[originally published A Sense of Place, 03/28/13]
On the About The Authors page of this blog, I mention ‘sensuous scholarship’ as my approach to academic study. I like to get my hands dirty and engage my entire body when exploring a topic, hence when I wanted to better understand Irish culture and mythology, I moved to Ireland. Now that I’m here, I get out and visit the places associated with the festivals and events mentioned in the mythology and folklore. I speak to Irish people living in those areas, and, more importantly, I take the time (which I am fortunate to be able to do) to meet, listen to, and understand the very different rhythm of the culture that birthed those stories.
Culture is what shapes myth. It’s what informs the storyteller, as well as those hearing the story. While there are many threads that go into the weft and weave of sacred story, they all arise from within the specific culture sharing it. Yes, the seed that grew the flax may have been imported, but that seed was planted in the soil of culture and harvested by the hands and heart of the teller of tales, and then woven into a garment proudly worn by the hearer — all of whom are part of and informed by the culture.
How far that culture spreads and how it is itself influenced, is another story. But to take a mythology or a folktale out of its cultural understanding can lead to misrepresentation, and the creation of a brand new story. Which is how many of our tales come down to us. People groups moved, culture changed, and sacred stories evolved to incorporate new technologies, new landscapes, and to reflect new social dynamics. As I have expressed previously on this blog, Paganism needs to grapple with its approach to Old Religions. American paganism, in particular, needs to examine how it engages sacred story arising from Other cultures, and whether it serves us to continue fitting those stories onto a uniquely American cultural experience.
My brilliant idea for this week was to introduce a monthly feature in which I share video I’ve taken while visiting the various sites around Ireland. I want to share my exploration and ‘sensuous scholarship’ with those of you who may never visit this island, and those of you who know its green hills and love them. It is my hope that in sharing a visual experience of Place, some of the unique cultural features that shape Irish mythology and folklore will be made accessible and more understandable [Fangirl Alert] But my plans are thwarted by a tediously slow internet. I heard rumor that cyber-attacks are behind this sluggishness, but I am suspicious that it may be the Spoonheads! (yes, I just made a Doctor Who reference).
I have confidence that next week’s attempt will be met with more success, because it is an auspicious week! We are moving (sad to leave my little cottage on the lane, but excited to live by the sea–more on that later), I’m going to hear Noam Chomsky speak, and attending a symposium on Charms and Magic in Medieval and Modern Ireland (which I will be writing about on my personal blog). Meanwhile, I’m staying bundled-up today. It’s 2nd winter here (snow on the ground in many places), and the Spoonheads are out to get us! I look forward to sharing my video next week…..where I will introduce you to The Fort behind my house. In the meantime, here’s a poem I wrote during autumnal equinox.
And the seasons change, change.
Spirit of a still cold night; vapors rise.
Moon, her half bucket pouring mists
upon my head – and feet, wet with dew.
Finger streaks across a sky, scattered
with stars, faint and faery; for none breathed
in that still moment. None. But the blade
of grass, where demons danced
– or were they angels
under Padraig’s crusty feet.