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Subject: Re: Shamanic content of druidic practice; eagles and cranes
From: Helen McKay <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Scholars and students of Old Irish <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 29 Sep 2011 05:26:59 +0100

text/plain (61 lines)

>On Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 11:06 PM, Thurston Shaylor wrote:
 but personally I would not necessarily be inclined to say that the 
Cauldron of Poesy represents a shamanic text per se.
On Wed, 28 Sep 2011 07:01:13 -0700, Charles DeVane wrote:
>I agree that it is not a shamanic text but would also say that there
>is NO exclusive shamanic text surviving in Irish literature. >I submit 
that the "great joy" or "great sorrow" that Amergin and
>Ferchertne describe for Poetic Inspiration is the same as the ecstasy
>or shattering that defines the beginnings of Shamanism.

What I'm very nervous about here is the use of the word 'shaman'.  We 
know that words are powerful parts of our existence, and they come 
with a whole raft of preconceptions and associations, in this case rooted 
in cultures widely separated from the Irish.  
The second thing is that our human brains are wired to look for 
structure, and if we start with a loaded question, its all too easy to 
selectively process out what we want to find and ignore what we don't.  
And this is what we see all the time in 'celtic' work, because the texts 
are so packed full of words and ideas used in allusionary ways, its all 
too easy to cherry-pick out what you think you are looking for, and to 
use odd bits to claim proof of your proposal.

So, the question to be asked at the beginning shouldnt be 'was druidic 
practice shamanic?"  because to ask this loaded question is simply to 
set up the situation where you'll find what you *think* you're looking 
for.  But rather we should ask broader questions that allow the material 
to tell us its own story, like "what was druidic practice like? how did it 
fit within their world philosophy? what was it role/purpose? how did 
they think it worked? how were their actions associated with the 
sources of religious power? ... etc "
So while I'm happy to have Searles say - after years of study that he 
has up his sleeve - that there are 'shaman like' aspects to the fili 
experience, this is an interpretation that he is now in a position to post-
apply to certain aspects after he has experienced a much wider range of 
research.  But, I would still be very unhappy to have the word then 
bandied around as though it can be used to describe the druidic 
experience, when it clearly can't be, as it sits within an entirely foreign 
culture and worldview.  I think that if as Searles says, there 
are 'shaman like' aspects, then we should find (or make up) another 
word to describe these aspects of druidism, rather than leave readers 
with an ill-defined notion that 'fili were shamans', which is what 
happens when we start to loosely apply other-culture-laden terms.  

Just one thing to point out the danger here - has everyone noticed how, 
because this topic was pre-loaded with the word 'shamanic', that when 
people were sending in info about cranes, that they *only* sent in info 
that they had already pre-filtered in their minds to be potentially 
associated with the fili practices?  the issue of cranes in celtic and 
european lore is vastly wider than this, and until the subject of cranes 
as such can be understood to a good level in all its aspects, then we 
are simply not in a position to know why the fili/druids would use this 
symbolism in some of their work.  So maybe better questions to pose 
initially might be:  How did the Irish perceive the connections between 
animals, mankind, and the gods?  and, How did cranes fit into this 

Sometimes the road to fairyland isn't the straight and broad one that 
seems so easy... 

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