This was one of my first ritual dramas, and our grove performed it for the Fall Equinox some years back. It was great fun. We enlisted the help of one of our Irish Wolfhounds, Artemis, to be the Hound of Culainn. She was a great ham who happily laid down “dead” in exchange for a treat. A puppet will do in a pinch, of course.
Here, first is the key offering:
We call the Hound of Culainn!
Son of Deichtine and the Mighty Lugh,
Great warrior of the Morrigan,
Against whom none can stand in battle,
You who lived your life like a fiery arrow
flying through the night sky,
we invite you to join us tonight.
Cú Chulainn, accept our sacrifice!”
The drama requires 5 actors. Some parts can be played by the same person.
CATHBAD: Who goes there? Why, it is my lord, the King of Ulster, Conchobar mac Nessa.
CATHBAD: My liege!
KING: My loyal druid, Cathbad. It is good to see you. Come along; the smith Culainn has invited us to a feast at his house to celebrate the equinox.
CATHBAD: I would be honoured to accompany you.
[King & Cathbad begin walking, and then see Setanta play fighting with another boy. Setanta is winning.]
KING: Who is that boy who fights so well?
CATHBAD: That is your nephew, sir. He is called Setanta and has newly come to the capital.
KING: How marvellous. Setanta! Come hither!
[Setanta approachs the king]
SETANTA: Yes sir?
KING: You fight with great courage and skill. As a reward, I’d have you accompany me to the feast at Culainn’s.
SETANTA: Yes sir! Only…
SETANTA: I haven’t finished the game yet. May I please stay a while longer, and I will come to the feast as soon as the game is done?
KING: Very well! Don’t be too late.
[King & Cathbad arrive at the house of Culainn the Smith]
CULAINN: My king! My esteemed druid! Welcome to my house!
KING: You are too kind, Culainn.
CULAINN: Come in, come in! The fire is warm and we have mulled wine.
[All enter the house.]
CULAINN: Master Cathbad, you should see my new forge. It is quite the marvel!
CATHBAD: I would like to see it. With your leave, my lord?
KING: Of course!
CULAINN: Shall I have one of my servants escort you?
CATHBAD: Thank you, but I know the way.
CULAINN: Mulled wine, my king.
KING: Thank you!
[Culainn hands a cup to the King, who drains it in one gulp.]
KING: Most excellent wine!
CULAINN: Thank you my lord. It has the blessings of The Dagda upon it. Would you like another?
KING: Why not? It is the equinox! Let us celebrate!
[Culainn hands a cup to the King, who drains it in one gulp. The King appears tipsy.]
KING: My! This is heady stuff!
CULAINN: It is indeed, my lord. Now, I should like to release my guard hound to protect the property. Are you expecting anyone else to join us tonight?
KING: [a bit tipsy] Um, er.. no, no, release thine hound!
[Guard brings an Irish Wolfhound in]
CULAINN: Very good. He is a savage beast with the strength of a hundred regular dogs. No man can withstand his assault and he will attack anyone he sees. Guard, release the hound!
[Guard walks off with the Irish Wolfhound]
[Setanta enters, jogging]
SETANTA: Oh I hope I am not too late. The game lasted much longer than I thought! The king will be angry with me for being so tardy.
[Irish Wolfhound enters]
SETANTA: Oh no, what a huge ferocious monster!
[Setanta and the Irish Wolfhound fight]
[King, Culainn, and Cathbad enter]
CULAINN: What is going on?
KING: Alas! I just remembered that my nephew was to join us! He shall surely be rent to bits by your hound!
[Setanta is victorious and the Irish Wolfhound lies down]
KING: Have you ever seen such a thing? A six year old boy has slain your savage hound!
CULAINN: Oh ill luck! Little boy, you have killed a good member of my family! He was my loyal friend and the safeguard of my house, my herds, and my flocks!
SETANTA: Be not angered, for in this matter I shall pronounce a just reward.
CULAINN: And what would that be?
SETANTA: I shall find a whelp of a dog from this hound’s family and nuture it and train it until he is as fit as your hound was for this job. And until then, I shall be your guard hound and protect your house and your herds and your flocks.
KING: That is indeed a just reward.
CATHBAD: I could hardly have thought of better justice myself. Such honour is in this boy! From this day forward, let the world know you as the Hound of Culainn… I name you Cú Chulainn!
KING: Wonderful! Come let us rejoin the feast!
[CATHBAD and CC enter from opposite directions]
CATHBAD: Unless my aging eyes deceive me, can this be the lad Cú Chulainn?
CC: It is indeed, Master Druid. The smith Culainn finally has his new guard hound and so I have returned to the castle to seek out my uncle the king.
CATHBAD: And how long has it been now since? It must have been three turns of the wheel of the year.
CC: To the very day, for it is the Fall Equinox once more and again.
CATHBAD: Indeed. It is good to see you again lad, but I mustn’t tarry. I have class to teach anon but first I must go and perform some divinations. There are omens in the air. But you should come to class later today; you have spent too long guarding sheep and likely know not your letters.
CC: I shall attend to your class after I have spoken to my uncle. Until later.
[Cathbad & CC exits]
[Student enters and sits down. Cathbad enters.]
CATHBAD: Good morning class.
STUDENT: Good morning Master Cathbad.
CATHBAD: Let us take out our text books and read chapter three on the meaning of the equinox.
[Student opens a book and starts to read]
[Enter CC, but not quite in the scene]
CC: Ah, I am late for class on the first day! Cathbad will make me rue this!
CATHBAD: Now, class, it is the Fall Equinox and I have taken the omens. The gods tell me that today shall be a most auspicious day.
STUDENT: Why shall it be a most auspicious day, sir?
CATHBAD: The great red goddess Morrigan has decreed that the first warrior who takes up arms this day shall be the mightiest warrior of all.
CC: Oh! I must be sure that this is me! I must run to the king and get him to give me a sword!
CATHBAD: But… the Morrigan has also decreed that this warrior shall also be short lived, like a fiery arrow that streaks across the sky and pierces a lake. But now, we must cut the class short for I must consult with the King.
[The King enters.]
KING: Ah, the Fall Equinox, when the trees of Ulster turn to gold and red. Such a beautiful and melancholy sight. The year turns and turns again. A man is born in the green spring and sees his own equinox as his hair turns grey with the wisdom born from summers past.
KING: Yes m’lad? Shouldn’t you be in school now?
CC: I have no time for learning! I must have a sword — today! Willst you give me one?
KING: (chuckles) No time for learning. Ah, the young. Very well. Guard! Bring my nephew a sword!
[Guard enters carrying a toy sword]
GUARD: Here you are, a sword fit for a lad!
CC: (tries a few practice swings) This is not a sword! This is a plaything! Please uncle, make him give me a real sword!
KING: Very well, do bring him a real sword.
[Guard leaves and returns with sword]
GUARD: Now you be careful with this, young man.
CC: Now I am truly a warrior!
CATHBAD: What is this? Why have you a sword, Cú Chulainn?
CC: I heard your omen earlier, Master Druid, that the first man to take up arms this day shall be the greatest warrior in history.
CATHBAD: Indeed? And did you also hear that the life of this same warrior shall be as short and fleeting as it is famous?
KING: My nephew, if this is true tell me what use is it to be mighty if you will not live to see your autumn years? You should return the sword at once!
CC: By the Gods, I shall not. I pledge this sword to the service of the Battle Raven, and I care not whether I live to see midsummer so long as the fame of my deeds endure!
KING: Well then, if you are to be a warrior you must be trained! Guard, see to my nephew’s training.
GUARD: Aye lord. Come along, lad.