Part 8 – Flidhais
I found a Book Proposal from 13 years ago, that I had agreed to write before life took a different turn for me – a ‘Who’s Who of Irish Mythology & How to Work with Them’.
I may or may not turn it into a book at some stage…?! But for now it may as well be out in world as sitting on my computer.
WARNING: It’s an unedited old photo of my thoughts and practice 13 years ago. So, be aware.
Placement ~ Ulster Cycle
Pronunciation: Flee-ash. Also called Fliodhais, Flidais.
If she is known at all, it is as a Goddess of cattle or deer. The main surviving tale we have concerning her from original source material is “Táin Bó Flidais”, which has two versions. A short version appears first in Lebor na hUidhre, The Book of the Dun Cow, an 11th Century text. A similar short version can be seen in the Book of Leinster, from the 12th Century, and also in a manuscript from the 15th Century called the Egerton manuscript. But perhaps a more interesting version, for it’s additional esoteric elements, appears in the 15th Century Glenmason manuscript. “Táin Bó Flidais” is one of the Remscéla or ‘Fore-tales’ which precede, and explain, the happenings of the epic Táin Bó Cuailgne, the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’.
Flidhais is said to be a woman of the Sidhe, who crosses to this world. She brings with her a herd of wonderful cattle, the most amazing being a cow they call the Maol Flidais, the Bald or ‘Horn-less’ cow of Flidhais. This creature could feed over three hundred men, and their families, in one night from a single milking. The Fairy woman marries a man from Connaught, Aillil Fionn, a neighbour of Queen Meadbh and her husband Aillil. On a visit to Maedbh’s court, Flidhais meets and falls in love with the exiled Ulster warrior Feargus Mac Roich. A man of powerful sexual appetites, usually it took seven women to satisfy him; but Flidhais was a match for him on her own. She puts him under a geis (pron. gesh), an ancient obligation or prohibition, to take her away from her husband. A bloody battle ensues, the upshot of which is that Feargus brings her the severed head of her late husband. The Maol Flidais, not as enamoured of Feargus as her mistress, mourns the death of her former master – who had fought bravely against odds that were vastly stacked against him, as Feargus had attacked him with the help and support of Queen Maedbh’s forces. This amazing animal was only convinced to go and join the Connaught herds by the reminder that there she would have the companionship of her beloved Flidhais, and would also become the fitting consort of the fantastic White-Horned Bull.
Some versions of the tale then say that Flidhais remained the wife of Feargus until she died, a long time after, in Ulster. But the longer version states that she was sorry for the killing of her husband, and that she is “rescued” on the way back to Maedbh’s court. Flidhais “returns to the west” (i.e. the Otherworld lands from whence she came) along with her fabulous Maol Flidais.
Proinsias MacCana, in his “Celtic Mythology”, only briefly refers to this Lady as the Irish Goddess “who ruled over the beasts of the forests and whose cattle were the wild deer”. Alwyn and Brinley Rees make no discernible mention of her at all, but the popular fictional writer Caiseal Mór does bring her name into his “Well Spring Trilogy” as a Goddess of the Hunt. Dáithí Ó hÓgáin makes correlations between the more recent Mayo folk story of Dónall Dualbhuí and Muinchinn to the tale of Flidhais and her maligned husband, Feargus still being cast as the warrior who defeats him by treacherous means. He says her name was likely to have originally referred to liquid, most particularly to milk, and that her epithet of Foltchaoin (pron. Fult-queen) means ‘soft-haired’.
There are accounts of Flidhais from the earlier Mythological cycle, which place her as the mother of a king, Nia Seaghamain, whose name has been translated to mean ‘warrior of deer-treasure’, as during his reign the “cows and does were milked together every day”. It was his mother with her herd of both wild and domesticated animals, deer and cattle, who had made this benefit of the king’s reign possible. Dáithí Ó hÓgáin goes on to deem her to be an original mother-Goddess figure.
From a modern magical perspective, Flidhais can be seen to be primarily concerned with, or representative of, the following:
- Provision of sustenance.
- The flow of milk – breastfeeding, lactation generally.
- Sexual appetite and satisfaction.
- Cattle; farming, keeping, tending of herds.
- Co-operation with wilder animals, especially Deer.