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

Gaelic text from Lebor Gabala Erenn

"From Findias was brought the Sword of Nuada;
no man would escape from it when it was drawn from its scabbard.
There was no resisting it."
--Lebor Gabala Erenn

In the preceding translation, the linguistic scholar, with a decidedly Christian mind-set, blindly follows the surface, observing the mundane wrapping, without opening the spiritual package and viewing the fabulous treasure within.
       The first line of the original Gaelic text, "A findias tucadh claidhim nuada," does not, in reality, say that the sword of Nuada was brought from a city called Findias. We already know that the "ias" endings are fabrications, so the word findias should in reality be find (or variously, finne). Another quick look at our dictionary of early and middle Irish and we find that "finne" means bright. Additionally, the word "Nuadad" does not refer to the God Nuada. Notice that our translator dropped a letter "d." While spelling variations do occur frequently, this is not one of them. Nuadad and Nuada are two different words with totally different meanings. Nuadad means the process of renewal. Therefor, the line is better translated as "From that bright place (origin of the people) came the Sword of RenewaI.
       The second line, "ni thernadh nech uadha," more properly translates to "Its singular spirit cannot be escaped." The third line, "O dobetha as a intig bodha," more rightly should be translated as "Oh wretched life, (how) you increase when (the sword) is drawn from its sheath." The final line, " ni gebtha fris," can be rightly translated as "Is it not deserved?" or "It is greatly deserved."
       If we put the entire paragraph together and restore some sense of poetic form, I feel it should more accurately read as follows. "From the homeland, the people brought the Bright Sword. Its singular spirit cannot be escaped. O how wretched life increases when it (the sword) is unsheathed (or revealed).
       Suddenly our paragraph has taken on a far different tone than that supplied by previous translators. No longer does the sword seem merely an instrument of battle. A thought or implication of something far greater and considerably more mysterious now seems to emerge. In origin, the sword comes from the source of the people. It is of the people and by the creative forces of the people. Its brightness is a signal of illumination of the people, either as source or reflective element. It has a singular, unique spirit. It is also a powerful, immutable force that cannot be overcome.
       The third line of the original is the ominous line for it seems to bemoan, and caution against, those who would cause separation of the Bright Sword from its safe haven. Notice here that the line does not indicate death and dismemberment. Rather, it foretells of a wretched life! This is balanced by the final line, which speaks of justice. Those who cause the sword to be unsheathed, greatly deserve their wretched, fated lives. What then of the innocent, those who do not cause the sword to be unleashed? The warning is ominous only for those who err. The innocent are deserving of a better life.
       Let's take this further and analyze the symbolism of the sword. First, we need to understand the meaning of the word "sword." The Gaelic word here is "claidhim," which, modern language experts agree, means "sword." Does it mean the same in early and Middle Irish? Well, sort of!
       The word "claidhim" is Middle Irish. It has evolved into "claoimh" in modern Irish. Most translators identify it with what we know as sword. If we go back to the old Irish, however, our neat little translation looses some of the modern definition and begins to assume something a bit broader and perhaps a bit more basic.
       The original root word in early Irish is "Glaid." Associated meanings include a wide variety of meanings including, digging tool, dagger, knife, sickle, reaping hook, wolf, howler, a weaver's beam, noise and uproar. A notable derivation of glaid(h) is claidhaim, which means to dig or excavate. Other developed words include chimney beams, seashore, shaft, a bastion, ridge, earthwork and even "prominent nose."
       In analysis then, our sword is obviously not just a weapon. Rather it is a tool with a variety of practical applications. It is primarily used as a device for cutting and shaping, or an object that results from such cutting and shaping.
       With these thoughts in mind, let's take a look at a few notable references to swords from Irish lore. First, there is the tale of Ogma who took the sword of a Fomorian King named Tethra. This sword had the gift (illumination) of speech. The Leabhor na h'Uidre mentiones the sword which would turn against the holder if false speech was uttered. Then there is the tale of the "Sword of Light," which, in the hands of the Draoi, possessed the ability to remove spells and provide protection. Such magical properties remained associated with the sword well into the Iron Age when Irish soldiers continued to utter charms and incantations over the swords prior to battle.
       The physical form of the early Irish swords also contributes to our findings. The general Irish swords remained small, averaging 20 to 21 inches in length well into the late Bronze Age. This is much smaller than those weapons of battle favored on the continent. Obviously, it was not a great hacking weapon. It best served in battle with stab and slice. We should also note that during this era, shields averaged only about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Thus we realize that the whole issue of warfare and "swords" was viewed somewhat differently in Ireland than on the continent.
       In Bronze Age Ireland, the primary weapon of battle was not the sword, but the spear and pike. The short sword was a last resort for close in combat. In everyday use, it was employed in more utilitarian manner such as cutting meat, hacking brush, digging, carving wood and other everyday chores where a blade was required. Heavier cutting, such as felling trees was performed by axes.
       In spite of preconceived romantic notions about war and thus death, we find the Bright Sword of the Tuatha de Danann a tool and not a weapon. It did not belong to a deity named Nuada. In addition, that tool is consistently linked to the magical element. In summation, the Bright Sword was a symbol rooted deeply in the history and consciousness of the Tuatha de Danann, long before their arrival on the Emerald Isle in the 13th century BC. It held the magical qualities of not only protection, but also was a symbol of illumination, wisdom, skill, creativity, speech and honor.
       What then is the central theme of this Sacred Symbol? What one thing could possibly contain the various qualities of wisdom, illumination, skill, creativity, speech and honor? It is a simple answer really. It is nothing less and nothing more than TRUTH! What illuminates more brightly than TRUTH? What engenders wisdom more than TRUTH? What slays false speech more quickly and more thoroughly than TRUTH? What makes life more wretched for those who would avoid TRUTH? What is more honorable than TRUTH?
       In today's' world, a full-sized sword can be a bit hazardous within the limited confines of the Sacred Circle. For that reason, most of us use the Scian Naofa (sacred knife), known as an Athame among other traditions. As with our other Sacred Tools, it is not the size that matters. What does matter is the meaning and symbolism behind our sacred blade. As the symbol of Illumination and Truth it rightly belongs to the Cardinal point of Light and Illumination, the East.

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

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