NB :
  1. this post contains a lot of unpublished materials, please, even if you can't stand my writing, be sure to scroll the page to the bottom and check Mirlikovir's art.
  2. all the images are clickable ! click on them to enlarge :)

0. In the Beginning...

This is a long postponed article. We've received quite a few questions from our readers, by email about the use of feathers and tribal attributes in many of the Celtic Heroes gallery illustrations. Your Irish warriors look like Native Americans is the most common statement. Well, that's true, but let us explain some more.

We believe that all civilisations, as comes to material cultures, are bound to the level of technology they achieved, and tend to reproduce the same patterns. XXth century people use Cotton, rather than wool. Plastic rather than stone. Hamburgers rather than raw meat. Iron age people tended to use metal... for two purposes essentially : weapons and jewellery. Metal was scarce, Iron/Steel was difficult to produce (from Iron Ore with blast furnaces). They just didn't use metal for anything. Metal was for the rich, for the powerful.

Stone age cultures used what they had, for ornamentation. And that meant a lot of "animal by products". Animal skins for sure (we still do for the most expensive of coats), animal bones, and... animal feathers. Feathers are beautiful. We still find them beautiful. Many stone age civilisations used feathers as ornamentation. I'm tempted to pretend that all did, but we'll never know for sure. I'll just give you three examples :

African with feathered ornamentations

  1. Native Americans, cf. the wealth of photographs taken by photograph and ethnographer Edward S Curtis (scroll to bottom of article).
  2. Polynesians, as testify James Cook, La Pérouse and the other European who visited Polynesia in the XVIIIth century. Bird feathers (red ones especially on Tahiti) were the most valuable trade products.
  3. Many African tribes used them too. We'll refer here to the works of Leni Riefenstahl, especially her series of reports in the 70ies on African Nubas amongst the Nabo tribes in central Soudan. (by the way, we do know that Leni Riefenstahl was Hitler's own photograph and friend, it has nothing to do with what we're saying here. We do not endorse that of course, we're just quoting from her works.)
What about the Celts ? Why not. Feathers don't last and there are few direct archaeological evidences of the use of feathers in antique cultures. This by no mean signifies that feathers were not used.

I. Mirlikovir and the Feather Fetish : Morrigan, the three faced Goddess of War

Morrigan the celtic war goddessHaving read/seen a lot of archaeological reports, studies, films on the subject of tribal ornaments, Mirlikovir naturally came to the realisation that Feathers had to have been used in the Iron Age.
I am, for my own part, a huge fan of Mylène Farmer. What  does this have to do with shit ? Nothing, except that Mirlikovir also has his muse. She's called Morrigan, the Celtic Goddess of War. Anyone with a special interest in Irish Myths must have wondered, at some point, what the Morrigan exactly looked like.
The Morrigan often appears under the form of a Crow, in the Ulster Cycle. She is associated with Black Feathers. On a Dumezilian point of view, the Morrigan is the goddess of War. We could even say of War Frenzy. Lug, the main Irish god of the Tuatha de Dana, represents positive forces. Morrigan is dark, sombre. In the Ulster cycle, she comes very close to seducing Cuchulainn, but fails. She just cannot be ignored by someone like Mirlikovir.
Our illustrator decided very early on  - we're talking of the early nineties here - that Irish warriors would wear dark feathers, to mark their relationship to the Morrigan, mother goddess of all Irish warriors.
The following illustrations give proof of what I'm saying. Some go back to the nineties, all are more than 7 years old. Mirlik accepted to display them nonetheless, after my asking.

II. Ladies & Gentlemen, Enjoy the Feathers !

Warior of Ulster on the remparts of Emain Macha
An Ulsterman (guard, most likely) on the wooden remparts of Tara

Eochaid the Fir Bolg
In Irish mythology Eochaid , son of Erc, son of Rinnal, of the Fir Bolg became High King of Ireland when he overthrew Fodbgen. He was the first king to establish a system of justice in Ireland. No rain fell during his reign, only dew, and there was a harvest every year.(from Wikipedia)

(note1 : ok, the Firg Bolg are anterior to the Tuatha Dé Danan, so the reference to Morrigan is here ineffective)
(note2 : Eochaid's "hat" is inspired from an African Nuba Headgear, which you might have noticed reused also on Mirlik's version of Conchobar)

Celtic warrior from the iron age
Iron Age warrior, model for a short film (not yet made) we have in mind and will try and shoot in the following years.
Cuchulainn, early drawing
And here, a very early drawing of Cuchulainn. Some of you who pay attention to detail will notice that most of the "look and feel" was there already.

III. Ogham : the Oghme thingy

Oghme Ogme Ogmios, the Binding OneNow, why are we to talk about ogham here ? And about Oghme ?
Ogme also is a Tuatha Dé Danan, a god like Morrigan. Oghme (Ogme, Ogmios,...) is a very peculiar god. He has many names. Labraid the Eloquent, Celtchard the Cunning, or... the most suggestive Elcmar the Envious/Spiteful. Many characteristics of Oghme remind us of the sombre Indian deity of war called Varuna (as opposed to Mitra who could be closer to Lug). Oghme also is the inventor of Ogham, the mysterious and beautiful Celtic Scripture. He also is the god of Binding. He binds people to his words, to his will. A French researcher like Marc Déceneux has given a huge amount of his time to this characteristic, which will appear again, centuries later, as attributes of several Christian saints.
For a longer explanation about Oghme, the Ogham, here's a comment I wrote on the Cuchulainn site on the subject.

This simple fact, combined with the loads of works Mirlikovir already had achieved concerning the Ulster Cycle and the Book of Invasions, gave us a new idea in our telling of the Cuchulainn Epic. I won't say much more, because it would spoil the story, but Oghme, and the Ogham have take a very important place in Mirlikovir's visuals. We have Ogham mostly everywhere, use them for Image delimitations in some parts of our Story (still to come, you haven't seen them yet), we even built our website design on Ogham.

Ogham are our second "fetish" ;)

To make our point, let's look at two unpublished pages of the Cuchulainn Epic. These are central to the first volume. Here are the rough storyboards (we keep the finished pages for release in due time).

Cuchulainn storyboard 1
unpublished Cuchulainn page heavily using vertical lines of Ogham

Cuchulainn storyboard 2
unpublished Cuchulainn page : OGHAM spread from the god and reach for the Binded Ones...

Cuchulainn storyboard 3
Fergus, Amorgen, Aoife...

IV. Which brings us to the next subject : Aoife, the She Warrior

Mirlik fell in love with Aoife at the same time he fell for Morrigan and I for Mylene Farmer (did I ever tell you about her?). That is... fairly young. Aoife is the most exciting female character of the Cuchulainn Epic. She is an accomplished warrior, who will give some hard time to Cuchulainn himself. The relationship between the two characters is most interesting, subtle, full of potential. Mirlik has already done some (gorgeous, in my opinion, but as a scriptwriter, I'm biased for I'm especially fond of Aoife) illustrations of the Scottish she warrior.

Aoife celtic warrior woman

Let's take a closer look at Aoife's... look !

  1. aoife, details of warrior gearCrow Feathers, mark of a Celtic Warrior, reminiscent from the Morrigan under her Crow appearance. They suit Aoife particullarily well for she, like the Morrigan,.. is a SHE.
  2. Torque : replica from a piece found on the Isle of Bretagne.
  3. Hair dress : here Mirlikovir was afraid that readers might say, "hey, this is Xena, warrior Princess !" but went for the fringe, because he simply was bored of she warriors with heroic fantasy, (un)feminine exuberance. His version of Aoife definitely IS feminine, and in my opinion, this is great. I just can't get why many writers feel the urge to represent female warriors as silicon implanted drag queens on steroids. Anyway...
  4. leather brogne or broigne on the shoulders, on top of the breastplate
  5. facial painting : discrete and elegant. She's a woman for god's sake.
Aoife will have a very famous confrontation with Cuchulainn. These scenes were some of the earliest of Mirlik's drawings. He has even begun a short animated film on this precise combat (still unfinished, for lack of time). Here two illustrations amongst many others.

Aoife and Cuchulainn fighting
Aoife (aife) and Cuchulain engage in combat. The two hounds in Celtic knot work above are a figurative representation of the action. Cuchulainn will win this combat by feigning submission. This is exactly what the lower hound is doing here. And hounds, eh,... Cuchulainn the Hound of Ulster, remember ?

Aoife submits to Cuchulainn
Cuchulainn wins... and falls in love of  Aoife. The background standing stone represents... well... what naturally follows :)

V. At last, an unpublished illustration of Cuchulainn, just before his end...

We have received a lot of mail asking for some Adult Cuchulainn illustrations. For obvious reasons we didn't publish many of these for the time being. We're telling the story of Young Cuchulainn, aka Setanta, and adulthood in for the next volumes :) But I couldn't resist talking Mirlik into showing you yet another extract from his "secret papers".

Cuchulainn, gate of the Dead
Cuchulainn at the end of his life, in front of the Door of the Dead. (if you wonder what the heck this "door of the dead" might be, you'll have to read our comics, for it's not in the original texts. It is, though, a well documented archaeological feature from very close cultures.

VI. CONCLUSION - Aoife, by Erwan Seure le Bihan

We've just received a message from illustrator Erwan Seure le Bihan who did an illustration for the French Soleil Editions on the theme of "Celtic She Warriors". He chose to represent Aoife. Erwan is a very close relative from Mirlikovir, as a matter of fact, they're brothers, and he's been around Mirlikovir's work for ages (he's read the secret papers), for much longer than I've been.
 Go check the original on Erwan's Site ! This is awesome work as usual !!

Aoife by Erwan Seure le Bihan