The Power of Prophecy

Throughout the Celtic legends there are references to prophecies, futures foretold and promises made by victors and losers alike. One of the most famous prophecies by the Morrigan is told at the end of Cath Maige Tuired, the great battle that Lugh wins against the Fomorians, and is conflicting at best. Elizabeth Gray’s translation tells us that the first section prophecies a time of fullness and peace, but then the Morrigan goes on to foretell doom, betrayal, and the end of the world. In Tain Bo Cualnge (translation Cecille O’Rahilly, 1976), Queen Medb demands a poetess to divine the fate of her army in the upcoming battle against the Ulster men. The prophetess does as she is told but Medb is not happy, as she discovers, although she does not believe it, that her army will be greatly reduced by the power of one young man. Prophecy of this kind is indeed a double edged sword; sometimes simply hearing the prophecy can be the spark that makes it come true, and sometimes doing everything one can to avoid the outcome of the prophecy can cut the very rut that holds the wheels of fate. Medb, in a way, does exactly what she should do which is to ignore the prophecy and carry on towards the battle field, but in this case the prophecy is not self-fulfilling, and Cu Chulainn is indeed the young lad that will see the host blood stained and red. So what should Medb have done? Taken her army home? What do we do, when faced with the promise of failure? Do we give up? Or do we fight in the face of adversity? Well, each of us will have our own answer for that, and I for one know there have been times when I know that continuing to fight is not the best course of action, and indeed sometimes backing down, though it may hurt the pride and ego, will be less painful in the long run.

(c) 2012, excerpt from A Modern Celt, Mabh Savage

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