The rites of dawn

4.7.10 § 0 commentarii

As the attentive might have noted, the posts to this blog are frequently made during the early hours of the morning. This is, in part, due to a habit I have of writing after work: I try to write at least something every day, but very little of it ever gets published. However, it's much more to do with the fact that for as long as I can remember, I've had a great deal of difficulty getting to sleep. I recall that as a child I would lie in bed for a good few hours after bedtime before falling asleep: steadily getting more and more bored with every passing minute. Over the years I've tried pretty much everything to remedy this: I even used to make my own valerian tincture.

A side effect of this is that (particularly during the summer months), I am frequently awake at dawn. These years of only ever seeing dawn from the "wrong" side have coloured my thoughts about it considerably: while most people associate dawn with waking up and starting the day, for me dawn generally feels like a conclusion, a renewal of hope and a promise that everything will be fine. After witnessing the rising sun, I can go to sleep confident in the knowledge that the world has been restored once more, that the darkness has been successfully negotiated.

It also gives me opportunity to put some thought into my religious observances. Rather than yawning and stumbling through a brief prayer, I can offer a more measured and meditative ritual, which pleases me greatly. I've shared a prayer I wrote to Grannos here before, and now I'd like to offer a context for that prayer. This, then, is what I've been doing over the past month or so on those occasions where I've been awake at dawn:

When I see the first brightening of the sky in the east, I begin my preparations. I believe that one should only approach the gods while in a state of ritual purity, so before any kind of observance involving the gods I go through the following steps.

I light a candle next to my cooker, which symbolically represents the hearth. Technically, lighting a sacred flame should also be done in a state of ritual purity, as it's an interaction with the hearth goddess. However, I take the view that ritually speaking, re-lighting a candle is much the same as stirring up the embers of a hearth fire which has already been lit. Whenever I begin a new candle from fresh, I endeavour to light this with some ritual trappings, but otherwise I simply offer the following words when the candle is lit:

Brigantī noibisamā, mātīr dau̯ēs sīrodi̯ās, ro·u̯essū canta matu aidu.
Holiest Briganti, mother of the ever-living flame, may I pray with a good fire.

Then I take a cupful of fresh water (I have a nice clay beaker I use for this) and place it next to the flame. Facing east, I light a spill from the candle and then extinguish the flame in the water, with the following words:

Ro sunerton Briganti̯ās dau̯et·i̯o dau̯in, eti Niχtonī trebāt·i̯o dubnobi, ro·buu̯et glanon sin dubron.
In the name of Briganti who kindles the flame, and of Niχtonos who dwells in the deeps, may this water be pure.[1]

This water I then pour over my hands, first the right then the left. Then I touch my forehead, lips and sternum, saying the following:

U̯edi̯ū Niχtonon, con·i̯o au̯et lucaton, are·i̯o niχset mon culā. Ro·buu̯ū glanos are comarcūi dēu̯on.
I pray to Niχtonos, the lord of the well, that he may wash away my impurity. May I be pure to meet the gods.

And so in an appropriate state of ritual purity, I can begin the ritual in honour of the dawn and the rising sun.

Facing east (I'm lucky enough to have an east-facing window), with my hands stretched out in front of me I recite the following short salutation to the Goddess of the Dawn[2]:

Noibos est u̯olougus nemesos.
Noibā est deu̯is loscet·i̯o u̯er tamu̯ātan.
Noibon est sin u̯āri dī·i̯o celet u̯olougun.

Holy is the light of the sky.
Holy is the fire that burns on the tongue.
Holy is the dawn that unveils his light.

I bow, straighten and remain silent for a minute or so. Then I say a prayer of praise in honour of Grannos. As well as the prayer I referred to earlier, I've since composed a few others, of differing lengths and construction. I pick one (generally either the first or second one, as those are the ones I have memorised more fully!) and recite it slowly.

There's the original, which uses the attested epithet amarcolitanos "of the broad gaze", which I've always liked.

Altii̯os U̯ārēs amarcolitanos,
i̯oude Granne, in carrū suroton,
eχsredis to aidī, lātis nemesos,
ēron dedmāi, ēron u̯iri̯āi.

Broad-gazing fosterling of the Dawn,
Lord Grannos, in your well-wheeled chariot
ever riding out, hero of the skies,
according to the sacred laws,
according to the truth.

A companion piece to the last one, I suppose, this one uses another couple of attested epithets of the sun god: Maponos and Moguns (the mighty). I've also made use of the Vedic and (IIRC?) Homeric motif of the sun god's mother being Night.

Grannos Maponos, gnātos eχs noχtī,
dī·agis galaron, dī·agis temellon.
Molār moguntan to·i̯o meditro dii̯ūs,
u̯edi̯ū noibon canta u̯odi̯ās suu̯reχtās.

Grannos Maponos, born of the night,
you drive out sorrow, drive out the dark.
I praise the mighty one who measures the days,
I offer the holy one my well-wrought prayers.

And finally, a slightly more terse, hymn-like prayer. This is less of a general praise-poem, but incorporates a general request for protection. Interestingly, the motif of the sun's chariot being drawn by bay mares is rather widespread in IE myth.

Pisū epās ācūs subodi̯ās,
Ro·bundont Grannon dēu̯on,
gnātos eχs brusonī noχtos.

U̯er eχsangūs clounīs,
to·aidet mapos Taranēs.
Boucolis auset doni̯ūs.

U̯ēdū sodesē nemesos i̯oudē,
tepont su̯ergos eti sēbrī.
Su̯ēssos est noibos sau̯ūl.

I see swift bay mares,
heralds of Grannos,
born of Night's womb.

Over broad pastures,
shines Taranis' son.
May the Herdsman watch over us.

Before heaven's lord,
flee sickness and spectre.
Sweet is the holy sun.

Once the prayer is said, I bow to the sun three times, and then stand quietly for a few minutes. I've not thought about making physical offerings beyond poetry of praise so far, but were I to make an offering it would probably be fresh, clean water, and I'd probably do it about now.

And then, dawn prayers completed and a new day starting, I can finally go to bed...


1) The Proto-Celtic cognate of Latin "pure" is *φūro-, which gives Middle Irish úr "fresh, bright" and Middle Welsh ir "green, verdant". I guess that it could also work in this case instead of glanos, which essentially means "clean".

2) Explicit evidence for a Celtic dawn goddess is lacking. West is of the opinion that Brigantī could fit this mould, and the more I think about it, the more I can see where he's coming from: Brigid's fostering of the infant Jesus seems to fit well, and the Sanskrit cognate bṛhatī is an epithet of Uṣas, the dawn goddess.

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