Creepy-crawly: The virtues of the Fomhoire

“Cian Finds Balor’s Daughter”, drawing by H.R. Millar, c. 1905. Eithne is a Fomhoire and the mother of Lugh — proving that they’re not all ugly.

In the vision, the ants loom like giants — akin to a horror film. And similarly gigantic, a catbird appears with its keen black eye and gobbles them up. It then takes flight and then lands, appropriately catbird-sized, on Brighid’s outflung hand.

“They are Fomhoire,” she explains.

“But they’re ants!” I sputter. “Just ants. They have infested the house before.”

“There is the interior problem and the exterior problem,” she nods. “Yes, just ants in one sense, but the symptom of something deeper in another. You need to address both. That’s what you have allies for.”

Another vision: Catbird and woodpecker, gobbling them up and then fanning with mighty wings, blowing the ants into a fire.

Ants, just ants.

What are the Fomhoire? 

The Fomorians, as depicted by John Duncan (1912) Not exactly the best-looking bunch in human terms.

The term “Fomhoire” or “Fomorians” is one you’ll encounter in Irish myth, particularly the earlier, non-heroic cycles. The derivation is unclear, and includes such speculation as “the great undersea/underworld ones” and “lower demons.” At any rate, they’re considered bad dudes and described as ugly and misshapen — one-eyed, one-legged and somehow formidable despite being gimps.

Interestingly, they’re apparently not universally ugly or misshapen because they intermarry with the Tuatha Dé Danann; Lugh’s mother Eithne is Fomhoire, for example. They’e similar in this respect to the Norse Jotun (Giants), the Vedic Asuras (demons) or the Greek Titans — another elder race of divine beings, older in some accounts than the Gods. The Fomhoire, it must be pointed out, lived on the land — Ireland in the myth, but possibly the entire world from the original Celtic point of view — before the arrival of the Gods.

Like the Jotun and the Asuras, the Fomhoire are beings of considerable power, although largely used for negative ends. They’re the other side of the coin of divinity — the side that doesn’t like us all that much.

In the medieval mind, these beings would be considered devils and the epitome of evil. I don’t use the “e word” for them because I think it’s a cheap way out and neglects some basic truths: that humans and human well-being aren’t the reason and purpose for the multiverse. The gods who watch over tigers, for example, probably don’t care much for our tribe of clever, naked monkeys — and see them, in fact, as an existential threat for their community of care (tigers).

In Norse myth, the Jotun seem explicitly aligned with natural forces — namely, fire and ice. The Fomhoire can similarly be seen as deities of wild (i.e., nonhuman) nature, deities whose cares and concerns are alien to our own, whose forms seem ugly and wrong to us — but beautiful and mighty to those creatures with which they are aligned. We only matter to them as threats, resources or tasty snacks.

It’s not the same as being evil; there is a purpose and order to it, just not ours. They introduce chaos to the (human) order we prefer and thrive on.

Humans, too, can tap into Fomhoire power. Sociopathy and psychopathy are non-functional in terms of human community, but they are traits that may well fit into other, predatory paradigms; the same goes for parasitism. In terms of human community, we judge Jotun- or Fomhoire-like traits with evil, and I suppose they are evil when it comes to human society. These traits go against rta, dharma, firinne — whatever term you’d like to use for the cosmic order.

Fucking ants

Ants are, as it happens, a damn good example of the Fomhoire. In human terms, they invade our orderly homes, introducing filth, disorder and a whole shitload of stress. They damage our homes and — in the case of some species — set aphids to graze on our plants, which they then milk. They’re ugly and turn the stomach by their misshapen presence.


Look, then, with new eyes. They are an orderly society, and a cleanly one that regularly rids their nests of waste. They are innovative, exploratory, obedient to their leaders. They are capable of great feats of strength, and self-sacrifice to serve the whole. Hell, they domesticated other insects.

They have an order, a purpose, a reason-to-be — but it’s just not ours. We naked monkeys are just in the way, or we are resources to be used — as monumental as trees and, to ants, as inscrutable as them. Like the Fomhoire, they were here first.

It doesn’t make infestation any easier to deal with, I must say; all I can feel is disgust as I stamp them down and sweep them up by the hundreds. The exterminator can’t make it out until Monday, and we may have to call a contractor in the long run to get rid of the hollow roof-beam where they live.

We do have allies, but damn — I can totally see why the Fomhoire turned back wave after wave of other settlers before they were finally (but impermanently) defeated.


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