Lugaid Menn was a successful Irish King who had three sons. As was the custom in Ireland at the time, the boys had been fostered to the household of another King to build a relationship between two noble houses. However, the boys’ fosterage period had ended, and the three young men approached their father and asked for their inheritance. They wanted land and cattle to be given to them from his kingdom so that they could emerge into the adult world as successful men of property and wealth, men of importance. But their father’s reply did not please the youths.
“No father made me King. Everything I have, I won with my own hand, and you would do well to do the same.”
Their demands being thus rejected, the boys left their father’s house and went to the Síd burial mound of Bruig na Bóinne, which today is called Newgrange. Within the hollow mound lived the last remnants of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a magical race of sorcerers and mystics who had been conquered and exiled from the land of Ireland into another world that could be accessed through the burial mounds known as Síd.
The three youths called out to the Tuatha Dé and demanded the territory and wealth which their father would not give them, and committed themselves to fasting outside the Síd until their demands would be met.
Surprisingly, the people of the Síd accepted the three youths into their hall and welcomed them to a great feast attended by one hundred and fifty princes of the Tuatha Dé. Under instruction from the King of the Síd, Midir, the boys were gifted with magical wives, fine clothes, fierce weapons, gold, and endless supplies of mead and wine. But best of all, they received land and a wonderous fort from which they could rule. Kings of the Síd welcomed the boys into their company and pledged eternal friendship to replace the severed ties to their father.
So the boys lorded over their lands for a hundred and fifty years until some unspecified disaster, possibly of their own making, befell them. Landless and impoverished once more, and wholly estranged from their human father, they returned once again to the Síd and entered into the hall of the Tuatha Dé. The people of the Síd took the boys into their company and dwelt there forever after. Whether they become immortal and perpetually young like the Tuatha Dé themselves or whether they lived out the natural span of their lives as mortal men, no story has ever been told.
But what we do know is this. What Lugaid Menn said to his sons was very true and, surprisingly for a medieval text, expresses a very modern sentiment. Men ought to win success and power for themselves rather than demand the fruit of other men’s work.
But the boys were rebuffed, and, being immature and childish, they stormed out in a tantrum and complained about the injustice which oppressed them to an even higher power than their father. They were given everything they demanded, but they couldn’t sustain their new prosperity because they had not earned it. So they squandered their great fortune and ended up in a worse position than they began with, poor and fatherless as well.
However, they didn’t suffer death. They were instead taken in as dependents of the Tuatha Dé and given enough to survive so long as they remained inside the hall of the Síd, from which they never emerged into this world again. A gilded prison.
It’s not difficult to see parallels between this tale and the situation of the modern world today. More than ever before, the younger generations cry out and make demands of their parents, of the government, of the state, of the entire world as a whole, in emotional and naive speeches and rallies and protests. Many (not all, but many) young people want to be given something. A living wage. Free education. Sexual liberty. Racial harmony. Healthcare at no cost. Unlimited energy that doesn’t harm the planet. Property. Happiness. Success and fame. Fast WiFi.
Many young people make these demands very vocally, and when they are told, as the sons of Lugaid were told, to seize their desires with their own hands, they instead appeal to a higher authority, to whichever authority is most likely to give them what they want. Sometimes it’s the government, but more often these days, it is corporate entities like Google and Facebook. If something makes them sad, they report it, and Google makes it disappear or drowns it out with contrary information.
But in the end, as the story of King Lugaid’s sons reminds us, that which is not earned cannot endure, and unless you hold something in your hand by your own right, you’ll eventually lose it completely, and probably end up in a worse position than you began with.
So remember, when you cry out for more jobs, money, justice, harmony, and happiness, that some powerful entities will give you whatever you demand. But just because you get what you ask for doesn’t mean you deserve it. Real power, change, revolution, must be earned. And what is earned is not asked for. It’s not received as a demand or a gift or a pacifier. Real power is built from the ground up. Real change occurs in the self, not in the world.
This is why I focus on myself, my family, my people, my Tuatha, and try as much as possible to ignore those outside my sphere of influence. If it isn’t in my power to affect something, I don’t waste time or energy on it. When I want something, I look to my skills and network, and I ask myself how I and those in my circle can achieve the desired end. But I never ask to be given something, and when I am given something as a gift, I go to great lengths to reciprocate that gesture with an even greater gift in return.
I don’t always succeed, but I always try to remember Lugaid Menn, his advice to his sons, and the unnatural end they came to as punishment for their weakness.
If you found this interesting, consider checking out my first book, “Unchaining The Titan,” which contains many more examples of old myths and their relation to our modern lives. Click this link to learn more and put the power of old stories to work in your life today.