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Legends of the Tau Cross

     The cross is a familiar symbol to both religious and secular groups. But few people are familiar with the many myths and legends behind one of the earliest forms of this Christian symbol. The Cross of Tau or Tau Cross, named for the Greek letter T, is thought to have been the first cross used in Christianity, but its origins are believed to date back to the Egyptians. The Egyptian cross called an Ankh is a simple T-Cross mounted with an oval called the Ru.

     In its long history, the Tau cross was also the symbol of the Roman God Mithras and the Greek God Attis. In Norse mythology, the hammer of Thor is seen as a Tau Cross. The Bull as the Astrological sign of Taurus gets its name from the Tau and Ru. Even the Druids used the Tau when venerating trees by scrawling the symbol into the bark of their sacred oaks. The Tau Cross was first alluded to in the Bible in the Old Testament book of Ezechiel.

     As Christianity gained followers, the pagan symbols were converted into Christian ones. The Tau was used as the first cross of the followers of Christ and many believe that the cross of the Crucifixion was actually T-shaped, and many early Christians adopted the Tau as the symbol of their religious belief. St. Anthony Abbott (251-356), an Egyptian monk and one of the first Christian monastics used a crutch in the shape of a Tau. When he visited another monk, he would place the crutch outside of the cave, making it a symbol of communion with God. In 1095 the Antonines were founded by a French nobleman after his son was cured of a disease following a vision of St. Anthony instructing him to plant a Tau as an instrument of healing. As a result, Tau Crosses were used in amulets as a protection against disease in the Middle Ages. The most common reference of the Tau in Christianity is with the Franciscan Order of Saint Francis of Assisi who adopted it as his personal symbol of faith and used it as his signature.

     Today, few Tau Crosses still remain. The most well known is the Tau Cross on Tory Island in County Donegal, Ireland. Tory’s mica slate cross stands 1.9 m high. It is situated by the West Town pier and is a lasting reminder of St. Colm Cille and the monastery he founded on the island in the sixth century. Island legends say that a Cromwellian soldier by the name of Aindreas na gCros hated crosses and tried to break Tory’s Tau with his sword. Miraculously the Tau would not break, but the marks of his sword are still discernable today. Because of this, Tory’s fishermen believe it to have powers of protection and pray to it before going out to sea.

     In my young adult fantasy novel, Tory’s Tau is a symbol of the island’s mysterious past and the curse hanging over it. Arella Cline, the book’s main character, learns the means to breaking the island’s curse by discovering a Tau glyph on a map of the island in a mysterious book of prophecies. The Tau Cross becomes an important stop on her journey into the past, a journey she must take in order to return to the present. Island of Tory is due to be released in March 2012.

The Cursing of the HMS Wasp

            The Irish are known for their superstitious nature.  They believe in blessings as well as curses.  From avoiding black cats and ladders to making the sign of the cross to ward off evil, the Irish have a long history of believing in the power of the supernatural.  The people of Tory Island are no exception.

            Tory’s history is full of mystical stories of blessed clay, magic water fonts, secret charms, and enchanted stones.  But most people believe the tales to be nothing more than folk legends, told to explain the inexplicable and amuse the masses.  However, one tragic incident is still rumored to be the result of a true Irish curse:  the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In September 1884, the HMS Wasp set sail from Westport, County Mayo to collect taxes and deliver eviction notices to Inishtrahull Island off Malin Head.  She was on course between Tory and the mainland when disaster struck.  Around 3:45 am, the Wasp hit the rocks directly beneath Tory’s lighthouse and sank to the bottom of the ocean in less than half an hour.  There were only six survivors of the fifty men onboard.

            Was the lighthouse lit?  Reports are mixed.  Some say the light was on, but was purposely turned off at the critical moment the Wasp passed by Tory’s shore.  Others claim the light was never dimmed.  A Royal Navy Court Martial concluded that the HMS Wasp was lost due to a lack of care and attention (her boilers were down, she was taking a quicker but more dangerous course around the island, and junior men were at the helm while senior officers slept.)  No one was singled out for blame, and the case was closed.

            However, rumors soon began to surface, and stories of Tory’s inhabitants invoking a curse against the vessel started to circulate.  Tory was known to have a Cursing Stone called Cloch na Mallacht or Cloch Thorai.  It was believed to be linked to St. Colmcille and the pilgrimage route around the island called An Turas Mor.  On the pilgrimage, islanders would visit various holy sites on Tory.  At the conclusion of their walk, they would turn the stone upside down, a quite benevolent act.  However, a curse was said to be invoked if the walk was done in a counterclockwise direction.  Many believe the islanders used the Cursing Stone to doom the HMS Wasp for fear that Tory would be its next destination for tax collection and eviction.

            Fuel was added to the fire when the Cursing Stone went missing shortly after the night of the Wasp tragedy.  Many theories abound as to the Cursing Stone’s whereabouts.  It may have been buried locally or thrown into the sea, but all that remains today is its pedestal, Cloch Arclai, and the mystery of the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, the legend of the Cursing Stone and the sinking of the HMS Wasp are the foundation stones of the plot.  Arella Cline, an American teenager, finds herself trapped on Tory Island.  The island and its inhabitants are stuck in time because the Cursing Stone was used against the Wasp and its crew.  Arella needs to journey An Turas Mor to reverse the curse.

            Island of Tory is set to be released March 2012 by Loconeal Publishing.  Like Island of Tory on Facebook or subscribe to this site for updates.

The Magic of Irish Stones

            Since man’s earliest time, he has relied on rocks for his very existence.  Humans fashioned their first tools from stone.  They learned how to build fires for cooking, warmth, and protection by striking sparks from stone.  Stone walls were the early artists’ first canvases.  Later, great buildings and cities were constructed of stone.

            Given man’s continued dependence on rock, it is little wonder that stones would evolve into man’s earliest symbol of divinity.  At first, stones were worshipped as a manifestation of God himself.  Later, stones were considered God’s dwelling place.  Megalithic monuments were erected for sacred ceremonies all over the world.

            These ancient stone shrines remain standing as a testament to man’s belief that there is power in rock.  In Chile, massive stone statues keep watch over Easter Island.  The pyramids in Egypt tower above the sands.  At Carnac in France, rows of monoliths stand at attention over grassy fields.  And most famously, Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England reminds us that early man was industrious and clever as well as spiritual.

            But stones from Ireland have long held a mystique of their own.  Myths abound of the supernatural power of Irish rocks.  One reason for Ireland’s strong belief in stone magic could be attributed to the Celts and their religious devotion to rocks.  Ireland boasts of the greatest collection of wishing and cursing stones anywhere in the world.  The famous Blarney Stone near Cork, Ireland is a perfect example.  The legend says that those who kiss the rock will be granted the gift of gab.  Many visitors to Blarney Castle risk bending over backwards to reach the stone with their lips in the hopes that a little luck will rub off.

            Tory Island is no exception to the Irish rule.  As small as this island is, it boasts two magical stones–the Leac na Leannán or Wishing Stone and the Cloch na Mallacht or Cursing Stone.  The Wishing Stone sits at the top of Balor’s Fort.  It juts out on a cliff 100m above the Atlantic Ocean.  A wish is granted to anyone who is brave enough to climb on top of it.  Anyone lacking such courage may also be granted a wish by successively throwing three stones onto its crest.  The Cursing Stone was located at the west end of the island, but it is now mysteriously missing.  It was part of a holy pilgrimage called the An Turas Mór.  The last time the stone was seen was in 1884 when it was allegedly used to curse the English tax ship the HMS WASP and cause it to wreck on the rocks of Tory.  Now all that remains is the Cloch Arclai, the cursing stone’s pedestal.

            In my novel, Island of Tory, I use the legends of these magical rocks to weave a tale of the possible consequences of the curse on the island and its inhabitants.  I imagine that the islanders are stuck in time because of their malevolent behavior.  Because they cursed, they shall be cursed, an Irish version of karma.

            Island of Tory is due to be released by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Tory Island's Wishing Stone

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