‘It (the island) lies like a bird on the water. You see it from end to end, and from water's edge to topmost peak, often enshrouded in mists, a dim ghost on a grey sea; sometimes purple against the setting sun.’ - Hall Caine, The Little Manx Nation
The sea is ever present in the Manx consciousness, reflected in the culture, in the myth of Manannan. Manannan Mac Lir (the epithet, translates as ‘son of the sea’) is a Celtic sea deity eponymous with the Isle of Man.
He is a fascinating biospheric spirit, with a boat, Scuabtuinne (Wave Sweeper), a sea borne chariot, drawn by his horse, Enbarr of flowing mane. Manannan is also associated with regeneration and the Triskelion symbol of the Island. In traditional Manx ballads, Manannan is celebrated as the first Ruler of Mann, with his stronghold on the mountain of South Barrule and as a magician who creates an illusory fleet to ward off invaders.
The Manx people offer him a tribute of rushes on Mid-Summer’s Eve for his patronage and protection. Manannan is a legend that takes you on a journey through the labyrinth of ecology, culture and literature.
According to Manx myth, Manannan renders the Island invisible to invaders by enveloping it in his colour-changing, cloak of mists. Experts tell me that the meteorological term for the phenomenon (Manannan’s cloak) is ‘advection fog’, which occurs at sea, when moist air comes into contact with a cooler surface, resulting in a suspension of water particles.
This natural spectacle of sea-mist receives a sprinkling of enchantment from the islanders, who call it Manannan’s Cloak. With Welsh, Irish and Greek counterparts, Manannan has many enigmatic avatars to enchant any avant garde myth lover – among them guardian of the otherworld and psychopomp, a deity who guides deceased souls to afterlife; the last attribute striking a chord with the Hindu concept of reincarnation.
To a Hindu with 33 million Gods, Manannan is one more; weaving his narrative between the personal and mythical. Thus, my first poetry collection On Manannan’s Isle, has this unlikely title for an ethnic poet. I am a Hindu, a pantheist, worshipper of the many manifestations of one God. Elemental gods in the Hindu pantheon include Varuna, god of the sea; Ushas, my namesake, goddess of dawn; Vayu, god of the wind, and Indra, god of lightning, thunder and rain. Bearing all these gods, I arrived on the Isle of Man and met Manannan Mac Lir, elemental spirit of water, the living space that surrounds the Island. To me, Manannan is a living myth. I see him in the mists, I hear him in the storms; I feel his presence in the mountains.
Usha Kishore is an internationally published poet and translator and an English teacher at Queen Elizabeth II High School. Her third poetry collection, Immigrant was published in March 2018 by Eyewear Publishing, London. Usha is currently a Research Scholar in Postcolonial Poetry at Edinburgh Napier University.