He was born in 1854 in Glasgow, Scotland. He became a Fellow of Classics at Trinity College, Cambridge. From there he leapfrogged sideways into folklore studies and comparative anthropology, two disciplines he knew nothing about (although to be fair, at the time, neither did anyone else really.) His masterwork was The Golden Bough, two volumes of meticulously researched albeit fairly wrong comparative mythology from all over the world.
The sleep of reason produces monsters; inversions, caricatures of what we know to be right and sensible. Sometimes the fancies of the night seem more substantial than the sober thoughts of daytime. The dreams of a folklorist are especially subject to this kind of inversion. Consider two magazine pieces published by that Victorian litterateur, Grant Allen of Haslemere. One is a serious contribution to folklore scholarship, while the other is its dark parody. But the night-time version is far more revealing. It says a great deal about the mind of its author; but it also tells us something about a hidden strand in twentieth-century paganism.
Scota appears in the Irish chronicle Book of Leinster (containing a redaction of the Lebor Gabála Érenn). According to Irish Folklore and Mythology, the battle of Sliabh Mish was fought in this glen above the town of Tralee, where the Celtic Milesians defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann but Scotia, the Queen of the Milesians died in battle while pregnant as she attempted to jump a bank on horseback. The area is now known as Scotia’s Glen and her grave is reputed to be under a huge ancient stone inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs. She was said to be a Pharaoh’s daughter and had come to Ireland to avenge the death of her husband, the King of the Milesians who had been wounded in a previous ambush in south Kerry. It is also said that Scotland was named after Queen Scotia.
Historically, Elen of the Hosts was a real woman who lived in the 4th century, but in British legend and Welsh and Celtic mythology, may go back even further. She appears to have been a woman of many roles that have grown and evolved over the centuries to the present day.
The makers of some of these tales were spinning long, long ago—thousands of years, in some cases. Life was hard, and short, and brutish, particularly so for women. And yet even this late in history, women and girls are still friendly with that darkness where fairy tales operate best.
Review of In Search of the Swan Maiden: a Narrative on Folklore and Gender, by Barbara Fass Leavy.
Although this book is called The Swan Maiden, its subject could be described as: “a story about a fairy captured by a mortal man and forced into a tedious domestic existence and, obversely, about a mortal woman courted by a demon lover who offers her escape from that same mundane world.” (Loc. 347)
There are many different ways to become god of the dead. You can win the job by chance (Hades/ Pluto), you can be cast into the underworld by other gods (Hel), marry into the job (Nergal), or you can be the first person to die.
Donn was one of the invaders known as the Milesians, after their father Mil. He was the warlike one, while his brother Armaigen was the poet/judge. They eventually did take Ireland, but not easily, and Donn never got to enjoy their victory.