Wave 5 – Parthalon

Cursed to create nothing, create for millennia

Partholón and his people were the second great invasion in Lebor Gabála.  This giant of a man travelled with his family and people all the way from Sicily.  He was cursed to create nothing after committing the ultimate crime of patricide and matricide to ensure his brother ascended to the throne.  Yet he was to deliver, ironically, the foundations of sustainable prosperity in terms of foundational sources of income that would serve Ireland to today.

When the Partholónians arrived they were challenged by the Formorians for dominion over the land.  These were magical battles and no one was killed.  But the Partholónians won and the Formorians departed.  They were to clear the plains of Ireland for agriculture having brought cattle to Ireland.  They also started brewing and tourism.  Together these three initiatives were to prove the basis for sustainable prosperity through to modernity.  Their great quality was to craft something out of nothing.

Partholón then decided to make a tour of the Island.  He left his wife Delgnat at their home. There was a servant called Topa.  She was to seduce Topa and after sleeping together they drank ale from one of Partholon’s own cup.  On return he was able to taste his wife and Topa’s lips from the cup.  He flew into a rage of jealousy and killed Topa.

He then turned on Delgnat.  She argued she was in the right and the fault was his not hers saying ‘the woman will take the honey, the cat will drink the milk’.  The people found in favour of Delgnat.  This was the first judgement.

The Partholónians were wiped out in a week in a great plague and buried in Tamhlacht meaning Tam (plague) and Lacht (stone). This is the place that is modern day Tallaght in South West Dublin.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the connections and insights made by participants based on the Bard assumptions that oral storytelling is always heard in terms of modernity

Connection 1 – Significance of the “Firsts”
This story established a number of significant firsts: the agriculture, brewing and tourism as well as the first jealous, the first judgement.  For archaic peoples these ‘firsts’ were extremely important.  This was all about establishing a precedent. This matter of “firsts” was noted again and discussed.

Connection 2 – The Irony of the Not Create/Create
The person and the people cursed to create nothing of value yet manage to create source of sustainable prosperity that have been at the core of the Irish economy for millennia is remarkable.  Agriculture, Brewing and Tourism are Ireland’s core industries today, centuries later. The not create/create is obviously so ironic.

Connection 3 – Was this really the ‘First’?
Some participants queried that Partholonians as the ‘firsts’?  Was this really so?  Why wouldn’t Ceasair’s people have been first especially with their shipbuilding skills?  Is this because some versions of Lebor Gabála – ‘The Book of Invasions’ – begins with the Partholonians?

Connection 4 – The Natural World: it gives and it takes
What is evident is the lands generative and supportive response to the Partholonian’s victory over the Formorians.  The symbolism of the ‘lake bursts’ and the water coming up through the surface seems to indicate an alignment of human and natural worlds.  The matter of nature sending fortuitous happenings on certain important occasions suggests the matter of alignment was very central in this ideology and world view.

And also in reverse!  Nature also takes away as the plague wipes out the 9,000 Partholonians in a week. One recurrent theme in the mythology is the inherent precariousness of man’s place in the universe.

Connection 5 – Were their creations good?
Some participants questioned whether the establishment of lasting rules and principles, imposing order on to natural chaos were good?  Did Partholon represent the beginning of restriction, materialism and power structures?

Yet this was an ideology/mythology in its earliest formative stage.  Some of the later developments, especially Fintan and the Settling of the Manor of Tara was to get out structures such as the Fifth Province where anything that was to get out of balance could be addressed.

Connection 6 – The Battle with the Formorians
The nature of the battle with the Formorians seemed weird to a modern listener. Standing on one leg with one arm tied behind the back and one eye closed is hardly a typical means of combat.   This establishes it as a druidic battle, a magical battle…. and with no casualties …. yet still with considerable political and cultural significance. What else do we have to understand about these peoples that makes little sense to us but may have wisdom we still need to uncover.

One participant referenced Chinese Qigong and the use of static poses to force open stuck energy, meridians, restoring health even for people when western medicine had been given up on and sent home to die.  Reference: Miracles of Chinese Healing by Luke and Frank Chan.

Connection 7 – Chosen/Not Chosen
The matter of Chosen and Not Chosen is interesting in the case of this story. If Cesair as outcast, refused a place on the Ark by Noah was to begin the Not Chosen Theme of this Immersion. The Partholonians were to carry it on. In the sense that Partholón had committed what seems to be two terrible crimes, in matricide and patricide, he and his people are also “not chosen” peoples. But then we have the matter of the Formorians. These people seem to be the indigenous peoples albeit that they are invariably demonised and “othered” in the texts. In short, the matter of Chosen and Not Chosen is very present, but it’s complicated.

Tuan MacCairill
A shapeshifting hermit who knows Ireland’s history

Tuan is a shape shifter, a hermit who has lived through the key stages in the mythic history of Ireland as captured in Lebor Gabála, the Book of Invasions.  It was to St. Finnian that he told all this history he had lived through.  By then he had grown hairy, wizened and grey.

When he first encounters St. Finnian, the saint seems to Tuan to be a bit of a pest.  The saint has explicitly sought out the gentleman who is the follower of ancient ways.  And it is clear his intention is to preach and tell Tuan of the new god and his objective to totally banish the memory of the old god. Tuan is having none of it.  He barricades himself in his house and shutters his windows.  But the saint is nothing if not persistent.  He bangs on the doorstep intent on appealing to Tuan’s good nature and the emotions of hospitality to strangers. Tuan waits and waits hoping that the saint will leave.  He sees it as a combat of the gods.

Eventually he relents and lets in the persistent saint.  And the saint is interested in his story, the mythic history of Ireland since the time of Parthalon.  Tuan tells him of the various invasions and how by shapeshifting, a stag, a boar, a lamb and a salmon and his experience of the Parthalonians, Nemedians, Fir Bolg and Tuatha de Danann.  As salmon he was caught and eaten by the wife of Cairill and by such she becomes pregnant.   It is said that the persistent St. Finnian succeeds in baptising Tuan into the new faith.  “Your house will be illustrious” Tuan tells the Saint.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the connections and insights made by participants based on the Bard assumptions that oral storytelling is always heard in terms of modernity.

Connection 1 – Layering of Cultures over Time
One of the perspectives that comes from longevity such as with Tuan is the sense of the layering of cultures over time, the sense of the strengthening effect of outsiders and the meaninglessness (and dangers) of the search for an original purity.  Tuan, like Fintan MacBochna, would have had a unique diachronic (through time) perspective
Connection 2 – Shapeshifting and the evolution of Consciousness
Pig/boar – Qualities of prescience, future-vision, short legs, lives close to earth, receives messages directly through hooves from the Earth. Pig/boar  represents a stage of consciousness development. A natural Developmental milestone in human growth. A Pig has total focus on taking care of physical needs and wants. This is the healthy, positive side of hedonism. Learning to take care of the physical self. The mental peace represented by the simple bodily enjoyments in the existence of a pig’s life.

*[In Qigong, being a “Chi-Pig” means allowing healing Qi to flow in and be accumulated in your body. Feeling worthy of receiving healing Qi, from Wan Yuan Chi (Universal Chi) or from/through other caring people.]

Hawk – Qualities of higher view. Insights which are only gained by choosing to see things from a higher perspective. Represents the stage of consciousness development where you gain a wider vision. Awareness of not merely how something will affect yourself, but moving beyond (hedonism and self-focus) to seeing the interconnectedness of all. Sharpness of vision. Incisiveness, logic and rationality, practicality.
Salmon – Qualities of flexibility, quick responsiveness. Quick and appropriate responsiveness. Picture the way a salmon leaps, turns and flashes in the sun. It is hard to grasp, easily shifts direction. Ability to react appropriately in a flash, to any occurrence, shadow, or threat.
Wisdom in action IS literally being “in the flow” connected to the flow of life. A fish actually breathes the water. It is not merely in the water, the water flows through the fish. The salmon IN the water, represents being IN the flow of information-intelligence (Yi), which is carried upon the flowing Qi, the life force. Reference: Reflections on Animals and Consciousness from Karen Jeffers-Tracy.

Connection 3 – Shapeshifting and Native American Culture
Native American vision quest often involves discovering your special animal. Choosing or receiving an animal totem, your personal spirit animal. When you ask our spirit animal how they would handle something, you gain a new insight  that was not available to you before.

Human beings have the ability to project our consciousness “as if” we were seeing from another’s point of view. Another person’s. Or an animal’s. When we take time for that serious kind of “play” we gain a wider deeper kind of wisdom.

Connection 4 – Layering of Culture
In one group it was discussed, in the story –  with the layering of cultures in Ireland, and now in any place on Earth – it is faulty and dangerous to claim that anyone is the first, original, or “pure” or to argue about who came when and where. What’s more, the human family needs outsiders to come in, or your genetic pool becomes weaker.

Indigenous culture itself is not static. It grows and changes. There are things to learn from the past, but also things to put to rest from a previous mindset no longer appropriate for a global family – such as superstition, omens, taboos – things which contract rather than expand human potential.

Connection 5  – The Not Chosen as Outsider, even Shaman
There is a strong outsider quality, one of the not chosen. From an obvious angle is this the typical Christian writer as framing the older tradition, the shamanic as not chosen. But more significantly, the shape shifting, the appropriation of animal forms is a type of “not chosen-ness”. And if this shape shifting identifies Tuan as shaman, this is also a tradition of wisdom coming from the outsider, the not chosen. And yet these figures were highly valued for their healing.

Wave 4 – Diarmuid and Grainne

The woman pulls the strings… not Fionn… or does she?

Long ago in Ireland one of the greatest and most famous warriors under Fionn MacCumhall’s leadership was Diarmuid O’Duibhne.  What we know and it is important, is that he is under a geasa (a command)  that he could never pierce the skin of a pig.

Diarmuid grew up as a great warrior and successfully passed all the tests to join the Fianna.  He was full of love and loyalty to Fionn MacCumhall.  But he had on his forehead a love spot that caused any woman who saw it to fall in love with him.  He covered the magical spot with his hair because it was becoming problematic.

The leader of the Fianna, Fionn, had meanwhile decided that  he needed a wife.  It was agreed that the only suitable woman was the daughter of the High King, Cormac, the beautiful Gráinne.  But unbeknownst to all Gráinne had earlier, as a twelve year old, seen Diarmuid O’Duibhne and his love spot as he was playing and the wind had  blown his hair back.  She had fallen in love.

But now the great Fionn had seen Gráinne and had asked to marry her. She, having refused many men, and feeling flattered at the High King’s attention, agreed to the marriage.  A great feast is arranged to celebrate the wedding.

The day arrives and soon after as the guests arrive Gráinne sees again the love of her life, Diarmuid. She puts a geasa on him to run away with her.  He is torn horribly between duty to Fionn and duty to the geasa.  But he has to go with Gráinne.

And so begins one of the great pursuits in Irish Myth, Fionn hunting not an animal but his beloved Diarmuid.  It is a pursuit the length and breadth of Ireland. There are many encounters and many escapes. The other world becomes involved. Fionn is furious at the betrayal. The pursuit is far and wide.

Eventually the two lovers settle down in Kishicoran and start to build a life together.  In time Gráinne decides to try to make peace with Fionn.  He appears to agree and the two men, Fionn and Diarmuid go hunting together, but a great boar appears and gores Diarmuid.  Fionn could have healed Diarmuid with water, but remembering his anger, lets it slip through his fingers.  The geasa has worked itself out.  Diarmuid unable to pierce the skin of the boar has consequences.  The great love story is over!

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the connections and insights made by participants. This is the Bard’s Mythic Method. The assumption is that oral storytelling is always heard in terms of modernity.

Connection 1 – Romance and the Romantic Tradition
Diarmuid and Gráinne is one of the great love stories in the Irish Myth Tradition.  Here the two lovers are pursued – a love triangle, and with obvious echoes of the Arthurian amour courtois, courtly love tradition. This connection was noted.

Connection 2 – The Agency of the Woman – Gráinne
In this story it is the woman that has the power.  It is Gráinne that puts the geasa on Diarmuid.  This represents a marked development from the almost total lack of power of Etain and Fuamnach in myth of Midir and Etain. It is different to the final loss of power in Deirdre of the Sorrows as Naoise finally succumbs to the heroic warrior code to an empowered female figure.  Cuchulain’s wife Emer and Gráinne have the most agency of the heroine figures in the Irish Myth tradition. Overall though many commentators see in Irish Myth, the dominance of the Feminine.

Connection 3 – Male figures as weak and insecure
Diarmuid and Fionn both have little agency in this myth.  And Fionn, after the heroic role he plays in confronting the fire breathing beast who is destroying the King’s Hall in Tara, is reduced to being a vengeful old man pursuing his beloved Diarmuid.  And when he has the opportunity to save Diarmuid with the healing water he has cupped in his hands he chooses to let it pour out – and Diarmuid dies.  Ego, pride and desire are clearly a powerful driver for Fionn – and indeed Gráinne.

John Moriarty, the Philosopher Mythologist had little time for this great archetypal figure, Fionn. He had even less time for Cú Chullain.

Connection 4 – Was Fionn guilty?
The group were asked at the end to reflect on the question, was Fionn guilty of the murder by neglect of Diarmuid at the end of the story?  Should he have saved Fionn?  The great majority argued in defence of Fionn making the point that the forces of fate rendered him unable to have done otherwise.

But, we have to ask where were the restorative justice principles of the Brehon Law in such an outcome?  Was the damage restored, were lessons learned and was the situation going forward a better one?

Connection 5 – Keshcoran – World Making
For many years Diarmuid and Gráinne settled down and made their life, a successful one, in Keshcoran.  Unlike the mythological cycle where different forces would wipe out any world, any division that was created, unlike Cuchulain who was defending or Fionn who lived fully in liminal space, here is a serious attempt at world making.

Until that is, Gráinne seeks to bring Fionn back in ……..

Connection 6 – Alternative Versions
In one version of the story Diarmuid dies after Fionn fails to get him the healing water.  And the story ends.  In another Gráinne takes Fionn as a partner.  It is clear that you don’t need to do much to a story to totally change its meaning. The group did not have time to explore the significance of these alternate versions.

Connection 7 – Arbitrariness of the Geasa
Unlike the geasa that are serving political/leadership purposes, especially in the King tales, here the geasa do not have any higher societal purpose.  This geasa is about love!  But does the geasa in this portrayal capture another unconscious force, in the context of love, falling in love which has considerable power over the individual.

Connection 8 – Fate versus Free Will
There is a massive tension that underlies the story.  It is between fate and inevitability and will and choice.  This leaves the listener with thinking to do.  Where do they come out on the dramatic tension?  Does Diarmuid have agency? Does Fionn?

And maybe that is the point.  The story asks some fundamental questions and leaves the listeners with an abundance of stuff to debate. Some of this tension came out in the discussions and was seen as relevant to today’s culture.

Connection 9 – The Importance of Place
The travels of the two lovers across the country, all the places they stopped and lay down creates a wealth of associations with place.  Among the most dramatic of these is the dolmen, the bed of the lovers at Poulnabrone.  The physical landmarks and locations make the stories constantly salient when living among them, seeing them through the window, climbing them, navigating by them when driving.  And of course thinking of the associations between this world and the other world – the rowan tree appears again.

Wave 3 – Oisin and Niamh

The visit to Tir na nÓg – and the return

Oisín’s journey to Tir na nÓg with Niamh Cinn Oir, Niamh of the golden hair, is one of the most loved and most familiar of the Irish Myths. Here is a short version of what was told to the participants…..

A young woman, Sadbh, has been cast into the shape of a deer by a dark druid called Dorcha.  This is after she has refused his amorous advances. Shortly after Fionn MacCumhail is out on a hunt with his hounds, Bran and Sceolan. They soon pick up the scent of a deer. It soon becomes apparent that this deer is special, is enchanted.  When they catch up with the deer, and the hounds are playing with the deer in front of a rowan tree. The deer turns into a beautiful young woman who tells them her name is Blaith Dearg, the daughter of Finn’s great enemy, Dearg.

She invites Finn to join her for the night.  He accepts. They do lie down together. But when he wakes Blaith Dearg is gone.  However,  one year later Fionn returns with his hounds and they find a baby sitting in the grass.  This is Blaith Dearg’s baby, his baby.  Fionn takes him, raises him as his son. He calls him Oisín.

Oisín grows into a beautiful young man. He passes all the tests to join the Fianna with ease.  He is much loved and his fame spreads through the land.

One day while Oisín is sitting on the beach at sunrise, the sunlight turns into a vision of a woman with golden hair on a white horse.  She invites him to come and live with her in Tir na nÓg, a land where you live for ever.

With a love for Niamh and for adventure he leaps on the horse and heads out across the waves to the land of eternal youth.  They live there happily and have three children together.  However, Oisín still misses his home with the Fianna.  Niamh distracts him with feasts and hunts.  Eventually he insists he must go. She tells him he must not set foot on the land of Ireland or he will never be able to return to her and the children.

He finds the land has changed beyond recognition.  His heart is broken.  He sees four men in a field trying to move a boulder.  With a kind heart he leans over to help.  As he leans the girth of the saddle snaps and he steps on the land of Ireland.  He turns into an old man.  They tell him of the arrival of St. Patrick to Ireland.  When they meet Patrick tells him of the promise of eternal life.  When Oisín learns Fionn was not baptised, he says he prefers to stay a pagan than join a heaven which would not let his father in.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the most significant connections and insight from participants which were collected by the Bard team in the breakout meetings and the big group sessions at the event:

Connection 1 – Innocence and cruelty, humiliation and danger
The dark druid Dorcha was humiliated by the refusal of the young girl. He takes revenge – he turns her into a deer.  She in turn is humiliated by the expectation she will take an old man as a husband and also humiliated by a patriarchal power of structure which did not support her in her refusal or protect her when she asserted her own desire.  She had no opportunity or desire to get revenge.  But, when the complete power structure is against you, your options for justice and restitution are minimal!

Connection 2 – When bad things happen to a good person
This  story was seen as  the uninvited encounter and unasked for transformation in which the woman has no agency.  It is the ‘maiden with no hands’ initiation that Pinkola Estés highlights in her Heroine’s Journey.  The transformation is surely traumatic.  Psychologically a disconnect with the self and something that can cause a person ‘not to recognise herself’.

This encounter is the ‘rude awakening’ experienced by so many women in every part of the world.  But in some it is arranged marriages, wage slavery (labour exploitation) and outright slavery and trafficking.

Connection 3 – Symbolism of the Rowan TreeWhen Fionn catches up with the hounds they are playing with the deer in front of a Rowan Tree.  The Rowan Tree has a rich symbolism in the mythologies of Greece, Scandinavia and the British Isles.  The theme is of protection and as a tree of the Goddess and a symbol of linkages between worlds, between heaven and earth.

Connection 4 – Sense of Paradise lost
There are a number of sadnesses in the story that were noted by the group. This is within a context of what would appear on the surface to be a happy place, Tir na nÓg. The place where Niamh takes Oisín comes with a promise of eternal happiness and youth. These sadnesses included the obvious loss of Fionn, Oisin’s father, because he has left that world. There is also the loss of the world of the Fianna. Then when he leaves there is also the sense of ‘paradise lost’ as he has to leave Tir na nÓg.

And finally there is the sadness of finding the world he returns to is no more.  And then he becomes a shrivelled old man. The return journey as we learn from Joseph Campbell can be more fraught than the withdrawal!

Connection 5 – Perfection is boring
One of the insights reflected by the group was how the perfection of the  ‘other world’ is ultimately boring.  It is, in a strong sense, one dimensional.  What becomes apparent is that Tir na Nog is not everything it is cracked up to be. We actually need our people, our family and friends our community, a sense of challenge, the ups and downs of life and even death!  Ultimately Oisín rejects perfection, rejects what seems to be a heaven.

Connection 6 – Time is upended
It is clear that leaving this world is to upend time.  In Tir na nÓg what seems like days is actually decades.  This becomes all too apparent when Oisín returns to Ireland. In the western world we have such a linear concept of time. Here time takes on a very different hue!

Connection 7 – A Hero’s Journey
What was noticed is that Oisín may have done great things to join the Fianna.  He is very successful at all the quests.  But on this journey he doesn’t have to do anything particularly heroic.  This seems to be in the same vein as the ‘bored of perfection’.  We need challenges, tests and trials.  Our images of perfection and heaven are, in this regard, rather shallow.

Connection 8 – Oisín encounters Patrick
This is one of the great confrontations in Western culture. Here the great missionary meets the great pagan hero.  They are portrayed as two individuals of honour in their own right and each living their own realm.  What was noted was how much respect Patrick had both for Oisín and how much he enjoyed the stories.  So much so he asked his scribe to write them down.  The participants picked up this moment and wrote ( John McFadden) and performed a play based on Acallam na Senórach.

This deep respect for the ancient tradition evidenced in St Patrick’s response was seen by some  as being in marked contrast to how the Church subsequently tended to  treat the ancient stories and heritage.   The wisdom tradition came to be described as Pagan in many, but not all, cases.

Connection 9 The Popularity of the Fionn Tradition
For much of the last millenia, it was the Fionn tradition that had far more of a hold on the Irish (and European McPerson’s Ossian) than the Cú Chullain/Tain tradition. It was the Celtic Revival that out Cú Chullain in a more central position!

Wave 2 – Fionn and the Fianna

The Hero outside the Tribe

This  story is told by one of the Fianna, Cáilte Mac Ronain who highlights the nature of the Fenian tradition.

It was of a King of Ireland who died leaving two sons.  They decided to divide Ireland between them. One chose all of the valuables, the goods, the herds, the jewellery, the forts and towns and the other chose all of the cliffs, rivers, nuts, fruit, salmon and wild game.  The noblemen to whom the story was told exclaimed that this was a very unfair deal!  Cáilte’s reply was that the story showed the two kinds of men there are, some that value the first half of Ireland and some that value the second.  Each felt they had the best deal but it was only the second kind of man who would be happy in the Fianna.

After Fionn had successfully recovered his father’s precious Oxter bag, it was decided he should be installed as the leader of the Fianna.  So they set off to Tara to present him to the High King.  Now it happened that they arrived at Tara on Samhain eve. It was an important time when the High King was preparing to put on his Samhain feast. This was his tradition every year, but for the last number of years, something dreadful would happen at this feast. Every year, the men sitting around the table would fall asleep, and when they woke, the High King’s hall would be on fire.

Finn Mac Cumhaill decided that he was going to do something about this. He decided that he would stay up all night to see what was going on. He made sure he would not fall asleep by standing with his head rested against the tip of his spear. Every time his head nodded, its weight would press into the spear’s point and wake him.

First, he heard an eerie song of great sweetness. All the men in the hall fell asleep at the sound of it, but Fionn managed to keep himself awake with the spear.  He saw a hillside near Tara, on which was a fairy fort, open up, and a magical creature emerging from the earth. It was singing a sweet song, and its breath was fiery. When the creature approached Tara, Fionn doused its fiery breath with his cloak, and raced out to fight with it. The creature retreated back to the hillside, but just as it reached the fort, Fionn Mac Cumhaill struck off its head! The hillside started to close, so Finn stuck his hand in to try and keep it open, but his thumb got stuck and he had a hard time to pull it out!

The people of Tara woke up, and there was great rejoicing when they found that the hall was not on fire around them, and the Fionn Mac Cumhaill had killed the terrible fiery beast! The High King praised him, and Goll Mac Morna gave up his leadership of the Fianna to Fionn. Each man of the Fianna put his hands in the hand of Finn as a token of loyalty, and in this way, he became their leader.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Oral storytelling is always heard in terms of today,  we learn from anthropologists.  In this spirit, here are some of the connections and insights collected from participants at Wave 2 of Nine Waves Immersions II.

Connection 1 – The population falls asleep as danger approaches
The magical creature that sends everyone to sleep was felt to be ‘sharply pertinent’ in the circumstances of today.  Obvious connections were to the songs of ‘patriotism, democracy, liberty, freedom’ which can lull people into a blind unconscious, cult like following.  Others take on the ‘sleep’ of the citizens in that it is despair, disempowerment and lack of time, energy or resources to organise and participate meaningfully in the local or national. In short, we collectively fall asleep!

Connection 2 – It is the King’s Hall that is destroyed
It is significant that it is the King’s Hall which is the meeting place of the Tribes, which is what is destroyed by the creative.  In the context of the wider mythology, Fionn is returning to Tara and is immediately faced with a dangerous task.  The King’s Hall is the place where the tribes meet, it is the location where the ‘Fifth Province” is enacted.  Fionn’s task is to restore.  In so doing he is restoring the balancing and integrating function of the Fifth Province.

Some saw in this Fionn story the fire breathing monster as being the neoliberal, libertarian, anti-government ideology of hyper individualism.  The consequence is isolation and loneliness described in Robert Putnam’s study ‘Bowling Alone’. Some made the connection to  the examination of the Myths of the Civil War that is the Battle of Mag Lena (Bard Summer School 2020 write up) where we learned that Conn took Ireland from its ‘Fifths’.

Connection 3 – The Beast sings a ‘Sweet Song’
It is not overt hostility that is the danger. It is not some vengeful tribe that is the threat. No, it is rather a ‘sweet song’.  Modern dangers then come couched in a deceptive way. This then can lower our guard.  But the consequence is every bit as damaging.  This was seen by some as escapism entertainment, distractions, addictions, all ways of drawing the ‘masses’ away from an existential crisis.  Danger as a “sweet song”!  The other point made was that evil can have a banal and familiar face.  Hannah Arendt’s report on the Trial of Eichmann, entitled “a Report on the Banality of Evil’.

Connection 4 – Staying awake hurts
The symbolism of Fionn with his forehead resting on the sharp point of a spear as a reminder that ‘staying awake’ can hurt!  Going to sleep with all the others is the easy path.  You can’t just decide to stay away (“get woke”) you have to work at it.  The spear to the forehead suggests risk, pain, danger and is symbolic of the emotional pain of facing hard truths about life, self and the world.

Connection 5 – Nature of the fiery beast
One of the mythical resonances was with the Beowulf myth where Grendel is the ‘beast’ that is destroying the Mead Hall.  John Gardner has written a book from the perspective of the beast entitled ‘Grendel’.  We could do the same, was one of the comments,  with the beast in the Fianna story.  And in this regard we might come to understand exactly what is the nature and intention of the ‘fiery beast’?

Connection 6 – Joining the Fianna
The story of the King’s sons spelled out clearly the choice between two ways of life, two ideologies: the materialistic and the trusting, the ideology of acquisition and the ideology of trust, and trust of nature.  It is clear the Fianna identify with the land, with nature and with the environment.  The obvious connections here were with the social/political problems caused by natural destruction (of the earth) the need to protect and respect and the Fianna skill of walking ‘light on the earth’ (not breaking any twigs).

Connection 7 – Cúchulain and Fionn MacCumhail
The point of comparison was made between Cú Chullain as the hero within the tribe and Fionn as the hero outside the tribe, the figure who occupies liminal space.  Cú Chullain as the cultural hero whose role is to defend what exists from the outside attack. Fionn is more part of a liminal, rite of passage hero who marks a passage from boy to man.

Other obvious differences were noted. While Cú Chullain stands out as a pure warrior the Fenian tradition includes other important dimensions and skills. The Fenians included  wisdom, and one of the early stories being the salmon of knowledge. It also meant  absorbing many books of poetry, This is a warrior bard.  Clearly what we have here is two markedly different cultural heroes. The hypothetical question was made asking, could Ireland have achieved independence by means of the Fionn energy route rather than a Cúchulain one?

Connection 8 – Sucking the Thumb
Fionn and the sucking of the thumb has obvious connotations of the ‘child’.  Here we have wisdom portrayed as having a child archetype dimension, that is seeing the world through the unencumbered lens of the innocent.

The other familiar reference is the “emperor’s new clothes” story where it is the child who sees, but also is the one that states what they see, so clearly. It is as if  Ireland’s ancient wisdom recognises this clearly in the “thumb sucking”!

Connection 9 – The Samhain Festival
An interesting point and interpretation was made that the beast is coming from outside and at a time when things are open to the otherworld. This then was seen as being a visitation  from the unconscious and represents repressed psychological energies.

One comment was that perhaps there was  a burning ceremony at Samhain to cleanse, burn away, release. And speculated that maybe the people forgotten the Samhain rite and ritual?  So was this a reminder to return to a natural balancing ritual that was in the ancient calendar. Except that the fire ceremonies are more associated with the May Bealtaine Festival!

Wave 1 – Birth and Boyhood Deeds of Fionn MacCumhail

The Fianna were a powerful fighting force who lived off the land, as hunters and trackers in the Summer months and as storytellers and entertainers in the Winter.  They feasted and made merry.  They had no land or belongings and yet were unfailingly generous wherever they went.  They were given a hearty welcome.

There were two main groups within the Fianna: Clan Baiscne and Clan Morna led by Cumhail and Goll MacMorna respectively.  Cumhail had with him one of the great treasures of the Fianna – an oxter bag.  All he had to do was reach into this bag for anything he needed.

Cumhail fell in love with the beautiful Muirne, daughter of the Druid Tadgh, who refused the marriage.  Cumhail abducted Muirne.  Furious, Tadgh went to King Conn Cead Cathach to ask for his support.  Goll was with the King and the Fianna found themselves at war with each other.

Goll kills Cumhail in this Battle of Cnoca and takes on leadership of the Fianna.  During the battle the oxter bag is stolen.  But Muirne is now pregnant and Tadgh threatens to kill mother and child.  His sister, Bodhmall steps in and brings mother and child to Sliveve Blooms for protection.   Muirne is a deer woman, hence her child’s name being Demne, Little Stag.  He could run very fast.  Bod.   Was a warrior trainer and teaches the young boy martial arts.

Aged 6, Demne heads off to Kill Goll MacMorna, in disguise with a group of travelling poets.  Because of his golden hair he is now called Fionn, son of Cumhail.  He meets a woman whose son hasd been been killed by a great warrior.  He vows to kill the warrior who he finds and challenges to a single combat.  He finds he has the oxter bag so the young boy has recovered one of the Fianna’s great treasures.

He then goes to study with an old Druid, Finneagas who has been trying to catch the Salmon of Knowledge.  The Druid is skin and bone because of how he has been obsessed with his task.  At long last Finneagas is successful and they cook the salmon.  Fionn is told not to taste the salmon as the Druid heads off.  But it blisters, he puts his thumb there and then into his mouth.  Hence he acquires the ability to access knowledge, just by putting his thumb in this mouth.

The Connections and insights from Participants

Here are some of the most significant connections and insight from participants and collected by the Bard team:

Connection 1 – Triple Fosterage – 3 mothersThe remarkable mothering of the young boy, Demne, could be seen as triple mothers: Muirne, Bodhmall and Liath Luachra was a great start for any child.  It was also a reminder of the Triple Goddess, so important in the Mythological Cycle.  This start, it was felt, would build a wise, courageous, soulful and nature loving child.

Connection 2 – The Natural World – Animal SymbolismThere was considerable imagery taken from the natural world and this was clearly a ‘source of wisdom’.  Salmon of Knowledge, deer and speed of foot and mind, crane/oxter bag as a source of needs met and insight.  What also seemed to be evident was nature as a source of abundance.  And the naming of the young man as deer (Demne) is a clear natural world direct association.

Connection 3 – The Context of FearIt felt as if the atmosphere of brutality was evident following the Battle of Cnoca – the first Civil War.  A climate of fear, revenge and slaughter was evident and was the world into which Demne/Fionn was born.  His early life was absolutely one of great danger.

Connection 4 – The Importance of GenerosityThe recurring theme of generosity was evident in Fionn’s natural and immediate response to the woman who has lost her own son.  This provided a cyclical linkage to his father, Cumhail and the battle at which the oxter/crane bag was lost.  It also enabled Fionn to recover the ‘bag’ – a reward which was connected to the generosity, but was not his motivation.  He didn’t know.  Also Finneagas’s generosity to Fionn when he has clearly lost what he most desired – the salmon’s great knowledge

Connection 5 – The Consequence of ReflexFinn’s tasting of the salmon had life altering consequences.  But it was a reflex reaction and indeed had to be for it wouldn’t have worked if he had tasted the salmon deliberately.  It was also a reflex reaction to help the mother of the murdered child.  Echoes here of Parsifal who asks the question of the Grail King in an innocent reflexive way

Connection 6 – Wisdom and Thumb suckingThe access to the wisdom of the world is through Fionn ‘sucking his thumb’.  This seems to represent the natural wisdom of the child that is suppressed and lost in adulthood.  Is this why parents admonish it?  Fearing their children will become wiser than them?  This is the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ story

Connection 7 – The Values of the FiannaThe three core values of the Fianna were strength of limb, purity of heart and actions to match their words.  The focus on body and heart (emotion) as well as consistency between ‘say’ and ‘do’.  Not evident among so many leaders.

Connection 8 – The Fionn Heritage
The link with Fintan MacBochra with Fionn was clear.  This makes the centrality and consistency of ‘wisdom’ within this tradition.  It also comes across from one cycle (Mythological) to another (Fenian).

Connection 9 – A Lesbian connectionWhat exactly is the nature of the relationship between Bodhmall and Liath Luachra – two warrior women who live together.  Just a (modern) reflection.

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