Saturday, 28 May 2011

Bealltainn - part two

Mmmmmm. Cheese scones...

I finally got around to finishing off my Bealltainn celebrations just shy of two weeks after I started - there was ritual, there were offerings, there were bannocks, and scones, and stew,  and also skimming and saining, and making of charms, and cutting of rowan for the charm-making thereof...Things were a little muted, but I'm learning to adapt to a new life of not always being so mobile, and making the most of when I can.

There's nothing like living with constant pain - of varying degrees, at least - and the side effects of medications meant to help control the pain, to give someone a bit of a boot up the arse as far as spirituality and practice go. Or me, that is. And as far as life in general goes, really. At the moment I'm in a medical limbo between getting a diagnosis (the ins and outs of which are far too boring to go into) and getting the appropriate treatment for my particular problem, so I'm both waiting and doing what I can in terms of living and coping without too many drugs fogging up my brain, and adapting life to within means I'm actually capable of. Fun.

Inevitably, it seems, compromises will have to be made in future. From now on, if my back isn't up to it then the festive dinners may not always be slavishly cooked from scratch, the bread not freshly baked, or the butter freshly churned, as I'd prefer, but the intent remains the same. Likewise, ritual may have to become more internalised at times, rather than accompanied by ritualised actions and gestures, but until I ever reach the point where I can delegate these things, what will be will be. I do those things because I enjoy doing them, because it makes sense to me; not because I have to, not because it makes me more spiritual in some way.

One thing I can still do, though, is read. I haven't done as much reading as I'd like lately, really (medication and brain fog etc), but I have a small backlog accumulating, and over the next however many posts I'll be trying to clear it. First up is:

Celtic Flame: An Insider's Guide to Irish Pagan Tradition
Aedh Rua

As I understand it, this was originally written as a CR101 book, but never quite made it that far, for one reason or another. The author himself stresses that he no longer identifies as CR, although the influence of some of those who were involved in the early stages of the CR community (especially Alexei Kondratiev) is unmistakeable. The book also begins with a veritable who's who of movers and shakers as far as the founders of CR are concerned.

Perhaps because of all this - both the author's involvement, the influence, and the many names invoked here - I can't help but feel that the focus of the book gets a little confused at times. On the one hand, it's not a CR book, but one that describes the author's own path and beliefs. Fair enough. On the other, it seems that the audience the author is talking to is meant to be, or expected to be, CR, since this is the community most often referred to.

This might be indicative of the fact that the book and the author evolved in their path over the course of its writing, or else it could be that the author simply assumes that the CR community, or those interested in it, will indeed be his audience. If it's the latter, I don't think it really works too well; if it's the former, then it's probably symptomatic of the fact that this is a self-published title and, like so many under that heading, in need of some editing - and certainly elsewhere, in terms of layout, formatting and proofreading, it could use some work too. There's nothing major here, but the Bibliography alone causes a headache if you actually want to find something; the references don't always seem to match up to what's being talked about, and so on.

It's an odd sort of book. In terms of doing what it offers, I think it does well - you come away with a good idea what the author's path is all about, even if there is some confusion as I've mentioned. I would have to disagree that it's 'authentic Irish pagan tradition' as the author presents it; rather, it's one way of doing things, and I have to say I find language like that a little concerning and disconcerting. The chapter on values, however, genuinely offers something that I've not seen elsewhere - outside of Alexei Kondratiev's article on Celtic Values, which it draws heavily on - although it maybe ends up going on a little too long as far as how they relate to different levels of society is concerned.

The author also goes out of his way to include a good amount of Irish (and in the ritual chapter, Scottish Gaelic, too) - introducing Irish words for concepts he's explaining, explaining what they mean, and so on. That's a definite plus, but along the way all these different words gets hard to keep track of, and I didn't realise there was a handy glossary given at the back until I'd nearly finished the whole book (it's not listed in the contents page). The Irish in particular seems a bit confused to me, with - as far as I can tell - Old Irish and modern Irish mixed up at times, but always with modern pronunciations given (when they're given at all). This may be an issue of spelling/proofing more than anything else, but I would be leery of using any of it myself without checking it thoroughly first. In the ritual chapter, I have to give the author props for being upfront and honest that his Irish isn't up to adapting the Gàidhlig of the Carmina Gadelica, but I'm not sure that simply adapting the Gàidhlig with Irish deities is nothing more than something of a fudge - this is supposed to be Irish Paganism, it seems to detract a little from that.

The ritual format is not something I personally get along with - tools, casting a circle to make a sacred space, invocations to deities and so - but some of the poetry here is quite good and inspiring. With the Carmina Gadelica being a major source for inspiration here, it's maybe not something that will be unfamiliar, but I'm always interested in what other people do with it, and how they approach the material.

The section on gods also bears mentioning - the way the gods, spirits and ancestors are split up into the 'head' gods, 'specialist gods (of skill) tutelary spirits/gods, and so on - is genuinely nothing I've ever seen before and interesting for that alone, even if I don't entirely agree with the reasoning. One problem I have here is that the gods are listed in terms of attributes and symbols (including lunar/solar stuff for good measure), with a handy reference guide on what to call on them for - it comes across more like a menu for rent-a-god than anything with real depth, and certainly is one of the points where the author and most CRs would most definitely disagree.

His views on the Fomorians are a little too black and white - he has them as demons, eternally pitted against the Tuatha Dé Danann. At the very least, this seems to ignore the fact that after the Fomoire were defeated at the Second Battle of Mag Tured, they're never mentioned in an adversarial role again (as far as I can recall. The TDD themselves take on that role, against the Milesians, even). It also ignores later Irish folk tradition. Other types of spirits are included under the Fomorian title, though, including Scottish ones like the Fachan, which not only confuses the Irish focus in the book otherwise, but also doesn't address the point that although they might seem similar, but that doesn't mean they're the same...I think if you find this book of interest, this is a chapter best ignored.

All in all, this seems to be a book that came so close, and yet didn't go far enough in some areas. To a certain extent it feels unfinished in a way that I can't exactly put my finger on. Certain parts feel like they need fleshing out - a little spit and polish wouldn't go amiss in general - and over all I think it would've done better to stand on its own merits rather than in the shadow (even nominally) of CR.

1 comment:

nefaeria said...

I do hope that you are able to find out what your precise needs are medically and that you can find a comfortable routine. One that does not feel like you are sacrificing too much.

Thank you for all the reviews you have posted today, I enjoyed reading them all.