Moving things around and more re-self-publishing

Air n-Aithesc logo

Some, maybe, have noticed that I have moved the website to http://dunsgathan.net/feannog/  the old folder will forward you there from old links.

At the same time, I have also created a page to house links (this link goes to said page) to PDFs of articles originally published in Air n-Aithesc (this link goes to the magazines page)   

At this time the page has “‘By Force in the Battlefield’: Finding the Irish Female Hero” and “Going into Wolf-Shape” up. Will get the other two I have ownership of up in the near future.

 

Excerpt from ‘“By Force in the Battlefield”: Finding the Irish Female Hero’

AnA Issue 1

I’m still not feeling real bloggy so I thought I’d do another teaser for those who are not reading Air n-Aithesc yet. Which is where my writing lives these days…while we wait for the third issue to come out on Imbolc. This is one of two from the first issue which can be purchased here. Unfortunately, this one does start out a bit depressing, you really do have to buy the magazine to find the more positive spin. ~;p

 

 “By Force in the Battlefield”: Finding the Irish Female Hero

When an Morrígan came into my life in the late ‘80s, She tasked me with two duties that it was clear I must work on. One was to reexamine my pacifist habits and begin walking the warrior path in very concrete ways, which included physical training I never would have previously considered. The other was to learn as much as I could about Her culture, to try to find practices that were as much in keeping with it as I could. I knew both challenges would be difficult, but at least I had many heroic female warriors from Celtic history and myth to inspire me.

 

Sadly, as I got more into the cultural studies, even changing my focus at college to concentrate on women in the Celtic cultures, I learned differently about all those warrior women. Having had only shallow exposure to Celtic history and literature before, mostly through the lens of the Pagan community I was involved in, it certainly seemed that there had been a lot of material that I was about to wade more deeply into. Yet, the truth is that I already had heard retellings, often exaggerated, of most of what was there. There were a few new names and short tales, sometimes only a sentence or two long, I had yet to discover, but very few. I also realized that most of the major names I already knew really had very little information behind them, other than Medb.

Read the rest purchase copy 

Previously I posted an excerpt from “Muimme naFiann: Foster-mother of heroes” which is in the second issue.

Copyright © 2014 Saigh Kym Lambert

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt.3 Our Gods and Heroes in Pop Culture

If we’re going to talk about Pop Culture in Paganism, I think we should discuss the flip side, Paganism in Pop Culture. Given my own interests, I’m going to stick with the Gaelic Gods and heroes in movies, TV and related media. Novels would make  it such a huge undertaking that I can’t even begin to think about it other than a couple of mentions. Really, I’m going to just skim the surface here, because there’s a lot out there already. And all of it goes from sucking to really, really sucking.

Some are optimistic about Pop Culture depictions of the literature, Gorm Sionnach finds hope that greater positive interest might be gained by more modern exposure to the stories. On the Norse side of things, where there has been as Gorm Sionnach also noted much more exposure, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried expresses a positive opinion of the Marvel Thor comics, as well as discusses the continued popularity of Norse mythology in Pop Culture. Certainly the series Vikings has met with much positive reactions among Heathens, although I have seen snipes in various groups along with the praise. And there is no denying that the many decades of Tolkien’s popularity has been a “gate-way drug” for many into Heathen ways.

Of course, one of the things I think I personally like about Tolkien’s work is that he based his based his stories on the lore and cultures, yet the “names have been changed to protect the ancient.” That sort of fictionalization I’m a bit more comfortable with. Do with it as you will, but skip the actual names.

Over the past few years there has been much talk of movies based on Cú Chulainn and the Táin Bó Cúailnge. One attempt, Hound by Breakthru Films, appears to have been “on hold” for about three years. It’s unclear what the future is. Michael Fassbender was talking plans for a movie as well, last year, apparently with his 30something self playing the boy Cú Chulainn.  Depicting Cú Chulainn as an adult is likely going to be only part of the problem. I, of course, am just so looking forward to more misogyny thrown at Medb. (you really did catch the sarcasm there, right? At this point I don’t want to be too subtle).  And that is, of course, as far as even scholars get to so I don’t expect any film writer to do much better. (for an academic look that doesn’t do this, see my review of Dominiguez’s book and then see the book. I also discuss this a bit in ‘“By Force in the Battlefield”: Finding the Irish Female Hero’ publication pending)

There have been, of course, several novelizations of the story, I’m just not going to try to round them all up. Morgan Llewellyn’s perhaps the most famous. There is also a new graphic novel by Will Sliney, Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn also with an oddly adult looking, but thankfully beardless, CC. Of course, Medb is a pencil with boobs in a painted on bodiced dress…so period.  Considering the rich descriptions given in the Táin itself, you’d think an artist would actually have some fun using those descriptions. I don’t get it, this is just standard comic book art, at its most sexist at that.

This is not to say there aren’t modern pop culture depictions I haven’t enjoyed. I quite love the power and atmosphere that Horslips created in their album The Tain even if some points could be picked apart. This album just hits me in the feels real hard. However, I fear that when compared to such musical attempts that these movies will be more in line with the truly horrid The Tain album by The Decemberists complete with Andy Smetanka’s equally horrid video...although at least CC looks like the boy not an adult man.Of course, my love for one and dislike of the other may also just show that I’m old. Well, okay, so there was one I liked.

There is also another movie, The Curse of Macha, which is supposed to come out sometime this year. It seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the story it’s titled for, perhaps fortunately. I have also heard that a Finn Mac Cumhail movie and/or graphic novel is being made. It remains to be seen what any of these projects will become.

I suppose when it comes to a big reason why I doubt that a lot of Pop Culture exposure is going to have a positive resonation for Gaelic Paganism has to do with what’s happened so far. We can, of course, look to the more “mainstream” Pagan, with it’s Wiccan and Witchy focus, and the fun they’ve had with newbees coming in with their heads filled with The Craft and Charmed during the ’90s (and probably still). But I can look closer to home.

While Gorm Sionnach is hopeful to see more of the Morrígan in the upcoming American Gods series, I am hoping that She is not going to be expanded. Of course, American Gods is one of the few novels featuring Gods which I rather love (and here’s the first place I get to mention Linda Hamilton, as she mentioned it as one of her favorite novels of all time during the panel discussion at Chicago Comiccon 2010, making us co-fangirls!), as I think it raises some interesting questions, and I didn’t utterly hate his depiction of Her although I’m glad it was brief just in case. That means I have issues with the HBO series because of a tendency to hate movies based on novels I love. But, no, She’s rather been used and abused too much in pop culture, in my opinion.

“Morrigan” either as title or name and always mispronounced (although in the same way most Pagans also do) is actually real popular in pop culture. I’ve already ranted on, a good bit, about DC Comics Wonder Woman depiction in what is, sadly, my most popular post. In comics the title, along with some of the other Túatha Dé Danann have appeared in Marvel…apparently a bit more positively.

Darkstalkers
Morrigan Aensland in Darkstalkers

If you Google “Morrigan” the first links and images you will get do not relate to the Goddess at all, but to the green-haired, bat-winged succubus from the video game Darkstalkers. She was born in Scotland 300 years ago. I’m not sure anyone is at this point confusing her with the Goddess. But that may be coming.

Dragon Age
In Dragon Age

It has happened with another popular game character with the name, a mortal shape-shifting witch in the game Dragon Age. Doesn’t seem too confusing, does it?  A few days ago, while gathering material for this post I came across a very popular page for the Goddess, which along with a great deal of general Pagan fluff and misinformation about Her, had an entry about “Morrigan” the “daughter of Flemeth” and so forth. Presented, and shared I saw, as if it was information about the Goddess. Yes, no confusion there. Mind you, not that much more inaccurate that many other Pagan writings about Her but…

Hercules/Xena
In Xena and Hercules

On TV we have had a “Morrigan” show up in Xena and Hercules. And here we again can look at another example. I think we might want to ask how much many Hellenic Reconstructionists loved these shows liberties with their Gods on a regular basis. Which means I suppose I shouldn’t bitch too much about the inventiveness they took with the pan-Celtic mishmash they added later.  Yes, all in campy fun. But the truth is, I still meet up with people who confuse the shows’ “mythology” withe actual Greek mythology, which has long been available. Again, not real hopeful that confusion isn’t an issue.

Sanctuary
In Sanctuary

More recently there was Sanctuary‘s depiction of three enslaved sisters used against King Arthur, that typical and mistaken conflation with Morgan. Also, Scottish rather than Irish, so perhaps Darkstalkers comprised some of their research too.

 

Lost Girl
In Lost Girl

Also on the SyFy channels is a show I really would like to have liked. Lost Girl, after all, has one of the few bisexual main characters found in the mainstream media. Of course, she’s a succubus, which brings it’s own issues for me.  There is also the matter that (here we are again) Linda Hamilton appeared this past season and is scheduled to appear again. As a Valkyrie, apparently.  I really want to love anything she’s in. And I did watch the episode and she was great in it and looked awesome….love leather jackets, so…  But the general liberties taken with a plethora of folk legends and lore are annoying even before coming to the fact that “the Morrigan” is the title given to the leader of the Dark Fae, one of the two groups trying to get Bo, the lead character, to take sides. *sigh* Really?

Of course, I’m just a downer on this stuff, even when it’s just the culture and not the Gods or legendary heroes. I have issues with anachronisms and out right inventions made out to be history or lore. I have already blasted the way the Picts are, well, depicted in CenturionI could do the same with other movies, such as King Arthur. I adore Brave, but largely despite it being placed in Scotland….it could have been placed in any place or time.

While more knowledge about the Gaelic cultures in our mainstream might be nice, I think that any story using our beloved literature or history will be muddied with what sells. While I know some are bothered by Pagans who use Pop Culture icons in their practice due to it being commercial property, I am far more worried about our culture and lore being made into commercial property.  Of course, in either case what will be will be. More people will still know “Morrigan Aensland” than will know the Daughters of Ernmas and some will confuse Them with the daughter of “Flemeth.”  Perhaps at some point someone will do a really good rendition of one of our stories. But I fear, I remain pessimistic on that.

If you have missed them the first two installments were Part 1: Deities and Icons and Part 2: Warrior Cults and Charm Schools.
I also have added Part 4: Training

 Text copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert 
Art from linked pages owned by the licensed owner and used here for critique purposes

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 1 Deities and Icons

 A few weeks ago I was going to write a post about the relationship between my path following the War Goddesses and my pop culture interests and involvement in the Sarah Connor Charm School. I hadn’t gotten around to it, because it’s a busy time of year on the homestead and I was supposed to spend my writing time on an article which has a deadline (and I give myself an earlier one so I can get some feed back from a few trusted friends before sending it off). But it’s raining, and while I suppose I could be doing house work I’m not, and the article is in rough draft and I need a break before editing it so…here I am…

Meanwhile, during the time I wasn’t writing that I started to see links posted on  FB about some explosion about Pop Culture Worship on the Pagan Blogsphere. It wasn’t happening in any blogs I read nor were any Pagans I know who are students of pop culture (yes, this is studied), in fact, none of them seem to have piped up on it yet. I suspect one is watching for a research paper at this point. ~;p So I didn’t pay much attention until it did land in a blog I do read. I discussed some there, although by the time it landed in another blog I read, my interest in chatting had faded.  The first link has a lot of links to much of what was written before, although it seems to have continued going all over the place. I’ve only read a few, mostly just skimmed, most I haven’t.

And I’m not really going to get into the argument. There are too many things that came up that I could, but most seem to partially come from 1) perhaps caring a bit too much about what the fuck other people are doing. Yeah, I can go there, but I’m old and tired now, it doesn’t interest me much unless it affects my work in some way (like liars I have associated with and people who are claiming things about Gaelic culture that is insanely stupid). 2) Most of these opinions are expressed without a real understanding of certain aspects of pop culture studies that, well, I’m too old and tired to go into the entire background of here. It could take books, after all, then I’d have to come around to what has been said and where that fits or doesn’t. The overwhelming concern with pop cultures as “consumerist” is part of why I see no point really getting into it as that both over simplifies pop culture and also forgets the agendas of survival (in a different economic system) behind many of our old stories). There isn’t as much difference between modern pop culture and the popular cultures of the past as I think some people seem to think, just shortening the term doesn’t give it a different meaning. But I’m too old and tired to give 30 years of work in one blog post.  3) This idea is certainly nothing new. I’ve been around too many fucking Discordians and too many “Jungian Archetype” Pagans, often mixed, for far to fucking long to get my panties in a bunch about this. Where were you all talking about this 30 years ago?  Really, you’re just discovering this?

So I’m mostly going to discuss this in regards to, well, me…this is my fucking blog after all. And, of course, this post, which was partially planned already, may seem a bit defensive. Oh, well.

Of course, only one of the those blogging might read my blog, maybe. Has links to here anyway. But others might see that this blog mixes pop culture and spirituality, read that I have a Sarah Connor action figure on my gym shrine and such and come away with the idea that I worship Sarah Connor. Sorry, that would be weird (especially as I’ve met Linda Hamilton and it would be all weirdly conflated and how weird is that for her? Hells, it seems to have taken time for her to come to terms with the whole icon thing as it is). So here’s the deal, some of us make personal spiritual connections with pop culture without worshiping them. Deal with it.

The Sarah Connor figure on my shrine doesn’t represent any Goddess, They are represented by a statue, a modern artist’s interpretation of an Morrígan. “Sarah” is there to be a modern representation of warrior woman, not just this one character but a general, well, archetype. Yes, while I am a hard polytheist about my Gods, I also see the power of archetypes. I don’t worship them either. She’s there to be, as the character is for me, something to strive towards. And it’s important to me to have modern representation, not just those out of the Iron Age. Because I don’t live in the Iron Age.

Sarah Connor action figure and Dryad Design Morrigan statue

That, of course, goes with much of what else I do. My primary interest in training on the warrior path is modern, I might like sword training, but for me it’s not as practical as shooting. I try to do both, of course, because it allows me to honor the past and be ready in the present. Mind you, sword training can be practical, as my knees continue to age it might be more so for I might carry a cane as often as I do a gun. But in general, I’d just as soon have the gun too. I’m not role playing.

There seems to be some concept that if we focus on modern pop culture images that They might use it to connect with us. Well, yes. I just don’t see the same problem with that that others seem to have. And I also don’t think we can avoid it. See, I’m of the mind that it happens all the time already. Look at “alien abduction” and the similarities with Fairy encounters of the past. I’m personally not with the Whitley Strieber camp that that means the Folk, let alone the Gods, have been aliens all along. I believe instead the Folk show themselves to people in ways that those people might identify with, as it’s useful. It’s going to happen, we are products of our time.  And They are timeless.

Back in the days when my head was sort of stuck in the past, I had two things happen to me. One was a meditation in a warrior path workshop where we were told to approach a mirror and see ourselves as the warriors we wish to become. I actually approached expecting to see myself as my imagining of an Iron Age warrior, but instead I was pretty much dressed much as I was dressed, not much unlike Sarah Connor actually but for colder camping conditions. Unlike as I was then, in MA and not having made peace with guns, I also had firearms. It was a clear reminder to me to stay in the present.

Shortly after that I met one of the War Goddesses. Before this They always appeared archaic. This time, She was wearing a black wool skirt just below the knee, black tights and sensible shoes, a black sweater, neatly tailored black leather jacket and a beret. Same face I knew but the tattooing only faintly showing, same tri-colored hair but shorter and Her braids not as noticeable; She could have been mistaken for a human if one didn’t look closely. I’d been doing research on the IRA at the time, so I recognized this. But I also got the message here, “I am of Ulster at heart, but of all time.”  Mostly I still see Them in more archaic garb, but, again, it was a time when I think I could have fallen into too much romance of the distant past and I needed to be reminded not to.

No, She hasn’t appeared dressed as Sarah Connor, but if She did it wouldn’t be the same as me suddenly worshiping the character. After all, She’d have Her own face as I know it and tri-colored braids. It would be simply another form for the Shape-shifter, it would be up to me to reason why. After all this, it might even be a joke. I know better than to take everything seriously now.

 

Oh, wait, I’ve changed my mind

Yeah, I’m going to run off a few thoughts about the whole “pop culture is different from past popular cultures.” In order to avoid writing the book that this could take, I will probably get a bit disjointed. I also realize this is going to be at least two blog posts to get back to my original plan.

I do not know that there was ever a Goddess actually worshiped by the pre-Christian Irish titled the Morrígan. I don’t know for sure that there were Goddesses named Macha, Badb or Anand or if any would have born the title if They were. I don’t have one single myth. Anyone who calls the Irish literature “mythology” is mistaken. It’s not.  You can wish it to be, but it’s not.  It’s literature, written by Christian monks. And, at the core, that’s the only thing we really know about it.

We know it correlates to place names, but we don’t know what that means. So we know for some reason Emain Macha exists, but…we have multiple stories about why. (Meyer et al) Ronald Hutton’s take on this is that “It looks as if the authors knew nothing of her except her name, and were inventing stories to go with it.”(Hutton) Now, personally, I don’t believe that they created all these stories out of thin air, but the fact remains we don’t know. All these stories may well be complete fictions created with Biblical and Classical stories in mind, as the Monks certainly knew the latter as well as former,, or they may be older Irish stories with some Biblical and Classical elements added. That the Biblical elements have been included is indisputable, it’s just a matter of what they’re introduced to. The Classical can be debated, are these similarities from common Indo-Eureopean threads or directly lifted? This depends on if you follow natavist or anti-nativist thinking…or, like me, tend to be a bit in between. (Wooding)

The debate about the literature and it’s possible connection to pre-Christian ideas is going to go on. Most of us work around our doubts, find what we believe to be the voices of our Gods there, even when we have dismissed notions that any of these clerics purposely tried to keep Pagan ways alive. They had many different agendas, but I doubt that one. Yet, we still find power there because at least part of it is a continuation of the culture, even if the culture we get it from was decidedly Christian. Folklore still told by the people also changed, we have no idea what it was in the centuries before it was recorded even later than the literature. We hope, we pray, and it has meaning for us despite this.

For a lot of scholars, btw, it’s fiction. Interesting, telling of the time it was written, but fiction. I’ve seen Pagans get huffy about it, but that’s what it remains for many who have delved very deeply into it.

The simple truth is that all stories we have, no matter how old, no matter if they were through story telling or written down, have people with agendas behind them. Especially when they get written down. How different is it for a scribe 1000 years ago to keep himself alive by writing a fake history that pleases a king and a writer today who writes something marketable so she can try to make a living?  I suppose some will find major differences, but I don’t.

When we read the warrior tales, we see some really repugnant behavior, much which goes against the values expressed in the contemporary legal systems, from the heroes of the tales. This includes Cú Chulainn and Conchobar, of the Ulster cycle (something which I’ve been focused on lately a bit). Does this mean it’s our own sensibilities that are offended? As I said, much would go against the early Christian laws. Or might we think that the scribes had little interest in showing these Pagan warriors in a good light. Is this any different from a screenwriter who believes women should not behave “like men” getting license for one of the very characters he once complained wasn’t his definition of appropriately feminine? There are always agendas behind stories.

But story is always more than the agenda of those who create or tell it. Every person makes it something different. In feminist critique there is the concept of coding (or filtering). Whether it’s ancient tales (this has been used greatly in studies of folk tales, or modern.(Radner) People code things, change the stories in their own heads, in accordance to their own experiences. It isn’t only a gender thing, although that’s where most of the study has been, but also class, culture, sexual orientation, religion….pretty much everything that makes us different from one another. Diana Dominguez uses this method in her study of Medb, looking at how women, as well as the men usually focused on, might have coded these stories.(Dominguez)  I think over all studies of Irish literature could benefit from this form of  critique, again not just the gender issues. What do people get from it based on their backgrounds is as important to consider as what the creators might have meant.

What I’m coming to, and there could be so much more here, is that the differences between old stories and new ones exist but perhaps not as greatly as some think. It’s just our distance from one as compared to the other that makes it seem so. Rather like how so many people are surprised by every little finding that shows people have always been people, we always seem to think those in the past were greatly different than us. Everyone is different, but that’s just one way we’ve always been the same. ~;)

Seeking Inspiration

I think we’re now way beyond any idea that I’m talking about worshiping Sarah Connor or any other pop culture character. Let’s get to what spiritual meaning might be found separate of worship. Because that’s a big deal for me.

As I said, I believe story is important. It shapes us since were children and, yes, our stories come through TV, movies and comics as much as through books and far, far more than oral telling or even live plays.  Some people are geared to it more than others, some spend vast amounts of time role playing, cosplaying, writing fanfic, participating in fan clubs, going to cons. Some of us spend hours reading media critique and writing it. There are people who are not mindful of their media intake at all, perhaps the majority. But some of us know we are affected. We also know others are affected and we worry about it.

Yeah, some of that’s a “woman thing.” And I think that’s another issue that comes up for me. While men on a Gaelic warrior path have tons of old literature depicting their heroes as heroes, although I do hope they question some of the “heroic” acts described, you know such as rape, as I woman I’m not left with much. Despite the popular belief that there are lots of women warriors to be found, there really aren’t that many. And the one who has the most material about her is the villain of the piece, although I personally code her as more heroic than the Ulstermen she fights, all things considered and Dominguez”s study gives lots of reasons why. There are a couple of other women warriors who show heroism, one you’ll find in some links I’ve given already, but their tales are very short. One really is no more than a paragraph. This, btw, is the topic of the article I have been working on, I’ll let you know if it gets published.

So along with also looking for modern day role models, we sometimes just looking for role models. Any. And we’re not going to just be looking in the past. Are there real life ones we could be looking to instead, shit yeah! In fact, the Sarah Connor Charm School has developed a strong focus for honoring such women.  But Sarah Connor sums up all of that in one fictional package. And, of course, it brings up that she isn’t completely fictional, because she’s all of us. In all of us. Yes, including the paranoid conspiracy theory parts, in at least some of us. *ahem*   Again, there’s that archetype thing.

I feel I’m in pretty good company here. After all, while we are not a  “Gaelic Heathen warrior group” as I’m told someone described us on a Pagan radio podcast, many CR women who walk the warrior path seem to be interested. The reality is that it a very mixed bag, with many of our most active members being Christian. On the academic side, Dominguez has also written about modern warrior female warrior icons, “It’s Not Easy Being a Cast Iron Bitch”: Sexual Difference and the Female Action Hero and Tough and Tender, Buff and Brainy: A New Breed of Female Television Action Hero Blurs the Boundaries of Gender. Because we need to explore what the warrior woman means to us and to the culture.

This is turning out long, I have already accidentally published it and those reading on feeds may well have too much insight to my strange habit of stealing my own FB posts as notes for a blog. ~;p I intend to actually get back to the original post I was going to make in a separate post (EDIT: which is now up: An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 2 Warrior Cults and Charm Schools).  I guess I got sucked into the way more than I thought I would, but I’m leaving the above, where I claim I won’t do that, where it is. (EDIT also Part 3: Our Gods and Heroes in Pop Culture takes a look at the reverse issue)  (EDIT: also Part 4: Training)

Oh, another note, of all the posts on this blog, the Wonder Woman one is more popular than all the other combined, by many times. I do think that tells us something, too.

———————
Kuno Meyer, trans. ‘The Wooing of Emer’“Tochmarc Emire,Archaeological Review 1, 1888, English Irish para. 30 pg. 151-152,

Geoffrey Keating (Seathrún Céitinn), Foras Feasa ar Éirinn: The History of Ireland Vol. 2, David Comyn, Patrick S. Dinneen, eds., London: David Nutt, for the Irish Texts Society, 1902–1914 English Irish Section 28

John O’Donovan ed. and trans., Annala Rioghachta Eireann: Annals of the kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616. Library of the Royal Irish Academy and of Trinity College Dublin Pt 1 English, Irish M4505-M4546

Edward Gwynn, ed. The Metrical Dindshenchas Vol. 4, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1991 (org. 1906) English Irish Poem 12

Ronald Hutton, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 1995 pg. 154

Jonathan M. Wooding’s “Reapproaching the Pagan Celtic Past – Anti-Nativism, Asterisk Reality and the Late-Antiquity Paradigm Studia Celtica Fennica VI, Finnish Society for Celtic Studies, 2009 pg. 51-74

Joan Newlon Radner, ed., Feminist Messages: Coding in Women’s Folk Culture, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993

Diana Dominguez. Historical Residues in the Old Irish Legends of Queen Medb: An Expanded Interpretation of the Ulster Cycle, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2010

copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert

“…led by a mare…”

Misty looking at Saorsa behind her In a short time, possibly today, I will be posting a book review for Dr. Diana Dominguez’ Historical Residues in the Old Irish Legends of Queen Medb: An Expanded Interpretation of the Ulster Cycle which explores Medb’s story through the theories of gender performance and the reading of coding in literature. But I’m distracted, as I was when I first read this, by what had long been a pet peeve of mine that her concepts have allowed me to reconsider a bit. That is one line, just one line, in the Táin Bó Cuailnge, one that not only offended as a feminist, but I found just stupid as a horsewoman.

‘That is what usually happens,’ said Fergus, ‘to a herd of horses led by a mare. Their substance is taken and carried off and guarded as they follow a women who has misled them.’

copied here from Rec 1 pg. 237

Now, while it doesn’t seem (frankly the OI is beyond me here) that he is actually saying that a herd of horses is better led by a stallion, that’s an obvious implication. But here’s the thing that bugs me. The Irish are fairly well considered good horse people. Therefore they should have known one basic little fact. Stallions do not lead herds. Mares do.

This is such common knowledge in the horse world, except for a few hard-headed idiots who might consider themselves horsemen but will never get anyway, that I’m loathed to bother to reference it. Pretty much go to anything on various wild or feral herds, anything on pasture breeding, any of the Natural Horsemanship type trainers and you’ll find it. However, this crossed my FB page recently and so I don’t have to hunt anything down and this demonstrates that some horses are so fundamentally dependent on mares they can’t sleep without one to tell them it’s okay.

Mares lead the herd, they do determine where to find water and safe passage. The single stallion of a herd is there for two or three reasons. To breed. To keep other stallions from separating off some of the mares from the rest of the herd which would make the herd too small and vulnerable. And, on occasion, to throw himself at predators being the most expendable and easily replaced member of the herd (something one might note Medb’s story demonstrates as well). If the “substance” of a herd “is taken and carried off” it would actually be the stallion’s fault, because that’s his job, leadership isn’t. A mare would be leading, as is her job.

So considering coding, this reads as, well, perhaps something more. Remember Medb has gotten what she wanted, humiliation of Ulster by successfully carrying of the Brown and the continuation of her rule by equaling her husband’s bounty, once both the bulls are dead. It came with great destruction, of course. Fergus, btw, has never been a character I respected and Dominguez does demonstrate that the respect he seems to get from some, usually male, academics does not seem to match his obvious treacherous behavior.

Now, there is a chance that all the clerics who wrote this down didn’t know a damn thing about horses and like some misogynist men today really do think that stallion is the boss. But you have to figure someone took it as a joke through all this time. Perhaps it even was meant to be, at least by one person copying it even if he didn’t originate it. A joke by Fergus? A joke on Fergus? Perhaps more horse savvy listeners to the tales took it as a joke on the naive teller?

But whether it was ever read that way, to me, today, as a feminist and a horsewoman, I think it’s damn funny. I’ll always see it as that.

Copyright © 2011 Saigh Kym Lambert