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Author Topic: Body Sacredness among the Tuatha  (Read 1341 times)

Faemon

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Body Sacredness among the Tuatha
« on: February 28, 2014, 01:50:08 am »
Two stories I've heard concerning the Tuatha de Danann's concern for body wholeness: King Nuada got his hand lopped off, this disqualified him for the throne, his whole-bodied successor messed up bad, Nuada got a silver hand made for him so that he'd technically be whole again and became king. Aine bit her rapist's ear off so that he couldn't become a ruler either.

My question is (or, questions are)

1. Is there a word for this policy among the Tuatha or in the text about them?
2. Are there any theories as to why this standard came to be? I mean, compared to Norse mythology where you've got gods losing bits of themselves and scarring their faces, and it's kind of whatever, sucks but it happens, or it was totally worth it.
3. How do you interpret this value in light of modern values (i.e., you can't/shouldn't tell somebody who's crippled that they can't be president anymore, it wouldn't make any sense to even think that.)
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Sulischild

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Re: Body Sacredness among the Tuatha
« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2014, 06:16:28 am »
Most of my research is old and rusty, and I didn't record references as I went so now I don't know what I actually read and where, and what I imagined to fill the gaps.  So, I'll leave the historical questions for someone with more reliable knowledge, but I'll have a crack at this bit of the question:

Quote from: triple_entendre;141215
3. How do you interpret this value in light of modern values (i.e., you can't/shouldn't tell somebody who's crippled that they can't be president anymore, it wouldn't make any sense to even think that.)

I have lots of complicated feelings about this issue.  I'm not Celtic reconstructionist, but I am interested in that area.  I'm also disabled, fat (for reasons that are slightly disability related, but mostly just because I like food!) and at the low end of average on the looks scale.  (That's not low self esteem talking, just an objective observation.  We can't all be pretty.)

I tend to view 'fitness' and related concepts as an allegory for being a useful part of society.  Times have changed so much since those ideas about fitness and physical perfection were formed, and what it takes to be a useful member of the tribe has changed too.  We don't necessarily need everyone in the village to be ready to fend off a physical attack - we also need counsellors and lawyers and activists and journalists and all sorts of roles that don't involve readiness for physical combat.  So "fitness" can be capabilities in those fields, too.  It's about contributing something, however you can.

But that's inconsistent with the lore, where quite trivial imperfections were considered a big enough deal to rule someone out of kingship.

I'm very aware that I have a vested interest in interpreting it that way because of who and what I am.  I know there are some CR peeps who take it more literally.  I have experienced some 'there's no place for the fat/disabled/ugly in CR' vibe from time to time.  It's  a small part of the reason I'm not a Celtic reconstructionist really, just a bumbler with a few CR leanings.  

But I'd NEVER say anyone shouldn't be involved because of their ability or looks.  I honestly think the issue is a human one, and reflects what humans thought/think, not the Gods.

Anyway, I'm no expert on any of this stuff. One of the reasons I'm posting is to bump this up so hopefully the more knowledgeable peeps will drop in.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2014, 06:19:57 am by Sulischild »

Gilbride

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Re: Body Sacredness among the Tuatha
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2014, 07:16:51 am »
Quote from: triple_entendre;141215
Are there any theories as to why this standard came to be?


It's the Sovereignty concept. In the marriage between the land and the people, the king is the people. Disfigured king equals disfigured people. The idea simply cannot be squared with modern values in my opinion.

However, I also think the original story is implicitly critical of the concept. Nuada is a good king, but he gets fired when he becomes disfigured. Bres is not just whole in body but conspicuously pretty, yet he is a terrible king. Behind this story there is a bard saying "look, this concept does not actually make sense."

Seren

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Re: Body Sacredness among the Tuatha
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2014, 09:08:34 am »
Quote from: triple_entendre;141215
Two stories I've heard concerning the Tuatha de Danann's concern for body wholeness: King Nuada got his hand lopped off, this disqualified him for the throne, his whole-bodied successor messed up bad, Nuada got a silver hand made for him so that he'd technically be whole again and became king. Aine bit her rapist's ear off so that he couldn't become a ruler either.

My question is (or, questions are)

1. Is there a word for this policy among the Tuatha or in the text about them?
2. Are there any theories as to why this standard came to be? I mean, compared to Norse mythology where you've got gods losing bits of themselves and scarring their faces, and it's kind of whatever, sucks but it happens, or it was totally worth it.
3. How do you interpret this value in light of modern values (i.e., you can't/shouldn't tell somebody who's crippled that they can't be president anymore, it wouldn't make any sense to even think that.)

 
The king represents the people, and the relationship between the people and the land (represented by the sovereignty). The need for the king to be whole and unblemished is just one part of the equation – he must also show true judgement at all times, and he must be generous etc. If he fails as a king to rule in the way he should, his kingship – and in the myths, usually (but not always) his life – is forfeit. One of the easiest ways to show that a king is lacking in one or more of these areas is to express it physically.

The king needs to be whole because his relationship with his people and the land (or sovereignty) needs to be in balance. He's in a pretty precarious position and it's kind of an all or nothing deal – he can't afford to make mistakes as far as the myths are concerned, because it's not going to be just his mistake; it will reflect on his people as well. So if he is blemished in some way, he is shown – in a literal way – to be unfit to rule. That's about the crux of it. It doesn't mean that disability in general is something that should be looked down on, it's a motif, a symbol. In the case of Ailill Olum it's a symbolic way of articulating and foreshadowing the fact that he's basically screwed. He violated Áine and murdered her father, showing himself to be an unfit king. Her stripping his ear bare is a way of reflecting the barrenness and want that his people will suffer as a result of the injustice and bad judgement he has shown, as long as he remains ruler. He is literally marked out as a bad king and an unfit ruler. Aine, as a representative of the sovereignty of the land, has pretty much given him the sack.

The reasons for Nuadu losing his hand aren't clear – he's shown as a good leader and his people are upset at losing him. The fact that they choose Bres (whose name means "Beautiful") is a symbolic and literary contrast – they choose Bres's physical wholeness and perfection to compensate for Nuadu's blemished state. But that isn't enough to be a good king. Bres is a terrible ruler, who cannot show true judgement, and refuses to offer good hospitality and show his generosity (in the case of the Dagda and Cairbre the satirist, in Cath Maige Tuired). His people suffer, and Bres is ultimately ousted.

So it's a symbol of the state of the king and his relationship with his people and the land. It isn't meant to be taken as an indication of how people's attitudes were towards the disabled at the time (the laws were pretty progressive on stuff like that), and it isn't to be taken as an excuse for anyone to treat others badly today, "based on the lore."

MattyG

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Re: Body Sacredness among the Tuatha
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2014, 11:50:36 am »
Quote from: Gilbride;141292
However, I also think the original story is implicitly critical of the concept. Nuada is a good king, but he gets fired when he becomes disfigured. Bres is not just whole in body but conspicuously pretty, yet he is a terrible king. Behind this story there is a bard saying "look, this concept does not actually make sense."

 
I really like this interpretation. I've never thought about it that way.

Also, it should be noted that these mythic kings were expected to lead troops into battle. Some of the disfigurement taboo might be entirely practical in purpose. How well can you fight the enemy if you're missing a hand?

Faemon

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Re: Body Sacredness among the Tuatha
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2014, 06:45:06 am »
Thanks everyone for replying! Even personal viewpoints on this are very illuminating.

Quote from: Gilbride;141292
It's the Sovereignty concept. In the marriage between the land and the people, the king is the people. Disfigured king equals disfigured people.


Quote from: Seren;141297
The king represents the people, and the relationship between the people and the land (represented by the sovereignty). The need for the king to be whole and unblemished is just one part of the equation – he must also show true judgement at all times, and he must be generous etc. If he fails as a king to rule in the way he should, his kingship – and in the myths, usually (but not always) his life – is forfeit. One of the easiest ways to show that a king is lacking in one or more of these areas is to express it physically.  

So it's a symbol of the state of the king and his relationship with his people and the land. It isn't meant to be taken as an indication of how people's attitudes were towards the disabled at the time (the laws were pretty progressive on stuff like that), and it isn't to be taken as an excuse for anyone to treat others badly today, "based on the lore."


I gathered that it was something like that, Fisher King type thing. Has this concept of sovereignty just sort of always been around that culture of that time and nearby?
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