The notion of conflicting information, or when personal gnosis conflicts with scholarship, has been in my consciousness lately. There is an intriguing discussion on The Pagan Perspective blog that considers the dissonance between practitioner and scholar. It’s a topic worth considering because in neo-pagan traditions we are, for the most part, flying by the seat of our pants. What happens if X-man God of the Spring, who you thought was a deity worshiped by the ancient Hippo cult, turns out to be nothing more than a misspelling of the wine merchant’s name?
This isn’t a worry for me for a few reasons. 1) I don’t worship deity. I’m an animist. 2)Since I approach my spirituality from an animistic world view, I form relationships and new information is an ever present factor in ALL relationships.
Now, let me share a juicy tidbit I discovered this week! I adore Irish myth and folklore. Drink the stuff up, when I get a change. Last weekend I was in Dublin for a birthday party, which afforded me an opportunity to visit Hodges Figgis. I always want more than I can afford there but luckily came away with two gems: a legal handbook on the Brehon Laws and Tales of the Elders of Ireland. The latter is more commonly known as The Colloquy of the Ancients and contains the most important texts on the Fenian Cycle (the stories of the Fianna).
Many people have heard of Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool). I think some consider him a god, or at least high enough in stature to be worked with in an elevated capacity. The scholarship presented in this new volume sheds a different light on old Fionn. Seems his name was mistakenly ascribed to a poet in Leinster when the people there needed a bit of propaganda. There might have been a leader of the Fianna named Fionn but he would have been one of many leaders of the numerous bands of landless freemen that roamed the liminal lands between family groups or “tribes” (I”m not going to use any obscure Irish words). These young nobles, who had not come into their own inheritance yet, could be called on by the man assigned by the tribal king to exact the vengeance of a blood feud or by the king’s champion who settled disputes by single combat but they were fraternally loyal to the leader of their small band.
This island was broken up into (for ease, let’s say) hundreds of these small “tribes” which meant there might be hundreds of Fianna bands. No way was Fionn mac Cumhaill the fraternal leader of all those!
So, what does a modern neo-pagan who might have worshiped old Fionn as a mighty warrior god of the Tuatha De Danann do when they read scholarship that basically says, “sorry guys, but Fionn was just a dude used for propaganda. His story was faked.” Do they cry, turn away from paganism, or fall back on “unsubstantiated personal gnosis”? I hope they do none of these and instead engage the plasticity of their lovely brains and expand.
Since we are making stuff up anyway, to a certain extent, they could go on working with Fionn as a deity or god form. Should be cool, as long as they differentiate this Fionn from the one of ancient Irish Mythology. Sort of like, if a neo-pagan meets Kali and has a bit of UPG (unsubstantiated personal gnosis) that she was …. a nymph guardian of Barton Springs in Austin. Should be cool for them to continue calling this being Kali, as long as they clearly differentiate between the actively worshiped Hindu entity of the same name.
Of course, I’m prejudice as far as the ancient Irish… because I tend to favor the notion that the entire island consisted of animist ancestor worshipers who honored their ancestors and the beings who occupied their unique topography – full stop.
Tell me…what are your own thoughts? What is the relationship between academic and practitioner?