Teamhair, Tower, Tara: Towers in the Ancient World.

This article first appeared here: http://www.whiteoakdruids.org/EolasSamhain08.pdf

The word Teamhair occurs in Irish as Tara’s other name, and also in English where it is spelt Tower.

In English the pronunciation of the English form of this word, ‘tower’ varies a lot from person to person. Some pronounce both syllables clearly, others pronounce it as one, not always even prolonged, monosyllable, Tar, or even Tær, Tor or Ter with many not pronouncing the r, so that it becomes simply ‘taa’, ‘te’ or even ‘tae’. There are other pronunciations too, giving it either one or both syllables.

The name of the rune Tiwas or Tiwaz is within the range of possible spellings for some pronunciations of the word now spelt towers. Tiw then is back-formed from it and means the awesome person who wields high authority from a lofty tower. This opens the possibility that Tell, Tall, and the whole array of related syllables may be cognate with the Tiw, Tow-, Teamh- array array. Many English speakers pronounce a final l as a w.

This diversity is not reflected in English spelling. In Irish, the Tar- of Tara is equal to English’s mono-syllabic spoken form, while the Teamhair represents the di- syllabic form. The word seems to have been the same in English and Ireland, with the Irish sense of it focusing not on just any building, but on the Hill of Tara specifically, while in English it can refer to any high building, or even earthwork, but especially specific politically significant towers such as the Tower of London.

This same word occurs world-wide with many different spellings – mostly based upon the monosyllabic form – in compound words and in combination with a range of affixes. It sometimes means ‘tower’ or ‘towers’ and sometimes not, but many occurrences are clearly related.

We see it as anything from place-names (Tours, Tehran, Taranto, Tarq, Tarsus) to the names of gods, (Taranos, Thor, Ishtar, Terpsichore); in fast food (tarts, torte), dog-breeds (terrier ) mineral resources (tar) and sailors incidentally, (Jack Tars), tiaras, turnips, tyrants, the tarot and perhaps also the Chinese Tao, since Taoism was a culture that built towers.

Variants such as Tur-, Tyr-, Ter-, Tor-, Tour-, Teir- are to be found all over the map, in place-names of great antiquity. Check the indexes of atlases, mythologies and histories and search the listings under T in foreign language dictionaries: not all occurrences will refer directly or obliquely to towers, but enough of them will for you to see the emerging vista. There are Thera, Tia-maat, and Ish-Tar, and in Sanskrit, Yudhishthira.

Analysis of place names confirm that the ancient Tower culture, richly described and lovingly preserved in fairy tales, legends and folk-memories of many countries today, really existed and was world-wide. Ancient eastern European Rapunzels probably were reared in towers by formidable witches with magical (medical) gardens in exchange for medicine.

The likes of England’s Alison Gross who lived “…in yon tower, the ugliest witch in the North Country…” probably really did tryst their reluctant lovers into their veritable dark towers, and during that same aevum, a few outlandish countries distant, the old spinster cast her spools, and spell-bound her castle from its highest tower, where the beauteous Aurora lay wrapped up in thorny briar roses for a century, fast asleep.

Many a veritable Childe Harold really did approach that daunting Dark Tower quailing, where ruled Tyrants cruel and benign, or Tartars, or the Tarquins. Glammed-up and perhaps flirtatious ‘tarts’ made cake ‘torte’ and pastries ‘tarts’ in Germany and England), and they wore tiaras, and understood the Tarot, and attended tournaments, and went on tours (travelling from tower to tower), introducing to the locals turquoise, tourmalines, tar, terrines, tureens and turnips – and significantly for reconstructionists, tartan.

As an Irish word Teamhair looks like a plural form of a (hypothetical) singular noun Teamhar. Teamhair would then mean The Towers. And if Tara means Teamhair, it too is a plural form, perhaps of (a hypothetical) Tar. That’s one of the ways English people pronounce ‘tower’ and, so it seems, some of the olden day Irish.

Were all the Tower builders Celtic? It’s difficult to say. It’s not easy to define Celtic in today’s world, and it’s a much more elusive concept in the past. Throughout the world and within its range the word Celtic itself has many forms, both labial (P- Celtic) and non- labial (Q-Celtic), each with many variants.

Then, the meaning has diversified as rapidly and continuously as the form, not stablising until the much more circumscribed array of more or less sharply different languages that we now take for granted started to emerge out of the linguistic melange of indigenous and imported ancient and mediaeval western, middle, northern and eastern Europe and the southern coasts of the Mediterranean.

In the past, that ever-evolving melange of languages reflected a similar cultural melange, with mass marriages of fifty or more couples between cities or even up to five hundred couples between countries helping to stir the mix.

As the data accumulates and the picture emerges, it becomes clear that the Towers were world-wide; and so were the Cells, Kils, or Kells, the polises and churches of the Keltoi, the Celts. Variously known as Sel- Pel- Bel- Hel, Tel- with the vowel very various, plus a full array of suffixes, prefixes etc, variants can be found all over the map.

One of the most interesting is Gel, Gael, or Gaul, which seem to come from Goidh-el, which is variously spelt and related to Cath-al, which has P-forms related to the first two syllables of Parth-olan. These are traces of a truly international culture, incorporating Achilles, Apollo, Pwyll, Pali, Bali and more, extending perhaps into Australia, where names like Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie, Balladonia, and multitudes of other indigenous place-names occur alongside clear archeological evidence of an ancient Celtic presence.

International also were the Bans, the Danes/Danaans, Mona/Iona/Iuno, Mer, Cathars and Moors, to name but a few. Hybrid names such as tur-ban, Dardanian, Minataur , Kaftan, and similar reveal the cultural interweaving that produced the cultural melange we’re discerning there.

I’m seeing a system of paths, well-travelled mostly but with lonely stretches though green-woods and mirk-woods and over high mountains and across vast plains, penetrating to most parts of the world which was peopled with heroes, tyrants, the all-too-human gods, kings and queens, wizards and dwarfs, archetypes and stereotypes, and the plain men and women of folk-tales. Yes, and elves and fairies too, ancestral to today’s él­eves (French school children), fair ladies, and the Irish fear, a man.

Here and there are mighty towers where political power is held over surrounding lands, to protect or exploit according to the morality of the Tarts or Tyrants up in the Towers. It is possible that words for thunder, such as the Cornish taran and the Irish toirneach are also related to Teamhair, as there is evidence that they used explosives.

In Ireland long ago, no one knows when, in those places where the word had come to be pronounced tír, it underwent a semantic change, such that all the land surrounding the tower and under its control was called a tír. Now the sense of a central tower has been lost and the word tír denotes simply, territory, land or a country.

This is also true in Cornish, where ‘dor’ means ‘ground’, and in Latin, where ‘terra’ means land, earth or ground. But in Cornwall we also find that ternas is still a kingdom, or realm. The -nas is a double plural; the old Goidelic –ne or –na, which is –anna in modern Irish, shorn of its final vowel as in Germanic, and provided with a redundant English pluralising final s.

A similar semantic shift occurs in both Irish and Cornish and also Spanish and many other European words for a bull. In Irish it’s tarbh . The -bh is the remains of an old dative plural ending meaning ‘of’ or ‘with’. In Cornish it’s tarow, with –ow a plural ending. In Latin it’s tauros, torro in Spanish.

It’s easy to imagine why the word for bull would be synonymous for the word for a tower. Under best conditions, the tower is fortified, built very strongly and guarded well, and there are people there to work and maintain order. The surrounding people have a refuge there in war-times, and so their homes are not so strongly fortified.

Their cows, two or three at the most per household, and most often just one, need the services of a bull but once a year. A good virile bull depending on its breed needs to service a good few more cows than one household can keep, and indeed the tamest bull becomes very difficult to manage during rut, even if not frustrated. Keeping one healthy, impassioned bull per family is impossible.

The best solution is for many families to retain just one, and keep him within the thick stone walls of the tower. Each family leads their gentle house cow to him each year in her oestrous. That way he gets his fill of cows, and no one has to take their cow further than the centre of their community for a service.

To maintain best breeding standards and avoid in-breeding, the bull would have been replaced frequently. Every year or so you would have to kill the existing bull while he’s still young enough to be tender and not yet mature enough to be indomitable, and replace him with a carefully selected unrelated young bull from another tower. Imagine the pride of having your own family cow’s bull calf selected for the honour!

All other young bulls, perhaps yearlings, would be slaughtered for meat, while milk cows too would be carefully selected for each new generation. It would make sense to do this killing while the clans are gathered for formal business and in need of feasting and inclined to festivity. This would have been the origin of the idea of a ‘bull feast’, but no idea of divinatory rites is to be found there.

Tara changes to Tarbh by the addition of a suffix. Tur becomes Turk in the same way, with the –k being a form of the Irish –(e)ach, the English –ic, the Cornish –ek, etc. Related words are the old Irish Torc, meaning both a wild boar and a noble, a tower-ic person. They were clearly hunters of wild boar, because the Irish for ‘hunt’ is toireach. How did ancient Turks come to be so far from modern Turkey? Or should I ask, how did modern Turkey come to recede to so far-flung a corner of the range of the ancient Torcs?

Consider the widespread dominion of the Tower culture from antiquity until the Roman take-over. You might see it as a cultural pool which now dries up as its well-springs are destroyed. Isolated remnants still recall their ancient past, and are still named for it. But the original Turks were not middle eastern only, they came from all cultures, all over the world, and were loved and hated and feared according to their deeds. Gallant young Austrians to this day are called ‘young Turks’. Turkish magic is deep and profound.

The x in Latin words sometimes denotes the Greek guttural chi, which is like the Celtic ch. So the -torix in Vercin-ge-TOR-ix is more likely to mean Torc, the Vercin Tower people than any of the current guesses.

Some of these towers must have had all the grimness of the fairytale accounts of them. Words for darkness including English dark, Irish dorcha, Cornish tewl, and taw which means silence. But others cultivated a different image. In Cornwall, tewedh a lisped form of towers is synonymous with stormy weather, indicating that that’s where people went during very bad storms for friendly protection, and may be another reason for the folkloric association with thunder and lightning.

It’s possible to see similarities to the old Taran system of rule and regulation in our modern civil services and systems of government. It’s also possible to see developments in multiculturalism that might allow reconstructionists to experiment intelligently with networks of local administrative centres based on the old tower system.

But even if all we do is gently sift through the right words and the right evidence from other sources, we can help our real past to re-emerge in our history books. Linking in our own thoughts, through our own understanding, to Tara’s name all that rightfully should be logically linked to it can help to restore a vital circulation which once sustained not just the sacred Hill of Tara, but the whole worldwide network of dark, solemn, mysterious, friendly, terrible, enlightened and magical towers that were a part of our ancestors’ lives and our own past lives more than a thousand years ago.

Vyvyan Ogma Wyverne