Friday, February 08, 2019

Review: Pagan Portals—Gods and Goddesses of Ireland by Morgan Daimler

Daimler, Morgan. Pagan Portals—Gods and Goddesses of Ireland: A Guide to Irish Deities (2016).

Once again I come away from reading one of Morgan Daimler’s books with a sense of excitement and the urge to wave it in front of all sorts of people saying, “You want this book!” Why, in this case?

If you have ever plunged into Irish mythological texts, or even modern writings about the Irish deities, you will have quickly discovered that there are a LOT of names in there, all baffling if you are unused to Irish spellings, or are unaware that there are multiple forms and spellings for every name, not to mention the plethora of different persons associated with each god or goddess. In one story he is married to so-and-so, in another he is cavorting with someone else; here she is a sympathetic character, there she is a trickster or a dupe. How do you keep them all straight? And how begin to build a sense of each deity in his or her own right and complexity? How winnow through opinion and fact, misinformation and changing perceptions over time? How, on top of all of this, do you honour those you are drawn to?

There are a number of excellent tomes that cover Irish deities and myths in depth. Their worth is undeniable. But if you want to narrow down your focus you would be hard pressed to find a source that maps things out as clearly and beautifully as Pagan Portals—Gods and Goddesses of Ireland.

The Pagan Portals series is a brilliant idea. Each book is short—in this case less than ninety pages—and serves as an introduction to its subject that offers enough information to set you clearly on your path without overwhelming you with detail. It is possible to read one quickly enough to retain a good sense of the general scope of the book, to leave you feeling less rather than more confused.

In this case, Daimler’s purpose is to offer sound scholarly information about the deities in an easily accessible style to assist those interested in following an Irish Pagan path. This book could be of use both to newcomers to Irish Neo-Paganism and to those who have been immersed for some while.

She tackles her topic by dividing the book into three main sections covering the gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the goddesses of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and Irish deities of different or uncertain origins. Instead of limiting herself to the handful of deities we encounter again and again, Daimler includes a number who are much more obscure. She somehow strikes a balance between giving a satisfying survey of their names, relationships, attributes, associations, and elements of their stories, and holding back enough detail that the reader doesn’t end up becoming lost in the thickets.[1] (It must be very hard to stop herself at times—she is well versed in her topic and has many fascinating gems at her disposal.) She is concise and clear without oversimplifying, frequently giving conflicting points of view and allowing the reader to follow up on them if desired rather than simply offering her own favourite theory and omitting all controversy. As well as those of Celtic scholars, she offers perspectives of Irish Neo-Pagan practitioners, and ends each entry with suggestions for how we might honour a given deity in our own lives.

In addition to the individual entries, which range from less than half a page for a deity like Neit, about whom little is known, to over four pages for Macha, Daimler offers excellent advice on how to build a relationship with the deities—not a prescription of rituals and offerings, but an approach to learning and relating that is as wise as it is clear (and again, succinct). A bibliography and recommended reading list are given at the end of the book.

I had not originally thought to include this review in Brigit’s Sparkling Flame. I changed my mind for the simple reason that Brigit is not an isolated goddess, but a part of a rich tapestry of deities from a complex culture, and having a clearer sense, even just a beginning sense, of some of the other gods and goddesses can only strengthen our understanding of and relationship to her. I can think of no better book to wave before Brigidines for this purpose than Pagan Portals—Gods and Goddesses of Ireland.

[1] One detail I find especially interesting which is not often included is the particular geographic area a deity is linked to, where that is known.


Anonymous said...

Great review. I really enjoy her writing and scholarship.

Mael Brigde said...

Thank you!