Monday, September 22, 2014

Imbas Forosnai: Poetic Inspiration of the Irish Filidh, by Ali Isaac

       I have recently discovered Ali Isaac, who blogs about Irish mythology and writes stories utilizing it.  She has done an impressive amount of research on this subject, and since I'm not particularly well versed in Irish myth, I thought one of her posts would enhance the topic of my blog, namely, the adaptation of myth in fiction. 
       Oh, by the way, Ali is writing a series called the Tir na Nog trilogy.  Check them out when you go over to her blog to read the rest of this post.  I haven't read them, but I'm about to put them on my To-Read list on Goodreads, because they definitely seem like my kind of book!  FYI, "Tir na Nog" means "Land of the Young" and is a name for the Irish Otherword. 
The Salmon of Knowledge
       Something which intrigued me during my research for my latest book, Conor Kelly and The Fenian King, was Fionn mac Cumhall’s ability to call forth his magical powers and divine the future by sucking or biting on his thumb.
       The story goes that, as a boy, whilst serving an apprenticeship with the Druid Finegas, he catches the Salmon of Knowledge and cooks it for his master. As he turns the fish in the pan, he scalds his thumb. Instinctively, he places his thumb in his mouth to cool the burn, thus ingesting the tiny scrap of fish skin stuck there, and acquiring the salmon’s knowledge. Afterwards, he has only to touch his thumb to his mouth to foretell the future, and seek the answers to his questions.
       According to the Senshas Mor (an ancient book of Brehon law), Fionn uses this power twice in the story ‘Fionn and the Man in the Tree’. When the Sidhe steal the Fianna’s food three times in a row as the food is cooking, Fionn is enraged and chases the thief back to his Sidhe-mound. A woman slams the door behind the thief, trapping Fionn’s thumb. He pops the injured digit in his mouth, and receives some kind of divine knowledge which he recites in a poem. Later in the same story, he discovers the identity of an escaped servant by putting his thumb in his mouth and chanting an incantation.
       This act of looking into the future and chanting or reciting prophecy in the form of poetry is called Imbas Forosnai (imbas meaning ‘inspiration’, in particular the sacred poetic inspiration of the ancient Filidh, and forosnai meaning ‘illuminating’ or ‘that which illuminates’). It involves the use of sensory deprivation in order to pass into a trance-like state.
Read more of this post HERE.


  1. Thanks Lorinda for re-blogging my post on your fascinating site! Ali

    1. You adapt Irish myth for your books, and I adapt Greek myth and medieval epics to ... my extraterrestrial giant termite civilization!

  2. And both of you do EXCELLENT jobs Lorinda and Ali :D

    1. Thanks, Chris! Appreciate all your kind remarks! :-)