Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Lughnasadh Lesson Learned

Yesterday was August 1. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the neoPagan community celebrated the cross-quarter holiday of Lughnasadh. The halfway point between Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox is named for an ancient Celtic celebration of the god Lugh. The Christianized name for this holiday is Lammas, a contraction of "loaf mass," because this grain harvest festival retains the tradition of celebrating with breads and other baked goodies.

At Lughnasadh 2012, I wrote a blog post called "The Loki in Lughnasadh." Yesterday I shared the link on Tumblr, thinking a few neoPagans and Wiccans might be interested. I don't know if you're aware of this, but Loki is pretty popular on Tumblr, as are all things related to The Avengers, the movie.

The little blurb I added to my Tumblr link said:

"Barbara G. Walker notes that Loki was sometimes identified as “Logi,” or “flame.” She associates Loki-as-Logi with Lug (or Lugh), the Celtic god of fire, who was celebrated at Lughnasa/Lughnasadh (Lug’s games) on August 1st."

The response I got was enlightening. Tumblr user Answers From Vanaheim commented:

"Oh no, nonononono Barbara Walker is a terrible source for anything that isn’t about knitting.

"Loki and Logi are separate entities. Loki even competes against Logi in an eating contest (and loses because Logi, being a fire giant, eats his plate as well as the food). Someone (I believe it was Wagner) confused the two, and the association of Loki with fire persists."

Now, I am a humble witch/neoPagan/writer/person and I know I can always learn more from people wiser than myself. I take these comments with my listening ears on, because here I've encountered a new bit of knowledge: that Barbara G. Walker, who's been my go-to reference for years, might be a questionable authority.

I first encountered Walker when, as a student at St. Mary's College of Notre Dame, Indiana, I stumbled upon her Feminist Fairy Tales. I don't remember how I first found The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, but by the time I did, I already had it in my mind that Walker was a feminist scholar. The Encyclopedia is heavily footnoted, but because it was originally written in the early 1980s (when I was a small child), I didn't have access to many of the sources Walker cites in her footnotes.

Let's look at some of the other notes I got from Tumblr users yesterday. Tylluan Faolchú-Gealach, building on what Answers From Vanaheim wrote, said:

"Not to mention that Lugh isn’t a fire god - also a very persistent misconception. When I read that first bit I got mad, Lugh is very dear to me, and no disrespect to Loki intended; but they are two worlds apart. You cannot just toss them on the same pile."

Elder Scrolls Witch says simply, "This causes me physical pain." Well, I do apologize for that, sir. I never meant for my ignorance to cause physical pain.

Gaelic Heathenry writes, "Good heavens! Did she really just equate Loki and Lugh? What?" with the following notes:  #This is painful #Holy different pantheons Batman! #They're not even vaguely similar

#Sorry #I was wrong #My source is controversial #I'm learning

Korrigan adds, "That might be the highest sentence-length-to-false-information ratio I’ve ever seen someone stab my eyes out with the gae assail."

Hyperbole is as common on Tumblr as that photo of Jensen Ackles in gym shorts. The Gáe Assail is Lugh's lightning spear, by the way.

Wikimedia Commons 
About the above image, Wikimedia Commons says, "Illustration of Lugh's magic spear by H.R.Millar, published in Celtic Myth and Legend by Charles Squire (1905), and scanned and made available online at, according to whom it is in the public domain in the United States."

The Women's Encyclopedia has 88 reviews on Amazon U.S., with 45 5-star reviews and 19 1-star reviews, with an average rating of 3.6 stars. An anonymous Amazon customer wrote in 2002:

"I picked up this book in 1987, and was quite excited at first. My own research, however, quickly proved The Encyclopedia to be highly unreliable as a jumping-off point of feminist/pagan scholarship. A small amount of digging into B. Walker's sources will immediately prove how little research actually went into this work. The actual sources cited in Walker's footnotes frequently don't support her suppositions, and her etymology is just plain fanciful. She seems to feel that, if one word sounds like another word, they must necessarily be related. Ouch!

"Check this out for yourself. Pick a few entries, then look up all of the footnotes in your local university library. How many of Walker's sources have ANYTHING to do with the subject in question, let alone support her theories? It's a disappointing, but necessary, exercise for anyone determined to see The Encyclopedia honestly.

"Enjoy this book for its empowering (and fun) ideas, but don't place any weight on its 'scholarship.' It's a house of cards."

That's a clear enough message to inform me that Walker's writings are to be taken with a grain of salt, just like using a Wikipedia article as a reference - a fine start, but in need of more reliable back-up.

On Goodreads, the Encyclopedia has 826 ratings and 53 reviews. With an average of 4.27 stars, it has 266 5-star reviews and 12 1-star reviews. The 1-star review that pops up first, written by Colleen the Contrarian, reads:

"Barbara Walker has an obvious bias against all things male and/or Christian. She rewrites myth and history to make everything female-supreme, Goddess centric, anti-male, and full of sexual womyn power. Now, before someone dismisses me as 'obviously anti-female and deluded by patriarchy' or some such, I should state that I am a female neo-pagan with no love for the Church and/or the views it supports towards women. That said - I don't like made up or revisionist history, even if it does stroke the ego a bit. She bases everything on the supposed Pre-historical Matriarchy - which has little to no archeological evidence to truly support in the grand scale she portrays it.

"But besides that, her Encyclopedia and Dictionary are a mish-mash of cultural hodge-podge! She acts as if gods and goddesses from varying cultures are generally interchangeable, offering nothing for the cultural differences which give birth to their own representations of deity. She has butchered myths, made up 'alternate versions' which have no founding anywhere except her own imagination, ignored important details of myths which don't mesh with her agenda, and basically perverted the symbols she pretends to represent.

"Bad scholarship is bad enough... but her fabrications and invented history and myths are just a disgrace to the pagan community, and, in my opinion, an insult to women and to the goddess and gods which exist without the clap-trap found in this book. It does not present women as strong and/or empowered to rely on revisionist pseudo-history, no matter how good it may sound.

"There are many strong female figures out there...many strong goddesses of all ilks. This book does not do them justice."

I never knew! But now I do. See, this is why witches need communities, even if they are virtual ones. We can learn so much from each other, and it's a lifelong process.

Tomorrow: Disambiguation. Who is Logi, who is Lugh, and how did Loki get mixed up in all of this?

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