Tag Archives: Cormac MacArt

The Masculine Principle: Part 4- The Quest

350px-QuestingKnight

Questing Knight, artist unknown, but I get a Games Workshop vibe….

The Quest

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.

 

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The Masculine Principle in Paganism – Part 1: The Fairy Branch

This was originally written back in November 2015 following the talk I gave for the Pagan Federation.  I also apologise for it being sort of badly written as I originally posted it after writing it on my bus journeys to Derby and back.  And I can only think ‘Men’ with a capital M was from my phone’s autocorrect and I overlooked it.  Enjoy….

Earlier on this month I attended a Pagan Federation conference on exploring ‘The Masculine Principle’ within spirituality.  It was perhaps the first time there was a very strong presence of men in a Pagan meeting!  Indeed there was only one woman and she was keen for her Husband to find masculine-centric things to be involved in.

The talks covered different ground: Smith Gods and the powers of fertility, potency and creation, the journey of Male Spirituality through the ages of a lifetime and how we cope (or not), male bonding and finding acceptance with oneself.  It was especially interesting throughout the whole day these following points came out that seem to be the things that Men are looking for in any spirituality or path: Fellowship, initiation, acceptance, their place in the world.

My talk covered the character of the Masculine Principle.  It was originally made for the Nottingham Goddess Camp, where the event organisers asked if I could give a glimpse into ‘Male Spirituality’.  Were they mad?  Could they not see I am not exactly the burning example of full blown testosterone fuelled machismo?  Either way I arose to the challenge (there’s a phallus metaphor in there somewhere hur, hur….) and did the best I could back then.  The talk was made and done, but I knew it was unfinished.  There was more to contemplate and examine as well as live through.  And that was back in 2012 or thereabouts.

Cue 2015 and I was asked to resurrect my talk.  I’ve lived since then and in doing so my mind expanded to give the talk that I delivered on Saturday the 7th November at Treadwell’s Bookshop.  So I dusted off my old thoughts, talked with a few folks and helped form my talk anew.  It’s still not 100% finished.  And like any artist looking at their work, it never will be.  But, faithful reader, I present to you a series of posts (I predict 4, however if I end up with more, that’s ok) exploring the murky world of The Masculine Principle.

 

WHAT THIS WILL NOT BE: Is a Cis-white-heterosexual-male written tirade against Feminism, Women’s Right’s or any immature self-sympathy wallowing in misogyny or seeing the world as “unfair” to Men.  Scratch that- to anyone!  Neither will this be an instruction guide on ‘How To Be A Man’, although you might take stock from any of the material given and be inspired on how to be a better person in general.

 

***

 

So, what’s The Fairy Branch got to do with it?

Why it’s this story which I used for the basis of my talk.  I originally got it from Claire Hamilton’s ‘Tales of the Celtic Bards’ but I’ve put my own spin onto it, as any storyteller should and shall do so for this blog series:

 

Once, long ago, Cormac MacArt, the High Chief of Ireland looked down from his fortress on the hill of Tara to see a man walking the land from the West.  He had long white hair and a cloak that shimmered with teal, green and blue hues, the colours of the sea.  Going down to meet this stranger, Cormac learned this man came from Tir na n’Og, the Land of Youth.  The Stranger told of how his land was a land of plenty, there was no want and everyone lived in peace.

‘If only my lands were as peaceful and prosperous as yours, come! Let us be allies and friends!’  Cormac offered, the Stranger accepted and they laughed and talked some more until Cormac saw the silver branch with three apples golden in colour.

‘This, is a magic branch,’ explained the Stranger.  ‘With three shakes, it will send all who listen to it into a short slumber.  You can have it if you like, but I will name my price a year from now.’

Cormac agreed, thinking that he has plenty of cattle, gold and weapons with which to trade.  The deal being made, the Stranger left and Cormac showed his new toy to the court.  He was very pleased.

A year and a day passed, and at one feast with his people, Cormac is alerted to the Stranger’s appearance.

‘Greetings, Cormac Mac Art, I trust the branch gives you pleasure?  I have come to ask my price for it.’

‘Greetings and name it.’  Cormac agreed, prepared to empty his coffers of whatever the Stranger asked.

‘I demand the price be your daughter.’ The Stranger declared.

The court hushed in silence, but Cormac had already agreed and could not go back on his word.  He nodded in agreement.  Well, the court burst into uproar as the young girl left with the Stranger.  So stricken was Cormac at the lament, he took out the branch, shook it three times and made everyone sleep.

The next month, the Stranger appears once again, this time asking for Cormac’s son.  Once again, Cormac cannot stand the upset to himself and his people, he shakes the branch a second time.

The Stranger comes a third month, this time asking for Cormac’s wife.  Being honour-bound to keep his oath, Cormac agrees and he shakes the branch for the third time.

‘ENOUGH!’ Cormac roared upon waking.  ‘The Stranger has asked too much of me, warriors to me!  Get your best horses, weapons and armour…. we’re going to find this stranger and get my family back!’

And so Cormac on his strongest horse, finest armour and keenest weapons charged down the hill of Tara with his host, but as soon as hoof touched the base of the hill there was a great fog from the ground.  It was so thick that none could see their comrades nor hear their voices.

Cormac pressed forward alone until he came across a land not his own.  The grass was thick and a vibrant green.  The sky was the deepest blue with peachy-gold lining the horizon.  Each tree he passed had healthy and bountiful fruits.

Travelling further, he came upon a house with horsemen trying to lay huge white feathers for the roof.  Each time they did this, a breeze would whip them off and they would try again and again.

Travelling further, he comes upon a young man keeping a fire which would die down quickly, so the lad thrust a log into it to keep it going.  Which it would then flare up but immediately die down again and so the lad repeated himself again and again.

Travelling further, he comes upon a pool of water being fed from five streams.  Around the well were nine hazel trees, and when a hazelnut would fall, a salmon leapt out of the pool and took the hazelnut into its jaws.  At this pool, Cormac climbed down from his steed and took a handful of water into his mouth.  A calm took him and he realised he was being watched, yet felt unthreatened, he turned to see a woman and a warrior dressed in blue.  They were beckoning him to join them in their feasting hall.

Cormac joined them and sat with the small company around a cauldron.  Before them was an old man, an axe and a pig.  The old man nodded and smiled to Cormac, indeed the woman and warrior seemed as if they too were pleased to see the High Chief.

‘This is how this works.’  The old man began; he then took the axe and chopped the pig into four quarters.  He took the first piece and dropped it into the water of the cauldron.

‘The fires of this cauldron will only light when there is a truth being told; so as this will be our meal it will be warmed by truth.  And my truth is this:  When my neighbours’ pigs broke free of their pen, they came near my home.  I helped him gather all of the pigs until they were at his farm and as a reward he gave me one of those pigs, this axe and this cauldron.  And he told me that I can cut the pig into four pieces everyday and boil it in the cauldron and never go hungry because the pig will be whole the next day.  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

The woman was next; she took her quarter, dropped it into the water and said:  ‘The animals around us keep us warm with their fleece and hides.  The cows I have are plentiful in their milk and if allowed to roam freely, their milk would probably feed all in the world.  The animals are our friends not just our livelihood.’  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and her meal was cooked.

The warrior was next; he took his quarter, dropped it into the water and said:  ‘There is a force that grows in the Earth.  It allows us to grow crops and puts fruit on the trees.  Our lands sustain us.’  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

Cormac was last, he took his quarter, dropped it into the water and said: ‘I met with a stranger one day and because I was so enchanted with the magic branch he had, I lost what was dearest to me.’ And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

The warrior turned to him and asked ‘Then you must be Cormac MacArt, the High Chief of Eire?’

‘I am he,’ Replied Cormac ‘and in my foolishness I traded my family for a magical bauble and seek to get them back.’

‘Come now!’ said the old man ‘are you not enjoying your meal?’

‘I would enjoy it better with the right company.’  Cormac admitted solemnly.

‘Then be sad no longer!’  Said the old man, but not in an old man’s voice.  The old man stood and disappeared in a bright white light which vanished after a few moments.  In the old man’s place was the stranger with long white hair and his cloak shimmering like the sea.

‘Greetings, Cormac Mac Art!’ Said he.  ‘I am Manannan MacLir, it was I who gave you the branch in order for you to find what was most precious to you: your wife and children!’ With that, the two doors at the other end of the hall opened up and to Cormac came running his family.  They embraced in joy, they were unharmed and time moved slower here they said.  All took part in the feast and Mannanan MacLir explained the three mysteries Cormac came up on:

‘The horsemen were like the man who follows his own vanity; he has no substance for vanity is fleeting.  The young man is like a man who uses up his strength too much for others and has none left for himself.  The well you saw had the Salmon of Wisdom which is fed by the inspiration of the hazelnuts that fall.  That well is the well of the heart and is fed by the five senses, for it is only by knowing the world around us is wisdom gained from it.  But the world is fed by the wisdom we give into it.  You can keep the branch; I have another gift for you, here.’

Mannanan MacLir passes a cup with four sides to Cormac, explaining that it will break upon a lie being told in its presence, but a truth will make it whole once again.

After their meal and drinking everyone fell asleep and Cormac MacArt, with his family awoke back at their fortress in Tara.  The people were confused as Cormac had only set out an hour whence!