The so-called “Maxims of the Fianna” (pt. 2)

As promised in my last post on the subject (long ago and far away though it is now), I’m finally getting around to the so-called “Maxims” themselves.  It’s Samhain night, a good night for tales of Fionn and the Fianna… As I mentioned before, they’re not identified in that way in the text (Rolleston appears to have inserted that subtitle himself, since it doesn’t appear in the translations… or in Lady Gregory’s version, FWIW).

They are, instead, a set of guidelines for a young warrior in service in a noble household. One could argue that this is not a situation that is likely to happen in the modern world, but they are instructions from Fionn himself, and so I feel they should be taken seriously. So, let’s see what we have here (using the Dooley and Roe translation); all of the comments are my own thoughts for modern application- I’m thinking out my own virtue system, so the ones mentioned are my thoughts (and perhaps some UPG), not meant to correspond to any existing set:

“Be peaceable in a great man’s house” If you’ve been given hospitality, don’t get rowdy or start fights with other guests. Virtue: Hospitality.

“Be hardy in the wilderness” Have some basic survival knowledge. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not beat your hound without cause, nor libel your wife without proof” Virtue: Temperance.

“Avoid the fool in battle, though he be frenzied.” Choose your fights. Virtue: Temperance

“Do not mock the holy man” Virtue: Piety

“Nor be involved in quarrels” This may seem like an impossible task in this day and age, but perhaps it could be applied this kind of situation. Virtue: Temperance

“Keep well away from these two, the witch and the evil man” In context, I take “witch” to mean “worker of bad magic”… ‘ all apologies to modern-day Pagans… So, basically, “you’re known by the company you keep”. Virtue: Integrity

“Two thirds of your courtesy to women and the household servants” In the context of the text, this seems to be noblesse oblige; I can interpret this as being good to those who might be taken for granted. Virtue: Kindness

“Be kind to poets, the makers of art, and the common soldiery” You could make a triad of these, naming them as supports of freedom. Also, more practically, three groups of people you don’t want to have mad at you… Virtues: Kindness, Piety (especially towards the first two)

“Do not take the best seat away from friends and advisers” Be good to those close to you. Virtue: Loyalty

“Avoid false and crooked oaths” Virtue: Honesty

“Do not welcome everybody” This may seem to go against hospitality, but if you know someone is bad… Virtue: Integrity

“Do not boast overmuch, nor offer what you cannot rightly give;
For grand words are shameful if nothing result.” Virtue: Temperance

“Do not forsake your overlord for as long as you live,
For gold, silver, or wealth do not betray your guarantor.” Virtue: Loyalty

“Avoid blustering complaint to a lord about his household;
A good man has no business libelling retainers to their lord.” Nobody likes a complainer and a tale-teller. Virtue: Integrity

“Keep from constant gossip and lies, and from impetuous speech;
Though you be generous, deride none in public.” Nobody likes a gossip, either. Virtue: Integrity

“Do not frequent ale-houses” Virtue: Temperance

“Nor be unkind to an old man” Virtue: Kindness

“Listen to words of good counsel” This will be what you get from the friends and advisors mentioned above, if you treat them well. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Have no truck with the rabble” Choose your company and your inputs well (e.g. don’t read forum comments on YouTube 😉 ) Virtue: Temperance

“Be a listener in the forest, a watcher on the plain;
For you do not know – this matters – if your enemy lies in wait for you.” Always be on the look-out for good intel; it’s worth its weight in gold. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not be mean with provisions, or be a miser’s friend” Virtues: Generosity, Hospitality

“Do not impose yourself on a great lord” Don’t be a suck-up or a parasite. Virtue: Integrity

“Do not speak ill of great men” If they’re truly great, that is… Virtue: Integrity

“Have your armor and weapons ready for the outbreak of sudden battle” Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not be mean with your wealth” Virtue: Generosity

“Be constant with your courtliness” It never hurts to be polite. Virtue: Kindness

So, even taking into account my disclaimers at the beginning of this post, you can extract the following virtues from the “Maxims”: Hospitality, Temperance, Resourcefulness, Piety, Honesty, Loyalty, Kindness, Generosity. Not bad…



LARP and Minstry (part 1)

So, one of my hobbies is live action roleplaying (or LARP).  I used to do it a lot more, but I still have a significant interest in it.  Most of my LARP time these days is taken up by a live-combat medieval fantasy game called Xanodria.  I’ve been playing various roles since 1995, and I recently retired a priest character who I’d played for over ten years.

Yes, there is a point to this (other than proving that I’m a huge nerd).  I learned a lot from this experience, about being a minister in particular.  As well as spending a lot of time just being this character- holding weddings and funerals, counseling the faithful, etc.- I got to get deeply involved in the theology of his fictional religion, fleshing out details and working on some knotty problems.

It’s the counseling I want to touch on first.  My character did a lot of it- he was spiritual advisor to an order of warriors dedicated to protect the light and fight the shadow (think the Rangers from LOTR with even more weapons training) as well as to members of his faith.  He spent so much time talking to troubled adventurers that he joked that he should have regular office hours.

This was a great gift for me in my real life.  It helped me hone my skills in the same way that class simulations do, and allowed me to experiment and fine-tune my methods without worrying about real-world consequences… no matter how badly I screwed up, the game session would be over at the end of the weekend and everyone would go back home.  Sure, mistakes could impact the player’s happiness as well as the character’s well-being, but it still wasn’t critical.

In some ways, it was better than a classroom simulation.  The games run for a whole weekend, so my character could have repeated sessions with another, including time for both to reflect and adjust.  And the players of these games tend to invest in their characters, putting a lot of time and emotion into them, giving them detailed backstories and spending hours or days simply being them.

I was enrolled at Cherry Hill Seminary for much of the time I played this character, and what I learned there informed how I acted in the game as well.  It created a beneficial feedback loop that I’m still reaping benefits from.

Simple Devotions

As a follow-up to my prior post, I had some thoughts about simple solo devotions.  Most of my practice is solitary, so I’ve come up with a few over the years.

Example 1:  Fionn MacCumhaill is (amongst other things) patron Power for divination.  So when I’m working with Tarot or shagai bones (my two major divination modalities), I call on Him as part of it.  Specifically, I put my thumb in my mouth and bite down hard enough to cause pain, in honor of the way Fionn gained knowledge from the Salmon of Wisdom.

Example 2:  Last night I celebrated Imbolc (yes, I do it on Groundhog Day- there are reasons).  First, I cleaned all of Brigid‘s shrines (surprise!  I have several!).  Then I cleaned myself up and put on some jewelry dedicated to Her.  Then I lit candles and made whiskey offerings at all of Her shrines, reciting several prayers and singing some songs.  I ended up the evening reciting a story which is sacred to Her in front of Her image.

I also started a batch of short mead dedicated to Her, but that wasn’t a simple process. 😉

Small Things

I read a number of blogs of people who have deep, developed, and intricate devotional practices, ones that are important and powerful.  Also, they can be intimidating.  Sometimes, the writers have such an ecstatic immersion in their practice that they seem to be presenting their own path as an all-or-nothing mandate, a goal that another seeker may not even want, even if they can attain it.

It’s important to remember that your own path may not be like anyone else’s.  It may end up being deep and intense and overwhelming, it may be constant yet unobtrusive, it may be somewhere in between.  All of these paths can have equal value, and it’s really between you and the Powers to decide what path to take.  And yes, you have some input in this decision.  The Powers value our free will and our sovereignty; it makes our devotion that much more valuable to Them.

And if you don’t know where to start, start small.  Start each day with a short devotion- I use a slightly modified version of Sigdrifa’s Prayer.  End each day with another short prayer, something to thank the Powers and put the day away.  Get into that routine and build from there.


“Respect rather than politics; relationality rather than ethics; interpretation rather than scientific facts.”

An excellent post by P.S.V.L. on the purpose of religion from a polytheist viewpoint, and how it’s all too common to “[mistake] the separate fields of science, ethics (a branch of philosophy), and politics for religion, when in fact none of these are synonymous…”  A lot to think about here- it’s long but well thought out and worth a read.  I’m going to have to give it a good re-read at some point…  It’s certainly going to inform part 2 of my thoughts on the so-called “Maxims of the Fianna”

A Prayer for my Divided Nation

From his lips to the Gods’ ears…


Things are looking dark right now, and many friends feel that.  I have seen swirling anger at levels that I cannot remember before and friends deeply divided in many directions.  Rage and violence are in many places. I fear I may lose friends as well.  In meditation this morning, and after, I wrote this:

Hail Heimdall! Help those who must keep the watch and remind them to do it well as well as to remember ALL of their duties.

Hail Hermod! Let those who must bear the memories and stories of the dead be inspired to carry that duty well.

Hail Tyr! Remind us that Rage, even Righteous Rage, can be the Fire that engulfs us all. “For Fenris must be chained, or Chaos will be King!”

Hail Freya! Remind us that the Passions we all bear do us credit, but can sometimes go too far.  I call on you…

View original post 33 more words

The So-called “Maxims of the Fianna”, (pt. 1)

Several weeks ago, both sides in one of the many recent polytheistic scuffles tried to make their points using a bit of Irish myth/story called The Maxims of the Fianna.  Once again, my Fionn mac Cumhaill senses started tingling, especially since I didn’t need a thumb of wisdom to be suspicious…  The original source of this material is the 12th-century work known as Acallam na Senórach (“Colloquy of the Ancients”),  the most important text of the Fenian cycle.  Rolleston seems to be drawing from the O’Grady translation of 1892, which is outdated in many ways; he also interpolates the title “Maxims of the Fianna”- this designation isn’t in the O’Grady translation or the adaption by Lady Gregory in Gods and Fighting Men (a much more faithful and readable adaption, IMHO).

Any excuse to go and do some research!  Full disclosure-  I don’t have any appreciable Old or Middle Irish skills.  But it turns out that there is a much more recent translation available- Tales of the Elders of Ireland, by Ann Dooley and Harry Roe, so I snapped that up.  It’s a very good translation- flowing, almost terse, with vivid description that doesn’t founder in the purple prose of its Victorian predecessors.  The poetry is all translated, too (a lot of 19th and early 20th century translations of Irish material omit the poetry), albeit with no attempt to capture the meter and alliteration of the original.

Not that I didn’t have my problems with this edition- the translators chose to translate most of the names and titles out of the original Irish, rather than leave them in; I understand the reason for this but I’d have preferred them to be glossed.  The introduction basically ignores the mythic value of the tales to focus on history and politics, but this ends up being useful in its own way.  You have to strip away several layers of Christianity, Irish Church politics, and contemporary historical context to get at the meat of these tales, and the introduction helps.

And boy, do you need to strip away- there’s just so much Christian triumphalism and sanctimonious Patrick hagiography in it, as well as a fair bit of disrespectful treatment of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  That being said, there are some lovely stories here, and some of the most lovely praises of Fionn in the Fenian material.

Which gets us to the so-called “maxims”.  To make a long story short, Fionn’s grandson, Mac Lugach, is being a jerk to the rest of the Fianna, and they pressure Fionn to get him under control.  So Fionn sits the lad down and gives him some sage advice.  It’s not presented as a series of “maxims” or general rules for the Fianna- it’s personal advice.  Dooley and Roe place it in the “advice to princes” category of medieval Irish literature, and further point out that it’s specifically focused on the proper behavior of a young man in military service in a king’s household.  Thus, it’s not necessarily of relevance to a civilian (and seems a little… hierarchical… to be important to an anarchist activist) or even to a modern day soldier.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gained from it.  In my next post on the subject, I’ll cover that.

Previous Older Entries