The right to challenge

In Taliesin’s myth, his step-father brags about him and he ends up in front of an irate king, having to prove he is as good as his step-father suggested, in order to save the man from being punished. Taliesin then goes on to trounce the king’s bards, proving his superiority over them. It’s not a lone case, there are comparisons to make with the Irish story in which, to substantiate bragging, Macha ends up running against the king’s horses. Then there’s the tale of the boy wizard Merlin calling out and humiliating another king’s Druids, because Merlin knows what they do not.

Myths that come to us from the mediaeval period should not, of course, be taken as clear proof that the Celts did anything in particular, but they do provide inspiration and possibility. I believe in following the inspiration.

What these stories suggest to me is firstly that authority cannot be absolute. Those who take visible roles are not beyond challenge, and if they cannot recognise when the new kid in town outclasses them, they are in trouble. The more arrogant the king’s Druids are, the greater their fall will be. Secondly, everyone has the right to challenge, no matter who they are, but thirdly, they have to back it up. If Taliesin had not known his stuff, the outcome for him and his step-father would have been entirely different. The right to challenge comes with the obligation to prove your worth.

It is good to question everything. Asking questions is the basis of all philosophy. Thinking deeply about things is probably more important than whether that takes you towards the same conclusion as the next person. Deep consideration will be richer and more involved than passing interest.

It is good to question each other, because in doing so we can all learn. I’m blessed with people who spot holes in my logic and arguments I haven’t developed properly, and who flag this, which gives me the opportunity to push further, and to think more deeply. I really value that. Often, I wander into a topic, and someone will turn out to know far more than me, and, generous with their knowledge will share that, so that I can learn. Sometimes I post things that affirm other people’s ideas, and sometimes I come up with things that were less familiar.

Asking questions should be an act of interest. We can do it respectfully – we do, here, and on many other blogs I’m connected with. When you view people as equals, as a starting point, it is easy to approach with respect and ask why someone thinks a certain thing, what they are drawing on, how they came to the conclusion. We might not agree, and that’s fine too. There’s very little in Druidry that can be ‘proved’ in a substantial way. We can respect the diversity of ideas and interpretations, and grow from those, collaboratively. It is one of the many strengths of our community.

It is good to question. It is good to question authority. It is important to show respect, because if you don’t, ye gods had you better be good, or the kings and their now-irate Druids will get a very different ending to the story.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “The right to challenge

  • ladyimbrium

    Many good reminders. Nicely said 🙂

  • Angharad Lois

    Your questioning has been on of the main drivers of my learning this year, and I am very grateful for it 🙂

  • BART Station Bard

    Was Macha substantiating bragging, or was she doing the exact opposite? To me, the myth was about sovereignty, as personified by Macha. She took care of this guy who turned out to be a dork because he was hurting, and that’s what sovereignty is about–being responsible for the land and those who live on it. In so doing she caused Crunniuc to challenge the king. As long as the king didn’t know about it, or didn’t take it that way, everything was fine–or maybe she saw hidden greatness in Crunniuc,, the versions I read aren’t clear on this. But he shot his mouth off, even after she told him not to and basically backed the king into a corner. She saved his bacon and then left him. Far from substantiating bragging, to me the myth shows what happens when kings–and possible kings–are unworthy of the name, and don’t realize that the relationship they have with the land and sovereignty is power with rather than power over. Neither one of these schmucks even recognized Sovereignty when she stood before them, and the consequences of their actions screwed Ulster for generations. The kings of Ulster had three chances, in the form of three screams, Macha’s, Deirdriu’s, and Naoise’s, to get it right, and they screwed it up all three times. Because of their pride, and their mistreatment of women, the land is marked to this day.

    Your mileage may definitely vary, but I was in Ulster in September and specifically on Ard Macha, as well as in the south of Ireland, and the energetic difference was eerie to me. I don’t know why that is, I’m quite possibly attributing things to myth that have more to do with the last few hundred years of history, and I didn’t have very long there so most of my processing of what I experienced is still taking place. But a lot of really screwed up things happened in Dublin less than a century ago, and it didn’t feel anything near like the weirdness I felt in Belfast. I don’t know what this means and don’t pretend to have all the answers, it’s just what my experience was. I’d love to know others’ take on it.

    Thank you, your post made a few more of the pieces fall into place for me. You taught me a lot just by asking the questions.

  • Nimue Brown

    Many thanks for sharing this. I love the way there is so often this room to bring our own stories to the ancient ones, such that you see in modern Dublin some echo of the past and it colours your view of the story. I feel that’s in many ways what the stories are for, that there is something so essential, and primal about them that we can keep doing this, and different aspects come into focus as they resonate with us. No wrong answers, just inspiration and insight and possibility, and making sense of life as best we can.

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