Tag Archives: Inspiration

Words More Enduring

St. Patrick Fractal (2)A word is more enduring than worldy wealth.  — Irish proverb

At the discovery, several years ago, that I have a pair of Irish ancestors, I smiled a little. They’re pretty far up my dad’s family tree, having left Dublin a generation before the Great Hunger. I haven’t found any other genetic connection with the Emerald Isle to date.

Nevertheless, it tickles me to have this faint connection to the Irish and their Gaelic forebears. I have to love a people who place such high value on a good story.

Like their fellow Celts in Scotland and Wales, pre-Christian Gaels in Ireland developed a respected caste of oral storytellers, poets and historians. With writing limited to Ogham inscriptions in wood or stone, clans depended on the memories of filid, brehons, and bards.

Like druid priests, a fili, or poet, studied for years. Instead of focusing on religion, filid memorized lore, history, and genealogies. Their purpose of protecting and guarding knowledge is still reflected in modern Gaelic. The highest rank of fili, the ollam, is now Gaelic for professor. Filid also composed elaborate poems to praise their chieftain or patron (or satirize him if suitable payment had not been forthcoming for the last poem).

A brehon specialized in legal knowledge. The poetry and stories they learned focused on laws, customs, crimes and punishments – the equivalent of modern case law, perhaps. It’s not clear whether they functioned as advisors to chieftains and kings, or if they had the authority to pass judgement themselves. Either way, they held a valuable position within the household or clan.

Irish harpLess scholarly, and less prestigious, bards provided entertainment. They wrote songs as well as poems, accompanying themselves with a harp to amuse a feasting crowd or a circle of villagers gathered by the hearth. Like the filid, though, they could praise a good patron or heap scorn on a stingy one and they garnered respect.

Christianity brought Latin and slightly increased literacy to Ireland. Monks recorded many of the oral histories in manuscripts like the Yellow Book of Lecan, but the traditions of the poets and bards remained strong. Neither Viking nor Norman settlement could entirely do away with them. But when the English conquered Ireland, official policy was to superimpose their language and Protestantism over the Gaelic-speaking Catholic population.

Marginalized, the Irish clung to their native language, music and history, and so the seanchai, or storyteller, developed from the old bardic traditions. Like bards, a seanchai learned old tales from older storytellers, gathering them year by year without any help from the written word. Often they journeyed from place to place, swapping an evening’s or several evenings’ worth, of entertainment for room and board.

Thus legends and myths of heroes, queens, kings, lovers, and saints were preserved, along with cautionary tales of sidhe and their inhabitants from the Other World. By memorizing and re-telling these vestiges of Irish history and customs, generations of seanchai safeguarded the language and culture of their people until interest in the old language and ways revived.

Behold the power of story.

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The Practice of Inspiration

A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...

Professional artists, whatever their medium, say with good reason that ‘inspiration is for amateurs’. Deadlines, word counts, record companies or editors don’t care if you’re having a good week or not. They just need your product delivered when you promised it.

Nevertheless, even the most organized, disciplined artist (which excludes me!) needs and looks for inspiration to stimulate their process or refresh their brains. If a long-term goal is equivalent to reaching a mountain-top, and motivation is what keeps us on the trail, inspiration is the impulse that started us on the hike to begin with. It could have been something as simple wondering what the view from that particular peak looks like. It’s also the moment when an unexpected vista opens in front of us as we make our way upward. It’s something to savor and take a picture of. You catch your breath and rest, and then get back on your way. Inspiration makes you eager to see what you’ll discover next.

What refreshes you and gives that little zap of energy may not do a thing for your neighbor. Just check out all the different boards on Pinterest if you don’t believe me. What we love is as individual as we are. It could be visiting a botanical garden or window shopping at the local mall. The main thing is to find out what you love and take the time to indulge it. As long as you don’t wait for your Muse to drift down on a golden cloud and sprinkle fairy dust on your head before getting back to work, you should be fine. Maybe something wonderful that you can use right now will come to you. Maybe you’ll get a cool idea that you can’t use at the moment — make a note of it somehow so you don’t lose it. Or you might not see anything that really inspires you. That’s okay, you’ve still got your long-term goal to keep you on track.

One nice thing about looking for inspiration on a scheduled basis is that it opens your heart and mind. It can come from anywhere: spiritual readings, the rock you kept since you found it on the beach at age seven, a science journal. Like anything else, finding inspiration becomes easier with practice. And you find out what things inspire you for different tasks.

Lately, I’ve been looking at a lot of Georgian houses and listening to movie soundtracks. What gets your brain cells off and running? If you don’t know, take a few minutes and see what strikes your fancy!