Wednesday, October 13, 2010


We have seen tales of bloodthirsty berserkers laying waste to hordes of men, but we have yet to speak of what may be the greatest berserker hero of legend.  His story is one of the most epic and tragic in all of Ireland.  In battle, he was fierce.  Women all over Ireland wanted to be with him.  He was a man of honor as well as unbridled fury.  Today, the Shrine of the Battlemasters honors the great hero of Ireland, Cú Chulainn.

His name (pronounced koo-hulin) meant "Hound of Culain," after killing the vicious guard dog of Culain the blacksmith when his uncle, Conchobar, king of Ulster, invited the boy over to the blacksmith's house, but forgot to mention it to Culain.  To make up for the death of Culain's dog, the boy promised to guard his house until he can raise another dog for Culain.  Before he adopted his famous name, he was born Sétanta, son of King Conchobar's sister, Deichtine, and Lugh, god of the sun.  It is this divine lineage that made Cú Chulainn the powerful hero he was.

Of his many epic tales, he becomes champion of Ulster by offering his head on the chopping block after cutting off the head of a giant beast of a man (this story would evolve into the Arthurian legend of Gawain and the Green Knight), and made famous the Cattle Raid of Cooley, where he, single-handed, fought both the army of Connacht and Morrigan, the goddess of battle.  It was only through a treacherous exploitation of a gaesa (Cú Chulainn could not eat dog meat, or he would be severely weakened) that he was killed.  In his final battle, though he was near death, he tied himself to a standing stone so that he would not fall.  It wasn't until a raven landed on his shoulder that the enemy realized that he died, for no one would approach him while he still lived.

The reason why Cú Chulainn was so feared in battle was because of his ability to enter riastradh or "warp spasm."  This riastradh was practically identical to the berserkergang of Norse legend.  Cú Chulainn's body was known to contort in inhuman ways, his muscles bulged horrifically, and he would wield death with such ease that no warrior could stand against him and live.  Even when he did not succumb to the riastradh, Cú Chulainn was a swift and capable warrior, wielding the barbed spear Gáe Bolg, otherwise known as the "spear of mortal pain."

He was also a very voracious lover, much to the delight of many women.  Even though he found a bride in Emer, daughter of a powerful druid, he took to bed many lovers in his short lifetime.  The only lover that Emer was jealous of was Fand, a sea goddess.  Her husband, sea god Manannán mac Lir, intervenes when this love threatens to destroy not only Cú Chulainn's marriage, but the world of the fae, as well.  He makes it so that Fand and Cú Chulainn will never see each other again and that Cú Chulainn and Emer remember nothing of the affair.

With his savagery on the battlefield, his prowess with the ladies, and his epic heroism, there is no reason why Cú Chulainn should not be enshrined with the rest of the great battlemasters of yore.  The Hound of Culain remains a mighty figure and his legend shall ensure his immortality as a great warrior.

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