Monday, July 16, 2007

Black magic

Directly out the window of my studio, across Dingle Bay, is the island of Valentia, almost, but not quite, the westernmost point of Europe. (Our own Dingle Peninsula tips it for the honor.) Valentia is known especially for two things: It is notable in legend as the home of the infamous druid and black magician Mug Roith, the Servant of the Wheel, who is said to have beheaded John the Baptist, the second greatest crime in history after the crucifixion of Jesus; and it was here on the shore of Valentia Harbor, on August 16, 1858, that the first messages were received across the newly-laid Atlantic Cable.

Mug Roith in pagan lore was the chief assistant of Simon Magus, the arch-sorcerer of New Testament times and mortal enemy of Christianity, who gave us the word simony for the selling of ecclesiastical preferments. The "wheel" to which Mug Roith was servant was the roth rumhach, the Oared Wheel of pagan mythology that would appear at the last judgment (more on this tomorrow). For centuries, Ireland labored under the threat of divine retribution for the crime of her Valentian son.

Surely, no less fabulous than the story of Mug Roith were those first faint electrical pulses that made their way through two thousand miles of cable on the sea floor. Here was a kind of natural magic equal to the roaring fires Mug Roith is said to have raised by incantation to afflict his enemies. Of course, as we know, Saint Patrick's Christian magic prevailed in Ireland over the druid sorcerers, although their pagan memory still lingers in the landscape. The sparks that enlivened the now-defunct cable station on Valentia Island have meanwhile blossomed into an global Internet that may be our best hope yet of freeing humankind from the baleful influence of supernaturalist magic of every sort.