Today is not only Father’s Day this year, it is the hero-feast of Suibhne Geilt, the legendary Irish king who was afflicted by the curse of a saint (one called Rónán), went mad as the result of being adversely affected by the spirits of battle, and then lived in the wilderness for many years, taking on bird-like characteristics, and occasionally uttering inspired nature poetry. His date is today because St. Moling was a saint with whom he came into contact late in his life, and Moling’s dies sancti is today.
Ekklesía Antínoou member, Mystes Antínoou, and (more importantly for the present context!) Celtic Reconstructionism practitioner and co-founder Erynn Rowan Laurie has done a lot of work with the geilt concept as very comparable to the modern diagnosis of PTSD among veterans and many other survivors of different types of trauma, and indeed, the similarities and parallels are extensive. She has written about this in an essay in the book Disability and Religious Diversity, which you can read more about here.
There hasn’t been enough good art devoted to Suibhne as a subject, in my opinion, but a very nice sculptural series by Holger Lönze does feature Suibhne and St. Rónán, from which the above photo is a selection. That in situ sculpture is slightly different from the original model made…
Can you tell the difference? (This was mostly for Sannion, in honor of Pagan Values Month!)
This is another recent interpretation of Suibhne that was done for a library exhibit; and, of course, there’s the better-known Seamus Heaney poem Sweeney Astray which is based on the original Middle Irish story of Suibhne, Buile Shuibhne; while it’s good, I’d highly recommend just going to the original, when possible.
And, it is possible!
But, there’s a bit of the original tale that I’d like to analyze as a kind of metaphor for what many people within modern CR think of medieval Irish literature. The bit of the story is from section 77:
Thereafter during that year the madman was visiting Moling. One day he would go to Innis Bo Finne in west Connacht, another day to delightful Eas Ruaidh, another day to smooth, beautiful Sliabh Mis, another day to ever-chilly Benn Boirche, but go where he would each day, he would attend at vespers each night at Teach Moling. Moling ordered a collation for him for that hour, for he told his cook to give him some of each day’s milking. Muirghil was her name; she was wife of Mongan, swineherd to Moling. This was the extent of the meal the woman used to give him: she used to thrust her heel up to her ankle in the cowdung nearest her and leave the full of it of new milk there for Suibhne. He used to come cautiously and carefully into the vacant portion of the milking yard to drink the milk.
How is this metaphorical? Well, under the orders of a saint, an underling makes a space with her heel in a pile of shit to pour milk, which will be drunk by Suibhne. The recording of Irish medieval literature with pagan and polytheist themes took place at the behest of ecclesiastical scholars, who made a space in their commentaries on the gospels and the psalms and Priscian and the Aeneid and so forth to record their own history, from which us modern pagans are now quite literally “drinking” for our sustenance. While the rest of medieval Irish Christian literature might seem “pretty shitty” in many respects, and not giving it better respect than one’s heel-print is lamentable, it is all we have. However, this notion somewhat overlooks the actual power of the material itself, and how it also matches with the milk metaphor. In Irish tradition, milk is a pure substance which purifies what comes into contact with it. Thus, milk even in a bowl made of shit purifies the shit and cannot be corrupted by it. (Let’s ignore the science which might say otherwise–after all, we’re in metaphor country here!) So, let this be a lesson to those nay-sayers: what has been preserved may not “look” (or “smell”) pure, but there is no reason that it cannot be, and that it cannot be consumed as sustenance for us in the modern world.
There’s a great deal that Suibhne’s tale can teach us about a wide variety of matters, so I suggest looking into him as much as possible!
May Suibhne Geilt always be remembered; and may we also always remember those who have been the survivors of trauma amongst us!
Bendachta Dé 7 An-Dé Foraib!