Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cormac Mac Cuileannain's Code

Cormac Mac Cuileannain, the king and poet of Cashel (AD 836-908) left behind a most excellent account of his deeds and moral guideposts in a work quoted by Peter Berresford Ellis for his book "Celtic Myths and Legends". I give it here, for in it, I find a most sublime and perfect guide for any human life.

I was a listener in the woods,
I was a gazer at the stars,
I was not blind where secrets were concerned,
I was silent in a wilderness,
I was talkative among many,
I was mild in the mead-hall,
I was stern in battle,
I was gentle towards allies,
I was a physician of the sick,
I was weak towards the feeble,
I was strong towards the powerful,
I was not parsimonious lest I should be burdensome,
I was not arrogant though I was wise,
I was not given to vain promises though I was strong,
I was not unsafe though I was swift,
I did not deride the old though I was young,
I was not boastful though I was a good fighter,
I would not speak about any one in their absence,
I would not reproach, but I would praise,
I would not ask, but I would give."

Cormac begins his beautiful litany with a focus on the sacredness of the natural world- and the attention and respect he paid to it. He continues with an account of his "skillfulness" with respect to how he dealt with people- always matching others with equal force and treatment.

He ends with an account of how he always kept his word, but, more wisely, how he never over-extended his word in promises he knew he'd never keep. He never became overly boastful- always keeping his focus on respect. This sort of balance is a rare thing in our days; we can all learn from it. It is a gem of the wisdom of the past, living deep into the Christian era.

It's clear that the Ancestors had no trouble with boasting- warriors were expected to, as a show of their excellence- but the key to their boasting was in how well they could support their boasting and defend it against all contrary voices. They took fair credit for their deeds. "Boast" today has a negative connotation; the reason why largely lies in how far Christianity (in line with ancient Hebrew thinking on the matter) devalued and downplayed the ability of humans to create things of value and to excel- it is hard, indeed, to applaud humans who must consistently "fall short" of the glory of "God".

But humans are channels of the divine, like all other living beings, and all other things besides. Many things come into being through the wondrous interactions of our living system, and that is how sacredness and even "perfection" comes to be, in the range of our senses. It is all here, before us, dancing in the sunset, and in the poetry inside us. If we "fall short" of anything, it is only because we have been told that we must, and held to impossible standards born in human fantasies about what "sacredness" really is. I know what it is, like my ancestors did- and it is well within our range, because we are part of it.

1 comment:

  1. There is indeed a lot of value in this. The emphasis on meeting like with like in particular. I think today saying, 'I wasn't boastful' has entirely different connotations. In line with Christian thinking most people today praise someone for entirely denying knowledge of their own good points. Whereas in the above context I imagine it to mean something along the lines of 'I never said more about my own prowess in battle than was just and true.'
    Today people praise this strange thing where people claim ignorance of things they could hardly fail to be aware of. Beautiful women for instance who claim unawareness of their own beauty, or people who play down their artistic acheivements are considered 'modest.' But to me this is a strange dishonesty and lack of gratitude for one's blessing to claim not only to not notice them, but also that they aren't there. A form of dishonesty that the person hopes to be rewarded for with extra positive regard. As the Leabhar na Nuachonghbala says: 'Let him magnify the truth, it will magnify him.'
    This modern way of thinking can only extend from the fact that we've forgotten to see ourselves as 'channels of the divine.' We have forgotten that our blessings are not our's alone, and not ours to deny or to over-rate, and that it should always be a positive to fairly and clearly state the truth.