Monday Meditation: The Brehon Laws

Irish Pagans are very proud of their ancestry, particularly in the Brehon Laws, also known as ancient Irish law. These laws were in practice well into the 17th century, and may have origins as far back as the Bronze Age. It is reputedly the second oldest recorded law system after Sanskrit. I bring this up What a contrast to the damaging laws being passed against U.S. citizens by states like Georgia, Illinois, and North Carolina!

Scholars have argued the finer points of their origins, specific laws, etc.. but they are a subject of fascination, given their origin, scope and longevity. They lasted for over 3 centuries, mainly due to their honorable nature and the honor of the people who adhered to them. 

The laws are named after a group of traveling scholars called  "Breitheamh" (anglicized to Brehon) who interpreted and advised the rulers on legal matters. Given that these date back to a long-standing oral tradition, I am amazed at their ability to retain the laws in this fashion. 

Note: These were civil rather than criminal laws. 

Here are some examples of the laws:
  • The poet who overcharges for a poem shall be stripped of half his rank in society.
  • The creditor who holds your brooch, your necklet of your earrings as a pledge against your loan must return them so you may wear them at the great assembly. Or he will be fined for your humiliation.
  • February first is the day on which husband and wife may decide to walk away from the marriage.
  • A husband who through listlessness does not go to his wife in her bed must pay a fine.
  • If the doctor heals your wound but it breaks out a new because of his carelessness, neglect or gross want of skill he must return the fee you paid. He must also pay you damages as if he himself had wounded you.
  • Whoever comes to your door you must feed him and care for him with no questions asked.
  • When you become old your family must provide you with one oatcake a day plus a container of sour milk. They must bathe you every 20th night and wash your head every Saturday. Seventeen sticks of firewood is the allotment for keeping you warm.
  • It is illegal to give somebody food that has been found with a dead mouse or weasel.
And, on the subject of women:
"Free to wed and even divorce at their own choosing; absolutely independent in matters of property, the women of the Irish were not chattels by any stretch of a biased imagination. Even the Crith Gablach in discussing the privileges of man of noble class, states "To his wife belongs the right to be consulted on every subject." "~

In creating a spiritual practice that honors one's ancestors, it is essential to understand who they were and what they believed. The Brehon laws were beautifully constructed, especially for their time. There is a sense of true fairness to them. They have their flaws (there was very much a class system in place), but the intellect and concern for the welfare of the entire community that is displayed throughout. Would that here in America, our own lawmakers would have concern for the good of their fellow citizens.

For more information on the Brehon Laws: 

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