But why physical Beauty? Why keep such a spiritual Virtue around- let alone continue allowing it to focus on our physical appearance? Why not redefine it as a more abstract concept of beauty instead?
In all cases that I have found the reference, physical Beauty was almost always set up as something important, something desirable, something showing their goodness; ultimately, when you begin to look at Early Irish Culture the fact of the matter is that the Early Irish placed great emphasis on Physical Beauty and wholeness as they defined it. This is something which is glaringly evident in so many stories- especially if you know anything about the Beauty ideals of the Early Irish.
Perhaps the most notable trend is how the loss of position or status occurring alongside the loss of Beauty. Coming to mind here as the perfect example, is the story of how Nuada- as a result of losing his hand to Sreng during The First Battle of Magh Tuiredh– lost his kingship.
Though Nuada did not die, Nuada lost his right hand in battle, when he fought against the Firbolg champion, Sreng. To the Danann, losing any body member would result in losing the right to become king of Ireland. Any form of physical blemish would disqualify a king from ruling. The Tuatha Dé Danann had to choose a new king […]
Nuada’s Kingship is a really fascinating story. Initially Dian Cécht managed to replace this with a Silver Hand fashioned by Goibhniu- and, as a result, Nuada actually regained the throne temporarily; even though he was still considered blemished, with the silver hand he was at least whole in a way that allowed him to regain the throne.
[Bres’] rule became more tyranny and oppressive that the people wanted Nuada to rule instead, despite the mutilation of his hand. Dian Cécht, who was the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, took a miraculous approach of replacing Nuada’s missing hand. Nuada’s right hand was kept in jar with preservative liquid. Goibhniu fashioned a hand made of silver, while Dian Cécht planted the silver hand to Nuada’s arm, with a combination of surgery and magic. With a new hand, the people demanded that Bres should step down. Without the support of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Bres had no choice, but to face expulsion. Nuada was crowned king and named Nuada Airgedlámh – “Nuada of the Silver Hand” […]
He was, of course, overthrown shortly afterwards by a bitter Bres- this time with the help of the Fomorians… But it was only after Miach, son of Dian Cécht, restored Nuada’s real hand that he had the full support of the Tuatha Dé Danann and regained his kingship (yet again) during The Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh.
Though the Tuatha Dé Danann were oppressed by Bres’ misrule and the Fomorian’s heavy tributes, they were still uncertain of Nuada Airgetlám’s fitness to rule since right arm was made of silver. Miach, the son of Dian Cécht, proved to be an even greater healer than his father ever was. With his healing magic and [Airmed]’s assistance, Miach was able to restore Nuada’s real hand after three days and three nights […] With Nuada’s hand restored, the Tuatha Dé Danann were now fully supporting Nuada […]
While the story of Nuada is fascinating to say the least, his story is not the only place such an emphasis on beauty is found. Another example- perhaps of how important Beauty was also for Women- is during Fled Bricrend where the first portion of Emer’s speech mentions it quite clearly:
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 [..]
Not only does it mention Beauty, however… It repeats it and it emphasizes it- making it almost the focal point of her initial qualifications when arguing why she should be the first of the women allowed in the Dining Hall.
A related trend that I noticed in other areas, was that their Beauty could be the deciding factor of their win against an opponent or enemy. One such example is the Táin Bó Cúailnge… Most notably when Cuchulainn is forced to fight several champions of Medb’s army; as The Rosc: Spoken Spells in Druidic Magic notes:
Each single combat, then, includes a series of conversations in which the themes of courage, generosity, loyalty, and beauty are reinforced. Cuchulainn prevails in each melee because his foes slip up or are found lacking in one or more of these qualities. Cuchulainn’s only match is his life-long friend Ferdia, who is fighting with Medb’s army. But the two warriors had previously sworn to each other not to ever clash—an oath Ferdia would break […]
Again, and again, and again it is evident in the descriptions of the characters- which even Daimler herself notes often focuses on their appearance (particularly in their adherence to Irish standards of Beauty)-and the repetitious mention of their “Beauty of form” or “Beauty of Face”.
But Lore is not the only place such assertions are found. Indeed, this emphasis is also found outside of the lore as well- most notably in the Value Texts; while there is no singular Value Text, it is found in several of the Value Texts (a good list of which appears on Tairis’ website)- either being indirectly alluded to, or overtly stated. In fact, this theme is so prominent that ( according to The Rosc), even “Historian Cahill points out that Irish narratives prominently sustain four major themes that shaped the Irish culture: Courage, generosity, loyalty, and beauty”.
As a result, ultimately we know that beauty (by Irish standards) was highly important to the Early Irish at least in two regards: Physical Beauty, and Wholeness of Being (being without defect). This is not a fact that can be disputed. And because it was important to the Culture, I feel that it must likewise become important to us as people seeking to reconstruct and practice their cultural faith system; although so many people refuse to recognize it, the faith’s Virtues are ultimately incomplete without its inclusion in the modern virtue system. Yet without retaining original the emphasis on physical beauty, the value itself means nothing in the end.
This is Part 4 of a multi-part series detailing the reasons behind my decision to include “Beauty” as a Spiritual Virtue in my own Historically Oriented Polytheistic Religion and Faith (Irish Polytheism). For the rest of the series, please go here– or move directly to Part 3.
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.