The Way of Power — Niall of the Nine Hostages — The King’s Journey
You can acquire power and kingship by frightening people and setting up the forces (fugal) that pull them apart. That was not the way of the Leprechauns.
The high king of Ireland, Eochy, had four sons by his first wife by Mongfind, and a fifth son by his second wife, Careen. While Careen was pregnant Mongfind was jealous and forced her to do heavy work, hoping that she would lose her baby. Careen gave birth to Niall as she was drawing water from a well. Out of fear of Mongfind she left the baby on the ground. The baby was found by a poet called Torna, who taught him all his wisdom and skills. When Nall grew up he returned to Tara. He rescued his mother from her imposed labour. And was immediately accepted as the son of the king.
Niall grew popular among the nobles. Mongfind, afraid that Niall would get more and more popular and would overshadow her sons, demanded that Eochy name a successor. The king, unwilling to choose between his sons, gave the job to a druid. The druid set up a test. He trapped all the boys in a burning forge, telling them to save what they could. The boys were then judged on the objects they chose to save. Brión chose a sledgehammer, Fiachra chose a bellows and a pail of beer, Ailill chose a chest of weapons, Fergus chose a bundle of wood, Niall chose the anvil. Niall was deemed to be greater than the others. Mongfind refused to accept this. The anvil was the object on which every other object could be made.
The druid took the brothers to have weapons made for them. He then sent them out hunting. When they had successfully taken down a stag, Fiachra was sent to fetch water. He found it well guarded by a hideous hag. He asked could he draw water. She answered that he could if he slept with her. He went to give her a kiss, had a look of disgust on his face. This did not satisfy her. He returned empty-handed. The other brothers each went one by one and each returned empty-handed. Finally, Niall went in search of water. He lay with her, and afterwards, she revealed herself as a beautiful maiden. She granted Niall the right to draw water as well as the right to rule Ireland for many generations. Niall succeeded as king and Brión became his second in command.
Niall proved himself to be the rightful king by his choice of the anvil (stability and creation) over weapons (war), a sledgehammer (destruction), beer (feasting) and wood (lack of masculinity) and then again by embracing the goddess even in her most disgusting guise. He faced what we now call the ‘shadow’. It was this act that made him a great king.
The King and the World
What Niall sees as he looks out on the world are leaders who in many cases seem to suffer from major personality disorders. He sees narcissists, psychopaths and the paranoid. But this seems to be no barrier to entry. A paranoid person can readily access fear and armed with a pulpit and media support can cause fear to spread like a contagion. They then offer themselves as the strong man solution.
What is the ‘stuff’ of modern power acquisition is the stranger, the ‘other’ who is frequently aggregated into some kind of a monster to be feared. This highlights that we have no choice. We can either make an effort to understand the ‘other’ and perhaps embrace and enrich our lives and culture through diversity and difference. Or alternatively, we can repudiate and reject the ‘other’ on whom we project all manner of badness. It’s called the shadow, the projected shadow. What we then do is follow a guru like leader whom we invest with magical god-like powers, while scapegoating and blaming the other for our misfortune.
What Niall sees is a total lack of a cultural sense or a wisdom that articulates what it is to be a great king, what power means especially in a distributed power culture. More than anything there seems to be no sense that the more power you had the more constraints need to be placed on the king. Power corrupts.