The salmon is a fish common to the rivers of Ireland and Great Britain. As such, it has a special place in Insular Celtic mythology.
The salmon is regarded as a symbol of wisdom, difficult to gain. In Irish myth, the salmon of wisdom swims in the well of Nechtan, eating nuts the nine hazel trees, which fell into the well. Boann, wife of Nechtan and lover of the Dagda, attempted to drink from the well, but the well burst and became the river Boyne, named for the goddess. The salmon then swam in the river, but could only be caught by the most worthy.
This most worthy turned out to be Demne, who would later be named Finn Mac Cumhail because of the wisdom he recieved from fish. When the fish was caught, Demne took it to his master, Fintan. As Demne cooked it for his master, some grease splattered onto his thumb. He then recieved the wisdom of the salmon. A similar story is found in Hanes Taliesin, where the young Gwion Bach finds awen after sticking his burned thumb in his mouth; he then sought to escape from Cerridwen by turning into a salmon.
Elsewhere, in The Mabinogion, the Salmon of Llyn Llyw is the oldest animal in the world, and must be found by King Arthur in order to set Mabon ap Modron free, for only the salmon knows where Mabon is imprisoned. In other words, the oldest creature knows where the god of light is hidden. Wisdom is the way to enlightenment.
Finally, as said before, the salmon is a favorite food in Ireland, due to its abundance (and it just tastes good, too).
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Mary Jones © 2003