Pagan Portals: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism
by Morgan Daimler
I had heard so many good things about this book; many people suggested it as a beginner’s resource and had several good aspects to point out about it. I picked it up on these recommendations and immediately set out to read it.
Now one thing I do have to make clear before jumping into this is that I understand that the book is meant to be a “Portal” into the world of Irish Polytheism. As such, I don’t expect it to cover any given subject in any manner of complete and detailed depth. However, when I look for an educational book I look for books that present their information in a clear, concise manner- and which present more than just a passing glance at information. This book did end up being very disappointing to me in these aspects.
The largest issue I had with it has most to do with how it was written. While casual presentations and writing tones are often a bonus, I found that this book was actually a bit too casual in its approach to the information presented- for my tastes at least; it felt more like I was browsing someone’s blog instead of perusing the pages of an educational book- and that simply isn’t something that I, personally, enjoy in educational material. I like a balance of casual Humor and academic formality, and I don’t feel like the author did that terribly well… This, however, is more a personal reading preference than an actual fault of the book.
I think that the legitimate faults (as opposed to a simple personal preference of mine) lay mostly within the organization and construction of the book, as well as the material itself.
For one, the author flights around the subject matter with no real flow. The would be speaking of one thing at one moment, then suddenly switch topics entirely before returning to the original topic. In most cases this sudden change of topic didn’t seem to warrant a paragraph break- and indeed, sometimes the topic would change two or three times within a single paragraph. It felt disorganized and was confusing at best for me in many cases.
They also repeat themselves rather frequently. This repetition occurs in such a manner that I don’t actually think was intentional- as opposed to how some use it as a method through which to drive home a point. It feels like a large number of the repeats happen because the author switches topics so hazardously that they forgot where they left off on their original point- leading to repetition which is both frequent and often unnecessary.
Both of these together especially made the book a bit hard for me to read. I think that it could do with another editing just to clear it up and make it more readable. If that were done, the book very well could shine and the last few problems that I have with it may even be cleared up due to better and more coherent organization of the material presented.
Speaking of the information presented… It was well sourced. This is a huge positive for me, as it is a rarity in Pagan books. I absolutely loved this aspect of the book and am very grateful for it. Unfortunately, while the information was well sourced it was also actually quite sparse in many areas.
For instance, at one point in the Cosmology Chapter they mention the Elements- stating that:
There is a concept of the Dúile, the Elements, which vary in number in the source material, but are often perceived as nine by Reconstructionists.
This occurs at the end of a paragraph where they are discussing the Energetic Cauldrons- a topic change necessitating a paragraph break at the very least in my opinion, but which is irrelevant to the current point. The issue I have, here, is that there is no further expansion on the topic of the Elements; she makes no effort to list the 9 commonly decided upon Elements or further elaborate on how they are viewed or what they meant / mean.
As of 4/25/2016, I have been searching for quite a while (since reading this passage in the author’s book) trying to find this mysterious list of 9 Elements. The only sources I have found for them often equate or compare them to the Western “Chakra” system (a poor bastardization of the Vedic Chakras), which bothers me for multiple reasons; this makes me ultimately disinclined to utilize their information or even trust their words. I have (as stubborn as I am) even resorted to asking some of the Irish Polytheists that I know whether or not they have any sources for the Elements so that I could learn more. Unfortunately none of them have been able to produce any- which is in no way a fault of theirs, but it is to say that the search has been very frustrating at the very least. It would be very wonderful see the Author expand on this point if any future editions of this book are released.
As of 4/26/2016, a friend of mine is in a Facebook group with the author of this book and asked for clarification for me as to the Author’s source for this mysterious 9 Element system… Sadly, the “source” given by the author was the very same one which I had opened, read, and disapproved of earlier due to its conflation of the Elements with the Westernized “Chakra” system… Needless to say, Mrs. / Ms. Daimler has officially lost a large amount of credibility with me over it.
At some points, other information is briefly mentioned and then seemingly ignored in later points on the topic- such as in the case concerning her entry on Fliodhais.
Here, the author mentions very briefly the Sexual nature of her, saying:
In this story as well we learn of Fliodhais’ sexual prowess as she alone could satisfy her lover Fergus; without her it would take seven women to do the same (O hOgain, 2006).
Despite thinking that it is obviously important to bring up her loricly confirmed sexual nature, it isn’t seen as important enough to be included in the ways in which the Modern Polytheist can honor her. Instead, this sexual aspect of Fliodhais is outright ignored at the end of the paragraph when the author says:
Modern Irish Polytheists may choose to honor Fliohais as a deity of abundance; milk seems to be an appropriate offering to her.
And while the list of Irish Deities is certainly complex, some Deities are outright left out of the equation entirely. An example of this is the inclusion of a section on Dian Cecht, but the failure to further provide sections on his son Miach and daughter Airmedh; only Miach gets a (very brief) mention in a few other areas, but (that I recall) Airmedh was not mentioned.
This specific instance of Airmedh and Miach, however, may just be a personal nitpick of mine since I have a special love of Airmedh… But I do often find both her and Miach listed alongside their father on several of the recommended Irish Polytheist websites, so I find it odd that they were not included in this book.
There is also a brief mention of how Offerings were given in early Irish practice. Likewise, Offerings are suggested for each of the Deities which she lists. However, there is no further mention of it or much elaboration; no mention of the process, general offerings, why certain things were given in certain ways, and so on.
Other things, too, aren’t even mentioned in passing; things such as the Virtues, Geis, Buada, and similar concepts are completely left out of the discussion altogether. I feel very strongly that they should have at least a brief place within the book- especially given that this book is supposed to be about reconstructing Irish faith and practice.
And while the Pronunciation Appendix was a very helpful addition, it was rather paltry. Obviously I don’t expect a guide to pronouncing every word mentioned throughout the entire course of the book… But the pronunciation of names and concepts are especially of importance to me- doubly so if you are going to take the time to mention the proper Irish terms for certain concepts and include the Appendix to begin with. However, I found that many of the Irish terms and names mentioned throughout the material did not actually appear within the Appendix, where I would have expected them to be included.
This should not be taken as disliking the book, though. I am still glad that I purchased it, and it certainly had its positives despite the problems I personally found with it; I found the inclusion of the sourcing, footnotes, and bibliography especially to not only meet, but exceed my expectations- making this book a rare gem indeed. The information, too, did bring new information to light that I had not encountered, either- even if those instances were rare.
Ultimately, however, I have to disagree with some of the claims by others that it has “just the right amount” of information for a beginner. Oddly enough, I don’t actually feel like it had enough information- and what information was there was, I found lacking substance or significance. Overall it gave very little in the way of a solid, grounded overview of Irish faith and practice (or at least as much as we know about it), and even on an inspirational level there was little information to help someone build one; it answered very few questions that I had, and gave me very few ideas for areas to look further into- serving more as a source of frustration as opposed to a genuine portal.