January 7, 2021
Note: I created this post yesterday morning and after the coup attempt yesterday wondered about posting it today. Yet it seems the events yesterday just underscore how little honor there is in our current leadership…and how critically we need it restored.
Glaine ár gcroí Purity of our hearts.
Neart ár ngéag Strength of our limbs.
Beart de réir ár mbriathar Action to match our speech.
The three mottoes of the Fianna
While I haven’t researched the genesis of the honor codes by which the soldiers guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, they echo legends of ancient Ireland. The Fianna were an elite warrior guild who stood as protectors of the established Gaelic order. They supported the high-king and upheld the values and ethics of their warrior-code, protecting the people and defending the land as and when occasion, or principle, demanded it.
But they were more than just good fighters. The Fianna was at once a warriors’ training academy and a heroes’ guild. Members were required to be of the highest intellectual calibre, skilled in poetry, music, genealogies, and the histories of the lands and their peoples. The tough trials and tests one had to undergo made sure only the best men of Ireland made their ranks.
The path to becoming a member of the Fianna was one of transformative initiation, and the decision to join was not one to be taken lightly. For once you became a member of the Fianna you were a member for life. A ceremony of both legal and symbolic significance occurs once a man has passed the trials of initiation and is ready to take his final steps in joining the guild — it meant stepping away from his family as his primary legal and social support unit and turning instead to his new clan, the Fianna. In a sense, joining the Fianna would be like joining the priesthood. It signified a complete transformation of the initiate from lowly man to noble warrior.
The first requirement for joining the Fianna was one that tested a man’s intellect. Before physical prowess and strength, Fianna hopefuls had to know the twelve books of poetry – which recorded the histories, genealogies, and legends of Ireland.
Next, his sprinting is tested — given the headstart of one tree he must evade a team of pursuers through a think forest and escape unharmed; during the chase, he must be so agile that not a single braid of his hair comes loose by hanging branches, and so lightfooted that he breaks no withered branches underfoot. Then his jumping and ducking is tested —he must bound over the branches of trees that are the same height as his head from the ground, and stoop under branches as low as his knee without leaving a trembling branch behind him. Finally, while running at full speed, he must remove a thorn from his foot without slowing his pace.
Once he has successfully passed all tests and received the assent of his family he accepts the Four geasa (an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on a person) of Fenian Chivalry:
1. He shall marry his wife without portion — choosing her for her manners and her virtues.
2. He shall be gentle with all women.
3. He shall never reserve to himself anything which another person stands in need of.
4. He shall stand and fight against all odds, as far as nine to one.
Daunting. And yes, the stuff of myth and legend. But that is how wisdom is passed down to us. Through stories that counsel us how to be in right relationship with the sacred, the Earth, and in community. To paraphrase Yeats, all we know comes from this.
Judith – email@example.com
Note: Although information about the Fianna is available from many sources, this writing relied much on information from the Brehon Academy.