F- words and several W- words and some stuff that starts with other letters

Actually, it’s mostly “w” I’ll likely discuss here, but the letter “f” probably grabs more attention. ~;p

A recent “discussion” some friends of mine were in, which I won’t go into here brought to light that I don’t always use certain words publicly to describe myself. This has led some people who do not know me to outright say that I reject at least one of them. That would be “witch.” People who claim that are, to put it as politely as I’m able to (as I pointed one to said FB page and STILL haven’t received an apology), full of shit. I do. Note, I use the lower case…it’s not a religious title, it does not have the same meaning as Wiccans attribute to it. In no way would it refer to anything anyone would want to make acceptable to the mainstream society, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The word ties in totally with other words that I am and/or do, some of which also begin with “w.”

The claim of those who wanted me to not use this term because they’ve decided, in their own little minds, that Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans* never, ever, ever use it, is that it’s disrespectful to those in the living culture who do not want it applied to them. Well, I’m NOT applying it to anyone else. I’m applying it to me. I’m doing so for many reasons, some which are more personal than I usually go into. But I want a record, for those who next come across these people making this claim…I am a fucking witch.

Those Big Nose** CRs note that “witch” is used in Gaelic culture (in translation, of course) to refer to a malevolent magic user. This, of course, would fly in the face of those Wiccans and others who are trying to get it “reclaimed” as a nice word, something it never has been. And they are, actually, right, I totally agree. The difference is that while they also want to be acceptable to the mainstream, apparently, I do not. I think that anyone reading this knows I identify my path as that of the Outlaw Warrior Poets, the Fianna and here is our first f-word, being seen as “nice” or “safe” is not part of my agenda.

Now, I am not comfortable using the term “Fianna” for what I am involved in, outright. I would not, that is, I’d not say I belong to the Fianna because that means something particular in modern day Ireland which I’m not a part of (this is not to say whether or not I am supportive, I’ll not bring up such things here, simple to say they have a claim to it that I’m not going to bother challenging). I do describe myself as a ban-fhiannaidh on occasion but I think when I do it’s usually clear that I’ve got my tongue planted in my cheek a bit and, like I do with that w-word you’re all familiar with here, I feel I’m still and probably always will be in this life time just aspiring to it. Perhaps even more so, as I’ve never quite mastered the tests noted in the lore and am of an age where it’s not likely to happen. I might refer to my path as being of the fiannaiocht, the way of the Fianna, inspired by these tales. I tend to skirt around the term, due to the politics, as I noted.

There are other terms in Gaelic for warrior that relate to the outsiders. Díberg is one, which is a term considered far more odious, meaning a “brigand” for which it might be said that fian was Plaque of The Morrigan in chariot sort of a clean-up although that term was not considered particular seemly and properly Christian by the clerics either. (McCone, West) There is, of course, gaisgeach and it’s various forms, which also are found when describing female warriors such as Símha inghen Chorrluirgnig, who is referred to as “…badhb & ban-ghaisgedach do muinntir Ghuill í…” “…witch and warrior-woman in Goll’s retinue….” (Cath Maigh Léna, also Heijda “4.2 Witches”) Oh, there we go that other w-word again.

So, back to that, badb in lower case is found throughout the literature to describe somewhat different classes of beings, as opposed to also being the name of a Goddess who is in the sisterhood with An Morrígan and Macha, and sometimes conflated with the former in a complexity which I’ll get into in a very long article and a longer book someday, maybe. Heijda discusses all of the variant uses and findings of the word badb, including “witch” throughout her essay and especially in the section “4.2 Witches.” That there is this combination of badb probably meaning what we refer to as “witch” and “warrior woman” is, of course, of great interest to me.

We see this sort of combination in various ways, the magic or mystical combined with the warrior woman. Indeed, it’s a strong point of the War Goddesses, including Badb (and again, yeah, it’s coming someday if it doesn’t burst something in my brain first). Scáthach is shown to be a Seer as well as a trainer of warriors. And we have another f-word I use in my practice fàisneachd, prophecy or Sight.

There are other terms which come up for “war witch” that I find interesting but a bit taxing for my limited Old Irish. You see accounts of Goddesses in both the First and Second Battles of Magh Turedh using magic, with a similar but not quite identical term. The term used in the First Battle for Badb, Macha and an Morrígan was bantuathacha which is translated by Fraser as “sorceresses,”(Fraser, pg. 44, para 48) but which is translated by MacAlister LGÉ as “female farmer or landowner.” (MacAlister, pg. 122-123, 160-161 regarding Ernmas, see pg. 150-151, 180-181 and 230-231 regarding Be Chuille and Danann –the last is translated as the odd “farmeresses”) In the Second Battle, Be Chuille and Danann offer spells to Lugh’s question of what all can provide and are referred to as bantúathaid, which would be properly “sorceresses” or “witches” and specifically malevolent ones. (CMT, Gray’s translation para 116-117 , pg. 53-54 in Irish given)

For the actual translations of the words see eDIL for the masculine forms tuathach and túathaid and use the “fuzzy” option as it seems impossible to direct to a translation. While Kondratiev suggests this replacement was a “…misunderstanding of the original word…” (Kondratiev) I wonder if there might have been more to such a change. However, my language skills are not up to such an exploration at this point and right now I sort of just like the idea of witch and farmer being somewhat blurry distinctions. Being that farmer is another f-word I’m aspiring to.

I don’t talk about the witchy or mystical stuff much, in fact I actually started a blog post about my mystical practices several months ago. It ended up becoming a rant on why I don’t write about “woo” and started to feel pointless and so it was greatly truncated and only mentioned as a part of another post. The experiment of writing about magic, trance work, Seership and all that woo-woo witchy stuff remains worked on offline. I’m not really going into it here. I’m just talking about identity here.

And again, I’m a witch. And a would-be warrior. And a Seer.

Along with this those of you who have been paying attention would realize there is another w-word I use, but am often reluctant at using too much or loudly although I have here a few times now…. werewolf. Again, connected to the Fianna/Outlaw Warriors, usually with the Old Irish f-word fáelad or “wolfing.”(McCone, West) When it comes to female werewolves the legal tracks mention confail conrecta “a woman who likes to stray in wolf-shape” (Bitel, pg. 219-220, Carey, pg. 64-68) although whether she might stray with the warbands is not mentioned. But you never know, I mean, they were wandering about too. Wandering outside of society….hmmmmm…..

Just as my definition of “witch” has nothing to do with the way Wiccans or many others in the NeoPagan community use it, my sort of wolfiness has nothing to do with Otherkin or therianthropy communities either. There are many differences, one again being the angst over being “understood” or accepted or what ever which is often a central theme. Or angst in general. I’m not some lost soul born in the wrong body, I’m someone who seeks deeply into myself and the Otherworld to embrace a beast that I can be and I’m the only one who has to embrace it…or can. It’s again about seeking that wilderness, about becoming primal in my body and taking a particular form to travel “astrally” and not about seeking an online community. (I have noted before that A Wolf-Man, Not A Wolf In Man’s Clothing is the one blogger out there who I can relate to at all on this, although we do vary in many ways as well)

All these things I am were not considered favorable by the ancient Irish societal laws that we know, which were Christian. We have no way of knowing, truly, what the pre-Christians thought of them, but these things were, in fact, considered “other” and, yes, “pagan.” These were indeed seen as negative things, but I embrace them and rather than embrace the thinking that shunned them. I have no interest in bringing them out of the wild. In the Brehon laws, none of these things that I am were given honor price nor even sick maintenance. (Kellly, also Bitel, pg. 219-220, Carey, pg. 64-68 specific to female werewolves)

Being outside, being counter-culture, being subversive to a sick society was once embraced by many of us, but sometimes I feel alone. In the ’70s, and yes I’m old enough to remember, the word “witch” was adopted by many feminists to equate with a woman who was dangerous to the patriarchy and to the gender status quo. At the time there was even some contention between feminists who never heard of Wicca and the Wiccans who felt they alone owned the term (as some still do), but, of course, some of those women became Wiccan and even developed their own traditions. Many already felt that was giving into a mainstream. I like “witch” for some of the same reasons they did, as well.

There is a power to being outside that I think some forget. The “noble savage” might be a naive trope, but the reality of what that can mean in a real sense about morality is something we might want to consider. It is much like the issue of if we can be “good” if we do not believe in eternal punishment, can we be good if we reject a society’s notion of “good” and “evil?” Is what is outside malevolent and dangerous not because it’s truly evil, but because it doesn’t obey the cultural constricts of what “good” and “evil” mean? Is there not more honor in being good and just when there is no societal reward for it, when, in fact, society may not truly be good or just? Am I stuck in the past because I still believe in this? Fortunately, there are those Occupying the streets of many cities for several weeks now who also are questioning this. So, no maybe not.

I do not fully understand why some who I know embraced these ideas have become so fully invested in placating those who wish to restrain us. But I put this out there so that if anyone has any question as to whether I have changed my status with culture, it is here. I am a witch, I am a would-be Outlaw Warrior Poet, I am wolfish at times, I am a Seer and a mystic. Don’t fucking tell anyone any different.

(For more about warrior women in Irish Literature see Once Upon A Time…. and The Warrior who Knew No Art of Wounding for more on my trying to put this shit together see A place where things come together, Weighing things out and Ramblings about Serving the War Goddesses or…)


Lisa Bitel, Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996

John Carey, “Werewolves in Medieval Ireland,” Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 44 (Winter 2002)

Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired in Irish Elizabeth Gray, trans. Dublin: Irish Text Society

Cath Maigh Léna for the Irish, Kenneth H. Jackson, ed. Cath Maighe Léna Dublin: 1930 or E. Curry, ed & tr, Cath Mhuighe Léana or The Battle of Mag Léana together with Tochmarc Moméra or the Courtship of Moméra Dublin: 1855; J. Fraser “The First Battle of Moytura.” Ériu 8, 1915, English translation

Fergus Kelly. A Guide to Early Irish Law, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies), 2001

Alexie Kondratiev, “Danu and Bile: The Primordial Parents?”


RAS MacAlister, ed. and trans., Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland Vol IV. Dublin:Irish Text Society, 1941

Kim McCone, “Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, issue 12, 1986

Máire West, “Aspects of Díberg in the Tale Togail Bruidne Da Derga,” Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie (ZcP), Volume 49-50

*They also do not like “Pagan” and all I’ll say to that is that yes, I DID initially use “Pagan” and that was the original term “Celtic Reconstructionist PAGAN” because otherwise what the fuck are we reconstructing? “Celtic?” No, we’re reconstructing Pagan paths based on the Celtic culture we’re called to/come from/whatever. Anything else is as big an insult to the living culture as I can think of. If they do not like the “Pagan” part why the fuck are they using my term at all? And, YES, I was the first…for several years before others who claim to have “founded” it ever used it and even longer before they actually stopped doing Wiccan ritual by their own fucking admission at the time.

“Big Nose Pagan” has long been a term used in place of “Big Name Pagans” especially for those who aren’t really that big of name but do like to stick their noses in other people’s business.

Copyright © 2011 Kym Lambert
Copyright © JBL Statues

Weighing things out

It’s been a long time since I blogged here, and I hate starting a post with what is essentially an apology for not blogging. So consider it just an acknowledgement. It’s not that I’ve not been bloggin. I’ve got a series of fitness posts going up at The Sarah Connor Charm School Blog, some horse related political stuff at Our Stories are Written in the Language of Equus and a painful lament for our goat Randvér as well as the Old Clucker and some local political stuff at the homesteading blog Dùn Sgàthan Notes.

Things have been busy and a bit heavy, not just the loss of animals at the Dùn, but I’ve also recently got my AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer certification reinstated. This is a good step which does not come without some tribulations. There is a reason I left the fitness business several years ago and a reason why when I first went to get reinstated I lost interest.

I’ve always had a certain issue with the industry. My focus in fitness was about strength and health. A scrawny weak kid, I always wanted to be bigger and stronger. I sort of was aware that there was a stronger focus, for women, in the industry on thinness than I had, but it wasn’t until I got the lovely mixed messages within the industry that how horrible it is really hit home. After all, I got training when I was first certified to recognize eating disorders with the message we were to try to counter them. But the reality when you start working in the industry is that the message is Weight Loss, Weight Loss, Weight Loss.

This not only doesn’t interest me, it offends me. This is not what fitness is, it’s an illusion of health and fitness put in place of real health and fitness. When you find that many training programs for women are designed to diminish the body, make it smaller. Not only in weight loss, but, especially with leg work, by over training muscle. All those multitudes of reps, that does not strengthen. It might build endurance, up until you start getting injuries, but only for those pointless moves not for, you know, running or walking. The message that “women can’t get bulky, but you better do lots and lots of reps to make sure you don’t” just is, well, aggravating.

The “weight loss” message might be a great selling point for some. I am finding difficult come up with language for my fitness website that informs that I don’t want to focus on weight loss with clients that doesn’t also drive people to those who promise weight loss. I know some will seek those promises out. I also know that some people feel abused by the constant focus on weight loss, as I wrote about in my first real post here. I have found a great community, Health At Every Size which is focused on this concept. In a better economy and a heavier populated area, I think such a focus can work out well…as it is, no matter what I promise, I’m probably not going to make a great living up here.

But my real purpose for getting certified again was for writing. There is a chapter in Teh Project about fitness training and I figured it would be good to have that certification again. Oh, and then as I mentioned, this now makes me “fitness director” or some shit at The Sarah Connor Charm School. ~;p However, there are more changes. So, while I might not have a lucrative business here, I might be in a position to soon take a few clients. Hence having started a website.

Yes, there are changes coming. Perhaps. We’ll see. I’m waiting.

Meanwhile, I write off- and on-line. If not so much here at this blog lately. As I had been working to expand this blog, as much of it is about sort of practicing or thinking “out loud” on issues around Teh Project, I had been working on a post about some of my mystical practices. No, really, it all relates for me even if it seems a divergence to others; and that’s sort of my point. I realized that with A Place Where Things Come Together it might seem that my spiritual practice is all about praying while working out or something, but while it all ties together, there is this whole mystical practice that includes, well, shapeshifting. Or at least consciousness shifting which manifests in a very physical way, although not in the true “turning into a wolf or something” sort of way. “Ríastrad” (warp spasm) or fáelad” (wolfing); which for me are about focus and transformation, of a sort. Yeah, even my ecstatic stuff is physical. What can I say. (There are other transformative practices in a Gaelic context, I recommend A Wolf-Man, Not A Wolf In Man’s Clothing who does good research and is able to discuss various lycanthrophy practices in a Celtic and related cultures, for those wishing to explore these sorts of things more.)

While the attempt to write something for this blog has been tossed at this point, the exercise worked as far as breaking the block I had for Teh Project and That Article. Hopefully, rather soon, the latter will be shown to the first readers and then published online. It still won’t have a lot of details, that will take longer. But it’ll be a start in me sharing something that is very difficult for me to share.

It’s not that I don’t believe these things should be SOOPER SEKRET, really, I think they should be shared. In fact, in light of the issue that many think that warp spasm is just, well, losing ones temper, freaking out, going out of control while on the other hand being seen as a substitution for physical training, I think it’s important to discuss this more. Because the practice is anything but these things. My problem is that it’s something that I just have trouble putting into words, especially written words. But words are happening. They’re just going to take a lot of work getting into an order that is sharable.

Now, of course, while I still plug at that, the fitness chapter is also a focal point. Because, you know, I got this shiny new certification. And if things work out, I might be getting a whole other one because, well, there are reason I might wish to affiliate with another organization as well as if not instead of. But that will require workshops which would require travel and until I’m out of the night watch gig, that’s not really possible.

I admit that I hate night watch now with a passion. I liked it a lot at first. I liked how working a job like this at a camp for troubled boys correlated in a way to the whole Fianna thing. Trying to do all else I need to do on a nocturnal schedule, however, is not so good. Time to move to another stage.

And then I’ll have more training stuff to write about here. More time to hit the range (or build one here…that isn’t happening like I had hoped, but I guess I’ll have to do that myself). Perhaps a chance to return to MA training which is out of the question on this schedule as the nearest place is too far away. That is, of course, if there is money to do so. It’s all being weighed out. And it may weigh out on the side of me staying as night watch, that remains to be seen.

So, mostly this is me writing on why I’m not writing here. Again. But maybe I will be more.

Copyright © 2011 Kym Lambert

A place where things come together

My gym, with photo shopped wolf picture someone never did make me for itAs I wasn’t writing much about Gaelic spirituality at the time I started this blog, having started at a time of conflict, flux and burn out in the community and taking things more private for awhile, I have realized it might seem a sudden switch to some of my readers. While the intent of this was always to be about various aspects of the warrior path in my life and how they came together, the focus had been on fitness, self-defense and popular culture. That itself might seem quite a mix to some. But it really is in my interest in the warrior ways of ancient Ireland and Scotland that all those things come together, the physical training and the importance of story.

I’m not good at compartmentalizing. Somethings need to be, however, and therefore when I wanted a space to blog about homesteading and to share with my husband, I made another blog Dùn Sgàthan Notes, I also joined a blog for horse advocacy although between three of us we seem a bit too overwhelmed by it all to post much. Then, in order to share space for writing about things related to The Sarah Connor Charm School, I created a blog for the group. This last is the most likely to have cross-posting. (What am I saying? The only thing I’ve posted there so far has been reposts of things from here. I hope this doesn’t annoy those who might read both.)

But this blog is for all things related to women on the warrior path, however diverse that may be for me. It’s a place where things come together for me in my practice. Now I also have a real space location that brings things together, as well.

For years now I’ve had limited space for exercise equipment. Usually a small room, which usually means that things overflowed into the rest of the house.It lead to some bad habits, like making a stop by the computer in between sets, removing my focus.

When I was planning to build my own house, it was actually pretty much centered around the idea of having a gym. A gym/temple, really. But I never built my house. A decade ago we moved into the “in-law apartment” of my parents’ home. Since their deaths, we now own the house…and we still live in the apartment. I wasn’t ready to use the rest, the apartment is smaller and easier to care for and heat and it just doesn’t “flow” into the rest easily. But we decided to find ways to expand into the rest. And, it of course, started with a gym.

Moving the living room Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor doing chin-ups in Terminator 2furniture out of the way (come spring most of it will be moved completely out), we put down padded flooring, moved in the weights, benches, heavy bag. We added a pull-up and dip tower, as I have given up, for now, on finding the perfect bed frame to turn on it’s side. When things are moved out more we’ll have more open space, especially to work the bag, and probably get more equipment over time.

And in the far corner is a shrine. I may be the only Polytheist, especially the only HARD Polytheist, out there who has a shrine in her gym with a statue of An Morrígan and a figure of Sarah Connor. I hope these are joined by a figure or picture of Scáthach or other literary Irish warrior woman, or many, but I’m not finding the right one(s). I’m looking for well done and muscular, tattooed would be nice but muscle is more important. I have some great ideas in my head but a lifetime frustration of never being able to get such images out onto paper (my sister got that talent). I do have a list, a sort of prayer, instead:

I serve the War Goddesses
Badb and Macha and An Morrigan, whose name is Anand
Fea and Nemain, Bé Néit
I follow in the footsteps of the banfénnidi
Macha Mongruadh
Ness ingen Echach Sálbuidi
Medb ingen Echach Feidlig
Scáthaig Buanand ingen Ardgeimme
Aifi ingen Ardgeimme
Líath Lúachra
Luas Lurgann
Símha ingen Chorrluirgnig
Bec ingen Conchoraig
Lithben ingen Aitreabhthaigh
Truth in our Hearts, Strength in our Arms, Fulfillment in our Tongues

(ETA April 2012: I have changed this over this time period, please read this post on why and how it reads now)

There are photos all around of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Some, now collected in a frame, are worn, faded, damaged, having gone from apartment to apartment with me for years, the first for 20 years this year, taped to the walls of various “workout rooms.” Likewise, there are similar pictures of Kathy Long. Later these were joined by Demi Moore doing one-armed push-ups as Lt. Jordan O’Neal in G.I. Jane (this also includes the statement “Failure Is Not An Option” at top and D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Self-Pity” at the bottom) and Sigourney Weaver as Ripley 8. But now I have more pristine photos of Linda, with autographs, including one of us together. I’ll be printing more from ComicCon to go up, too.

But while An Morrígan and Sarah Connor grace my shrine, it is not to say that the two images are the same. One is a representation of my Goddess, the other is a representation of a role model. As a hard Polytheist I do not believe that the Goddesses and Gods are archetypes. They are real and They are many. Even a Goddess I worship of the same name as a Goddess you worship might not even be the same Goddess. We are limited, They are not so much, we do not always know who They are, only Who They tell us and They may tell us to meet our always limited understanding.

And while I might be limited, I’m not completely simple either. I have no problem with both worshiping Goddesses I believe are very real and alive and being inspired by stories both ancient and modern. For me Sarah Connor and other modern role models are as potent as the ancient ones of Ness and Scáthach and other literary figures who I also do not believe are degraded* Goddesses but humans in the tales.

So this space, this very sacred space to me, is filled with images that represent the warrior path for me. It allows me to stay far more focused and mindful, more reverent than I have been for some time when working out with weights. I meditate, usually sitting on the balance ball, before the shrine between sets. I focus on what I am doing, what I am offering. Because working out is worship for me, a practice that deteriorated by bad habits, which now I am breaking.

There are no offering plates on this shrine as there are on my others. The offering is my blood, sweat and tears. If something else is demanded there, it will be given, but the focus here is on the work of the body. And where that meets the spirit.


*Yes, I know even some Celtic scholars these days use “euhermerized” but this word actually means the opposite; it actually means that the historical becomes mythological, that humans become Deities, not the other way around.

Text and top photo copyright ©2011 Kym Lambert, wolf picture is currently photoshopped but a similar one will go there Drawing copyright © 2002 Aaron Miller
Photo of Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 copyright © 1991 Carolco, currently owned by Pacificor LLC

Once Upon A Time….

Once upon a time, I believed that the past was filled with women warriors and there was a great deal of evidence for it especially among the Celtic cultures. Oh, a minority for sure, but there was so much evidence. Such as Boudicca, whose story is told in this video (from the BBC shorts Horrible Histories), Scáthach, Aoife, Medb….the list goes on especially from Ireland, as well as the Cáin Adamnáin. After all, warriors wouldn’t follow a woman if they didn’t have faith in women as warriors, there wouldn’t be all these stories if there were no women warriors, there would be no need to outlaw women warriors if there were no women warriors…..

Now I no longer believe that. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I believe there were Celtic women warriors. What I stopped believing was that there is any good evidence.

It took me a long time to get here and even when I was I was at first a bit reticent about it. After all, I AM writing a book on the Gaelic warrior path for women. The slowness was in part due to the fact that many renown Celticists have supported the that this is evidence, usually just in passing and often citing such evidence as noted above. For example Nora Chadwick stated following noting the Cáin as well that, “Taking what we’re told of Gaulish women warriors by classical writers, together with Boudicca, Cartimandua and Maeve, and with these stories, we cannot but wonder whether there was not some such institution among the most ancient of Celtic people.” (The Celts pg. 136, see below) She is hardly alone in such statements.

As I started up Teh Project again, however, I couldn’t let things go “just in passing.” I actually had to face the evidence issue, because it is something that we must confront and be truthful about. That there is no good evidence, yet I whole heartedly do still believe there were some women warriors in the early Gaelic cultures.

My belief is based simply on the simple fact that no matter how misogynist and repressive a culture is, there are always some women who are of a warrior nature. They may not be accepted as part of mainstream armies or able to openly show themselves to be both women and warriors. They may have been forced adopt the guise of men. They may have been pirates, highwaywomen, outlaws of some kind. And Outlaw in the Gaelic form is something we’ll discuss in a moment.

This puts me in lonely place in the on going debate within both Celtic studies and the Pagan Community about women warriors. Because one side continues to use this evidence, while the other refutes it as evidence or even claims that because because these women warriors typically have supernatural powers it means that there never could have been any women warriors (one would think they never heard of Fionn Mac Cumhail and Cú Chulainn or seem to think that their skills are common among men?). Those who take this view, and there are too many to cite here (go on nearly any “Celtic” email list and dare to write the words “women warriors” and you’ll find them), often also include a deep seated belief that women are inherently unable to be warriors, for example Michael Enright’s unsubstantiated (in a book otherwise filled with obsessive citations) long ranty footnote about how women are constructed in such a way as to not have any ability to fight at all. (Lady With a Mead Cup, pg. 211) It should be noted his evidence for women as Seers, and only Seers, in the warbands mostly consists of exploring stories with some mix of history, when it comes to the Irish tales he only considers to Feidelm, not, for example, Scáthach who was both warrior and Seer).

So here’s the problem with the “evidence” in a nutshell (yeah, I’m going to make you wait to see if I finish Teh Project for more details nah nah nah nah nah):

A lot of women have led armies who have no experience with warfare in history, for instance Joan D’Arc; others have been rulers who sent armies into war, pretty much any ruling queen. (Fraser, The Warrior Queens) Boudicca may have been a trained warrior or she may have been a symbol of hope through horror who male warriors fought for but had never fought herself, we actually do not know. Those who tell us of her, Tacitus and Cassius Dio had only others’ tales to repeat. There is good propaganda, which we’ll also consider in a moment, for a patriarchal culture to have an enemy who supposedly said “”We Britons are used to women commanders in war; I am the daughter of mighty men.” (see also The Agricola and The Germania)

Nor do they tell us anything about whether other women fought under Boudicca or not. The idea is pervasive, but we don’t have evidence. All we have is a bit of logic and the knowledge that during times of crisis, during uprisings and civil wars, women often did take up arms even if it was not the norm. Often they were the push aside and their stories seldom told. (Goldstein, War and Gender)

Other Roman’s such as Ammianus Marcellinus and Diodorus Siculus tell us of Celtic women as big as the Celtic men and as or more courageous and formidable in a fight. The problem with these accounts, however, is that it’s a common tactic for for patriarchal cultures to paint the enemy males as effeminate by claiming their women are masculine and not in proper control, therefore, fighting. (see Goldstein, War and Gender). Again, it may or may not be true, but you can’t use the source as actual proof.

But I’m not writing about Gauls or Britons, I’m writing about Gaelic women warriors, there are tons of them, right? Indeed. In the Irish literature. In fact, along with the well known Medb, Scáthach and Aoife, as well as the Warrior Goddesses, Badb, Macha and Morrígan, who is Anann, there are others. The problem is, they are all stories, some not very flattering to the women warriors. It’s as simple as that.

And people do write, and even fear, things that aren’t real, (think Aliens, for example) so while the fact they’re fiction does not prove women warriors didn’t exist, although I’ve seen such claims actually made on “Celtic” mailing lists, on the basis that the women tend to have supernatural capabilities yet no one claims that stories of the amazing abilities of Cú Chulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhail prove there were no male warriors, it also doesn’t really prove they did. It’s inspirational, it’s hopeful, it’s not proof. And while some may call them myths and proclaim they are a “window” to the Pre-Christian ways, that has been refuted by current scholars. (see, Mallory, ed. Aspects of…, McCone, Pagan Past.., Nagy, Conversing with…)

But certainly no one would make a law forbidding something that wasn’t taking place and the Cáin Adamnáin outlaws women warriors. Well, the citation thing here is getting dense for a blog post, so I’ll let you go looking for silly laws, some are just silly things to have laws about but others just aren’t going to be an issue. But the problem here is that that’s not what the original law Adamnán, or someone, issued. The Lex Innocentium or “Law of the Innocents,” was a much shorter proclamation that clerics, women and children were not to be harmed during warfare, as non-combatants and the punishments if one did. The prologue where the Saint and his mother see butchered women and she forces her son to protect them, actually claims that in Pagan times all Irish women were slaves, the best of them forced by their husbands to fight against each other, not glorious, autonomous warriors. It becomes a problem to claim this shows there were women warriors unless you want to claim those women warriors were slaves. (Kelly, …Early Irish Law and Bitel, Land of Women, pg. 85, 103-110, 211, 223)

What about archaeological evidence? As far as I’ve been able to find, after much looking, and I’m still trying to get more resources on this, there hasn’t been any. And it’s always a problematic evidence where it is found. Burial practices vary a lot, sometimes cremation was used, sometimes there are artifacts and sometimes not and we don’t really know when there are if they were used in life or indicated something else.

Female burials with weapons are often credited with being warrior women (Davis-Kimball and Behan, Warrior Women), but in some cases this may not be correct. As Deborah J. Shepherd points out in “The Elusive Warrior Maiden Tradition: Bearing Weapons in Anglo-Saxon Society” (in Carman and Harding, eds. Ancient Warfare pg. 222-224) in Anglo-Saxon culture it was known that sonless men would name their daughter as a surrogate son and she’d carry weapons as a symbol of that position, but seemingly never would be trained with them. It’s been pointed out that we need osteoarchaeological study of remains to determine if someone buried with them used them in life; perhaps we need to do so in order to see if those not buried with weapons might have trained as well. (see Hanks, “Reconsidering Warfare, Status, and Gender,” iLinduff and Rubinson, eds. Are All Warriors Male? pg. 15-34, see the rest of this book for various views on various cultures)


Meave painting by J.C. Leyendecker 1907
So what the hells am I doing here, championing the concept of a modern Gaelic warrior path for women, I believe there is no evidence, if I in fact refute the evidence so many believe in? Well, sometimes I wonder. ~;p But really, it’s simple, as I already noted, I still believe there were women warriors, based only on circumstantial evidence as it were. Including the very personal knowledge that no matter what, some women just are called to this path, no matter what their culture might dictate. It may be a small number, but we exist and it’s unlikely there weren’t a few in any culture. “Few” never means “none.” It might make them hard to find, however.

Goldstein estimates the number of women warriors as 1%…that is both 1% of warriors are women and 1% of women are warriors…on average through the world and time. At the moment he estimates it’s about 3% although he’s noting only within the military, not LEO or others who may be described as warriors. (Goldstein, War and Gender, pg 10-11) And he notes not all of these women are in combat positions (although, of course, many non-combat personnel see combat these days…something that’s been true a lot throughout history). Given this, it’s not always hard to hide that 1-3% and can be very difficult to find.

So, I don’t believe there were a LOT of women warriors, but there were some. I also believe that they may not have been part of the culture, that is, I in the regular tribal groups there may only have been male warriors. I think the place female warriors might have existed is Outside, in the Outlaw warrior bands. While we can’t take it, obviously, as actual proof, it’s interesting that the words for “woman warrior” are, from what I’ve found, either a form of ban-fhénnid or bangaisgedh, which tend to indicate an Outlaw Warrior.

While clerics were happily writing tales of tribal matters, the stories of the Fianna, which when mentioned in saints tales were interchangeable with díberga, weren’t recorded until later (McCone, “Werewolves, …”). While we know that young males, prior to attaining their adult rights, would be in these bands, which is also shown in the tales of Fionn, Red and black Pictish Wolf by Aaron MillerMcCone finds it likely that there were men who were never given inheritance who remained. In the tales Fionn is an example. He doesn’t speculate about women in the bands, but Nagy notes those associated with Fionn himself, especially his fosterers. (The Wisdom of the Outlaw) In most of the tales we have of women involved, with the exception of Fionn’s fosterers and Aoife, who is so named (Scáthach isn’t, but is clearly a woman warrior who is Outside the culture in question), the women likewise are only ban-fhénnid for the time they must be for revenge. (Nessa and Creidne, for example) If women remained in the wilderness throughout their lives, how would we even know about it?

Another hint might be that although the early Christian Irish laws tended to see women as incapable of harming any but children and other women, there was concern over female werewolves. (confail conrecta, “a woman who likes to stray in wolf-shape, from Bitel, pg. 219-220, Carey, “Werewolves” pg. 64-68) McCone has made the connection between werewolves and the Outlaw Warriors, of course. (“Werewolves, Cyclopes,….”). It is a connection which intrigues me greatly.

Unfortunately, this is purely speculative and based on the stories. I hope we do get the archaeological evidence someday, but until then, my theory is that we should look to the stories for their inspiration. Many are uninspiring, with the women not shown in good light. I think it’s reasonable to retell these to ourselves in more positive ways, with the constant caveat that it’s not the way the stories went. We find inspiration in modern stories.

Stories, ancient or modern, inspire us, stories let us build our own stories, stories become true for us if we make them so. That’s why I am doing this.


Lisa Bitel, Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996

John Carey, “Werewolves in Medieval Ireland,” Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 44 (Winter 2002)

John Carman and Anthony Harding, eds. Ancient Warfare: Archaeological Perspectives, Gloustershire: Sutton Publishing, 2004

Cassius Deo, Roman History

Nora Chadwick, The Celts: A Lucid and Fascinating History, New York: Penguin Books, 1971

Jeannine Davis-Kimball and Mona Behan. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines, New York: Warner Books, 2002

Michael Enright, Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007

Antonia Fraser. The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women who have led Their Nations in War New York: Vintage Books, 1990

Joshua S. Goldstein, War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001

Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies), 2001

Katheryn M. Linduff and Karen S. Rubinson, eds. Are All Warriors Male? Gender Roles on the Ancient Eurasian Steppe, Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2008

Kim McCone, “Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, issue 12, 1986

Kim McCone, Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature, Maynooth: An Sagart, 1990

J. P. Mallory, ed. Aspects of The Táin, Belfast: December Publications, 1992

Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History, Book 15. London: Bohn, 1862

Kuno Meyer, Cáin Adamnáin: an old-Irish treatise on the law of Adamnan, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905

Kuno Meyer, Fianaigecht :being a collection of hitherto inedited Irish poems and tales relating to Finn and his Fiana, Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co., 1910

Joseph Falaky Nagy. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985

Joseph Falaky Nagy, Conversing with Angels and Ancient: Literary Myths of Medieval Ireland, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997

Diodorus Siculus The Library of History

Whitley Stokes, trans, “Scéla Conchobair maic Nessa/The Tidings of Conchobar son of Ness,Ériu vol. II. London: David Nutt, 1908

Tacitus, The Annals of Tacitus

Tacitus, (M. Mattingly and S. A. Handford, trans.) The Agricola and The Germania, New York: Penguin Books, 1970

copyright ©2011 Kym Lambert
Meave painting
by J.C. Leyendecker 1907 for Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Ancient Irish Sagas”
Pictish Wolf reproduction © 2002 Aaron Miller