Home : Library : Lore
Cuchulain of the Red Branch
Information found at http://witchcraft.simplenet.com/
The heroic tales of Cuchulain are so old that they were almost forgotten. Thankfully, Sechan Torpeist, a seventh century bard revived the ancient tales so that we may enjoy them today! Cuchulain studied under the oddess/warrior Scathach on the Isle of Shadow and returned to Ulster where he would prove to be a great warrior and leader of the Red Branch, an order of warriors of Ulster whose exploits make up an entire cycle in Irish mythology. Today, Cuchulain is honored as a Pagan god. 

During ancient times, the island of Ireland was divided into five warring kingdoms. It was during this time that a powerful Celtic warrior came into his prime. The warrior was named Cuchulain and he was a Red Branch Knight, a band of warriors whose title came from the king whom they served, Conchobar of Ulster, a King descended from Ross the Red. The young Red Branch Knights were like most Celt's of that time-brilliant and fearless in battle and united and loyal as brothers against their foes. The three finest knights of the Red Branch could not agree on who was the proven champion of the realm, and close though they were, the rivalry for that honor divided them. 

Not wishing to court enmity by choosing one man above another, Conchobar sent the three of them to Maeve, Queen of Connacht and to the King of Muenster to solicit their opinion as to which one of the three deserved the title. The judgement of Queen Maeve satisfied no one and the King of Muenster couldn't be found. So, on Conchobar's orders a truce prevailed among the three knights and they were given the following titles: Loegaire the Triumphant, Conall of the Victories and one knight was given the name of Cuchulain. 

At the house of the Red Branch in Conchobar's hill fort the King held a night of feasting. Amid the shouting, boasting and the barking of excited hounds, nobody noticed the latch of the timbered door rise from its socket. Nobody saw or heard the door swing on its greased hinges but all were startled as the door made an earth-shattering slam as it closed. Suddenly alert, the three great knights turned to the door. There, eyes glowing like flames, stood a gigantic man. Like great rock cliffs his forehead and nose threw shadows on his pocked and dusty cheeks, more than half of which lay hidden beneath a broom of black and bristly beard. 

His loins were swathed in cowhide and his shoulders were cloaked with matted wool In one massive fist he carried a log of Derry oak in the other rested an ax. The giants footfalls reverberated against the roof beams as he approached the hearth. All were studying his movements , but nobody spoke. The terrified hounds tucked their tails under their bellies and backed away quickly at the giants approach. The giant threw down his log and surveyed the warriors and silently challenged them to speak. Finally, after a time, the giant spoke. He said that his name was Uath the Stranger, and he wandered the earth in search of a man who could hold fast to his word. 

"Surely, here in the house of the Red Branch," he said, "sits one who will make a compact with me and keep it." Then Fergus Mac Roy, kinsman of Conchobar, asked Uath "And what is this compact?". "Easy to tell," replied Uath. "You and Conchobar I put aside, because you are Kings. Outside of you, I seek one who will make this bargain: He to strike off my head tonight and I to return the same blow tomorrow night. Surely here there is one whose courage can meet the terms." There was silence, for the terms were suprisingly odd ones and smelled of magick. No knight stepped forward. "There is, then, no champion here?" said Uath as he smiled a cunning smile. 

"Here is one who braves your challenge, clown," cried Loegaire the Triumphant as he leaped to the center of the hall to face the giant. "Kneel, then," he said to the giant. "I give you my word: I cut off your head tonight, you cut off mine tomorrow." Uath knelt and laid his head upon the log that he brought. Loegaire took the giant's ax, and with a mighty effort, Loegaire raised the ax high. Down it came, the blade whistling its death song as it struck through the giants neck and his head lolled and then thumped to the floor. Great gouts of blood spurted from the the trunk. Speechless, Loegaire stepped back and stared at the giants body. 

After an instant, the body rose to its feet , the lack of a head making no difference to its steadiness and poise. It took the ax from Loegaire's hands; it picked up the head, clutching the hair to its chest so that blood trickled in scarlet rivulets down its legs. The face looked outward, as disdainful and glowering as when the giant first appeared. Gripping its blood-soaked baggage, the massive figure marched to the doorway and then out into the night. 

The next night, as before, the door of the House of Red, letting in the wind and the rain. Uath the Stranger-whole again, without so much as a mark on his sinewy neck-strode to the hearth, bearing his ax. Loegaire the Triumphant was not in attendance. His otherwise great heart had failed him at the prospect of accepting the giant's terrible blow. Uath shrugged and spat on the floor. He fingered the ax blade and said not a word. 

From the crowded benches sprang Conall of the Victories, ready to defend Ulster's honor. The same murderous compact was struck: a head for a head. As Loegaire had, Conall swung the ax, the blood of Uath the Stranger spurted as before. As before, the headless giant left the feasting hall. And as with Loegaire, Conall was absent on the next night, when it came his turn to face the blade. 

On the third night, stood Uath, again in front of the hearth in the feast hall of the House of Red. Laughing at the Ulster knights, Uath said "Two of the best have failed me, and where is the proud stripling Cuchulain? Lily-hearted, like the rest." Then Cuchulain rose from the bench where he sat and approached the giant. He told the giant to keep his bargain for fools. Why, Cuchulain asked, would a sensible man throw his life away for the sake of a creature that could restore its form by trickery? 

The giant bellowed with laughter. He called Cuchulain a coward and a spineless child. The taunts did the trick. Crimson with pride and rage, Cuchulain sprang forth, strong in fury, he snatched the huge ax from the giant and swung it, sending Uath's head spinning, blood spewing forth in streams across the feasting hall. When the giant's head fell, Cuchulain smashed it with the edge of the ax. After the spectacle, there was silence, save for the young knight's heavy breathing. 

As before, the giant rose, picked up the ax and the reddened pulp that had been his head, and strode out into the darkness. The following night, Cuchulain joined the others at the great feasting hall. He was tight-lipped and white-faced, but he was there. The Red Branch knights drew back from him, as from one marked for death. On his raised bench, Conchobar the King waited impassively. The door swung open and everyone turned their attention towards Uath the stranger, back to finish the challenge. 

Uath called Cuchulain's name, and the young knight rose from his seat. Cuchulain walked stiffly to the center of the hall, where the giant now stood. The knight knelt to take the blow, trembling with fear and pale-faced, but he kept his place while the giant towered over him. The ax swung up-its blade silvered by the firelight-and paused in the air. "Stretch out your neck better," Uath the Stranger commanded. "Save your breath and cease your taunting," Cuchulain snapped. "Strike swiftly, as I did." He bent his head again. 

The giant's eyes gleamed as the ax hurtled down. A hoarse gasp left a hundred throats, the beginning of the Red Branch's mourning for the loss of its own. But there was no loss. The giant's ax blade shattered the stones on which Cuchulain knelt. The young warrior himself rose to his feet unharmed and turned to face Uath the Stranger. Uath disappeared. In his place stood Curoi of Muenster who had been strangely absent when the rival knights presented themselves for judgement. 

Curoi had come at Conchobar's asking to settle the quarrel of the Ulster knights in full view of their peers, so that none would doubt the fairness of the decision. He told the company that Cuchulain was the King's champion. Only Cuchulain had refused the giant's bargain. Loegaire and Conall had accepted it, then failed in valor. Only Cuchulain had struck in the heat of rage-a rashness appropriate and even necessary to a warrior. 

Only Cuchulain had proved his contempt of death by bending his head for the giant's blow.

Design Copyright © 2000 by Daniel S.