Sunday, 23 May 2010

Book review: Witta

Just to break things up, I'll put this review separately to the previous post:

Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition
Edain McCoy

Now here's a little slice of neopagan history...

Really, perhaps this book is best forgotten. Perhaps I shouldn't review it. But then again, I've reviewed Buckland's PectiWita effort, so really it's only fair. It would be rude not to.

Way back when this was first published, in all of 1993, there was a huge explosion in the neopagan market for this kind of stuff. Wicca was well-established by this time, and Hutton had yet exploded a few myths on that with his Triumph of the Moon, and so people were starting to wonder about the alternatives out there, looking for something more...specific to their tastes.

So along come books like Witta, this one offering the Old Religion of Ireland in a neatly packaged, suitably green (of course) cover. It's not Wicca, but it sure as hell looks like it (there's the "Wiccan or Wittan Rede", the four elements, the ritual tools like the knife or sword, the wand, the chalice, the besom, and pentagrams agogo). But wait! It's not a rip off because many of these things are natural additions to the tradition over time. And of course it looks like Wicca, because really it's just a sister religion to it. Gardner brought us Ye Olde Religion of Britain, y'see. Here's what it looks like on the other side of the Irish Sea...Both evolved in slightly different ways. Nyah.

In case you're wondering where the druids fit in to the picture, they were "the real power in Ireland" from around the second century BCE to the fourth century CE. But Witta, so the author tells us, has its origins in the earliest Celtic period, pre-druids. Witta continued, of course, and with the coming of the druids, they changed a lot about the Wittan religion, and often served "as a bridge between the matrifocal and patriarchal periods."

But, erm...What's actually Irish about it then? Classical elements? Drawing down the moon? Ritual robes? Cones of Power? Matriarchy?

It's certainly not the name, that's for sure. How McCoy came up with that and thought she could get away with it, I don't know. Or, if her claims that she learnt the tradition from an authentic Irish woman, in Ireland, are actually true, then more fool the author for not checking the basic facts.

But then, consider this gem, for one:

"Potatoes, Ireland's staple crop, were used magickally in spells for healing and fertility, and were also carved into various forms for image magick much as the mandrake root is today. Because they grew underground potatoes were sacred to the Goddess and used in female fertility rites. Potatoes have a grounding effect. If you feel frazzled and stressed out cuddle a potato."

Of course, the author does point out (elsewhere) that the potato is a latecomer to Ireland. But still. And in case you missed it the first time, let me repeat it:


Really? Maybe I'm just an awful cynic. Maybe I'm seriously missing out on some seriously good potato cuddles. But I think I'll give it a miss.

Although on the plus side, there's less chance of getting infested with wee creepy crawlies such as hugging a tree presents...

There are so many other problems, as well. Cernunnos is neither an Irish god, nor a Greek name. Beltene, "Irish god of death"? Really? Seriously? Colcannon is an old Wittan tradition? Umm; The Burning Times™; and so on. Let us not forget the evil patriarchal penis either...

I suppose I should make it clear, it's not necessarily the system that's presented that I have a problem with - I mean, it essentially is just Wicca with shamrocks and potatoes slapped on - I mean, it does seem to have worked for some people and I wouldn't be surprised if there were still a few Wittans out there. Personally, though, it's not for me (I'm sure you're shocked and surprised). I've come across a few Wittans over the years, and most haven't lasted long on various fora because ultimately, when the majority of people tell you your religion isn't historically accurate at all, really, and the author who sold that religion has put such a heavy stress on its authenticity and historicity, having that undermined by other people doesn't tend to go down too well. And really, when you take away the potatoes, there's not much left that you can't find elsewhere.

The book is a contradiction in terms. It even contradicts itself from the front cover to the back - on the front, it's "An Irish Pagan Tradition", on the back it's "the Old Religion of Ireland" (emphasis mine). Make your mind up! Ultimately, I just don't see how anyone can come away from having read the book and not feel lied to, barefaced, and gladly skipping off the bank with your hard-earned cash.

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