Chapter Three: A World in Your Shell-Like

Seashell ebb music wayriver she flows

The reassembling into renewed order of the dismembered parts of human history, characteristic of Finnegans Wake (Cope 1981:123) and of the collage aesthetic is performed here according to the elemental similitude of those dispersed parts, that is, the physical and metaphorical confluence of the elements of water and stone, their abiding presence. This confluence is seldom more evident than on the seashore.

The cosmological dimensions of the shore zone have also been linked to the location of rock imagery. I draw the location of these carvings within the net of occult philosophy which informs Joyce’s text, notably the Kabbalah, number mysticism, alchemy and the Tarot. Once again this is for the purposes of weaving an analogical field of interpretation and is not about portraying the past “as it really was”.

In Helskog’s investigation of ‘the shore connection’ that links north Scandinavian and Karelian rock art he uses the three tier model of the universe characteristic of certain Siberian shamanic societies to interpret the siting of imagery (1999). In this model the shore becomes a threshold where the dimensions of sky, land and water meet, becoming a zone of transition. Transition, the passage from one state to another, can be conceived in these areas in different ways: in terms of individual transition via ‘rites of passage’ through exposure to the influences of the shore (Helskog 1999:79); through the flux of change in geological time; and the shore’s connection with transitions from one ‘mode of production’ to another, as identified in archaeological discourse on the so-called ‘Mesolithic-Neolithic transition’.

Both places of stone and water were key locations for the transformation, fragmentation, and disposal of the human body in the Neolithic (Fowler and Cumming 2003:8). I suggest that the metaphors of transition and fluidity central to Neolithic understanding of the physical world and personal composition (ibid.:12) were not confined to singular temporal horizons, but have a fluidity which transcends temporal divisions. Hence, the analogies I draw on to interpret rock imagery are consistent with a morphology of time expressed in the form of the fish-trap. Fishtraps embody temporal process and intentions which involve humans, animals, the tides, weather and coastal erosion, and are a form of ‘plastic architecture’ which is the subject of continuous modification, so that ‘the existing shape and size do not reflect the original ‘structure of the trap’ (Bannerman and Jones 1999:76). Whatever the changes, however, fixed fish-traps ‘link the very early hunter-gatherer stranloopers to the near present. They form a continuum’ (ibid.:79), a physical and metaphorical model of simultaneity.This is consonant with the ebb and flow of Finnegans Wake, which, in its title implies the track left by a vessel passing through water. It is a ‘meandertale’ (FW 18.22). or ‘meanderthalltale’ (FW 19.25) in which ‘that pint of porter place’ (FW 260.5-6 ) is the recurrent point of return:

Not olderwise Inn the days of the Bygning would our Traveller remote, unfriended, from van Demon’s Land, some lazy skald or maundering pote … longingly learn that there at the Angel were herberged for him poteen and tea and praties and baccy and wine width woman wordth warbling


In one sense it is a transcription into words of the meander and recursus of the Labyrinth Dance, popular in the courts of Renaissance Europe: ‘a controlled confusion whose essence lies in an interflow where source and goal are indistinguishable’ (Greene 2001:14-19). As an “art of change” (Debord 1994Thesis 189) the baroque, in particular, exuded the negative work of time, “dissolving all attempts by various classicisms to congeal the state of society at a particular moment into a permanent condition of human life” (Jappe 1999:115).

To return to the cosmic crisis which informs the Lurianic kabbalah, the world of ‘shells’ – kelippoth – to which the sparks have fallen lends itself to the analogy of the ‘sea-born’ world of the beach, notably the coasts around the Irish Sea – the Moyle – an area around which a metaphorical association between water and stone has been suggested for the Neolithic (Fowler and Cummings 2003). In alchemical philosophy another name for the prima materia is the ‘Great Sea’. The Great Work of the alchemist entails guiding the materia prima:

Containing opposites still incompatible and in the most violent conflict,… towards a redeemed state of perfect harmony, the healing philosopher’s stone or lapis philosophorum.

(Roob 1997:163).

The ‘Great Sea’ appears as a metaphor for the prima materia drawn on by Paul Klee. He described

how the forms emerging under his hands gradually suggested some real or fantastic subject to his imagination and how he followed these hints when he felt he would help and not hinder his harmonies by completing the image he had ‘found’. It was his that this way of creating images was more ‘true to nature’ than any slavish copy could ever be … It is the same mysterious power that formed the weird shapes of the prehistoric animals, and the fantastic fairyland of the deep sea fauna, which is still active in the artist’s mind and makes his creatures grow.

(Gombrich 1995:578, quoted in Page 2000:115).

The consonance of this process with the continuous ebb and flow of the Wake is illustrated in Klee’s painting, Picture Album (1937) which has condensed and dispersed over its canvas the apronful of elements informing this thesis. Note the kabbalistic symbolism portrayed in the top left-hand corner, as well as geometrical shapes reminiscent of Megalithic art.

 Above.Picture Album, Paul Klee 1937. Compare some of the geometric imagery to the decorated lintel at the Fourknocks passage grave below. (After Hadingham 1974:17­).

The association of animal, water and stone also exists in the iconography of rock art, as well as in the narratives woven around natural features, telling of mythic origins nevertheless embedded in real human activity and social relationships. The entwinement of ontology and social change is drawn out in Alasdair Whittle’s interpretation of a particular motif found carved on Breton menhirs (Whittle 2000). Normally seen as a representation of an axe of Mane Rutual type or an axe-plough, Whittle suggests the motif (Fig 8) could be a representation of a whale, based on the possible significance of whales as mythic creatures in the context of the Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic, the latter two terms tending to be archaeological shorthand for, respectively, a ‘hunter/gatherer’ society and an ‘agricultural’ society. After noting the weakness of models for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition which are based on economic or demographic pressures, the significance of myth in the changing of worldviews is explored via the whale motif and the significance of the whale in the cosmologies of coastal communities (Whittle 2000). Among the Skagit on the North-west coast of North America whales, among other creatures, were regarded as shaman spirit helpers while the lives of the Tikigaq people of Point Hope, Alaska were closely bound up with the whales which migrated past them. (Carlson 1999:42, cited in Whittle 2000:251), Central was the myth that Point Hope itself, jutting into the strait, had once been a whale who, lured to its death by the song of a primal shamanic harpooner in mythic time, lived on as the peninsula (Lowenstein 1993, cited in Whittle 2000:251). This is consonant with the anthropomorphic geography of Finnegans Wake, in which Howth Head is the head of the sleeping giant HCE/Finnegan, ‘A howdrocephalous enlargement’ (FW 310.6) and his wife ALP is the River Liffey, which flows ‘besighed him’ (FW 261:24) into Dublin Bay: They are, in the Wake’s ‘grampurpoise, the manyfathom brinegroom with the fortyinch bride’ (FW 362.8-9). Indeed, the balenic quality of Howth Head, its identity as a whale’s body is alluded to when the head becomes ‘the Narwhealian captol’ (FW: 23.11), a “Norwegian camel old cod” (FW 46.21) that references Camelot and a hump-backed land mammal related to the whale “width that a hole in his tale and that hell of a hull of a hill of a camelump bakk” (FW 323.22-23). Here, at his “residmance of a delugion” (FW 367.24), Earwicker “compiled, while he mourned the flight of his wild guineese, a long list (now feared in part lost) to be kept on file of all abusive names he was called” (FW 71.4-6), including “Hebdromadary Publocation” (FW 71-16). As Whittle points out coastal people “in northwest Europe in both the Mesolithic and Neolithic would surely have seen whales, and encountered them both at sea … and occasionally as beached casualties on land” (ibid.:246). Such an event is recorded in Dublin, (Dublin Annals, in McHugh 1980:13) when a school of turlehide whales were cast ashore in Dublin and recalled in Finnegans Wake:

1132 AD Men like to ants or emmets wondern upon a groot hwide Whallfisk which lay in a Runnel. Blubby wares up at Ublanium

(FW: 13.33-35).

Possible cosmological significance of cetaceans in the ‘mesoneolithic’ can be indicated by the presence not only of Whittle’s postulated whale motif, but by a portion of a vertebra from a large whale forming one side of one of the burial cists at Teviec in Brittany. In Whittle’s account of the ‘neolithicisation’ of Brittany the breaking of the great menhirs (such as that re-used in the decorated tomb at Gavrinis) and the presence in carvings of animal domesticates are signs of this transition: “disassembling and taking him apart…with discrimination for his maypole and a rub in passing over his hump” (FW 358.).

Aquatic mammalian inspiration for the morphology of megalithic structures, barrows and chambered tombs on the shore and the mainland has been advanced by Edward Peterson in connection with possible interactions with the legendary ‘Seal Folk’ or Selkies of Scottish folklore (Peterson 1998). In the context of Scillonian passage graves, it has been proposed that they might be formalisations of the pens that surrounded and protected skin craft (Ashbee 1982:5-6):

Now I suggest to you that ere there was this plagueburrow, as you seem to call it, there was a burialbattell, the boat of millions of years

(FW 479.26).

In this sense such tombs are where HCE “beached the bark of his tale; and set to husband and vine” (FW 358.17).

The encounter between St Patrick and Berkeley in the ‘shore zone’ in which the colours of the spectrum are discussed, occurs in the polyvalent symbol of the Balenoarch (FW 612.27-28), “the sound sense sympol in a weedwayedwold” (FW 612.29), wherein the sound, the signifier, is always becoming inextricable from the sense, the signified; an identification that refutes the familiar Saussurean distinction. The portmanteau word is simultaneously whale (Italian: baleno) and rainbow (Italian: Arcobaleno), an ‘arkway’ which is the visual register of the unity of the elements, fire and water, governed by the sun and moon. In these figures all the opacity of Joyce’s use of numerology, the kabbalah and the Tarot are condensed. Thus, ALP, with her one hundred and eleven children is the aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and, in the gematria used by cabbalists, is given the numerical value 111, according to a system which assigns to each letter the numerical value of the word which is the name of the letter (Ifrah 1998:255). Aleph in Hebrew means ‘ox’ and Beth, the second letter means ‘house’, while the third letter Gimel is ‘camel’ – “it’s as semper as oxhousehumper!” (FW 107.34). Hence the “moppamound” (FW) – Joyce’s spatialisation of all world history as temporalised mappamundi, a world map – is simultaneously the alphabetic burial mound in which is condensed all the activity in the Wake: “this allaphbed! Can you rede (since We and Thou had it out already) its World?” (FW 18.19). The enumeration and description of the rooms and fittings of this “oxhouse”, twenty, eighty-ten, and one reveal the twenty of chambers, weighty ten beds and a wan ceteroom (FW 105.3-4), totalling 111, ALP’s number in the Wake:

For as Anna was at the beginning lives yet and will return after great deap sleap rerising and a white night high with a cows of Drommhiem as shower as there’s a wet in Westwicklow or a little black rose a truant in a thorntree

(FW 277.12-17).

The repetition of the number 1132, as a figure and in various lexically veiled forms, reveals it as a ‘portmanteau number’ (Sterling 1998) that encodes a dialectic of rising and falling, beginnings and endings, and the coincidence of opposites, consistent with the mystical origins of the pairing of the numbers eleven and thirty-two: “after the universal flood, at about aleven thirtytwo was it?” (FW 388.12-13). Furthermore, it aligns multiple meanings according to the combination of words, e.g. “olive-hunkered and thorny too” (FW 274.L). The conjunction of opposites, of beginning and end recurs in the five configurations of the fallen primordial man, constituted and reconstituted in the rise and fall of the tide:

How it did but all come eddaying back to them … after the gouty old galahat, with his peer of quinnyfears and this troad of thirstuns, so nefarious, from his elevation of one yeard one handard and thartytwo lines

(FW 389.21-25).

As Joseph Campbell has observed, this reiterated number recalls Leopold Bloom’s musing on the number 32 as “the number of feet things fall ‘per sec. Per sec.’ The number, therefore of the Fall; whereas 11 is the number of the renewal of the decade, and so of Restoration” (Campbell 1968:259, in Eckley 1974:221). The recollection (erinnerung) of the dismembered parts in the flow of ALP’s “riverrun” ((FW 3.1) into the “commodius vicus of recirculation” of Dublin Bay (FW 3.2) registers as “in or aring or around about the year of buy in disgrace 1132” (FW 391.1-2). The year of disgrace is specified as a day in history in the Wake: “31 Jan. 1132 A.D.” (FW 420.20). It marks the eve of St Brigid’s day on 1 February and the festival of Imbolc on 2 February, also dedicated to her. Joyce was intensely proud of being born on 2 February; he considered St Brigid to be his muse and liked to have his works first issued on 2 February (Sterling 1998). Brigid, or Bride, was born by manifesting from a bucket of milk being carried out of the door by her mother, a milkmaid. As a saint, she is the protectress of dairymaids. As the first abbess of Kildare, she was followed by an unbroken line of abbesses (Sterling 1998). In the Wake the abbey is “St. Bride’s Finishing establishment” (FW 220.3-4 ) for “The Floras”, “a month’s bunch of pretty maidens” (FW 220.4). Numbering 29, they are the ‘leap year girls’, corresponding to the tradition that it was St Brigid who instituted the right of women to propose marriage to men on 29 February. In lexically disguised form 1132 is

Femelles will be preadaminant as from twentyeight to twelve’

(FW 617:23-24).

However, in terms of the severity that precipitates the ‘shattering of the vessels’ 1132 is the year that the Abbess of Kildare was raped, allegedly on the orders of Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster to destroy her sanctity and render her unfit for her office. In this way MacMurrough might enhance his power by imposing in her place a kinswoman of his own (Sterling 1998): ‘2 Milchbroke. Wrongly Spilled’ (FW 420.33). There is also a cosmic reference in the historical breakage and spillage that Joyce weaves in the text, that is, the formation of the Milky Way, a lacteal path which will assume greater significance in this text.

The ‘Opus Elf, Thortytoe: My schemes into obeyance for This time has had to fall (FW 73.15-16) recurrence of the number 1132 throughout the Wake encodes the magical correspondence of the Tarot and the Kabbalah developed by the Order of the Golden Dawn (Douglas 1974:128). Counting the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, the Fool card – paired with aleph in the Hebrew alphabet – is ascribed the number 11, marking the first path between the sephira. 32 is ascribed to the 22nd card – the World card – which represents ‘the perfection and end of the Cosmos, the secret which is within it … the state of the soul in the consciousness of Divine vision’ (Waite 1910:86). The Tarot trumps, or atouts, recur in the Wake alongside playing cards, combining their divinatory and gambling dimensions in a further register of the flux of change in which the mastery of chance and visions of the past, present and future are imbricated:

And so, by long last, as it would shuffle out, must he to trump adieu atout atous to those cardinhands he a big deal missed

(FW 286.8-11).

The Major Arcana are thus dialectical images – revealed in the number 1132 – of a world in continuous becoming, ‘a journey containing its whole meaning within itself’ (Debord 1994, thesis 178), where ‘What will be is. Is is’ (FW 620.32).


The fish-trap draws a different catch with every tide. “Hencetaking tides we haply return, trumpeted by prawns and ensigned with seakale” (FW 261.5-7). Prehistoric shell middens exist on the very edge of this moving world, representing ‘a place of transformation’, where terrestrial resources were transformed into tools prior to their use in the marine environment and marine resources transformed into food ‘prior to its consumption or movement into the terrestrial zone’ (Pollard 1996:203). But the transformative morphology of such a “middenhide hoard of objects” (FW 19.8) extends beyond purely functional concerns, especially in view of the construction of Neolithic chambered tombs in Western Scotland, several of which were constructed directly on top of earlier shell middens (Pollard 1996:204-205), such as the chambered tomb of Glecknabae in Bute (Pollard 2000:158). A shell midden was also found beneath the Fairy Knowe, a Bronze Age cairn near Crarae, Argyll (ibid); a surrogate for the “wellknown kikkinmidden where the illassorted first couple first met with each other” (FW 503.8-9):

The tendency to assume, prior to excavation, that a shell midden is Mesolithic, is undermined by activity stretching well into the Neolithic, indicated by the large oyster dominated middens in the Forth estuary, which have produced bones from domestic cattle and pottery (Pollard 1996:201). The Carrowmore groups of passage-graves in Co Sligo, contained many shells of winkle, mussel and oyster. On Belmore Mountain, Co Fermanagh, the cairn had in it scallop shells, while the excavation of the decorated tomb, Fourknocks I, Co Meath, yielded limpet and mussel shells. Another decorated tomb, Loughcrew’s cairn H, some forty miles from the sea, produced cockle, periwinkle, scallop, limpet and mussel (Ashbee 1982:6). Limpet shells have been found in considerable quantities in the chambers of La Varde and Dehus, the passage-graves on Guernsey, and there were quantities in the mound of La Houge Bie, on Jersey, while oyster shells remained in the ransacked chamber. In three chambers on Herm, and at Les Porciaux on Alderney, layers of limpet shells overlay the human remains, while in the Grantez passage-grave on Jersey each interment was furnished with a heap of limpets (ibid). In Wales a concentrated deposit of limpet and oyster shells was encountered when the decorated tomb of Barclodiad y Gawres was excavated, as were cockle, mussel and limpet shells at Bryn Celli Ddu. Limpet, cockle, mussel, whelk and clam shell were in Bryn yr Hen Bobl, and in the chamber of Lligwy the lower deposit rested upon mussel shells and the upper was covered by limpet shells (Ashbee 1982:6). A final example aligns with the location of the Fall in the Wake: “In a megalithic cist unearthed in Phoenix Park, Dublin, in 1838, two male skeletons had each beside them perforated shells (Nerita Litoralis)” (Mackenzie 1922:46).

In all these cases there is a recurrent referencing of the seashore, through the deposition of shells and beach pebbles, suggesting that the shore zone played a vital role in constructing cosmologies (Fowler and Cummings 2003:6). There was a tradition current in the Lothian area that dying people ‘slipped away’ with the ebbing of the tide (personal communication from my grandmother, who learnt it from her Edinburgh-born mother). The theme of arrivals and departures, borne by the tides, may inform the recurrent presence of seashell deposits in barrows and chambered tombs some distance from the sea, such as Tullach an T-sionnach cairn near Loch Calder in Caithness and the cairns at Balnuaran of Clava in Strathnairn (Bradley 2000b:152-153):

Talk about lowness!… the very fourth snap the Tulloch-Turnbull girl with her coldblood kodak shotted the as yet unremuneranded national apostate, who was cowardly gun and camera shy, taking what he fondly thought was a short cut to Caer Fere, Soak Amerigas, vias the shipstream Pridewin


A cist cemetery at Clackbreck, Argyll, contained a number of cockle shells (Bradley 2000b:153). The deposition of the dead within the liminal coastal zone is a tradition which has been maintained to the present day in northern Scotland, where the majority of cemeteries are placed as close as possible to the sea (Pollard 1999 in Bradley 2000b:154):

Though the length of the land lies under liquidation (floote!) … she’ll loan a vesta and hire some peat and sarch the shores her cockles to heat

(FW 12.7-10).

Coastal liminality is nowhere more pronounced than in the low-lying islands of the Molène archipelago on the north-west coast of Brittany. It is the particular character of this coastline that appears to have been a key factor in the placement of Neolithic monuments at a density very much greater than on cliff-girt Ouessant, nearby (Scarre 2002).

The gently-shelving edges of the Iles de Molène must have been alternately flooded and exposed by the changing tides, an environmental context consistent with a broader pattern of coastal location among Neolithic monuments in Brittany, as well as a tendency in other island groups, such as the Scilly Isles and the Orkney Islands, for a dense concentration of such monuments. The recurrent death and renewal – social, physical and cosmic – of HCE is played out in Finnegans Wake in terms recognisable from the preceding archaeological discussion of the liminality of the shore zone. The dispersal and reconstitution of the primal characters – the ‘triliteral roots’ (FW 505.4) – of HCE and ALP in the fluid language of the Wake anticipates the proposition in archaeology that places of stone and water were key locations for the transformation, fragmentation and disposal of the human body in the Neolithic (Fowler and Cummings 2003). Thus the initials ALP and HCE register such multiple transformations in language, such as Humpty’s fall to the world of shells:

You invoiced him last Eatster so he ought to give us hot cockles and everything

(FW 623.7-9, emphasis added).

HCE and ALP are part of the litter of letters which constitutes the Fall, in which “every letter is a godsend” (FW 269.17), and the rising tide of the shore zone is “the site of salvocean” (FW 623.29), where the sharp distinction of being and becoming dissolves:

And watch would the letter you’re wanting be coming may be. And cast ashore. That I prays for be mains of me draims… Every letter is a hard but yours sure is the hardest crux ever

(FW 623.29-34).

The ‘locative enigma’ of HCE and his ‘harbour craft emittences’ (FW 309.20, emphasis added) in the ebb and flow of time “is beached, bashed and beaushelled à la Mer pharahead into faturity” (FW 292.18-19), a mystery that “repeats itself todate as our callback mother Gaudyanna” (FW 294.28-29).

The rock carvings of northern Scandinavia and Karelia in Russia were located predominantly in the shore zone, whether the inter-tidal zone of the seashore or the edges of rivers and lakes (Helskog 1999). At some locations winds cause water to wash over the carvings, and at others the carvings are submerged by an increase in the water level. Within this broad homogeneity of the siting of rock carvings lay variations. The rock carvings and rock painting of Angermanland and Jamtland in the north of Sweden are characterised by their location at dramatic sites in different watery contexts (Bolin 2000:158). The carvings occur mainly on flat or sloping rock faces in direct contact with swift waters, usually near rapid streams and waterfalls, while the paintings, by contrast, nearly always occur beside lake shores (ibid.). As Simonsen notes of the rock art of Arctic Norway, no carving or painting occurs more than a few hundred metres from the sea (1974:139). Other sites were near the lower part of a river, or near waterfalls, like the sites at Aasli, Sagelv and Forselv (ibid.:140). 25 out of about 80 known Neolithic hunter-gatherer rock-engraving sites in Scandinavia were ‘intentionally related to “sounding water”’ (2000:29). The rock art sites at Namforsen and Gardeforsen in northern Sweden are located by rapids while the carvings at Laxforsen and Glösa are situated in such a way that images are flooded in periods of high water (Bolin 2000:161). Post-glacial uplift in the period since carving can alter such aquatic impressions. At Hammer in Nord-Trondelag, rock carvings at 35-40 metres above sea level were physically covered by storm beach deposits of a high sea. The images of birds, whales and boats must have been carved ‘when the rock lay between low and high water levels … 4000-3500 BC’ (Coles 1991:133). The tides of (pre)history that ebb and flow in swirls and eddies around the carved images are recalled in Joyce’s evocation of the Ginnunga-gap – the interval between aeons – in the Norse Eddas:

Somewhere, parently, in the ginnandgo gap between antediluvious and annadominant the copyist must have fled with his scroll. The billy flood rose or an elk charged him

(FW 14.16-18).

The ‘copyist’ is Joyce’s alter ego, the shaman-artist Shem who

did but study with stolen fruit how cutely to copy all their various styles of signature so as one day to utter an epical forged cheque on the public for his own private profit

(FW 181.14-7).

But then “Who can say how many pseudostylic shamiana …. how very many piously forged palimpsests slipped in the first place by this morbid process from his pelagiarist pen?” (FW 181.36-182.1-3). Shem’s ‘unoriginal’ pelagiarism celebrates not only the heresy of Pelagius, the fifth-century monk who denied the doctrine of original sin – just as the Wake recurrently does – but also evokes ‘pelagian’ creatures, inhabiting the deep sea (Greek pelagos, ‘sea’).

The inter-tidal context of the imagery is suggestive of the carvings being made in a liminal ‘time between times’, untouched by the clock’s hand, a ‘dreamtime’ so-to-speak. It is also suggestive of an archaeological perspective whereby the absence of a written commentary on the carvings – negative evidence, the scroll that has been lost – has forced researchers to explore the sensory impact of rock art sites, in particular the quality of sound and the perception of it in the human body “lill the lubberendth of his otological life” (FW 310.21). The site at Vingen, on the West coast of Norway, is located in a bay, “almost a cauldron”, where the sounds are amplified by the surrounding steep rock surfaces (Helskog 1999:78). A thunderstorm here is described as a particularly noisy experience (ibid.). Coles (1991) suggests a similar attention given to acoustic qualities in the location of the carved reindeer, bear and sea mammal, at the head of Glomfjord in Nordland. The name is probably derived from glaumr, meaning a loud noise or clang (ibid.). Rostherne Mere, in Cheshire, has a mermaid who rings a bell on the lake floor and then sits on it singing (Bord and Bord 1986:140). Similar concerns may have influenced the location of rock carvings close to the waterfall at Roughting Linn, Northumberland. ‘Roughting’ is a local dialect term for the roaring of a bull.

The emergence of ‘sonic archaeology’ can be harmonised, albeit discordantly, with the ‘soundsense’ of the Wake, and its use of alchemical philosophy and kabbalistic mysticism. The world of matter is, in kabbalistic mysticism, the abode of ‘the shells’, receptacles at once containing and distorting the higher sephiroth (Cope 1981:96). Joyce’s particular debt to his reading of “now-strange texts” is in the epistemological act in which sea, shell, ear, and knowing are drawn together as instruments for the individual’s reconciliation with the macrocosm (Cope 1981:98): “The mar of murmury mermers to the mind’s ear, uncharted rock, evasive weed” (FW 254.18-19). Thus, Binah, the third sephira is the Understanding, the supernal mother, also called the great sea (MacGregor Mathers 1926:25). The correspondence in letters of microcosm and macrocosm – “this radiooscillating epiepistle to which … we must ceaselessly return” (FW 108.25-25) – is heard through “the ear of Fionn Earwicker … (Hear! Calls! Everywhair!)” (FW 21-23, emphasis added). His “auricular forfickle” is a “meatous conch culpable of cunduncing Naul and Santry” (FW 310.10-13). Conducting and condensing all and sundry, “lill the lubberendth of his otological life” (FW 310.21). “The clue of the wickser in his ear” (FW 311.10-11) spirals into the labyrinth of kabbalistic mysticism:

From this ear depend the highest Arcana, which go not forth without, and therefore is (this ear) curved in the interior parts, and the Arcana of Arcana are concealed therein

(MacGregor Mathers 1926:321-322).

A labyrinthine path leads to the chambered tomb of Bryn Celli Ddu, a locus for deposits of shells and beach pebbles. Outside and immediately to the back of the tomb chamber there was a free-standing stone about 75 cm in height with spiral and sinuous art motifs. It stood to the north of a pit which contained a cremated human ear bone – the cochlea – at the bottom (Cooney 2000:133-134):

Therefore concerning the ear it is called hearing; but in this hearing, Binah, the Understanding is comprehended; for, also, to hear is the same as to understand, because that thereby all examinations are examined together

(MacGregor Mathers 1926:201).

Ask him this one minute upthrow inner lotus of his burly ear…And for that he was allaughed? And then baited? The whole gammat?

(FW 492. )

The ‘sounding alchymie’ of the sea shore is gathered up in the shells and beach pebbles at Bryn Celli Ddu, which, “to the strains of The Secret of Her Birth, hushly pierce the rubiend aurellum of one Philly Thurnston” (FW 38.33-35). In the conjunction “rubiend aurellum” Joyce plays upon the ‘ruby end’ of the alchemical great work, which brings forth the new dawn of the gold of the philosophers, a quest for personal and social transformation lent its meaning by the perception that current social existence is in a fallen or corrupted state.


The dynamics of a social fall can be grasped through the sexual politics revealed in the motif of the ‘Swan Maiden’ in folk narratives, and their possible archaeological correlates. The theme of flight from a human husband recurs in a ‘Swan Maiden’ tale from Central Asia :

Long ago, on the little island of Oikhon on Lake Baikal, fed by the river Khudar lined with birch groves, Khori Tumed saw nine swans fly down from the north-east. Removing their feathered dresses, they became nine beautiful girls who bathed naked in the lake. Khori Tumed silently stole one of the dresses so that only eight swans were able to fly off and he married the one who remained. She bore him eleven sons. … Khori Tumed would never show his wife where he had hidden her swan dress. One day she asked once more, ‘Oh please let me try on my old dress. If I try to walk with it out of the door then you may easily catch me, so there is no danger of my escape’.

Being persuaded, he let her try it on and suddenly she flew upwards through the skylight of their ger. Khori Tumed was just in time to catch her ankles and he pleaded with her to stay at least long enough to give names to their sons before departing… Then Khori Tumed let his swan wife go and she flew around the tent bestowing blessings upon their clans before disappearing back to the north-east

(Cottrell 1999:177).

The implicit critique of relations between men and women is muted in the latter account, which is in effect a legitimating myth for patrilineal clans. However, the common element of both versions is the meeting of the supernatural stranger on the shore.

With Impress of Asias and Queen Columbia for her pairanymphs and the singing sands for herbrides’ music: goosegaze annoynted uns, canailles canzoned and me to she her shyblumes lifted: and I pudd a name and wedlock boltoned round her the which to carry till her grave, my durdin dearly, Appia Lippia Pluviabilla

(FW 48.25-6).

The carvings at Glösa, show a series of quadrupeds that appear to be ascending towards, and around a ‘lattice’ or net-like form. The lowest forms are ambiguous, in that these duck-like forms may be ‘unfinished quadrupeds’ (Coles 1991:133). As the carvings are submerged at high tide, they literally emerge from the waters as they recede: The image of waterfowl is recurrent in the iconography and archaeology of the East Baltic Neolithic (Antanaitis 1998:63). A similar pattern holds in creation myths in northern Eurasia. For instance in the Kretuonas region of northeastern Lithuania a duck dives into the water and brings back a piece of mud from which the earth is fashioned (Kerbelyte 1997, cited in ibid.). In Lithuanian wedding songs the duck is a popular symbol and synonym of the maiden (Kazlauskiene 1983:347-53, cited in Antanaitis 1998:63), moving from the cosmological to the ‘mundane’ interpersonal plane. If one were to isolate the duck-like morphology of a single motif at Glösa as an element of a narrative, then the Native American story ‘The Duck Wife’ provides a human dimension to images otherwise seen as a reflection of static social forms anthropologically defined, such as ‘hunter-gatherer societies’, with the economistic bias encoded in such terms. As a narrative it articulates elements of a critique of social relationships within the society that the participants live in:

The girl was a good wife. She could not talk. He said: ‘Don’t go to the river’. She did not go. One day a hunter went there. He had many dead ducks. He said: ‘Cook these ducks’. She was scared, and ran to the river and swam away. The young man could not find her. He never liked any wife he had as well as that duck-girl

(Owen 1904:91, cited in Leavy 1994:61).

As Leavy points out, although North American tribes frequently tell stories that link the acquisition of an animal wife with success in hunting or special luck in acquiring a seemingly endless food supply, in this particular case the way the duck wife’s husband commands her to obey him mirrors the hunter’s brutal destruction of her people, in this combined persona representing “a particularly brutal form of patriarchy” (Leavy 1994:61).

O, come all ye sweet nymphs of Dingle beach to cheer Brinabride queen from Sybil surfriding

In her curragh of shells of daughter of pearl and her silverymonnblue mantle round her.

Crown of the waters, brine on her brow, she’ll dance them a jig and jilt them fairly.

Yerra, why would she bide with Sig Sloomysides or the grogram grey barnacle gander?


It is in the context of the departure of the dead, or the ‘wronged bride’ to the sea that I first discuss carvings of footsoles and footprints in Bronze Age Scandinavia. The suggestion that they record the passage of the dead is based on Icelandic mythology, where those who have recently died must be equipped with special Hel-shoes to undertake their journey to another world (Ellis 1943:39 and 75 in Bradley 2000a:142). A large sheet of sloping rock at Järrestad, in southern Sweden, known as site 4, overlooks a small basin and a valley which extends down to the modern coastline. The highest point on the rock is occupied by the remains of two cairns, survivors of what was a group of three (Bradley 2000a:143). These contained a number of urned cremations as well as late Bronze Age metalwork. One of the barrows also included a large cup-marked stone (ibid). There are drawings of ships on Järrestad 4 alluding to an aquatic context, as well as human figures and cup marks, but the most striking features are the drawings of footsoles and footprints. These extend across the contours of the rock, providing a link between the summit of the outcrop and a small bog below it. This repeats a pattern found in Bohuslän, south-west Sweden, where the tracks of footsoles and footprints lead from the high ground to a damp area, close to what must have been the original shore line (Bradley 2000a:143). The footsoles appear to originate in the barrow cemetery itself, running downslope froom the graves, following a course that could ultimately have led to the sea (ibid.:145, emphasis in original).

I suggest this pattern of reference and movement to and from the sea can be found in the iconography, use, material constitution and location of a range of places from the Neolithic to the early medieval period. Within this aquatic, funerary theme I situate non-figurative rock images and identify the “homedromed and enliventh performance of problem passion play…running strong since creation, A Royal Divorce” (FW 32.31-33). Geological investigation of the Neolithic tomb, Carreg Coetan, in south-west Wales has shown that all but one of the megalithic stones were brought from the inter-tidal zone (Fowler and Cummings 2003:5). The inter-tidal world informed the construction of a cist at Easterton of Roseisle near the Moray Firth about three millennia later. Traces of bone-dust mixed with sand were found, as well as charcoal, while near the north-west and south-east corners of the cist there were a number of white, rolled, beach stones, and some darker ones (Morrison 1895:449). Of the thickish slabs of sandstone that formed the walls of the cist, one was a Pictish Symbol stone, set on its side (Fig 9). The interior face of the slab is inscribed with a ‘broken sceptre’ and crescent motifs, with a mirror and comb. The opposite face has an aquatic bird, the Solan goose, below which is carved a fish. As Butler’s Hudibras says

As barnacles turn Soland-geese,

I’th’ Islands of the Orcades

(cited in Graves 1961:54).

This alludes to the belief once widespread in Britain and Ireland that Barnacle Geese are hatched from timbers rotting in the sea (Radford and Hole 1961:30). It is ‘a curious and persistent tradition’ still found occasionally ‘amongst old sailors’ that barnacles from a ship’s bottom will turn in due course into geese (ibid: 31). The field in which the cist was found slopes down to a marshy swamp, a portion of the depression which extends through the Loch of Spynie, through Drainie, Duffus, and Alves, to near the mouth of the Findhorn (Morrison 1895:450-452). The sculptured slab is described as

such as might be got any day on the gently sloping sandstone rocks which overlap each other on the beach to the east of Burghead… which are under high-water mark. On one side the sculptured stone is wasted and furrowed at the bottom, evidently by the action of the tides

(Morrison 1895:451-452).

 Pictish Sculptured Stone forming side of Cist at Easterton of Roseisle (after Morrison 1895:452)

The relationship of the cist to marshy ground, the referencing of the sea in iconography and in the source of the stone, including the contents of the cist, suggest that its location and constitution was informed by a similar cluster of associations to those which informed the placement of carvings and megaliths in widely dispersed places and times. This would include depositional practices at tombs. The placement of white pebbles in the cist is redolent of similar patterns found in the Neolithic. On the Isle of Man there are several sites at which white quartz pebbles were deposited. (Fowler and Cummings 2003:7). Bryn Celli Ddu, in Anglesey, the passage was “crossed by a barrier of water-worn and deliberately broken pebbles of white quartz” (Hemp 1930:204 in ibid.). It seems to have been a key substance in connecting megaliths with water and stone (ibid). The deposition of quartz in graves is a practice which has been known in the north and west of Britain into the early Christian period. Even up to the present, in Ireland, white quartz stones were thought of as ‘fairy stones’ and were the hallmark of fairy dwellings (Thompson 2005:359).

White stones also feature in divinatory practices at Hallowe’en (31 October). In Wales, it was formerly customary to build a great fire known as the coel coeth, and when it was almost extinguished, to mark a white stone for each member of the household and throw the same into the ashes. In the morning these were sought for, and if any were missing, the person who cast it in, it was believed, “would not see another All Saints Eve. This custom was also observed in Scotland on the same date” (Spence 1992:106). The casting of white stones into the ashes replays, at a microcosmic scale, the cosmic tragedy of the fall “that would blackguardise the whitestone ever hurtleturtled out of heaven” (FW 5.16-18), a Wakean allusion to the Islamic tradition that the Ka’aba, the Black Stone at Mecca, was white before it fell from heaven (McHugh 1980:5). The white stones, associated with charcoal, at the cist, become, allegorically, a “Hullo Eve Cenograph” (FW 488.23-24) sent to the “guenneses” (FW 4.24) with the “normative letters” HCE, from the grave:

The great fact emerges that after that historic date all holographs so far exhumed initialled by Haromphrey bear the sigla H.C.E.

(FW 32.12).

The association of cup and ring carvings, in their form and location, with water is current in archaeology (Fowler and Cummings 2003:10). It was on a beach to the east of Burghead, at Cunningston, that a fragment of a cup and ring marked stone was found, presumably from an eroded outcrop. The cist at Easterton is in view of the Tapoch cairn at Roseisle, to the north. This crowns a hill, on the slopes of which was a cup and ring marked outcrop, now quarried away. This outcrop would have had a position relative to the cairn analogous to the outcrop sand cairns at Järrestad 4. The carvings at Fowberry, Northumberland, associated with a Bronze Age kerb cairn (Fig 10).

Fowberry Cairn, Northumberland and associated rock carvings (After Bradley 1997:144).

On the other side of the hill at Roseisle, in the parish of Hopeman are surviving panels of cup and ring carvings. These are situated in a depression at the foot of the slope crowned by the Tapoch cairn (Fig 11)

Cup and Ring Marked Rock, Hopeman, Moray. The Tapoch Cairn is in the extreme top left-hand part of the picture, just out of view.

A description of a rock art site at the southern end of Lochan Kahel, near Tongue in Sutherland, evokes all the associations of strangers on the shore and waterfowl. Here, a flat boulder contains 34 cupmarks of which 11 are surrounded by rings. Local tradition suggests that the marks were made by the ‘heels of a fairy who lived nearby’ (Gourlay 1996:52). In a cautionary vein Gourlay adds: “Please check locally if visiting this site as there is a danger, at the wrong time of year, of disturbing rare divers which breed on the lochan” (ibid.).

At the head of Tremadoc Bay, between Porthmadog and Criccieth, stands Cist Cerrig, on the slopes of Moel-y-Gest (Fig 12). Only three tall stones survive, but their distinctive arrangement identifies them as the front of a Portal Dolmen (Lynch 1969:129). It is presumed that the chamber faced uphill, as it is a consistent feature of tombs of this class in North Wales. In the approach downhill, the chamber is framed against the wide expanse of the sea including the peninsula at Criccieth, which forms the visual context for the stone monument, as the sea does for many other Neolithic tombs in the Lleyn peninsula and the Isle of Man (Fowler and Cummings 2003:5). Many sites also have visual references to mountains, as well as being located in the close vicinity of stone outcrops (ibid.:3). Cist Cerrig has both these attributes. The rocky bulk of Moel-y-Gest looms over the tomb, while a natural sheet of rock juts from the ground a few paces to the south. The surface of this rock has a row of cup marks running vertically from the ground surface up the slope of the rock. Viewed from the tomb the upward gradient of the outcrop, relative to the downward slope of the ground, presents a visual barrier through which the sea cannot be seen. If, hypothetically, someone were to take a running jump from the farthest edge of the outcrop, they would disappear from the view of anyone stood at the tomb very rapidly: ‘and all the guenneses had met their exodus’ (FW 4.24). As a location where ‘wee deader walkner’ (FW 170.18) in Joyce’s evocation of Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken, the cup marks on the rock may record the passage from the tomb to the otherworld of the sea. Rhys (1901) makes a passing reference to a ‘very eloquent tale’ about the courtship of a sailor from Moel-y-Gest and a mermaid. Perhaps the cup marks register, after all, the departure of the ‘Brinabride’ (FW 399.3) from ‘the noneknown worrier; from Tumbarumba mountain’ (FW 596.10-11), ‘mourning the flight of his wild guineese’ (FW 71.4).

Of “the man that was drowned nine days ago off Maiden’s rock” (U 57), Joyce writes: “God becomes man becomes fish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountain” (U 63). It is a variant of the kabbalistic axiom of metempsychosis: “a stone becomes a plant, a plant an animal, an animal a man, a man a spirit, and a spirit a god” (Gilbert 1952:119). Karl Marx too, in a letter to his father in 1837, articulates a similar conception: “for every metamorphosis is partly a swan song, partly the overture to a great new poem, which strives to achieve form in still blurred but brilliant colours” (Hudson 1982: 61).

Two views of Moel-y-Gest. Above, looming over Cist Cerrig. Below, seen across Tremadoc Bay from Criccieth Castle.

Across millennia, the iconography on the symbol stone at Easterton of Roseisle sheds further light on the carvings at Cist Cerrig and the mermaid narrative at Moel-y-Gest. The aquatic references of the sculptured slab are most evident in the depictions of the goose/gannet and the fish. The mirror and comb motif, however, registers a ‘fluid discourse’ which informs the association of stones, water and supernatural females. The mirror and comb, evoking the sin of vanity in the theological denigration of luxuria, are also the accoutrements of mermaids in literary and popular tradition. The carved mermaid at Kilcooly, Co Tipperary (Fig 14) is shown holding a mirror and comb. Interestingly, the mirror is depicted as a series of concentric circles around a central dot, a motif familiar from the cup and ring carvings pre-dating it by millennia. The depiction of mirrors as a series of concentric rings in medieval iconography is not unique to this example, and may allude to the reflective nature of water, as well as its rippling.

 A Carved Mermaid at Kilkooly, Co Tipperary (After Higgins).

A portable cup-and-ring-marked stone found in the Iron Age hillfort of Nottingham Hill, at Gotherington in Gloucestershire may have been used to hold liquid. However, its material constitution and other associations condenses the totality of themes swirling in this chapter. It is made of local Oolitic limestone, linking it with the seashore of geological time. Small pieces of oolite were introduced to the Neolithic long barrows at West Kennet and Overton Down from 25 km (15½ miles) away (Bradley 2000:91). These stones added nothing to the structural stability of the tombs and did not even play a conspicuous part in their design. Stones from the same source were found in the causewayed enclosure at Windmill Hill. Excavated material from that enclosure includes a large amount of pottery imported from the same area. This is evident because rock of an identical type had been used as filler in the clay (Bradley 2000:91). The body of the pots includes fossil shell, imparted by the oolite, which itself is characterised by the fossilised remains of the beach and its lifeforms.

Water, a medium for communicating with other worlds and watery supernatural beings as agents of that communication prompts a re-examination of the meanings of motifs in ‘cup and ring’ art, as noted before, associated in many cases with the spring line on valley slopes. At Magheranaul, Co Donegal, the ‘lobed’ figure adjacent to the ‘hoofprint’ could be interpreted as a comb. The concentric circles in cup-and-ring art may depict rain or the wake of a vertical descent through the rock into the waters of the otherworld like the ‘rare divers’ of Lochan Hakel, suggested by the Provencal romance of Jaufré which relates that the hero was pushed in a spring by a maiden who leapt in after him, clasped him to her, the two descending to her lovely land at the bottom (Loomis 1950:295). This is parallelled by the complex of tales in Brittany concerning sea fairies known as Morgans, into the fabric of which has been woven the person of Morgan la Fée. One legend from the Ile Molene describes the Morgan as

a fairy eternally young, a virgin seductress whose passion, never satisfied, drives her to despair. Her place of abode is beneath the sea; there she possesses marvellous palaces where gold and diamonds glimmer. Accompanied by other fairies, of whom she is in some respects the queen, she rises to the surface of the waters… By moonlight she moans as she combs her hair … and she sings in a harmonious voice a plaintive melody whose charm is irresistible. The sailor who listens to it feels himself drawn toward her … But the arms of the fairy clasp only a corpse; for at her touch men die, and it is this which causes the despair of the amorous and inviolate Morgan

(Evans Wentz 1911:200-201, cited in Loomis 1950:294-295).

It is a sea of synthesis – sound, image, matter – and multiple ambiguity denoted in the very name Morgan which ‘is properly masculine’ (Loomis 195:295). This connects with Fourier’s neologisms, what Roland Barthes called his impossibilia:

It is easier to predict the overthrow of ‘the weather as we know it’ than to imagine, as Fourier does, a masculine equivalent of the feminine noun fée (Fairy) and to write it quite simply as ‘fés’: the sudden spring into being of a strange graphic configuration from which the feminine has been dropped, this is the real impossibilium, an impossible binding of gender and language, so that in matrons and matrones it is a new monstrous transgressive object that is brought to humanity

(Barthes : cited in Hollington 1996:122).

Fourier’s transformation of reality courses seamlessly into Loomis’ assertion that Morgan la Fée inherited the family relationships and role of the Welsh goddess Modron, who ‘in turn derived her name from the Celtic goddess Matrona’, commemorated in Gaulish inscriptions to the Matres and Matronae distinct from all other cults’ (Loomis 1956:128). Historical antecedants to the legendary Morgan, are found in Pomponium Mela’s (c AD45) account of the Nine Priestesses who dwelt on the island of Sena, off Brittany, who were “able to transform themselves into animal shapes, to heal the incurable, and to foretell the future” (ibid:129). In the romance Floriant et Florete Morgan is one of the “trois fées de la mer salée” (Loomis 1950:295):

It’s his last lap, Gigantic, fare him weal! Revelation! A fact. True bill. By a jury of matrons. Hump for humbleness, dump for dirts’

(FW 242.20-22).

As “the baffling yarn sailed in circles it was now high tide” (FW 320.35), and with its ebbing HCE is “at all times long past conquering cock of the morgans” (FW 584.24-5). And “you may go rightaway back to your Aunty Dilluvia, Humphrey, after that!” (FW 585.31-3).