In our recent series of articles (Pseudohistory and the Lore of the Master Poets) we considered how Irish pseudohistory was developed and shaped both by the filí and the monastic clerics of medieval Ireland. We discussed how the filí were able to use a method on how to mentally retain all the names, personalities and attributes of the native Deities. And we also saw how every saga and legend was recited orally by the filí. ‘Imbas forosna’ is a Middle Irish term (dated from late medieval Ireland up to the late 19th Century) meaning “light that illuminates”. There is nothing in Old Irish found recorded so far that is its equivalent in Irish texts dating 11th Century and back, which indicates that this was a new term brought into medieval Irish and given to the intellectual elites of both the wandering filí and the monastic clerics.
Who were the filí and why was the art of filídeacht so important in Irish society?
The filí were wanderers comprised of a master, acolytes and apprentices who travelled from Tuatha (Old Irish “people”, “tribe” or nation) to Tuatha across the country. They were given great receptions and banquets while reciting their art. A Tuatha chieftain held them with respect as hosts. To turn the filí away or accuse them of anything was detrimental to their reputation as the filí could tarnish their names to neighbouring Tuatha by reciting verse of ill character attributed to these chieftains.
Filídeacht was about painting mental imagery using words to their audience and it was important to keep within the narrative of their sagas hence why names and places were ingrained into the cognitive capacity of the filí. In one of the parts of the Pseudohistory series, Seán mentions an account of a rite of passage between a master and apprentice in which the apprentice outshone and passed their test before a panel. The apprentice used the same narrative but was inspired to paint a bigger picture using the technique he had learned to use but with subjective thinking. That was the test and he passed.
Relevance of ‘Imbas Forosna’ today
Fast forward roughly a millennium and we can see how ‘imbas forosna’ has evolved to mean different things to different individuals. To the medieval intellectual elite, it was a means to create and progress their art or profession. To us it means that “light bulb” moment that inspires our individual creativity, whether in our professional lives, or our individual creativity. It comes in many forms depending solely on our individual subjective perspectives.
Back in the early noughties, Seán purchased a book titled “The Celtic Book of the Dead”, which contained a lot of divination and visualisation techniques. It was expensive at the time, very ornate and had various ‘bits-and-bobs’. Of course he had to have it back then. However, as Seán developed in his spiritual path, the book is long gone since as he now views it as “các an tarbh” (English transalation “bs”).
Sadly, in some circles, some “practitioners of the ways of the ancients” try to convince others that hallucinogenics are the way. The Order of Celtic Wolves neither promotes or condones the use of recreational drugs as part of your spiritual path. Seán works in the Irish front line health care sector and has witnessed in Accident and Emergency the dangers of substance abuse on both physical and mental health of users, along with the devastating effect to those around their loved ones. How, then, can we get inspiration or “imbas forosna” if we don’t listen to these self declared “authorities” of the subject?
It’s easy. Do what you enjoy. A few examples of Seán’s are going out on his bike with music that he enjoys on the headphones, going out on his kayak listening to the water, travelling to and from various sacred sites and just meditating on his surroundings. It’s amazing how the human mind operates. Your body goes on autopilot and your mind runs on a different dimension as it relaxes. Little flashes of “imbas forosna” just jump at you. Even other not so strenuous activities can have the same effect. Activities like fishing on the riverbank, walks in parks and woods, or even sitting on a bench staring at the horizon can do the same. (Filtiarn – I also feel inspired by reading ancient texts and learning about ancient customs/ lifestyles, but music and dancing is my first love).
Be warned, there are plenty of “authorities” who are out to make a quick buck and there is sadly a huge audience of naive people, who get taken in and then further spread misinformation. Seán would like to leave you, however, with some optimistic food for thought. It is a memory that remains still with him and hopefully will continue to remain.
“A few years ago, I was walking in a woodland (Sir Walter Raleigh’s former estate in East Cork) with my family. This is located a few kilometres from where I grew up in Killeagh, county Cork and is traditionally frequented by families every Bealtine. There is a small river that flows through it. My partner and I sat down on the grass by the bank watching the seoíge play amongst the wildflowers. Insects hummed by the river, the small one chased butterflies that flitted about the flowers and the sound of the river filled the air. The sun shone down reflecting on ripples on the waters surface and created columns of light in the shadows between the trees. The breeze gently rustled the leaves. A willow hung its weeping limbs over the running water. It was a perfect moment in time. I looked over at the seoíge laughing and dancing with little winged beings darting playfully around her. A hedgehog snuffled out of the long grass with a ting rider on its back towards the river. Someone was gently humming at the riverbank. I looked over and saw a woman bent over the bank combing her hair singing to herself.”
To have that moment of ‘imbas forosna’ takes time and will hit us when the moment is right, like when the Greek philosopher Archimedes streaked down the street shouting “Eureka!” on discovering displacement in his bathtub. It’s just a matter of being patient. It will happen (just don’t get arrested for running about the place starkers).
Seán Ó Tuama (edited by Filtiarn)