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, August 3, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland — The Fenian Cycle

There are four cycles that make up traditional Irish mythology. These cycles describe 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 Fenian Cycle

The Fenian Cycle is full of legends based upon the fiana (war bands) and their leader, Finn mac Cumaill. Sometimes, this cycle is referred to as the Ossianic Cycle, because of the rather romantic poems attributed to Finn’s son, Ossian.

Finn and his fiana served Cormac mac Airt, who was one of the greatest poets of all the ancient kings of Ireland. Cormac died in 267 C.E. It can be safely said, then, that the Fenian Cycle began around 200 C.E., and continued towards the end of the century.

What is the Fenian Cycle of Ireland?

The Fenian Cycle is full of tales of heroism, romance, and kingship. The central king of this cycle, Cormac mac Airt was arguably the greatest king that Ireland ever knew. When he resigned his High-Kingship, he ended one of the most blessed times that Ireland had ever experienced. There are three literary works which are attributed to him by some sources. These are:
  • Teagasc an Riogh (Instructions of a King);
  • The Book of Acaill (Book of the Principles of Criminal Law);
  • The Psaltair of Tara, which is no longer in existence, but is referenced in many other works.
These items, more than any other literary works of the time, show that Ireland did have a literary culture all its own, contrary to the beliefs of the early Roman Catholic Church, which stated that the Irish were uneducated. More than that, they give insight into the Fenian Cycle and its heroes.

The tales of the Fenian Cycle are similar to those in the Ulster Cycle. They both focus on the heroic characters of the times, but there are some vital differences. For one, the fiana were foot soldiers, where the Ulster heroes were almost always mounted or in their chariots.

The second difference is perhaps more subtle, but also more important. The heroes of the Ulster Cycle were almost infamous in their need to individuate themselves from the group. Their rivalries were the stuff of legend, and they rarely cooperated with each other. In contrast, the fiana, the primary heroes of the Fenian Cycle, shared their experiences. They lived for the camaraderie that comes from being a member of a unique group. They lived with an intense pleasure that the Ulster heroes had been lacking.

The Fenian tales were also heavy on romance and poetry, almost like the Arthurian legends of lower Britain. The cycle’s greatest tale of heroism, The Pursuit of Diarmaid And Grainne, is also its most romantic. The finest collection of Fenian tales, The Agallam na Seanorach (the Colloquy of the Ancients), is an account of the fiana’s greatest achievements. It is also among the most poetic of texts from that era.

The most distinctive features of this cycle and its legends are human warmth and feeling. The central group of characters of the Fenian Cycle are sometimes wizards, sometimes heroes, but they are always passionate about their cause.

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