Red Branch by Morgan Llywelyn (1989)

Hi all…

I want to share with you one of my favorite books of all time. Red Branch, by Morgan Llywelyn, was published back in 1989. Red Branch is based on the Irish myth of Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster, and his journey from a boy of questionable lineage to one of the great heroes of Ulster and Erin/Eire/Ireland. I have an old, beaten paperback copy of the book that I take out from time to time to re-read. It’s a magical story for me.

Red Branch

Born to Dectera, raised at Dun Dalgan, Setanta believed himself to be the son of Dectera and Sualtim. Yet Sualtim never seemed to fully embrace Setanta as his own, which puzzled the boy. As he grew and learned the story of his mother’s pregnancy, he began to understand, yet never truly forgive Sualtim. As Setanta grew, so did his search for adventure, which eventually took him to Emain Macha, seat of the King of Ulster, Conor mac Nessa, who took the boy under his wing as a foster son.

As Setanta grew from boy to man, he was given the name Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster, for his actions, and proved to be a magnificent warrior, eventually becoming the Champion of Ulster and a fierce warrior for the king. He was found to be a magical being, becoming more than himself when the Rage was upon him and nigh unbeatable by his foes.

Yet, he found his match in the woman Emer, who eventually became his wife and allowed him to show that he was more than a warrior. She was one of his staunchest supporters, helping him deal with many of the victories and hardships that accompanied his role as the Champion of Ulster.

One of my favorite passages is of the Goddess of War, Morrigan, the Raven, as she discusses mankind and magic:

Magic is but a label for a body of observable circumstance. To deny the reality of that which can be observed is unreasonable, which is why those who use magic effectively are those who reason more clearly than other beings. Theirs is an awareness that springs intuitively from heightened perceptions of the world as it really is. Magicians do not accept a limited reality worked out by the painful intellectual plodding of less gifted individuals.

Magic is a talent carried in the blood and the spirit, but conversely, all those abilities that humans call talents are really forms of magic. Poetry and healing and making music are simply observable expressions of the creative force that is magic.

One with a talent for magic can sense others so gifted, even if he or she never recognizes the common thread uniting them. Sometimes the awareness comes strongly; sometimes it departs unexpectedly, leaving a haze in the memory. Yet each of you has encountered magic somewhere, sometime.

Do you remember?

To know a magician, look in the eyes. They are clear and aware. If you see him, he will know that you are seeing him. A magician does not hide behind his eyes; he puts everything into them to be recognized by those who know how. In every culture, the ignorant have mistaken such beings for demons– or gods.

Humans who think they can explain magic or gods have experienced neither. Yet both surround you.

Open the eyes of your spirit and see.

This book affected me at a level unreached by any other book to date. And I have read many amazing books. But this is at the top of my list.

Thanks for your time. Check out Red Branch at your local library or find a copy and let me know what you think of the book. I’ll be curious to hear.

–Fitz

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