K is for… Kingship and Kinship

In pre-Christian and early Christian Ireland, kinship was dependent on kingship. The social structure, which in myth is established by the Fir Bolg, is one of a king who rules a land with the consent of its Goddess of Sovereignty – consent that is established through tests, like the crying out of the Lia Fáil[1] (echoed by the later Arthurian ‘sword in the stone’ idea). And that sacral kingship was reflected down into the complicated systems of kinship that were intended to protect those who needed it[2]. I’m not going to romanticise this and say that everyone would have been happy with this situation. Vassals whose wives belonged to the king would not have done, for example. (Not to mention how the wives would have felt about it.) But the myths suggest that it worked for that society, at least in some ways. Nuada temporarily gives the kingship to Lugh when he doesn’t feel that he has the skills to deal with the situation that his people are facing. This is wise kingship, rather than kingship for power.

And what is the wisdom of the kings? To create peace and equity; to protect the kingdom, especially from invaders; to produce prosperity; to ensure that justice is done[3].

I think it’s far too easy to make this a gender-normative and ableist narrative, by taking it too literally. Yes, in ancient Ireland it was probably true that ‘blemished’ kings could not rule (along with women). But this was intended as a symbolic picture, and I can take from the symbolism without needing to apply the literalism to my life. What’s more, Bres the Beautiful, ‘whole’ and non-disabled, was a terrible king, and that led to the reinstatement of Nuada (helpfully no longer blemished, but the best king for the job all along). The physical condition of the king didn’t always reflect his wisdom. What I take from Irish legends of kingship today is not that literal. It’s much more about justice, kinship, and protection for those who need it (in the social systems that we have created).

But there are also some political lessons to learn here, too. If a king is not a good one, the land will suffer. Look around. March weather in May (after January weather in April). A crisis in the bee population, but the UK is voting against protective measures for the bees. The government is culling animals that are widely-loved across this nation, and have been for a very long time. Terrorism followed by ‘revenge’ attacks on Muslims and mosques. And those who need most protection in our society are becoming the most demonised – poor people, disabled people, and many others. The wisdom of kings still determines the condition of the land, and I’m not at all sure I trust in the wisdom of my kings. There is no peace, no equity and no sharing of prosperity in this land. And there is no social justice.

May Morrigan, Goddess of Sovereignty, give us the power to bring peace, equity, prosperity and justice to this land. And may we remember our sovereignty, our power to reject our kings, if they won’t.

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[1] Mac Cana, Celtic Mythology, 1996
[2] Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage, 1961
[3] Mac Cana, Celtic Mythology, 1996

2 thoughts on “K is for… Kingship and Kinship

  1. This is a great post. One of the things I knew I wanted when I joined ADF was to integrate my politics better with my spirituality, but being in the early stages of the DP, I haven’t yet had much opportunity to explore how my druidry is going to play out in the political realm, at least beyond environmentalism. Now I feel like the parallels you draw between the sovereignty mythology and modern politics have given me a really good starting point. Thank you!

    • You’re welcome! I’m working on a similar thing. I’ve managed to divorce my spirituality from my activism, and it’s not good for me. I want to find ways to re-integrate the two.

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