Resources

Google Scholar for Polytheism!

I woke up this morning with the very clear thought in my head to do a blog post on how I use Google Scholar as a resource in my studies for my devotions and polytheism. A rather dry and boring topic but hey, maybe someone will get some use out of it somewhere.

For those of you that don’t know there is a specific search engine of Google that only indexes and searches scholarly and published material. It is not your standard Google search, but a whole different search engine all of it’s own. In Google’s own words, “Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature.”

The benefit of Google Scholar to your polytheism practice is that it means you will not have to weed through geocities type websites wondering where exactly someone got the information that the Morrigan is associated with pumpkins. None of that is going to be in Google Scholar, because Google has created criteria for what is “scholarly literature” and they stick to that. Most of Academia do everything they can to get their works in Google Scholar as a result, because it provides more discoverability for them and their careers.

The difference between an academic paper and a website mostly comes down to standards of sources and peer review. I am not saying you can trust absolutely everything you read in an academic paper you found on Google Scholar. That is just silly. Papers are written by people, who have agendas, and biases, and Google Scholar is also filled with historical scholarly content which will have theories and viewpoints that have long since been proven incorrect. These are all incredibly important things to remember when researching anything. That being said, there is a standard of citing sources, and even peer review that means there is more reliable information in these papers than a random website that pops up. Because all it takes to put up a website is server space and a domain. Publishing a paper takes a bit more leg work.

Alright, one more disclaimer and then we’ll push on to the meat of it. I am by no stretch of the imagination a professional academic. This is all my very amature way of trying to build up my understanding and studies of the culture and the history of the Gods that I worship. If you have better methods you would like to share, if there is something I am missing, please feel free to comment and let me know!

Step 1: Go to Google Scholar! Search!

Fairly easy step. Go to https://scholar.google.com, and you will be presented with a search box that looks very familiar but in fact is different.

Here you can enter the search term you would like to find articles on. If you are like me, you may have forgotten that there is a wide variety of advanced search commands you can use to best utilize getting the search results you want. You can find a list of these commands on this website.

The two most useful ones in my experience are using “parentheses” to search for exact phrases and the minus (-) command. For example if you wanted to search for “Irish poetry” -Yeats, you would get results that contained the exact phrase “Irish poetry” but did NOT contain Yeats.

This can be super useful when you try looking for something and notice that you keep getting results that are not what you are looking for.

Step 2: Looking through Results!

Alright! Now we got some results. How to decide what’s worth looking at and just general info.

Google Scholar Screenshot

The first thing I would like to note is the option in the red box on the left hand side of the screenshot. There are two options “include patents” and “include citations”, generally speaking for polytheistic studies you aren’t going to be looking for patents, so you can go ahead and turn that off. You may want to include citations however, as that will give you the names and authors of articles that many other articles are citing in their works. It is likely that they won’t be available online for you to read, but if you have access to a college library or contacts you might be able to track them down, but you can disable them if you just want articles.

Next is to look at the information under the Title. That includes the Author, Institution or Journal, when it was published, and maybe platform it is on. This is all important information to look at and can tell you a lot about the article.

Publishing Date: As I mentioned before there is a lot of historical published articles that are in Google Scholar. You can get a feel for what information is going to be up to date, vs what might have some historical biases, based on when it was published.

Anything published in the Victorian Era, so 1800’s, is going to have out dated information in it. Archaeology, history, and just academic understanding has come a long ways since then. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have good information in it. It just means that you will need to read it with a critical eye (you should do that with everything but you get what I’m saying). The Victorian era in particular, besides being filled with racism, was also a time when Ireland was under colonial rule by England. A fact that colors a lot of the papers written at the time. Additionally you will find a lot of classicism in regards to deities in these papers. This is where you will read about Lugh being a sun god and other Irish deities being the “Irish Mercury” and so on. It is important to know the lens that you are reading a paper through.

Some other things to look into is the Celtic Revival, or the Celtic Twilight, and the schools of thought prevalent during those time that will likely be present in papers written during those times.  

Honestly, just learning the different eras schools of thought is a study all of it’s own. You can get into nativist vs anti-nativist theory, the “Celtic Migration”, and probably a whole lot that I am not even aware of because as I said I am not a academic in the field. Just a Branwen being a nerd.

Author: This one I usually pay a little more attention to this after I have read the article but it can be useful before as well. You can look up the author and see what institutions they studied at which will tell you something about where and how they got their information. If they are a professor your can sometimes get bios on faculties sites as well that can be helpful. How is this helpful you ask? Well, is this an American born academic that has always lived in the USA? Or is this a British born academic? Do they or have they ever lived in Ireland? Did they study at an Irish institute? These things again can give you an idea about the lens that they are speaking from.

Plus knowing the author means you can look up to see what else they have written. (Moar Homework!)

Source Information: So if you see JSTOR, that means it’s available on JSTOR, other publication and online journals might be listed. JSTOR there is a good chance that it is available to read online for free with a JSTOR account. One thing you are going to realize and run into quickly is what are known as “Pay Walls”. That means that you would need to be with an institution (college, university, etc) that is paying for a subscription to the journal to read the article, or sometimes you can pay to download the article (usually around $20).

Academics need to be paid just like the rest of us, and while I do believe that we will eventually get to a full Open Access model of education, we aren’t there yet. BUT there are a lot of open access articles you can find, AND if you live near an awesome library you should see if you can go get access through them (Libraries are the best.)

Cited By: Underneath the blurb about the article you will see a link that says “Cited By” and a number. This indicated how many other papers in Google Scholar cite this one as a source. They will also link you to those articles.


Step 3: Read all you want! Set up alerts, swim in information!

Once you go through and find the articles that are available for reading online, you can also set up alerts so that whenever a new article matching that search criteria is indexed into Google Scholar. To do that you can click on the “Create Alert” link in the purple box in the left hand of the screenshot. This will then send you an email when new articles are indexed and meet your search. Magic! Information straight to your inbox.


That’s all I got for you today folks! I hope that this shined a little light on a new tool for you to use in all your lore seeking needs.

If you liked this and would like to see more content like this. Let me know! Send me a message or comment. I’m always curious if this kind of information is too dusty and dry or what. But then again I also believe that we should share our resources so that we can all have access to what we need for self betterment.

Happy hunting! May the information that you seek find it’s way to you and you have the wisdom to use it for the greater good.

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Learning: Devotional Practice to the Dagda

Ruadh Rofhessa – Red One Great in Knowledge

I don’t remember where I first heard of the Dagda.

It seemed fitting to start with a confession, just dive straight to the start of it. I don’t have a grand story about how he revealed himself to me, or my first time reading his name and being enraptured. I had been reading myths and legends since I was very small and I simply cannot pinpoint the exact moment of discovery.

Was it the first reading of the Second Battle of Mag Tuired? Where the Dagda says:

“I will fight for the men of Ireland with mutual smiting and destruction and wizardry. Their bones under my club will soon be as many as hailstones under the feet of herds of horses, where the double enemy meets on the battlefield of Mag Tuired.”  That is certainly something that would get my attention. The cadence and imagery of destruction makes my blood rush.

Was it when I read “How the Dagda got his Magic Staff” and his use of trickery and wit to gain the item of power? He was roguish, he was entreated to compassion, these were all things that would have endeared him to me.

Was it when I was reading of the Morrigan, and learned of their meeting by the river? There is something primal and complete in that story. No matter the translation it calls out to me. I may have met Him through Her, it is not impossible.

It is unknowable at this point. One thing I can tell you, is that my first connections with him were while learning.

We will pause here to unpack that particular turn of phrase, “my connections”, as it is one I hear often, and one that seemed to kick off this particular request from the Good God to myself. They question you will hear often is:

“How do I connect to him?”

“Connect” is the root there and the “how?” is the mystery, at first glance. But let us look again. “Connect” is one of those wispy magical words that can mean many different things depending on context and who you are talking to.

When I say “connect”, I mean the feeling of being in alignment with the energy or spirit. Connecting with the Dagda for me, brings about particular physical and emotional feelings that I have come to identify as his presence. It also means being in the presence of subjects, things, symbols, and actions that are things he enjoys or takes notice of.

This entire multi-part blog series is about the various ways I, personally “connect” to the Dagda.

That being said, my impression is that when some people say “connect” they may mean, a ritual/incantation/process that puts them into a trance/meditative state where the Dagda comes to them and gives them a message or speaks to them.

If that is what you are looking for you will not find it here. It just has not been my experience with him, or any of the Gods, and not what I mean when I say “connect”.

Instead, I will direct you over to Lora O’Brien and her amazing Journey to the Irish Otherworld and foundational Journeying techniques.  She often gives the class, online and in person, even away from her beloved island, while she is traveling which is much to the world’s benefit. That is the method that I recommend and would trust for that type of “connection,” and it would be in the Irish Otherworld that you may be able to meet the Dagda in that manner. Lora is a wonderful teacher, she will give you excellent tools and her audio journey’s have actually worked for me. I have a history of not being able to meditate or journey, so that was super impressive to me. And even if you do not have that particular type of connection while journeying, you will still gain a lot of personal insight.

For those of you that are ok with perhaps a little less glamorous form of “connection”, thanks for sticking around lol, and I will continue my tale of connecting through learning.

One of the Dagda’s many titles is  Ruadh Rofhessa, which Mary Jones’s Celtic Encyclopedia has as meaning “Red One Great in Knowledge”, which as far as everything I have read seems legit. It shouldn’t be surprising then that he encourages, enjoys, and facilitates the quest of knowledge.   

When I first discovered that particular title of his, whenever that was, it was one of those “ah ha!” moments. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place, another treasure chest opened. For me at least, a large part of my spiritual path and growth has also been one of self analysis and discovery. Part of feeling able to connect to the divine is being able to see parts of the divine within my own mortal self and recognize it in the world around me. When I first started to feel the affinity and draw to the Dagda, much like when I felt the affinity with the Morrigan, I spent a goodly amount of time trying to decipher what was my own confirmation bias of wanting to be in alignment with the powerful generous mighty Good God and how much just seemed true.

This was the first correlation that made the whole affinity seem more than just the desires of my heart. Yes, I want to be strong, and so may want an affinity with a strong deity. Yes, I enjoy food and pleasure, (who doesn’t?) that hardly seemed substantial enough. But! I am a nerd. Always have been. A book worm, as well as a bit of jock. Following that thread and the fabric it wove with all the other aspects of the Good God, devoting time and worship to him felt more than personal inclination. That being said, at this specific time in my life when I was looking for more than just personal inclination to my spiritual practice, I also learned that it was a silly and somewhat vain notion that I no longer hold with. Respecting the Gods and the culture they are from is a more important foundation, for me the most important. But I digress.

Now, if you are here and have had a passing interest in Gaelic Polytheism, or Polytheism at all really, you will have no doubt already come across the concept of this being a spirituality with homework. I won’t belabor that point any more, in fact what I will say is that I don’t actually think you have to get a degree in Celtic or Irish studies and read dry academic papers all the time to have a wonderful living spirituality with the Dagda or most of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

I do think you’ll need to learn however. I just happen to enjoy learning by looking over thesis and papers on archaeological finds and the breakdown of Medieval Irish bathing customs. I have several Google Scholar Alerts that are set up for when new things say “Ancient Ireland” and a few other keywords, because I’m a nerd and even though I didn’t pursue higher education I was privileged with a decent enough education to make those dry academic writings more accessible to me.

Learning however is a process that doesn’t have to happen in the clinical academic way and certainly not when it comes to learning that will bring you closer to the Good God.

You will rather quickly run out of articles about the Dagda specifically (unless you are fluent in reading French, then there is a tasty but expensive academic book that would likely give you much more time to chew through). Learning about his people, about Ireland, about the real people living there now and their history and struggles, will all bring about his energy. He is a deity of the people. A Chieftain. You don’t have to be specifically learning about him to learn about him.

You don’t have to read articles to learn either. The stories are far more important. They have been to me.

Stories, and especially the Irish myths, have so much to teach us and in such a deep way. You can read a story once and learn a certain detail, or catch a specific theme, then when you read it again you will learn completely new things. They are that rich with information and have a way of exposing pieces of ourselves that changes with our understanding. As you learn more about cultural context, history, and even as you just learn more about life, you will get more out of the stories. Which is why I read them often. I try to read multiple translations (unless I know they are bad translations). Revisiting them often has proven to be on the centering and rejuvenating parts of my practice. A type of coming home.

Learning the stories also helps to recognize and feel his presence. As you are reading about the great feats and the battles where he is present, you might start to take note of emotional and physical effects that regularly occur and signal his presence, his energy. Once I recognize it in the lore, I am able to identify it out and about in the world. Learning his stories and his people stories also means that I am able to tell them to other people and keep the names and deeds of the Gods alive and in glory.

It doesn’t just end with the old myths however. He is alive and present in new stories being told today, which are also amazing ways to connect and learn about him. There is going to be a resource section down below, however, this particular resource just needs more highlighting. You can get a lot from the old myths. Personally, every time the Dagda makes an appearance in them, he leaps from the page. A mountain of vitality, humour, loyalty, wisdom, strength, and more. That being said, there aren’t a lot of them and I found myself thirsty for more. More that depicted those things that many people didn’t seem to notice about him. At the time, and frankly until recently, his name was not known in the broader pagan circles that I had started communing with. To them he was a byline in bigger stories with shinier deities, or was the oafish male god no one really knew what to make of. I threw myself into making a case for him beyond this shallow understanding. I did it without conscious effort. He was ever present in my home, in my actions of hospitality, in my service to my community and speaking of him and his deeds would inevitably bring out the enthusiastic impassioned side of me. Yet, while several people came to understand him through my serving him, but that never seemed…enough? I couldn’t possible do it justice. An introduction sure, but I felt there had to be one story to show them the breadth of what made the Dagda, the Dagda, and why one would want to be devoted or honor him. But I could never decide which that was, frequently deciding it didn’t exist… and then, like magic, there was.

One of the side effects of always learning, is that it takes you beyond your comfort zone and you are introduces to new ideas, new people, new things. In the continued quest for learning of Ireland, my dear sister Victoria, introduced me to Lora O’Brien’s work, who in turn then brought the work of Jon O’Sullivan, aka An Scealai Beag, into my world. A modern Bard of the Dagda, forging new tales of the Good God. I highly recommend you read all of his stories on his blog. They all have an amazing depth and insight, and really from the old myths and these there is plenty for a starter kit to build a connection to the Dagda. All that being said, there is one story that I feel, encapsulates the depth and breadth of the Red One Great in Knowledge and his realness. It is a story that if I had an inclination to make priesthood to the Dagda would be one of the required readings. The story is “The Dagda’s Work”. We got to hear it told by Jon at PCon 2016 in ritual and I think I can safely say that was one of my favorite most cherished rituals to date. Go read it. Leave a comment for Jon. Come back and gush with me about it. I could talk about that story for hours.

All that being said, learning and connecting through learning, doesn’t just start and end with articles and stories. That might be evident in the above mentioned story 😉 One of the big things that I have learned in being devoted to the Dagda, is that it is important opening up your mind to the process of learning in all parts of your life. I try and remember that in my life. Learning is good. I can always learn more, really I know very little in the scheme of things. Learn things from people with different experiences than me. Learn from the daily acts of being a human being and having duties and obligations. Learn from nature and it’s capacity to thrive and the wisdom in it’s machinations. Learn from the skills that I already know and the ones that I’m still trying. Learn from the stories and media that permeate our culture. Learn from the art I create and is created around me. In all things learn.

I try and support educational measures and be supportive of those around me in learning as well. We as a society need to get into a mindset of encouraging learning, nurturing it, making it thrive. That change and attitude has to start with me in order for the change to start anywhere.

That’s where he comes in. A warm hand at your back supporting and encouraging you. The hearty pleasure at seeing others enjoyment in expanded their knowledge and being open to learning. The heavy weighted pressure in those situations where your beliefs and knowledge is being questioned and it is a moment to brace and gain more wisdom by opening up or be battered by my own close mindedness.

The first step on my path of connection with the Dagda was in learning. Learning his names, his stories, the people who were dear to him, his enemies. In learning of his culture, and of the history of the island that is his home. Learning of the troubles and triumphs of the people who still live in Ireland and are keeping it alive. Learning the language that is native to Ireland, and the words that shaped the stories. Continuing outwards and learning of the land I live on and the colonialism and history here. Learning of the people around me and our struggles and victories. Learning of the values and virtues that I hold dear, and why, and where do I find them in my life. Learning skills and facts and knowledge, and the happiness and strength it brings. It started with learning. It continues with learning, always learning.

In that vein, I will end this long rambling tale with resources you might be interested in. This is in no way an exhaustive list, or even that long of a list, (because eventually I realized I just need to post this blog). Think of it as a starter pack.

Articles specifically about the Dagda:

The Names and Epithets of the Dagda by Scott Martin

Following a Fork in the Text: the Dagda as briugu in Cath Maige Tuired by Scott Martin

Myths and Stories:

Mary Jones Celtic Literature Collective – Online translations of many of the Myth cycles.

The Third String – tales of the Dagda by Jon O’Sullivan, aka An Scealai Beag. Go read. Absorb.

Story Archaeology – They do have specific episodes featuring the Dagda. But really just listen to them all.

Tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann and The Treasure of the Tuatha Dé Danann by Morgan Daimler – Two very affordable books that have great translations of the old myths.

Other Resources/ People whose writing you should read:

Lora O’Brien – If you can take any of her classes, take them. Become a Patron if you can, it’s worth it. I recommend all of her books, especially the Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality.  If you are totally new to Irish Mythology, Lora has a great post on where to start.

Living Liminally – Morgan Daimler’s blog. Lots of wonderful translations and footnotes with bibliographies. A treasure trove.

Tairis – A Gaelic Polytheist website. A wonderfully in depth article all on the Dagda. Great articles with bibliographies. Again so many resources to discover here.

Coru Cathubodua’s Reading and Resources – This page has soooo many good articles and reading sources. Yes it is heavily focused on the Morrigan but there is a lot of amazing cultural, mythological, and historical pieces. Super inspiring, I should get my resources in such fine order.

 

 

When history adds to your modern practice

Today I dived head first down the rabbit hole of Google Scholar and a wide array of historical academic papers that are available to read. While saving a whole bunch to read later, one caught my eye.

Washing and Bathing in Ancient Ireland

A. T. Lucas

The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland

Vol. 95, No. 1/2, Papers in Honour of Liam Price (1965), pp. 65-114

I am relatively well known to be a woman of Feasting, as I consider food, the acts of hospitality and feasting to be a huge part of  my spiritual well being. There is however another portion that is likely not as well known because it’s just not something that I was able to concretely connect as “Gaelic” in my practice. Certainly it is something that has always been a important aspect of my practice, but I chalked up a lot of that to be unique to me. Sometimes, you read something and then you make historical and spiritual connections you didn’t “know” were there but were completely there and now can consider more ways to incorporate it. In this case it’s, Ritual bathing.

Since childhood the pleasure and just comfort of a good hot bath has always had a place in my heart. My household regularly used hot showers and baths as a way to help aid the healing process of headaches, colds, flu, muscle aches, and pretty much everything under the sun. There is the vinegar bath for a bad sunburn. The oatmeal and milk bath for chicken pox. The Epsom salt bath for other illness. When I moved out of my parents house, I started having intense migraines and stumbled on the remedy of showers where you turn the water to as hot as you can stand and then as cold as you can stand, repetitively. You kinda feel like your getting torn apart and are exhausted afterwards but for a long time it was the only relief I could find.  Along my witchcraft path I learned the value of purification baths, and adding a variety of other herbal and stone items for magical purposes. Likewise I discovered that while I sucked a meditation and trance work, I could easily slip into trance and meditation in a steamy shower or bath.

At that time, it made sense to me, in that water, especially running water, is a gateway to the Otherworld, and steam seemed associated with the mist and fog that is also seen in Irish myth and folklore to be a portal to the Otherworld. The act of bathing seemed to create a liminal state of its own that I’ve always felt connected to and it’s been a useful way to de-stress and in general keep emotionally balanced over the years.

But I had never made any stronger connections to Irish mythology or lore until recently. A few years back, my partner was experiencing some intense stress at work. Anyone who has a lot of stress in their lives, know how it just starts to take a toll mentally and physically. For some reason, I called to mind the story of the young Cúchulainn returning from battle still in his battle frenzy and being dunked/bathed in three vats of water to cool his furor and return him to a more human state. I felt a connection with the stresses and dehumanizing aspects that service jobs can reap upon a person and the inhuman state of Cúchulainn in the story. It seemed to me that the act of being bathed ritualistically as the young hound was, was a way of bringing him back into the fold of his people. Bringing him back to peace and civilization in some way. I started to use showering in this way, after work. A way to wash away the grim and rat in a maze feelings that Corporate America can bring, and return to a state of comfort, balance and humanity. It helped. It became sacred and essential in our comfort rituals.

The article highlights some facets of bathing and washing in Ancient Ireland and in Irish myth that I hadn’t taken the time to ponder before. In particular it’s connections with hospitality and even feasting(!).

It outlines various examples of how a bath was one of the requisite amenities given to a guest as part of the rules of hospitality. We are given the example of the bad hospitality of King Bres Mac Mac Eladain who had a poet of the Tuatha dé Dannan visit. He was conveyed to a small house which was narrow, dark and dim, there was neither fire, nor bath, nor bed. Three small cakes, and they dry, were brought to him on a little dish. The next day he rose and he was not pleased. From this and the other examples tales of Cúchulainn, King Donn, Mael Dúin, being greeted with lavish beautiful welcomings the included lovely women to bath them, the argument that having a comfortable and plush bath available for guests was considered the mark of a good household.

Comfort is one of the tenets of hospitality, and while I have generally considered my mother’s propensity for buying copious amounts of soft bath towels and having over flowing baskets of colorful washcloths available, to be her desire for a magazine type home,  I now look at it at it as being very gracious. If I were to show up at my mother’s house unannounced with 5 or more guests unexpected and we all needed showers, she would have clean fresh towels and cloths ready and waiting. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for my own. In fact to own the truth, my house has only a handful of towels and they are almost never all clean at once. Something to consider.

The article also make the connections to prestige and honor to be the first to bath, making several references to chieftains and kings being granted the right to “the first bath and the first drink” at a feast. There is some interesting information that makes a strong case that bathing of somekind (whether full body or hands and feet) were done prior to feasting. This makes sense in a logistical and hygienic sense, as well as adding a layer of ritual cleansing to feasting that just makes energetic sense. It also reminded me a lot of a podcast I was recently recommended, Dark Ages Feasting – The British History Podcast. Which, while predominately looking at Anglo-Saxon traditions, covered the ritual handwashing that took place before eating at a feast. He also pointed out how uncouth many of we modern folks are in comparison, how often do you actually wash your hands before a meal? More things to consider ;

The article only briefly touches on the connection of ritual bathing by women being connected to healing and magic, but there is enough to make note of and keep an eye out in further reading.

There is a lot of minutia of daily life in ancient Ireland, that perhaps not everyone would consider interesting lol, but I love it.  Things like theories of what sort of detergents they used, how they heat their water, what the tubs looked like, the different words that meant different types of bathing. These things don’t necessarily add anything to my modern practice, but they help to provide another piece of the puzzle to a worldview of the past. I feel like that helps to create a depth of understanding that solidifies my modern practice.

If you have made it this far in this much longer ramble than anticipated post, all of this is to say that I recommend the article lol. It has opened some ideas in my head as far as ritual feast  activities, and that I for sure need an lovely washing station in my future feasting hall. It reinforced  my I practice of using bathing for sacred ritual purposes as well as for community and hospitality building in some ways. More food for thought on how to relate to the every day life and I suppose a little window in how I break out academic articles and relate them to my practice.