Spirit of Trust
Yesterday I mentioned how different places in our world seemed to concoct the same or very similar mythologies near the same time period. In today’s world there is seldom trust in the spirit of unity, in those things that connect us and define us as being part of mankind. These ancient stories serve to strengthen that argument. Today we have people kidnapping young children and waging wars all to prove their culture is the greatest or their belief system the only one that should exist in the world.
The stories of the Greek Achilles and the Irish Cu Chulainn, known as Setanta as a young child are very similar, though perhaps appearing at both different and similar times. Most of know the story of Achilles and we will visit it in this series later. The name Cu Chulainn may be unknown to you; you might know him better from his nickname, the Hound of Ulster.
Achilles and Cu Chulainn were similar characters, both described as being of both mortal and immortal descent. They also both exhibited courage so great as to be called unsafe, the ability to create pronounced fear in their enemies, a sense of personal worth, and what was known as a frankness of speech. They also both had a weakness that led to their downfall.
Cu Chulainn bore similar traits with other mythological characters – the Persian Rostam, the Germanic Lay of Hildebrand, and the Greek Hercules. Unlike many mythological characters who play an important role in their own being but only in their own being, Cu Chulainn has been kept alive throughout the history of Ireland and not just in the retelling of its myths.
In a country that has been divided for much of its history, both Irish nationalists and Ulster nationalists in Northern Ireland claim him not only as a valuable Celtic hero but as their own cultural hero. It is a statue of Cu Chulainn that stands outside the Dublin General Post Office to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916. In Belfast he is depicted as a defender of the city and his image appears in many murals. The same statue of Cu Chulainn created by Oliver Sheppard is used in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. This statue was used as the design on the ten shilling coin in 1966 as well as the 1916-1966 Survivors’ Medal. The Military Star for the Irish Defense Forces also contains the image of Cu Chulainn on the Obverse.
Cu Chulainn is just one example of the commonalities of man, even of enemies. Perhaps that is one of the greatest benefits mythology has for us. It connects us not only to ourselves and the natural world; it connects us to each other. The characteristics of Cu Chulainn were foretold to his parents at his birth and he did indeed grow into them. Though his mythological life was short, he has lived on. We, too, have relatively short life spans when considering the life of the world into which we are born. However, everything we do also leaves its mark.
Cu Chulainn also has a connection to the state religion of Ireland, The Roman Catholic faith. It is said that when Patrick returned to Ireland to do his mission work for which he was granted sainthood, Cu Chulainn appeared before him to warn him and possibly guide him. After all, the mythological figure known for good deeds, protection, and “frankness of speech”, would have none no less. Most likely, Cu Chulainn advised Patrick to not only have faith but also trust – trust in the mission and trust in mankind. We all could learn from both Cu Chulainn and Saint Patrick.
Yesterday was Trinity Sunday for many denominations in the Christian world. It is a day that is deemed holy, not for anything that occurred in scripture but because of the doctrine of the faith. It was Saint Patrick that introduced the concept of the Holy Trinity to the masses although it was not a new concept. Patrick took a clover and stated that while it was one flower, it contained three parts – “three in One”. Patrick described the embodiment of the Supreme Deity, God, as being the same: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He encouraged believers to embrace all three and to trust in the Holy Spirit, formerly called the Holy Ghost, in living a goodly life, following their beliefs.
Retired Episcopal Bishop and American Indian from Oklahoma Bishop Steven Charleston knows a great deal about spirits and believing in them, trusting them in our lives. “Trust is the key that unlocks the door. In each of our lives there come those moments when we must take a first step. However much we have studied and planned, hoped and imagined, there are realities we cannot predict or control. In the end, we can only take a chance, moving forward by the instinct of our faith. Life changing choices are always a risk. It is for this reason that the Spirit stands beside us. When the path before you is unclear, listen and listen deeply. Seek the word of an ancient wisdom. Trust the love of God in all things. The first step will still be yours, but you will never walk alone.”