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.