|Where the Forest Murmers
Vol VI, by Fiona Macleod
"Where is the star Imbrifer? Let us adore it."
Years ago I remember coming upon this mysterious phrase in a poem or poetic drama by a
French writer. The pagans, led by a priest, then went into the woods; and, in a hollow
made of a hidden place swept by great boughs, worshipped a moist star. I forget whether
the scourge of drought ended thereafter, and if winds lifted the stagnant branches, if
rains poured through the leaves and mosses and reached the well-springs. I recall only the
invocation, and some faint and broken memory of the twilight-procession of bitter hearts
and wild voices, weary of vain lamentation and of unanswered prayers to sleeping or silent
gods. But often I wondered as to Imbrifer, that dark lord with the sonorous name. Was he a
Gaulish divinity, or, as his name signals, a strayed Latin? And was he, as our Manan of
the West, a sea-deity, or a divinity of the clouds, clothed, like the shepherd Angus
Sunlocks, in mist, so as the more secretly to drive before him down the hidden ways of
heaven the myriad hosts of the rain? Or had he an angelic crest, with wings of unfalling
water, as a visionary once portrayed for me a likeness of Midir, that ancient Gaelic god
at whose coming came and still come the sudden dews, or whose presence, or the signs of
whose passage, would be revealed and still are revealed by the white glisten on thickets
and grasses, by the moist coolness on the lips of leaf and flower.
So, then, he is more than an obscure divinity of the woods and of remote ancestral clans! Greater even than Midir of the Dews, one of the great Lords of Death: greater than the Greek Poseidon or the Gaelic Manan, heaven-throned among the older gods, though seen of mortals only on gigantic steeds of ocean, vast sea-green horses with feet of running waves and breasts of billows. For he is no other than one of the mightiest of the constellations, Capricorn itself! The name, in a word, is but one of several more or less obscure or forgotten analogues of this famous constellation, concerning which the first printed English astrological almanac (1386) has "whoso is born in Capcorn schal be ryche and wel lufyd"!
Imbrifer himself or itself . . . is certainly not "wel lufyd" on many of these October and November days of floods and rains! Imbrifer . . . the very name is a kind of stately, Miltonic, autumnal compeer of our insignificant (and in Scotland, dreaded!) rain-saint of July, Swithin of dubious memory!
Truly a fit Constellation of late autumn,Capricornus.
as a bygone astronomical versifier has it.
Many of us will remember with a thrill Milton's magnificent image
". . . Thence down amain
As deep as Capricorn,"
and others will recall the often-quoted line of Dante in the Paradiso (relative of the Sun's entrance into Capricorn between January 18 and February 14).
"The horn of the Celestial Goat doth touch the Sun."
May and November are the two "fatal" months with the Celtic peoples: the
first because of the influence of the Queen of Faerie (she has many names), and the second
because of Midir, who sleeps in November, or, as another legend has it, "goes
away" in that month. In that month too the Daughter Midir has departed on her long
quest of her brother Aluinn Og (is this a legend or a confused traditionary remembrance,
or a mythopoeic invention . . . I have come upon it once only), to find him asleep under
the shaken fans of the Northern Lights, and to woo him with pale arctic fires, and
auroras, and a faint music wrought out of the murmur of polar airs on a harp made of a
seal's breastbone. It is but in another guise the old Greek legend of Persephone in the
Kingdom of Aidoneus. Again, it is in November that the touch of Dalua, the Secret Fool or
the Accursed of the Everlasting Ones, gives death. Once more, it is in November that Lir
holds his great banquet, a banquet that lasts three months, in Tir-fo-tuinn, the Country
under the waves. In one way or another all these dreams are associated with the sea, with
water and the Winter Solstice. By different ways of thought, of tradition, and of dreaming
phantasy, the minds of this race or that people, of these scattered tribes or those broken
claiis, have reached the same strange goals of the imagination. The spell of Capricorn may
be of the Waters of all time, since the Horned Goat of our Celtic forbears, the
"Buccan Horn" of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, the Latin "Imbrifer" or
"Gelidus" or "Sea-Goat" (in several variants), the Greek
"Athalpees" or the commoner term signifving a Horned Goat, the ancient Egyptian
Chnemu, God of the Waters, the perhaps as ancient Aztec Cipactli, imaged like the narwhal,
the Chinese Mo Ki and the Assyrian Munaxa, both signifying Goat Fish---and so forth, East
and West, in the dim least and the confused present,---are all directly or indirectly
associated with the element of Water, with the Sea, or rains, storm and change and subtle
regeneration. The Greek writers called the allied constellation of Aquarius Hydrochoüs,
the Water-Pourer, in mythological connection (a Latin commentator avers) with Deucalion
and the great Flood, that many believe to have been an ancestral memory of the
Deluge which submerged Atlantis. The Anglo-Saxons gave it the same name, "se
waetergyt." There is a breton legend in connection with Ys, that dim Celtic
remembrance of vanished Lyonesse or drowned Atlantis, to the effect (for I know it only in
modern guise) that on the fatal night when King Gradlon saw his beautiful city unloosened
to the devouring waves by Dahut the Red, his Daughter, the Star of Water shook a fiery
rain upon land and sea, and the floods of heaven fell, from the wake of the Great Galley
(the Great Bear) to the roots of the unseen tree that bears the silver Apples (the
Pleiades), and as far as the hidden Well-springs (the Constellation of Capricorn)
and The Mansion of the White King (the Constellation of Aquarius)---the White King being
". . . geomancers their Fortuna Major
See in the Orient before the dawn
Again, is it tradition or coincidence that the Platonists of old held
"the stairs of Capricorn" to be the stellar way by which, the souls of men
ascended to heaven, so that the constellation became known as the Gate of the Gods, and
that to-day the astrologers and mystics of the West share the same belief? Even the Caer
Arianrod of our Celtic forbears---the Silver Road, as generally given though obviously
very loosely . . . and may not the name more likely, especially in connection with a basic
legend of the constellation of Corona Borealis, be the "Mansion of Ariand "
(Ariadne)? . . . though commonly applied to the Milky Way or less often to the Northern
Crown, is sometimes in its modern equivalent used to designate Capricorn. Naturally, to
astrologers, this Constellation with that of Aquarius, is of greatest import, for at a
certain time the "House of Saturn" is here to be discerned.
Of old the whole group was called Aldebaran, but now we recognise in that name only the
superb star whose pale-rose flame lights gloriously "the cold forehead of the wintry
sky" to quote an undeservedly forgotten poet. And now, Aldebaran stands apart in
Taurus, and the six storm-stars are torches set apart.
The unconcerned One!