Salmon figure prominently in Celtic mythological tales, and are primarily associated with wisdom and prophecy. They often inhabited the sacred wells, feeding on the fruits (often, hazelnuts) of the tree of life. One such salmon features prominently in the story of the legendary Celtic hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool). Fionn is the apprentice of the Druid Finneigeas, who has captured the salmon of wisdom and leaves Fionn to tend the fire as the fish cooks.
When Fionn helpfully attempts to pop a blister developing on the roasting fish, he burns his thumb. Sucking on the burnt finger steals the Druid’s prize- the salmon’s wisdom is transferred to the hero, who can recall its powers by sucking his thumb. In a similar story, the goddess Boann attempts to draw water from the Salmon’s well, which results in flooding; the well becomes the source of the river Boyne, named fro the godess whose accident caused it.
The salmon also figures in Welsh versions of the tale of King Arthur. In an echo of older Celtic myths, the hero Culhwch is carried on the back of a magical salmon. The fish as symbol of wisdom in Celtic art persisted with the coming of Christianity; the association of Jesus with the fish was just one of many coincidences that made Christianity a relatively easy sell in the Celtic isles.
|A Pictish stonecarving featuring a salmon|