Past or Present?
Yesterday’s post focused on Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster. There are many tales of this great Irish figure, one about his battles with a giant and another regarding the war between Ulster and Connaught. The war began with the men of Ulster becoming ill, supposedly the result of an ancient curse. Cu Chulainn, not being an Ulsterman, did not succumb and fought against the Connaught singlehandedly. The armies of Connaught were led by their queen, Medb, who Cu Chulainn allowed to escape once he’d defeated all her men. The battles had exhausted him to the point of death and so Cu Chulainn strapped himself upright to a large boulder and prepared to die. The war goddess Morrigan (from an earlier post) perched upon his shoulder in the form of a crow as the brave Irish hero drew his last breath.
The Ulster myths, of which there are roughly one hundred, are not just stories of the Irish culture but tell of the people themselves. Cu Chulainn supposedly allowed Queen Medb to escape because he refused to hit a woman. In his battle with the giant, Cu Chulainn, did as others had done and chopped off the giant’s head. However, unlike his predecessors who had then run away and let the giant to pick up his head and replace it, Cu Chulainn remained and offered his own. The giant refused and declared Cu Chulainn the bravest man to ever have lived.
The gallantry the Irish hero showed to the female queen bespeaks of centuries old wisdom respecting the female of the species. After all, it is the women of a culture that provide for its future generations. No one has ever lived that was not born of a woman. Ancient cultures recognized this and respected the vessel of the children. You might argue the wisdom of allowing a great leader to escape. You might even claim such an act discrimination since it is doubtful he’d have allowed a male king the same chance. What cannot be disputed, though, is that we are in fact all born from females.
The Irish tales interweave their heroes much like the cultures of earth are interwoven in its history. Two other Ulster tales center around women. Deirdre of the Sorrows tells the story of a young woman and her father, a storyteller to the king, attempts to control her life. Upon her birth, her father was told Deirdre would bring ruin to Ulster so the king had her raised by foster parents until she was of an age that he could marry her. Deirdre had other plans and dreamed of marrying a man of a certain description. Being told of a knight to the king who bore resemblance to her dreams, she met, fell in love, and then married the man known as Naoise. The couple then fled to Scotland. The King Conchobar learned of their marriage and offered the couple safe haven back in their homeland of Ulster. However, the king had lied and upon their return ordered Naoise killed by one of his knights named Eoghan. Deirdre’s punishment was to spend half a year with Conchobar and half with Eoghan. She refused and committed suicide by throwing herself from a chariot. Other Ulster tales also include stories of love, perhaps ill-suited or ill-chosen and the ultimate death of one or more of the couples.
Such stories as the Irish Ulster tales serve to strengthen the culture from whence they sprung but that also provide insight to the priorities of the people. The Irish have always valued loyalty above life and are known for fighting to the death. They have been a country divided for centuries both by regions and religion. These ancient tales also bear witness to an area divided between two factions. They also tell of the commonalities of both, regardless of the period or cause for the split beliefs.
Of particular interest to me is the story of Cu Chulainn and the giant. The Irish hero slayed the enemy but then remained. He did not fight and run but he fought for the cause and then remained behind to lead into the future. All too often armies have invaded, left hundred and sometimes thousands slain in their wake and then left. Any survivors have pitifully little with which to begin the rebuilding process.
If a cause is so great that one must take the life of another, is it not equally great enough to remain and rebuild? All too often monies are allocated for defense with none for the rebuilding or rehabilitation after the fighting ceases. This leaves the survivors still struggling, this time in a fight for their lives. It is not enough to eradicate a plague or an evil dictator. Those are important but that is only the present. We must take steps to carry the present into the future.
A common theme around election time revolves around taxes. In almost every nation in the world, people pay some sort of taxes and those people want to know they are getting their money’s worth from the taxes they pay. Everyone wants the best for themselves and there is never enough money to go around. The fact is most of us paying those taxes have the basic necessities for life. Certainly the lawmakers do. Too often such taxes are funding a luxurious lifestyle for lawmakers while their constituents are going hungry.
Life is not only about slaying giants and dragons. Life is also about slaying the unnecessary hungers in our lives, the desires that really serve no purpose except to make us look better than our neighbor. We need to fight the good fight that needs our attention but then we need to turn our energies towards the rebuilding process. When we stay to rebuild, to help another regain their life, then we are truly being heroic. It is not the big gun that makes one a great figure but the little daily humanitarian things we have can do that makes one legendary.