Celtic Flame: Insider’s Guide to Irish Pagan Tradition by Aedh Rua
This was a hard book to review, and after careful thought I decided to look at it on a chapter-by-chapter basis. So this will be a VERY long review. I had bought this book on the recommendation of a friend and because I had seen some of the author’s posts on one of the Celtic Pagan groups (who are very strict) I belong to and liked what he had to say. Almost around the same time two other friends of mine whom I respect the opinions of in matters of Celtic books said that it was a horrible book, so I thought okay, the book either was full of wrong information or the author was touting something as authentic when it was pure UPG. I postponed reading it for a whole year. This month I decided to bite the bullet and read it. So here are my thoughts on the book.
Reading the acknowledgements and introduction I learned a few things. The author is not a Celtic Reconstructionist though he was influenced and had interacted and communicated with people who actually began the CR movement. The book is about Irish Paganism as HE has been practicing it for the last 20 or so years. So basically this was his UPG and if you choose to go on you (and I) should judge the book on the premise of it and how well he was able to defend his views.
Chapter One: A Living Tradition
This first chapter gives you the aim of the book: an introduction to Irish Paganism as the author has practiced it for the past 20 years or more. Then he gives you his version of Irish Paganism in six points. The only point I have a problem with is the one about the Fomoire (more will be said about this later). He considers these six points the basics and adds other elements to them (another seven points), which have to do with the Gaelic culture and language. All these elements I also consider important when studying Celtic Paganism of any kind.
Next in the chapter he discusses his sources for his version of Irish Paganism. All the sources are ones that most people in the CR community cannot argue with. He also gives the qualifiers for each of these sources. Then he goes in to the Irish Paganism worldview. I agree with most of what he said in that section except for what he says about the Fomoire again. Also he is just a bit idealistic about Irish Paganism and I don’t really blame him for that everyone wants his or her path to be idealistic.
Here is my problem with this chapter, aside from the Fomoire issue, which will be discussed later. I’m not sure if it is his choice of words that put up my hackles or just my own sensitiveness on the subject. When he talks about his aim he also says that this interpretation of Irish Paganism is “authentic”, but authentic as compared to what exactly? And should a word like authentic be used with interpretation. The very use of the word “interpretation” means that it is his opinion and his vision of the lore and mythology. So why use “authentic”? Also when discussing the elements that complement his basic practice his uses the word “correctly” to say that the book correctly identifies these elements as the ONLY ones that are purely pagan and predominately religious. Again I think this is open to interpretation and the use of the word “correctly” implies that perhaps someone else’s ideas are not.
These things might seem minor especially as they are only mentioned once so far but they rubbed me the wrong way.
Chapter Two: Gods and Spirits
Chapter two was an interesting and hard read for me. His descriptions of the Tuatha De Danann correspond with some things I’ve read and were better than most people’s descriptions of them, but I just felt like there was something wrong there and up until the writing of this review, I can’t figure out what it is.
The information he provided on the Gods was okay. In some instances I know he was wrong but they are mistakes made by many. For the most part on this section I would say do your own searches. Most times your search will correspond to what he wrote but not all the time. His classifications of the Gods and the Daoine Sídhe I found a bit confusing and in some cases I completely disagree with him. I guess though the classifications are a personal thing and which gods mean what to you are completely up to you after all (I don’t see the need for classifications myself). One other thing that bothered me was that he seemed to be saying that the Spirits of the Land were not as important as the gods, and that they were on the same level as we are. I’m not sure how to take that. I’m not sure where he got his vulnerabilities of the ancestors when he talks although I’m assuming he has taken them from the ones he says the Daoine Sídhe have.
I did find the section on how to determine the gods or spirits of the land you currently reside in a very useful section. It takes into account the folklore associated with the places and history as well as the person’s intuition.
All I can say about this chapter is that you should do your own research. There are some bits in there, which are really good (the section on how to determine the gods or spirits of the land you currently reside in and some of the information on the gods). I came out of the chapter with mixed feelings. I wish he had explained a little more WHY he chose to classify the deities like that.
Chapter Three: Fírinne
I thought chapter three was a wonderful chapter on the ethics and morals of both the individual and society. Some of it I recognize from Alexei Kondratiev’s article “Celtic Values” and the author does acknowledge that he based his ideas on that essay. I think this is a very important chapter and one that is not seen often in this kind of detail.
Chapter Four: The Otherworld
Chapter four is about the Otherworld again a good chapter with a lot of good sound information though the author sometimes talks about something he concluded as if it was a fact.
Chapter Five: The Fomoire
Chapter five is one that I felt uncomfortable reading. His comparison of the Fomoire to demons, in my opinion was not a good one. He portrays them as enemies of the Gods and as demonic spirits of darkness. I think here the author is forgetting the concept of balance. For order you need chaos, and for light you need dark. The Fomoire are just as needed as the Tuatha De Danann.
Chapter Six: Íobairt
Chapter six was a delight to read for someone like me who wants to learn some prayers in Irish. Also his ritual outline is very good (though a bit elaborate). I find that I could incorporate some of the elements of rituals he discusses into my own very well.
Chapter Seven: Death and the Dead
A very brief chapter and yet a very informative one. The author discusses briefly the different ideas on life after death.
So what do I think of this book?
- It is one practitioner’s interpretation of Irish polytheism and he freely admits that at the very beginning.
- The author is not a Celtic Reconstructionist and should not be judged on that platform, however, he does show a high level of research in his book whether one agrees with his conclusions or not.
- He tackles subjects that are hard and for the most part does them justice.
- He puts a lot of effort in the specifics of what he sees as the Irish practice of polytheism. Discusses the components of religion, which are belief, sacred writings and oral traditions, rituals and ceremonies, and ethics.
- I very much enjoyed this book, warts and all (and by warts I mean his opinions about the Fomoire and a few other niggling things that I told you about).