Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Curse of the Ulstermen

There are days when I feel some ancient stories need a repeat in our modern age.  This is probably spiteful of me, but I think some lessons need to be relearned to help us all.  Disrespect of the importance and rights of women is widespread, and has been, but there are many who would strip us of our rights, relegate us to broodmares and house drudges with few rights, and this is not only horrifying to me, it is harmful to society, as well.  Fighting back is all well and good, but it would be easier for us to call down a curse and teach these people what a woman's worth really is.

So, as I look for ways to help protect and advance the rights of women, I can also see some humorous ancient examples of how women's worth was sometimes subtly and entertainingly invoked in myth and legend.  In the Tain Bo Cuillange, one story captures my imagination and my unhealthy thirst for some vengeance- Macha's curse on the Ulster-men.

Macha, presumably a faery woman or a goddess, depending on how you interpret things, is wife to Crunniuc. Crunniuc brags to King Conchobor, that his wife can outrun the king's fastest horses.  True or not, the problem is that the King sees this as a challenge and demands Macha race his horses, in spite of the fact that she is pregnant and near to term.  Forced to race, she is understandably angry, but worse, she finishes the race (and she wins) and goes into labor at the finish line.  Delivering twins, she curses the Ulster-men, who stood by and watched the race that their foolish king and her equally foolish husband instigated. The curse is that the Ulstermen, in their hour of greatest need, will be struck down by the pangs of childbirth and be as weak and unable to defend themselves as woman in childbirth.  To be honest, I wouldn't have been so nice, but true to her curse, when Ulster is invaded by Queen Medb and her husband Ailill, who come to steal the famed Brown Bull of Cooley. Cuchulain, the hero of Ulster, manages to rise from his pain and defeat Medb, but not without great price.

Anyhow, it might behoove some politicians who see fetuses as precious but children as leeches and women as overgrown children capable of being broodmares to experience a bit of Macha's curse, which by the way lasted for nine days.  It would open their eyes to the strength of women and remind them that we are an important part of society and our species in general.  Of course, just sitting here and imagining some of these jerks feeling labor pains makes me pretty happy, so maybe that's enough.

If you'd like to ready the story yourself, try Thomas Kinsella's translation.

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