FOUR ANCIENT CITIES REVISITED
What started out as a simple question, turned into a hunt. All I was supposed to do was match the four ancient cities to the four quarters, and instead what I ended up with was something totally different.
My friend asked me this question because she knew I was studying the Celtic tradition and since I never really use the four directions in my rituals I decided to put the question up in Paganspace.net and in the Circle forums of the New Order of Druids. I got three different answers from 5 different people. The answers I got were the following:
Lady DragonWolf said:
Gorias, that is in the East, and Finias that is in the South, and Murias that is in the West, and Falias that is in the North.
Falias is the stone of destiny – NORTH – PENTACLES (coins, possessions, physical)
Gorias is the sword of Nauda. – EAST – SWORDS – (communications, mental activities)
Finias is the spear of Lugh – SOUTH – WANDS – (beginnings, actions)
Murias is the Cauldron of Dagda –WEST – CUPS – (emotions, intuition)
NautialChemist stated that this was an association that is not used by Irish Traditional witchcraft; instead they use the three Celtic realms of land, sea and sky.
And this was seconded by Krysanetheick.
From the New Order of Druids:
Here is how I would divide them, but it is just my personal view and opinion on the matter:
FALIAS – The Stone of Destiny (Lia Fail) = NORTH Stone belongs to the Earth. Earth is generally linked to North.
GORIAS – The Spear of Destiny = EAST A spear, when thrown, floats through the air. Air is generally linked to the East.
FINDIAS – The Sword of Nuada = SOUTH A sword is forged in fire. Fire is generally linked to the South.
MURIAS – The Cauldron of the Dagda = WEST A cauldron is used to boil water (usually along with other things, but water is a basic substance). Water is generally linked to the West.
I agree with Phoenix’s answer so I thought I would go a little deeper into this.
NORTH: Falias: Earth The stone of destiny lies in the North, the place of battle. At first sight this does not seem to fit, although the stone of destiny is not just the hailer of a new king, but is also known as the stone of death, which links with battle as well as destiny. Then I started to think about the phallic shape of the stone, as well as its tie to the King. The stone is the male principle. It enters the Earth (the female principle). This also relates to the King marrying the land (Sovereignty). Male and female are two opposing forces and this links back to battle. It isn’t until we can balance the male and female principles within ourselves that the battle is ended and we are ready to walk into the dawn of a new day.
EAST: Gorias: Air. The spear of destiny lies in the east, the place of prosperity. Of course this doesn’t necessarily relate to material wealth, but the prosperity of a person who has come through battle and is at a place of balance and happiness in their life. The person is spiritually rich. So how does this relate to the spear. It is said that “battle would never go against him who had it (the spear of destiny) in his hand.” So in other words that person would prosper in everything they do. If you are prosperous you feel happy joyous and creative.
SOUTH: Findias: Fire. The sword of Nuada lies in the south, the place of music and creativity. How does a sword relate to music and creativity? Through its forging. The creative fire forges a keen blade. The shaping of the sword on the blacksmiths anvil even creates sound. It is said of the sword; “no man would escape from it; when it was drawn from its battle-scabbard, there was no resisting it.” When creativity takes over we MUST create, the urge is irresistible, inescapable. Creativity leads also to new ways of viewing the world, new avenues opening in front of us.
WEST: Murias: Water The Cauldron of Dagda lies in the west, the place of knowledge and learning. The cauldron is linked to rebirth, also a connection with the waters of the womb. When we gain knowledge through learning we are reborn into the new ways of perceiving the world that we glimpsed through our creative fire in the South. The cauldron immerses us into its dark depths and through initiation re births us into a new way of being. I would suggest that here is where battle would begin again!
After looking at the answers I realized that they nearly (the exception would be NautialChemist and Krysanetheick’s answer) all fall in the same camp with minor differences. They are all based in one way or another on the writings of William Sharp (Fiona Macleod) and the writings of R.J Stewart who also based his writings on the poems of William Sharp. (I will talk about this later)
The first answer from DragonWolf is a direct reference to William Sharp’s work even down to the mistake (or poetic license) of switching spear and sword.
Phoenix and Karayana’s answers are the same as William Sharp’s work with the difference of them putting the spear and the sword in the right places.
The first mention of the Four Ancient Cities (that I know of) is in the second battle of Magh Tuireadh, which is a text dating back to the 12th century AD. The Myth states the following:
1. The Tuatha De Danann were in the northern islands of the world, studying occult lore and sorcery, druidic arts and witchcraft and magical skill, until they surpassed the sages of the pagan arts.
2. They studied occult lore and secret knowledge and diabolic arts in four cities: Falias, Gorias, Murias, and Findias.
3. From Falias was brought the Stone of Fal which was located in Tara. It used to cry out beneath every king that would take Ireland.
4. From Gorias was brought the spear which Lug had. No battle was ever sustained against it, or against the man who held it in his hand.
5. From Findias was brought the sword of Nuadu. No one ever escaped from it once it was drawn from its deadly sheath, and no one could resist it.
6. From Murias was brought the Dagda’s cauldron. No company ever went away from it unsatisfied.
7. There were four wizards in those four cities. Morfesa was in Falias; Esras was in Gorias; Uiscias was in Findias; Semias was in Murias. Those are the four poets from whom the Tuatha De learned occult lore and secret knowledge.
As can be seen from the text no mention of the four cardinal directions here. This made me really curious and I decided to look closer, and this is where the hunt started. I decided to start in the beginning. A friend suggested that I look at the two directions first before going on to the four cardinal directions.
According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn when the sons of Míl landed and Éremón and Éber asked Amairgen who should be king he said that it should be Éremón first and then Éber, but Éber wanted to be kind now so Ireland was divided into North and South. Some versions said that Éremón took the kingship with him to the North and others say that he was king in the North. Éber was a king in the South. In many ways it can be seen that the Northern kingship was the more important one. Éremón took with him seven chieftains to the North to Éber’s six and there are two ridges in the North while the south only had one.
This division gave certain attributes to the North and South. When Éremón went to the North he took the poet with him (learned man), so the North was a place of dignity and learning. The harpist went to the South, and it became the place for music and artistry. It should be noted that these two kingships had a special relationship. Though the Northern Kingship was the major one and the Southern one the minor one the Southern kingship was rich with food and produce and so in essence it is the stronger one. There is always a rivalry between the two seats, but they also complement and complete each other.
The North is known as “Leth Cuinn” or The Half of Conn. Conn means head, chief, sense, and reason. The South is known as “Leth Moga” or the Half of Mug. Mug means servant.
The second way that Ireland is divided can be attributed to the Fir Bolg. They were one of the invaders of Ireland before the Sons of Míl landed. They divided Ireland in to five parts. According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn the divisions were Connacht, Ulster, Leinster, East Munster and West Munster. Another version of this division can be found in a poem by Mael Mura, a ninth century poet and he says the division was Connacht, Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Meath. These two versions can be considered alternatives for each other since they are both confirmed by the myth “The Settling of the Manor of Tara”.
From this myth which also dates back to the twelfth century AD we have the following:
Learning (Fis), foundations, teaching, alliance, judgment, chronicles, counsels, stories, histories, science, comeliness, eloquence, beauty, modesty (literally blushing), bounty, abundance and wealth.
Battle (Cath), contentions, hardihood, rough places, strives, haughtiness, unprofitableness, pride, captures, assaults, hardness, wars, and conflicts.
Prosperity (Bláth), supplies, bee-hives, contests, feats of arms, householders, nobles, wonders, good custom, good manners, splendour, abundance, dignity, strength, wealth, householding, many arts, accountrements, many treasures, satin, serge, silk, cloths, green spotted cloth, hospitality.
Music (Séis), waterfalls, fairs, nobles, reavers, knowledge, subtlety, musicianship, melody, minstrelry, wisdom, honour, music, learning, teaching, warriorship, fidchell-playing, vehemence, fierceness, poetical art, advocacy, modesty, code, retinue, fertility.
Kingship, stewards, dignity, primacy, stability, establishments, supports, destructions, warriorship, charioteership, soldiery, principality, high-kingship, ollaveship, mead, bounty, ale, renown, fame, prosperity.
There is one more division that we should talk about which is the division of the Celtic society. The Celts are descendents of a group called the Indo-Europeans, and according to Georges Dumézil they had four main tribal (Social) functions. The first is the sovereign function which incorporates intellectuals, scholars, educators, ritualists, and anyone dealing with the culture as a concept, value-system, or symbolic organism. The second function is the warrior function which includes the military, law enforcement, and anyone involved in the protection of the tribe. The third function is the fertility function and that includes farmers, anyone that have to do with the material wealth of the Tribe, economists, nurturers, mothers…etc. The fourth function is the artistic function which includes the craftsmen and the artists.
Now let us talk about the four elements. The normal (please keep this in mind normal to the wiccans and not the Celtic tradition) correspondences of Elements with directions are based on the prevailing winds of Britain, and are commonly used by Wiccans all over the world today. They are East-Air, South-Fire, West-Water, and North-Earth. These elements are also the building blocks of creation; all things that exist are believed to have the elements within them. This idea can be taken literally AND figuratively, just like many ideas in Wicca. Literally air is the air we breathe, water is what makes up a large portion of our blood and bodies, fire is the spirit that makes us who we are as unique individuals, and earth is the flesh of our bodies and bones. More abstractly, air represents the thoughts, ideas, and the ability to create new beginnings that we have. Fire represents action and physical manifestation that we can create and do what we imagine. Our emotions our represented by water, they are the natural effect of responding to what has been manifested. Earth represents our ability to integrate things into our environments and psyche as well as the ability to have wisdom and understanding.
The elements detailed from the Wiccan point of view:
This element corresponds to the mind, inspiration, dawn, to spring, and to pale pastel colors, especially white and lavender. Air is the element of the East. Its power is to know and its tools are the wand and staff. Air is also the power of movement, of freshening and making new. Through words and oral traditions this element contains the past while helping us to describe out future; it is also the birthplace of blessings and curses. Music is a part of air and thus allows us access to the realm of the muses. In its positive aspects air can lead us to ideas of great genius, sparking our intellect to learn and share our knowledge. It can also inspire us to dazzling flights of fancy so that we can bring our imaginations to life through art. In its negative aspects we can become overwhelmed by air and not be able to breath from pressure we place on ourselves to know it all. We can overburden ourselves with the drive to learn more. It can also lead us to living entirely in our own imagination, cutting us off from the world around us. Each element’s energies moves or vibrates at a different rate, air is a medium level energy that on a whim can be easy or difficult to control.
This element is important because it is the first one that men consciously used in magick: the cooking fire. This element corresponds to the South, with energy and spirit, with self esteem, to noon time, the summer, and to fiery colors, and its quality is will. Its tools are the sword and the athame, because fire must temper metal or the blade can never be made. It also shows that fire is an element of transformation, for it cannot exist without consuming something else and leaving heat, light, ash and smoke. Just as fire tempers steel to create our blades, it also tempers us and makes us stronger. Fire is the creator and destroyer, the provider and the conqueror. It is the element of hunters and warriors, but also of healers and cooks. Our own inner flames help to make us stronger as we go through trials in life, yet they can also envelop us in our fears and weaknesses. In us, we can nurture the flames of passion, helping to create loving and lasting relationships; but if allowed to go unchecked it can turn into jealousy and rage. Fire must be carefully watched lest it get away from us and turn what we hope to gain into ashes. Fire has the fastest vibration and is usually the easiest to use and tap. It is a very strong and vibrant energy that is often the first used in spells.
Water corresponds to the West, to emotions, to twilight, autumn, to the colors blue, grey, and deep purple. Its power is to dare. From Water comes the courage to face our deepest feelings and to let them go if need be. Its tool is the cup or chalice, which holds both the salt water of purification and the blessed wine of ritual. Water is our gateway to exploring our True Will through recognizing and understanding how our emotions can shape us and those around us. Water is cleansing, healing, psychic, and loving. It helps to support us when we swim and gives us life. Yet water also has a dark side, it can drown you if you aren’t careful, you can freeze to death in its icy depths. Un-dealt with emotions can over come us and wash us away. It is also an element of gradual transformation, slowly eroding the old to uncover the new. While we can enjoy the warmth of our feelings, water reminds us that those loving emotions can turn into the coldest, most icy barriers that we can create. By choosing to listen or to ignore our intuition shows us how in tune we are with water. Water can allow us to “go with the flow” but if we’re not careful we can be overwhelmed by what others expect of us.
This element corresponds to mystery, the North, to the body, to midnight, winter, and the dark colors of brown, black, and dark green; also called it Stone, which are the strength and bones of the earth. From the earth comes the power to be silent, to keep secrets, to listen as well as speak, and to know what not to say. The tool for the earth is the pentacle. This is the element that unites tribes and from whence the tribal Gods spring. Earth is the binding ties in the Clan and leaders of nations bind themselves to land for their people. From this element were brought forth laws and the idea to teach knowledge. However, from the dark earth also comes the danger of burying what is unpleasant to us until we are forced to face it. Earth is also linked with death since our mortal bodies are returned to the earth’s embrace at the end our time. Earth also hides unknown treasures that must be brought to light, and the opposite side of that brings inexorable greed.
I think the stage is set to talk about the four ancient cities and the four cardinal directions. There are three different views of the Ancient Cities being paired with the elements and the four directions. I shall tell you what each one is and then tell you my views of them.
I shall start with the view by Alexei Kondratiev presented in his book “The Apple Branch”.
Alexei Kondratiev in his book “The Apple Branch” shows us the association of the Four ancient cities with the four directions when he talks about the casting of a circle for ritual.
He uses the four tribal functions to do that and also he incorporates the idea of North being associated with the God while South is associated with the Goddess. A note here, Alexei never tells us why he associates North with the God and South with the Goddess. My theory, and I repeat this is just MY theory is that he does so because the South in the two divisional theory of Ireland is associated with fertility and prosperity, while the Northern half is associated with warriorship and kingship. He also incorporates the ideas of the division of Ireland according to the myth of the Settling of the Manor of Tara.
Putting all this together Alexei gave us the following associations.
From Gorias (the burning fort) came the spear of Lugh, who is lord of Light and Sovereign of the Gods, as well as supreme bard and Patron of all scholars. Clearly here Gorias is associated with the function of the mind, and since according to the settling of the Manor West is associated with knowledge then it is put in the west.
From Findias (the great-white fort) was brought the Sword of Nuadu Airgetlam, the king of the Tuatha before Lugh, representing the battle-valor and championship, and that is associated with the North of the country.
From Muirias (Fort of the Sea), comes the cauldron of the Dagda, which leaves no one unsated, is clearly a gift of fertility and hospitality, an association of the East accourding to the Myth of the Settling of Tara.
From Failias comes the stone of Fal, which cries out at the coming of the rightful High King, and since only the Goddess can confer sovereignty on anyone, the stone is her attribute and she is associated with the south direction then, that puts this stone in the south.
Alexei also shows us how it is possible to add the Greco-Roman elements of air, water, fire and earth to the four cities using the names of these cities themselves. Gorias can easily be associated with fire, while Muirias is also associated easily with water. Failias is the place of the stone and also means enclosure so it stands to reason that it would be associated with earth and by process of elimination that means that Findias is associated with air.
The four objects can also be associated with the Grail hallows, and to the ceremonial magicians’ tools of wand, sword, cup and pentacle which are the basis for the Tarot suits and also give us an association to the four directions.
My problem with this association comes when Alexei associates the Stone of Fal with the south, when to me it should be in the center. He justifies that by saying that sovereignty comes from the Goddess of the Land and the Goddess is associated with the south. However, my theory would also leave the south open. It also goes against the western system of associating the elements and the four quarters.
The second view is the one of William Sharp and through him to R.J. Stewart. Writers like R.J. Stewart, base their association of the Four Ancient Cities to the four directions on the poems and writing of William Sharp (Fiona Macleod).
“There are four cities that no mortal eye has seen but that the soul knows; these are Gorias, that is in the east; and Finias, that is in the south; and Murias, that is in the west; and Falias that is in the, north. And the symbol of Falias is the stone of death, which is crowned with Pale fire. And the symbol of Gorias is the dividing sword. And the symbol of Finias is a spear. And the symbol of Murias is a hollow that is filled with water and fading light.”
The problem with using this work is very obvious. In the Myth of the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh we know that the Four Ancient Cites were actually associated with the Hallows in this way, from Gorias comes the spear of Lugh, from Findias comes the Sword of Nuadu, from Murias comes the cauldron of Dagda and from Failias comes the stone of Fal. In his work William sharp has switched the hallows belonging to Gorias and Findias, and then applied the Greco-Roman element system to it. This means he switched the association of wand with east and sword with south. (If we are using the western system of elements and directions correctly)
The third view is the traditional view, which said that the myths never associated these cities with any direction or the Greco-Roman element system. So why should we? Why not just use the three Celtic realms instead? I happen to agree with this view.
The question now is which one of these views is correct? I would have to say ALL of them. We don’t know what the Celts did or did not use. We only know what might have been, who is to say it could not be the first view, or the second one (I hope to stay true to the myths that you switch back the spear and the sword) or the third? Use what comes naturally to you.
1. Rees, Alwyn and Brinley. Celtic Heritage: Ancient traditions in Ireland and Wales. Thames and Hudson, Britain. 1961.
2. Kondratiev, Alexei. The Apple Branch. Kensington Publishing Corporation, NY, USA. 2003
5. Lipp, Deborah. The Elements of Ritual. Llewellyn Publications, USA. 2003