**This review was first published in Volume II Issue I of Air n-Aithesc
Full Title: A God Who Makes Fire: The Bardic Mysticism of Amergin Author: Christopher Scott Thompson
An in-depth examination of the famous “Cauldron of Poesy” text describing the mystical practices of the poet-seers of medieval Ireland and the legendary bard Amergin. Includes a new translation of the text, a line-by-line analysis of the original Old Irish, a new interpretation of the Cauldron system unlike any in current use and exercises for practicing the Cauldron system as a method of spiritual cultivation.
To be honest if someone I trusted hadn’t recommended this book to me I probably would never have picked it up. I didn’t know the author and the book title…not my cup of tea. Or so I thought.
At first glance I couldn’t tell you how many chapters there are in this book because there is no table of contents, not important overall, but I like to skim them before reading a book to see what sort of themes it contains there is also no index or further reading section or a bibliography. However, the book is footnoted so it satisfies my inner nerd. Now that I’ve got that all out of the way, let me talk about the content of the book.
The Legend of Amergin was a very interesting and emotional chapter for me. It felt to me like I was reading my thoughts about the poet Amergin, and the poem “Song of Amergin”. I especially loved the confirmation of a practice that I was using to go into trance (the chanting of the first three lines of the poem “Song of Amergin”).
The next chapter in the book was on the text of the Three Cauldrons, known as the Cauldron of Poesy. The chapter begins with the text of the Three Cauldrons itself, then goes on to discuss the writer of the text and his possible connection to the filid/Druids. Thompson then has a discussion about some of the different translations of the text, namely P. L. Henry, Liam Breatnach and Erynn Rowan Laurie. Mostly though it was about the translations of Breatnach and Laurie. He also discusses how he arrived at his own translations of the text in question. I found the whole chapter fascinating. I loved reading the author’s discussion of the differences between Breatnach’s translation and Laurie’s, and how in the end they were both correct but had focused on different things in their translations. I found myself nodding in agreement with his conclusions at the end of the chapter.
Chapter three contains the comments of the author on his own translation of Cauldron of Poesy, which he provided in the previous chapter. I decided to photocopy the pages and follow along on them instead of going back and forth (he does provide the parts he is going to talk about in the subsections of the chapter but they are still at the beginning and would require going back to them if I needed to). I loved going through the text line by line, there were little nuances that had always escaped me while reading the translations (mainly Laurie’s) which now I fully get. Also the background of where these nuances might have come from and tying them into similarities in I-E comparative studies as well as other myths in the Irish and Welsh cultures was eye opening.
Chapter four is entitled Incubation. Incubation talks about the cauldron of incubation and how it is the “place” where poets study and come up with their poems. The author also ties it to the Underworld, the sea, chthonic forces and oracular work. The process by which he did that was very interesting and informative. He managed to tie a lot of things together that I had read before and thought connected but couldn’t quite put into words myself.
Motion is the title of the next chapter, chapter five. It is all about the cauldron of motion and the two different emotions of joy and sorrow. The author discusses Imbas in connection to the Well of Segais, Boann, the Dagda’s harp, and Brighid. This chapter had so many concepts that I see myself reading it quite a few times before getting all the information it has to give.
Chapter six, which discusses the cauldron of wisdom confused me at first with the classification of goddesses and how the goddess Brighid fit into these classifications, including her little known (at least to me) dark side. This dark side is the one associated with wisdom. I have to say I didn’t love or like this chapter, however, like all the other chapters of the book it was very interesting to read.
The next chapters (four to be exact) discuss the different joys and sorrows discussed in passing in chapter five. These chapters I found enhanced what was said in chapter five and made it better understood.
The next two chapters are about the Imbas Forosnai. Chapter eleven does a good job of explaining the practice and giving people who don’t know much about it a good background. And chapter twelve discusses the Gods that might be associated with it. The poem that the author provided us from his own practice of the Imbas Forosnai inspired me to try and do this myself.
In the final chapter of the book the author lays out his ritual for trying to activate the cauldron of motion and gain wisdom, or at least to try to gain wisdom. I was pleasantly surprised that it resembles my own efforts into the matter. I loved how Thompson gave reasons for working with this method.
In the appendices you’ll find some examples of visualizations for the cauldron ritual, the author’s personal experiences (his own UPG), Invocation of the Graces, and modern poems embodying the joys and sorrows in the cauldron’s list.
All in all, this book is an asset if you are thinking about trancing in a distinctly “Celtic” way. It is also an asset for people who, like me, have a very analytical mind and like to know how things work before they see the whole finished product and use it. I really enjoyed this book, as it confirmed that others were actually doing a lot of what I was doing when it came to trance work so I was on the “right track” as it were. Trance work has never been easy for me and to have come to the same conclusions in this book, down to almost the same kind of ritual, kind of blew my mind and also made me feel better about what I was doing.