Considering that it was International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, it seems pretty fitting to take a look at some of the very powerful and interesting women of ancient Celtic mythology and legend.
In a time where women were deemed very much as “second class citizens” in most cultures and civilizations, Celtic women were doing it for themselves, and well before Aretha too! In fact, their status in society equaled men, when in Rome and Greece the very idea of women having rights would have been ludicrous!
Here’s a quick glance at one of these remarkable ladies, Queen Medb.
Queen Medb, often Anglicised as Maeve, was the epitome of an independent woman! (Sorry Beyoncé…. She got there first.) Medb was Queen of Connacht and well known for getting exactly what she desired.
Her husband King Ailill gained his status only by marrying her and she let him know too! Although married, she had many lovers and her beauty attracted the attention and adoration of a vast number of men in her troops to her so called “willing thighs”. (Quite a good technique for keeping a loyal army don’t you think?!)
Of course her husband was threatened by her…ahem… prowess, and so began a quarrel of a fairly high magnitude!
Ailill, whom she referred to as her “kept man”, detailed his assets and wealth to Medb who was absolutely appalled to discover that he was technically the ruler of their household! His possession of a greater bull than the Queen herself was the final straw. (Cheek of him?!)
Anyway, Medb proceeded to steal a bull of greater quality for herself and the only one which she knew of belonged to the King and Queen of Ulster. Most of you who went to primary school in Ireland would probably have heard this story referred to as “Táin Bó Culainge”. (For the non-Irish readers among you or those who didn’t pay attention to Mrs. Murphy back in 4th class, this translates as “The Cattle Raid of Cooley.”)
The outcome of which, led to Medb getting the bull (of course she did!) and matching Ailill’s wealth but lost a lot of men in the process. She remained as powerful as ever despite this and Ailill was sick of being second to his wife, so left Connacht and herself for good. No shock to hear she couldn’t have cared any less and ruled on as Queen and Celtic goddess!
Fact or Fiction?
Well, as you may know, us Irish get a bit carried away with our storytelling and love the odd hyperbole here and there. Medb is also known as the Goddess of Intoxication and the name itself actually means “intoxication” or “she who intoxicates” in English. (Of course the goddess of inebriation would be Irish…)
Supernatural powers and mysticism have always surrounded her. Some tales go that she was a woman who was so remarkably beautiful, strong and enchanting that she was raised to a goddess level of being. (Still waiting for this to happen to myself…)
Whether she was real or not, the stories about her and the power she had at a time when women of the world were majorly oppressed is truly inspiring. Maybe she isn’t the best role model ever as regards marriage and relationships, but she is an infamous and intimidating Celtic woman with gumption!
She got what she wanted because she was confident and asked for it. We as women should take a few leaves out of her book perhaps??