Archive for 2 October 2019

The Instructions of King Cormac   2 comments

cormacThe Instructions of Cormac, the Irish Teagasca, comprises a guide for rulers, and more specifically, according to legend, the collected wisdom that King Cormac of Ireland leaves for his son and heir Cairbry. You can find several versions online (here, and at Ancient Texts here). Cormac’s reign is variously dated somewhere in the period between the 2nd and the 4th centuries CE.

People ask from time to time where Druidry, or the larger Pagan world, finds any kind of moral code or ethical guidance, as if, apart from a divinely inspired holy book, there can be no form of wisdom or morality worth the knowing. But in fact most cultures generate such traditions of wisdom and upright interactions among people — that’s how any group manages to survive and thrive. We forget that virtue, rather than some artificial standard that mysterious “others” devise, is simply what emanates from the actions and character of any person who is a vir — a complete, fulfilled human being. Is the ideal often a challenge to achieve? Sure. What’s the point of a cheap ideal?

What qualities, then, should a good leader — in this case, a king — exhibit? How can we recognize a great ruler? Making allowances for a millennium and half of cultural change and distance, The Instructions as one source of guidance hold up well:

Let him (the king) restrain the great,
Let him exalt the good,
Let him establish peace,
Let him plant law,
Let him protect the just,
Let him bind the unjust,
Let his warriors be many and his counselors few,
Let him shine in company and be the sun of the mead-hall,
Let him punish with a full fine wrong done knowingly,
and with a half-fine wrong done in ignorance.

Moving beyond just the ruler, what should the whole tribe aspire to?

“To have frequent assemblies,
To be ever inquiring, to question the wise men,
To keep order in assemblies,
To follow ancient lore,
Not to crush the miserable,
To keep faith in treaties,
To consolidate kinship,
Fighting-men not to be arrogant,
To keep contracts faithfully,
To guard the frontiers against every ill.”

Likewise, what qualities can we recognize in one who fails the test, who can offer nothing more than contention and dispute?

“O Cormac, grandson of Conn”, said Cairbry, “What is the worst pleading and arguing?”
“Not hard to tell”, said Cormac.
“Contending against knowledge,
contending without proofs,
taking refuge in bad language,
a stiff delivery,
a muttering speech,
uncertain proofs,
despising books,
turning against custom,
shifting one’s pleading,
inciting the mob,
blowing one’s own trumpet,
shouting at the top of one’s voice”.

Or as J. R. R. Tolkien has his characters say in The Two Towers:

“Eomer said, ‘How is a man to judge what to do in such times?’
‘As he has ever judged’, said Aragorn. ‘Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among Elves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house’.”

Part of our trouble today is our discomfort at such quaint old words and ideas as good and evil. Political Correctness, so quick to arm the supposedly Woke to call out and cancel those who offend against its strictures, seems curiously powerless to address the larger problem of outright wickedness in each of us. (Pagan communities struggle with evil in their midst as much as anyone.)

Political Correctness too often turns out to be just another fundamentalism, as if we don’t have enough of them already. If we heed the wise words of the Galilean master, we need to cast out the beams and tree trunks from our own eyes and hearts and minds, before we pluck the slivers from others. Otherwise, it’s all just trees, but no forest. There’s no overview or clear vision of how to proceed.

So I apply these standards first to myself, then to those in, and running for, office — because they have made bold to set themselves up as a standard for others, and as people qualified to lead. If you also choose to apply a standard first to yourself, and then to others, may you come at length to lay aside shallow partisanship for a deeper, wider, wiser view.

This is the principal reason why this blog rarely addresses the hot political topics of the day: I have more than enough to do each day to discern where I need to work on myself. Those with greater virtue than I possess can turn to reforming others. In fact, be my guest!

Because what I realize I want is spiritual freedom, and no one and nothing else can give that to me — not a party, nor a politician, a policy, a partner, a profession, or a privilege. I have to earn such freedom myself, like we all do. The road is long. Few people gain such freedom without some kind of spiritual practice. That’s one of the few things I’ve learned that I can confidently pass along, and I try to do so on this blog.

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Image: Amazon: Andrew Offutt/Cormac Macart.

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