Articles Tagged with: mac bochra

Wave 3 – Fintan and the Hawk of Achill

Shapeshifting and the Shamanic

In the colloquy of Fintan and the Hawk of Achill we have a dialogue between a wonderful shamanic figure who has lived for 5500 years and a hawk who has lived as long!  The dialogue takes place just before they die.  These two, human and bird have seen it all.

In this story we hear of two more of the “Three Wisdoms of the Irish”.  If Cesair brought the synchronic perspective of knowing all the mythologies of the world, Fintan brought diachronic second wisdom having lived for so many years.  The final foundational wisdom is the ability to shapeshift, an important shamanic gift.

We learn that Fintan had been variously salmon, eagle and hawk.  This third wisdom, shapeshifting, means an ability to see the world from anothers perspective.  In this story it is the perspective of the animal kingdom.  But someone with this skill can surely apply it to the human world – and shapeshift to understand others, understand enemies.

This story gets closest to offering echoes of a Mesolithic (2000 BC – 4000 BC) before the emergence of a Neolithic culture.

We also had a powerful presentation from Chaobang Ai, on his experiences with Shamans in Guyana and the Philippines and the connections between this story and the stories/myths of indigenous peoples around the world.

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 – Mythic History from the Hawk’s Perspective
There was clearly an impersonal, detached quality in the hawk’s reflections in the dialogue with Fintan.  Was the hawk being sadistic, or bureaucratic and simply doing what a hawk does?  Was the hawk relishing in the bloodiness of a battlefield or simply fulfilling what a bird of prey does in its cosmic and transcendental role in recycling the dead (warriors on the battlefield) and reintegrating them into nature.  Hawks, it seems, don’t do compassion or sentiment!  Fintan on the other hand did bring some compassion to his telling!  The contrast was very clear.

Connection 2 – The Ecological Role of Birds
From the perspective of the narrative it was easy to see the ecological importance of birds, especially birds of prey in playing an important role as recycler.  The hawk was detached from the personal or tribal sentiments.  From here it was possible to appreciate their role in the greater good in regard to nature and the natural world.  So what we as humans might see as a cruel detachment could also be framed as ecologically positive.


Connection 3 – The Ecological Role of Birds
In the colloquy both the hawk and Fintan have lived for thousands of years.  They have seen the entire ‘mythic history’ of Ireland.  What this clearly spoke to was an extraordinary wisdom and insight.  But as listeners we were left with a feeling of the loneliness that goes with an extremely long life.  It means the guaranteed and repeated loss of everyone one knows. This sense of loneliness also had strong resonances with people in the Covid 19 context with people having to deal with the deaths of people close to us and also large numbers of people dying alone in care homes and hospitals.  That shared loneliness acted to bring Fintan and the Hawk together at the end despite prior antagonisms in a deep understanding and companionship.

Connection 4 – The Fighting and Bloodshed
There was, it seems, considerable amounts of fight and bloodshed in the two shared stories.  Or is it that these are the stand out moments in a mythic history?  Were the Irish always fighting?

Connection 5 – Shapeshifting and Oneness with Nature
The shapeshifting of Fintan who told of his time as salmon, hawk and eagle was felt as a meditative journey but also in a current context, was felt to be relevant to how lockdown gave rise to new rituals and ceremonies (including the Bard sessions) that help us to remember how it is to be human.


Connection 6 – Circularity of Life
Connections made to the circularity of life being from death to life to death whether it was for Fintan or the Hawk or individuals or communities or even Ireland as a whole.  Unlike the linear rational thought of Greco Roman culture this world view is far more circular.

Connection 7 – Encounters with Shamans
The pursuit of shamanic energy and experience was valued but how could it be the real thing as opposed to New Age type stuff which misuse language and symbols.  Discussion took place on the impact of the Catholic Church and modernity on the shamanic values.  In Irish myth the connection with the Cailleach and the negative branding of shamanic elements as “witches” etc.  Reflection on the loss of the shamanic experiences and indigenous communities around the world was expressed especially in relation to Chaobang Ai’s recounting of meeting shamans with indigenous people in Guyana and the Philippines.

Wave 2 – The Cesair Journey

An epic journey and a foundation myth of Ireland

In regard to the beliefs of the ancient Irish about their origins what we know is that we don’t know.  Whatever nature origin legends there may have been did not survive the arrival of Christianity.  What we do know, however,  is that these origin questions were important to them.

What does emerge from literary and historical sources is a series of settlements of “people who come from somewhere else” often fleeing hardship, wars, floods.  This foundation mythology is captured in a collection of stories put together in the late eleventh century, Lebor Gabála Érenn, “The Book of the Taking of Ireland”.

The first arrivee was Cesair, fifty women and three men including her partner, Fintan MacBochra.  She arrived after an epic journey that started in East Africa, in Meroe and travelled all the known world.  In some versions she was refused a place in the Ark.  In a sense the first arrivee was an outcast, and her myth was that of a “Not Chosen” people.   We also told a version in which Cesair and her people were the ‘great founders’ of Ireland – its first people.     


The first arrivee brought a formidable woman and the ‘mothers of the world’.  Imagine that she was informed by the wisdom of knowing the Myths of all the Known World in the various cultures she passed through on her epic journey.

The Connections and insights from Participants

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

Connection 1 – The Flood as a Primal Mythic Moment
Myths have frequent recourse to a primal moment .  These are events or happenings that affects everyone in the society and which they remember for a very long time.  In the case of Cesair and her people it was floods as their primal moment.  Today it is a ‘virus – Covid 19’ but both are primal world shaping moments and times.  A war whether external or a civil is another typical primal moment.

Connection 2 – Difference between the Versions
The participants observed how little you have to do to oral story to fundamentally change its meaning fundamentally.  In one version Cesair and her folk are the ‘great founders’ of Ireland as its first arrivees.  In another version (based on old texts) the Cesair party are essentially ‘outcasts’ in that they are not allowed on Noah’s Ark.  Each version has very different meanings and identity value.  Which do you prefer to tell and believe is an important question.

Connection 3 – Why do we not know this story?
Every time the Bard team tell the Cesair story we find there is little knowledge among the public of the story.  The Bard Global Survey confirmed this lack of knowledge.  Participants ask why?  Was this founding myth of a strong woman and her accompanying 50 ‘mothers of the world’ effectively written out of history?  Did the monks or other Christians seek to marginalise it

Connection 4 – An Irish Dreamtime
The aborigines have the idea of ‘dreamtime’ where they essentially imagine (dream) a world into existence.  Given, as outlined, there is little knowledge of this story.  It obviously offers itself as an alternative creation myth – perhaps of a people who came from somewhere else?  To embrace this epic story could mean a people changing the story/myth they tell about themselves.
Myths, if they are implicit or unconscious drive us though we don’t know it.  To become conscious of the myths we live by is to gain agency.  It is about an individual or a people owning the myths it lives by.  A people can change its identity and its myths.  And to do so is to create a dreamtime – an Irish dreamtime.

Connection 5 – The Gendered Aspect – Women/Goddess
One of the connections and insights made was that this is a ‘women led’ venture and one in which women are dominant.  The new religion, Christianity had its own ‘myth of origins’ to propagate, an intention to repudiate the old gods.  It was also a patriarchal religion.  The Bard participants were of course acutely aware of the gendered aspects of this story.  And many inspired by the obvious gender of the key protagonists!

Connection 6 – Parallels with Greek Mythology
There is an obvious parallel in Greek Myth with the great sea journey of Odysseus and his companions back to Ithaca from Troy.  The obvious differences being the sheer length of Cesair’s Journey (is it ten times as long?) and the face of it being a new start rather than a journey home as in the Odyssey.

Connection 7 – Archetype of the Mother

Cesair as the archetype of the mother as creator, founder, protector, nurturer and source of strength was noted.  At the same time Cesair is not a typical ‘maternal’ mother but rather one with a very strong sense of agency, independence and purpose.

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