salmon spiral The Temple of Danann Main page The Old Religion of Ireland salmon spiral

The Sacred Spear
by Michael Ragan
© 2000
Introduction / The Sacred Sword / The Sacred Spear / The Cauldron / The Lai Fail

"From Goirias was brought the spear which Lug had:
battle would never go against him who had it in hand"
(MacAlister transl.)

This particular sentence is extremely interesting because of its form. Middle Irish is used except for the word "tlegh,' which means spear or javelin. In Middle Irish the same word developed into Sleag (Spear), Slat (wand) and slecht (smooth). Here we find part of MacAlister's reason for believing in the validity of the references to the Four Sacred Symbols. The remainder of the passage is pretty much in Middle Irish form, as is the remainder of the Book of Lecan. Therefor it appears that the scribe who penned the words was retelling something from an oral tradition or quoting an extent (at the time of writing) manuscript fragment. We find other problems with this translation as well, so let's take a closer look.
       First of all we reject the use of the word "gorias," as we explained in the introduction. Removing the Latin corruption, we are left with "gor." In Middle Irish, Gor means moderate heat or incubation. Our sense is that this statement concerning the Spear refers to the point of origin of the people, just as do the statements concerning the other Sacred Symbols. Thus, interpretation of "gor" more appropriately should be incubation, which requires a moderate and controlled heat.
       Next, let us deal with the last word in the phrase "Lug." While Lug(h) is indeed a Deity, those who know your mythology, know that he was not a Tuatha de Danann original. He is a late comer who shows up just prior to the Second Battle of Moyturra, when the Tuatha de Danann battled the Fomorians. This occurred centuries after their initial coming into Ireland. ). Further, referring again to the Second Battle of Moyturra, we find that Lugh's choice of weapons was a sling, not a spear. Thus, associating the spear with Lugh is highly questionable. Secondly, the word lugh is a common word meaning bright or small amount (least amount). Now since this item was one of the four most sacred symbols to the Tuatha de Danann, least or small amount does not seem appropriate. Therefor, it is safe to assume that the translation here should mean bright. Therefore, what we have is a sword described as being bright or illuminated.
       Let's next address the word bi. "Bi means simply birdlime or pitch. MacAlister chose to ignore this word which probably did not make sense to him. But it's inclusion is quite appropriate. A spear was composed of two or more elements. You have a spearhead and a spear-shaft. The latter could be composed of two or more pieces. To hold the pieces together, the ancients used pitch or birdlime to glue it all together. The problem of keeping head and shaft together was serious enough that by the 15th century bc, small loops were molded onto the shaft end of the spearhead to enable tying the pieces together with thongs. How were the thongs fastened to the shaft? By wrapping and gluing - using pitch or birdlime, of course. Additionally, smooth wood did not provide a very secure grip for a sweaty hand and grips were fashioned from both metal and leather, and wrapped tightly around a pitch or birdlime treated area. Thus we see that the matter of "bi" is central to our consideration.
       Next we find "ic," which translates to "cure" or "prepare." Again, a word not understood by the translator is ignored.
       Therefore, a simple literal translation of the Gaelic phrase should read "From the place of incubation was brought the spear, birdlime prepare(d) bright. Alternatively, in more proper English form, "From the place of origin, (the people) brought the Bright Spear, birdlime prepared." Thus we have the statement that the Spear, properly prepared for its purpose, was brought from the place of origin of the Tuatha de Danann.
       The second phrase, "ni geitha cath frisin ti a mbid laim," also requires deeper consideration. Literally it states that "no start battle (or temptation) against person from first throw." In proper English then, "It will not battle (or tempt) the person who first throws it." Notice that the operative word here is "throws." It is active. It is not simply being held in the hand it is being put to its use. Further it is "first" use. It is initiatory.
       Putting the two phrases together then gives us a much different view than that of the original translation. Our version should read "From the place of incubation (birth) was brought the Bright and well prepared Spear. It will not battle the person who first uses it." Notice we speak here only of one use, the first use. There is no indication of further action, such as we could expect in combat. What we actually have is a beautiful, well-prepared "spear" that will not turn on its user.
       Within the old language, we find that the "spear" was considered to be something that went straight to its mark. It was slender and required but a narrow path of flight. With a sharp point, it could smite and make one "bow down." Interestingly, the root word supports such words as "splinter, genuflection" (or show respect) and "worship."
       An interesting line appears in Tadhg Dall O'Huigin's Bardic Poems. It reads "Cean do sleighe ar gcora a croinn," which translates roughly to "The head is like a spear when heated." Then there is the line in The Song of Amergin that speaks "I am the point of a weapon. I am he who fashions fire from the head." Here, apparently, is the origin of the "Fire in the mind" line of Joseph Campbell, quoted from MacAlister in the Lebor Gabala Erenn. Here MacAlister rightly identifies the analogy as "Inspiration." The proper word here though is not "fire." In both of the above cases, the word "gor" is used. It is the controlled heat of incubation. It represents the constructive element and development. It does not mean the destruction of fire.
       Now using the analogy, we can make a much more accurate and meaningful translation. From their beginning, the people brought the Spear of Inspiration. It will not battle he (or she) who will use it. Who could use such an implement? Who but every individual can benefit from inspiration, if they will but use it is also for every day people in every day life. It is that which raises each of us to that higher level when faced with a challenge. It is that which drives the artist to create the masterpiece. . Inspiration is not just for the poet or the scientist, the healer, or the wise one, however. It is that which magnifies the creative energies within each of us. It is that which gets us through our difficult days as well as our triumphant ones.
       The sacred symbol then represents the Inspiration that comes from applying Wisdom to our thinking. Historically, the Spear of Inspiration is associated with warmth and the South. As our ancestors, we begin our sacred path from the east from whence we draw our illumination and acquire our wisdom. That alone is not enough and we turn to the south and draw on inspiration for our continued journey.
       Few of us have the resources or room to work with an authentic full-sized spear. However, it is not the spear but that which it represents which matters. Further the association of wand and spear is strong. Thus a wand (slat) of elbow to fingertip length is most appropriate and perhaps far more practical for inclusion in your Sacred Tools.

Introduction / The Sacred Sword / The Sacred Spear / The Cauldron / The Lai Fail

Go to Symbolism
Go to Library