“Lochlann was the mythical undersea home of the later Fomorian invaders of Ireland, against whom the Tuatha de Danaan fought a bloody war. The god Tethra ruled it. It seems that legends of the war between these two nations were worked by later poets into ballad cycles celebrating the ninth-century wars between the Irish and the Danish and Norse pirates. Thus the Scandinavians came to be called ‘the Lochlannach’ and the Danish King of Dublin was also styled ‘King of Lochlin’.” – Robert Graves (the White Goddess)
The 22nd letter of the Ogham is Oir. This few is usually seen as representing the Spindle tree or the element of Gold.
Liz and Colin Murray in the Celtic Tree Oracle associate this letter to thunder. The letter was described as meaning “sweetness, delight and sudden intelligence.” The Murrays claimed that thunder, Tharan, brings forth from the heavens enlightenment or Awen.
John Michael Greer in the Druid Magic Handbook calls Oir, “a few of fate, sudden change, and the unexpected, symbolized by the spindle tree; the flash of the lightning bolt, change caused by outside factors.”
Eryn Rowan Laurie in Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom claims that Oir represents Gold but as a tree could also signify the Spindle. The associations for Oir that she lists in her work are those of worth, value and wealth.
Nigel Pennick in Magical Alphabets says that this few can represent the Gooseberry as well as the Spindle. The Spindle tree, he states, is associated with childbirth and can be used magically to “ease the passage of the baby from the womb to the world.”
John Mathews in the Celtic Shaman interprets the word-Ogham “most venerable structure” as representing “truth.” Caitlin Mathews in Celtic Wisdom Sticks uses this few to represent East.
In Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids, Robert Ellison says that this few represents “community and working within the home.” He also says that the Spindle tree can be used in spells that are “long lasting.”
Robert Graves in the Crane Bag and Other Disputed Subjects says that this few is represented in the mythology of the crane-bag as being the King of Lochlainn’s helmet[i].
The Spindle Tree is elusive in Celtic mythology. It derives its name from the spindle which was apparently originally fashioned from the wood of this tree. The spindle, as a tool, is an early proto type of the spinning wheel. Thus the tree can be indirectly related to any tales of spinning found in Celtic mythology.
There are tales of industrious fairies in the Celtic stories including the Scottish Habitrot, a beneficient Caileach type figure[ii]. Alfred Tennyson’s Victorian poem the Lady of Shalott, with medieval roots, is also about a weaver.
Oir, the Spindle tree or Gold itself, is a very mysterious few. It has come to represent a sudden positive change in one’s life. It has also come to mean wealth or inspired knowledge in modern times.
“As for the other miscellaneous objects found in the Crane Bag: if one thinks poetically, not scientifically, their meaning leaps to the eye.” –Robert Graves (the Crane Bag and other Disputed Subjects)
As previously stated the forfeda[iii], or the items found in the crane-bag by poets, are listed as ‘the King of Scotland’s Shears’(the X), ‘the king of Lochlainn’s helmet’ (with his face underneath, the four sided diamond), ‘the bones of Assail’s swine’ (the double lined X out to the side of the line), ‘Goibne’s smith-hook’ (the P or hook symbol), and Manannan’s own shirt’, which “is a map of the sea showing lines of longitude and latitude.”
The King of Lochlainn is a mysterious figure. The quote at the beginning of this blog post summarizes what is generally believed to be the origins and the evolution of the mysterious Lochlainn[iv].
“Lochlainn may have initially described the fabulous abode under lakes and waters of hostile, supernatural beings like the Famorians.”
In the Irish myths the King of Lochlainn had clearly come to represent the marauders of Nordic descent. There are stories, however, where Finn Mac Cool fosters sons of the King of Lochlainn. These foreigners are usually enemies though.
In Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory[v] one battalion of Fianna, led by Finn Mac Cool, are pitted up against ten battalions of “the King of the World.” The three sons of Lochlainn come one after another, alone, to wreck destruction upon the Fionna. They are eventually followed by the seemingly invincible King of Lochlainn himself.
The fist son, Forne, slays many men before Finn’s own son Oisin stands to face him alone. Initially the battle seems to be going poorly for Oisin. Eventually, though, he is embarrassed by the words of a fellow Fianna who tells him that the men are watching him being beaten. Oisin, who is then spurred into action, pierces Forne with his spear killing him.
The second son, Tocha, then brings the fight to the Fianna slaying many more of their men. Only Lugaidh’s son manages to stand against Tocha, eventually cutting his heart in two.
The third son, Mongach of the Sea, rushes the Fianna swearing vengeance. He carries with him a mighty flail with seven iron balls, with fifty chains, with fifty apples upon every chain, and with fifty iron thorns on every apple! Fidach, son of the King of Breton – out of shame at seeing the destruction of the Fianna – stands alone against him. The two battle hard, but eventually Fidach cut off Mongach of the Sea’s hands. He then cuts him in half. An apple from the flail, with its many thorns, pierces Fidach’s mouth and the two fall “lip to lip” in death.
Finally, the King of Lochlainn himself rushes the Fianna. The destruction that he inflicts is terrible to behold. His flaming shield causes many casualties. Druimderg, grandson of the head of the Fianna of Ulster comes forward with his spear ‘Croderg the Red Socketed.’ Druimberg can see no part of the King of Lochlainn that is not covered in armour except for the open mouth which is laughing beneath the helmet. Druimderg casts his spear into the open laughing mouth of the king and kills him.
Thus the King of Lochlainn is defeated along with his sons.
Other tales also pit heroes against the King of Lochlainn, but the mentioning of his helmet in this particular tale, including the vulnerability of its wearer, is worthy of note.
(Helmet from Cheiftain’s Grave. 10th Century. Norway. Photo: John Erling Blad)
As the helmet is one of the items found in Manannan’s crane bag it’s also worth noting that there is another story with possible connections. This tale is also found in Gods and Fighting Men. Here, Lugh himself is wearing the helmet of Manannan.
“And they were not long there before they saw an armed troop coming towards them from the east, over the plain; and there was a young man in front of the troop, in command over the rest, and the brightness of his face was like the setting sun, so that they were not able to look at him because of its brightness.
And when he came nearer they knew it was Lugh Lamh-Fada, of the Long Hand, that had come back to them, and along with him were the Riders of the Sidhe from the Land of Promise, and his own foster brothers, the sons of Manannan, Sgoith Gleigeil, the White Flower, and Goitne Gorm-Shuileach, the Blue-eyed Spear, and Sine Sindearg, of the Red Ring, and Donall Donn-Ruadh, of the Red brown Hair. And it is the way Lugh was, he had Manannan’s horse, the Aonbharr, of the One Mane, under him, that was as swift as the naked cold wind of spring, and the sea was the same as dry land to her, and the rider was never killed off her back. And he had Manannan’s breast-plate on him, that kept whoever was wearing it from wounds, and a helmet on his head with two beautiful precious stones set in the front of it and one at the back, and when he took it off, his forehead was like the sun on a dry summer day. And he had Manannan’s sword, the Freagarthach, the Answerer, at his side, and no one that was wounded by it would ever get away alive; and when that sword was bared in a battle, no man that saw it coming against him had any more strength than a woman in child-birth.”
Although there is no indication that the helmet once belonged to the King of Lochlainn, of later times, it may in fact have belonged to one of the Famorian kings that we have previously mentioned. The possibility, however remote, should be considered.
So if Manannan’s shirt is representative of ‘the sea’, and the King of Scotland’s shears is representative of ‘the grove’ then what can the helmet from the King of Lochlainn be representative of?
Whether Lochlainn represents the Famorians or another later foreign invader hardly seems to matter. The helmet represents the seeming invincibility of a dangerous enemy. It is an enemy, a mysterious force, which threatens to take everything away. The fact that Manannan owns the helmet means that it is an enemy that has likely been vanquished or perhaps even tamed[vi].
If we were presented with a riddle regarding Oir it might then look like this… What is gold and brings with it sudden sweetness and delight? What is brought by thunder? What brings with it sudden insight or illumination? What is dangerous and otherworldly to the forest? What is the bringer of Awen? What is a catalyst which brings with it change? What may be seen as a triangle pointing into the air with a separate triangle, invisible to the human eye, pointing mirror like into the underworld? What thing seems to be weaving unto itself?
This riddle seems to have an answer that would be near impossible to validate. That answer would be fire. If we consider the flames that radiated from the King of Lochlainn’s shield we seem to have come upon further evidence that supports this possibility. Fire is the one invader of the forest that needs to be tamed. The fire may also be representative of the sun itself. Lugh comes from the east like the rising sun. The descriptors all compare the brightness of his head, which is enshrouded in the helmet, to the sun itself. Perhaps Manannan is being depicted as a great worker of magic, one who has tamed the element of fire.
Of course, I am no scholar. I reflect upon the Ogham and the mythologies that surround them while finding my own meanings for the crane-bag in regards to these forfeda. I have never come across this association of Oir to fire anywhere else.
I do, however, find the possibilities more than a little intriguing.
The Euonymous occidentalis, or the Western Wahoo, is the Spindle tree of western North America. It can be found from halfway up Vancouver Island down to California[vii]. It is part of the Bittersweet family.
The shrub is listed as “red” in British Columbia. This listing marks the plant as threatened or endangered. There are very few documented areas that the plant exists within and it is not known to thrive anywhere in British Columbia.
“Then Finn said: ‘Lift up your hands, Fianna of Ireland, and give thee shouts of blessing to whoever will hinder this foreigner.’ And the Fianna gave those three shouts; and the King of Lochlann gave a great laugh when he heath them. And Druimderg, grandson of the Head of the Fianna of Ulster, was near him, and he had with him a deadly spear, the Croderg, the Red-Socketed, that came down from one to another of the sons of Rudraighe. And he looked at the King of Lochlann, and he could see no part of him without armour but his mouth that was opened wide, and he laughing at the Fianna. Then Druimderg made a cast with the Croderg that hit him in the open mouth, and befell, and his shield fell along with its master, and its flame went out. And Druimderg struck the head from his body, and made great boasts of the things he had done.” – Lady Gregory (Gods and Fighting Men. 1904)
[i] See previous two posts.
[ii] http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/sfft/sfft32.htm, Carminan Gadelica Vol. 2. Alexander Carmichael , The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. W.Y. Eavans-Wentz , etc.
[iii] See blog post: An Introduction to the Forfeda.
[iv] See also: Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James MacKillop.
[v] Part II Book III. 
[vi] Is it possible that Manannan holds the helmet hostage?