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imbas forosnai

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[Ir. imbas, great knowledge, poetic talent, inspiration; forosnai, that illuminates].

A special gift for prophetic knowledge or clairvoyance thought to be possessed by poets, especially the ollam as the highest rank of fili, in early Ireland. Descriptions of the ritual allowing the poet to exercise his imbas forosnai are found in the 10th-century Sanas Cormaic [Cormac's Glossary]. The poet chews a piece of the red flesh of a pig, dog, or cat, and then puts it on a flagstone near the door and chants an invocation over it to unnamed gods. He chants over his two palms and asks that his sleep not be disturbed, and then puts his two palms on his cheeks and sleeps. Men guard him that he may not be disturbed or turned over. At the end of three days and nights the poet may judge whether imbas forosnai has come to him. The amazonian Scáthach makes prophecies through imbas forosnai, and in the Táin Bó Cuailnge Medb asks Fedelm whether she has acquired it. Of all Irish figures, Fionn mac Cumhaill demonstrates imbas forosnai most consistently. St Patrick was thought to have abolished imbas forosnai as a denial of baptism, but a counterpart in Christian contexts was known as córus cerda [the gift of poetry]. This power appears to be a combination of fios [occult power] and teinm laída. See Rudolf Thurneysen, ‘Imbas Forosnai’, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, 19 (1932), 163–4; Nora K. Chadwick, ‘Imbas Forosnai’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, 4 (2) (1935), 97–135. See also AWENYDDION; DIVINATION; SHAMANISM.

Subjects: Religion

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