Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": CUCHULAINN'S INITIATION


('Tain Bo Cualnge')

According to the Old Irish Tain Bo Cualnge, Cuchulainn, nephew of Conchobar king of Ulster, one day overhead his master, the druid Cathba, saying: 'The little boy that takes arms this day shall be splendid and renowned for deeds of arms . . . but he shall be short-lived and fleeting.' Cuchulainn sprang up and, asking his uncle for arms and a chariot, set off for the castle of the three sons of Necht, the worst enemies of the kingdom of Ulster. Although these heroes were supposed to be invincible, the little boy conquered them and cut off their heads. But the exploit heated him to such a degree that a witch warned the king that if precautions were not taken, the boy would kill all the warriors in Ulster. The king decided to send a troop of naked women to meet Cuchulainn. And the text continues: 'Thereupon the young women all arose and marched out . . . and they discovered their nakedness and all their shame to him. The lad hid his face from them and turned his gaze on the chariot, that he might not see the nakedness or the shame of the women. Then the lad was lifted out of the chariot. He was placed in three vats of cold water to extinguish his wrath; and the first vat into which he was put burst its staves and its hoops like the cracking of nuts around him. The next vat into which he went boiled with bubbles as big as fists therein. The third vat into which he went, some men might endure it and others might not. Then the boys wrath (ferg) went down . . . and his festive garments were put on him.'


Translation by Joseph Dunn Tain Bo Cualnge [London, 1914], pp. 60 ff.), as summarized in M. Eliade, Birth and Rebirth (New York: Harper & Row, 1958) PP. 84-5

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