The Satirist: Word In Opposition



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.


2 thoughts on “The Satirist: Word In Opposition

  1. No, the shootings were not justifiable, OBVIOUSLY. Yes, Charlie Hebdo has often been offensive, Islamophobic and racist, like most modern “satire” they have tended to focus on the marginalized (and Muslims are very much so in France, where they are targeted on all levels) rather than the powerful which itself I find flawed. They deserve to be CRITICIZED for that, however, NOT killed for it.

    And I have not seen anyone -Pagan, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or other – who have said they deserved to be killed for it. I guess we follow different Pagan sources as I have instead seen a great deal of virulent Islamophobia focused not on terrorists but on all Muslims. Perhaps we need to both find different Pagans to read. I have seen people take glee in the most Islamophobic work of Charlie Hebdo and I’ve seen other cartoonists go all out with it in new work based on this attacking all of Islam. And, of course, I’ve read the stories, not often easy to find, of increased violence against random Muslims in France, something that has long been an issue there, now worse.

    The murderers are not representative of Islam, yet this is a group who is constantly told they are all responsible for every act made by extremists or they are complicit. However, Christians are not expected to apologize for the Christian militias killing Muslims in Central Africa (in fact, I’m not seeing much mention of that anywhere). I certainly am not going to feel all too responsible if some “White Power Heathen” goes on a killing spree. I wonder how many of these Pagans I have been seeing expressing hate for all Muslims would be thrilled to be lumped in?

    It is the majority of Muslims who are not extremists who I have defended and will defend. It is Ahmed Merabet and Lassana Bathily (who a now former Pagan friend basically reviled on FB today) who I see as representative of their faith in these events. It is their names and deeds people should know and remember.. It is for such men and their families that I think it is important to note that unfair attacks, whether by pen, fist, knife or bomb, on innocent Muslims do need to be spoken out against. That is not the same as saying these killings, which include that of Ahmed Merabet, were justifiable…it’s saying that the violence against Muslims which is part of the culture, and has escalated, also is not justifiable. If you think it is saying that then…*shrug*

  2. Actually, Christianity and the Catholic Church were Hebdo’s biggest targets.

    I probably do need to read different pagan/polytheist sources; for one thing I’m getting very tired of the Wild Hunt, especially since Jason stepped away.

    Non-fundamentalist Moslems are not responsible but since they are misunderstood it’s good to stand up and say these jihadists are doing our religions in the Wrong Way—and I am happy to see that they are doing just that, including the leaders of Iran and Egypt.

    I was so shocked and disturbed by what happened in Paris, as were all the folks here in my day to day life. But then on the weekend I looked around the pagan blogosphere and on social media and all I saw were people going on and on with all this negativity about Hebdo and the murdered cartoonists and journalists. I felt like, wow, the blood has hardly dried and these people are being called all these bad names, and all these anglophone white Americans are calling them racists. (Well, I’m pretty old fashioned about things like that, let the dead get into their graves before badmouthing them.) And then watched European TV and saw not only in France but in many countries across the world, including many in Africa and Asia people were rallying and holding Je Suis Charlie signs.

    That feeling of disrespect to the dead is why there’s that allusion to Phelps and his church in the poem. And I really wish liberal Christians would speak out loudly that evangelical haters are doing that religion in the wrong way, if that is what they think. Of course, not a lot do.

    Hebdo played dirty and probably crossed some unacceptable lines, but I totally support the right to mock any religions, including my own (though it might make me very pissed off). And I do have a megaton problem with members of any religion (including the dominant one here in US) telling westerners in countries that have fought the extremely long hard fight and multiple battles for freedom of expression—one always being eroded—and that includes that any human being can be mocked whether Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha or whoever. Specifically, the jihadists took a very careful aim in targeting a satirical magazine in Paris, a city that for centuries has been a center of free expression and press and art, at times when Americans couldn’t buy books by their own authors who were deemed immoral by the powers that rule. That terrorist aim was armed at the freedom of writing and art in the entire western world; a very carefully chosen target. One very closely to me as a writer. I’ve seen this targeting ever since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie back in ’88 when he published The Satanic Verses, and I supported Cody Books in Berkeley at the time, I think it was ’89, which courageously sold and displayed the novel (which is a great read by the way) and had their windows broken in the middle of the night by a firebomb—but the wonderful staff of that lamented fantastic store just calmly boarded up the windows in the morning and went on selling books (even though a pipe bomb was later found inside the store too). This was at a time when the corporate stores were taking it off the shelves in fear. In those days the Americans left stood up against these kinds of things while what passes for it now prevents ex-Moslem speakers and feminist intellectuals like Hirsi Ali from even speaking at campuses (last year Brandeis even rescinded its offer of an honorary degree to this very courageous woman). In ensuing years we see that schools, especially those where girls are taught have become increasing targets of Radical Islam, and yet the brave, like Malala, are irrepressible. I take heart in those who stand up to Radical Islam, often at cost to life and body, from Salman Rushdie and Theo Van Gogh, to Malala and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    I used the term Islamist in the piece, but maybe did not make the distinction clearly enough. Most Moslems are not Islamists, but a significant minority are and the sad fact is that most of the thousands and thousands they are murdering are other Moslems, like the apparently couple of thousands just murdered by Boko Haram in Jaba, the schoolchildren in Peshawar, the vast number brutalized by the Islamic State and the endless victims of car bombings and the suicide killers in the Middle East.

    It is horrible to see violence against Moslems who have nothing to do with the crimes (and hope it stops!)—which were committed against atheists, Jews, and other Moslems as you pointed out, but I think this is the jihadists’ strategy. Their game is always spreading fear.

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