Wisdom: Cúig Conaire Saoithiúlachta

The nine virtues (of ADF — I’ll post more fully on them in the future) have been kicking around in my head for some time, and now on the full moon I think it is time that I compose something for the first of them. I have always been fascinated with wisdom and the beauty of it; the harmony of justice – and here I mean real, living justice and not the false shadow that men have created – has always astounded and impressed me. Even more do I see it these days even as people say that there is no justice. There is nothing but justice, though many do not see it. At its most basic level, wisdom is the ability to see and read justice, harmony and balance in the workings of the world.

Naturally, I must qualify this last statement; many people refer to the world of men as ‘the world.’ I do not see it this way. The world is everything taken together as a whole. This includes the world of men, but the world of men does not include much of the rest. The Great Law, or Ṛta, defines human patterns and movements but not internally or even with respect to human systems. The job of the juridically prudent is to percieve the divine laws which work all around us and render them understandable and practical for human interests and priorities. Of course, what this really amounts to is accounting for human ignorance and egotism, but it is really half of a dozen of one and six of the other. In my estimation, there are five forms of wisdom:

Fuigell (Breithiúnas)

This form of wisdom might be considered jurisprudence, but this makes it sound far too litigious or perhaps wily. For this reason I have decided to go with the Old Irish form of the word as from Cóic Conara Fugill (‘the Five Paths of Judgment’ – my model for this post). For me, this kind of wisdom is akin to critical thought and resembles very much the wisdom of the academic who has studied their matter in full and thus possesses the benefit of uncommon insight. There is more to this, however, as the academic can easily become a haranguing cynic or know-it-all, just as the king may become a tyrant and the lawyer a litigious scoundrel. The real wisdom that I mean here is the ability to draw a connection between the often obscure points of learned tradition as it is passed down to us (and which can be manipulated by the malicious), the harmonies and balances of the divine as it can be seen in the world all around us, and the practical matter of what must be done to accomodate and foster the welfare of all concerned. Fuigell is both synthetic and critical, bridging the seeming contradiction between incisive judgment and healing restitution.


This is the kind of wisdom that stems from experience and is almost wholly practical in effect. Críonnacht is what may be termed peritia in Latin, giving us the term ‘expert.’ This is on the one hand the wisdom of the advisor who possesses the benefit of long hind-sight, but it is also the wisdom of the master-craftsman who simply knows how a given art works. At the heart of this form of wisdom is the ability to understand the flow of a situation, reading the currents and pressures that so often guide events and acting accordingly. Críonnacht is knowing when and where a blow should fall or when and what kind of word should be said. Of all the other paths of wisdom, it is where the understanding of divine law is felt most openly in human understanding as it above all others makes all things easy and new.


In the modern languages this word is the closest to Science, but I take this more in the original meaning of scientia as ‘knowledge.’ Eolaíocht is that form of knowledge that comes of looking at evidence and drawing conclusions, but it is also the accumulation of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. As such, a great part of eolaíocht is drawing connections between disparate areas of knowledge and constructing easily understood and remembered formulations or paradigms that allow the fruit of knowledge to be enjoyed by as many as possible.


This form of wisdom is the ecstatic, mantic and inspired wisdom of the poet. It comes from direct inspiration by the gods and brings with it both revelation and sometimes madness. This form of wisdom would look like psychic abilities but for the fact that poetic art and discipline hone and cultivate it, offering expression to something that would otherwise be unintelligible. It is important to mention that there is a range to this kind of wisdom from the gentlest intuition to being ridden by a god after the fashion of voodoo. The term also applies to the knowledge communicated by tradition in the form of gnomic or eddaic verses.


The fifth path of wisdom draws from the other four. It is the path of knowing how to combine the book-learning of eolaíocht, the mantic insight of eígse, the critical insight of fuigell and the expertise of críonnacht. To put this another way, this path of wisdom is the path of being outside and inside of yourself at the same time, combining objectivity and subjectivity in an enlightened moment of genuine wisdom. This is the calm, removed awareness of the Christian monk and the Zen-Buddhist priest, but it is also the Enlightenment scholar’s ability to be singularly aware of each person’s place and importance in history as well as society.


3 responses to “Wisdom: Cúig Conaire Saoithiúlachta

  1. Thank you for this enlightening insight into the many aspects and classifications of Wisdom. I am aware that the Irish word “Gaois” is also used for wisdom, and wonder if you have considered in what context the word gaois is used, and where in the spectrum of wisdom it fits.

    • Go raibh míle math agat air an ráiteas! Keep in mind that this is all my own reflection on the tradition. Native speakers might disagree with me on points regarding how the terms are used in the modern language. In my own mind, gaois, being the more common word that is used for wisdom, has a broader range of application and covers all of these different terms. My choice of the word saoithiúlacht here is in parallel with the English word sagacity, so I was choosing words that also had a strong suggestion of learned tradition. Gaois, in my opinion, is very much an inherent, unlearned quality that is perhaps closer to what we conceive as wisdom, so it is either present or not. All these other qualities can be developed through attentive study.

      Thanks again!

  2. Pingback: ar na gCúig gConara arís: More on the Five Paths | Dream na Dhía·

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