Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland — The Ulster Cycle

Traditional Irish historical mythology, with its culture and superstition, has four cycles. These cycles, documented in Irish texts, are vital to the development of the Celtic Pantheon of gods and goddesses. The four Irish mythological cycles are:
  • The Mythological Cycle;
  • The Ulster Cycle;
  • The Fenian Cycle;
  • The Historical Cycle.
The Timeline of the Ulster Cycle

The Ulster Cycle begins, in a historical sense, around the time of Christ, or in the Common Era (C.E.). For the most part, tales of this time surround the ancient and respect King Conchobar of Ulster, also known as Conor MacNessa. He was a powerful Irish ruler, noted in both ancient songs and stories, who became ruler of all of Ireland. He resided at Emain Macha, and founded the Rudrician line of the Ulster kings. His story is told in The Sons of Usnach, and in the much more popular tale of The Tain Bo Cualigne.

Most of the tales out of this cycle revolve around the rivalry between the two northern Irish provinces of Ulster and Connacht. This rivalry was at its height around the beginning of the Common Era, which is where this cycle is placed in history.

What is the Ulster Cycle of Ireland?

The Ulster Cycle is full of many different mythological figures. It is in this cycle that Queen Medb (also known as Maeve) makes her first appearance. She was the daughter of Eocaid, the High King (Ard-Righ) of Ireland. Medb is often credited as the original instigator of the great Connaught-Ulster war, and she eventually became a warrior-goddess.

Another popular legend from this cycle involves Deirdre and the Sons of Usnach. This tale reveals King Conchobar, despite his reputation for fairness and kingliness, was sometimes no more than a man. The sorrows of Deirdre is one of the Three Sorrows of Irish storytelling, and should not be ignored by the serious student of Irish mythology.

Despite all these regal and sometimes immortal characters, there is one figure who is more notable than all the rest. The foster-son of King Conchobar, Cu Chulainn, was the greatest and most dazzling of all the heroes of this cycle, and his life is the source of many Irish stories. There are many legends that he plays a great role in, including:
  • The Amazonian war-goddesses who taught him battle skills;
  • Emer, the most beautiful woman in Ireland who eventually becomes his wife;
  • Morrigan, the great Irish war-goddess;
  • Fand, the Faery Queen who was the wife of the Irish sea-god Manannan mac Lir.
The most distinctive features of this cycle and its legends are willpower and fearless action. The central group of characters of the Ulster Cycle are not wizards, as they were in the Mythological Cycle, but invincible warriors and immortal war-goddesses. The Ulster Cycle is the source of the warrior attitude that forms the basis of the Irish Faery-Faith.

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