Wailing, shrieking, and crying; prolonged, high-pitched cry of grief associated with death and mourning in places as disparite as Ireland and the Middle East. What banshees do.

keening
Irish caoineadh < caoinim, "I lament" < OI caínim, coínim.

In Ireland, the invention of keening is attributed to the goddess Brigit, daughter of the Dagda. Her son Ruadan mac Bres was killed by the smith Goibniu for being a spy. He was pierced by a spear in front of her, and she let out the first keening heard in Ireland. After Brigid, all fairy women--bean sídhe--would keen for the dead in a like manner, especially those with ties to mortal families.

Keening is not simply wailing, though--it is a controlled use of high-pitched singing of laments performed by women who are trained in this art. These women are actually professionals, paid (usually in food and drink) to attend the wake.

Keening cannot be performed until the wake, when the soul is thought to have finally left the body. To sing while the soul may still be present would alert the hounds of hell, who might sweep down and grab the soul. This, of course, relates back to the pan-European concept of the Wild Hunt.

In the seventeenth century, the Catholic Church sought to ban keening, viewing it as pagan and undigified. While it was certainly pagan (though much folk custom usually is, if one can think of pagan as meaning an earth-based practice), it was not undignified.

From all reports, the practice of keening is dying out, as are most ancient customs these days.


SOURCES
1. On Brigit: "The Second Battle of Magh Turedh"--various websites
2. Etymology: www.dictionary.com
3. The practice of keening: "Keening of the Dead": http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/5567/keening.html

A mystical sword from the Elder Scrolls fantasy series, and plays a major part in the game Morrowind. It was created by the Dwemer (Dwarf) architect Kagrenac in order to tap the power of the Heart of Lorkhan and create a giant powerful war machine named Numidium in conjunction with the hammer Sunder while wearing the protective gauntlet Wraithguard. At the end of War of the First Council, Kagrenac saw his people defeated by the Chimer and decided the only way for the Dwemer to survive was for him to use the Heart's power to make them immortal, but when he used the tools, his entire race vanished from the known world.

Dagoth Ur of House Ur, ally to Indoril Nerevar during the war, took Sunder and Keening and experimented with them to discover their power. This seemingly drove him insane, and his former allies had to fight him off. The Tribunal (Vivec, Sotha Sil and Almelexia) then inherited Sunder and Keening and used them on the Heart of Lorkhan to make themselves immortal, and give themselves god-like powers.

In order to renew their powers and keep themselves strong, the Tribunal found that they had to make annual trips to Red Mountain (where the Heart of Lorkhan was found). Dagoth Ur attacked Red Mountain, and when Almalexia and Sotha Sil attempted to re-take the Heart, Dagoth Ur was able to seize Sunder and Keening, although Vivec managed to save his two friends.

When the Incarnate (Indoril Nerevar reborn) arrived on the island of Vvardenfell and proved themself to be the Nerevarine, they were charged with the task of reclaiming Sunder and Keening from two towers within Ghostfence, both of which were defended by Dagoth Ur's generals. Once they were reclaimed, the Nerevarine went within the fortress at Red Mountain, and destroyed the Heart of Lorkhan using the tools of Kagrenac, destroying Dagoth Ur and his unfinished creation the second Numidium and making the Tribunal mortal again

Keening was the tool used to create the precise tone from the Heart of Lorkhan in order to get the desired effect. By striking the Heart with Keening 5 times after striking it with Sunder once, the Nerevarine was able to destroy it. It was never revealed how to create any result other than the destruction of the Heart, but presumably it could give immortality and make a person very powerful in terms of the magick they wield.

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