Chu Chulainn and Jesus

On lists where Chu Chulainn of Ireland is given as a source for Jesus, only his name is given; nothing is said about his life or deeds, though the paragraph introducing the list says that those on it shared attributes of Christ such as being virgin-born. For a savior and a son of God, though, old Chu Chu seems a mite underpublicized. I found no reference to him in a dozen books on Irish/Celtic mythology/history. For this one, I had to turn to the Web for information, and here's what we have:

From (now defunct):

The old Irish epic The Tain (or "Cattle-Raid") tells how Chu Chulainn, the great Irish warrior, still boiling with this martial heat, his hero-halo like a ring of fire around his head, returned to Ulster from his first battle with the bloody heads of the three brothers he had just killed hanging from his chariot.
Seeing that he was still in his battle frenzy, the watchman cried out, "If he comes on us with his anger still upon him, the best men of Ulster will fall by his hand." Then the people of Ulster took quick council and agreed "to send out three fifties of the women of Emain red-naked to meet him."
Taken aback, Chu Chulainn "hid his countenance. Immediately the warriors of Emain seized him and plunged him in a vat of cold water. That vat burst asunder about him. Then he was seized and thrust in another vat and it boiled with bubbles the size of fists. He was at last placed in a third vat and warmed it till its heat and cold were equal. Only then was he cooled enough to return safely to the world." (Thomas Kinsella, translator, "The Tain", Oxford, 1971)

That sounded awful Jesus-like, didn't it? Maybe all Jesus needed was a cold bath after that frenzy in the temple. Let's try another.

From (also now defunct):

"The Tragic Death of Cu Roi mac Dairi" is one of a group of sagas which feature this half-demonic person with magic powers. There are numerous versions of it in early Irish and it is echoed in stories in Wales and even in Belgium. At first Cu Roi was allied with the great hero Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster. But after a ferocious battle in Scotland, when they were dividing the plunder, they did not give the magician Cu Roi his fair share. Although Cu Roi was, by right, able to claim as his reward the lovely lady Blathnad, Cu Chulainn wanted the woman for himself. When Cu Chulainn would not agree to turn his lover over to Cu Roi, the magician turned upon him, thrust him into the earth to his armpits, cropped his hair with his sword, rubbed cow-dung into his head, and then went home to his fort on top of the mountain. He took Blathnad with him and married her.
His fortress was impregnable. Not only was it situated on this forbidding, isolated mountaintop, but it was also guarded by Cu Roi's magical powers. At night, when he slept, he was able to make the fort spin around and around, confounding his enemies.
But Blathnad's love for Cu Chulainn was greater than the evil Cu Roi's magic. After Cu Chulainn's hair grew back and he regained his courage, they plotted the demise of Cu Roi.
Blathnad flattered her husband by telling him that the construction of the fort was not suitable for one as great as he. So the magician sent his warriors out to gather more stones so that the fort could be enlarged. While the fort was undefended, Blathnad hid Cu Roi's weapons. As he slept, she poured milk into the stream that runs down the mountain. Cu Chulainn and his men, camping in the valley below, saw the stream turn white, and knew that the time to attack had arrived.
They rushed up the mountain with a roar, and killed the evil magician. Blathnad and Cu Chulainn were reunited. (They didn't live happily ever after, but that's another story.)

Hey, that gives new meaning to "shave and a haircut," doesn't it? And Pilate should have tried that spinning stuff with the Antonia Fortress. Some other tidbits I found: C7hu's special day is June 23 (not Dec. 25). He may be related to legends of the Green Man and Robin Hood. Do we get the picture? Chu Chu is about as much as savior-figure as is Superman, maybe fitting under the category of "did impressive stuff to help people", but not much else.


Update from an Interested Party

And now an update. I recently received a helpful letter from a person with a keen interest in Celtic myths. He offered the following observations, all, he acknowledges, from memory:

As the first of the excerpts you quote mentions, the 'Tain bo Cuilgne' or "Cattle Raid of Coolney" is the primary source for our knowledge of Cu Chulainn, and the Thomas Kinsella translation/edition is by far the best modern treatment of it. (Unfortunately, while I'm writing this email from home, my Kinsella 'Tain' is at my office! So I'll have to be vague on a few details, and might perhaps make a few minor mistakes of memory.) While the 'Tain' (pronounced "tawn", approximately) itself covers only one major episode of Cu Chulainn's life (think of it as a parallel with 'The Twelve Labours of Heracles'--he did a bunch of other stuff, but it's the 12 Labours he's famous for), it is usually printed along with the other smaller writings such as 'The Contest of the Two Pigherds' episode which provides the background for the cattle raid, or 'The Youth of Cu Chulainn' which fills us in on his personal background.
Cu grew up to be the mightiest warrior for King Conchobhar of Ulaid, which is usually translated as 'Ulster' (while not corresponding 100%, it was the historical basis for what later became Ulster). The warriors of Ulaid were called the Red Branch; it's not strictly speaking proper to call them the army of Ulaid, as they were as much a bunch of individualists as Jason's crew on the Argo in Classical mythology, without any real organisation to speak of. Quite a few of them had individual myths about them; Cu was "merely" the best and brightest of the lot. Fergus was the acknowledged leader of the Red Branch, but even he didn't boss Cu around much.
Cu could work what I guess Graves might call "miracles", although they were almost all of martial type: he could run along the blade of a sword, for instance, or throw a spear so hard it could pierce a tree as well as a man hiding behind the tree; that sort of thing. He could knock a hurling ball a mile, and then run and catch it on his hurley before it hit the ground. Regular Heracles stuff; no healing, no raising the dead, no feeding thousands on a few fish. He was a "saviour" (as per Graves' title) only in the sense of a military "salvation"--the famous cattle raid was an attempt by Queen Mebh ('Maeve' in modern spelling) of Connaught to grab a more-or-less miraculous bull from Ulaid, and Cu winds up defeating the Connaught army pretty much single-handedly. Not what you call your general Christ-figure.
The only way to work 'Crucified' (again, as per Graves' title) into Cu's story is to be extremely broad-minded. During Cu's last fight (which the Celtic magic/ warrior goddess The Morrighan [prototype of Arthur's Morgan le Fay, by the way] had already told him would be his final and fatal fight), against a huge army, he had his charioteer tie him standing to a rock (assuming a rather pillar-shaped rock) so that his foes wouldn't know how badly wounded he was. And he stayed there tied to that rock, with the army too scared to approach him, until finally a raven (The Morrighan's most common animal form) perched on his head and started picking at his eyes. When he made no move, a "hero" from the other side launched a spear into him to prove he was dead (notice, this was not done out of convenience, vis-a-vis "Longinus" at Christ's crucifixion, but rather because nobody wanted to get within sword-reach of him until they knew for sure that he was dead). He was honored as a great warrior even by his enemies, but he was dead nonetheless. No burial in a borrowed tomb, no resurrection, no ascension into Heaven. The closest parallel I can think of for it is the final act of El Cid in Spanish mytho-history, when he had his dead body tied sitting in his saddle and "rode" out against the army beseiging his city.
There's a great statue of the dying Cu in Dublin's General Post Office (GPO), which was the rebels' headquarters during the 1916 Easter Rising which more-or- less led to the final successful secession of most of Ireland from the UK.
One of the more intesting/strange/downright peculiar aspects of the Cu legends, if you know your recent Irish history, is that both the Nationalists and the Union- ists try to maintain Cu as a mythic prototype for their side! The Nationalists because he was the major Celtic warrior-figure; the Unionists because he was the great defender of what they identify as their own Ulster against the "Irish" army of Connaught. Imagine, if you will, both Jews and Palestinians claiming Joshua or someone as "their" particular hero-figure! The mind fair boggles.

Our expert also provided this on Chu Chu's birth:

"The men of Ulster pressed on until they reached Brug on the Boann river [1], and night overtook them there. It snowed heavily upon them, and Conchobor [king of Ulaid/Ulster] told his people to unyoke their chariots [2] and start looking for a shelter. Conall and Bricriu [two warriors of the Red Branch] searched about and found a solitary house, newly built. They went up to it and found a couple there and were made welcome. But when they returned to their people, Bricriu [3] said it was useless to go there unless they brought their own food and set the table themselves--that even so it would be meagre enough [4]. Nevertheless, they went there with all their chariots, and crowded with difficulty into the house....
"Later, the man of the house told them his wife was in her birth-pangs in the store-room. Deichtine [sister of Conchobor] went in to her and helped her bear a son. At the same time a mare at the door of the house gave birth to two foals. The Ulstermen took charge of the baby boy and gave him the foals as a present [5], and Deichtine nursed him.
"When morning came there was nothing to be seen eastward of the Brug--no house, no birds--only their own horses, the baby and the foals. They went back to Emain [Emain Macha, the capital of Ulaid] and reared the baby until he was a boy.
"He caught an illness then, and died. And they made a lamentation for him, and Deichtine's grief was great at the loss of her foster-son. She came home from lamenting him and grew thirsty and asked for a drink, and the drink was brought in a cup. She set it to her lips to drink from it and a tiny creature slipped into her mouth with the liquid. As she took the cup from her lips she swallowed the creature and it vanished.
"She slept that night and dreamed that a man came toward her and spoke to her, saying she would bear a child by him--that it was he who had brought her to the Brug to sleep with her there [6], that the boy she had reared was his, that he was again planted in her womb and was to be called Setanta, that he himself was Lug mac Ethnenn [Lug[h] Lamfada elsewhere], and that the foals should be reared with the boy. [7]
"The woman grew heavy with a child, and the people of Ulster made much of not knowing its father, saying it might have been Conchobor himself, in his drunkenness, that night she had stayed with him at the Brug.
"Then Conchobor gave his sister in marriage to Suldam mac Roich. She was ashamed to go pregnant to bed with her husband, and got sick when she reached the bedstead. The living thing spilled away in the sickness, and so she was made virgin [8] and whole and went to her husband. She grew preg- nant again and bore a son, and called him Setanta."
My notes:
[1] Often spelled Brugh-na-Boyne, this is the prehistoric tomb Newgrange on the Boyne River, which in Celtic mythology usually was associated with Dagda rather than Lugh.
[2] Not really relavent to the story, but it's extremely curious how this and so many other Irish myths and legends refer to the chariot culture of the Celts, when not one single chariot or piece of chariot gear has been found in the archaeology! However, recently a couple of bog trackways have been discovered that might have been made for chariots.
[3] Bricriu was the troublemaker of the Red Branch, similar to the position held by Hermes/Mercury in classical mythology or Loki in Norse.
[4] In all of Celtic culture and mythology (not just Irish), hospitality for guests was a primary concern, and not providing a decent table when guests arrived was a shocking omission. This just ties in later with the revelation that the house and people weren't real.
[5] Obviously, the mare was one of the Red Branch chariot horses rather than belonging to the "man" of the house. Not that the charioteers would have harnessed a mare that late in pregnancy; it's a miraculous occurrence coincident with the boy's birth.
[6] Lug[h] here claims that he slept with Deichtine at the Brug, although earlier in the story there is no mention of it. So there was intercourse of a kind, although it obviously is more mystical than not.
[7] The foals would later become CuChulainn's prized chariot team.
[8] Note that "she was made virgin"--she was not a virgin continuously until Setanta's birth, as was Mary with Christ. She became pregnant through swallow- ing a "little creature"--and so large with it that people were talking--then threw up the "creature" and became a virgin again, then was impregnated by her husband, then gave birth to Setanta. Meanwhile, from his point of view, he was born to some fantasy-woman conjured by Lug[h] and raised for at least several years by Deichtine, then died, then was a fetus in Deichtine's womb but was 'aborted' when she got sick, then was conceived again and was born to Deichtine and Suldam. All in all, hardly a parallel to the Bethlehem story, which was my ori ginal point.