Irelands Immortals

So I know no one has posted here in an age and a half, but I had some thoughts I kind of wanted to get out and written and don’t really have a great place to do it. They’re really only partially baked, to be fair. I mostly am just trying to see what comes out.

I’m reading this book called Ireland’s Immortals by Mark Williams. This can’t be a book review, mostly because I am 68 pages and a preface into a 501 page book that’s a pretty dense overview of the history of how Irish myth and legend has been recorded, viewed, and used by culture, so there’s a lot to it I have not gotten to (though I have spent a lot of quality time with the pronunciation guide). Also because my thoughts on it aren’t currently about Irish myth and legend and are more about academic discourse with a public with emotional investment in the subject matter.

In short – so far, Williams is setting out in creating a work with a dual audience to enrich the general state of knowledge for both, and help massage the often fraught relationship between the two, and good lord is this sort of thing incredibly valuable and needed in this day and age.

At some point – oh fine, page 45, Williams opens a section on answering the questions around how much the written records have been Christianized with-

Answering these questions means encountering heated disputes over how native Irish tradition was interblended with Christianity and Latin learning, and at this point the two audiences of this book may have different needs. The scholarly consensus is that the sagas’ authors were not mere passive transmitters of pagan myth and ancient tradition. Rather, they were creative authors who hybridized their native inheritance with a vast body of classical and Christian learning, thereby engaging with the issues and demands of their own times. Specialists will openly yawn at the prospect of gesturing yet again towards a set of old debates: as Jonathan Wooding briskly says, ‘We all know the basic story”. But as this ‘story’ may be new to non-specialists, especially if they know Irish mythology through popular works on Celtic spirituality, it is important to enter once again into the fray.

And then he does, he does it well, and he does it without being particularly condescending, in my view. It’s pretty good! From what I can find in Celtic Reconstructionist circles, its being pretty well received, even if it basically says that at least some of the major gods were made up sometime in the last thousand years (one seems likely to be a recent imagining over a medieval typo), and the interpretation and view of most of the other ones come from very ahistorical nineteenth century poets looking to imagine a stronger national identity. To be fair, CR folks are the sort to be into nerdy details of ancient myth, so they probably aren’t the hardest audience for this in the wider pagan circles, and they probably are the most likely to be reading something published by Princeton University Press rather than say, Llewellyn Publications.

But anyway, attempts at speaking to both an academic audience and a lay audience need to happen more, and they need to happen more broadly and in many more important fields (Sorry, Mark Williams, Irish literary history is endlessly fascinating and holds within it great cases of cultural phenomena that are actually fairly relevant to a number of subjects, but the planet is dying and political polarization is getting violent in countries assumed to be pretty stable so…). And I know this sort of thing is hard and doesn’t work nearly as often as you’d hope, but I’m increasingly convinced that just ignoring those who are outside of the scholarly discussion is part of why reactionary movements get so much traction. I often feel like those who deny climate change, or find the average IQ differences between racial groups as a reasonable idea that serves as justification for “peaceful resettlement” (hang on, gotta vomit here for a sec……    ok) or whatnot get a certain amount of encouragement when they cannot easily find good counter points to whatever narrative they’ve cooked up to support their position. “Aha! You have no points! You’re just pushing an agenda to protect your privileged position so you can’t even engage with me!”

I realize I’m inching closer to “we’ve got to debate Natsees”, which is a complicated topic that I’m not really settled on because I just have trouble holding opinions strongly and I realize there’s a lot of good thought on the topic I haven’t fully considered. But the argument I hear against it is usually that debating such unpalatable, repulsive and bonkers ideas just gives them legitimacy and a platform. But the thing is, they already have a platform and realistically there’s not much to be done about that. As for legitimacy, they’ve found ways to get that, too, at least in their own circles. Enough legitimacy to fool to vulnerable bystanders that read their screeds in any number of online forums. Those bystanders then cannot easily find the rebuttals to all of their points because there aren’t good easily find-able rebuttals that actually engage with the ideas in those screeds instead of using tired talking points that aren’t actually aimed at the core ideas at play.

Now, Ireland’s Immortals has noting..well, almost nothing to do with Nastsis (tbf haven’t gotten to the section to do with nineteenth and twentieth century nationalism yet, though boy do I love me some outlooks on the impact of twentieth century nationalism on arts and culture). The debate over the authenticity of Irish mythology is no where near the “debate” over the humanity of peoples, but for some reason I can’t get far right nationalism off the brain these days. Maybe I should have gone to debate over Climate Change as the example, but my main thoughts here are in the realm of the relationship between academia, the lay public, and the condescension and distrust that goes between them, rather than specifically about n@zees.


Like I said, this is just sort of…partially baked thoughts that aren’t really going anywhere yet but wanted to see if writing them down would coalesce them into anything. Too bad writing takes time and is frequently interrupted. Makes it hard to get the full string down.

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