A Morning Meditation On A Gaelic Prayer [Techno-Theology]

How I’m choosing to wake up this morning. And, if it were a bit earlier, the neighbours as well.

Now, I’d had this [rework of a] track in my head for a few evenings earlier this year, and I’d finally decided to sit down and actually properly analyze the lyricism utilized. Because it seemed … pertinent somehow.

Sure enough …

Words are in Gaelic, you can find the original artist etc. mentioned in the title – and the original track’s rather longer.

But we’ll just look at the verse sampled in this rework:

“Athair ar neamh, Dia linn
Athair ar neamh, Dia liom
M’anam, mo chroi, mo ghloir
Moladh duit a Dhia”

‘Athair ar neamh’ means ‘Father upon Heaven’

‘Athair’ being from the same root as ‘Father’, ‘Pater’, etc. – PIE *ph₂tḗr , becoming Proto-Celtic *ɸatīr .

‘ar’ , I take to be cognate with ‘uber’ etc., from PIE *upér.

Neamh is from that by now familiar PIE *nebʰ- => PIE *nébʰos ; a term for ‘cloud’, ‘damp’, that also gives us ‘Nebel’ (Fog), ‘Nebula’, assumedly ‘Nifl’ (as in ‘Niflheim’), ‘Neptune’ (because Sky Father deific, vaguely recalled – the Sky is also Sea), the ‘Napat’ of ‘Apam Napat’,, and so forth.

It becomes *Nemos in Proto-Celtic … and you can see how a ‘Cloudy’ meaning-field fits quite naturally with the semantic refinement to ‘Sky’ / ‘Heaven’ / ‘Firmament.

‘Dia Linn’ is ‘God With Us’.

‘Dia’, it should come as no surprise to hear, being from that familiar PIE *Deywos (whence Proto-Celtic *Dewos) which also produces Deus, Deva, -Tyr, etc.

However, it is interesting to note that as applies the Día utilized for .. well .. God – even though it is ostensibly from this particular more general pre-Christian term for, well, (a) God, it is homophonic with another word that means ‘Day’, and which is from PIE *Dyew (Bright, Shining Heaven, Celestial) (whence Latin Dies, and, via  => *Deyno, Sanskrit Dina, etc. – which have ‘Day’ as their meaning likewise) via Proto-Celtic *Diyos.

We mention this because, of course, the coterminity of ‘Day’ and ‘God’ in direct terms in Indo-European conceptual syllabry is not a property of ‘Deva’, ‘Deus’, etc. … but rather more directly of “Dyaus”, “Zeus”, “Jupiter”.

A Heavenly Father, indeed.

Interesting how some understandings seem to re-evolve themselves given sufficient time, no ?

And I had noted with some interested semi-amusement that, unless I am mishearing, the actual pronunciation of these ‘Dia’ (and later, Dhia) terms seems to have the ‘D-‘ sounding more like a ‘J-‘; this therefore replicating a not entirely dissimilar pattern of sound-shift that had, in fact, actually given rise to ‘Jupiter’ from ‘Dyaus Pitar’ [well, *Dyḗws ph₂tḗr if we are being proper with the PIE reconstructionism rather than, as I have a perhaps incautious habit of doing, simply utilizing the very close archaic Sanskrit formulation instead for ease-of-typing, and simple direct-conceptual-association upon my part].

‘Linn’, meanwhile, ‘With Us’ – should appear to be from a term for ‘Side’ (Proto-Celtic *Letos), although it gets a bit murky as to what PIE root might underpin this (so we won’t get into that quite so much here). We do, however, rather like “On Our Side” as the effective meaning of the term in this application (viz. Latin ‘Latus’, as in ‘[holding the] flank’).

‘Dia Liom’, meanwhile, is much the same – except with ‘Liom’ being ‘Le’ (the same ‘With’ as encountered in the above ‘Linn’), with a ‘Me’; so ‘God With Me’.

‘M’Anam’ is ‘My’ Anam, ‘Anam’ being ‘Soul’, and resultant from PIE  *h₂enh₁-, as in ‘Breath’ ; and whilst ostsensibly we ought assume that the ‘-am’ is effectively from the PIE suffix that reifies conceptual nouns into ‘animate’ nouns or ‘doers’ thereof … I would ponder whether PIE *Men might also be pertinent in resonation therewith. This is, after all, a term for a ‘Spirit’, an ‘Active Mind’, ‘Mental Activity’, and which likely underpins ‘Man’ (as in Person, Human – Thinking Being, effectively).

My point is that a resonance between this notion of Spirit / Mental Activity and ‘Doer’ of a concept seems, by itself, an interesting one to pursue, even before we consider the concept of ‘Breath’ / ‘Wind’ as benefitting from a more overt connexion to the concept of ‘Spirit’, ‘Mental Activity’ to render it ‘Soul’. I digress.

‘Mo Chroi’ – ‘My Heart’; Proto-Celtic *Kridyom, from PIE *ḱérd – as it happens, also the root for modern English ‘Heart’ (K => H sound-shift, D => T sound-shift, etc.), Sanskrit ‘Hridaya’ (with an interestingly slightly broader meaning-field), etc. ; and with a meaning for Croi of not only ‘Heart’, but also ‘Core’ (which it may be cognate with), and of course, heading also for ‘Beloved’ for reasons that ought be readily apparent. [As a brief side-point, we have occasionally noted with some amused enthusiasm how PIE *ḱréddʰh₁eti – to believe or to trust someone, sounds so much like ‘Credence’, to give ‘credit’, to find someone credible – a case of the modern English, again, causing ‘resonance’ with the archaic PIE terminology meaning much the same thing.]

‘Mo Ghloir’ – ‘My Speech’ (or, I suppose, ‘Song’, in this specific context) would be the most direct translation … yet I suspect that it is somewhat incomplete. And that there is an intentional double-meaning encountered with the term.

You see, ‘Ghloir’ also has a homophone – a term which means ‘Glory’ (with which this other ‘Ghloir’ is fairly directly cognate – coming from Latin ‘Gloria’, as one might feasibly expect). 

The actual etymology of ‘Gloria’ is a rather difficult prospect, and we do not intend to parse all the possibilities herein. Suffice to say, I suspect that it is PIE *gʰel- / *ghel- and *ĝhel-1 / *ĝhlē- / *ĝhlō- / *ĝhlǝ- / *ĝhwel- [the latter suite after the ‘and’ being Pokorny’s reconstructions for a slightly differing term] that we are interested in here. 

If this is the case – the former, *gʰel- / *ghel refers to a ‘call’ or ‘cry’ or a ‘chant’ [ref. Old Norse ‘Gala’ (which can also mean ‘[to] Crow’) / ‘Galdr’; and, for that matter, ‘Gjalla’ … like Heimdall’s famous Gjallarhorn] ; and the latter, to terms for ‘Shining’, ‘Golden’, and even ‘Sun’ [ref. English ‘Glow’, and we presume that PIE *ǵʰelh₃- (yellow, yellow-green, growing … and the root of quite an array of terms for both these colours as well as ‘Gold’, etc. – Sanskrit ‘Hiranya’ (Gold), for example, or German ‘Gelb’ .. or even English ‘Yellow’ and ‘Gold’ themselves) is likewise related; the ‘Sun’ element is supplied not only inferentially, but also via a potential etymology for Albanian ‘Diell’, as in ‘Sun’].

Why do we find this comment-worthy? 

Because we have long observed a remarkably pervasive patterning in the post-PIE descendant languages for terms for ‘Speech’ and terms for ‘Shining’ … being seriously coterminous in their soundings. 

There are two PIE *bʰeh₂ roots, for example. One which refers to ‘Shining’, and another which refers to ‘Speaking’. These continue as, in Sanskrit भास् (Bhasa) – illumination and भाषा (Bhasaa) – communication; or Ancient Greek φᾰ́σῐς and φᾰ́σῐς (Phasis & Phasis); or Danish bøn and bone, Norwegian bønn and bone; you get the idea. 

We also find a similar pattern in evidence when we consider Sanskrit स्वर् (Svar – Sun) and स्वर (Svar – Song, Voice, Sound) – albeit there, it is not a case of coterminous roots, but rather coterminous, convergent evolution. From PIE *sóh₂wl̥ (‘Solar’, ‘Sun’, ‘Surya’, etc.) and *swer (‘to speak strongly’ – whence ‘Swear’ (in archaic times – to ‘speak strongly’ in the sense of an oath, quite particularly), Sanskrit  ‘Svarati’ ( स्वरति – ‘Sing’, ‘Prayer’, ‘Sound’, ‘Resound’ … ‘Shine’), etc.), respectively.

And so, figuratively speaking (albeit hopefully radiantly – and even ‘clearly’, perhaps, via inferency [ref. Proto-Celtic *Glanos] … ), ‘mo ghloir’ we should prove tempted to render as ‘My Glorification’, as that is most certainly what a hymnal of praise, a prayer, is intended to do. 

Or perhaps we might go down a slightly different route and instead suggest the Old Norse ‘glórǫdd’ … ‘Gleaming (‘glóa’) Voice (‘rǫdd’)’ as a suitable translation rather than ‘just’ ‘Voice’. 

All of which brings us to the final line: 

“Moladh duit a Dhia ” – “Praise to You, O God”

The key word there, Moladh, we shall address in a moment; but to briefly run through the other three .. ‘Duit’ is that familiar ‘dative’ [i.e. ‘To/For’] understanding, albeit from a PIE term (*De / *Deh) which indicates ‘towards’; ‘a’, the vocative ‘O’; ‘Dhia’, the very same ‘Dia’ that we had already met above.

But it is ‘Moladh’ that is most intriguing here. We should take it to be a derivative of PIE *Meldh … a term that, as with various others we have had cause to parse , should seem to have presented both ‘Speaking’ and ‘Shining’ senses at the PIE originatory level.

Pokorny, interestingly, specifies *meldh-1 further – declaring it to have meant “to pronounce ritual words”, and producing an array of ‘prayer’ terms in descendant languages to support this point. 

This is immediately followed by *meldh-2 – which the dictionary ascribes a meaning to of ‘Lightning’; positing Welsh ‘Mellt’ and Russian ‘Molnija’ (мо́лния), which each mean much the same thing, as descendants. Alongside that famous Old Norse term – Mjolnir. And, for good measure, Old Norse ‘Myln’ (‘Fire’), as well. 

So, as we have said – it should seem that PIE *Meldh is another situation of ‘illuminating’ and ‘invocating’ terminology proving fairly directly coterminous. Albeit with the point of difference that here we should seem to be dealing with ‘Lightning’ rather than ‘Light’ … a rather more ‘weaponized’ radiancy, to be sure (notwithstanding that both prayer / sung invocation, and Solar energy can also be decidedly weaponized within our ritual and mythic suites).  In this regard, it reminds instantly of Sanskrit ‘Arka’ (अर्क); a term which can likewise refer to both a prayer, hymnal, liturgy, panegyric … but also to Lightning (in amidst an array of other senses that are closely related – ‘ray of light’, ‘fire’, ‘Sun’, ‘crystal’, etc.).

Now, of course, so far as i can tell – this is a Christian liturgy. It is not, therefore, an inherently Indo-European one.

Except it also is – insofar as the words themselves are, and are simply the repurposings (with the possible partial exception viz. ‘Gloria’) of far more archaic and endogenous (endogenously Celtic, in this particular case) lexical elements that once upon a time very much would have been utilized in the functional declarations of Indo-European Piety. 

It is also the case that particular of these words, these terms, bear with them the indelible imprinting of meanings that are more than just the simple one-word renditions into English can adequately encapsulate … and which are similarly inherently Indo-European in their origination and application. 

I am no scholar of Hebrew or Aramaic nor Arabic – but I do not know that the Bright Sky (or, for that matter, Day) is quite so inexorably bound up with those cultures’ conceptions of the most prominent words for ‘God’ therein. Which does not necessarily mean, of course, that in every case there is a ‘monopoly’ on these things for the IE sphere – the ‘Breath’ and ‘Soul’ coterminity, after all, I am pretty sure is found in Biblical understandings; having assumedly independently evolved in that broad Mesopotamian etc. sphere, just as it had also evolved and become reified (albeit in .. somewhat differing precise formulation and associations – viz. ‘Smoking Breath’, and the correlation with Furor / Anger, for instance) for the PIE and their descendant peoples. 

Now all of that said, it is absolutely not our purpose to go around attempting to (re-)appropriate Christian prayers and invocations. There is no need. We have plenty of our own, for a start. But nevertheless – when Frantz Fanon so famously observed that “To speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of civilization.” … well, what can we say other than that he was indubitably correct.

The prayers, the paeans and the panegyrics that are directed in these various more archaic lexical syllabries bear such resonant conceptual elements within them which are, as it were, ‘hard-baked’ into their very substance precisely because they are composed in such terms. Even if the composer may be ignorant of them as they have become somewhat residual in that language, by that time. Who, after all, would think (at least from a modern perspective) that within “Deus” there is that “Celestial, Shining One” sense that we ought expect due to the derivation from PIE *Deywos – even if, in its direct Sanskrit cognate, “Deva”, this has been rather more overtly understood and pointedly maintained. And yet, as we have just demonstrated, there is a most intriguing penchant for certain conceptry ‘re-evolving’ its more overt coterminity [c.f. those two Irish words that sound as ‘Día’]. 

There is, therefore, something intriguing in delving into a liturgy such as this. Because even despite the direct and intentional aims of its utterance … perhaps due to the not-all-that-far-beneath-the-surface conceptry of its composer, or perhaps merely because of that aforementioned effect wherein the ‘vocabulary of the sacred’ , even in the overt context of Christian utilization , the archaic meanings and resonancies of the words and their intermeshed meaning still nevertheless manages to ‘shine through’.

Or maybe that’s just the combination of a good morning and my occasionally rather eclectically literal approach to the term ‘Techno-Theology’.

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