Saturday, 21 February 2015

Bradan - the Salmon of Knowledge

Bradan: The Salmon of Knowledge

Bradan, is inspired by the 'Salmon of Knowledge,' 
a popular story in Irish Mythology from the Fenian Cycle. 


The Salmon of Knowledge

There are many different telling's of this wonderful tale, here is my abbreviated version:

The Salmon of Knowledge was a fish who gained all of the wisdom of the world by eating hazelnuts that had fallen into the river Boyne from a circle of nine magical hazel trees, (in some stories they fell into the Well of Wisdom - Tobar Segais.)

The Druid Fineagas spent seven long years fishing for this salmon, as he knew the legend that whomsoever should eat of its flesh, would also gain the wisdom of the world for themselves. Eventually, after much trial and tribulation, Fineagas managed to catch the fabled fish. He gave the sacred salmon to his servant and student, Fionn mac Cumhail (aka Finn MacCool) to cook, with strict instructions to bring it to him when it was ready, and not to eat any of it himself.

Hazel Tree
Hazel Tree. Wikipedia Commons.

Fionn dutifully cooked the salmon over a fire, turning it over and over, but, in doing so, it developed a blister on one side. Mortified, Fionn tried to push the blister in, and, a drop of fat burnt his thumb. Reflexively, he sucked on his burnt thumb to ease the pain. He then presented the cooked salmon to his master, Fineagas.

Fineagas could see straight away that something was different about Fionn, his cheeks glowing, and his eyes shining with new awareness. He asked him if he had eaten any of the salmon, and Fionn answered 'no,' but explained what had happened. Fineagas realised that just from that small drop of fat, Fionn had received the gift of wisdom from the salmon. To his credit, and despite his loss, Fineagas gave the rest of the salmon to Fionn to eat, and was happy for him, realising that he would grow up to be a wise man, and a great hero, and that, perhaps, things had happened as they should.

Finn macCool comes to the aid of the Fianna by Stephen Reid
'Finn mcCool comes to aid the Fianna' by Stephen Reid Wikipedia commons  

Fionn mac Cumhail had many more adventures, becoming the ablest and most celebrated leader of the fabled Fianna warriors. Whenever he needed inspiration, knowledge or wisdom, he simply sucked or bit his thumb to receive instant knowing.

Bradan - the design 


Salmon of Knowledge sculpted metal and oak plaque

The design originated as a commission for Stewart Yates, owner of Assynt Fly Fishing, who, with thirty years of angling in the Assynt region under his belt, provides 'a wide range of experiences, from a couple of hours on a roadside loch, to multi-day wild camping expeditions with plenty of time to explore and fish some of the remotest parts of this magical landscape.' Assynt is centered around the village of Lochinver on the northwest coast of the Highlands of Scotland. 
Stewart helped with many aspects of the design, including the name, and, although originally ordering Bradan as a commission, Stewart also wanted this piece to be available to everyone - thanks Stewart!

Bradan derives from an Irish Gaelic word meaning salmon, bradán feasa or Bradan an Eòlais, meaning Salmon of Knowledge, or Salmon of Wisdom. Interestingly, in researching this, I was confused by the two different Gaelic versions, and wondered why there were two. I found that Gaelic has three different words for knowledge: Eolas: 'knowledge of experience,' Fios: 'knowledge of history,' and Focmart: 'knowledge from exploration.'
I love this idea of a range of words to differentiate between knowledge acquired from varying experiences.

Atlantic Salmon Wikipedia Commons
Atlantic Salmon, Salmo salar. Wikipedia Commons.

Salmon are amazing creatures, and the folklore and mythology of these islands is rich in stories of salmon and their abilities. The name derives from the Latin salmo, which originated from salire, meaning 'to leap.' Some species of salmon return to the river or stream of their birth after many years at sea. Showing true grit and determination, they swim upriver to their spawning grounds, leaping waterfalls and rocks. These exhibited qualities of persistence, courage and strength are surely what inspired the many myths and stories.

Leaping pacific salmon Wikipedia Commons
Pacific salmon leaping at Willamette Falls. Wikipedia Commons.

Cuchulainnn, that great and legendary hero of Ireland, was famous for springing upon his enemies with a mighty 'salmon leap' in battle. Loki, famous trickster of Norse Mythology, transformed himself into a salmon to escape his enemies, and, in the Welsh tale of 'Culhwch and Olwen' the salmon makes an appearance, once again, as the wisest of creatures.

As far as the design went, I wanted to weave as many of these influences into the feeling of the piece as I could, and Stewart and I also agreed that the piece should have 'movement.' The leap of the salmon is so fundamental to its place in mythology, that I felt that this was the best way to present it, and I also wanted a feeling of it leaping almost 'out of the plaque.'

Salmon of Knowledge sculpted metal and oak plaque

Making Bradan proved to be quite a journey in itself. He was a challenging wee beastie to create, twisting and turning through many different forms, just like the salmon itself, that I sought to recreate. There were many early prototypes, and lots of final 'tweaks.' The finished piece has more depth than most of my previous 'Wood and Metal' range, (excepting the 'Celtic Coin Collection,') and this, along with creating various planes of curvature, created much of the challenge.

A journey, perhaps, not quite as heroic as the journey that the salmon make, returning to their natal home, or quite as grand as the journey of Finn macCool towards the wisdom of the world. However, I also grew along the way, needing my own wee bits of courage at times, and picking up my own new pieces of wisdom.

I hope you like Bradan, what went into his making, his mighty leaping, his strength of character and his deep, deep knowing......

Thanks for reading!


Justbod Team

We sold out of Bradan wall plaques sometime ago (bod may revisit Bradan at sometime in the future.) We do, however, have many of his friends available from our 'Creatures' page:

Visit our main site: 

Artwork Carvings & Sculptures
~inspired by history & nature~

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Pictish Boar wall plaque by Justbod
Pictish Boar - Visit our 'Creatures' Page

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Sources and further information: 

Salmon on Wikipedia.
The Salmon of Knowledge - Education Scotland.
The Salmon of Knowledge - Wikipedia
Bradan name derivation
Salmon Folklore
Fionn mac Cumhail / Finn macCool
Assynt Fly Fishing

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