Tag Archives: Masculine principle in Paganism

The Masculine Principle in Paganism part 5: Conclusions


Pic, unknown artist, http://www.reachingcampus.com

When Western Paganism was ‘outed’ back in the 1940s and 1960s, it came with a trend towards going back to the Goddess.  There were people then as well as now who broke away from the conventions of the Patriarchal God and sought (or heard) the calling of The Goddess, The Earth Mother, The Mother of All.  And that was no bad thing.  The only down side to this is when people took this as a knee-jerk reaction, a rebellion if you will, and see any form of the God side of things as anathema.  Misogyny is a two bladed sword, it turns out.  And when there is so much material and Modern Pagan practice that focuses already on the Goddess, the God became…. less.  Until eventually He is only recognised as an image, a symbol.  No doubt there will be readers thinking “Ha! Well that’s what happens when you take the power away from Women and the Goddess…..”  And in many ways, they are right.  However, that particular stance isn’t going to do anyone any favours, all that’s going on there is focusing one sort of sexism for another and is counterproductive.

What we think we need is balance, what we actually need is harmony.

What have we learned from the Masculine Principle?  What does it teach us?

  • To have courage in all that we do.
  • To do the right thing when no one else can.
  • To draw strength from our ‘Bands of Brothers’ or our spouses or both.
  • To express wisdom as well as learning it from others.

It taught us an important lesson for all, that reason can be clouded, be it by fear or anger.  If we take the time to think, then we don’t have to go into a situation all guns blazing.

It also teaches us that to be kind-hearted is not weakness.  In another story, Niall was the only one of his Band of Brothers to kiss the hag guarding the well for the water they so desperately needed.  Doing as the hag requested transformed her into a beautiful young woman who gave him sovereignty to become king.  The warriors have their part, so do those who have gentleness.

So what is the Masculine Principle?  It is the animalistic part of us that wants us to survive, not only us but our ‘family’ in whatever form that takes.  It’s the part of us that wants to declare our territory, to take action when a situation presents itself, to defend our friends and claim our mates as ours.  Its bestial, it’s tribal and it’s in all of us.  In fact, throw the labels out of the window we all have the creature inside.

Masculine Principle, Feminine Principle, we are capable of both their qualities, we have all seen men cry and show love, we have seen women take charge and fight.  The Quest isn’t for the Masculine Principle to become an effeminate dandy like some might misinterpret; it’s to find our place in the world.  Whoever and whatever we are.  If we are talking masculine and feminine qualities in all of us, then we all have them in various degrees within ourselves.  Men can be camp, women can be butch.  There are those who identify with one bunch of qualities more than the other and there are those who don’t identify with ANY of them.  These people, you, me and them, we are what we are and there is nothing wrong with that- they all natural.  We are all capable of being emotional, of being logical, of being strong in our characters as well as our physical muscle.  I have written this entire series in a certain way because I wanted to show how these principles apply to everyone.

When I write we need harmony, it’s because there is so much focus in the Western world on equality that we forget one simple thing:  Not everyone is equal.  Not everyone can read, some have dyslexia, not everyone can walk, not everyone is good at public speaking, not everyone is suited for physical labour, but everyone is good at something and like the aspects of the whole genderised spectrum within ourselves, we can harmonise these to the best of what and who we are and what we can do.  Like our individual skill sets, the sex we are born with, the gender we identify with we must seek to harmonise all of them.  The principles aren’t and shouldn’t be limited to simply binary, the degrees into how we are more like one thing and another are wide and vast, just like all of Humanity.

The question isn’t ‘What is the Masculine/Feminine Principle?’ the real question is ‘What is the HUMAN Principle?’


The Masculine Principle: Part 4- The Quest


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.

You’ve made it this far, thank you! You might as well click this for Part 5: Conclusions

The Masculine Principle in Paganism- Part 2: The Stereotypes

Before we delve into understanding what the Masculine Principle is what do you think of when I write the word Masculine? It’s ok, take a few moments to think about it, write them down if you want and see what you come up with. And what do you think of when I write the word Feminine? That’s alright, you take as long as you need, write them down if that helps and compare the two.

How many positive and negative connotations are there attributed to masculine? How many positive and negative are there attributed to feminine? Are they equal? Does one have more positivity than the other? Chances are the masculine has a more negative bias.

In 20th Century magical tradition, the masculine side, the male side is seen as a driving force. It is dominant, powerful, dynamic as well as destructive. The feminine side, the female side is seen as a birthing force. It is receptive, gentle, creative and healing. Or so we are led to believe. I am of course working on stereotypes here. And that’s what this particular post will be all about.

There was a podcast episode that had Penny Billington (OBOD’s Touchstone editor) give a story of a man at a Pagan Camp. Music was being played and as he danced, a woman said to him “You’re very in touch with your feminine side, aren’t you?” To which he responded with “I just like dancing to the music, what’s my feminine side got to do with it?” So, like the preconception that masculine is forceful, there was a preconception made that assumed the man MUST have feminine qualities because he danced. What is the definition of masculinity? According to Collins Compact English Dictionary, Harper Collins Publishers, 1998:

Masculine adj 1 possessing qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to man; manly. 2 unwomanly; not feminine. 3 Grammar denoting a gender of nouns that includes some male animate things.

Uh oh. There’s that word. Gender, I was hoping to avoid it, too late.

Ok, let’s go with the idea that masculine is already laden with gender based terms, i.e ‘manly’.

The early 21st Century man is stereotyped as being successful, rich, and dominant in his world, has all the latest gadgets and cars, loves getting his own way and is basically a spoiled child grown up. He is Mr. Cocksure and women love him. Supposedly.


Mr Cocksure as represented by Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. Pic from washingtonpost.com

The other, Mr. Hardpec, is perhaps not so affluent, but loves going to the gym and with that stern jaw line and those huge arms, his tall well built frame puts the fear of the gods into you just by looking at him.


Mr Harpec….. was very tempted to put my own head here! Pic from play.google.com

Then there’s Mr. Sensitive, he’s funny, he cares, he wishes he could be like Mr. Hardpec, but that’s way too aggressive and people like him scare Mr. Sensitive because Mr. Sensitive feels less masculine when Mr. Hardpec is around. Mr. Sensitive bitches about Mr Cocksure but secretly wishes he had Mr. Cocksure’s confidence and arrogance. Well, just enough of the arrogance to have a spine.


Mr. Sensitive, nice hair! Pic from academichelp.com

It appears that to be a “man”, we must treat everyone like shit and have the body of Adonis. When I gave the example of Mr. Cocksure in a talk, one man said out loud “But he gets all the girls”. Sure, if all you think you need to prove your worth is solely based on getting laid. And no matter who or what you class yourself as (in terms of gender or sex, or none at all), confidence goes a long way.

You’ll recognise these ‘manly’ examples as we see them all the time in our media, magazines, posters, television shows, games and movies. And in all of them, Mr. Sensitive is usually the comic relief. Guess which one I identify with? The Masculine Principle has become, in our modern society either something to despise, something to fear or something to laugh at. It seems that in our 21st Century society we are pushed to being one or the other, realistically the best way would be to have the confidence of one, the inner strength of the other and the openness of the last.

Cormac was a man who had everything, he was the High Chief of all four provinces of Ireland, had a wife, children, an entire court to himself, he wasn’t a typical draw swords now and ask questions later sort of guy. But he was foolish enough to trade his wife and children for a cool thing.

Seeming that we are already discussing stereotypes, let’s break these down into archetypes:

The Provider:

In the Western Magical Tradition, the masculine principle is there to copulate with the Feminine Principle in order to recreate himself; he is fated to die- but shall be reborn again. In this aspect the Masculine Principle is the provider. And this covers a whole range:

Hunter, fisher, farmer, survivor, teacher, thinker, philosopher, devisor, entertainer, storyteller, creator, builder, as well as more I can’t think of right now. We also see this in the characters of Horus, Jesus Christ and later, John Barleycorn. Even the quite recent mythology of the Oak and Holly King’s can fall into this category. In short, the Masculine Principle is to be sacrificed in order for others to live.

The Warrior:

Perhaps, this is the most renowned aspect of the Masculine Principle. We see this often enough in our literature, movies and computer games in more of the Hero guise. The warrior, sadly, is needed to fight wars made by people, mostly men. The Warrior can also cover: hunter, defender, survivor, explorer, healer, physician amongst others. According to Anne Ross (Pagan Celtic Britain, Cardinal 1974), in the British Celtic culture, the Warrior could also be the healer as well as fertility principle.

And we aren’t just limiting ourselves to simply men here. It’s been found recently that women joined in the hunt for killing creatures for food. This makes perfect sense, especially when in Celtic culture women could also be warriors. The Morrigan, Medbh, Scathach, are all examples of warrior goddesses, queens and teachers of the martial arts. As anyone knows, nothing is scarier in the world as a woman who is angry….

The Ruler:

Someone’s got to be in charge right? The Animal Kingdom has its Alphas, its bulls, its studs, its kings…. Fact is we are a social animal and if we can’t make the hard decisions, we look to those who can. The Ruler can be made, elected and even born, but depending on the type of person who is the ruler, lies the fate of the tribe. A more instinctual and emotional ruler might be a warlord, desperate to save his position or his people. A more rational ruler might be a peacemaker or one who knows how to play the game to keep in his favour. A benign ruler might be generous and loved by his people, but will others see this as weakness? Arthur, Cormac, Hannibal are a few names for the many types of Ruler as are Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Uther Pendragon.

The downside of the Masculine Principle is, again, what we see a lot in the media and tabloids, he is the thief, the murderer, the rapist, the abuser, the tyrant, the zealot, the warmonger…. need I go on?

It could be argued that the negative side of the Masculine Principle is the bestial side of the Life Force. Our Human Animal uncontrolled in its urge to reproduce as well as claim territory: ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours, but if I want yours I’ll make it mine.’ To emphasise this, we can even look at the Greek Myths, where the characterisation of the predatory, rapacious and aggressive side is represented by the half-man, half-beast creatures: Minotaurs, Centaurs, Satyrs, etc. With this in mind, perhaps there is more to the reason that the image of Cernunnos has come to represent strength, fertility and the hunt? In ancient British cosmology, horns represent the solar aspect to a deity, and to be in touch with his animalistic side is to be fertile. The phallus again can be represented here, have you ever seen the images of the god Freyr?


Pic from http://www.hurstwic.com

In Modern Paganism we have the paradigm of the Maid, Mother and Crone to represent the three stages of the Feminine Principle. Realistically, Humans are a little more complex than to be simply clumped into three types (what about infancy, childhood or even senility?). The Masculine Principle can therefore be treated in the same way:

Seeker– Is the young man going out into the world to make his mark. He has much to learn and wants to find his place in the Universe as well as who he is.

Master- Knows who he is and what he has accomplished in life. By now, he has become the ‘King in his own Castle’. He has found his way and his place in the world, or he is on his way to making it happen.

Sage– Been there and done that, this one has achieved what he needed to. He is the wise one who teaches others what they need to know and can enjoy his legacy at best. He is the cynical old geezer who should know better and yet doesn’t at worst.

Why use stereotypes and archetypes at all? Its how we, as an animal acknowledge the world around us. We put names to things, at our most basic this is identification of what we can eat, drink, what is a threat to us and who we choose to mate with. One question we hear a lot nowadays: “Why does everyone and everything have to be labelled?” Because, it’s how WE work. We might not agree with it or identify with what we have been labelled with, but labelling is how we see the world: That’s a chair, that’s a car, that’s a monkey (regardless of type) and so, when we see another Human Being we will ALWAYS on an instinctual level look at someone as either a friend, a threat or a mate. Yes we have thoughts and emotions, but we forget that Homo-Sapiens is a creature too. Instinct and emotion? Yikes!

Stereotypes help us to form a picture of a type of person. In the worlds of story a character that breaks the stereotype becomes much more memorable and fully rounded. They become believable and someone we can identify with.

With looking at the stereotypes of the Masculine Principle, we gain the imagery in our minds of the strong, the brave, the gentle, the wise, and the creative.

When it comes to the glamorised image of the types of male imagery there’s this illusion that we have to be one of them. We are in fact all of them in many different degrees.

Cormac found himself alone in his hall once he had awoken. Tears welled up in his eyes. The anger, the rage built up inside him, how could he have been so…. stupid?

The Stranger had taken his son, his daughter, his Wife! HIS Family. Never mind the dishonour he had made, his blood boiled within and he felt the hard wood of the Fairy Branch in his whitening grip. If only The Stranger was here now! He would stab it right through the silver-haired bastard’s skull.

“ENOUGH!” Cormac roared. His nobles came rushing through as he barked the orders for his horse, his armour and his sword. The rational part of him knew it was his fault; it implored him to listen to reason and ask his advisors what to do next, where to go. But there was something inside that was hurt and that something was in control. Cormac would get his family back, even if it meant claiming them back by force.

Click here for Part 3: The Lifeforce

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!

Click here for Part 2: The Stereotypes