Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Creeping Druid Fakery

OK, I'm confused. Here's a story from Witchvox, with disclaimers from the spoof site that the story is 'entirely fictional'. However the book mentioned in the so-called fictitious piece is available from Amazon.com: The Lebor Feasa Runda:A Druid's Grammar of Celtic Lore and Magic. Aside from the suspicious similarity to the title of my own book from several years earlier, this item has become rather famous among Celtic Pagan types as an abject fake, an oak-king/holly-king, wicca-form concoction with a whiff of racism and no evidence to back its provenance. Maybe I'll eventually spend the bucks to actually read a copy, or hopefully someone will pirate it soon so that the pretender who wrote it can stop getting money for it. In the meantime we can follow the controversy here and here.
I think it's important for conscientious Celtoids to have an eye out for this fraud, and make sure it gets no serious penetration into the movement. Just a heads-up.

26 comments:

Jamie Goodwin said...

The auther, Steven Akins, quite assertively claims in the absolute truth of this book. He even compares it to a sacred text like the Christian bible

I believe these folks on WitchVox are having some fun with the silliness of the whole situation.

raven-wildewood said...

I recently had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Steven L. Akins, the translator of The Lebor Feasa Runda. You can read it on my LiveJournal log at: http://raven-wildewood.livejournal.com/525.html

There is a website promoting the book at: http://www.geocities.com/lebor_feasa_runda with a link near the bottom of the page that can be clicked to read more about the history behind the text.

Despite all the controversy surrounding it, the book is real and is a English translation prepared from a German copy of an Old Irish manuscript that was in the possession of the Ahnenerbe archives in Germany before World War II. Most of the controversy surrounding the text stems from the fact that the original Old Irish manuscript went missing back in 1941 and hasn't resurfaced since.

Patchshorts said...

raven-wilderwood: "Despite all the controversy surrounding it, the book is real and is a English translation prepared from a German copy of an Old Irish manuscript that was in the possession of the Ahnenerbe archives in Germany before World War II."

Please provide the basis for your statement. Clearly an interview doesn't evince authenticity in this matter.

IanC said...

I knew posting this would produce a response - akins plainly employs a network of shills to build credibility for his fraud. The claims he makes for the authenticity of his manuscript are without basis. he's never produced a shred of evidence, and cannot.
We don't need an Irish Simonomicon.

raven-wildewood said...

Hear now the words of Eochaidh Ollamh Fodhla, the High King of Ireland, who spake unto his son, Cairbre, saying, “Value, O my son Cairbre, the wisdom of my words, seeing that I, Eochaidh, have received this from the Áes Sídhe.”

Then answered Cairbre, saying, “How hath it come to pass that I deserve to follow the way of my father Eochaidh in such things, who hast been found worthy to receive the knowledge of all great mysteries through the teaching of the Áes Sídhe?”

And Ollamh Fodhla said, “Hear, O my son, and receive my words, and learn the
wonders of the Áes Sídhe. For on a certain night, when I stood upon the Hill of Tara overlooking my kingdom, I heard a voice carried upon the wind which spake my name and I puzzled over this and asked who called unto me. Then did there appear before me a messenger of the Áes Sídhe, even Nemglan, who spoke many things graciously unto me, and said, ‘Listen, O Eochaidh! For long hast thou ruled justly over Ireland and great is thy knowledge and learning, and deep is thy wisdom, so that it hath been ordained that I have been sent forth from Tir Tairngire to complete thy understanding of all things seen and unseen that are yet unknown to the mortal race of men.’

“And when I heard the words which were spoken unto me, I perceived that in me had the knowledge of all things, of both the mortal and immortal realms, been imparted; and I saw that all the teachings and learning of this present age were astray, and that no man was without flaw.

Thenceforth I inscribed in ogham characters upon staves of yew wood a certain record in which I have revealed the secret of secrets, and in which I have vouchsafed them hidden, and I have also therein related all history of the origins of our race and all knowledge of the immortal gods and of their dealings with mankind, and explained all wonders whatsoever of the magical arts of every adept; along with all marvels or undertakings, namely, of those mysteries which are in any wise worthy of being achieved. These things and more I have concealed upon these staves so that as a key openeth a locked door, so this testament alone may open the knowledge and understanding of all the sacred mysteries.

“Wherefore, O my son, thou mayest know all rites and rituals of every ceremony for calling upon and having dealings with the immortal gods, and through the conjuration of them by means of sacred proceedings as thou shalt see rightly set down by me, thou mayest work wonders through mastering the power of this knowledge, which I have set forth; even the ways of divination whereby all things which are in the Universe, and which have been in days long past, and which are yet to come to pass in future ages, may be revealed.

“Therefore, O my son Cairbre, I command thee by the benediction which thou expecteth from thy father, that thou shalt fashion a vault of stone, and therein place, conceal, and secure this my testament; and when I shall have passed away unto my fathers, I beseech thee to place the same in my tomb beside me, lest in another age it might fall into the hands of the profane.” And as Ollamh Fodhla commanded, so was it done.

And when, thereafter many generations had passed, there was held every third year on Samhain a Feis at Tara to which all the noblemen and scholars of Ireland did gather, and there came to Loughcrew unto the tomb of Ollamh Fodhla certain Druids; and when they had assembled they at once took counsel together that a certain number of men should restore the grave in Ollamh Fodhla’s honor; and when the tomb was uncovered to be restored, the vault of stone was discovered, and therein were the ogham staves, which they beheld with joyous hearts, and when they looked upon them none among them could discern their message by reason of the obscurity of the words and their arcane arrangement, and the occult essence of the meaning and knowledge contained therein, for they were not deserving to possess this treasure.

Thereupon, arose among the Druids, one more righteous than the others, both in the sight of the gods, and by reason of his age, who was called Mogh Ruith, and said unto the others, “Unless we shall go forth and ask the interpretation of this testament from the gods with piety and humility, we shall never discern the meaning of it.”

Therefore, when each of the Druids had retired to his abode, Mogh Ruith indeed fell upon his knees to the ground in great consternation and said, “What have I deserved above others, seeing that so many men can neither understand nor interpret this knowledge, even though there be no secret thing in nature which the gods hath hidden from me! Wherefore are these words so inscrutable? Wherefore am I so ignorant?”

And then on his bended knees, turning his eyes to the heavens, he said, “O gods, who are the creators of all, thou who knowest all things, who gavest such great wisdom unto Ollamh Fodhla the king of Ireland; grant unto me, I beseech thee, O mysterious, powerful and wondrous Sídhe, to receive the virtue of that wisdom, so that I may become worthy by thine aid to discern the understanding of these staves of mystery.”

And immediately there appeared unto him, a messenger of the Áes Sídhe, saying, “Dost thou remember that if the secrets of Ollamh Fodhla appear arcane and obscure unto thee, that the gods hath wished it so that such wisdom may not fall into the hands of profane men; wherefore dost thou promise unto me, that thou art not willing that such great knowledge should ever come to any living creature, and that which thou revealest unto any let them know that they must keep it unto themselves, otherwise the sanctity is defiled and no effect can follow?”

And Mogh Ruith answered, “I vow unto thee that to none shall I reveal them, save to the honor of the gods, and with much discipline, unto discerning, erudite, and righteous persons.” Then answered the messenger, “Go forth and read the testament, and its words which were obscure throughout shall be made manifest unto thee.” And after this the messenger returned to the realm of Siabra in a peal of thunder.

Then Mogh Ruith was glad, and laboring with a clear mind, understood that which the messenger of the Áes Sídhe had said, and he saw that the testament of Ollamh Fodhla was changed, so that it became discernable unto him and made apparent in all parts. And Mogh Ruith understood that this work might fall into the hands of the ignorant, and he said, “I conjure him into whose hands this secret may come, by the power of the gods, and their wisdom, that in all things they may desire, intend and perform, that this treasure may come unto no unworthy person, nor may they manifest it unto any who is unwise, nor unto one who regardeth not the gods; for if they act otherwise, I decree that they may never be worthy to attain unto the desired effect.”

IanC said...

Very funny... obviously copied from grimoires such as Abramelin and some Solomonic things. I mean, c'mon, I did the same myself, to some extent, though with less pretension, I hope, and with no fake claims of ancientry. Just silly...

Endovelicon said...

"Thenceforth I inscribed in ogham characters upon staves of yew wood a certain record(...)"
Well, I pity the vast acres of yew trees that fell for the sake of those hundred-millions-of Ogham-letters engraved upon them ;-)))
BTW, this "raven-wildewood" character seems to be a sockpuppet for Akins himself, since her LJ has only ONE post, being this "interview":
http://erynn999.livejournal.com/385003.html
I´ve just thought people should know some things;-)))

raven-wildewood said...

I guess your post here makes you Iain Corrigan's sock-puppet then?

John Michael Greer said...

Ian, you might want to compare the passage Raven Wildewood just posted with pages 2-4 of the Mathers translation of the Key of Solomon the King. It's very nearly a word-for-word plagiarism -- one of more than a dozen I've identified in the book. Now of course fakery is a grand old Druid tradition, but I think Iolo Morganwg himself would have turned up his nose at something this clumsy.

Erynn said...

Hey John Michael -- glad to hear that some definite plagiarisms aside from the obvious Carmina Gadelica material are being found. I wasn't familiar enough with the CM stuff to know about it. I'm not going to bother spending anything to buy the book, but with the three or four chapters that are already posted online, Stevie has certainly had more than ample opportunity to hang himself.

raven-wildewood said...

Actually Akins does mention the fact that the original text of the Lebor Feasa Runda may have inspired a number of medieval occult grimoires, including the Key of Solomon, as it was believed to have at one time been in the possession of the Knights Templars and several prominent figures associated with the Western Magical tradition. We certainly know that the historical King Solomon was merely the pseudo-attributed author of the Key, and Akins hypothesises that the rituals of the Lebor Feasa Runda may have been disguised in a pseudo-Biblical form to hide their Pagan origin.

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, yes, I noted Akins' claims as to the provenance of the manuscript -- he sent me an unsolicited copy, which rather baffles me, as (a) the Druid order I head draws mostly from Welsh and Breton traditions rather than Irish ones, and (b) we don't claim ancient roots -- we're a Druid Revival order and proud of that heritage.

The problem with claiming that the Lebor Feasa Runda influenced the Key of Solomon, rather than vice versa, is that the passage you quoted copies the Mathers translation word for word. I promise you that if you take a document in Old Irish, translate it into German and then translate the result into English, and then borrow bits of the same document into Hebrew, then into Latin, and then into (late 19th century) English, the wording will not come out the same. Only plagiarism will do that.

Another piece of evidence that the borrowing went from the grimoires to Akins' forgery and not vice versa is the incense list on p. 123-124 of the Lebor Feasa Runda. Most of the ingredients in the incenses do not grow anywhere in the British Isles -- they are standard late medieval incense ingredients such as cinnamon and cassia -- and so it's hardly plausible to claim that the formulae were invented in Ireland.

Furthermore, Akins was incautious enough to borrow material from more recent (and more easily traceable) sources. The prayer used before Ogham divination on p. 100, for example, is cribbed from the Welsh Gorsedd prayer, which was invented out of whole cloth by Iolo Morganwg at the very end of the 18th century, and was not published in English until 1862. What's more, there are several versions of the Gorsedd prayer, and the one Akins used as his model is specifically the version made popular in the Pagan community by the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids; that pushes the earliest date for the Lebor Feasa Runda ahead to 1990, when Ross Nichols' Book of Druidry first saw print.

There are many other examples of Akins' plagiarism in the book, as the entire text is a pastiche cobbled together from modern sources. A little research and a basic familiarity with form criticism methods could likely trace every paragraph to its source, and the structure also has stories to tell. (Hint to future forgers of alleged Druid documents; don't copy the basic structure of your supposedly ancient text from Tolkien's Silmarillion). I enjoy a good forgery as much as the next Druid, but this one simply doesn't make the cut.

John Michael Greer said...

Erynn, the one reason I can think of for buying a copy is that it might make a good exercise for some Reconstructionist scholar who wanted to practice taking a text apart and tracing sources. Other than that, it's not funny enough to make good unintentional satire, and not heavy enough for a doorstop.

Raven Wildewood said...

Mr. Greer, it would seem that you tend to view the ancient Irish as being a primative culture completely isolated from the rest of the world, when in fact, the Gaels arrived in Ireland from the Near East, having originated in Scythia and even spent time in Egypt before travelling across the length of Europe to Spain before ever reaching Ireland's shores, if the ancient history of Gaelic culture is to be believed (and there is a fair amount of scientific data to support this). In such as case it sees likely that the Gaels would have had as good a knowledge of exotic incenses and spices as the Greeks and Romans, and likely would have preferred such rare commodities for their most sacred rites in honoring their deities, than such commonplace local herbs as mugwort and houseleek. In fact, the Dagda was said to have embalmed the slain body of his son Cermait with Frankincense and Galbanum, if I remember the legend of how he got his magical staff correctly.

Also, you say Edward Williams invented the Bardic Prayer, though I'm not certain that has ever been established as fact, as he did have access to a great deal of native material and it is difficult to determine what, if anything, Iolo actually invented.

brock-tn said...

I have to agree with John Michael Greer: if we accept arguendo that Mr Akins' book is based on an original text which was also a primary source for the Hebrew and Latin text text of the Key of Solomon, it still beggars the imagination to suggest that a word-for-word correspondence between parts of Akins' book and one specific translation of the Key is the result of mere happenstance. Translations, especially of texts expressing complicated issues, simply don't work that way. Add to that that the current archeological evidence doesn't support the existence of ogham inscriptions much earlier than the 4th Century CE, and what you wind up with is, not to put too fine a point on it, a tissue of lies.

I'd make inquiries about publication of the German translation of the original manuscript in the contemporary German journals of ethnological studies, the archives of which are quite complete, WW2 notwithstanding. But I'm pretty certain that I won't find anything there, would I?

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, I don't consider the ancient Irish primitive or isolated; Nora Chadwick makes a good case, though an unpopular one, that ancient Druidry was strongly influenced by Greek philosophical traditions. Still, it's a good general rule that indigenous traditions make preferential use of local resources rather than exotic imports. By themselves, the incense blends wouldn't be conclusive, but with the obvious plagiarisms from Mathers' translation of the Key, it's pretty clear who was swiping from whom.

As for Iolo's Gorsedd prayer, of course Iolo had access to some late medieval Welsh sources -- so? If that were the only trace of plagiarism in Akins' book, you could probably still make a case that it might have gotten there honestly. Instead, you've got the Mathers quotes, and the improbable incense, and the Gorsedd prayer, and the ripoffs from the Carmina Gadelica, and the post-Golden Dawn style tables of correspondences, and a great deal more of the same kind. At a certain point, and Akins is well past that point, forgery becomes the only reasonable explanation.

The problem here is that the entire text is a pastiche assembled from modern sources, and Akins' sources are the ones that modern forgers who cobble together bogus "Celtic myths" generally use -- that is, the popular Irish, Welsh, and Scots texts in English translation, with bits of popular magical texts, once again in English translation, tossed in for flavor. There's nothing in it that can't be found in a good public library.

Druidic forgery used to be a fine art; in the late 19th century you could expect to find sly references to old Breton myths or the most up-to-date theories in linguistics or comparative religion woven into Druid Revival rituals that claimed to be as old as the hills. I'm afraid the current crop of Celtic fakers simply isn't up to the same standard!

John Michael Greer said...

Brock, the Ahnenerbe left extensive documentary archives behind, and if the Lebor Feasa Runda had ever been in its possession that fact would be a matter of public record. Shouldn't be too hard for Akins to find the paper trail and make it public, if he wanted to do so.

raven-wildewood said...

I suppose its a matter of taste, but I've never gotten much out of reading the Barddas myself, and the whole Awen/Bardic alphabet/Gorsedd thing just never floated my boat. I'll give Iolo credit for the quantity of work he produced; but I've found reading the Lebor Feasa Runda far more enjoyable and inspiring; and the versions of the Irish myths presented in it much more meaningful than some of the other translations I have read.

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, well, there's no point arguing over taste; whatever cracks your hazels, and all that. It would be useful, though, if Akins 'fessed up to writing the Lebor Feasa Runda, instead of insisting on an ancient origin for his pastiche; I think his book would find a wider audience if it wasn't tarred with the brush of obvious forgery.

raven-wildewood said...

I can't speak for him, but if the book is his own creation, then the origin he has given it may be just his way of added on to the mythology that the book already contains. On the other hand, he may have actually translated into English a text he was given in German, which he believes to be a translation of an ancient Irish manuscript. There is no sure way of knowing what the case may be in this situation; which adds something to the mystique of the whole thing. My own personal interpretation is that either way, it doesn't really matter, the book is a gift to those who have long wished for a sacred text at least in the arena of Irish Druidry; and whatever it's origins, it is no less original, no less authentic, no less real, than the sacred texts of other religions - all of which were conceived by the mortal minds of humans and composed of stories from different sources at different times all brought together and written by the hands on men. No holy scripture falls to earth from the heavens penned by some divine being; they are all the work of mere mortals, and while fantastic claims are often made regarding the origin and sanctity of the texts, at the end of the day they are just words printed in ink on sheets of paper. Their only real power or magic lies in their ability to inspire those who read them, and what inspires some may not inspire others, hence the wide variety of holy-writs all claiming to be inspired by some deity from the great beyond.

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, fair enough -- if you want a sacred scripture, well, by all means have at it; most of the others are just as fraudulent as the Lebor Feasa Runda. Mind you, most of the Druids I know have no interest in any sacred book but Nature -- many of them left their birth religions recisely because they found the bibliolatry of the prophetic faiths unsatisfying. Still, whatever floats your coracle and all that.

raven-wildewood said...

I think a lot of people tend to leave Christianity and turn toward the Pagan paths because, as a foreign religion originating in the Middle East, Christianity does not resonate with many people who value their own ethnic heritage and would prefer to follow a spiritual path that is deeply rooted in the ethnicity that they belong to. So it isn't so much the presence of a written doctrine that turns them off, its the fact that it is a foreign doctrine alien to their own rightful culture and heritage that is offensive to many.

Searles O'Dubhain said...

I've been cautioning critics to be more objective concerning Lebor Feasa Rúnda and I see that John Michael Greer is doing that here. I think valid observations and objections have been raised that require more evidence from Steven Akins to overcome them. It's possible that the truth is more between the two positions than at either extreme but enough doubt has been introduced to require additional evidence.

Regarding the remarks that indicate Druidry to be more of a Nature religion than one of knowledge and science, I must differ. I've always believed and taught that the quest for truth in Druidry should look into all forms of knowledge while have a healthy respect and honor for Nature.

Hopefully, a redoubled and scholarly effort will shine more light on Celtic origin stories from a scholarly, well documented and authenticated effort.

Searles O'Dubhain

Erynn said...

A fraud by any other name would smell as fishy. Akins is a fraud. There is no question about it. Continuing to make excuses for him only makes the excuser look like a fool. Continuing to support him in his plagiarisms and forgeries makes the supporter complicit in the act and can only serve to make that supporter more and more questionable in the eyes of the larger community.

steven-akins said...

Erynn,

I think that it should be made clear that you and I differ in regard to a great many issues which have nothing whatsoever to do with my publication of the Lebor Feasa Runda, and that our differences in respect to these other matters are so significant that we would both be quite delighted to burn one another at the stake accordingly due to our fundamental disagreements over one another's personal beliefs, judgements and values that are an issue entirely aside from whatever books either of us has published.

Searles O'Dubhain said...

I get by here every now and then to read what other Druids have posted. I'm surprised that some folks hereabouts seem to be confusing keeping an open mind with supporting positions they oppose. I expect this sort of behavior out of fundamentalists and political parties but am shocked to see it being practiced by those who claim to be either Druids or CR.

Truth usually has a way of revealing itself to the most closed of minds or the most entrenched of positions. I support truth in everything that I do and hope that as I age, my eyes are made even more open and that I am able to learn even from those who are wrong.

That's the truth against the world; an act of truth and the truth that sustains all of creation. Truth has never been harmed by being, open, fair and patient in evaluating anything. I recommend these values and practices to anyone on the Druid way.