Inspired to carry on the Cardinal Point thing as a theme (starting here), I decided to look to the tales of the gods of Ireland (and Great Britain- I believe the Tuatha Dé Danaan had their counterparts in our country too, it’s just the Irish and Welsh were better at recording them. Another blog post for another time!) to see if there was any hint of the Cardinal Directions having the same elemental associations as the present.
According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of Invasions of Ireland) The Tuatha Dè Danaan (People/Tribe/Nation of Danu) were the fifth wave of people to come to Ireland, the fourth being the dreaded Fomorii. The Tuatha Dé came from other lands, calling in at the ‘Four Fabulous Cities’ bringing with them their Four Treasures or ‘Four Jewels’.
The ‘Four Fabulous Cities’ were: Falias, Gorias, Murias and Finias (sometimes Findias and Findrias). We don’t know much about these cites, except that each city had a wise man whom taught the Tuatha Dé knowledge and skills. And from each city came one of the ‘Four Jewels’; supposedly, these cities were located to the Far North.
City: Falias. Tutor: Morias. Treasure: Lía Fáil.
City: Gorias. Tutor: Urias. Treasure: Sword.
City: Finias. Tutor: Arias Treasure: Spear.
City: Murias. Tutor: Senias. Treasure: Cauldron.
Although, to add to confusion sometimes the sword and spear are the other way around! In some versions, the spear came from Gorias and the sword came from Finias. Even the names of the wise men or tutors were different in some translations: Morias/Mórfessa, Urias/Esras, Arias/Uscias and Senias/Semias. Considering stories are told by word of mouth, sometimes things get swapped.
In a telling of ‘The Earth Shapers‘ by Ella Young, an Irish poet and mythologist, she wrote (reprint of the 1910 edition):
“Ogma brought the Sword of Light from Findrias the cloud fair city that is in the east of the Dé Danaan world; Nuada brought the Spear of Victory from Gorias the flame-bright city that is in the south of the Dé Danaan world; the Dagda brought the Cauldron of Plenty from Murias the city that is builded in the west of the Dé Danaan world and has the stillness of deep waters; Midyir brought the Stone of Destiny from Falias the city that is builded in the north of the Dé Danaan worldand has the steadfast of adamant.”
It is very tempting to look at this and find our elemental correspondences. Especially when we have a blatant example of the described elements to do with each city: Finias as a city on high ground? (Air: East?) Gorias as a city in sunny climes? (Fire: South?) Murias as a City by a great body of water? A great lake? A Sea-side city? (Water: West?) And finally, Falias as a Fortress city? (Earth: North?) Certainly, the Four Treasures match both the cardinal direction associations within the Modern Craft and the Tarot: Sword/Swords/Spades, Spear/Clubs/Wands, Cauldron/Cups/Hearts and Stone/Pentacles/Coins/Diamonds….. but remember, the sword and spear could have been reversed meaning that the spear would then mean air, and the sword fire. It’s such a shame that Young’s version is the only one I can find that actually gives each city an elemental description. However, hers is also the only version that includes other members of the Dé Danaan’s taking each of the Treasures. Normally, Nuada has the sword, The Dagda has the Cauldron of Plenty, and the Spear is later given to Lugh.
The Lía Fáil (Stone of Destiny) is said to cry out loud when under a king. Can we take Falias to mean “stone”? More likely it is from the Irish fál which can mean ‘fence’, ‘hedge’, ‘enclosure’ and ‘wall.’
Gorias is thought to come from the Irish adjective gor meaning ‘pious, dutiful, filial’.
Finias can be linked to fin, meaning ‘white’. It also means ‘fair’, ‘pale’, ‘fair-haired’. Now, this would make more sense if the sword did come from Finias. Another name for the sword was ‘Claíomh Solais‘ or ‘Sword of Light‘…… especially if the ‘fin‘ in Finias was referring to the white heat needed for iron smithing. The Celts did discover how to make items with iron, after all.
Murias can be linked to mor, which can be either ‘great’ or ‘large’ and ‘increasing’ can be linked with Muir (sea). Mur which means ‘wall, or ‘rampart’. Then there is the wise man of Falias, Morias. Don’t forget his name is sometimes written as Mórfessa. With the Irish fes meaning ‘wisdom’ or ‘knowledge’, his name could mean ‘Great Wisdom’ or ‘Increasing Knowledge.’
One of the differences of the wise men’s names intrigues me. This is Arias, or Uscias of the city Finias. Uscias could come from the word uisce or ‘water’. This is also the same root word for whisky! If the variation and translation are indeed correct, then this could put the association of the sword to the south…. the sword once forged needs water to cool down.
And what of the Four Treasures themselves? I have also described the ability of the Lía Fáil. Each of the Treasures or ‘Jewels’ had their own powers: The Lía Fáil, was a device of Sovereignty, to signify who is worthy to lead it would ‘cry out’ or ‘moan loudly’. The spear is sometimes referred to as ‘The Spear of Victory’ as it made its wielder unbeatable. It is debatable as to whether or not this is also the same spear Lugh charged the sons of Tuirenn as part of the eric-fine for murdering his father, Cian. The ‘Sword of Nuada’ was said to be ‘irresistible’ in combat, being unstoppable the moment it is drawn from the scabbard. The Daghda’s Cauldron of Plenty, though, is always full and those who approach it never go away hungry.
Would I compare the Cardinal Point references of modern Pagan practices to the ‘Fabulous Four Cities’? No. There simply isn’t enough about them to give us any insight. The nearest we can compare them to is the Four Treasures, even then two of them appear to be mutable. Although, if anyone was to make a ceremony using the cities as a basis, then why shouldn’t they? It would make a great theme, allowing for some theatrics, too! Perhaps then, if we are looking for the Druidic Cardinal points we need to look at something else the Celtic people deemed more proper in relation. Something measurable that can be felt and heard, but not necessarily seen or smelt. Perhaps we need to look to the wind…..
Part three coming soon!
Ella Young ‘Celtic Wonder Tales’, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1995. (Reprint of 1910 version)
Web Links and references:
I don’t actually speak any Irish, so to help me I visited Wikipedia (say what you like, but their etymology is pretty good) for…..
But a big thanks goes to these guys who wrote these articles, without their translations and knowledge of the Irish language, I would have struggled: