (O Tuathail, 1993).

  Mogh Ruith's Magic Stone
"I request my stone of conflagration.
 Be it no ghost of theft.
 Be it  ablaze that will fight sages
 ...My fire stone which delves pain
 Be it a red serpent which sorrows..." (O Tuathail, 1993)
 There are examples of roscanna that rely on invoking a higher power as well, but these appear to be less common. It is possible that the folk magic charms we have today are based on the same principles as the Druidic roscanna, although the modern folk charms more often invoke higher Powers.
  In a modern context a rosc can be used for any purpose needed by the speaker. The generally rules of forming a rosc should be followed: alliteration, highly descriptive terms, repetition, and speaking in the present with personal power. If desired or required specific actions can be included as well. An example of this for protection would be:
   "I am safe, secure, and protected,
    Protected from injury and ill-will
    From danger and destruction
    From all hurt and harm
    My magic is an armor, impenetrable,
    that turns away all attacks
    Turns them to the encompassing earth
    Wide and deep, she takes them
     transforms them from harm to healing
     So that what is sent against me
     Becomes a blessing and boon
     Protected from injury and ill-will
     I am safe, secure, and protected."

References
O hOgain, D., (1991). Myth, Legend, and Romance
O Tuathail, S., (1993). The Excellence of Ancient word: Druid Rhetoric from Ancient Irish Tales
http://www.dil.ie/
O Donaill, N., (1977). Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla

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