Gentlidecht – Finn, God of Fénidecht

In the article entitled Fénidecht I explain that the fiana are part of an Indo-European cultural phenomenon that have been associated with wolves and werewolves, also called ‘wolf warriors’ (McCone, Werewolves, Cyclopes, Diberga, and Fianna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland, 1986, p. 16).   If you do a search for other examples of this institution you will find warrior hunter gods to which these groups were associated, but not for the fiana. This could be due to the fact the Irish had an oral tradition, and stories of their gods did not start to get written down until the 5th century by Christian scribes who altered and hid the mythologies while other Indo European people were writing down their stories or would be writing them down before Christianity could fully take hold of the culture.   It could be that the Irish did not have a deity associated with the wolf warriors, but that is unlikely given that hunting and warrior bands were a core part of Irish culture and other Indo European (IE) cultures have stories of such gods.  No, I suspect the truth is that the Irish god of the ‘wolf warriors’, the hunt, and wild places is the well-known deity turned hero, Finn mac Cumall.

Per the legends recorded by those early Christian scribes, Finn mac Cumall was one of the last mythological leaders of the fíana, warrior bands that lived in the wild places, harassed the populous, and defended Ireland from invaders. Finn, like other heroes in myth, has a divine and supernatural genealogy. On his mother’s side his grandfathers were the kings of the Tuathe De Danaan,  Nuadu Necht (Nuada Airgetlám) and Lugh Lamfada, while on his father’s side he appears to be related to hounds through his father Cumall and grandfather Trenmor (Duanaire Finn: The Book of the Lays of Fionn Part II, 1933, pp. 114-117). It is such a genealogy that produces divine heroes, gods, and demigods such as Cú Chulainn, Herakles, and Perseus.  Or more to the matter, Finn, like Bridget, is a popular god turned to something more palatable to the Christian mind, instead of a Saint he becomes the great folk hero.

His connection to hounds is clear.  McCone suggests the name Cumall may be an old word for “hound” and contains the Old Irish word for “dog” cu (McCone, The Celtic and Indo-European Origins of the Fian, 2012, p. 20). As an example of this in the story called “The Destruction of Da Dergas Hostile” Conaires, a member of Finns fian, names one of his dogs ‘Osar cumall’. Identifying a grandfather on his paternal side our hero is known as Finn ua Baiscne in a few tales, with Baiscne not only the name of a paternal grandfather but also the name of one of Queen Medb’s young hound in the story “Táin Bó Cúailnge” (Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition, 1985, p. 244).  His loyal hunting dogs are his cousins, Bran and Sceolang, the twins of Finn’s maternal aunt Uirne or Tuirn (Tuireann, Tuiren) who was transformed into a bitch while pregnant and gave birth to two puppies (Reinhard & Hull, 1936, pp. 42-58).  In the tales of Finn and his dogs the scribes make a point of showing a clear and supernatural connection between the cousins, nearly no speech passes between them yet the communicate clearly.

Interestingly, in addition to the associations with hounds or wolves—predators of the forest—that reveal his roots as a god of the ‘wolf warriors’, Finn and his men also have a strong connection to deer, or forest prey. The word fíanna, in modern Irish, is the plural form of fia which translates to “deer” in English; a fíanna is a herd of deer (An Gúm, 1992, p. 58).  The mother of Finns children is Sadhdh, a woman who was turned into a fawn, bears him a son, Oisin or ‘little deer.’ (Gregory, 1998, p. 178). Oisin in turn has a son he names Oscar, which means ‘deer-lover’ (MacKillop, 1998, p. 316; Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition, 1985, p. 291).   In the initiatory rituals of the fiana under Finn reveal that the fíana utilized the principle of inversion in initiatory rites, transforming the future hunters into game while being hunted by Finn and the fían. (Keating, 1857, pp. 349-350; Nagy, Feninan Heroes and Thier Rites of Passage, 1986/1987).

While not a divine power,  Finn also has the ability to shape shift between being a man, a deer or a hound via a magical item called the “Close Woven hood of Crothrainne” described as “gold is its woof (weft), silver underneath it (warp), soft to the skin is its lining; you will be a hound, man or deer as you turn it, as you change it.” (Meyer, 1993, p. 51)  No stories remain in which he is shown to change his shape but the existence and his ownership of a magical item that allows this to occur connects him with the hunter and hunted animals.

As a final argument for the divinity of Finn, we look to Wales. Gwynn ap Nudd is the king of the otherworld and as his name indicates the son of the god Nudd (Rolleston, 1990, p. 349; MacKillop, 1998, p. 233). The names Finn and Gwynn are cognates as are the names of their ancestors, Nuadu and Nudd (MacKillop, 1998, p. 308).  Both Finn and Gwynn are great hunters and both could easily pass from this world to the Otherworld, an action only divine beings could accomplish without magical aid (Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition, 1985, p. 236).  They are both leaders of a version of the ‘wild hunt’. In the Welsh mythology, the ‘wild hunt’ is Gwynn leading a pack of dogs on a chase for deer or as told in later stories, chasing souls (Rolleston, 1990, p. 353). Finn’s version of the wild hunt is found in the initiation rites of the Fíana.

As I stated at the outset of this article, what is missing in the mythology, and the scholarship of McCone and Nagy, is the name of a god whom these ‘wolf warriors’ would have worshipped, a god of hunting and war.  In other IE cultures, we can find the names of gods associated with hunting, warriors, and most specifically to bands of warriors known as ‘wolf warriors’ or associated with wolves. There is Odin for the Úlfhéðnar the Icelandic wolf warriors, Apollo for the unnamed Greek wolf warriors, Gwynn ap Nud for the Welsh warrior bands the gwyn, and Mars for the Iuvenes of Rome, bands of youth that learned hunting and gladiatorial techniques (Kleijwegt, 1994; Kershaw, 2000; Gershenson, 1991; Lewis, 1913).   With the evidence presented I introduce to you Finn mac Cummal, god of the hunt, the forest, and the ‘wolf warriors’ of Ireland – the Fianna.

 

An Gúm. (1992). Foclor Poca. Dublin: An Gúm.

Duanaire Finn: The Book of the Lays of Fionn Part II. (1933). (G. Murphey, Trans.) London: Irish Texts Society.

Gershenson, D. (1991). Apollo the Wolf God. Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of Man.

Gregory, L. (1998). Irish Myths and Legends. Philadelphia: Courage Books.

Keating, G. (1857). The History of Ireland from the Earliest Period Through the English Invasion. (J. O’Mahony, Trans.) New York: P.M. Haverty.

Kershaw, K. (2000). The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-) Germanic Männerbünde. Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of Man.

Kleijwegt, M. (1994). Iuvenes and Roman Imperial Society. Acta Classica, 79-102. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24594348

Lewis, T. (1913). A Glossary of Mediaeval Welsh Law Based Upon the Black Book of Chirk. London: University Press Manchester.

MacKillop, J. (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCone, K. (1986). Werewolves, Cyclopes, Diberga, and Fianna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland. Camrbidge Medieval Celtic Studies(Winter), 1-22.

McCone, K. (2012). The Celtic and Indo-European Origins of the Fian. In S. J. Arbuthnot, & G. Parsons (Eds.), The Gaelic Finn Tradition (pp. 14-73). Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Meyer, K. (1993). Fianaigecht. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Nagy, J. F. (1985). The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in the Gaelic Narrative Tradition. London: University of California Press.

Nagy, J. F. (1986/1987). Feninan Heroes and Thier Rites of Passage. Béaloideas, 161-182.

Reinhard, J. R., & Hull, V. E. (1936, January). Bran and Sceolang. Speculum, 11(1), 42-58. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2846874 doi:1

Rolleston, T. (1990). Celtic Myths and Legends. NewYork: Dover Publications.

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