As an Irish Polytheist, whenever I try to learn about my Gods I tend to look towards the lore before anything else. On another hand, however, it is impossible for me to separate the Gods from both my heritage and the landscape around me. As a result, not only am I exploring Lore and reading their stories in order to understand them… But I am also exploring my state and imagining how the Irish would have seen their Gods in our Landscapes had their native Polytheistic faith survived and made the journey with them.
I have shared some of these discoveries on Tumblr when I was still active, but now I want to take a deeper dive into it and really hash it out- starting with Fliadhais, a figure who has been bothering me quite a bit as of late.
As a Goddess, she is lorically attested as being one of great sexual prowess. On top of being rather good in bed, though, she was also a rather promiscuous Goddess as well- having many confirmed (and even conjectural) extramarital affairs. Likewise, similar to most of the Irish figures, sources list her as being married to a variety of Men.
One (Cóir Anmann) lists her as the wife of the High King Adamair. Another (Táin Bó Flidhais) lists her as the wife of Ailill Finn. Fergus mac Róich, too, is listed as a confirmed extramarital lover (Táin Bó Flidhais)- of which it was said that it would take up to 7 women to satisfy him, whereas she could do it just as well herself. Contrarily, however, other sources (Foras feasa ar Eirinn and The Battle of Airtech) state that she did later married Fergus. And, of course, Fliadhais may have also been a temporary lover of King Ailill mac Máta of Connacht due to additional implications in the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
It should be understood, however, that words like “promiscuous” and “extramarital affairs” might be a bit of a misnomer when you take into consideration the Irish views of and practices surrounding marriage. In other words, Fliadhais’ multiple marriages (and her extramarital love affairs) are not abnormal- nor are they immoral according to Early Irish law and culture; research into Early Irish Marriage Laws and Customs provides us with several potential explanations for the high number of Spouses (and children) often listed for various figures in Irish Lore- including but not limited to the acceptability of casual sexual relationships and premarital cohabitation, the acceptability of Concubinage, a common use of “Trial Marriages”, various forms of legally recognized Polyamory, ease of Divorce obtainment, little to no stipulations for the remarriage of Divorcees or Widows, and so on.
And those romantic and sexual couplings weren’t without result, either; Fliadhais is listed as having several children. The names and number of her children varies per source, but it generally includes the figures Bé Téite, Fand (one of the wives of Manannan), Bé Chuille, Arden / Argoen, and Dinand- along with one son, Nia Ségamain.
While maybe a bit of an extreme, for this reason it’s easy for me to see Fliadhais in the Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus) that we have here in Oklahoma. This is particularly because the Cottontail is equally as proliferous- being an animal which frequently produces an average of 30 (surviving) kits throughout a single breeding season; roughly 6 litters of 5 to 10 Kits per year. In the wild, however, they often pair bond and live in strict hierarchical family groups. I don’t feel that this fact detracts from the association, however. Fliadhais does have a (comparatively) large family herself- and despite having additional lovers she is still married.
Fliadhais is perhaps most well known for her herd of Cattle, though. One such herd, belonging to her Husband Ailill Finn, is driven off by her lover Fergus during the events in the Táin Bó Flidhais. Another herd- which supplied milk for the entire army (once a week) after Fliadhais slept in the tent of King Ailill mac Máta of Connacht- is again mentioned in the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Additionally, she is said to have had a herd mixed of Cattle and Deer, as well as having the ability to milk the Deer as if they were Cows (a trait which her son Nia Ségamain inherited).
Whether or not these all refer to the same herd is unknown to me, but whenever Fliadhais is mentioned in lore it is often in conjunction with a herd of some sort. In fact, some sources say that all wild animals were often called Buar Flidaise, or “The Herd / Cattle of Fliadhais”. Her most prized animal, however, was a White Bull known as Maol the Hornless- a bull who was said to feed 300 (or 30, sources vary- though most seem to list 300) men on one days’ milking.
Compared to Fliadhais’ native Ireland, Oklahoma only has two species of traditional deer. The first, the White-Tail (Odocoileus Virginianus), is abundant and found all over the state. The second, the Mule Deer (Odocoileus Hemionus), is found only in specific areas. Other members of the Cervidae family are also found here as well- including Elk (Cervus Canadensis)… Though in quite lower numbers, if rarely at all in some cases.
Personally, I quite like the idea of thinking Fliadhais is somehow associated with the Elk or Mule Deer. But every time I start to wander in that direction, I get a clear and firm no from her… And so it falls that the White-Tail becomes her symbol among the Oklahoma Deer instead.
When you get into the subject of cows, however, it gets a little tricky; obviously your average Domesticated Cow (Bos Taurus) is not actually native to the state of Oklahoma. But there is one member of the Bovine family that is: The American Bison, or Buffalo (Bison Bison– and no, that’s not a joke. That’s actually its Scientific Name).
Both the White-Tailed Deer and the American Bison were integral to the survival of the Native American Tribes that dominated the Plains regions. For that reason, it’s incredibly easy to see the parallels between Fliadhais’ own herds and these animals; the sustenance both herds gave to the people whose lives depended on them was certainly no small thing. This associations becomes even more visible to me when considering the additional fact that the Irish had (and still have) close relationships with the Native American Tribes of Oklahoma.
Predatory associations with her may not be particularly commonplace. Or, at the very least, I’ve yet to see someone associate her with anything particularly dangerous or predatory in nature. It may just be, though, that I haven’t looked closely enough at others’ associations. Still, with that being said? She is described in as “the destroyer of young men”– with the same line going on to state the “she decreed hard close fighting”. At the moment I can’t remember which of the texts I found that in, though. But suffice it to say that the reference does exist even if I’ll have to track it down again to properly source it.
The second part of the phrase, I believe, especially alludes to what may potentially be an active participation in, love of, and proficiency in battle- but more specifically, a possible connection to Traditional Irish Martial Arts (Ealaíona Comhraic)… Especially a Grappling or Wrestling style (Coraíocht) of some sort. This is conjecture on my part, however, but it does lend credence to associating predators with her. As a result, there are two arguable predators in the Oklahoma Landscape that can compare to both lines. The first is the Bobcat or American Lynx (“she decreed hard close fighting”), and the second is the Rattlesnake (“the destroyer of young men”). As such, I associate her with both of them.
Like with Animals of Oklahoma, though, there are also landscapes with which I associate her as well. In this case, I feel she certainly has tentative links to the Tallgrass Prairie that is sprinkled about certain areas of our Landscape. The most predominant of regions that I associate her with, however, is the Cross Timbers region (United States Ecoregion 29)- an interesting and incredibly beautiful area consisting of Tallgrass Prairie, Post Oak – Blackjack Oak Forest, and general Woodland… And an ecosystem that I am incredibly lucky to live in myself.
It certainly doesn’t help that the American Bison once roamed the Cross Timbers region in great numbers, too. In fact, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Bartlesville, Oklahoma, still hosts over 2,000 American Bison (further solidifying the associations with both regions in my mind).
Due to her association with the Cross Timbers and general Tallgrass Prairie regions for me, it suffices to say that her plants would naturally include the Post and Blackjack Oak trees. Moving beyond trees, I also associate her with Switchgrass. The Cinnamon Fern- one of the only ferns native to Oklahoma- is also included as a nod to how Modern Irish Polytheists tend to see her as a Goddess of the Wilds and Woodlands. Additionally, I also see her being connected to edible native plants- particularly the Sand Plum, Redbud Tree, Wild Blackberry, and Passionflower.
That being said, it is important to me to note that while Fliadhais is often seen by Modern Irish Polytheists as a Goddess of the Wilderness / Woodlands… I have to confess that I haven’t actually found information to back this up in any lore that I’ve stumbled across as of yet… I wonder, sometimes, if this association isn’t derived from a much later (much more modern, perhaps) syncretization with the Greek figure Artemis- similar to how the claims that Fliadhais rides a chariot drawn by Deer and was transformed into a Stag may (according to one source) also be later syncretization of Fliadhais with Sadb, Grand Daughter of Dagda.
Still, this fact doesn’t overshadow the fact that Cross Timbers and its Flora and Fauna is what calls me to when I think of her… And yet that is not all that she is; more than that, I also tend to see Fliadhais as a Goddess of security, protection, domestication (of animals), fertility, and abundance.
Security comes in, in that I view her as occupying the role of stewardess and protectress in some ways: Vigilant and willing to defend her land, her livestock, her family, and her community, through whatever means necessary.
As there has been a large move away from a focus on sexual fertility in regards to Goddesses in the modern era, though, I think it’s important to note here that (in regards to fertility) my association does very much mean sexual fertility- not just of people, but of livestock. This is because of two things: The large size of her herds, and the number of Children she has; indeed, I’d be far more inclined to approach her for matters of fertility compared to the likes of Brighid, Na Morrígna, or others who are often considered to have similar Fertility aspects (even if those fertility aspects are not always explicitly based in sexual fertility).
And in regards to abundance, I tend to interpret it more as livestock and foraging based food abundance as opposed to something like material wealth, or an emphasis on agricultural food abundance. Seeing her as a Goddess of Domestication ties into this as well, as both her and her son are capable of milking Deer as if they were cows- something that is arguably a domestic agrarian act performed with a wild animal, which highlights something else: I do still see her as a Goddess of the Wilds despite finding little evidence to support it. However, it is likely in a way much different than your average Modern Irish Polytheist; I feel like she represents less the Wilds as a location (and certainly not Woodlands themselves with any specificity)… But instead represents more of the unharnessed bounty of the Wilds- and the early efforts at taming it.
For me Fliadhais walks the thin border between the wild, the untamed, and the feral (the Wilds), and the restrained and civilized (Society and the Community)- belonging to neither, but both at the same time; she is feral, and she is wild, and she is aggressive- yet she is also gentle, caring, motherly, and even loving in her own way; overall, she is a complex figure whit a shifting, ever changing nature that makes it hard to pin her down in any solid regard… And I think that’s what makes her particularly interesting.
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.