Tomorrow is the start of the new month. Ancient Celts, prior to Roman occupation, operated a calendar consisting of thirteen months, named after trees. Tomorrow, 5 august is the first day of the month of the Hazel, and that will run for about three weeks and end on 1 September.
It was the month when, towards the end of it, the nights grew longer and so it was the time when (even more) stories would be told around the fire to inform the tribe and entertain. Something I think we have lost, today.
The Hazel (Corylus avellana) is one of the very oldest of British native trees, and hazel nut shells and hazel pollen have been discovered by scientists in cave settlements, dating from around ten millennia ago.
Traditionally, to the Celts the Hazel tree was/is associated with God-given wisdom. And, as regards wisdom, here’s an old Celtic fable, for entertainment only, about how one person obtained wisdom, for you to read, imagine, and dwell upon, say, one evening – if not around a camp fire, maybe huddled in your favourite chair, sipping hot chocolate.
The story goes, that:
…a young boy called Fionn, after his father died, was brought by his mother to a poet named Finnegas to be tutored and learn all he could so that Fionn could eventually join a group of well-renowned Irish warriors.
But, in order to join that mighty band of warriors, a man needed to have wisdom and a knowledge of poetry. Finnegas the poet taught Fionn all he knew, and Fionn grew to be a fine young man.
The poet often talked wistfully about the myth of the salmon of knowledge. The salmon of knowledge was a fish that swam through the rivers of Ireland and nibbled at hazelnuts that dropped into the river (hence the ‘knowledge’ connection), but it was elusive, and so very difficult to catch. Anyone who caught it, however, and ate the salmon would gain all the wisdom of the world.
Many months later as Fionn was studying, he heard Finnegas calling him frantically from outside. Running to the river, Fionn saw that the poet had, indeed, caught the salmon of knowledge!
Finnegas the poet instructed the young man to cook the salmon for him to eat, but warned him not to taste the fish at all – Finnegas wanted that knowledge for himself and not for the young man.
The young. Fionn did as he was told and began cooking the fish over a crude fire. He watched it carefully so as not to burn it, and occasionally turned the fish, which was on a skewer, so it could be rotated and cooked evenly,
Some time later, Fionn saw that the fish was about to fall into the fire and ash. Immediately, reaching out, he grabbed the fish to push it back, and in the process burned his thumb.
Without thinking, Fionn stuck his thumb in his mouth and sucked it to soothe the burn. Guess what?
When Finnegas the poet saw what Fionn had done, he grew very sad. Knoweldge! He knew that he would never gain all the wisdom of the world, but was happy at the thought that Fionn would gain that wisdom and be the greatest warrior the Fianna, that band of Irish warriors, had ever known.
And, indeed that was the case. Fionn grew to be leader of that mighty band of warriors, and became a great leader in Ireland. That’s how Fionn obtained wisdom.
Ofcourse, its just a story, but I think a good one at that; a story to make you think. It’s for that reason that I like to tell people about the Celtic months, too. It’s easy just to accept things the way they are. Some friends – a very few of my friends, for instance – will raise an eyebrow or two, as I mention the names of the Celtic months, but not bat an eyelid as they recite the current months of the year named after Roman gods and fanatical Roman leaders, or that the days of the week are named after Norse gods or the like.
No, the information here is to challenge and inform – a Celtic virtue, I think. And one that I hope you find informative, and in some way accept that it links us, here in the twenty-first century, to the Celts of old using ancient knowledge and story.