Ever since becoming an Irish Polytheist, I have been interested more in the foundation of Irish belief as opposed to concentrating on the Gods themselves. The subject I have become the most focused on in recent months, however, is the Virtues or Values that the Early Irish placed emphasis on within their religious practices. This has been incredibly difficult, though.
It is hard because hardly any Irish Polytheist actually talks about such things; there seems to be an anti-religious thread running though the core of our current community and the Values in particular seem to be a topic which most that I have encountered would rather stick their head in the sand and ignore… Those users who actually do dare speak on the subject usually only speak about it briefly. This makes finding information hard- an issue which is only further helped by the fact those sources which are available list multiple versions of such Values, some of which are only applicable to certain classes of people within Irish society.
Thankfully, though, I have found at least one source which seems to be credible and which at least talks about them in more depth. That is Tairis– a website whose origins and author are not quite clear, but whose information appears to be well sourced in many areas. What makes it even better, to me, is that they cover a wide range of topics which I don’t often see discussed among Irish Polytheists, including the subject of Values and what they believe an accurate list of them to be.
Reading their list, one Value caught my eye a while ago: Febas… Febas is described by Tairis simply as Excellence. However, they go on to state that it is much more than that; it encompasses one’s dignity (or Honor) and worth, as well as whether or not they participate in behavior that is fitting to their status within society.
“Behavior fitting one’s status within society” is such an interesting line to me. What behavior would that be, exactly, for the Early Irish? Furthermore, how would one go about mirroring that in the modern era? The answer to those questions is simple… But only if you are a Poet, Druid, Hospitaler, Warrior, King, or other such person.
I am none of these things, unfortunately. I am an average Housewife- and to my knowledge the average housewife was none of these things to the Early Irish, either. So what expecations did the Early Irish have for the average Woman?
Our first basic idea comes during Fled Bricrend (The Feast of Bricriu) in the Ulster Cycle. Firstly, there is the welcoming of the Women by Bricriu, wherein he says:
Hail you tonight, wife of Loigaire the Triumphant! Fedelm-of-the-fresh-heart is no nickname for you with respect to your excellency of form and of wisdom and of lineage […] Hail to thee, Lendabair; for you that is no nickname. You are the darling and pet of all mankind on account of your splendor and of your luster […] Greeting and hail to thee, Emer, daughter of Forgall Manach, wife of the best wight in Erin! Emer of the Fair Hair is for you no nickname […] As the sun surpasses the stars of heaven, so far do you outshine the Women of the whole world in form and shape and lineage; in youth and beauty and elegance; in good name and wisdom and address.
Earlier in the tale, Bricriu had welcomed the Men by speaking of their accomplishments in battle. Here, however, he welcomes the Women with pleasantries which are far more feminine in nature. This is further elaborated on by the Women themselves later when they argue in poetic form over which of the three should be allowed entrance to the Banquet hall first.
In this case, the first two Women’s speeches are short and focus predominantly on the prowess of their Husbands with very little emphasis on their own qualities. The first part of Emer’s speech, however, focuses mostly on her own qualities before finally giving way to her Husband’s accomplishments:
I am the standard of Women in figure, in grace, and in wisdom; none my equal in beauty, for I am the picture of Graces- myself Noble and Goodly, my eyes like a jewel that flash; figure of Grace or beauty or wisdom, or bounty, or chasteness, joy of sense, or loving, unto mine has never been likened; sighing for me is Ultonia- a nut of the heart I am clearly (and if I were a welcoming wonton, no Husband would be yours tomorrow).
In A Woman’s Words: Emer and Female Speech in the Ulster Cycle, Joanne Findon translates a portion of the same passage a bit differently- though it retains roughly the same meaning:
There has not been found beauty or grace or bearing,
there has not been found wisdom or honor or chastity,
there has not been found movement of love in a noble sexual union
nor intelligence to equal mine.
In other words, Emer sets herself up as the picture of Beauty and Grace. But she also proves that she is eloquent, has intelligence and wisdom, and is courageous for saying things the other Women would not: That she is a good wife who is chaste and loyal to her husband (and damned good in bed).
As Tairis states,
These are the kinds of virtues that define ‘a good woman’ and are seen to make her honorable according to the tale. The Triads of Ireland echo these kinds of virtues, adding ‘housewifery’ to the list along with a steady tongue and good virtue. […]
So here, we have discovered that the basic traits of a good Woman in general are Beauty, Intelligence, Wisdom, Steady Temper (or control of their Temper), Virtue, and Honor… But the passage also implies something else, and that is what the traits of a good Wife are.
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.