Friday, 11 November 2011

New article

It's been a while since I've had anything of substance to add to the website, but I've finally managed to get back into the writing groove for long enough to finish another article.

After finishing the series of articles on the gods, spirits and ancestors I've been feeling a little lost and aimless in terms of what else I can add to website - not so much in the sense that I'm running out of things to write (there are plenty of things I've yet to even touch on, I'm fairly sure of that) - I've just been lacking an idea of where to go from here.

There's not much I can do to force inspiration; I've found the best thing to do is just relax and let myself stumble across it as it happens, so instead I've channelled most of my energies into reworking bits and pieces, here and there; a bit of reorganising and additions. But recently I've been thinking more and more about one subject in particular, and so I decided that I had my next article to be getting on with...

As ever things haven't quite worked out as I was expecting; one article has turned into two, so I've got one of them finished, and the other is in progress as we speak. Fermenting in my head, if not literally being typed, anyway. The finished article is on:

Gessi and Buada

Or, 'prohibitions and prescriptions' (there are so many different spellings to choose from - I know geis, singular, is the Old Irish spelling but the variety of plural options is confusing, so I ended up picking one and just running with it; not being a linguist I'll make no claims about my choice of plural spelling being the best one, but if I'm wrong on either count then at least one academic is as well. And at least I'm consistent...).

Mostly I've concentrated on the geis side of things, because I didn't find much to go on for buada, in spite of the fact that they seem to go hand in hand. I've tried to be as thorough as I can, and in the process I found a good few sources are available freely online - always handy! I've listed these on the Article Downloads page already, and I've tried to give links to as many of the tales I refer to as possible. Yesterday I found a book on that will be really handy for the next article as well. I've yet to add it to the website but it's worth noting here anyway, since it's a modern translation (1999) of a wisdom text I've spent ages trying to track down:

Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria: An Edition of Bríathra Flann Fhína maic Ossu - edited and translated by Colin Ireland

There's a good discussion of wisdom texts as a whole there, so it's worth a read if that's your kind of thing.

Anyway, all that remains is a few confessions (nothing juicy, though, so don't get your hopes up for anything good). Firstly, this wasn't the article I intended to write, but it's the one that apparently had to come first before I could concentrate on writing about values and virtues, my original topic of choice. Once I get the second article finished some things might have to be tweaked or moved around with this article, so they both still make sense, and I hesitated a bit before deciding to publish it right now. For some reason, I get impatient if I have to sit on something finished, though, so my impatience won out.

I thought at first that gessi would be something that I could look at in the process, but then my research ended up concentrating more and more on gessi than anything else, and then when I started writing I ended up with four pages of an article, three of which were about prohibitions and prescriptions. So it seems they wanted their own page. Who am I to disagree?

My second and main confession is that I've stopped short of really going into any details about how gessi and buada might apply in modern practices. I can't help but feel this might be a bit of a cop out, in one sense, but I decided that it wouldn't be right for me to go on about it. I'm not sure if I've really seen much discussion of them in a modern - Celtic Reconstructionist/Gaelic Polytheist - context, even though I do see the occasional query about them. But without much to go on in that respect, I decided it would be better to leave the question unanswered than fudge it.

So errr...Enjoy...


Kilmeny said...

I hope someday you will consider combining the articles on your website in to a book, even if you self publish it through some online service. I would love to have a little manual of your work to refer to on feast days and the like. There simply aren't many good CR books out there, and none with a Scottish flavour!

Gorm Sionnach said...

Fabulous article!

Since you did encourage a discussion though, I had a thought.

Towards the end of the article you mentioned the instance of Deidre placing a geasa upon Noise, and that she was acting unjustly in doing so. This in turn ultimately leads to their sticky end, which from a wider social/cultural standpoint is the just punishment.

What I find interesting is that (and this could be simply be a case of modern perspective) despite the arguable injustices that both perpetrate, Conchobar still comes off as the villain in all of this, much the same way that Fionn does regarding the affair with Diarmuid and Grainne.

I'm curious if you think this is reflective of the tragic nature of the tales, albeit in a rather complex narrative. We know that tragedy is going to befall all involved and once the tryst occurs that becomes guaranteed. Yet, we are also sympathetic towards those who do wrong, and feel animosity towards those who have themselves been wronged, and seek to enforce the law (such as it is).

While it can be argued that both Conchobar and Fionn are the wronged parties, and so are justified in their actions, they come across as tyrannical monsters. Is this perhaps because they go about seeking their recompense (or revenge) by unjust means themselves, generally by some deceit, or cruel treatment. Or is this perhaps a reflex of some older motif of the chuckholed king v. the desires of the young? Then again, I do not see why it could not be both.

Seren said...

Thanks both! Maybe one day, Kilmeny ;)

There are quite a few tales where Conchobar isn't portrayed in a particularly positive light. Macha's husband and Conchobar force her to race when she's heavily pregnant with twins, resulting in her death. He rapes Medb. He sits idly by while Cú Chulainn strives to defend the Ulaid (and it takes Cú Chulainn's dad to spur him into action). Frankly, Conchobar's not a particularly nice guy, and some of the things he does seem to be really questionable in terms of judgement - not a good thing, as king, but he rarely suffers for it.

I think you're right about the cuckold/desires of youth thing being at play in the stories. In the story of Deirdre, Conchobar's already been warned that the girl will bring disaster, but Conchobar ignores the warning and decides to keep her for himself. He's a really odd character, full of contradictions, but it's not unusual for him to be cast as the villain of sorts.

I think Conchobar comes off as more of a villain than Fionn does; Deirdre is kept away from everyone her whole life, she grows up in a very small world knowing that she is being raised simply to be the king's wife. Gráinne, on the other hand, is a lot more calculating. In the end, though, Fionn plays a long game and gets his revenge, as he should. Both Fionn and Conchobar *should* defend their honour, so their actions are justified in that sense. But Conchobar in particular brought this mess on himself by ignoring the advice of his druid, that Deirdre would bring disaster. He comes off as far more tyrannical.

I think in both cases, Deirdre and Gráinne's actions are supposed to be some sort of commentary on the impulsiveness and recklessness of youth. Instead of accepting what's in store for them, for the good of their people, they ultimatly act selfishly. I think there's also a hint that love and beauty are dangerous things - especially when it comes to women. Conchobar seems to be a little blindsided by the fact that Deirdre's going to be a beautiful woman, and he wants to possess her. He doesn't consider anything else, really. But as we see, it's the beautiful ones who cause trouble! There's a definite misogynistic undertone, especially to our eyes.

To us, it seems reasonable that Deirdre and Gráinne should have some say in who they marry. But in those days that wasn't always the case. Girls coming into marriageable age were under pressure to make sure they made a good match, that would benefit the family, and so the family often had a huge say in who they married. We would put the individual's happiness before the community, as it were. But these tales show that - especially for people of high status - the obligations of the individual to act in the best interests of the family, and their tuath as a whole, should outweigh individual desires.

Seren said...

Part 2! (shockingly, I waffled on for too long to fit this into one comment).

The fact that Deirdre lives her whole life under such extreme constraints suggests that there's a hint of criticism in the story. No wonder she rebelled! She's raised like livestock, only for one purpose. It's only in talking in euphemisms of the farmyard that she can express her true desires and break free. But then in the end Conchobar turns that language back on her, and it results in her choosing to commit suicide. In that sense, the story could be saying that Conchobar lacked judgement in his choice of wife. He waited years for Deirdre, just so he could marry her, but he was already quite old when Deirdre was born. He should have chosen a more fitting partner, someone more equal (presumably in age as well as status etc). In the law, the 'highest' forms of marriage are based on a couple who are fairly equal in status and what they can contribute to the marriage. But Deirdre never was an equal - he never treated her as such, never considered their union on that basis - and as far as Conchobar's concerned, it seems the only thing she would contribute to the union is her beauty and form. He took her away from her family and had her raised away from everyone, so she isn't acting for the good of her family, really. Even that's been taken away from her.

I think there's a lot going on in the tale. Gráinne, on the other hand, seems to be much simpler; calculated, acting on self-interest. But either way, the consequences are inevitable. Both women made their choices, as did the men. And in all cases, they were pretty much wrong ones.

Gorm Sionnach said...

That makes a great deal of sense.

My only other point I suppose, is that if the tales are meant to be morality tales (of sorts), why then are those who are doing wrong treated in a far more sympathetic light than those who seek restitution for their honour being impugned?

I can see where modern bias comes into play, but I think the sympathetic light of the wrong doers goes beyond a romantic projection onto these sorts of stories. This seems at odds then, especially if the tales are supposed to have a cautionary/ moral to them.

Then again, there is the fact that stories, and narratives, can have multiple purposes or ends as well.

nefaeria said...

I agree with Kilmeny. I would be in the line up to get it.

This is an excellent article. Really good. I am sorry that I don't have much to add to the discussion beyond that right now. Once I have more time I will read it again over a tottie. ;)

Oh, and obviously I am no Gaelic expert, but I believe that gessi is how I have seen it referred to, along with geasa.