“I am the Sovereignty of Erin, O king of Tara, I am Sovereignty”. – Flaitheamhnus
“Whatever we do lays a seed in our deepest consciousness, and one day that seed will grow”. – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
“Well the winds of change may blow round you, but there will always be stone”. – Led Zeppelin
Sovereignty is devilishly hard to define. Political philosophers have struggled over it’s meaning for centuries. I am, for the purposes of this entry going to focus on personal or inner sovereignty, rather than political or cultural. Although all three are tied together. I have drawn heavily on my concepts for ceannasacht from the tale “The Adventure of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedón or (Echtra mac nEchach Muimedóin)” and, of course, personal reflection.
Sovereignty (in the inner sense) seems to rely on a state within the individual that is composed of steadiness, fearlessness or courage, and and a full embrace of current reality. When I say full embrace, I mean it. It seems an apt description for me that comes right out of Echtra mac nEchach Muimedóin. The young and future Ard Rí ( high king) Niall and his two brothers are out hunting and loose their way (what a great description of life, no?). Although they were able to eat they were not able to locate water and each brother in turn goes out to find water to bring back to the others. On their search they encounter the “Hag at the Well”, who guards the wells cool refreshment:
Thus was the hag: every joint and limb of her, from the top of her head to the earth, was as black as coal. Like the tail of a wild horse was the gray bristly mane that came through the upper part of her head-crown. The green branch of an oak in bearing would be severed by the sickle of green teeth that lay in her head and reached to her ears. Dark smoky eyes she had: a nose crooked and hollow. She had a middle fibrous, spotted with pustules, diseased, and shins distorted and awry. Her ankles were thick, her shoulder blades were broad, her knees were big, and her nails were green. Loathsome in sooth was the hag’s appearance.
The hag demands a kiss from each brother in return for the water. The first brother, Fergus, declines saying that he would rather perish of thirst than give her a kiss, and so returns to camp brooding and empty handed. The second brother, Brian, goes in search of water himself and also encounters the Hag. He is asked for the same toll, a kiss. He tentatively kisses her on the cheek, but receives no water. Niall is the last of the three brothers to go and encounters the Hag as well. When he is asked for a kiss in return for water he replies:
“Besides giving thee a kiss, I will lie with thee!” Then he threw himself down upon her and gave her a kiss. But then, when he looked at her, there was not in the world a damsel whose figure or appearance was more lovable than hers! Like the snow in trenches was every bit of her from head to sole. Plump and queenly forearms she had: fingers long and slender: calves straight and beautifully colored. Two blunt shoes of white bronze between her little, soft-white feet and the ground. A costly full-purple mantle she wore, with a brooch of bright silver in the clothing of the mantle. Shining pearly teeth she had, an eye large and queenly, and lips red as rowan berries.
Nothing is rejected. To have real sovereignty we must live honestly and embrace whatever may come our way. This means that when you feel hatred you sit with that hatred and feel it as deeply as possible, without letting it rule your actions. When you feel love, fear, physical pain, hope, confusion, joy, sorrow, and repose, you embrace them totally. True sovereignty lets all emotion wash over and have it’s time. And just like Niall, the ugliness of the hag becomes the enduring beauty of the Sídhe only when life is embraced in it’s totality. Then, slowly, and with continued practice, we live with true sovereignty. It is, after all, our birthright. Everyone is born with the innate privilege and responsibility of their own sovereignty. Each person has the right to take credit for all of their successes and failures and the results that follow from them. Our relationship with the divine, our family, our friends, and ourselves is guided best by our own inner sovereignty when it is clear and unclouded.
The Hag goes on to tell Niall, “And as you have seen me loathsome, bestial, horrible at first and beautiful at last, so is sovereignty; for seldom it is gained without battles and conflicts; but at last to anyone it is beautiful and goodly.” From my perspective this is right on. I have not fully formed this thought yet, but it seems to relate to samhradh (summer) and geimhreadh (winter) times in the soul. Throughout a lifetime each one of us can get caught up in cycles of thought and action. Sometimes these cycles are under our control (sovereignty) other times they are not (slavery). Often a cycle that starts in a samhradh, or “bright” state, can end in a geimhreadh, or “dark” state. Now of course this is not always the case, but often the very things that give us momentary pleasure (samhradh) lead to long term pain (geimhreadh). The opposite could be said to be true as well. Learning any new skill or any other thing that gives long term benefit to your life usually starts difficult (geimhreadh), but over time gradually transforms into long term benefit (samhradh). Sovereignty is that spiritual and/or mental quality that allows us to recognize unhealthy cycles in our lives and break out of them or transform them.
Symbolically sovereignty was linked to the horse in Celtic cosmology. Author and Tibetan Buddhist Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche compares the mind to a horse in his book “Turning the Mind Into an Ally“. Sakyong goes into a very eloquent discussion about how training the mind is like learning to ride a horse. At first the horse seems as if it is totally seperate from yourself and often has a “mind of it’s own”. The Celt in me just loved the comparison! It is only through consistant fellowship and patience with the mind that it can be turned into an ally for living and dying. From my Celtic obsessed perspective, meditation (among other disciplines) beomes the saddle, reigns, and bridle, and the rider is your ceannasacht.