Chase to Nowhere: Thoughts on Fénnidecht Rites of PassageThe tales of Finn Mac Cumhail’s Fíanna capture the imaginations of many following Gaelic ways, but only a few have really explored the possible realities behind them. Many approaching the cultural material dismiss the tales as purely fictional or as retellings of stories of Gods made human for Christian audiences. While Finn may have been originally a God of the A few in the Pagan community have claimed these bands comparable to modern special forces while claiming the “tribal warriors” would have been “regular army.”[i] Perhaps this is due to how extreme some seem to feel the initiatory testing, which is below, to be. However, if we were to make a modern analogy, it would be far more accurate to compare the Fíanna with the Boy Scouts; violent Boy Scout troops which not every boy survived to become “tribal díberga,” which is usually translated as “brigands,” we are speaking of very violent Boy Scouts, often with vows of vengeance to carry out. [ii] The modern Irish “díbheirg” means “wrath” or “vengeance,” which points to the importance of this aspect.[iii]warriors.” That in other texts as well as legal tracts such warriors were also known as “
war bands, it is clear such warriors also existed.
As I discussed in “Going into Wolf-Shape,” such adolescent bands were found throughout Indo-European cultures and, likely, far earlier. [iv] “Everyone is a fénnid until he takes up husbandry,” Cormac Mac Airt noted to his son, although it is clear that “everyone” really meant males, mostly noble, like themselves.[v] Boys would go from fosterage to wilderness at 14, then those who received their inheritances would rejoin society about the age of 20.[vi] It might be noted that this is the age period that modern neurobiology has recently shown is a time of extreme erratic risk taking, especially for boys. [vii] As one might expect when sending high impulse risk takers off to fight one another in the wilderness, not all of them survived, but there may well not have been sufficient inheritance for all. Some may have had to or even chosen to remain in the wilderness, just as we see Finn and others do in the literature. McCone has noted that early on some continental bands would move on from their overpopulated homelands to found new settlements.[viii] Where and when this wasn’t possible, it seems some remained in the wilderness until they were likely killed in fighting or managed to die of old age.[ix]
We can only speculate whether any may have chosen to remain in what seems a Pagan lifestyle well into the Christian era, [x] out of preference. While I hope some of what I share may help develop training and path work for teenagers, my own interest is with the more chronic Outlaws, which are clearly the “norm” in heroes of the Fenian literature and likely also existed in reality.[xi] I believe that these Outlaw bands have much to offer for those of us who realize we cannot replicate early society itself; or who may realize that we fit better in the wilderness than we ever would have in early Christian or even pre-Christian, what little we know of it, society.
The question becomes how we move into this liminal state.Read more
[i] Such a conversation took place in a Facebook group I run, Clann na Morrígna, but I have heard or read it in many conversations over the past couple of decades.[ii] Richard Sharpe, “Hiberno-Latin Laicus, Irish Láech and the Devil's Men,” Ériu 30, 1979; Kim McCone, “Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, issue 12, 1986; one example is Whitley Stokes, ed. and trans., "The Destructionof Da Derga's Hostel" (Togail Bruidne Da Derga), Revue Celtique. volume 22, (1901) pg. 7, 29-30; legal tracts are also noted in D. A. Binchy, “Bretha Crólige,” Ériu 12, 1938, pg. 41, Fergus Kelly. A Guide to Early Irish Law, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies), 2001, pg. 10, 60[iii] Dónall P. Ò Baoill, ed., Foclóir Póca , Dublin: An Gúm, 1992, pg 338; My thanks to C. Lee Vermeers for noting this in the review of this essay for Air n-Aithesc.[iv] Saigh Kym Lambert “Going into Wolf-Shape,” Air n-Aithesc Volume 1 Issue 1 Imbolc 2014, pg. 29-50[v] “fénnid cách co trebad” Kuno Meyer, The Instructions of Cormac mac Airt, RIA Todd Lecture 15, Dublin 1909, pg 46, 31-10, C. Lee Vermeers, Teagasca: The Instructions of Cormac Mac Airt, Faoladh Books, 2014, including footnote 346, pg. 77-78[vi] McCone, “Werewolves, Cyclopes…,” pg. 11-19; the specific age is noted by McCone, “The Celtic and Indo-European origins of the fían,” Sharon J. Arbuthnot and Geraldine Parsons, eds., The Gaelic Finn Tradition, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012, pg. 17-18; Joseph Falaky Nagy. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, pg 20-21[vii] B.J. Casey, B.E Kosofsky, PG. Bhide, eds., Teenage Brains: Think Different?, Switzerland: Kargar Publishers, 2014 (I admit to only reading portions and that it is quite over my head, but for those who are working with teens, I believe it may be a very important study)[viii] McCone, “The Celtic and Indo-European origins of the fían,” pg. 23-27[ix] McCone, “Werewolves, Cyclopes…,” pg. 11; McCone, “The Celtic and Indo-European origins of the fían,” pg. 17-18[x] McCone, “Werewolves,….” pg. 2-3; Sharpe , “Hiberno-Latin Laicus, Irish Láech and the Devil's Men,” pg.83-92, Katharine Sims, “Gaelic Warfare in the Middle Ages,” in Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffery eds., A Military History of Ireland, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pg. 100-101
Copyright © 2015 Saigh Kym Lambert