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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Four Treasures

"305. There were four cities in which they [the Tuatha de Danann] were acquiring knowledge and science and diabolism: these are their names, Failias, Goirias, Findias, Muirias. From Failias was brought the Lia Fail which is in Temair, and which used to utter a cry under every king that should take Ireland, From Goirias was brought the spear which Lug had: battle would never go against him who had it in hand. From Findias was brought the sword of Naudu: no man would escape from from it; when it was drawn from its battle-scabbard, there was no resisting it. From Murias was brought the cauldron of The Dagda; no company would go from it unsatisfied,"
     - Lebor Gabala Erenn (MacAlister, 1941)

"1. The Tuatha De Danann were in the northern islands of the world, studying occult lore and sorcery, druidic arts and witchcraft and magical skill, until they surpassed the sages of the pagan arts.
 2. They studied occult lore and secret knowledge and diabolic arts in four cities: Falias, Gorias, Murias, and Findias.
 3.From Falias was brought the Stone of Fal which was located in Tara. It used to cry out beneath every king that would take Ireland.
 4. From Gorias was brought the spear which Lug had. No battle was ever sustained against it, or against the man who held it in his hand.
 5. From Findias was brought the sword of Nuadu. No one ever escaped from it once it was drawn from its deadly sheath, and no one could resist it.
 6. From Murias was brought the Dagda's cauldron. No company ever went away from it unsatisfied."   
   - Cath Maige Tuired (Gray, 1983)

   In modern Irish paganism and Druidism it is not uncommon to hear people talking about the four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann. For many people they have become a template of sorts for what tools to include or for establishing directionality. My own approach is very different, although I do see the value of the four treasures for a modern practitioner. They are powerful symbols and still carry deep meaning; they can tell us a great deal about the deities associated with each one and about the wider values that each treasure represents.
  First, to get my own disagreements with the modern views out of the way, not that I begrudge anyone their own opinion or way of approaching practice. I have seen some people put forth that these four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann represent the tools that we as modern practitioners should use. I disagree with this because I think that viewing them as comparable to the traditional tools of ceremonial magic and witchcraft, the suits of the tarot if you will, is missing the unique value each one held within Irish mythology. It has never made sense to me, personally, to equate the spear to the staff, particularly as the spear was associated with victory in battle. Similarly the sword, while certainly a viable ritual tool, it seems odd to me to use a proxy representation of a weapon who it was said would kill everyone set against it when it was drawn from its sheath; that is an awfully intense energy to be pulling out to create ritual space, rather like using a flamethrower to light a candle. We also know from mythology, folklore, and secondary sources which tools it was likely that the Druids would actually have used: the wand, the staff, the cauldron, and possibly the sickle and Druid's egg (Green, 1997; Freeman, 2008).
   Even more common in modern practice is the idea of using the four treasures to mark out or establish ritual space; this hinges on using four cardinal directions and assigning one to each of the four cities listed in the descriptions above. Clearly the first obvious issue with this idea is that the source material of the mythology does not include any directionality for each city, they are simply listed. Secondly, and the reason I excerpted both sources, is that the cities are not given in the same order between the Lebor Gabala Erenn and the Cath Maige Tuired, making any placement based on the listing order arbitrary. Adding to this is the use of the four directions, as opposed to more or less. Brendan Myers in his book Mysteries of Druidism also makes a good argument for a five-direction approach to sacred space that includes center. To be fair, Alexei Kondrative in his book Apple Branch does offer a good system based on using the treasures and four cardinal points; he uses the etymology of the names of the cities to associate them with the four classical elements and then to directions (Kondratiev, 2003). I don't personally agree with this, as I feel it includes too many outside influences, but it is at least a strong educated guess for those that do want to use this system. It is also worth noting that this idea also relies strongly on using the system of the four classical elements, which there is no evidence the Celts followed; in fact it seems far more likely that the Celtic system of elements would have included more than 4 (see Searles O Dubhain's article here for more on that).
   Now having said all that I do see great value in the four treasures. I believe they can be very important symbols for us both of the Gods who hold them and of some core concepts of Celtic paganism. To me the treasures represent the values of sovereignty, hospitality, defense, and offense, respectively. By meditating on these qualities and their symbols I feel that I have gained a deeper connection to my spirituality.
     "3.From Falias was brought the Stone of Fal which was located in Tara. It used to cry out beneath every king that would take Ireland." (Gray, 1983). The Lia Fail is one of the most interesting of the treasures because it does not belong to any named Deity, but rather to the land of Ireland herself. Interestingly the eDIL gives multiple definitions to the Old Irish word Fal, and these include the stone at Tara, abundance, science and learning, a king, and a fence, hedge, or enclosure, and mentions that Fal was once used as a name for Ireland. While in modern euphemism the Lia Fal is often called the Stone of Destiny I tend to think of it as the stone of Ireland. It represents, literally and figuratively, the sovereignty of the island. In my practice I meditate on it as the expression of the will of the land and of the power of right leadership. As a personal symbol I see it as representing the importance of connecting to and living in right relationship with the land, and listening to her voice.
  "4. From Gorias was brought the spear which Lug had. No battle was ever sustained against it, or against the man who held it in his hand." (Gray, 1983). The spear of Lugh is the next treasure mentioned, a fierce weapon that could overcome any battle. Lugh himself is the many-skilled God, destined to win the war against the Fomorians for the Tuatha de by slaying his grandfather Balor, and also a God who would be king of the Tuatha de. His spear is described as a weapon which no battle can be sustained against, a power that is extended to any who bear the spear. To me I see the spear as having a more defensive energy to it, because of the way the translations word the description - "no battle was ever sustained against it" - in this case the use of the word against has a defensive feel to me (others may disagree of course). When I meditate on the spear I tend to see it as representing the value of a good defense, of standing your ground, and of persevering.
  "5. From Findias was brought the sword of Nuadu. No one ever escaped from it once it was drawn from its deadly sheath, and no one could resist it." (Gray, 1983). Juxtaposing the spear is Nuada's sword, a clearly offensive weapon. Nuada was the king of the Tuatha de when they first came to Ireland and then again after his arm was healed. Unlike Lugh who is described as many skilled Nuada seems to be a much more straightforward God of battle, married according to some sources, to Macha herself a battle Goddess. Although some sources do connect him to healing he is clearly a deity of war and battle, leading the Gods in the epic wars. His sword is said to be inescapable once drawn, and unbeatable. Whereas the spear is described as a weapon against which no battle could be sustained the sword is said to be something from which none escape. I tend to see the sword as representing a good offense, something that we all need to have at some point. Although ruthless, it is perhaps a lesson that any situation which calls for offensive action should be entered into with the intent of winning. The sword shows no mercy, and presents no weakness. In my practice I will meditate on the sword as the attitude needed to achieve victory in any battle, and as the ability to fight for oneself and one's family. I also use it as a representation of Nuada, who I honor.
 "6. From Murias was brought the Dagda's cauldron. No company ever went away from it unsatisfied." (Gray, 1983). Finally we have the last treasure the cauldron of the Dagda. It is not at all surprising to me that the Dagda, a God who himself is associated with great appetite and excess, would be the holder of such a cauldron. It is also worth noting that despite the modern neopagan association of the cauldron with feminine or Goddess energy, it is actually most often associated with Gods in Irish and more generally Celtic myth. The Dagda has the cauldron of plenty, Dian Cecht has a cauldron (sometimes called a spring) of healing, and even a Welsh story about Bran and Branwen that talks about an Irish king who has a cauldron that can revive the dead. Additionally we see the poem attributed to Amerigen "the Cauldron of Poesy" which describes three cauldrons born in every person. The cauldron itself is clearly a very powerful and widespread symbol in Celtic myth. The Dagda's cauldron is one of abundance that satisfies all who take from it, a fitting treasure for one who is sometimes called Eochaid Ollathair, the All-father. I tend to see it as a representation of the qualities of generosity and hospitality, as well as the ability of a leader or head-of-household to provide for those who look to them for support. When I meditate on the cauldron I see it in the light of a source of these things and try to relate that into my own life. I also often end up contemplating the wider symbolism of the cauldron in Irish myth as a provider of abundance and healing. I also personally do use the cauldron as a tool in my practice because I feel the symbolism with it is so strong.
   So these are the four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann. There is a great deal of modern material about them to be found, but much of it is inspired or extrapolated rather than original. For those who want to incorporate the treasures into their own practice this can give you a great deal of freedom, especially if you keep in mind that what can be found in books, no matter how authoritative, is just that author or group's opinion. I tend to reject the two common views of the four treasures and have established my own. That may be the best route, in the end, for every individual to do to get the most out of their powerful symbolism and energy.

MacAlister, R., (1941). Lebor Gabala Erenn
Gray, E., (1983). Cath Maige Tuired
Green, M., (1997) The World of the Druids
Freeman, P., (2008) War, Women, and Druids


  1. Here is another excellent blog about the cities and treasures a friend of mine wrote a few years ago More than worth reading if the topic interests you

  2. I think that those are some excellent ways of approaching the treasures. For myself, I see the spear which Lú had as being the lightning flash. It connects the sky and the land through the bile, and is another representation of the flow of brí between the otherworld and this one. Your note that the spear is defensive in some way also accords with the spear as a weapon, which gains some of its strength from being able to hold an opponent at bay. Some people would point out the club of the Dagda as being a better analog to the thunderbolt, but I think that to pick one or the other is to simplify the matter too greatly.

    The sword of Nuadha seems to me to be seen in the shining horizon. It is the dividing barrier between the visible and invisible, the line that separates life from death. Crossing it is to pass into the world of the dead.

    I've got nothing to add to your discussions of the other treasures.

    1. Very interesting thoughts. I will have to find some time to contemplate the way the objects and symbolism connect to natural phenomena; there's some great potential for insight there. I like your thought process on the sword and spear, and I agree about the club, although with its death/life properties I'm not sure what it would better relate to.

    2. Continuing the natural phenomenon correlation, the Coire Anseasc of the Dagda might be understood as a manifestation of the holy Well at the center of all existence, the wellspring that brings the fertilizing waters from the underworld into this one (and note, in this context, that the spear which Lú had is described as having its point kept in a cauldron, which accords with my image of it as the flow of brí), while the Lia Fáil could be seen as the Land itself, the solid surface on which we live our lives and which, when combined with the cauldron, provides us with what we need to live.

      So, I guess I had a couple of observations on the other treasures, after all.