Celtic MythologyCategory: 00 Early period
Like all the ancient peoples the Celts made up many legends about their gods and heroes. The legends were passed down from generation to generation. They were written down in the Middle Ages but they describe far older times when the tribal way of life predominated among the Celts. The chroniclers and writers translated the Celtic legends into Modern English and called them the “Celtic Sagas”.
The heroes of the Sagas and their adventures were imaginary. However, they give an idea of the Celts’ way of life, their occupations, tools, weapons, customs and religion. The Roman books tell us mainly about the Celts of southeastern Britain. The Romans knew very little about the Celts who lived in Wales and the Northern Celts who lived in Scotland and in Ireland. That is why Celtic mythology is a valuable source of information about the early inhabitants of the British Isles.
The greatest hero of the Celtic heroic sagas was Cuchuiainn. The legends tell us that he lived in Ireland which was divided among several tribes. The tribes that lived in Ulster were ruled by the legendary King Conchobar. Many warriors gathered round the King of Ulster and there was not one among them who was not a hero. Their exploits were those of giants. With one stroke of their favourite swords they beheaded hills for sport. When they sat down to meat, they devoured whole oxen. The gods themselves could hardly do better than the heroes of Ulster.
But Cuchulainn was the greatest champion of them all. He was a demigod. When he was at the zenith of his strength, no one could look him in the face without blinking, while the heat of his body melted the snow round him even thirty feet away. He turned red and hissed as he dipped his body into the sea. Cuchulainn was invincible in battle like Achilles, a Greek hero, and his life was a series of wonderful exploits like the life of Heracles, another Greek hero.
While still a child, Cuchulainn’s actions were already superhuman. Here is what the saga says about his childhood. “One day Cuchulainn played not far from the place where Cathbad the druid was instructing his class of older pupils. One of the pupils asked the druid whether he had anything special to say about the day. The druid replied:
‘He who first takes arms this day shall be great and famous in arms above all men of Ireland, and the stories of his deeds will be told for all time.’
Cuchulainn overheard the words of the druid and rushed
о King Conchobar. ‘All good be with you, oh, King,’ he greeted Conchobar.
‘Fine salutation,’ said the king. ‘What do you wish, lad?’
‘I wish to get arms,’ replied Cuchulainn.
‘Who put such an idea into your head, lad?’ asked the king.
‘Cathbad the druid,’ replied the boy.
‘If it is on the word of Cathbad you come,’ said the king, ‘your wish is granted/ And he gave the boy two spears, a sword and a shield.
Cuchulainn took the arms, and, testing them, smashed them into small pieces.
‘These are not good for me” he said.
Conchobar gave him another sword and spear and shield. These he smashed too. And no arms of all those Conchobar had ready for presentation to the young warriors suited Cuchulainn.
The king was amazed at his strength and skill, and in the end took his own royal weapons and gave them to him. These Cuchulainn tested in every way he knew, and they stood the test.
Then Conchobar gave him his own royal horses and chariot.
Cuchulainn tested the chariot and found it good.
So Conchobar sent him out with a charioteer. That evening, Cuchulainn brought back the heads of three champions who had killed many of the warriors of Ulster.
He was so heated after his first exploits that when he was placed in a vat of cold water the vat burst. When ha was placed in a second vat the heat was still so great that the water boiled. But in the third vat he was cooled.
He was then only seven years old.”