The most well known legend of Boann says that there was a sacred well containing the source of knowledge. All were forbidden to approach this well, with the exception of Nechtan and his servants. Boann ignored this ban and approached the sacred well and lifted the cover, violating the purity of the area. For her disobedience, she was punished. The waters of the well rose, transformed into a raging river that pursued her. In some versions of the legend, she drowned- in others, she outran the waters. In either case, the water became the river known from that time forth as the Boyne, and Boann became the presiding deity.
Another legend recounts an instance of Boann’s kindness and vengeance...
There was once an ancient village. It was a modest place, with sturdy houses and a smithy. Most of the people worked the land and a few made a living at trades needed by the farmers. They even had a Druid, who would dispense wisdom from his place in a nearby grove. Now, one of the men who made his living trading goods and services was a man we would today call a tanner. He and his wife would take hide from cattle and make leather for a variety of goods for the village. They had many children and all was well in their world.
One day the tanner noticed that his wife began to change, her speech turned into nonsense and she did strange things. It was apparent that she had gone mad. The tanner struggled to work twice as hard to make enough leather to support them. As his wife slipped deeper into her madness this became harder still, between taking care of her and working. Soon, less leather was available to sell, and with winter coming it looked as though starvation would visit his home. The goddess Boann looked upon this man and decided that the effort he made to save his family was deserving of her help. Secretly, she went to a farmer in the village and told him of the tanner's need. These were times when charity was not often done, for the world was a hard place and it was necessary for ones own family to come first. Boann told the farmer that in return for helping the tanner she would ensure that his fields the next year were fruitful and that he would have double the yield of all others in the village. But, as with all deals with gods or goddesses, there were conditions.
The winter was especially harsh that year. Once each week though, on some particularly nasty night, the farmer would appear at the tanner's door and leave food- enough to sustain the tanner and his family for the week. As part of his arrangement with Boann he could tell no one of his charity, not even his wife.
The winter brought many other changes to the tanner's house. Early that year his wife walked off into the frozen night and died in the woods. The farmer continued to leave food and never did the tanner or his family question or seek the source of the donations at their door. They merely thanked the gods for the gifts and continued to work hard to survive. The spring came, and with it was the renewal of the fields. As promised, those of the farmer were so filled with the bounty of the earth that all the villagers marvelled. The others told him that come the harvest his barns would be bulging with the blessings of the earth. And so it did- when the farmer's barns were filled to capacity, he traded much of the excess for goods and fine things for his home.
Many of the other farmers came to him for advice on planting for the next spring. The farmer, swelling with pride at his fame, told them that the reason for his fortune was that he had fed the tanner the winter before and the harvest he had taken in was payment for that service. Everyone praised him for his generosity. Not everyone was so pleased though. Boann was furious at what the farmer had done. That fall great storms blew through the village, with each came lightning and one by one the farmer's barns were hit and burned with all their contents before his eyes. His future in the dark months ahead looked bleak. Confused at his sudden reversal of fortune he went to the grove of the Druid to ask for answers.
The Druid, knowing his situation and hearing the tale, told him simply, "When you fed the tanner and his family, and no one knew you did it for Boann, the credit was hers. When you told all that you had fed the family, you did it for you. Your reward from Boann was forfeit".
The lesson of the farmer is simple: Charity is best done without a face, for then its motivation is without question.
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