Aengus was the god of love and poetry in mythological times in Ireland; appropriately enough for Aengus began his own life as a love child.
His father, The Dagda, supreme being of the Tuatha Dé Danann, rulers of Ireland, in mythological times illicitly loved Boann, who was the wife of Nechtan.
To hide their romance, on discovering that Boann was with child, The Dagda caused the sun to stand still for nine months; so Aengus was conceived, carried, and born in one day.
Subjects and gods then lived the reality of mythical existence.
That they were gods and had magical powers added to the wonderment of what happened when the adult Aengus was troubled in his sleep and a form appeared before him that would change everything, forever.
A beautiful young woman of his own age stepped into the shadows of his bedroom.
She did not speak, nor, did she approach his bed.
An enthralled Aengus did not speak; for he was afraid she would disappear.
The girl sang a song he had not heard before. It was so enchanting he was certain it had been heard by no other, in this world.
She sang another and another, each more beautiful than before. The short night passed so easily that Aengus did not notice dawn had washed the world clean, once more, while he listened.
But if night was gone, so too was the girl of the night.
Enchantment carried him thorough the day and lifted his step. Though he had not closed his eyelids even once, he was not tired, at all.
Nightime found him in early repose once more, hoping with all his sensitivities that the apparition would re-visit him.
He was already intoxicated with love.
When she came, her songs were as enchanting as their sisters of only last evening. The girl sang softly through the night, never visiting the same song twice.
She left with the dawn of a new day.
Each night thereafter she came to Aengus, never speaking, never drawing closer. She brought enchantment. At each first light, she was gone.
They continued thus every night for a year; neither spoke, neither moved closer.
In daylight, Aengus could no longer converse about any matter whatsoever without smiling at everyone he met. He did not behave like any normal person.
He no longer had need for food, nor rest.
He described her to everyone he met. None could offer any idea as to her identity nor why she had chosen to visit Aengus.
Then, on one night of suffocating silence, she did not appear, though he stared and stared at the door until there was no sight left in his eyes.
Aengus stopped eating food, he stopped drinking liquids, he would do no work nor would he hunt nor participate in any of the activities of his peers.
Physicians were called to attend him as he faded away. None could restore him to his normal self. A year passed when the best doctors failed to restore Aengus to health. Then, Boann, his mother, arrived with the wisest old doctor in the entire country.
The old physician declared there was nothing medically wrong with Aengus, that he could discover; but he asked to speak with Aengus alone. Aengus told him he become listless in his living when the girl failed to visit his room. The doctor declared that all the ills besetting Aengus would disappear as soon as the girl was located.
Boann, growing more alarmed with each passing day, and the decline of Aengus, sent her people to search every corner of Ireland seeking this girl. She declared that if Aengus said the girl existed then they should return her to the side of Aengus.
Nonetheless, another year passed with as little success as the previous one in finding the elusive girl of his dreams. In desperation, Boann arranged to visit The Dagda her lover and the father of their child. If anyone had the power to find this girl then it was The Dagda who had the most magical powers of anyone.
But, The Dagda refused to be a party to the quest; for it would diminish his standing when he was unsuccessful in his search for a woman that only lived in imagination. However, Boann prevailed and said he must do something; for Aengus who was their son.
Relenting, The Dagda issued orders that the girl be found no matter how far had to be travelled or how long the journey might be, or what hardship was to be endured to find her.
Word spread throughout Ireland that to please The Dagda the girl must be found.
She must also be found to avoid his woeful wrath should she not be discovered before Aengus expired of love.
Almost another year passed before word came back from Bodb Derg of Munster that the girl had been found. Bodb Derg was a son of The Dagda and therefore a half-brother of Aengus.
Bodb Derg sent word that the girl’s name was Caer and that she and her companions had been placed under a spell by an enemy of their family. She and her friends were transformed each Samhain into a huge flock of swans which rose up on November 1 from a lake across the country from where Aengus dwelt. They flew away in pairs for a twelvemonth across the whole of the island, only to return to the self same lake one year later, where they were restored to their earthly form.
However, the transformation would last just one year, when on the anniversary of the spell being imposed they would change into swans once more.
When Aengus was informed of this he arose from his despair and called his own people to him.
The days were few before the swans would take off from the surface of the lake for a year away from their earthly forms.
They prepared, they departed, they made as much haste as it was possible to make; for the roads at that time were but poor rutted thoroughfares that followed old animal tracks. As the animals had wandered so too did the roads and trails of humans, in their wake.
They arrived at the lake on the day before Samhain, Hallowe’en as it is now called. They spread out to find the girl. There were 50 girls of her age in one place, 50 more in another place and a group with a similar number by the water’s edge. They stood in pairs, each pair joined one to the other by a silver chain that was more like jewellery than a binding chain. One alone wore a gold necklace and it was to her that Aengus walked, as if in a dream.
He spoke to her for the first time: “You are Caer.”
“Yes.” Her voice was as beautiful as his memory of her presence in his room and his mind.
“I waited for you, I waited every night, You never came, ever. Where did you go… why?”
“I wanted to come to you with all my heart; but I am under a spell here with my friends, I was kept from you by the spell. I cannot go with you now for tomorrow we become swans and fly away for a full year; but if you come here to this place in one year’s time I will leave the water and come with you for a year of days and nights and I will be your love.”
Afterwards, Aengus wondered why on earth he had agreed to such an arrangement that would see him parted once more from Caer, the girl of his dreams.
On the following day, the pairs entered the water, one after the other. They became swans as their earthly bodies slipped lower beneath the surface.
When all swans were upon the lake they swam away, faster and faster until they rose from the water to become graceful birds who peeled away in different directions.
They flew in a blur of white, away and away, until the blue sky was clear once more. Aengus turned away to return home. His entourage followed him in silence, lest by speaking they might interfere with his thoughts and longings.
His demeanour changed from that moment on. His step quickened, his head rode higher in the air, his back grew sturdy once more. A year passed by in a blink of an eye.
When the anniversary of his parting from Caer arrived he was standing by the lakeside. He watched as each pair of swans came down from the sky to land safely and to bob gently on their home waters.
Aengus walked to the water’s edge and spoke to the only white swan with a trace of gold across its breast.
“You are Caer,” he said.
“You must wait until tomorrow, Aengus,” she replied. “From tomorrow we will be together as man and woman for a full year. I have thought of nothing else this twelvemonth.”
But, Aengus said: “I will not wait a year to be with you. I am a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann; I too have my own magical powers that will break the spell that you are under.”
Many people through the centuries on hearing this story for the first time believed that Aengus would change Caer back into a living person to be with him from that time onward.
Instead, to the surprise of all he stepped into the water and as he sank lower and lower he too became a swan that moved to stay by Caer’s side.
Caer and Aengus.
They swam the length of the lake, rising as one to fly away together, higher and higher.
Those beneath their flight path said that heavenly harp music floated down as they passed over.
It was said that those who heard this music slept for three days and three nights only to arise refreshed and as new to the world as if they were born all over again.
To this day, there are people in Ireland walking by lake shore or water’s edge who will raise their head at the sound of a pair of approaching swans.
They await Aengus and Caer.
© Brendan Nolan