In exploring the intricate tapestry of Irish mythology, the story of Dian Cécht and Miach stands out as a profound narrative that delves into the complexities of healing, wisdom, and familial bonds within the pantheon of the Tuatha Dé Danann. This Guest Post, drawing from Morgan Daimler’s own insightful translation and interpretation, invites us into a deeper understanding of this tale, not just as a mere account of conflict and resolution, but as a reflection of the nuanced choices faced by deities and mortals alike.
Join us as we unravel the layers of the Dian Cécht and Miach story, discovering its relevance and lessons in the context of Irish mythology and contemporary Irish Paganism.
33. Now Nuada was being treated and an arm of silver was put on him by Dian Cécht which had the movement of any hand in it. This was not good to his son, that is to Míach. He went to the arm and he said “joint toward joint and fiber toward fiber” and healed it in three sets of three days. The first three days he carried it in front of the side of his body and it was covered in skin. The next three days he carried it against his chest. The third three days he cast bright wisps of black reeds after blackening in fire.
34. This was a bad healing to Dían Cécht. He threw a sword at the crown of his son’s head so that it cut his skin to his flesh. The youth healed it through exercise of his craft. He cut him once more and cut his flesh down to bone. The youth healed it as with the first exercise [of skill]. He struck him a third cut reaching to the membrane of his brain. The youth healed this as well with the same exercise of skill as the first. He struck then the fourth cut with certainty to his brain causing Míach to perish and Dían Cécht said that there was no physician who could heal that strike. 35 After that Dían Cécht buried Míach and three hundred and 65 herbs grew up through the burial place, under the full number of his joints and fibers. Afterwards Airmed unfolded her mantle and separated the herbs there according to their proper order. Dían Cécht came and mixed the herbs, so that no one knows the healing properties but that the Holy Spirit taught them afterwards. And Dían Cécht said: “Míach is no longer; Airmed will remain.”– Cath Maige Tuired, translation by Morgan Daimler [Buy a Copy Here]
This is the core of the story of Dian Cécht and his son Miach, healers of the Tuatha De Danann. Many people read this story as one of jealousy and petty retaliation, but I tend to see it differently. To me this is a story about choosing between the good of a group or of an individual, and the limits of healing even among deities.
Dian Cécht is the premier physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann, called the God of health and Healing Sage of Ireland; he possesses a healing well or cauldron (O hOgain, 2006). The first question I asked myself when contemplating this story, is why couldn’t Dian Cécht heal Nuada’s arm?
Dian Cecht and Nuada’s Arm
Of course, we could assume that he lacked the skill but that seems unlikely to me – rather I think it is more likely that the arm was not healed because it was not meant to be. Nuada had been king for 7 years when his arms was lost, meaning he had to forfeit the kingship as only the physically perfect could rule, and then Bres became king.
Nuada being restored by Miach allowed the Tuatha Dé Danann to rebel because Nuada was fit to rule again; however it is worth keeping in mind that Dian Cécht’s grandson by his son Cian is Lugh Lamhfada who was also destined to be king, and would indeed take the kingship from Nuada later on.
Perhaps – and this is purely my theory – it was not jealousy that motivated Dian Cécht to attack Miach but the knowledge that healing Nuada had changed what would have otherwise happened, which likely would have been Lugh showing up to take the throne from Bres himself.
It was Lugh who won the battle for the Tuatha Dé, and Lugh who killed Balor of the Evil Eye, Balor having – so the story goes – killed Nuada and his wife Macha in the battle. Nuada could not overcome Balor and win the battle but Lugh could and did – a fact Nuada seems to acknowledge to some degree as he allows Lugh to lead during this time. But, Gods never really dying, now the Tuatha de Danann had Nuada as king and Lugh as destined-king.
I can see how, if Dian Cécht had any inkling of this, he might see healing the displaced king as a bad idea, something that disrupted the natural order of succession.
Miach and Nuada’s Arm
Miach looks at his father’s replacing of Nuada’s arm with one of silver and declares that the cure seems evil to him – perhaps because he knows the arm could be restored – and so he sets out to heal it as he believes it should have been done.
Dian Cécht sees the arm restored and declares that that healing seems evil to him – perhaps because he knows it has thrown off the natural order of the kingship – and attacks Miach, wounding him four times with the fourth time being fatal. In this way, perhaps, Dian Cécht was showing his son that he still had things to learn about healing.
Miach’s death is only as permanent as any of the other Gods though, and he shows up again later in the Cath Maige Tuired, healing the wounded along with his sister and brother by his father’s side.
Whatever enmity the two healers may have seem to be put aside for the greater good at the well of Slaine, or perhaps there is ultimately no hard feelings between them as each has acted on his own conscience and each has followed through with the results of that.
Dian Cecht and Miach
When I look at the story of Miach and Dian Cécht I see a physician who allowed a wound to heal a certain way because he was taking the long view of what was best for his people, and another who stepped in and healed the same injury because he believed it was best for the individual, and to prove that he could do it.
This story shows us the tension that can be present when two ultimately good choices conflict with each other, and also the animosity that can occur between people, even family, when they disagree on how to handle a vital situation.
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