Sunday, 6 March 2011

In search of the gods

And so finally, I can lay another series of articles to rest...(I think).

I've kind of gone about this arse backwards really, because this last article is all the usual introductory waffle that I think would be helpful to know when looking at the tales and so on, and probably should have come first, while the first bunch of articles I did should have come afterwards.

There are two reasons for not having done this, though: I think that those first articles are probably more interesting to the majority of readers who aren't so interested in wading through my waffle, and in a way if you've read those articles and then go on to this one, it might have a bit more context to it. Secondly, I had a hard time writing this - the other articles came about because I had to take a break from this one, but I wanted (felt I had to, in a way) do something.

Getting hold of some sources was a problem (of my own making, to be fair). Finding a source I initially thought was quite helpful, and then found out that it was written by a Celtic shameon-type who makes a living selling lies and sidelining in the occasional 'academic' article, which turned out to be quite shoddy when I found out and looked up some of the references...So that meant I had to have a rethink a little, and things have had a while to ferment. I have one person in particular to thank for setting me straight on both counts, and they know who they are, in case they want to remain nameless.

It's not an easy kind of thing to write either, because the gods aren't an easy thing to talk about in the sense of reducing them into paragraphs. In a way, it's also difficult to write about this kind of subject because it's something that focuses on a historical perspective, with my usual habit of referencing pretty much every sentence just in case somebody wonders where that came from...Reconstructionists get accused of being too stuffy and academic; too caught up in books and what people with degrees say, and I do talk a lot about both on here, and synthesise a lot of what I find into the articles I write. Sometimes, maybe that accusation is fair enough.

For some reason, though, I'm suddenly aware just how soulless all of this may seem, in a way, coming across as advocating a path of Citing Your Sources With Your Gods.

Oh Lug of lofty deeds,
Golden are the fields,
Heavy hang the fruits,
Ripeness of fame!

We feast on this colcannon and chicken in your honour at this sacred time of Lughnasa, and give to you of our feast and these bilberries because that's what Maire MacNeill says is traditional in The Festival of Lughnasa, first published in 1962 by Oxford University Press...

(Then you get a divine bitchslap - D-, must try harder - for not giving specific page numbers).


Kicking about the internet, as I do, it seems that this is what a lot of people think of as Celtic Reconstructionism. I've seen CR described as too 'backward looking' (on a druid forum, no less); too caught up in books; something that's just made up by Americans so they can play Celtic; CR's not about practising a path, it's more about arguing about every minute detail to prove the size of one's metaphorical penis...With References.

I try to avoid these things, although I guess I can't avoid being American (I'm just not, I'm on the wrong side of the Pond, for one thing). CR may have its origins there, but it's spread far and wide now (Germany, Portugal, France, Brazil, Australia, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland...). I wouldn't say it's simply and only an American movement by any means, but these days it is a fractured one. But that's by the by.

I have to say, though, I'm unashamedly backward-looking, in a sense. Yes, I see reconstructionism as something that's here and now, but for me, part of the point of reconstructionism is trying to understand how people saw the gods in the times when they were worshipped, and so yes, I look back because that seems be a logical thing to do if that's what you're aiming for.

Books are not the be all and end all of reconstructionism, but it does require looking at the sources we have to hand to figure things out. And to do that, we have to look at sources that are often flawed, for one reason or another, so it means we have to be analytical. They don't answer every question we might have, necessarily, but they're a good start. So that involves getting involved, and that makes people opinionated, I guess, and there are quibbles over details. A lot of the times, this quibbling is pointless, but sometimes it's necessary. And yes, sometimes that can spill over into willy waggling on various email lists, but personally, I have no interest in the size of anyone's metaphorical penis...

So when I write, the beginning's pretty much where I tend to start when I can, and if I put it out there and somebody finds it helpful, then I'm glad. History is not the be all and end all, it's the beginning of understanding for me. Where else should I look? But looking is nothing without doing. Even though not many reconstructionists talk publicly about what they do, for various reasons, that doesn't mean that people aren't out there actually living their path. Sometimes, beneath all the books, the quibbling, the perceptions of this and that (rightly or wrongly), that gets lost.

In this case, then, in living and trying to find understanding, and trying to write about something that can only be understood very personally, in many ways, I find myself having written something from my own views as well as from the references I carefully copy out into a notebook before I start writing. In the end, the article is probably more opinionated than the more folkloric articles I've done in the past because this sort of thing has to be personal, I think. Writing always is. But sometimes moreso. And this makes me worry that I might not have articulated myself as well as I should have on some points. But oh well...

I'm also aware that some of it covers similar grounds to Alexei's article Danu and Bile: Primordial Parents, so I've tried to avoid looking at that as a source and do my own legwork. And so then I ended up banging on for so long that I couldn't fit the article onto one page (I tried, and kinda borked the website for a bit the other night). Kinda like how I've blethered on here, too. Soooooo...

The Gods - Part One
The Gods - Part Two


Saigh said...

I have no problem being outed as outing the Seltick Shameon. ~;) And was glad I could help with the article. As I said, it was gifted to me and it was nice to pay it forward.

I've never quite got how people can feel one can't "practice a path" and do research at the same time. I'm capable of many actions. Of course, most of these people see "practice a path" as doing ritual once a week..or once a month..or four times a year and showing garbed photos of themselves online. I admit, my practice is a bit different. I am currently in a bit of pain, good pain, but still pain, from my practice.

I only skimmed the articles, but will read through when I have a bit more time and brain function. I did, of course, zone in on the Morrígan/Anann connection, as I've got an article (and a chapter) in the works that discusses that. But then, that's why I had that particular article.

Personally, I disagree with Carey, in The Irish War Goddess, on several things regarding that connection, but the thing is I think the LGE is just a mess. A horrid, headachey mess. One with transcribal errors (which probably is what led to Anann being an additional sister, when id est, “to wit”) was mistaken and replaced with “7” (ocus, “and”) (Macalister discusses this on pg 310 of his notes on LGE IV and Kim Heijda does in her Badb thesis. But...really, as you mention, the local nature of the Gods, I think that the entire process tends to be very artificial attempt to connect them all into one big family and the genealogies are the most confused part of that.

Which, of course, comes back to the idea that, yes, we need to study these thing, search these things. Those of us good at dealing with the headaches need to write about these things. But this is also why we need UPG and to work with the Gods as well and why we do. Because I can cite what the LGE says in a variety of ways about the War Goddess I serve...but all it does is give me a few more hints on what I am being told. It doesn't all add up and it's probably not supposed to. Because the War Goddess I deal with probably isn't actually the same one someone else calls by the same name. Although he'd be confused if I told him that when he said She was.

And if in that is not a vital, living path, in all the mind boggling thoughts and emotions it can stir I don't know what it is. But I see these all these questions, all these things other see as backwards and "soulless" as being a way to look forward and create and serve and connect and .....

I am far to tired and high on endorphins to be trying to write this right now. From what I've read so far of this, great work again. It's good to have this quality of thought put out here. Thank you!

Tairis said...

Your help was very much appreciated, and thanks for pointing out the transcribal errors - I completely forgot I have Heijda's thesis on my computer somewhere, actually. It probably would've come in handy...

I find the LGE fascinating. It's a huge mess, and headachey as you say, but there's so much in there that tantalises in its implications.

One of my limitations is not being a linguist, so it's difficult for me to argue with people like Carey on certain points. I'm a little too braindead on painkillers to remember if I agreed with him in that article at the moment. More than anything, he comes in handy in presenting the more sceptical side of Celtic Studies, I guess.

Saigh said...

I was very happy to help. And the transcribal error thing is one of my favorite realizations. One because it's part of my own process to figure out what the names are...a big adventure for me, but also just because I think it puts everything into perspective. These were regular guys who wrote this stuff down. Some might have had misogynist (a common claim) agendas, but most probably didn't. They made mistakes. They tried to fix the mistakes they realized they made "adding "was the seventh daughter" is so much easier than starting the whole page over again, after all).

I think "tantalizing" is the perfect word for how I feel going through the LGE and many of the other texts. Which, of course, I think is missed by those who feel we don't practice something because we also study. There can be, really, a thrill, in finding things, even if they don't follow in anything else you find. I suppose some just do not understand.

Yeah, I wouldn't try to argue etymology with Carney, I am very week there. I'm working on it, but it'll never be strong for me and I won't pretend. (Even, you know, when I can get that Old Irish class I intend to get as soon as money and time issues get out of my way...maybe next lifetime) Some of his conclusions, well, I agree with him that the Dumezilian triad thing with Macha is not just flawed by out the window. But I don't quite buy his, and the many others who ascribe to it, dual nature concept either. Of course, if one is approaching it from a totally academic point of view I can understand wanting to break it down that way. But as someone who also, yup, believes, I see Them all as far more complex. Even from an academic POV I would like to think I'd consider that, you know, maybe the people saw Them as more complex as well.

Heijda' thesis is pretty awesome. Along with reading through the texts there are some analysis being done that sort of make me want to dance about it too. She's one.

Mael Brigde, for The Daughters of the Flame said...

Great stuff. Glad Erynn pointed us to this posting. Thanks for writing it.

Tairis said...

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.