Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Individual and Community

A short article this week.

In the story of Cath Maige Tuireadh, there are two (or three) incidents that, when compared, give some insight into the interrelation of community power and individual prowess. The first is the arrival of Lugh (and also his later preparations for battle), and the other is the assumption of the abilities of others by the Dagda.

In the latter case, the Dagda asks 1 the sorcerer Mathgen, the cupbearer (who is unnamed in that section, though nine are named in the arrival of Lugh), and the druid Figol mac Mámois what powers each wields. They tell him, and then he says, “The power which you boast, I will wield it all myself.” 2 At which point, he is acclaimed by everyone.

In contrast, when Lugh arrives at Tara 3 he is asked by the doorkeeper what art he possesses, since no one, by custom, is allowed to enter unless he has an art. Lugh responds that he is a builder, but the doorkeeper refuses him, saying that they already have one. Lugh goes through other arts he possesses: smith, champion, harper, warrior, poet/historian, sorcerer, physician, cupbearer, brazier. In each case, the doorkeeper refuses him on the grounds that each of those arts is already practiced by one or more people already inside. Finally, Lugh asks him if any one person there possesses all of the arts that he has named. The king tells the doorkeeper to let him in, though he has to prove himself in contests of wit, strength, and musicianship.

Later, Lugh asks a similar question to that the Dagda asked of each of his followers as they prepare for battle, but Lugh's action is different in response. Rather than deriving strength from them, he “stengthen[s] them and address[es] them in such a way that every man had the courage of a king or great lord” 4.

What we see, then, is the contrast of the leader who derives his strength from the people and the leader who buoys the people to their fullest potential. Of the two, it seems that the Gauls by the 1st century CE and the Irish in the medieval/early modern era (and apparently the Britons as well, but evidence there is less known to me) preferred the method of Lugh, but had a place for that of the Dagda. This is the difference between the charismatic leader and the leader who does the will of the people, between the leader who leads by example and the leader who administrates the desires of his constituency.

What does this mean for lycanthropes? Werewolves are closely associated with the type of deity that is expressed in Irish myth and legend by Lugh (and in the Germano-Scandinavian countries by Wotan/Woden/Óðinn), and they are associated with elite bands. Does this mean that we should therefore exhibit elitist attitudes? Perhaps, but remember that the elitism of Lugh exists for the purpose of raising others to their own potentials. This is also the purpose of the werewolf, to be the best possible person that they can be, and by being such to inspire others to their own best potentials. Part of this is to not act bigger than we are or to denigrate others who have not (yet!) been able to gain the benefits of our training or ability. We should instead use our skills to teach others, to help them with their goals, and to generally help them raise themselves up toward their destinies. I admit that I have not always been able to live up to this ideal myself, but it is something that I strive to achieve.

1 In §78-81.
2 “An cumang arbágaid-si, dogén-sou ule am áon[ur].”
3 In §53-70.
4 §120.


  1. Fascinating! Are there any figures who combine the two methods of leadership?

  2. I'd be interested in seeing how you integrate one other part of CMT into this discussion: namely, Lug's innovation of the "assembly line" (long before Henry Ford!) in putting Goibniu, Luchta, and Credne to work on making spears. It's rather amazing that they didn't think of coming up with this method themselves, but Lug's good administration of the skills of his people ends up being to his credit, and to the advantage of the Tuatha Dé...and, I wonder if that conflicts with your generalizations of the leadership styles of Lug and the Dagda, perhaps...

    Also, in wolf packs, the Alpha wolf sometimes seems to adopt an administrative posture, and directs the attacking activities of the other wolves when they're taking down prey. Perhaps there's a connection there as well...?!?

  3. Fascinating evaluation of the political implications of the myths.

  4. thehouseofvines: Perhaps Núadha, the god with the silver arm? He knows when to step away and let Lugh take the leadership, but he also is a strong leader, buoyed up by his people, in his own right.

    aediculaantinoi: By his administration, Lugh does not take on the role of the smith-gods, but his leadership and suggestion allows them to do more than they could without his inspiration. So, I think that continues to illustrate the differences between the Dagda and Lugh in this matter. The Dagda would have gone in to, perhaps, micromanage and take over the smith-work. He would do it, no doubt, in a great manner, but still he would be the one who wields the power himself. Lugh, on the other hand, knows how to delegate tasks.

    Gorm: "Political" in the general sense of leadership and the furtherance of the community, yes.