Friday, 22 July 2011

Nine Nines: A Sacred Number

81
Another short anecdote, dating from 14 January 1895, about fairy lore from the pen, or rather pencil, of John Ewen (Iain Eòghann) MacRury, from Torlum, Benbecula, concerns a sacred number in the shape of nine.

Nine, Naodh
The fairies are said
to be nine nines of y[ea]rs
sucking the bre[a]st.
Nine nines in boyhood, Nine
nines in younghood
Nine nines in Middle
man hood Nine nines
in old manhood, and
Nine nines to the bre[a]st
of death “ri uchd bais”

On the following folio Alexander Carmichel himself appends a Gaelic version of the above but from whom he got his he does not say. As well as this, Carmichael has added another stage to the six others mentioned in the above indicating that he may have heard his version from a different source:

Naogh naoghanan a deo[ghai]l
nan cioch naoi 9 a nam corrachadh
naogh naoigh na oganach
naogh naogh na fhear
agh naogh naogh na dhann
fear (dol leis a bhiuthadh) naogh
naogh na dhean fhearagh
naogh naogh ri uc[hd] bais
is duile dhomh nan a
naoghannan D bha = 567 years.

The sum of 9 x 9 is, of course, 81. Adding all these six stages (9 x 9 x 6) gives the total life expectancy of a typical fairy to be 486. The sum of nine nines would seem to have a connection with the sacred number 432 (the so-called cycle of time) that Joseph Campbell came across during his studies of comparative mythology. This, however,  falls rather short of 486. Perhaps it may be stretching things out a little to far to suggests there might well be some sort of connection between this pithy anecdote and the cosmic cycle of time. However, within a more specific Celtic context, nine maidens and nine virgin attended Bridget, while the sacred Beltane fire rites were attended by a cycle of nine groups of men consisting each of nine men. And, of course, when looking for other nines there are a great many: nine months for the period of human gestation, nine muses, nine planets and, if we want to look smart, then we all get dressed to the nines.

Reference:
CW1/71 & 72, f. 38v & f. 39r.
Image: 81.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [© carstenflieger.com]