6. Céilsine — Finances and Cíosanna Dlite

This is the description of the sixth roinn saoghail that I introduced in my post, ‘Ceud Cheuman air an Ath-thuras.’ For an overview of the entire system, see that post.

In our modern context this relates to money and business, but the original word implied relationships that were set by specific contracts and in which one member was a benefactor and the other a client or dependent. This idea is as relevant to our lives with our bank accounts, credit cards and employers as it was in the far past with lords and tenants. This area relates specifically to how we foster and support those clientships in which we find ourselves either as a client or as the one retaining dependents.

In the modern language, a céile is a companion. A husband, for example, is a fearchéile, literally a man-céile, just as a wife is  a banchéile, literally a woman-céile. The Irish equivalent of the phrase “bit by bit” is do réir a chéile, literally “according to its céile.” These suggest an intimacy and, in regards to the terms for husband and wife, an equivalency, but the Brehon Laws are constant in using the term exclusively for relationships involving at least some degree of dependancy. In English, ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ literally mean ‘house-dweller’ (from the Old English hus-buend) and ‘woman’ (which is actually wif-man. The word ‘man’ used to mean simply a person and did not always have to denote a male. The word ‘woman’ actually specifies what kind of ‘man’ is meant.) In most European cultures during the Middle Ages, marriage was very often considered a contract made between families. In almost all of Christian Europe, this contract involved a woman leaving her family and joining a man’s family as his dependent, but in Gaelic Ireland and Scotland dependency was determined by whomever brought more wealth to the marriage. This is why Meadhbh and Aillil argue at the beginning of the Táin Bó Cuailgne about who brought more to their marriage, and Meadhbh becomes obsessed with obtaining the Donn Cuailgne. She can’t abide the idea of being dependent on any man, particularly Aillil who is her junior by a good number of years. Banchéile and fearchéile are decidedly vague on who is dominant in the relationship, though Christian tradition customarily places the woman in the inferior role.

In most situationss, a céile would be what we would consider a tenant, and Brehon Law defined such relationships in several different ways. In every circumstance, however, the defining feature of céilsine was a kind of economic trust in which someone possessing a higher degree of wealth extended some of their power to another. In the oldest laws this involved the transference of a certain number of cattle, and depending on the nature of céilsine into which the dependent entered there were several conditions allowed for the dissolving of the relationship when the dependent gave back the original number of cattle plus some increase. In addition, a certain number of cattle were required every year in addition to other responsibilities inherent to the particular kind of céilsine. This was not the only form of céilsine, however, and the relationship of performers, artisans and warriors was also conceived in terms of céilsine with rights and responsibilities defined according to the nature of the profession and status of the individual. In this way, our modern notions of employment, credit and even citizenship all fall under the heading of céilsine.

This roinn thus encompasses those relationships that define us is terms of our societal position through marriage, national status (such as citizenship), employment, credit-standing, and any other relationship that 1) impacts our economic well-being and 2) requires some kind of ongoing responsibility to maintain it. Many people don’t think of their citizenship in these terms, feeling that their status as a native citizen of a country requires no attention. Nevertheless, being a citizen requires the paying of taxes and properly some kind of attention to the governance that is in place through voting in elections, supporting candidates for office and keeping in touch with ongoing political developments. Attending to this roinn thus means setting aside time to not only maintain present céilsine but actively pursue those relationships that will advance one’s standing in life.

It is also important to remember that there is more to these relationships than simply economics. Popular notions of marriage are romantic in today’s society, but the reality of marriage is that each member has a responsibility both economically and socially to the other. This is not to belittle the emotional involvement but to show that every céilsine has such an emotional and even spiritual dimension inherent to it. For citizenship this emotional involvement is called patriotism, but (at least in North America) employment is usually thought to be devoid of any emotional involvement. If, however, your employment is in accord with your gairm then it is easy to see how there could an emotional dimension there suggested by both employee loyalty and benefits. It is very possible that the alienation, frustration and lack of self-worth that many feel in today’s society arises when this emotional side of céilsine is ignored.

Where the application of this notion of céilsine to modern life gets tricky is in looking at banking and usual commerce, as there is an important distinction to be made between the exchange of goods and services and the kind of on-going, very personal relationship denoted by céilsine. Buying groceries from a store is clearly not entering into céilsine, but financing a car could be conceived in such terms. When one finances a car, the buyer enters into a contractual relationship where the car becomes the property of the buyer in exchange for an ongoing responsibility to pay regular installments. This is not a proper example of céilsine, however, because the car never returns to the dealer. There is a permanent exchange of goods however long the actual exchange takes. In a real example of céilsine, value would be bestowed on an individual but any exchange of goods would not be so much equal to the value but part of an ongoing relationship between the bestower and the one who received the value. A car manufacturer who had received all capital for startup and enough to supply the first five years’ of production would owe, say, one or more cars a year to the one who put forward the capital, and then the manufacturer could conclude the céilsine by repaying the whole amount of the capital investment plus a certain amount or a stated number of vehicles.

The difference between céilsine and the every-day exchange of goods can be likened to the difference between investment and retail banking, although this is not a perfect parallel. When an investor gives their money to a firm they enter into a relationship wherein the company has a responsibility to keep the investor informed and allows the investor certain rights and influence in the governing of the company. Either party may end the relationship by returning the value originally offered at whatever value it currently holds. Conversely, retail banking (the form of banking most people experience) is actually a form of exchange in which individuals pay the bank for the service of keeping their money safe. This parallel isn’t perfect because, first, it is possible for an investor to never recoup the initial capital invested in a company and, second, in retail banking there is a kind of formal relationship in which the individual is basically investing in the bank.

The point here, though, is not to apply the term céilsine to modern practices but to begin redefining one’s dealings with people with céilsine as a guide. The modern banking system has proven itself vulnerable to abuses that can produce gross economic catastrophe. By thinking in terms of céilsine with regard to everything from taxes, the paying of bills, employment and banking, it is possible to shift focus away from the money that is changing hands to the connections with real people that it represents. It is possible to more thoroughly fulfill one’s responsibilities economically, politically and socially and begin creating relationships with people that will ultimately bring further abundance to all concerned.

There are many ramifications to this, most important of which in terms of what should be addressed is the ways in which céilsine could be seen as a way of binding and controlling others. Unfortunately, this post has already gone on for a great deal of time, so I will hold off on further explication until later.

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