Brain Food

It being St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it appropriate to regale you with a bit of Celtic mythology. Okay, it’s actually only St. Patrick’s for another half hour, and I’m not sure I’ll finish this post in that time, but it was at least STARTED on the seventeenth. Anyway, the myth in question here is that of Fintan, the Salmon of Knowledge.

This creature was apparently an ordinary salmon at first, but when eating of the nine hazelnuts that had grown above his well, he gained an incredible amount of knowledge. Later, the goddess Boann magically caused the well to boil over, forming the River Boyne, in which Fintan ended up. The druid and poet Finn Eces, also known as Finegas, spent seven years trying to catch the fish, and eventually succeeded. At this point, the legendary Finn MacCool was a pupil of Finegas’, and Finn cooked the salmon for his master. When he burnt himself on one of Fintan’s fins, he sucked on the resulting blister, and that gave him the knowledge that the fish had contained. Finegas realized that the rest of the fish would do him no good after that, and allowed Finn to eat the whole thing, leading to his becoming intelligent as well as strong and brave. Some people just have it all, don’t they?

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There’s actually another story about a salmon named Fintan, who originally was not the same as the Salmon of Wisdom, but the two myths have become conflated over time. This Fintan, called Fintan mac Bóchra, seems not to have made it into Irish legend until after their conversion to Christianity, as he is specifically said to have survived Noah’s Flood. He was originally a man, but turned into a salmon and hid out in a watery cave to make it through the deluge. After that, he served as an advisor to many different kings of Ireland, and eventually died in the fifth century. Well, either that or he turned into the fish and was cooked up by Finn. In addition to a salmon, he also sometimes took the forms of a hawk and an eagle.

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