Thursday, July 09, 2009

Segais Omphalos

What is the Muse but Memory of a great tradition, Finnegas and Finn McCool speaking the meaning of *éces* - which the modern Irish word for poetry, *éigse* routes to.

Éces is an Old Irish word which the word *poetry* as we understand it today doesn’t really capture. In the most basic of sense it means the nuts and bolts of knowledge.

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Mnemosyne, the original Greek muse, the etymology rooting to a house of the moon, its essential meaning is, Memory.

Her pool in Hades was the opposite of Lethe, which was a pool/river of forgetfulness the dead drank from so they would not remember their past life when being re-incarnated.

The Orphic Mystery rites had initiates drink from Mnemosyne’s pool so they would remember in order to acquire omniscience, and instead of being re-born on Earth, pass onto the Elysian Fields, which Hesiod in Works and Days refers to as the Isles of the Blessed, far to the west and which in Celtic Mythology are Tír na nÓg, (land of the ever young) the most popular of several Celtic otherworlds where happiness is found, similar to Avalon in Brythonic myth.

The poetic Tradition of Gaelic poetry, is called *on coimgne* - which Kuno Meyer translated as *historical knowlege*. Meyer was an early 20C Celticist who, along with Rudolph Thurneyson, Osborn Bergin, D.A. Binchy (uncle of Maeve) and others, first translated Gaelic manuscript and were part of the Dublin milleau of Yeats and his cronies.

On Coimgne breaks down into 350 tales, 250 primary and 100 secondary. Secondary ones were never written down and only learned from grade four cano (whelp) up to seven ollamh (poetry professor), passed from lip to ear.

A list of 187 primary tales in 16 genres appear on folio 189b of the 12C Book of Leinster: Do nemthigud filed, -- Of the Qualifications of a Poet.

Destructions (9), and Preyings (11), and Courtships (14), and Battles (9), and Caves (11), and Navigations (7), and Tragedies (13), and Feats (17) and Sieges (9) and Adventures (14) and Elopements (12) and Massacres (38) and Eruptions (2) and Visions (7) and Expeditions (4), and Marches (13).

The maxim following this primer reads: “(s)he is no poet who does not synchronize and harmonize on coimgne” - the ancient knowledge.

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Which brings us to the Muse of Gaelic tradition.

The otherworldly omphalos, the wet muse of Irish myth, is known by a variety of names: the Well of Segais, Sidhe Nechtan and Connla’s Well.

The mythology surrounding the well states it is a still-pool source of the Boyne river, and informs us how only Nechtan and his three cupbearers were allowed in the vicinity of the well, to perform magical rites, walking round it clockwise, chaunting incantations to invoke a supreme intelligence they hoped would deal favourably with their wants and wishes.
One day Nechtan’s wife Boand (who gave her name to the river Boyne) broke the taboo or *geisa* of not going near the well, and walked round it counter-clockwise, causing it to erupt in fury and bring the river Boyne into being, whilst scattering Boand’s limb and body parts in places whose toponyms etymologically route to her name and are recorded in another body of lore the poet need learn to qualify, the Dindsenchas.

The dindsenchas are 176 poems and prose commentaries which recount how places got their name. There is a 23 stanza poem of the dindsenchas which tells how the Boyne got hers.

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The well is surrounded by nine hazel trees, and each nut contains total poetic wisdom, and these nuts are known as *the nuts of knowledge* — cnó coill hEolas which (according the Cauldron of Poesy, a 7C text laying out poetic principles):

“…cast themselves in great quantities like a ram’s fleece upon the ridges of the Boyne, moving against the stream swifter than racehorses driven in the middle-month on the magnificent day every seven years."

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Unlike the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, there is no sense of the forbidden about them, (indeed they are greatly prized if highly elusive) and the short-cut way to dispense with the 12 difficult years of training in the bardic curriculum, is to catch a Salmon of Knowledge who has fed on the nuts in the well and eat it, thereby ingesting the full of poetic wisdom seciond hand. The earliest name for the Salmon of wisodm/knowledge is eo fis and the modern name is bradán feasa.

A Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn son of Cumhaill) tale encapsulates this poetic of getting it all at once by eating the Salmon of Knowledge, which appears in the body of lore known as The Boyood Deeds of Finn McCool, found in the Fenian Cycle of Irish myth and which there is some debate as to the era the tales where set in, but in the centuries around the time of Christ, and these started getting written down in the 7C.

There are four cycles in Irish myth, the other three being:

2 - Mythological Cycle - detailing the pagan invasion mythology and featuring a cast
from six races of gods who fight amongst themselves for control of the island.

3 - Historical Cycle - cycle of kings detailing tales of legendary kings

4 - Ulster Cycle set ion the time of king Conchobar mac Nessa, in the time Pliny was writing around the time of Christ and detailing the adventures and battles of of the Uliad and their hero Cúchulainn, with ther rivals in Connacht, led by Maeve and the prime tale being Táin Bó Cúailnge - cattle raid of Cooley.

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Finn McCool is the name of a person whose birth-name was Demne: (finn means *fair, bright, shining* and with a positive charge on fair) a poet-warrior who was the last chief of the fianna in Irish mythology. The fianna were independant aristocratic bands of young men who lived outside of society and were called upon by various petty kings in times of war to fight their battles amongst themselves, and who went raiding across the sea for thralls and spoil.

Finn’s father Cumhaill, was also a chief of the fianna, killed by his rival for the leadership, Goll mac Morna (goll meaning one eyed, an injusry sustained in his fight with Cool senior). The fight came about because Cool had abducted Muireann Muncháem (”beautiful neck”) the daughter of Kildare druid Tadg mac Nuadat (Tadg son of Nuada), who appealed to High King Conn Cétchathach (”Con of the Hundred Battles”) who outlawed mister Cool and gave his rivals the perfect excuse to do away with him.

But Muireann was already pregnant by Cool by the time they got her back, and her father didn’t want to know after this, so baby Finn — who, remember, at this time was known by his birth name of Demne - was put into the care of his father’s sister, the druidess Bodhmall, and her female warrior companion Liath Luachra, who raised him in the forests of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Offally and Laois (pron. leesh)

He got the nick-name of Finn in childhood by some boys seeing him swim in the river, because of his pale hair glinting in the sun.

He was brought up trained in the art of warriorship and druidry, andas a youth, entered the service of a number of local kings in the midlands incognito, but such was his skill his true identity was always discovered and he was sent packing because it was too politically sensitive for a minor king to be having the son of Cool in his camp.

At the age of 15, he fell into with Finn Éces, or Finnegas the druid, who had his nemeton (druidic grove) by the banks of the river Boyne, where he had set up hoping to catch a Salmon of Knowledge, and took Finn in as his pupil, teaching him in the poetic craft.

Finnegas is a cipher for bright, good, positive (finn) knowledge- Finn Éces, and Finnegas had been told a prophesy, that though he would indeed catch one of the fabled Salmon of Knowledge, but alas he (Finnegas) would not get to profit intellectually and from the magical nuts of knowledge the fish had feasted on at Segias, as another person, someone called Fionn, would instead.

Now, this tale already has two people called Finn, one of whom is going by a nom de plume and with a real name of Demne and Finn Éces being the original name of Finnegas.

One day after seven yrs waiting by the bank and practicing druidry whilst also instructing his pupil Demne, (seven years being the time it took to enter the ollamh zone) Finnegas caught the fabled fish and naturally, remembering the prophecy - that not he but a person called Finn would get his mind altered by it, recieving the source of all poetry — Finnegas would have no doubt had a look around, checking that no likely candidtae was about for the fish to fall into their hands. Giving the fish to Demne he told him to cook it, but on no account eat any of it, not even a crumb, as the s/he who had the first taste, got the poetic gift, all at once.

Demne/Finn was cooking it, and some fish fat accidently splashed onto his thumb, and instinctively sticking it in his mouth, the knowledge from the nuts of wisdom, instantly infused him and when Finnegas came back to the cooking area, could tell straight away by the look on Finn’s face, what had happened.

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