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The Silver Bough

The Silver Bough


In Old Ireland there was a marvelous silver bough, which like the golden bough of Virgil, served as a doorway into the Otherworld of the gods. Some say it was the property of Manannan MacLir, others that it belonged to Lugh. Cut from a mystic apple tree, the silver branch gave forth magical music which none might resist. The apples it bore, dangling like bells, served the sojourner for food while in the Land of the Gods. Cormac MacAirt, High King of Ireland, was lured to the Summerland one day when he encountered a young man holding a wondrous branch of silver which had nine golden apples depending from it. When the youth shook the branch, the apples touched and made sweet music like bells, so that he who heard it forgot his sorrow and care. Cormac asked the young man if he would sell the marvelous branch, and to his dismay the youth demanded the king's wife, son, and daughter in exchange. Enchanted by the music of the silver bough, Cormac agreed. His family were distraught to learn how they had been traded away until they heard the music of the branch, at which they immediately forgot their dismay and departed with the young man joyfully.

After a year had passed, King Cormac longed to see his wife and children and so, taking the silver branch, he set out to find them. As he rode, a magic cloud enveloped him and he found himself on a beautiful green plain, before a majestic house. Within he was greeted by Manannan who ushered in Cormac's wife and children. Manannan revealed that it had been he himself who had taken the king's family in order to lure him to to his happy country. Cormac and his wife and family slept that night in the house of Manannan, and when they awoke the next morning they found themselves in their palace at Tara with the silver branch and other magical gifts beside them.

This story beautifully describes the power of the magic bough or wand to transport its wielder into the Land of the Gods, the astral realm of archetypal form and becoming.

-- Adapted from Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain

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