Sunday, July 13, 2008

Green Tara

Since I posted about Buddhism two entries back and the Green Party one (and the one following this elaborates in Irish & English the place-name definitions proposed for "Tara" concisely), why not Green Tara? I keep wondering about the obvious Celtic resonance. Is it logical, based in Sanskrit foundations for Irish, or merely a homophonic happenstance? Reading Francesca Fremantle's demanding but rewarding commentary "Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead," I wondered again about whether it's a false etymology between Ireland's holy hill and Asia's blessed bodhisattva.

As a relevant aside, I also know the dangers of such verbal associations. I have always loved the type of medieval misinformation that led to erroneous connections such as Brit=covenant and Ish=Man, so British=Covenant Man, e.g. British Israelites as from the lost tribe(s). I even have a few BI tracts for their inherent off-beat pseudo-scholarship as well as their cautionary tales of enthusiasm pursued without proper linguistic skill, religious knowledge, or commonsensical foundations. There used to be Herbert W. and later Ted Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God up the freeway a few miles, that preached lucratively (if for a while mid-century only) this doctrine as its evangelical mission. They later abandoned it, and closed what had become its own profitable church campus, for a cool real estate deal to pay off their debt as the sect declined. British Israelism was first propounded by one John Wilson-- whom I have found cited as an Ulsterman but whose Wikipedia entry makes him born in Kilmarnock, Scotland in 1799-- who studied at Trinity College and then published his lectures in 1840. It's rather tedious in the tendentious support rallied for dubious claims, and I recall an early Net-discussion list on Celtica circa '95 that became derailed by endless trolling and sniping over its flimsy if entertainingly coincidental tenets.

Getting back to Tara, I did a bit of research years ago into an unsavory Loyalist paramilitary organization of this name that skulked about in the late '60s and early '70s, seeking in its Proclamation to make the Catholic Church in the North of Ireland illegal. Its leader later earned karmic payback for his role in the pedophile Kincora House scandal. A horrible situation, best left tacit. This tiny cadre espoused BI as part of its anti-Papist fulminations as they prepared, guns amassed, for the end-time.

BI activists, as Mairead Carew recently documented, a century ago excavated the ancient place of king-making. They did a lot of damage. Today, digging by not a misguided amateur's shovels but bulldozers looms large. Tara, the site, you may know is under threat by the M3 motorway that would shave a few minutes off of commutes into Dublin from the exurbanizing Co Meath countryside. You can see how much or little the island's cultural heritage matters. It's been placed on UNESCO's hundred-most endangered sites in the world, if that's any help, but the connivance of Fianna Fáil (ironic, these names) in getting the Irish Greens to do FF's dirty work in backing this construction in return for a place in their coalition spatters both parties with lots of muck. (This cautionary tale, contrasted with yesterday's post berating America's Green Party for their self-exile among the perpetual minor leaguers!) You can see Tara's "Lia Fáil" phallic stone that kings touched when they were crowned, erect, and circle it vicariously while St. Patrick's statue watches behind his cage. "A fence around the Tara" (rabbinical pun!): 360-degree Tara View. Here's more about the Tara-Skyrne campaign: Tara

Not to be confused with, which seeks to protect an historic home in West Hollywood, in turn perhaps named for some "Gone with the Wind" tie-in from the '30s! Certainly this name's an evocative and popular one, as Wikipedia's "Tara" entries reveal. Back to the word search, what have I found? She means "star" in Sanskrit; her Hindu shape's red, terrifying, and vengeful. Her consort's Shiva; her ally Kali, so she's no shrinking violet, as this mantra warns from the entry of her as "Tara (Devi)":

The dhyana mantra of Tara in her form as Nila-saraswati in the Tantrasara is as follows.

I bow to you mother Nilasarasvati. You give well-being and auspiciousness. You are situated on the heart of a corpse and are advancing aggressively. You have three fearful, bright eyes. You carry a skull bowl, scissors and a sword. Your form shines like a blazing fire. Give me refuge. Give me golden speech. Please let your gracious nectar drench my heart, remover of pride. You wear a tiger skin as a skirt and a garland of chopped off heads. You are frightening and remove fear.

Luckily, among Buddhists, Tara's a "buddha of enlightened activity." She's calmer, in her white or green guises. Fremantle defines as Samaya-Tara what the Wiki writer deemed a "saviouress" ready and eager to assist any of us in her maternal manifestation. Feminists, according to the Dalai Lama as quoted in the Wikipedia entry for "Tara (Buddhism)," have embraced her balance of action and compassion, energy and sympathy. They claim her name today means "liberator." She's also recommmended for interceding for those like myself who can't get extricated from this mind-body duality that keeps us from understanding the likes of Fremantle.

As this tale via the lengthy entry on her at Khandro.Net on Tara puts it, she vowed:
Those who wish to attain supreme enlightenment in a man's body are many, but those who wish to serve the aims of beings in a woman's body are few indeed; therefore may I, until this world is emptied out serve the aims of beings with none but a woman's body.

I've learned that the frequent iconographical union of male and female depicted-- she on his lap, curled ambitiously around his torso-- represents the male as the conveyor of "skillful wisdom" and compassion into the female's action and emptiness, so Tara's mix of both gendered characteristics into spirited "active compassion" indeed makes her a model for savvy and sexy women-- and their blissfully yoked men.

But, back I pull to that evocative, simple name. Dharmachari Purna, in Western Buddhist Review 2, comments in "Tara: Her Origins and Development":
There have been claims of Buddhist links with ancient Ireland, principally through the Budh's hills in Tyrone and Mayo and particularly with the sacred Tara Hill in Meath, the 'centre of Druidical song and power, the seat of ancient royalty'.[23] 'Tara' is now an Irish female name. There have also been claims of links with the Gaulish Taranis (Jupiter) and the Etruscan Taran. Apparently ancient Athens celebrated the festival of Taramata (Mother Tara).[24] However, many of these links seem tenuous and may have nothing in common with the Indian figure of Taaraa, other than the similarity of name.

Purna earlier defines "Tara" coming from the Sanskrit which we can hear echoed in "star." She's also the Nepalese Bhrkuti, wife of Tibet's first great religious king, Songtsen Gambo (d. 649), and credited with the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet and China. Some call her the national patroness of Tibet. Buddhists adopted her from the Hindu tradition, yet softened her step. He adds that Buddhists (as in the vajrayana teachings which Fremantle transmits) tend to favor the word's more transitive idea:
However, the more popular approach ( is to interpret Taaraa's name as coming from the causative form of the verb t.'r 'to cross', 'to traverse' or 'to escape'. So we reach the idea of 'she who ferries across', 'she who saves' or 'a saviouress'.

The Irish language, according to my Niall Ó Dónaill foclóir, tells me Teamhair teamhair"="eminence" or "hill," pretty occidental, bluntly self-explanatory and lacking the oriental suggestion or multiplicity. Dinneen gives three-quarters of a column to the word's connotations, and intriguingly stresses the notion of assembly on a platform or hill, which plays into the elevated element that in turn reminds me of looking up-- as if at a star, or a celestial crosser. As usual with the once-Jesuit lexicographer, there's more. "Tara Bán"= "a very Tara amongst women, a paragon." This plays into the goddess aspect nicely. You can find out more about scholarly etymologies in my bilingual entry here tomorrow. lists confusingly the boy's and girl's name Tara from the "'Hindi'(Sanskrit)" "rocky hill.". So's the boy's Irish from "rocky hill," but the girl's "Irish" comes from "craggy hillside" while her "Indian" name's from "star, wife of Lord Brihaspati." Any Google search turns up one Tara Reid, Tara protest sites, pagans involved with same, and a Polish RPG forum that told me straight out: "you are forbidden from this site." I guess that was Tara's Hindi manifestation beaming to me from Krakow.

Michael Dames, in "Mythic Ireland," cites for "Temair" the traditional place-name lore, the Metrical Dindshenchas 1:4-6: "the claim of every Tara King to rule over the provincial kings depended entirely on his marriage to the goddess of the island, Medb, at a place named after the goddess Tea, who had died at Tara and imbued the hill with its original sanctity. [n. 66. p. 263 cites MD] Thanks to Tlachtga [Hill of Ward at Knowth-New Grange] and Tea (te, 'hot, lustful, wanton'), Tara remains within the compass of the Uisnech design [of center-stone and four provinces]." (225) While I have particular affection for Dames' book, I'd use it with caution against less passionate but more reticent drudges. Expanding on Alwyn & Brinley Rees' application of the fidcheall chess-like playing board to the grid of ancient Irish provinces and power alliances, in turn elaborated by Julian Cope's "Modern Antiquarian" cadré at Head Heritage, this diagram expands into ley-lines and then neo-Pagan Celtic Reconstuctionism. As a pioneer along these patterns, Dames cites the lore, but I'm unsure if the medievals themselves might have not been led into half-fanciful etymologies.

Anthony Murphy & Richard Moore, nearly two decades after Dames, agree with Téa's nomenclatural legacy (70); they add in "Island of the Setting Sun" a derivation from "Tea-Múr, meaning the 'wall' or 'rampart' of Téa and quote (as n. 39 of p. 98 from Edward Gwynn's MD 1906 "Part 1") what Dames only cited: "Round her house was built a rampart/ by Téa daughter of Lugaid;/ she was buried beyond the wall without/ so that from her is Temair named." They tie in to a site well-named: Mythical Ireland. Links to Tara campaigns can also be found here, and much more.

So, we circle back to Teamhair na Rí, "Tara of the Kings," the royal ground of Queen Medb where her island's high kings mated with her. Ritually, bowdlerized monks and their scholarly heirs suggest. I wonder, given that "intoxicating one's" own rather Hindi-Tara-like reputation. Tara's rule subsides far from her Himalayan-shadowed realm, etymologically or geographically, let alone culturally. Yet, as with the hint of "star" in her name, the Sanskrit suggestion beneath the English utterance, Irish palimpsests trace Indo-European origins five thousand years ago. However, with memories of "star" and "rocky prominence" "raised platform with a splendid free-standing view" and phallic towers, wantonness and eminence, her mingled legacy-- all energy, elevation, and emanation-- certainly echoes six thousand miles from her soundalike deified namesake.

There's a plethora of results for googling "Green Tara;" none conjure that Irish-Tibetan reverie despite being yoga adepts, mantra visualizers, thangka sellers, or purveyors of trinkets along with at least one publisher celebrating unicorns. WildMind Buddhist Meditation Site Green Tara page.
"Tara (Buddhist)" Wikipedia. I searched many places for a thangka (Himalayan style oil) of the Green Goddess, but none leapt out at me from their buddha-nature to ferry me into an awakened state. Tara's supposed to emanate as "a sixteen-year-old girl," but I found no depiction that lissome or illegal. Photo: Renee's Green Tara. Painting: Juan Coronado, "Green Tara," 2004

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