The Crane-Bag

08 Feb

A poem from the Duanaire Finn, ‘The Poem-Book of Finn’. There’s a huge amount of interest in these poems, not least this one here, which describes the magical crane-bag of Manannán: Aoife, the daughter of Delbaeth, had been turned into a crane by the jealous Iuchra, and she went to live in Manannán’s household until she died. Manannán made the magical bag out of her skin, and it held many things and passed through many hands – some of which are detailed below.

The poem is not complete, but illuminating nonetheless.

I have a question for thee, Caoilte, man of the interchanged weapons: to whom did the good Crane-bag belong that Cumhall son of Treanmhor had?

A crane that belonged to gentle Manannan — it was a treasure of power with many virtues — from its skin, strange thing to prize — from it was made the Crane-bag.

Tell us what was the crane, my Caoilte of many exploits, or, tell us, man, why its skin was put about the treasures.

Aoife, daughter of dear Dealbhaoth, sweetheart of Ilbhreac of many beauties — both she and luchra of comely hue fell in love with the man.

luchra, enraged, beguiled Aoife to come swimming, it was no happy visit: when she drove her fiercely forth in the form of a crane over the moorlands.

Aoife then demanded of the beautiful daughter of Abhartach: ‘How long am I to be in this form, woman, beautiful breast-white luchra?’

‘The term I will fix will not be short for thee, Aoife of the slow-glancing eyes: thou shalt be two hundred white years in the noble house of Manannan.

‘Thou shalt be always in that house with everyone mocking thee, a crane that does not visit every land: thou shalt not reach any land.

‘A good vessel of treasures will be made of thy skin — no small event: its name shall be — I do not lie — in distant times the Crane-bag.’

Manannan made this of the skin when she died: afterwards in truth it held every precious thing he had.

The shirt of Manannan and his knife, and Goibhne’s girdle, altogether: a smith’s hook from the fierce man: were treasures that the Crane-bag held.

The King of Scotland’s shears full sure, and the King of Lochlainn’s helmet, these were in it to be told of, and the bones of Asal’s swine.

A girdle of the great whale’s back was in the shapely Crane-bag: I will tell thee without harm, it used to be carried in it.

When the sea was full, its treasures were visible in its middle: when the fierce sea was in ebb, the Crane-bag in turn was empty.

There thou hast it, noble Oisin, how this thing itself was made: and now I shall tell its faring, its happenings.

Long time the Crane-bag belonged to heroic Lugh Long-arm: till at last the king was slain by the sons of Cearmaid Honey-mouth.

To them next the Crane-bag belonged after him, till the three, though active, fell by the great sons of Mile.

Manannan came without weariness, carried off the Crane-bag again; he showed it to no man till the time of Conaire came.

Comely Conaire slept on the side of Tara of the plains: when the cunning well-made man awoke, the Crane-bag was found about his neck. Etc.

MacNeill, Duanaire Finn: The Book of the Lays of Finn, 1908, pp118-120.


Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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3 responses to “The Crane-Bag

  1. greycatsidhe

    February 9, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Reblogged this on The Ditzy Druid and commented:
    A poem about the origins of crane bags. I had heard of it before but never seen it until now. This is very interesting!

  2. Kathryn Price NicDhàna

    April 24, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    I think it’s very important for Neopagans who think The Crane Bag is some kind of “Celtic Medicine Bag” to read this. The idea that a non-Native person should create their fantasy version of a medicine bag, based on what they think Natives do – but it’s not [i]really[/i] appropriation if you call it “a Crane Bag!” – came into the Neopagan community via newage author and appropriator of Native ways, Englishman John Matthews. Just like Matthews thinks it’s OK to sell fake Inipi ceremonies, but if you toss a knotwork blanket on the top and call it by a misrepresented Irish term for “sweat house,” no one will notice. Before Matthews published his early writings on “Celtic Shamanism”[sic], starting the Celtique Shamynne trend, no one called an amulet bag (let alone a real medicine bag) “a crane bag.”

    The actual Crane Bag is a sacred object that belongs to a god: Manannán. It is large enough (at least on the inside) to hold a shirt, and a knife, plus other large objects. A small Neopagan amulet bag is not a Crane Bag, and to call it such is rather silly and disrespectful to the real one, as well as to Aoife and Manannán themselves.

    Matthews’ distortion of this myth (and many others), combined with misappropriation of Native American ways – or, more accurately, his outsider fantasies thereof – is a prime example of the things that have now found their way into mainstream Neopagan practice without most people even knowing that it’s a misappropriation and misrepresentation. But to mangle the terminology and cultures this way is offensive to both Gaelic and Native cultures, even if the offense is done out of ignorance.

    Mòran Taing for posting the true origins, and preserving the real stories.


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