Let There Be Mist: In Which I Have Found Yet Another Otherworldly Access Point That I Will Probably Never Be Able To Use

My world is constricting into a single, obsessive focus on the Otherworld in Irish and Welsh mythology.  I lie awake at night trying to sort it out in my head and dream about how tragically terrible my first paper is so far (wait, that’s actually real…).  I touched earlier on the theme of the immram, the overseas voyage to the Otherworld.  That story-type has been a focus for me lately because my first major paper (due next January, which is, you know, just around the corner!) is on the water-related aspects of the Otherworld.

The Otherworld in both Irish and Welsh stories is often portrayed over the sea or on an island in a lake, or sometimes beneath a lake (remember the “watery tart” in the pond that threw a sword at King Arthur?).  Water also plays a part in the form of a mystic fountain or well, which translated nicely into the holy wells of a more Christian age.

A mysterious mist descended during my time in the Scottish countryside...

One other form of water, though, that appears in a lot of the stories is mist.  Mist, as I’m sure you are aware (or you are about to be seriously educated), is a form of water, but not contained the way it is in a sea, a lake, or a well.  And while a hero can sally forth and cross the sea or the lake or enter through the lake, mist seems to happen upon the hero rather than the other way around.

In many of the stories, a hero will be going along, minding his own business, hunting or lazing about with friends in the woods (as one does), and a mist will suddenly surround him, isolate him, and somehow transport him elsewhere – to the Otherworld.

Contrasting as well with your typical image of the sea or the lake, mist is a concealing agent, rather than a revealing one.  Oftentimes, a hero can look down into the sea and have a good view of the bottom (the Voyage of Bran is a good example of this) or the sea or lake is simply an obstacle, a water-path to reach the Otherworld.  Mist provides no such path or view.  It hides, confuses, and changes.  The Tuatha de Danaan use it to hide their arrival to Ireland.  It appears when Dyfed is put under a magical curse in Manawydan son of Llyr.  In Echtrae Cormaic, a mist allows Cormac and his men passage to Manannan’s palace.  Cu Chulainn passes through mist in Bricriu’s Feast during an Otherworldly encounter. Quite often, when a hero wanders into the mist in familiar territory, he comes out of it in another world.

On your average day, this path just leads up to a field, but today... it seems like it should lead somewhere else

What does this mean?  What does it prove?  What have you learned from this post?  Maybe nothing at all.  I’m still thinking about it.  What does seem to be the case, though, is that water continues to be one of the popular means by which heroes are tossed into an adventure, and mist is one of these sorts, but a rather unique one.  Mist seems to be almost an entity on its own, a lot less passive than the sea or a lake, one that can draw a hero in without his realizing it.

I know that I understand why people were so willing to believe in other worlds here in Scotland.  The mist makes it seem like anything could happen. For a few more pictures, check out my travel blog: Searching for Dragons in Scotland.

So for all of you who, like me, are still searching for that path to alter realms, have you been noticing any misty banks rolling about that seem curiously wishful of your company?  You might just try letting one catch up with you… if you dare.


About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on November 15, 2011, in Faerie, Fantasy, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Myth, Scotland, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. “What does seem to be the case, though, is that water continues to be one of the popular means by which heroes are tossed into an adventure”

    You’d sort of wonder about the islanders’ narrow interest in the world if it didn’t. 😛

    Love mist.

    • Fair enough, although it’s interesting that their idea of the Otherworld as over the sea arguably didn’t show up until fairly late (post-Christian influence, according to a lot of scholars). Before that, they saw it as under lakes or under the ground, not necessarily across the sea.

  2. Have you thought about how all this relates to the cloud (pretty close to mist) that overshadowed the OT tabernacle, or the one that showed up on the Mountain of Transfiguration? Hmmm . . .

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