Questing Knight, artist unknown, but I get a Games Workshop vibe….
Cormac was probably expecting he and his men to travel all the way to the West, the direction of death and the Blessed Isles, that’s where he’d find Tir na n’Og. There he’d find The Stranger and his family. He was more than likely all fuelled up on adrenaline and anger as he prepared for the long journey from his fort. He must have been quite surprised, once the fog had cleared, to find he was in a strange land. Stranger still must have been the sights before him as he steadily rode on in wonder at the horsemen putting feathers on a roof only for them to blow away, at the young man who kept refuelling the fire as it burned its insatiable appetite for wood. He must surely have realised he was no longer in his own realm as he approached the pool surrounded by nine hazel trees, this pool was only ever heard of in legend!
It is not without irony that Cormac, after drinking from the pool gained understanding, as was revealed later, the pool he drank from was the waters of the heart.
Cormac’s quest had actually led him to himself. As most quests do.
Quests are great plot devices to move a story forward. They are an entertaining way for us to follow the protagonist as they go and look for something or someone. An adventure to be had as the audience is taken on a journey of the search for some MacGuffin or the rescue of a person (not always a lady, this could be a family member or someone who can help the main character in some way- provide a cure for instance). For some quest’s that’s all there is to it. The monster is dead, hero gets made leader, marries, the end. For others, the protagonist often discovers something about their self or from their tribulations manages to become more in themselves in some way.
The Welsh Peredur leaves his mother in order to become a knight for Arthur, only for him to go on a series of adventures where he sets out to right the wrongs that are occurring in the land. In so doing this he discovers, through his own innocence, that he is better in strength and bravery than any of those knights he sought to become. He also learns that some of his acts had been engineered in order for him to fulfil a prophecy of avenging his uncle’s death.
The Scottish hero Diarmuid, a member of the war-band known as the Feans (Scottish version of the Irish war-band the Fianna) is summoned to the underwater realm of the Fomorii in order to use his healing skill on their princess. To retrieve the healing cup she needs, Diarmuid travels to the Plain of Wonder. It is with the help of a Brownie he gets to the Plain of Wonder, but he uses up the power of the Cup of Healing in order to heal the gatekeeper he killed. The Brownie helps him again and takes him to the Waters of Healing on the Island of Death. The Brownie also gives Diarmuid the advice of refusing whatever the King of the Fomorii offers as reward for healing the Princess. Once this is done, he asks for only a boat to take him back above water. In all of this, Diarmuid discovers that pride clouds reason, that a true heart can make friends in any realm, that his skill is to be given to the world, not traded for, and that what seemed like three nights for him was but minutes for his companions!
Cormac rode with his men only to be separated in the fog until he alone emerged in Tir na n‘Og. His quest was one of self discovery. Diarmuid’s quest was not for himself, but for helping his friend. Although it was only his skill of healing that qualified him to take part. It was for him to learn the lessons he discovered which he would not have done if his band had been with him.
Sometimes, we must undergo the quest to find ourselves and this can only be achieved alone. Once we get past the cloud of fear and doubt, if we take the time to listen to our own hearts do we know what we really want or need. To go onto the quest for ourselves is to have an outcome in mind, but we must not take this quest lightly. For by the end of it we will emerge a changed person. And the outcome might not be what we expected. To be a more complete and whole version of ourselves- that is the quest.
The other tales and their protagonists had people helping them and giving advice along the way, in another tale, Culhwch and Olwen, Culhwch would have failed miserably if not for the help of his friends. Culhwch’s story teaches that a quest need not be one taken alone. He acquired a band of brothers.
Band of Brothers
At times, we need others we can fall back on. Others we can confide in and trust to have our backs when we need them; to keep us going when we cannot. This is where the Band of Brothers comes in. For Culhwch, it was a handful of Arthur’s knights and a cousin. For Arthur it was his knights and Merlin. For Robin Hood it was his ‘Merry Men’. For Diarmuid it was his fellows of the Feans. For Bendigeidfran it was his brother and step-brothers.
The Band of Brothers isn’t simply a gang to beat seven levels of crap out of anyone who looks at you wrong, but a fellowship of support and faith in each other. It doesn’t have to be a seasoned group of warriors, ex-soldiers or gangsters. Your own Band of Brothers can be your friends, family members, and people with a common interest that trust each other. My very own ‘Band of Brothers’ includes women in it and others I can trust to help me when I need it, as well as who I trust to turn around and tell me when I’m being a dick! There’s that saying that ‘True Friends will tell you exactly what you don’t want to hear.’ Stop right now. And think. Who in your life do you trust implicitly? Who do you turn to when things go wrong? Who tells you the truth even though you didn’t want to hear it? Who are you there for when they need you in return? These are the people who can be regarded as your ‘Band of Brothers’.
Cormac was separated from his soldiers to go on his quest alone, but his band wasn’t his men. His band was his family, they were his heart. Cormac learned they were his true source of strength and his true wealth. Cormac wasn’t a raging warlord, he sought peace and negotiation (let’s not fool ourselves into thinking there were never any ‘aggressive negotiations’) and at the same time he was strong and wise. It was a moment of folly that took him to learn what was most valuable to him; there are times in all of our lives where a moment of folly takes place.
Cormac was prepared to do whatever it took to get his family back. His rational and calmer side now gone, it could be said he went on the quest for his Feminine Principle.
The Quest for the Feminine Principle
If we go along with the idea in Part 3, that the Masculine Principle needs the Feminine Principle to balance and compliment it, then this is the real deep meaning of The Quest: It isn’t about rescuing a damsel in distress, it isn’t winning the girl’s love and affection, it’s about coming into contact with something within that makes us whole. We know what happens when the Masculine Principle becomes too much: It becomes base, shallow and aggressive. It will assert itself any damn way it wants and if you don’t like it, it’ll tear your gods-damned head off and stick it on a spike!
I could say that by touching the Fairy Branch (Phallic device, anyone?) it had already ignited the fire of over ‘manliness’ in Cormac. So much so, that he abandoned reason altogether and never thought to ask what the price would be. Only when it was too late did he regret his actions, spurring him on to make things right…. in the headstrong, avenging manner.
The Quest took him onto a journey of discovering what it meant to be a good king, a good person: to not be led by his own vanity, to not burn out all of his energies for others and to look into the heart of things by paying attention to the world around him. It was with patience in listening to the small company and what truths they shared did he finally say aloud the truth of himself: He was a vain fool and would only be happy once he had his wife and children back. That was when he was reintroduced to his family. That was when he was reconnected with his Feminine Principle, and we can see this in the last gift that ever so crafty Manannan Mac Lir gave to him: The Cup of Truth (Vaginal device anyone!?)
So, am I saying that for a mortal man to become the best at what he could be, it took the orchestrations of a masculine deity of a feminine energy (God of the Sea) to teach him how?
Yes. For Cormac to become the High Chief, the King he was meant to be, he had to find the harmony of both Principles in himself.
The quest to seek either the Masculine or Feminine Principles is the quest to find the truth about ourselves, what is our strength? Where are our values? What gives us meaning?
To follow the Masculine Principle is to follow our heart; from it we know our own truths. It is also to know your inner strength (once you have found it) for it will give confidence, fortitude, discernment and resolve.