Friday, February 6, 2009

Scripture and Fakery

Well, my mention of the Druidic fraud, Lebor Feasa Runda, has sparked the biggest conversation yet here on My Little Blog. Nice to see folks like John Greer and Erynn Laurie chiming in - thanks for writing, guys.

Stephen Akins, the author of the Lebor (despite its pointless claims of ancientry) is obviously unable to provide the smallest scrap of evidence for his claims that the book originates in an ancient Irish manuscript. His sock puppet, the character who calls itself raven-wildewood began with a simple assertion: “It is so!” and then went to a series of “well, it *could* be” sort of arguments that are the usual resort of people trying to cover a lie. Obviously if the author had any actual evidence, he would produce it. If none is forthcoming, it is safe to assume that there is none. Despite a frequently recited cliché, lack of evidence *is* strong evidence of a lack of factual basis.

This morning the wildewood character found itself driven to the last resort of occult fakers, asserting that even if the book is fake, it’s cool and could be a cool thing for Irish Pagan types. This is a typical half-baked post-modern assertion, and one I find particularly empty. My comparison of this book to Simon’s fake Necronomicon seems even more apt – defenders of that volume are likely to exclaim “So what if he’s lying, it works!” From a practical standpoint this is hard to argue with. However, wildewood makes a rather different claim.
It says:
My own personal interpretation is that … 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.

To me, this is kind of strange. Why, exactly, would Celtic polytheists need or want holy scripture? The whole notion of a religion based on a specific book has been such a bad thing for the systems that do it, has produced so much conflict, so much disregard for the real, that I can’t see why it would even be sought. Systems such as Hinduism or Taoism or the ancient Greek religion, which produce a variety of holy books, often in some degree of conflict with one another, are somewhat less likely to produce foolish results, I think. But in those systems the authorship of specific books is fairly well known, though some are so ancient that the ‘real’ author has been lost in a cloud of history-dust.

In my opinion the days when a teacher can actually gain status for his teachings or writings by falsely claiming an ancient origin are over. Paganism could use a large selection of holy books, but modern people should be too bright to be interested in fake claims of ancient manuscripts. (And of course you have to be a moron to think that associating such a thing with the Nazis would do anything beyond giving it a certain nasty stink.) If we’re to have new scripture I think it must come from the creativity and inspiration of modern people. Even if we found an ancient book on “How to be a druid” I feel sure it would have to be taken with a grain of salt for modern times. Modern efforts do well to look to the past – it’s where we get the inspiration for our work – but we also need to guide past ideas into the modern, replacing such things as social hierarchy with equality.

To me, the two things that make Akins’ book unlikely to amount to anything in the movement are first his obviously false claims about an ancient manuscript and second his claim that the content was interesting to the Nazis, connecting it with the most vile and stupid ideas of the last 200 years. If Akins wants to be taken seriously he should simply admit his initial hoax, and take the heat when he does. A fake ancient book is worthless to the movement. A new book about how to do ancient style Druidism could at least be judged on its own merits.

13 comments:

raven-wildewood said...
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IanC said...
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hth-the-first said...

I stared at "Jewellyn Publications" for a while, trying to figure out what the joke was. I went through a vague stab at Llewellyn's appeal to young girls (their books are like pretty, pretty jeweled ponies?) and a longshot connection to middlebrow popstar/poet Jewel before it dawned on me that the pun is on *Jew,* not jewel.

Stay classy, Raven-Wildewood.

raven-wildewood said...

The thing is that there is a great deal of ancient material out there, but it is all polluted by Christian influence. It is possible to read between the lines and remove most if not all of the Christian contamination. In doing so you are by necessity having to change the existing materials to make them closer to their original pre-Christian form. In the end what is the result? Something more ancient than the medieval Christianized texts? or something modern? Since the materials you are working with aren't modern, then the results can't exactly be called "new", and yet there will be those who will argue because they differ from the existing corrupted format that they aren't "true" to the ancient source. The whole situation thus becomes very problematic, and it is further complicated by the difference in taste that people have.

The CR movement tries very hard to accomplish this type of thing, but their work appeals to a very limited audience, and some (like myself) disagree with many of their assumptions and conclusions, and feel that they "can't see the forest for the trees" where certain aspects of spiritual truths are concerned.

In the end, I think the old Lincoln adage will always apply - you can please some of the people some of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time; so I think there is very little hope of producing any sort of unifying doctrine. What the CR's do evidently pleases them; what the Neo-Druids do apparently satisfies their needs; and what Akins has done speaks to others in a way that neither the work of the CR's or the Neo-Druidic groups can hope to. Different strokes for different folks, obviously; but when one or more factions condemn another, they need to make sure their own kettle is clean first. No one yet has achieved perfection, and you walk a very narrow line when you set out to separate myth and belief from falsehood and deception. One person's lies are often another person's religion.

steven-akins said...

Mr. Corrigan, I hope that you will allow me to interject here into this discussion my own thoughts in regard to the controversy surrounding my publication of the Lebor Feasa Runda.

I knew full well when I first decided to publish this work that it would be met by much criticism from those who it did not appeal to, so that in and of itself has been no surprise. Being a man of my own mind I am quite used to others taking exception to my own beliefs, ideals and values, as this is something I have dealt with for most of my life. Knowing human nature for what it is (at least in my own perception) I can usually discern the motivations and agendas behind the actions made by others, and in this case it is certainly no different.

There are both many questions and claims surrounding what I have done where the Lebor Feasa Runda is concerned. Some have said that it is a hoax designed to fool the guillable - it is not. Some have stated that it is a complete fabrication conceived out of my own imagination - it isn't. Some have argued that the material I have translated has no authenticity, or that it is not truly ancient - it is.

I have been criticized by many for not doing this or that to proove that the Lebor Feasa Runda is what I have said it to be; but what would be the result of my doing so? People believe what they choose to believe, and evidence will do little to change their minds once their minds are made up.

Some 40 odd years ago NASA put a man on the moon, but there are people who don't believe it to be so. A construction crew in Israel unearths a 2000 year old tomb containing essuaries which once held the bones of the man known as Jesus, along with Mary Magdalene, and other family members; but the world remains skeptical and suspects it is a fraud, a hoax, or a simple coincidence - anything but the obvious truth.

And then, in the early years of the 20th century, a debate raged over a handful of photographs taken by two little girls in Cottingly, England, which showed Fairies frolicking about in the pictures. Some denounced the images as a fraud; while others were convinced and were unshakable in their belief of what the photographs showed.

The Truth is whatever people believe it to be; whether it can be supported by a preponderance of evidence or not. The Truth is no more and no less than what each individual is capable of rationalizing in their own mind.

I published the Lebor Feasa Runda to give to those who wanted it a sacred scripture of Gaelic Druidry - the teachings of the Celtic gods to mortals. It is, more than anything else, a book of Faith; and Faith alone will determine to whom it is Truth and to whom it is nothing more than so many words printed on so many pages of paper. For those who have faith and who believe, it is a gift from the gods, once lost and now restored. For those who can have no faith in it, it is just a book; and whatever they believe about it is determined by their own individual rationalization.

hth-the-first said...

Well, there you go. It's pretty difficult to get someone who doesn't see much difference between the moon landing and the Cottingly fairies to grok why people are ticked off about his bald-faced lie.

There's clearly no sense arguing reality with the "Truth is whatever people believe it to be" crowd. Whatever uncertainty I had about what to make of this Akins guy is now gone; he's not someone who is amenable to reason, because reason is just some fake thing we make up -- sorry, "rationalize" in our heads.

steven-akins said...

hth,

Where religion is concerned, truth is determined only by faith and belief. There are many sacred texts the world over, but who has the right to judge which ones are the truth (if any) and which ones are nothing more than lies? Is the Christian Bible abook of truth? To many it is, and yet for others (myself included) it is nothing more than a collection of random texts gathered together and bound as a book - texts which, to me, are of a variety of different ages, authored by different hands, and which borrow from different sources and cultures. But to the Christian, their Bible is the infallible word of their god. Can I argue that it isn't? Of course. Can I point out where there are inclusions from foreign sources, or where translations are questionable? Certainly. I can even state emphatically that it is the greastest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind in the history of the world; and while that would be the "Truth" as I see it, there would be no Truth in the statements I made in the minds of those who believe in it.

I did not publish the Lebor Feasa Runda thinking that it would be accepted and welcomed by one and all - no religious text ever is. I published it because I felt that the information it contained needed to be made available to those who would desire to receive it and make use of it as it was intended. It fills a void for many that would otherwise remain empty. For those who are unable to believe in it, they must determine for themselves what it takes to fill their own needs according to the demands of their own faith.

IanC said...

Yes, that's quite a load of lame pleading. Let's take it in order. First Akins makes a bald assertion that he's not lying. Obviously there's no reason to believe him, since he cannot produce any evidence.
Then he begins his 'Truth revealed' argument. The thing is, 'faith' just isn't really an important part of Pagan religion. Mythic tales were not 'scripture' to the ancients, and faith without evidence is of no more value to Pagans than to Christians. Druidry is based on two great principles - Truth and Wisdom. Truth demands that what is so be so, that a book is either a modern effort at reconstruction or not. It seems to me that depite Akins initial protests he's more or less admitting to his lie in these posts. I hope he might actually act with honor and fess up. Then his work could at least be given a fair examination.

steven-akins said...

Mr. Corrigan, you will find that faith is a requirement of any religion, and Druidism is no exception. The divine is something which cannot be comprehended without faith; and it was faith in the transmigration of the eternal spirit which is the essence of our being that compelled the ancient Celtic warriors to plunge headlong into conflict with their foes, being certain in their belief that should their bodies be slain in battle, that their spirit would live on.

I think, Mr. Corrigan, that you know a great deal about your own ideas and notions of what you imagine Druidry to be; but you are disturbed at the prospect of them being dismissed by others who might find more truth in what is revealed through some other source outside your personal gnosis.

hth-the-first said...

Much against my better judgement, just this one time, Mr. Akins, I'm going to try to separate these two concpets that you're trying desperately to conflate into one. It's tantamount to arguing with a drunk, I know, but for some strange reason I can't help myself.

There is a realm of spiritual meaning that does, quite likely, rest ultimately on faith -- I'm more willing to admit that than, I think, Ian is. Faith does have a place in paganism, neo and non-neo; every time I use my limited resources to buy an expensive bottle of Scotch only to pour it out on a fire, I make a leap of faith: that someone out there cares whether I do that or not, that there's something going on other than a dreadful waste of Scotch. Every time I get up early to pray for twenty minutes instead of sleeping or making French toast or writing my congressman, I'm not only engaging in praxis, I'm also making a leap of faith, although no one can ultimately say whether or not I'm wasting my time, or worse. Well and good.

But if I claim that the Scotch cost me a hundred and fifty dollars because Miley freaking Cyrus distilled it in her bedroom, that's just not true, regardless of what I believe. There is such a thing as faith, but not everything in the world is a question of it. Some things simply didn't happen.

Religiously speaking, there is a qualitative difference between issues of fact and issues of spiritual meaning. Yes, people mix them up all the time, and lump them both together under what they "believe" to be true. People do a lot of dreadful, stupid things that they deserve to be called on, as loudly as possible. People who believe the Bible is the worst fraud ever perpetrated agaisnt humankind are expressing a value judgement that has everything to do with belief. People who believe that it offers profound guidance and wisdom regarding the proper relationship between humans and the divine are also within their rights to fall back on belief. People who insist that the Pentateuch was written by one guy and that was Moses -- well, they're wrong. It's not true. It didn't happen that way. It's a legend, and it may or may not have subjective meaning for people who look to Moses as a hero and exemplar of their spiritual lineage, but ten people or ten *billion* people believing that Moses wrote the Pentateuch does not make it so.

This book of yours may have enormous spiritual and religious value. Hell, some people find enormous spiritual value in *cancer,* so I have no doubt someone can find something wonderful in your book, too. But that doesn't mean that the story you've perpetuated about your "discovery" of this lost manuscript is anything more than a sloppy lie, easily debunked by people who know anything at all about Gaelic language and history. Statement of potential religious value? Irrefutable matter of faith. Narrative about the book's earthly origins? Falsifiable, and falsified, matter of fact.

You will continue to say that your system "works" for some people, presumably including yourself. Whatever. Personally, I think that a system that "works" is one that makes you a more honest person, not less of one, and that Gaelic tradition is pretty frigging clear on the idea that greatness of soul is closely tied to the steadfast love of truthfulness and a deep-seated aversion to lies, however good they may fee. But that's my spiritual definition of a path that "works," and you're not obligated to accept it. No one else, however, is obligated to coddle your dishonesty because of your sad attempt to claim it as a religious right.

Ian, I'm so terribly sorry to prolong this more than it deserves; I don't know why this guy gets to me like he does. I think it has something to do with the anti-Semitic jackassery that seems to be coming up again and again lately, frequently in connection with this dude. Anyway, I won't respond to him in your journal again.

steven-akins said...

hth,

I have already stated publically on numerous occassions the manner in which I received the text on which my translation of the Lebor Feasa Runda is based. I have also made it quite clear that in translating it into English from the copy of the German translation I had been given, that I made a careful cross-reference in translating it to those other works where portions of the text closely resembled passages found in other sources whose material contained elements of the same nature as are found in the Lebor Feasa Runda. Where these elements were consistant with the meanings given in my translation from the German version, I retained them in the same language and style as the translators of these other texts had used, and where the meaning differed from those, I translated them accordingly, remaining faithful to the sense and meaning of the text I was working with.

The information I have offered regarding the history of the text was based on the notes made by the translator of the German version, and I have made it quite clear that this is the case and that these are not my own personal claims, but are simply what is said to be the history of the text. I have stated that while I cannot absolutely verify the accuracy of history given, that I personally believe it is based on a solid foundation of truth from what I know and have learned from my research. It is completely up to the determination of the individual reader whether or not they themselves arrive at the same conclusion.

chronarchy said...

I had my own run-in with Steven around the time you were having yours. Mine can be found at PaganNation and is. . . rather amusing.

His interpretation of the Nautes Pillar made me fall out of my chair, laughing. I simply couldn't continue the conversation with him after I read that.

I'm pleased that you had a variety of people, particularly JMG, to come on and lend a hand. I have no problems with fraud, I just like honest fraud.

I'm still terribly interested to read the book, I just don't want him to gain a dime from the sale. It needs some scathing reviews on Amazon.

IanC said...

Correct - I wanna read it! Hell, if he's ripping off the Key of Solomon in an irish context, that's my kinda stuff. Just for completeness I want it in the library, next to Monroe. Only a matter of time before it ends up in bit torrent...