Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ethics

I know how people view “The Complete Idiot’s” series of books (I’m one of these people or I used to be) but when you get a complicated subject like ethics, then you start to view things a little differently. It is hard to know where start with complicated objects and when more scholastic beginner series fail you (in my case it was Oxford’s “A Very Short Introduction”) then you start to look at more mainstream ones and this is why I bought this book.

This book is divided into five parts. Part one is about the philosophy of life, ethical dilemmas, the difference between faith and reason, and how to balance religion and science when thinking about ethics. Part two discusses the nature of ethics. Part three has general recipes for guiding ethical decision-making. Part four is about applied ethics in the fields of the environment, biomedicine, business, and animal rights. And finally, part five is about the ethics of social justice.

I think what I mostly loved about the book is the easy way it described the main theories in ethics. The authors made it fun and they did not seemed to be biased towards one specific theory. Instead they explained each one and then gave you the flaws in them, and then how they can be applied. The conclusion they come to is that each of these theories has a flaw, and the best way to use them is to mix them together to get the best result. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to dip their feet into the ocean of ethical theories.

The Passing of Alexei Kondratiev

On May 27,2010 the CT/CR world lost one of its elders and pioneers. He was a writer, a linguist and an all round great and patient guy. I won’t say anything more about him because others have. I would like to talk though about how he made me feel.

I didn’t know him personally but through some of the lists I belong too. And it seems to me that no matter how small or large the question directed at him was he always made the time to answer it, it never mattered to him who asked the question. He had time for the newbies, and never seemed to put them down when they asked a question. He directed them to the places they should start their search and when they had a follow up question he was there to answer, it may have taken him a bit to answer but he always answered.

His love of the Celtic languages was very evident in what he wrote and said. And it was from him that I learned to appreciate them, and the culture they belonged too. It was through reading his book “The Apple Branch” that I first learned about Celtic Spirituality and it was the starting point to the path I am on now. We may not have agreed on everything, but he taught me and many more like me what dedication meant.

May the gods welcome him with open arms.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Shamanism

I’ve read a few books in my time about shamanism, but this book gives a great introduction to the beginner. It explains extremely well the difference between traditional shamanism and what is being practiced today by most of the pagan community, and that is shamanic techniques.

The author is obviously speaking from a place of practice and knowledge. My only gripe is that she is very vague on the actual practice methods. This book is great if you want to theoretically learn about shamanism, and the differences between each practice and what to expect, but if you want a book that tells you exactly HOW to journey then look else where. I still think though that it is the perfect place to start before going to more deeper books on the subject, just to know if this is what you really want and are looking for.

Lúgh Lamhfhada: Master of All Crafts

I gathered a lot of information on Lúgh when I decided to ask him formally to be my patron and then I decided to write this essay for others who might be thinking about him too.  It is ironic that I wanted to do this because apparently (something I learned after my research) he is associated with sworn contracts!

Lúgh is the easiest god to talk about and he is also the hardest.  There is a lot of information on him but most of it is fragmented, however, it does give a good picture of who Lúgh Lamhfhada is.  Our information comes from iconography from the Pre-Roman period, place-names, iconography and epigraphy from the period of the Roman occupation, testimony of the Greek and Roman writers and literary traditions of the insular Celts.  Possibly the earliest mention of Lúgh is in the Leinster cycle of poems, specifically “Lugh sceith”–“Lugh’s shield”, a poem in praise of the legendary Labraid. Other major texts that mention Lúgh are the Lebor Gabála Érenn, which briefly mentions Lúgh and the battle with the Fomorians, the Cath Maige Tuireadh in which Lúgh comes to the Tuatha De Danann and battles the Fomorians, the Oidheadh Chlainne Tuireann is a side-story to Cath Maige Tuireadh, the Sons of Turenn kill Lúgh’s father Cian, and Lúgh extracts an eric that results in their death, the Compert Con Culainn tells of Lúgh’s siring Cuchulain on Dechtire, the Táin Bó Cuailnge where Lúgh appears to Cuchulain and tells him he is his father, the Baile in Scáil where Conn Ceadcathach is taken to Lúgh’s house and is told of the future high kings of Ireland by Lúgh and the goddess of sovereignty and “Ar an doirseoir ris an deaghlaoch” a late poem, this has Lúgh raised on Emhain Abhlach.

I’d like to start with his name as he has many; some are famous while others are not.  He is called Lúgh Lamhfhada, Lúgh Samhildánach, Lúgh Lonnbeimnech, Lugaid Lága and Lugaid Láigne.  Lamhfhada means “of the long arm” and this refers to his ability with the spear rather than having a long arm.  Samhildánach means “the one who possesses equal knowledge of all the arts”, Lonnbeimnech means “fierce striker” and both Lága and Láigne mean spear.  Looking at the proper name though gives a few confusing definitions for him.  Lúgh name is thought to mean “shinning one” or “light” and because of that he was thought to be a solar god, but that is not true.  His name is more associated with storms and rain as he is the beginner of the harvest.  So if his name means “light” it is likely that it is more like lightning flash as in thunder.  His name is also linked to the Old Celtic stem word lugi, which means “to swear, or oath”, which makes him associated with sworn contracts.  There also seems to be a little pun on his name because Lú also means little, in the sense that he is overlooked until his power is shown.

Now let us talk about Lúgh.  Lúgh is the son of Cian and Eithne.  Cian is the son of Dian Cécht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  Eithne is the daughter of Balar, the champion of the Fomorians.  So in a patrilineal society that means that his allegiance is to his father’s family as opposed to his mother’s.  He is a part of a set of triplets, two of which were killed and he is the only survivor.  He was fostered to Tailltiu, who is a Fir Bolg Queen associated with clearing a large field for agriculture, he is also said to have been fostered to Manannán mac Lír.  He is youthful, athletic and handsome.  He is the divine prototype of human kingship.

Lúgh is associated with Lughnasadh, some link him to ravens though the evidence for that is circumspect.  During the la Téne period there was a god who was widespread and he was shown on the La Téne art of the period with birds, horses, Tree of Life, dogs or wolves, twin serpents and mistletoe.  We don’t have a name for him but because of the place names that are associated with where these artifacts were found we can guess that this god might be Lúgh.  During the Roman occupation the name Lúgh was not used a lot however, this could be due to the Roman habit of giving the local deities Roman counterpart.  From the evidence we have Lúgh is linked to Mercury and there were over 400 dedications to Mercury found.

So let us talk about Lúgh’s domain.  He is a warrior, a sorcerer, a smith, a harpist, a champion, a poet, a historian, a physician, a cupbearer, a skilled god of commerce and a brazier.  He is associated with heights, he has multiple forms, and he is a sovereign protector with warrior attributes.  He is a master of all crafts and arts.  He chants spells to encourage the army of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he is a warrior that succeeded by the skill of his magic as well as brute force.  He uses a spear, and a sling in combat.  He shows his skill as a physician when he uses herbs to cure Cú Chulainn (whom he is associated with as father or foster father depending on the story read) in the Ulster cycle (not surprising considering who his grandfather is).

Some conclusions on my part:

–       Originally he might have been a god of sworn contracts.

–       Through his connection to the Fomorians (who were originally thought to be land gods or spirits that granted agriculture or withheld it) and to Tailltiu we can say that he is a god of harvest, as he got the secrets of the agricultural cycle from the Fomorians (Bres) and he was fostered by Tailltiu who cleared the largest plain for agricultural use.

–       He seems similar to An Mórrígan in that he encourages his army by chanting spells, he seems to be associated with Ravens (for An Mórrígan it was the crows) and it is not a clear association.  They both have a strange relationship with Cú Chulainn.  They are both warriors that use magic as well as might to fight.  Both are associated with sovereignty.  It is said that magic cows are created by the advice of the god Lúgh in order to defy the oppressive demands of Bres, which in the end might have brought conflict and we know that An Mórrígan is associated with cows mainly stealing them to instigate wars.

Bibliography:

Green, Miranda J.  Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend.  Thames and Hudson, New York. 1997

Ross, Anne.  Pagan Celtic Britain. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago. 1967.

MacCana, Proinsias.  Celtic Mythology. The Hamlyn Publishing Group, London. 1970.

Mackillop, James.  Myths and Legends of the Celts. Penguin Books, New York.  2005

O’Rahilly, Thomas F.  Early Irish History and Mythology. Dublin Institute For Advanced Studies, Ireland. 1999.

Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí.  The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopedia of Myth, Legend and Romance.  The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 2006

Why A Formal Contract With The Deities

So I’ve had people ask me WHY would I want a formal contract with the deities?  Haven’t I been making offerings to them already?  Weren’t they already my household deities?  The answer to the second and third questions is yes.  The answer to the first one is not so easy.

The idea for a formal contract just came out of a few things that I read in a couple of books.  The one book that is a representation of all I had read was The Horse, The Wheel and Language by David W. Anthony in it he says that an Indo-European speaking patron could accept outsiders as clients without shaming them or assigning them permanently submissive roles, as long as they preformed the sacrifices properly.  Praise poetry at public feasts encouraged the patrons to be generous and validated the language of the songs as the vehicle for communicating with the gods who regulated everything and therefore spreading the language. (p.343) He also said that The Proto-Indo-Europeans sacrificed sheep, cattle, and horses to a troublesome array of sky gods, and fully expected the gods to reciprocate the favor. (p.98) Putting the two pieces of information together gave me the idea of the formal contract.  The fact that the Celts had household gods that they worshipped other than the ones that the tribe prayed too also helped me make this decision.

I am not saying here that this is attested too in any literature, but it does make some sense to me at least.  So this is my UPG on this instance.  Here is my ritual:

Purifying Self:

Dip your hand into water, touch your forehead and say: “May I be pure that I might cross through the sacred.”

Dip your hand again, touch your lips: “May I cross through the sacred that I may attain the holy.”

Dip your hand again, touch your heart and say: “May I attain the holy that I might be blessed in all things.”

Petition Ritual:

Sit or stand in front of the deity Altar/Shrine and say a blessing for the three realms:

The Waters support and surround me.

The Land extends about me.

The Sky reaches out above me.

At the center burns a living flame.

Light the candle or flame at the center of the Altar/Shrine.  Say:

I light this fire to carry my prayers to the Gods of my ancestors.

Now you ask the gods, nature spirits and ancestors to join you.

I ask the gods of my ancestors to join me in my ritual, I ask my ancestors to guide me, and I ask the land spirits to aid me.  I ask all to be a witness to my endeavor.

Now insert a prayer for the gods you want to petition.

Morrígan, great warrior goddess, prophetess, and sorceress, I raise my voice in praise of you with wonder and awe.  I sit in your presence, oh great source of terror and comfort.

Lugh Lamhfhada, great warrior and god of many arts, I praise you.  Bright and shining god and flaming spear out of the chaos I honor you.

Next state the purpose of the ritual:

I would like to formally ask you to accept me as a client. I will make offerings to you daily and dedicate all my rituals to you and in exchange I ask for your guidance, blessings, fighting strength and prosperity in my life.

Now it is time to make the offerings:

Pick up the offering for An Morrigan and raise it above your head and say:

To the Morrigan, I honor you.  My Queen, I offer you my hospitality and give thanks for your blessings and protection!

Now place the offering in the place designated for the Morrigan.  Pick up the offering to Lugh and raise it above your head then say:

To Lugh Lamfhada, I honor youSamildananch, I offer you my hospitality! The Voice of Thunder, I give thanks for your blessings and protection!

Now place the offering for the place designated for Lugh.

Now thanks the gods, nature spirits and the gods for listening to you.

I thank the gods of my ancestors for joining me in my ritual, I thank my ancestors for guiding me, and I thank the land spirits for aiding me.  I thank you all for being a witness to my endeavor.

Listen carefully to your dreams or divination to see how the ritual went.

From my journal:

I woke up today to a feeling of peace and when I performed my daily offerings for the first time I not only felt peace but also I felt power, as if I was infused with it.  I’m guessing that my contract was accepted.  Another thing that made me feel that were my dreams from yesterday.  I dreamt of ravens and crows giving me bread.  They would also land on my outstretched hands to take food from me without scratching me or harming me in any way.

Bibliography:

Anthony, David W.  The Horse, The Wheel and Language.  Princeton University Press, New Jersey. 2007 p. 98, p. 343

Serith, Ceisiwr. A Book of Pagan Prayer. Weiser Books, San Francisco. 2002. p. 36

Ethics A Very Short Introduction by Simon Blackburn

This is a book that is relatively short.  It is divided into three parts.  The first looks at the responses people sometimes give when faced with ethical questions.  And these responses in different ways are threats to ethics.  In part two the author looks at some of the problems that life throws at us, how justice clashes with rights and the ideas of happiness and freedom.  The final part, part three, the author discusses the justification for ethics, and its connection with human knowledge and human progress.

I read this book pretty fast mainly because the author wasn’t saying anything profound.  As an introduction to ethics it left a lot to be desired.  I finished the book wondering what ethics really are…

An Morrígan: War Goddess and More

My need to write this survey comes from the fact that I was trying to write a prayer to An Morrígan and found myself at a loss.  I know what she means to me, I know my thoughts about her and who she is but am I correct in my assessment?  I didn’t want to offend her so I decided to hit the books again and see what I could gather about her.  I was lucky.  I found a dissertation written by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein.  I had downloaded it from archives.org as her site, (the one she put the dissertation up on), is no longer on the Internet it seems.  She has done most of the hard work for me by listing almost all the places in the Irish myths that An Morrígan was mentioned in.

Sources Used:

Prose Glossaries:

–      Sans Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary): It is thought to be written by Cormac mac Cuilennáin, a bishop and King of Munster who died in 908.  It appears in the Yellow Book of Lecan (14th century) and Book of Leinster (12th century).  It appears to be older than the manuscripts it is found in, it could be from the time of Cormac or a century or two after.

–      O’Mulconry’s Glossary: It appears in the Yellow Book of Lecan and it is thought to belong to at least the 13th or 14th century or even older.

–      O’Davoren’s Glossary: It appears in Egerton (18th century) and H.2.15 thought to date to the 16th century.

–      Michael O’Cleary’s Glossary: He was a member of one of the great literary families of medieval Ireland, and one of the “Four Masters”.

–      Séamus O’Bron’s Glossary: It is contained in Egerton, written in Cork in 18th century and its goal is to exhibit the vocabulary current among the Gaels of Alba.

–      Peter O’Connell’s Glossary: The author of this glossary died in 1810.

Metric Glossaries:

–      Forus Focal: It appears in 4 manuscripts, the oldest of which is the Book of Leinster.  It is attributed to John O’Duvegan but this is doubted.

–      Derbhshuir Glossary: This glossary is thought to be older than 1643.

–      Metric Glossary edited by Stokes: It was found in a fragmented copy of Egerton 90, it dated to before 1416 and it could even be older than 1300.

Myths and Lore:

–      The Lebor Gabála Érinn (The Book of the Takings of Ireland): A myth that talks about the pseudo-history of Ireland going back to before Noah’s Flood.

–      The Banshenchas: This is Lore that catalogues the important women in Irish mythology.  Funny enough they are catalogued via their husbands, brothers or fathers.

–      The Dindsenchas: This is the Lore of places.  It tells how places in Ireland got their names.

–      Cath Muige Tuired Cunga (The First Battle of Moytura): This is the story of the battle between the Tuatha De Danann and the Fir Bolg.

–      Cath Muige Tuired (The Second Battle of Moytura): This is the story of the battle between the Tuatha De Danann and the Fomoire.

–      Táin Bó Cúailnge: The center piece of the Ulster Cycle.  Revolves around a cattle raid that Medb leads into Ulster, and Cú Chulainn, who single-handedly defends the province.

–      And many of the Ulster cycle myths.

Conclusions:

From reading all the texts and the analysis provided by the author of the dissertation, I got the following:

  1. An Morrígan appears as a single being or a class of beings, with different interchangeable names like Macha, Morrígan, Badb, Nemain, Fea and Danu or Anu.
  2. She is associated with death and woe.
  3. She can be a shape-shifter, she is known in the texts to shift into a cow, crow, raven, eel and wolf.
  4. Her areas of “expertise” are prophecy, incitement to war, direct assault either physically or magically, joy in the carnage of battle, she is capable of making so much noise that the enemy either dies of freight or runs away, and she proclaims victory.  She is also considered a satirist and a sorceress.

It should be noted that because of all of these things she is designated as a WAR GODDESS, because when taken as a whole everything we know about her from the myths and the lore corresponds to what Celtic martial practices were like, but that is not all she is.  She is also a sovereignty goddess as evidenced through some of her transactions in some of the myths.  She is a mother, though her children appear to be made up of either dangerous poisonous children or warriors that help her in combat.

In essence An Morrígan is a very complex goddess just like all the other Celtic deities that don’t quite fit into one specific mold.