Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: Pagan Portals—Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism by Morgan Daimler

An excellent primer on Celtic Reconstructionism and the deities and beliefs of ancient Ireland.

 (Also mentioned, Daimler, Morgan, Tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann; Daimler, Morgan, Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann; Laurie, Erynn Rowan, Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom; and NicDhàna, Laurie, Vermeers and Lambert ní Dhoireann, The CR FAQ — An Introduction to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism.)

So why is this book on a Brigit blog? Because, and I truly do believe this, whatever our background or spiritual leanings, the more we understand about the world Brigit emerged from and the world which embraces her now, the deeper our connection with her will become. 

Pagan Portals—Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism is another short book by Morgan Daimler that gets straight to the point—a clear, comprehensive manual that dusts away cobwebs and guides the reader in helpful directions. The other such by her that I have reviewed (favourably) was Pagan Portals— Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well.

By its nature, the present book cannot be as precisely tuned as the Brigit book; its topic is much vaster and its page count similar. Not difficult. Daimler still manages to identify key topics and dispatch them creditably. There are times when I wished for more detail—also not difficult. She footnotes beautifully so that the reader can consult elsewhere for that fleshing out. To attempt to put all the rich detail possible into this book would have defeated its purpose. For clarity on what is a deep and rambling topic, with dozens of possible interpretations of the materials, Daimler’s choice of a smooth outline and spare prose is perfect.

Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism contains quick, nicely referenced notes on what Celtic Reconstructionism is and isn’t, basic beliefs, deities, spirits, holy days, an Irish Polytheistic approach to ritual, magic and mysticism, and so on.

I read it, without planning to, at the same time as Daimler’s pair of palm-sized bilingual (Irish and English) booklets, Treasures of the Tuatha  Dé Danann and Tales of the Tuatha  Dé Danann. She has selected key passages from Irish myths and translated them here. I found reading these booklets in tandem with  Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism helped illuminate the character of some of the deities, as well as the sense of story and Otherworld from an Old Irish point of view.

A nice follow-up would be Erynn Rowan Laurie’s Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom, which goes into greater detail on many of the above elements, including what CR is, its ethics, and approach to ritual, as well as homing in on texts and traditions that illuminate the various letters of the ogam alphabet. This yields a practical tool for the type of spirituality Daimler offers us here in broad strokes. Daimler herself gives a list of readings to turn to next, including the CR: FAQ, which I would agree is an important book for getting a grasp on what CR encompasses and aspires to.

Not every aspect of the book worked for me. Most particularly, I wish Moon Books would get a good copy editor and not let errors slip by (though I admit there are not many, and the layout can’t be faulted). Recalling that a book like this is ideal for beginners, a glossary with new words and terms, or the word listed with the page where it is defined, would be a good compromise in a short book where there is no index, and would be easy enough to add to the pronunciation page. There are times, too, when ancient and modern, Pagan and Christian are subtly blurred, such that they don’t completely reflect reality and can cause confusion.

As one who doesn’t do a lot that would be termed magical, myself, I found Daimler’s description of the place of magic in the daily life of our ancestors and the nuts and bolts of how Irish spells might be constructed quite illuminating. And finally, her discussion of cultural appropriation, with a rare and valuable explanation of what the term exactly means and when it is and isn’t a bad or good thing, was extremely valuable to me. Clearly, though this book would make a great introduction to someone newly interested in Irish Polytheism or Celtic Reconstructionism generally, it has gems on offer, too, for those who have been involved in the movement for some time.

I look forward to reading my next book by Morgan!

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