A statue of Manannán Mac Lir on Binevenagh Mountain in Ireland, near Limavady in County Londonderry, was recently stolen. Really this is an act of desecration as a cross was left in its place with that all-too familiar message of militant monotheism, ‘you shall have no other gods before me’. It’s not a bad time to reflect on how early Christianity spread in massive acts of destruction of sacred artworks, groves and temples. We admire the beauty of classical statuary that have eyes gouged out, heads and limbs missing, and don’t think about how they came to be defaced.
The sculptor John Sutton has worked on the TV productions of Game of Thrones. Since the media has framed this in headlines like ‘Game of Thrones sea god’, at first notice I had no idea this was of Manannán Mac Lir. Sad that someone would vandalize a sculpture of the sea cult of the Iron Islands, let’s say, but art is being attacked by stupid people all the time. Then I came back and saw it was Manannán Mac Lir, which was not mentioned in the headlines I saw!
Interesting that the article mentions that the elderly people in the locale still associate Manannán with storms, as Manannán was remembered in folklore on the west coast of Ireland into recent times as a stirrer of the sea who created storms according to Charles William MacQuarrie in his dissertation, “A Study of the Literary Representations of Manannán Mac Lir from Immram Brain (c.700) to Finnegan’s Wake (1939)”.
So better still, not just recent but presently and I’m gladdened to hear that.
“Some elderly folk in the area are still heard to remark “Manannán is angry today,” when the River Foyle is rough and refer to the angry waves as “Manannán’s seahorses.” I see they didn’t get His boat though.
Update: An article in the Belfast Telegraph emphasizes that this was not vandalism, but an act of Christian fundamentalist hate. Former Limavady mayor Gerry Mullan said the theft was premeditated and was not a random act of vandalism. He said: “Local people are extremely angry that this statue has been taken. It really enhanced what is already a beautiful spot from which visitors and residents alike can sit and enjoy the view and I would appeal to whoever took the statue to give it back.”
I recently came across this term and went to a blog linked to by Ian Corrigan and wondered why they would want to use the terms pagan and religion for what they were doing. Here’s a sample of their thinking:
“I think it’s pretty clear that a critically thinking mind and an endorsement of the scientific method are the best means of determining truth. Educated persons tend toward atheism exactly for this reason–the higher one’s level of education, the less likely one is to subscribe to supernatural explanations for phenomena and experiences. It is not a radical thing to say so.”—Atheopaganism blog.
A bit condescending? What the atheopagans practice, at least the ones I’ve read, is scientism, a faith that doesn’t hold up well to critical thinking. There is something colonialist in this attitude, and rooted deeply in racist ideologies that imposed (or tried to) the at first monotheist values and later materialist values on most of the rest of the world. Philosophical materialism is at the heart of modernism; it bolsters capitalist values that mark everything as resource, including other humans, by those managing and owning. I’ve noticed that atheist pagans, whether they call themselves humanist, or naturalists (something of a misnomer I think) want to claim they hold the truth, a unitary truth that they label science. This is not only privileged before all other ways of knowledge, including those of art, sacred traditions, myth, dreaming, cultural forms of knowledge, indigenous practices—but which are often even further denigrated as superstitions, or mere entertainments, or the productions of childish minds. Just a few decades ago the term ‘savage’ would’ve been lobbed too.
Science is a wonderful methodology of learning about the physical world, those things that can be observed, measured, repeated and quantified. Science in and of itself can’t give us meaning; that is not its province. Seems like the atheist pagans then make meaning out of what they’ve learned from empirical scientific knowledge, but the philosophizing remains invisible to them. The reality remains that scientific knowledge is culturally situated, its truth cannot be purely objective in the way they wish. Ironically, this attitude that scientific truths are transcendent of our lives has roots in the Protestants’ omniscient deity.
Something particularly troubling is how they seem to want lay especial claim to the natural world; wondering at the sun, the experience filtered via knowledge known through astronomy and physics is fine. However, the blindness to the worldview they express is one of privilege that fully supports the capitalist global order, and the blindness to the history of colonial subjugation, racism and misogyny behind this scientism is not fine.
I’d take the atheopagans a lot more seriously if their discourse took a critical view at how science constructs its stories of what nature is, and of sex/gender and race as well, but I don’t see anything of that. They might well read Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World Of Modern Science,* that trenchant tome of analysis that painstakingly examines how science tells its tales of nature in “ a particular aesthetic, realism, and a particular politics, commitment to progress….” If you’re not familiar with her she is a major scholar in history of science, science studies, and philosophy of science and was long based at U.C. Santa Cruz.
Haraway and others argue that the idea that science is somehow separate from the social and the cultural is one of the hegemonies that create an obstacle to different ways of knowledge and that science’s practices are interwoven with patriarchal, racist, heterosexist, and colonial histories. Science is not a practice that somehow is done in some outside sphere, some sterilized globe outside of culture and history (like the remote island named New Jerusalem that surveilled all the rest of the world in Francis Bacon’s prescient New Atlantis, written around 1626). Haraway has written about a cautious optimism that a more self-reflexive science could be done, and certain examples of it (for her nature is described as Trickster, Coyote), but I don’t see atheopagans writing about this or discussing how their ideas of nature are constructed from science’s stories. They remain descendants of Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon.
Educating oneself in postcolonialism, feminism, continental philosophy and the history and philosophy of science can make a person lose faith in Science as the one True Way of Knowledge. The reader may still remain atheist, but most likely they would be a less arrogant, less patronizing and colonialist one.
I love what I’ve learned of the natural world from scientists, including Ilya Prigogine and Lynn Margulis. But I also can and have learned much of nature from poets and artists, like Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima, Basho, Yeats, Wordsworth, the early Irish nature poets, and Georgia O’Keefe, Hokusai and Andy Goldsworthy to select a very few. And from my personal phenomenological experience and an animist worldview. If this is all worthless to those highly educated persons they reference then it seems to me it may be higher education that’s failing us.
*The chapters have delicious titles like “Monkeys and Monopoly Capitalism”;
“Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-36”;
“Apes in Eden, Apes in Space: Mothering as a Scientist for National Geographic”;
“Women’s Place Is in the Jungle”; and “Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Investment Strategies for the Evolving Portfolio of Primate Females”.
A very venerable and important part of Gaelic tradition and of filidecht, the practiced of the filidh, was satire. Some of the most famous is about leaders who are stingy, inhospitable, and who offer mean rewards to the poets. But satire was made about all kinds of things, rude people encountered, people with bad character, etc. A lot of it was nasty, even what in Anglo cultures is considered libelous (and so diminished after full colonization and the disestablishment of the Irish chieftains). It was believed to be physically effective, in other words rooted in enchantment. The old word aer for satire also meant spell. A satire could be used to drive out rodent vermin as well as human vermin. Satire was so important that it was divided into many subtypes like aircetal aíre, the ‘incantation of satire’ which in turn were divided in still more categories such as mac bronn (son of womb), dallbach (blindness or innuendo), focal i-frithshuidiu (word in opposition), tar n-aíre (outrage of satire), tar molta (outrage of praises, as in hyperbole), tamall aíre (touch of satire), tamall molta (touch of praise), lanair (full satire), ainmedh (sarcasm), glaim dicind (maybe headless or endless bite).*
In a visually oriented post-literate society like ours a lot of satire is done by the cartoonists, and the caricaturists. Yes, of course, this is triggered by the recent appalling events in one of my favorite countries. And by the deeply upsetting reactions to them that tacitly support them by some (white) members of the pagan/polytheist communities. The satirists fired widely and sometimes missed their marks, a few images may have been racist; at least one I saw used tropes of racist caricature, that of the Boko Haram slave girls. I have heard the lie that they were homophobic. Well, my queer heart was really warmed by the subversive cartoons of Mohamed and a Charlie Hebdo man locked in a passionate kiss. Really a brilliant sally against Islam’s virulent homophobia. This is allegedly one of the images that most enraged the Islamists. Satire can burn like a forest fire. Forest fires are needed for the renewal of the land.
Part of the reason I think we find such outrage among some pagans/polytheists is the very new age-y approach that seeps in, the always be nice, and put everyone into the white light kind of thing. Which often translates to those who are labeled different like queers or polytheists to play nice and be quiet and put up. The responses of people who say Charlie Hebdo deserved it are analogous to the people who tell raped women that they were dressed provocatively, or tell victims of gay bashing that they reaped it because they ‘flaunted’ their sexuality. I am extremely disappointed to see all this apologia in the pagan/polytheist community for Islamists. Fuck no! I also wonder how deadened people’s organs of perception and self-preservation can be, as these murderers would happily murder you too. The Mast condemns fundamentalists of all stripes, homophobes, misogynists and racists—and speaks unpopular truths. Our insanely messed-up human world needs more satire than ever!
protesting funerals with hateful signs
disrespecting the dead at every turn
fractious factions without fruit
wither on your frost-blackened vines
*These translations derive from Howard Meroney, Studies In Early Irish Satire I “Cis lir fodla aíre?” Journal of Celtic Studies 1950.
I have to push myself to share personal practice, but friends say it is important to do so, as we grow our polytheistic traditions. So here is a brief account of my weave of winter holidays, of which there have been so many: Solstice, Yule, Christmas (which yes, I do celebrate in a secular and family way), Devotions for Dionysos, Antinous, the Brigids, Nuadha, CúChulainn, all the Shining Ones of the Gaels, the ancestors, and many more. No big (Druid grove) ritual this year for me, but many devotions, and small celebrations and rites. And so we weave the sacred into our lives.
Some of what I did: two days of Solstice/Yule, a home dinner, offerings to the Gods and ancestors and a local land spirit, whiskey for CúChullainn whom I offer to around the 21st, chocolate for Antinous, and a gift for Dionysos—a beautiful piece of metalwork of grapes and vines that I bought at the Berkeley holiday craft fair on Telegraph for his shrine. On the last day of Saturnalia (Sigillaria) I walked out to the park where I have long celebrated Antinous and Diana. A big storm had blown down a large part of one of the cypress trees that makes an entry into Diana’s Grove. A few boughs were gathered; one is on my Antinous shrine (where I honor other deities associated with him in Ekklesia Antinoou practice also) and another sent to an esteemed colleague.
For years on Christmas Eve I’ve made a kind of Mother’s Night offering for my blood ancestors, especially the female, Germanic ones. They get cookies, cake, and rich organic milk/cream. One of my great grandmothers and her sister have become a focal point on my ancestor shrine which is in the dining room, an appropriate location I feel. I used to offer drink to the werewolves on this night also, but the last few years have been unable to as I currently have no neighborproof outdoor space. At my home we do celebrate a secular Christmas, a family day. Early on New Years’ I made small offerings –poems, incense, candles, and prayers for Janus, Hermes and Antinous at my Antinous shrine. My partner makes a beautiful and magical traditional Filipino (his heritage) New Year’s table, with fruit and bowls of coins to bring luck and the good stuff in the new year. Subtle magic.
Later we walked on the beach under the sandstone cliffs; spirits were showing everywhere. An offering was made to Ogma and an ogham divination done. Later I did my usual saining, purifying the flat completely with smoke of juniper and cedar.
I love the still quiet time…though, especially now at the beginning of the new year, with all my work completed for my job and some time ahead for my own projects, plenty of reading (I got some great books this Yule! including Detienne’s The Masters of Truth In Archaic Greece and Page duBois’ Out of Athens and the fascinating Steven Mithen’s After The Ice: A Global Human History 20,000–5000 BC, a mini-course in prehistory in itself), and some trance/journey work. But simply recharging is so vital. I notice after I’ve been off work for awhile I start remembering my dreams more often, and some of them have been pretty intense. In the quiet time my spiritual vision kicks in stronger. I’m more likely to be aware of spirits. Ancient calendars were designed with the wisdom of the intercalary between times, though most moderns just see it as their lack of scientific precision. Yesterday was the day I honor the ancient Druids, a day some of us call The Festival of the Three Druids or Feis Tri Druad, which is sort of a repurposing of Epiphany or Three Wise Kings Day (for more on this see https://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/a-dies-mortis-sancti-and-a-feis/), a big holiday in Catholic countries. I think one can come up with one’s own triad (or triads); for me this year it was Bodhmhall, Tlachtga, and Fedelm who received the honors, but I also have widened it to be a Festival of the Ancient Druids in general. And so also of my own aisling contacts and guides. Offerings were made at my home shrine as well as a night walk to a grove of evergreens at a spot high above the Pacific. The day brought quite an epiphany of sorts too.
This round completes my midwinter holidays, which this season were also blessed by rain. El Niño please bring more!
I’ll close with a great quote from a Yanomamo (Amazonian) leader/shaman named Davi Kopenawa.
On western cities
Their cities are beautiful to see, but the bustle of their inhabitants is frightening. People there live piled up one on top of another and squeezed side by side, as frenzied as wasps in the nest. It makes you dizzy and obscures your thought. I can never think calmly in the city. People constantly ask you for money for everything, even to drink and urinate. Everywhere you go you find a multitude of people rushing, although you do not know why. Whenever I stay there too long I become restless and cannot dream.