Welcome to Tursan Tuesdays, where I take you on a journey through the Celtic world.
The Celts were masterful storytellers, and their tales continue to inspire us today.
A particular tale caught my fancy recently. Entitled, The Shadowy One, it features Scáthach, a female warrior who runs a training academy, Dún Scáith (Fortress of Shadows), on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
In this account, Scáthach trains a man named Setanta, who eventually becomes the renowned Celtic champion, Cú Chulainn. There are many tales of his to be told, and indeed he plays a vital role in this one, but for now let’s stick with Scáthach.
Scáthach is daughter of the goddess of war, The Mórrígan ~ you remember her, right?
Scáthach is described as “a tall woman, of pleasing figure and long fiery red hair.” She must’ve inherited her mother’s fierce and deadly skills as she is said to be one of the greatest warriors in all the world. The tales have gone so far as to claim no one, be they man or woman, has ever bested her in combat.
So in this story, The Shadowy One, Scáthach meets and trains Setanta, or Cú Chulainn, and a series of events leads to a great battle between Scáthach and her warriors, and Aoife, Scáthach’s twin sister, and her warriors.
After a day long battle with each side besting the other in turn, Aoife challenges Scáthach directly. Setanta intervenes, claiming his right as Scáthach’s champion, and Scáthach graciously gives her consent.
Setanta meets Aoife on the battlefield and they fight fiercely. The battle lasts for some time as they were almost equally matched. Then Aoife proves her skill by disarming Setanta. As she prepares for the killing blow, Setanta tricks her with distraction. He flings her to the ground and is proclaimed the victor.
Impressed with Setanta’s mastery and fortitude, Aoife invites him to join her at her fortress, to which he agrees.
Scáthach, a seer, watches him leave with sadness in her heart, for she can see his destiny clearly: Setanta becomes Aoife’s lover and she bears his son Connla, whom Setanta is forced to kill. His guilt and heartbreak drive Setanta to become the great defender of Ulaidh, his home, and it is then, Cú Chulainn, the magnificent warrior, is fully realized.
Behind every Cú Chulainn victory, however, lies the skill and prowess of his tutor, Scáthach. Indeed, whenever this hero’s name is spoken, so to is the name of the great warrior who taught him.
While, to me, The Shadowy One seems more an introductory tale for Setanta, I can’t help the fascination Scáthach brings. Everyone loves a strong woman, and Scáthach was one of the strongest.
She is not all brawn, however. Scáthach showed great wisdom, and maturity, in allowing Setanta to prove his mettle in his battle against her sister. And again in permitting him to leave Dún Scáith. Rather than simply add him to her warrior ranks, she allowed him to fulfill his destiny and become one of the most famous of all Celtic heroes.
This story sparks my imagination and I’ve spent days dreaming of different love stories and battle scenes featuring the brave and fearless warrior-ess.
So talk to me. What legends or myths inspire you? Do you enjoy watching epic battles on the big screen? What is your favorite epic scene or movie? Do you like books about warriors and fierce, epic battles? Which ones?